Saturday, January 14, 2017
Chapter One Summary of Stephen Mumford's Metaphysics
In Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction, Stephen Mumford tries to explain this branch of Philosophy in a simplistic and easy to understand fashion. By exploring different theories and presenting some opposing views on metaphysical ideas, the reader is allowed to not only dive in head first into this sometimes intimidating topic, but is also challenged to think critically on points and ideas brought to light.
In chapter one, Mumford asks a simple enough question, “What is a table?”. Most of us can picture a table in our minds, but what makes a table a table? Was I taught what a table was as a child and therefore I am using my past experience to label this thing a table? I can see it and touch it therefore I know it exists as Mumford points out however, am I just using cues to help me recognize this thing to be a table, four-legs, brown color, wooden, etc., but these are the ‘qualities or properties’ (p.3) of the table and therefore I do not know the object itself, merely its properties. Let us dive in deeper.
Still using our table as an example, imagine now that I painted the table red. Does this change the table? or is it the same table? Here Mumford explains one of the most important ideas to keep in mind in philosophy, “We can say something has changed qualitatively even though it has remained numerically the same.”(p.5) It is indeed the same table and not a different, separate table. Building off of this thought, I can see it is the same table even though one of its properties has changed, therefore when I label a table a table by using its properties, four-legs, redness, woodenness, I am observing its properties and not the table itself. Thus, what is a table if not its properties? Here is an example of what is meant by properties.
Imagine a pin cushion. The cushion holds in many different pins. Some pins can be removed, there are places where pins may be added and some pins can even be replaced. Yet that does not change the fact that the pin cushion is what is holding them all together. So, we can think of the cushion as a particular, ie. table, and the pins as properties, ie. color, hardness, etc. This is known as a substratum view of particulars. By taking away all the properties, abstractly of course, we can begin to try and view the particular for what it is. Herein lies the problem, once the properties begin to go away, it seems we may be left with nothing or a non-thing. No color, no wood, no hardness, no four-legs, etc. leaving nothing. Thus, this issue with substratum view.
Another view is the bundle theory. Instead of thinking in properties as singles, perhaps a bundle of properties is more appropriate. If our thing cannot be more than its properties, meaning once we stripped them away there was nothing left, then obviously the particular is not greater then its properties. Then a bundle of properties may be the answer. However, there is a problem with this theory as well. It cannot survive change. If properties are bundled together then if one were lost and/or replaced with another, it would no longer be the same bundle and therefore would no longer be the same particular. So let us expand this and imagine a bunch of bundles make a particular. In this example, it is possible to create change while still maintaining the particular. Painting the table only changes one particular in one bundle, its hardness, four-legs, etc. are not involved in the change in color. Therefore, a thing must be a series of bundles of properties, united by a degree of continuity (p.8).
Then what of identical twins? Ah, a problem with bundle theory is it does not account for multiples of something. There is more then one tennis ball in the world. So if they have the same properties, thus the same bundles, we have the same thing, not two different. One obvious argument for this is one may say no two objects are exactly the same. There problem solved. However this does not address the ‘philosophical theory’ we are examining (p.9). So, let us take another look. One suggestion is spatiotemporal location. Basically, no two things can occupy the same space at the same time. Two identical tennis balls can be placed on a court, one a foot away from the net and the other five feet from the net. In relation to the net, we can see they are in fact two different things. This opens up a new problem, “There is no guarantee that distinct things really will have different relational properties unless we reintroduce particulars into our metaphysics. Should we think of position in space and time as an absolute or relative matter?” (p.10) If an absolute, then a space would be a particular and not be a part of a bundle of particulars, which we earlier decided would not work. Then relative it is. However Mumford points out that there is a least the possibility that the universe is symmetrical, thus showing we could have two particulars that are identical and could not be distinguishable based on location (p.12).
So, what is a table? A particular that is the sum of its bundle of properties? Or just the properties themselves? Or can a thing ever really be known? Only implied by its particulars? And if change is apart of what makes a thing a thing, at what point does change over take what the thing is, making it a completely different thing? There seem to be some properties that hold a particular together more so then others. For example, painting the table has less of an impact on the table then cutting off two of its legs. Or, is it still a table but just can no longer preform its function as a table? If a car stops working, is it still a car? Or is it just an expensive pile of particulars? But isn’t that what it was to begin with, it just moved and now it doesn’t? Does function and or purpose matter more than particulars? Or are they particulars themselves? They are not physical particulars like color I can see or hardness I can feel. And what about living things? Is a cat still a cat after it passes away? It has just lost its particular labeled life? Perhaps there are different types of properties, physical and abstract?