Material Objects and Their Parts

Bill Brewer 1
  • 1 Department of Philosophy, King’s College London
Bill Brewer


Commonsense appears committed to enduring macroscopic material objects that exclude each other from their precise location at all times. I elaborate a specific version of the commonsense commitment and consider its merits in connection with an important line of objection concerning the relation between material objects and their parts. The central thesis is that amongst persisting macroscopic material objects there are Natural Continuants, NCs, whose unity at a time and over time is entirely independent of our concepts, which occupy their precise spatial location Exclusively at all times, and which ground Artificial Continuants, ACs, by partition, collection, and approximation. I call the position the Natural Continuants View (NCV). Section “The Natural Continuants View” offers a provisional characterization. Section “Spatial Partition” considers a familiar puzzle concerning the idea that material objects may survive the loss of a part in order to provide intuitive motivation for (NCV) and to elaborate its commitments concerning (spatial) parts. The result is an account of the way in which NCs ground ACs by spatial partition. Section “Collection and Approximation” turns to a consideration of collections and assemblages of NCs. Section “Conclusion” concludes.

  • Ayers, M. 1974. “Individuals Without Sortals.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 4:113–148.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ayers, M. 1991a. “Substance: Prolegomena to a Realist Theory of Identity.” Journal of Philosophy 88:69–90.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ayers, M. 1991b. Locke, Volume II: Ontology. London: Routledge.

  • Brewer, B. 2015: “Exclusive Individuals”. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 89, 125–142.

  • Chisholm, R. 1973. “Parts as Essential to Their Wholes.” Review of Metaphysics 26:581–603.

  • Chisholm, R. 1975. “Mereological Essentialism: Further Considerations.” Review of Metaphysics 28:477–484.

  • Dorr, C., and G. Rosen 2002. “Composition as Fiction.” In The Blackwell Guide to Metaphysics, edited by R. Gale. Oxford: Balckwell.

  • Fine, K. 1999. “Things and Their Parts.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 23:61–74.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Gallois, A. 1998. Occasions of Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Geach, P. 1967. “Identity.” Review of Metaphysics 21:3–12.

  • Geach, P. 1973. “Ontological Relativity and Relative Identity.” In Logic and Ontology, edited by M. Munitz. New York: New York University Press.

  • Geach, P. 1980. Reference and Generality. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • Griffin, N. 1977. Relative Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Heller, M. 1984. “Temporal Parts of Four Dimensional Objects.” Philosophical Studies 46:323–334.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Heller, M. 1990. The Ontology of Physical Objects: Four Dimensional Hunks of Matter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Jones, N. 2015. “Multiple Constitution.” In Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, Vol. 9, edited by K. Bennett and D. Zimmerman. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Lewis, D. 1986. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Mackie, J. 1976. Problems from Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Madden, R. MS: “The Persistence of Animate Organisms”.

  • Merricks, T. 2001. Objects and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Quine, W. 1950. “Identity, Ostension and Hypostasis.” Journal of Philosophy 47:621–633.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Quine, W. 1960. Word and Object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Sider, T. 2001. Four-Dimensionalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Sider, T. 2013. “Against Parthood.” In Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, Vol. 8, edited by K. Bennett and D. Zimmerman. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Thompson, J. 1998. “The Statue and the Clay.” Nous 32:149–173.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Unger, P. 1979. “I Do Not Exist.” In Perception and Identity, edited by G. MacDonald. London: Macmillan.

  • Van Cleve, J. 1986. “Mereological Essentialism, Mereological Conjunctivism and Identity through Time.” In Midwest Studies in Philosophy, edited by P. French and H. Wettstein, xi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Van Inwagen, P. 1990. Material Beings. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • Wiggins, D. 1967. Identity and Spatio-Temporal Continuity. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Wiggins, D. 1968. “On Being in the Same Place at the Same Time.” Philosophical Review 77:90–95.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Wiggins, D. 1980. Sameness and Substance. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Wiggins, D. 2001. Sameness and Substance Renewed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues