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A Puzzle About Material Constitution and How to Solve It: Enriching Constitution Views in Metaphysics

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  • 1. Two Intuitions and a Puzzle “Constitution” may be a philosophical term of art, but the idea of one thing’s being materially constituted by another thing (or other things) is one that ordinary folk are perfectly familiar with. When we talk explicitly of something’s being made up of, being made of, consisting of, or being composed of a material thing or things, we appeal to the concept of material constitution. Sentences that ascribe relations of material constitution can elicit widespread intuitions. Consider (A) and (B): (A) The liquid in this glass is constituted by molecules of water. (B) The statue in front of me, David, is constituted by a piece of marble. (A) and (B) are not only perfectly intelligible sentences but sentences that would be widely agreed to express propositions that could be true, given their utterance in the right sorts of everyday context. For (A) such a context could be one in which there is a glass of water before speaker and hearer, and the speaker is explaining to a chemically naïve hearer what is in the glass. For (B) such a context could be one in which the speaker is standing before Michelangelo’s David marveling at the aesthetic power of what Michelangelo has managed to produce through the artistic medium of sculpture. If our speakers had used “is made of”, “is made up of”, “consists of”, or “is composed of” in place of “is constituted by” in (A) and (B), they would normally be taken to have said (roughly) the same thing as they actually say in uttering (A) and (B).

  • Date created
    2007
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  • Type of Item
    Article (Published)
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R3NV99R5S
  • License
    Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 4.0 International
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  • Citation for previous publication
    • Wilson, R.A. (2007). A Puzzle About Material Constitution and How to Solve It: Enriching Constitution Views in Metaphysics. Philosophers' Imprint, 7(5), 1-20. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3521354.0007.005
  • Link to related item
    http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3521354.0007.005