[Review of the book Plato on Parts and Wholes: The Metaphysics of Structure, by Varte]

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  • Introduction: Imagine David Lewis, David Armstrong and Peter van Inwagen involved in a debate that starts with the hypothesis “If One is” and purports to deduce from it the conclusion “Then, chopped up by Being, it is many and unlimited in multitude”. Verity Harte’s groundbreaking and insightful new book takes us into a mind set from which we can see that contemporary metaphysicians, even though they of course would not put it that way, are very much up to the same thing as Plato in his discussion of parts and wholes in the Theaetetus, Sophist, Parmenides, Philebus, and Timaeus. In fact, as Harte argues in a work that impressively straddles both detailed scholarly debates in ancient philosophyaswell as ongoing discussions in contemporarymetaphysics, Plato is preciselyconcerned to take a stand on what we would now describe as van Inwagen’s “Special Composition Question”, the question “Under what conditions do many things compose one thing?” (van Inwagen (1990)), and to come out against David Lewis’ “Axiom of Unrestricted Composition”, according to which any plurality of objects whatsoever, no matter how disparate and dissimilar, composes a further object, their mereological sum (Lewis (1991)).1 Without ever leaving her firm grounding in the subtle and textually sensitive concerns of a historian of philosophy, Harte artfully takes us through some of the most difficult contexts in Plato’s writings and constructs for us a coherent, believable and suspenseful reading of the text, which not only succeeds in portraying Plato as a serious contender in the debate concerningmereological composition, alongside current theorists, but which actually extracts from Plato’s texts the outlines of a viable conception of composition that is in some ways more attractive than those offered by present-day writers.

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    © 2002 K. Koslicki et al. This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original author(s) and source must be cited.
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    • Koslicki, K. (2002). [Review of the book Plato on Parts and Wholes: The Metaphysics of Structure, by V. Harte]. The Journal of Philosophy, 101(9), 492-496.
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