Below are some sample, anonymous
questions that I've received from some of you throughout the semester,
and my answers. They cover both specific and general content, and
administrative details of
the course. Please feel free to email me with any questions you have
and I will post the topics publicly here. I will continue to add to
this list as the semester continues. Questions are organized by topic,
and then chronologically. Please let me know if you would
like a particular question posted here, or if you would prefer that I
not post a particular question that you send me via email. Questions
are bulleted and in bold; answers are in regular font.
Specific Questions about Course
Content and Reading Assignments
(chronological according to the reading schedule):
- From what I've gathered from
Wiggins is that parts are aggregate and
from this he recognizes that parts constitute the
whole, however this is not identity. I'm I correct in saying this about
That's right. He thinks that the aggregate of tree molecules, W,
example, and the tree that these molecules constitute, T, are distinct.
I.e., T is not
identical to W. However, his view doesn't stop there, since many people
come to this
same conclusion (merely by using Leibniz's Law). What makes his view
distinctive is that he thinks
that W and T can completely occupy the same place at the same
This is a denial of our principle (6). However, he tries to alleviate
the counter-intuitiveness of this move by replacing (6) with S*.
Because T and W are different kinds of things--i.e., they fall under
different sortals--Wiggins thinks that there is no problem of T and W
completely occupying the same volume at the same time.
- Wiggins S* is that no two things of the
same kind can occupy the same volume at the same time.
- I'm not sure how sortals and
kinds let Wiggins solve the puzzle of the tree and
cellulose? Is it because if you relativize the properties, you don't
break Leibniz's law: that an object a and b are
identical iff a and b have all the same properties?
No. Since he's already admitting that W and T are distinct, Leibniz's
Law doesn't figure into it any more. What he thinks is that
"aggregates" and "trees"
qualify as two different kinds or sortals of things, and so the tree
example does not violate S*.
For more info on Wiggins, go to the Coincident
was reading the Johnston article and about half way through, I thought
I was experiencing vertigo. For example, he writes "Mereology employs
the primitive predicate "O(x,y)" where the intended construal of this
predicate is that x and y "overlap in content" in the broadest
"logical" or topic neutral sense of these terms."(p. 48) What?
Hehe. Yeah, it is a mouthful. What this means is that mereology--the
study of parts and wholes--has a relation or concept called "overlap."
It is just the sort of relation you use when you say: "His paper is
overlapping my paper" or "His beer gut is overlapping his waistband."
Since parts of things always "overlap" the whole that they are a part
of (e.g., can you think of a part of some whole that doesn't overlap
the whole?), this is taken as a basic--or primitive--relation in
mereology. The "O(x, y)" is the way that mereoloists symbolize the
english sentence "x and y overlap." As we saw in class, philosophers
often use variables such as "x" and "y" so that they avoid the messy
and long winded (albeit maybe clearer) language of "something that is a
part of another thing...", etc.
- The Johnston reading uses a lot of mathematical expressions. What
does the upside down "A" represent?
It means "for all" of "for any." When we phrased Leibniz's Law "For any
x and any y, if x=y..." we could have symbolized it using the upside
down "A." This is also explained on the Useful Terms and Concepts page here
- From what I gathered metaphysical properties are things that do
not go against the laws of nature and are not logically contradictory.
Do you mean metaphysical *possibility*? All *properties*
metaphysical in a certain sense, since they are things that exist in
the world (and "metaphysics" means roughly "the study of what there is"
or "the study of the underlying nature of reality").
In class I contrasted metaphysical *possibility*
possibility. I tried to show the difference by way of some examples.
Here are some more:
It is metaphysically possible that pigs have wings, or that you breathe
under water, or that I am taller than Mount Everest. It is not
metaphysically possible that 2+2=5 or that there exists a round square
or that you are bottle cap (that last one is controversial, actually).
It is epistemically possible (for me) that the 5th decimal digit of 5
trillion 200 and one divided by pi is 3, since I have no idea about
such complicated math facts and for all I know, it could be 3. Of
course, since all mathematical truths are necessary, the 5th decimal
digit of the product of that equation is either 3 or it isn't--and it
is not (metaphysically) possible for it to be 3 if it in fact isn't.
But since I am not very math-savvy, for all I know, it could be.
So there's a difference, then, between what *in fact* might be
(metaphycial possibility) and what, for all we know, could be
- I think you gave the example of being in the classroom and not
being in the classroom at the same time. This seems to make perfect
Hm. It should only make sense if that example is an example of what is
*impossible*. You cannot both be in the room and not in the room (at
the same time, in the same way, etc.)
- However, when we discussed modal properties we mentioned that it
is possible that we "could" or "might" be in the classroom and at Four
Corners at the same time.
No. The statement was:
You are in fact in the classroom right now, but you could be
at Four Corners.
This does not mean that you could be in two places at once. Rather it
means that: you are at a certain place now, and you have the modal
property of "could be somewhere else."
General Questions about the
Expectations, and Requirements:
- Should I be placing more
emphasis on the
readings or on the class lectures/discussions?
Hopefully, a bit of both. My intention is that because
reading can be difficult, my job in the classroom should be to make the
reading clearer. So the material we cover in class is
reading material, just put in a way that I hope is easier to digest.
- The Material Constitution book is a
little dense and for me seems only to make the topics we've covered
Actually, they say the same things I do, just symbolically most of the
time. In class, as you will see, I will translate the symbols.
- The readings seem to imply a working knowledge of the subject.
It does. But again, that's what I'm there for.
- You mentioned in class that there may be words or terminologies
that we may be unfamiliar with in the readings. Would it be beneficial
to read the assignments after the lecture?
The best thing to do would be to read it before class, and take in what
you can. In some cases, this may be only 10-15% of the reading. Write
down any questions, if you can. Then, in class, I hope to make it
clearer. Then go over the reading again, after the lecture. My hope is
that you'll see that it then makes a lot more sense and doesn't feel so
much like a foreign language anymore.
- Are [the technical] concepts [and unfamiliar terminology]
something I should have been familiar with
before taking this class?
No. I am not assuming knowledge of this stuff; everyone is in the same
boat. Part of the point of this class is to get you to know this stuff.
- I seem to follow along fairly well with what you talk about in
class, but the book reads like an instruction manual.
Yes it does. You can think of my job as trying to interpret the
instruction manual so that it makes sense and actually instructs you
about something--the underlying nature of objects, hopefully.
- I'm a little discouraged right now and I'm not sure if
I made the right decision in taking this class. It may be that I'm
over one obtuse article, however, I don't want to get in over my head
and not enjoy the class anymore. Is the class going to be focused on
the readings or will it follow along the lines of what we've done in
class thus far?
I know it seems difficult, but I would encourage you to hang in there.
Some of these articles at the beginning are indeed more difficult than
others. Also, you will see that reading them will get easier in its own
right. Keep in mind that I will give you ample time for the papers and
we will be able to go over rough drafts in person, and that there will
be extensive review for the final. The point of this class is to
introduce you to things that you are not familiar with now, so it is
expected that it will be a bit tough going at the beginning. You are
Page Last Updated: Feb. 7, 2008