Q and A's

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.

(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 him?

That's right. He thinks that the aggregate of tree molecules, W, for 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 time.  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.

That's right.

• 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 and cellulose example does not violate S*.

• I 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* are 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* with epistemic 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 (epistemic possibility).

• 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 sense.

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."

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 the reading can be difficult, my job in the classroom should be to make the reading clearer. So the material we cover in class is the 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 more difficult.

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 overreacting 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 not alone.

Page Last Updated: Feb. 7, 2008
Back to Phil 330 Main Page
Back to Meg's Teaching Page
Back to Meg's Main Page