Monday, July 18, 2005

Individuals and their Constituents

Here's the last part of Alan Cook's comment from the previous post's discussion about Bill Vallicella's book:
You quote, or paraphrase, Bill to the effect that "existence is the unity of an individual's ontological constituents."
-- What is an "ontological constituent"?
-- What is an "individual?" (Does the term refer primarily or solely to subjects of experience, such as persons, or is the glass of beer on my desk an "individual"?)
-- What's the relationship between the answers to the above two questions; that is, why should we think that individuals have ontological constituents?

I'm sure Bill has very good answers to these questions; maybe formulating your own answers might help increase your understanding (and mine) of his viewpoint.
Here's my shot at a brief response:

As a starting point, I think we can take individuals and their constituents in the classic sense of talking about objects and the properties they contain or exemplify (apples which are red and round). Often Bill V. uses simple examples like this. And I take the category of individuals to be expansive and include me as well as my beer.

But despite my example using “red” and “round” which refer to perceptual appearances, for the purposes of this exercise we are being realists. Individuated things exists out there in the world independent of us; we can philosophize about them without having to assume we are really only talking about aspects of concepts and language. Now I would also add that this doesn’t mean we are naive realists, who precisely identify our perceptions with reality. I think it just means that despite the idiosyncrasies of the causal chains linking us to other things, we can at least assume they exist and have attributes analogous to what we apprehend.

Now I must also mention that often, depending on the context, Bill V. also talks about individuals as truth-making facts and/or states of affairs rather than objects; I take it by the way he moves back and forth that he sees these modes of “individual” as consistent with each other.

Now, when you ask, is an individual a “subject of experience” I think you are asking a very interesting question. (BTW this is not an angle Bill V. pursues in the book). I’m intrigued by the idea that the very same entities or processes responsible for the existence of individuals are what endow the individual as a subject of experience. Further, following through, this would be true of any individual, not just human beings: a panexperientialist system. Keep in mind this is just me talking here.

As to your last question, about why we should assume individuals have constituents? There are theories where the lowest level constituent would have the same kind of status as bundles of these constituents – I take it that this is true of trope theory (this is one of the very large number of alternative theories criticized in the book). But usually I would think an individual needs to contain a constituent or exemplify some property for it to be able to exist or enter into causal relations. (In the book, Bill V. also criticizes perspectives which hold that individuals are irreducible entities.)

1 comment:

Alan said...

Thanks for the link, Steve. I'm going to hold off on saying anything more on this topic until I've gotten hold of Bill's book.