The Problem of Material Constitution

The antinomy of constitution is an argument that concludes that two material things can be in the same place at the same time, and thus brings attention to enigmas of sameness and identity. The antinomy of constitution can be standardized as:

  1. A piece of clay is a material thing.
  2. If a thing is created from a material thing, then that thing is a material thing distinct from the material thing it was created from.
  3. A statue is created from a material thing.
  4. So, a statue is a material thing distinct from the material thing it was created from.
  5. If a statue is created from a piece of clay then it is a clay statue.
  6. A clay statue is not a single material thing, but rather it is two material things, a piece of clay and a statue.
  7. A clay statue is a clay statue if and only if it is both a piece of clay and a statue.
  8. If a clay statue is a clay statue if and only if it is a piece of clay and a statue then a clay statue is a clay statue if and only if it is two material things.
  9. If a clay statue is two material things then two material things can be in the same place at the same time.
  10. Therefore, two material things can be in the same place at the same time.

The antinomy of constitution is a puzzle because it is a deductively valid argument that leads to the absurd conclusion that two material things can be in the same place at the same time. A deductive argument is a logically strong argument whose conclusion must be true if the premises of the argument are true. Since the antimony of constitution’s conclusion is false one of the premises of the argument must be false.

The premise that is most questionable is the second premise, which postulates, “If a thing is created from a material thing, then that thing is a material thing distinct from the material thing it was created from.” This premise is not easy to accept because we commonly hold that a hamburger patty is not a material thing distinct from ground beef, but rather is a product of the ground beef. As such, the second premise must be replaced by the more intuitive premise, “What is created from a material thing is be a product of that material thing.” This premise resolutely changes the argument such that it leads to the non-absurd conclusion that in the case of a clay statue two material things are not in the same place at the same time and thus that the antinomy of constitution is erroneous. The argument for the resolution of the antinomy of constitution is as follows:

  1. A piece of clay is a material thing.
  2. What is created from a material thing is be a product of that material thing.
  3. A statue is created from a piece of clay.
  4. So, a statue is a product of a material thing.
  5. If an object is a product of a material thing then that object is dependent on a material thing for its being.
  6. So a statue is dependent on a material thing for its being.
  7. If an object is dependent on a material thing for its being then it is less real than the material thing.
  8. If an object is less real than a material thing then it is not a material thing.
  9. So, a statue is not a material thing.
  10. A clay statue is a clay statue if and only if it is both a piece of clay and a statue.
  11. If a clay statue is a clay statue if and only if it is both a piece of clay and a statue, then a clay statue is a clay statue if and only if it is a material thing and a non-material thing (a thing that is not material).
  12. If a clay statue is a clay statue if and only if it is a material thing and a non-material thing then the antinomy of constitution is a falsehood.
  13. Therefore, the antinomy of constitution is a falsehood.

(Note: a little bit of philosophical fun. Not meant as a serious solution to the problem of material constitution but an exercise in intro to philosophy. Nevertheless, I welcome all comments and critiques.)

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  1. #1 by bloggingisaresponsibility on September 22, 2014 - 11:21 am

    Nice, and very readable. I think many philosophical “problems” (e.g.: universals, substance, attribute, etc…) are due to people giving concepts ontological (material) status. Clay is clay, and statue is our interpretation of clay. In fact, we could go further and point out that lay itself is interpretation, until we get down to… raw sense datum? Nothing?

    Reality doesn’t survive close scrutiny 😀

    • #2 by ausomeawestin on September 22, 2014 - 10:04 pm

      Thanks, and I think you are quite right. This seems to be one of those metaphysical puzzles that is fun, but invites skepticism about ontology. oops. lol.

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