Topological essentialism

Philosophical Studies 100 (3):217-236 (2000)
Your left and right hands are now touching each other. This could have been otherwise; but could your hands not be attached to the rest of your body? Sue is now putting the doughnut on the coffe table. She could have left it in the box; but could she have left only the hole in the box? Could her doughnut be holeless? Could it have two holes instead? Could the doughnut have a different hole than the one it has? Some spatial facts seem tainted by necessity. This is problematic, since spatial facts are a paradigm of contingency. But the intermingling of space and modality may be surprisingly intricate. To a degree this is already visible in the part-whole structure of extended bodies. Parthood, itself a prima facie extrinsic relation, has an uncertain modal status. And questions about the necessity or the contingency of spatial facts and relations seem to run parallel to questions about the necessity or the contingency of parthood relations. Consider: Could an object have different parts than the ones it has? Common sense has an easy, affirmative answer to this question. However, 1 there are philosophers who, pressed by the need to overcome difficult conundrums concerning the identity of spatio-temporal particulars, have cast doubts on the adequacy of the common-sense answer. In recent years, for instance, Roderick Chisholm [1973, 1975, 1976] has defended the radical view that a true individual can neither gain nor lose parts, so that each single part is essential to it—a view that has come to be known as mereological es- sentialism
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