Statues and lumps: A strange coincidence?

Synthese 148 (2):401 - 423 (2006)
Abstract
Puzzles about persistence and change through time, i.e., about identity across time, have foundered on confusion about what it is for ‘two things’ to be have ‘the same thing’ at a time. This is most directly seen in the dispute over whether material objects can occupy exactly the same place at the same time. This paper defends the possibility of such coincidence against several arguments to the contrary. Distinguishing a temporally relative from an absolute sense of ‘the same’, we see that the intuition, ‘this is only one thing’, and the dictum, ‘two things cannot occupy the same place at the same time’, are individuating things at a time rather than absolutely and are therefore compatible with coincidence. Several other objections philosophers have raised ride on this same ambiguity. Burke, originating what has become the most popular objection to coincidence, argues that if coincidence is possible there would be no explanation of how objects that are qualitatively the same at a time could belong to different sorts. But we can explain an object’s sort by appealing to its properties at other times. Burke’s argument to the contrary equivocates on different notions of ‘cross-time identity’ and ‘the statue’. From a largely negative series of arguments emerges a positive picture of what it means to say multiple things coincide and of why an object’s historical properties explain its sort rather than vice versa – in short, of how coincidence is possible.
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