Thinking about space is thinking about spatial things. The table is on the carpet; hence the carpet is under the table. The vase is in the box; hence the box is not in the vase. But what does it mean for an object to be somewhere? How are objects tied to the space they occupy? This book is concerned with these and other fundamental issues in the philosophy of spatial representation. Our starting point is an analysis of the interplay between (...) mereology (the study of part/whole relations), topology (the study of spatial continuity and compactness), and the theory of spatial location proper. This leads to a unified framework for spatial representation understood quite broadly as a theory of the representation of spatial entities. The framework is then tested against some classical metaphysical questions such as: Are parts essential to their wholes? Is spatial colocation a sufficient criterion of identity? What (if anything) distinguishes material objects from events and other spatial entities? The concluding chapters deal with applications to topics as diverse as the logical analysis of movement and the semantics of maps. (shrink)
A critical survey of the main philosophical theories about events and event talk, organized in three main sections: (i) Events and Other Categories (Events vs. Objects; Events vs. Facts; Events vs. Properties; Events vs. Times); (ii) Types of Events (Activities, Accomplishments, Achievements, and States; Static and Dynamic Events; Actions and Bodily Movements; Mental and Physical Events; Negative Events); (iii) Existence, Identity, and Indeterminacy.
I focus on three mereological principles: the Extensionality of Parthood (EP), the Uniqueness of Composition (UC), and the Extensionality of Composition (EC). These principles are not equivalent. Nonetheless, they are closely related (and often equated) as they all reflect the basic nominalistic dictum, No difference without a difference maker. And each one of them—individually or collectively—has been challenged on philosophical grounds. In the first part I argue that such challenges do not quite threaten EP insofar as they are either self-defeating (...) or unsupported. In the second part I argue that they hardly undermine the tenability of EC and UC as well. (shrink)
I endorse Composition as Identity, broadly and loosely understood as the thesis that a composite whole is nothing over and above its parts, and the parts nothing over and above the whole. Thus, given an object, x, composed of n proper parts, y1, ..., yn, I feel the tension between my Quinean heart and its Lewisian counterpart. I feel the tension between my obligation to countenance n+1 things, x and the y’s, each of which is a distinct portion of reality, (...) and my inclination to count just 1 thing, x, or just n things, the y’s, the former encompassing the same amount of reality as the latter. This paper is an attempt to reconstruct this tension and to explain it away without forgoing the intimate link between counting and countenancing. (shrink)
We can see mereology as a theory of parthood and topology as a theory of wholeness. How can these be combined to obtain a unified theory of parts and wholes? This paper examines various non-equivalent ways of pursuing this task, with specific reference to its relevance to spatio-temporal reasoning. In particular, three main strategies are compared: (i) mereology and topology as two independent (though mutually related) chapters; (ii) mereology as a general theory subsuming topology; (iii) topology as a general theory (...) subsuming mereology. Some more speculative strategies and directions for further research are also considered. (shrink)
Holes are a good example of the sort of entity that down-to-earth philosophers would be inclined to expel from their ontological inventory. In this work we argue instead in favor of their existence and explore the consequences of this liberality—odd as they might appear. We examine the ontology of holes, their geometry, their part-whole relations, their identity and their causal role, the ways we perceive them. We distinguish three basic kinds of holes: blind hollows, perforating tunnels, and internal cavities, treating (...) these uniformly as immaterial bodies. We develop a morphology of holes, focusing on the way a hole can be filled, and then look at the main properties of the resulting conceptual framework: holes are parasitic upon the surfaces of their hosts; holes can move, fuse into each other, split; they can be born, develop, and die. Finally, we examine how some morphological features of holes are represented in perception, including the conditions whereby we have the impression that we see, feel, or even hear a hole. The book has over 150 pictures and is completed by a formal appendix, a section with puzzles and exercises, and a extensive annotated bibliography. (shrink)
I argue that the conjunction of perdurantism (the view that objects are temporally extended) and universalism (the thesis that any old class of things has a mereological fusion) gives rise to undesired complications when combined with certain plausible assumptions concerning the semantics of tensed statements.
Convexity predicates and the convex hull operator continue to play an important role in theories of spatial representation and reasoning, yet their first-order axiomatization is still a matter of controversy. In this paper, we present a new approach to adding convexity to mereotopological theory with boundary elements by specifying first-order axioms for a binary segment operator s. We show that our axioms yields a convex hull operator h that supports, not only the basic properties of convex regions, but also complex (...) properties concerning region alignment. We also argue that h is stronger than convex hull operators from existing axiomatizations and show how to derive the latter from our axioms for s. (shrink)
There is a basic distinction, in the realm of spatial boundaries, between bona fide boundaries on the one hand, and fiat boundaries on the other. The former are just the physical boundaries of old. The latter are exemplified especially by boundaries induced through human demarcation, for example in the geographic domain. The classical problems connected with the notions of adjacency, contact, separation and division can be resolved in an intuitive way by recognizing this two-sorted ontology of boundaries. Bona fide boundaries (...) yield a notion of contact that is effectively modeled by classical topology; the analogue of contact involving fiat boundaries calls, however, for a different account, based on the intuition that fiat boundaries do not support the open/closed distinction on which classical topology is based. In the presence of this two-sorted ontology it then transpires that mereotopology—topology erected on a mereological basis—is more than a trivial formal variant of classical point-set topology. (shrink)
One logic or many? I say—many. Or rather, I say there is one logic for each way of specifying the class of all possible circumstances, or models, i.e., all ways of interpreting a given language. But because there is no unique way of doing this, I say there is no unique logic except in a relative sense. Indeed, given any two competing logical theories T1 and T2 (in the same language) one could always consider their common core, T, and settle (...) on that theory. So, given any language L, one could settle on the minimal logic T0 corresponding to the common core shared by all competitors. That would be a way of resisting relativism, as long as one is willing to redraw the bounds of logic accordingly. However, such a minimal theory T0 may be empty if the syntax of L contains no special ingredients the interpretation of which is independent of the specification of the relevant L-models. And generally—I argue—this is indeed the case. (shrink)
The so-called "argument from vagueness", the clearest formulation of which is to be found in Ted Sider’s book Four-dimensionalism, is arguably the most powerful and innovative argument recently offered in support of the view that objects are four-dimensional perdurants. The argument is defective--I submit--and in a number of ways that is worth looking into. But each "defect" corresponds to a model of change that is independently problematic and that can hardly be built into the common-sense picture of the world. So (...) once all the gaps of the argument are filled in, the three-dimensionalist is left with the burden of a response that cannot rely on a passive plea for common sense. The argument is not a threat to common sense as such; it is a threat to the three-dimensionalist faithfulness to common sense. (shrink)
According to the cliché a picture is worth a thousand words. But this is a canard, for it vastly underestimates the expressive power of many pictures and diagrams. In this note we show that even a simple map such as the outline of Manhattan Island, accompanied by a pointer marking North, implies a vast infinity of statements—including a vast infinity of true statements.
Standard lore has it that a proper name is a temporally rigid designator. It picks out the same entity at every time at which it picks out an entity at all. If the entity in question is an enduring continuant then we know what this means, though we are also stuck with a host of metaphysical puzzles concerning endurance itself. If the entity in question is a perdurant then the rigidity claim is trivial, though one is left wondering how it (...) is that different speakers ever manage to pick out one and the same entity when a host of suitable, overlapping candidates are available. But what if the entity in question is neither a continuant nor a perdurant? What if the things we talk about in ordinary language are time-bound entities that cannot truly be said to persist through time, or stage sequences whose unity resides exclusively in our minds--like the “waves” at the stadium or the characters of a cartoon? In such cases the rigidity claim can’t be right and a counterpart-theoretic semantics seems required. Is that bad? I say it isn’t. And it had better not be, if that turns out to be the best metaphysical option we have. (shrink)
That parthood is a transitive relation is among the most basic principles of classical mereology. Alas, it is also very controversial. In a recent paper, Ingvar Johansson has put forward a novel diagnosis of the problem, along with a corresponding solution. The diagnosis is on the right track, I argue, but the solution is misleading. And once the pieces are properly put together, we end up with a reinforcement of the standard defense of transitivity on behalf of classical mereology.
This is a brief sequel to Max Black 's classic dialogue on the Identity of Indiscernibles. Interlocutor A defends the bundle theory by endorsing the view according to which Black 's world does not contain two indiscernible spheres but rather a single, bi-located sphere. His opponent, B, objects that A cannot distinguish such a world from a world with a single, uniquely located sphere, hence that the view in question adds nothing to A's original response to Black 's challenge. A (...) is simply denying that there can be worlds with two or more indiscernible entities. (shrink)
The idea that an adequate semantics of ordinary language calls for some theory of events has sparked considerable debate among linguists and philosophers. On the one hand, so many linguistic phenomena appear to be explained if (and, according to some authors, only if) we make room for logical forms in which reference to or quantification over events is explicitly featured. Examples include nominalization, adverbial modification, tense and aspect, plurals, and singular causal statements. On the other hand, a number of deep (...) philosophical questions arise as soon as we take events into consideration. Are events entities of a kind? What are their identity and individuation criteria? How does semantic theorizing depend on such metaphysical issues? The aim of this book is to address such issues in some depth, with emphasis precisely on the interplay between linguistic applications and philosophical implications. Contributors: N. Asher, P. M. Bertinetto, J. Brandl, D. Delfitto, R. Eckardt, J. Higginbotham, A. Lenci, T. Parsons, A. ter Meulen, H. Verkuyl. A comprehensive introductory essay (pp. 3-47) is included. (shrink)
It is customary practice to define ‘x is composed of the ys’ as ‘x is a sum of the ys and the ys are pairwise disjoint ’. This predicate has played a central role in the debate on the special composition question and on related metaphysical issues concerning the mereological structure of objects. In this note we show that the customary characterization is nonetheless inadequate. We do so by constructing a mereological model where everything qualifies as composed of atoms even (...) though some elements in the domain are gunky, i.e., can be divided indefinitely into smaller and smaller proper parts. (shrink)
A philosophical dialogue on the functioning, the limits, and the paradoxes of our electoral practices, dealing with such basic questions as: What is a vote? How do we count votes? And do votes really count?
According to a popular line of reasoning, diachronic vagueness creates a problem for the endurantist conception of persistence. Some authors have replied that this line of reasoning is inconclusive, since the endurantist can subscribe to a principle of Diachronic Unrestricted Composition (DUC) that is perfectly parallel to the principle required by the perdurantist’s semantic account. I object that the endurantist should better avoid DUC. And I argue that even DUC, if accepted, would fail to provide the endurantist with the necessary (...) resources for explaining diachronic vagueness in familiar semantic terms. (shrink)
Quine’s desert is generally contrasted with Meinong’s jungle, as a sober ontological alternative to the exuberant luxuriance that comes with the latter. Here I focus instead on the desert as a sober metaphysical alternative to the Aristotelian garden, with its tidily organized varieties of flora and fauna neatly governed by fundamental laws that reflect the essence of things and the way they can be, or the way they must be. In the desert there are no “natural joints”; all the boundaries (...) we find are lines we have drawn, artificial fencings that merely reflect of our own demarcations, our classifications, our desperate need to ward off the flux and meet an excusable but ungrounded demand for order and stability. The desert returns a picture of reality that is radically anti-realist. And yet the picture does not amount to a form of irrealism. The desert is out there and is what it is regardless of how we feel. And it is not completely structureless. It’s just that the structure it has is very thin and does not correspond to the sort of structure that so-called metaphysical realists—and scientific realists alike—tend to attribute to it. (shrink)
An outline of the wealth of philosophical material that hides behind the flat world of geographic maps, with special reference to (i) the centrality of the boundary concept, (ii) the problem of vagueness, and (iii) the metaphysical question (if such there be) of the identity and persistence conditions of geographic entities. Serves as an introduction to the special issue of "Topoi" (20:2, 2001) on the Philosophy of Geography.
There is no doughnut without a hole, the saying goes. And that’s true. If you think you can come up with an exception, it simply wouldn’t be a doughnut. Holeless doughnuts are like extensionless color, or durationless sound—nonsense. Does it follow, then, that when we buy a doughnut we really purchase two sorts of thing—the edible stuff plus the little chunk of void in the middle? Surely we cannot just take the doughnut and leave the hole at the grocery store, (...) as we cannot just eat the doughnut and save the hole for later. But then, again, surely when we eat a doughnut we do not also eat the hole. Or do we? (shrink)
On the difficulty of extracting the logical form of a seemingly simple sentence such as ‘If Andy went to the movie then Beth went too, but only if she found a taxi cab’, with some morals and questions on the nature of the difficulty.
We tend to talk about (refer to, quantify over) parts in the same way in which we talk about whole objects. Yet a part is not something to be included in an inventory of the world over and above the whole to which it belongs, and a whole is not something to be included in the inventory over and above its constituent parts. This paper is an attempt to clarify a way of dealing with this tension which may be labeled (...) the Minimalist View: An element in the field of a part-whole relation is to be included in an inventory of the world if and only if it does not overlap any distinct element that is itself included in the inventory. (shrink)
Peter Simons has argued that the expression ‘the universe’ is not a genuine singular term: it can name neither a single, completely encompassing individual, nor a collection of individuals. (It is, rather, a semantically plural term standing equally for every existing object.) I offer reasons for resisting Simons’s arguments on both scores.
The concept of niche (setting, context, habitat, environment) has been little studied by ontologists, in spite of its wide application in a variety of disciplines from evolutionary biology to economics. What follows is a first formal theory of this concept, a theory of the relations between objects and their niches. The theory builds upon existing work on mereology, topology, and the theory of spatial location as tools of formal ontology. It will be illustrated above all by means of simple biological (...) examples, but the concept of niche should be understood as being, like concepts such as part, boundary, and location, a structural concept that is applicable in principle to a wide range of different domains. (shrink)
Some have argued that the vagueness exhibited by geographic names and descriptions such as ‘Albuquerque’, ‘the Outback’, or ‘Mount Everest’ is ultimately ontological: these terms are vague because they refer to vague objects, objects with fuzzy boundaries. I take the opposite stand and hold the view that geographic vagueness is exclusively semantic, or conceptual at large. There is no such thing as a vague mountain. Rather, there are many things where we conceive a mountain to be, each with its precise (...) boundary, and when we say ‘Everest’ we are just being vague as to which thing we are referring to. This paper defends this view against some plausible objections. (shrink)
There are conflicting intuitions concerning the status of a boundary separating two adjacent entities (or two parts of the same entity). The boundary cannot belong to both things, for adjacency excludes overlap; and it cannot belong to neither, for nothing lies between two adjacent things. Yet how can the dilemma be avoided without assigning the boundary to one thing or the other at random? Some philosophers regard this as a reductio of the very notion of a boundary, which should accordingly (...) be treated a mere façon de parler. In this paper I resist this temptation and examine some ways of taking the puzzle at face value within a realist perspective—treating boundaries as ontologically on a par with (albeit parasitic upon) extended parts. (shrink)
A lot of work in metaphysics relies on linguistic analysis and intuitions. Do we want to know what sort of things there are or could be? Then let’s see what sort of things there must be in order for what we truthfully say to be true. Do we want to see whether x is distinct from y? Then let’s see whether there is any statement that is true of x but not of y. And so on. In this paper I (...) argue that this way of proceeding is full of traps and is bound to be pretty useless unless we already have a good idea of what sort of things there are, and of how we are going to count them. (shrink)
A critical survey of the fundamental philosophical issues in the logic and formal ontology of space, with special emphasis on the interplay between mereology (the theory of parthood relations), topology (broadly understood as a theory of qualitative spatial relations such as continuity and contiguity), and the theory of spatial location proper.
Human cognitive acts are directed towards objects extended in space of a wide range of different types. What follows is a new proposal for bringing order into this typological clutter. The theory of spatially extended objects should make room not only for the objects of physics but also for objects at higher levels, including the objects of geography and of related disciplines. It should leave room for different types of boundaries, including both the bona fide boundaries which we find in (...) the physical world and the fiat (or human-demarcation-induced) boundaries with which much of geography has to deal. Two distinct axiomatic theories of boundaries are accordingly presented, and the need for both is examined in some detail. The resultant dual framework is shown to have application above all for our understanding of issues involving contact, division, and separation, issues which have posed serious difficulties for the ontological theories of boundaries that have been proposed hitherto. (shrink)
In previous work I have argued that talk about negative events should not be taken at face value: typically, what we are inclined to think of as a negative event (John’s failure to go jogging) is just an ordinary, positive event (his going to the movie instead); it is a positive event under a negative description. Here I consider more closely the difficulties that arise in those cases where no positive event seems available to do the job, as with putative (...) cases of causation by omission. In particular, I elaborate on Helen Beebee’s idea that not all causal explanations are reports of causation. When we mention John’s failure to turn off the gas as an explanans of why there was an explosion, we do not say what caused the explosion. We do not mention any of the relevant causes. We just remark that one sort of event that was supposed to occur, and whose occurrence would have prevented the explosion, did not in fact occur. (shrink)
The paper outlines a model-theoretic framework for investigating and comparing a variety of mereotopological theories. In the first part we consider different ways of characterizing a mereotopology with respect to (i) the intended interpretation of the connection primitive, and (ii) the composition of the admissible domains of quantification (e.g., whether or not they include boundary elements). The second part extends this study by considering two further dimensions along which different patterns of topological connection can be classified - the strength of (...) the connection and its multiplicity. (shrink)
Suppose we get a chance to ask an angel a question of our choice. What should we ask to make the most of our unique opportunity? Ned Markosian has shown that the task is trickier than it might seem. Ted Sider has suggested playing safe and asking: What is the true proposition (or one of the true propositions) that would be most beneficial for us to be told? Let's see whether we can do any better than that.
Abstract. As a general theory of reasoning—and as a general theory of what holds true under every possible circumstance—logic is supposed to be ontologically neutral. It ought to have nothing to do with questions concerning what there is, or whether there is anything at all. It is for this reason that traditional Aristotelian logic, with its tacit existential presuppositions, was eventually deemed inadequate as a canon of pure logic. And it is for this reason that modern quantification theory, too, with (...) its residue of existentially loaded theorems and patterns of inference, has been claimed to suffer from a defect of logical purity. The law of non-contradiction rules out certain circumstances as impossible—circumstances in which a statement is both true and false, or perhaps circumstances where something both is and is not the case. Is this to be regarded as a further ontological bias? (shrink)
David Lewis has argued that impossible worlds are nonsense: if there were such worlds, one would have to distinguish between the truths about their contradictory goings-on and contradictory falsehoods about them; and this--Lewis argues--is preposterous. In this paper I examine a way of resisting this argument by giving up the assumption that ‘in so-and-so world’ is a restricting modifier which passes through the truth-functional connectives The outcome is a sort of subvaluational semantics which makes a contradiction ‘A & ~A’ false (...) even when both ‘A’ and ‘~A’ are true, just as supervaluational semantics makes a tautology ‘A v ~A’ true even when neither ‘A’ nor ‘~A’ are. Connections with discussive logics and complications of the account are discussed, and some general morals are drawn. (shrink)
A critical review of the main themes arising out of recent literature on the semantics of ordinary event talk. The material is organized in four sections: (i) the nature of events, with emphasis on the opposition between events as particulars and events as universals; (ii) identity and indeterminacy, with emphasis on the unifier/multiplier controversy; (iii) events and logical form, with emphasis on Davidson’s treatment of the form of action sentences; (iv) linguistic applications, with emphasis on issues concerning aspectual phenomena, the (...) telicity/atelicity distinction, the treatment of statives, and temporal quantification. (shrink)
We think of a boundary whenever we think of an entity demarcated from its surroundings. There is a boundary (a line) separating Maryland and Pennsylvania. There is a boundary (a circle) isolating the interior of a disc from its exterior. There is a boundary (a surface) enclosing the bulk of this apple. Sometimes the exact location of a boundary is unclear or otherwise controversial (as when you try to trace out the margins of Mount Everest, or even the boundary of (...) your own body). Sometimes the boundary lies skew to any physical discontinuity or qualitative differentiation (as with the border of Wyoming, or the boundary between the upper and lower halves of a homogeneous sphere). But whether sharp or blurry, natural or artificial, for every object there appears to be a boundary that marks it off from the rest of the world. Events, too, have boundaries — at least temporal boundaries. Our lives are bounded by our births and by our deaths; the soccer game began at 3pm sharp and ended with the referee's final whistle at 4:45pm. It is sometimes suggested that even abstract entities, such as concepts or sets, have boundaries of their own, and Wittgenstein could emphatically proclaim that the boundaries of our language are the boundaries of our world. Whether all this boundary talk is coherent, however, and whether it reflects the structure of the world or simply the organizing activity of our mind, are matters of deep philosophical controversy. (shrink)
According to a certain familiar way of dividing up the business of philosophy, ontology is concerned with the question of what entities exist (a task that is often identified with that of drafting a “complete inventory” of the universe) whereas metaphysics seeks to explain, of those entities, what they are (i.e., to specify the “ultimate nature” of the items included in the inventory). This distinction carries with it a natural thought, namely, that ontology is in some way prior to metaphysics. (...) One must first of all figure out what things exist (or might exist); then one can attend to the further question of what they are, specify their nature, speculate on those features that make each thing the thing it is. I sympathize with that thought, but there is a major worry lurking in the background and there are several complications that emerge in the foreground. The purpose of this paper is to address such worries and complications and to come up with a plausible way of understanding the “priority thesis” that makes it both reasonable and, hopefully, useful. (shrink)
What are the relationships between an entity and the space at which it is located? And between a region of space and the events that take place there? What is the metaphysical structure of localization? What its modal status? This paper addresses some of these questions in an attempt to work out at least the main coordinates of the logical structure of localization. Our task is mostly taxonomic. But we also highlight some of the underlying structural features and we single (...) out the interactions between the notion of localization and nearby notions, such as the notions of part and whole, or of necessity and possibility. A theory of localization—we argue—is needed in order to account for the basic relations between objects and space, and runs afoul a pure part-whole theory. We also provide an axiomatization of the relation of localization and examine cases of localization involving entities different from material objects. (shrink)
In a calculation involving imaginary numbers, we begin with real numbers that represent concrete measures and we end up with numbers that are equally real, but in the course of the operation we find ourselves walking “as if on a bridge that stands on no piles”. How is that possible? How does that work? And what is involved in the as-if stance that this metaphor introduces so beautifully? These are questions that bother Törless deeply. And that Törless is bothered by (...) such questions is a central question for any reader of Törless. Here I offer my interpretation, along with a reconstruction of the philosophical intuition that lies behind it all. (shrink)
Assuming that events form a genuine ontological category, shall we say that a good inventory of the world ought to include “negative” events—failures, omissions, things that didn’t happen—along with positive ones? I argue that we shouldn’t. Talk of non-occurring events is like talk of non-existing objects and should not be taken at face value. We often speak as though there were such things, but deep down we want our words to be interpreted in such a way as to avoid serious (...) ontological commitment. (shrink)
Are there any bona fide boundaries, i.e., boundaries that carve at the joints? Or is any boundary —hence any object—the result of a fiat articulation reflecting our cognitive biases and our so-cial practices and conventions? Does the choice between these two options amount to a choice between realism and wholesome relativism?
A critical survey of topics that play a central role in contemporary analytic ontology and metaphysics, including, identity, persistence through time, the problem of universals, the notion of ontological commitment, and the boundary between semantic issues and metaphysics proper.