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Matter and Objecthood Disentangled

  • Henry Laycock (a1)

A distinction is drawn in “Matter and Objecthood” (henceforth MO) between two analyses of the status of matter vis-à-vis structured objects—between what is presented as a straightforward “two-level” analysis, and a putatively “deeper”, more dubious “three-level” analysis which the author believes to be posited by “Some Questions of Ontology” (henceforth SQO). It is at this “third level” (whatever it might be) that the dubious category of the “concrete non-particular” is said to be located.

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1 In the ordinary sense of the term, a chunk of stuff is a single spatially compact mass or (relatively) unstructured aggregate of stuff, something which can be destroyed by being divided. And to destroy an individual chunk of (say) bronze by chopping it into bits is not to destroy the bronze of which the chunk consisted. (It goes without saying that Denkel is well aware of this.) And there is textual evidence that “chunk”, etc., are used in the sense of “a single compact mass”. Thus speaking of the contrast between structured objects and “chunks” and “portions”, Denkel asks the curious question “Is the sweater more than the yarn of wool rolled in a ball?” (MO 5, my italics). He also remarks that “if a portion of stuff is dispersed into its elements, the portion will not exist as an integral body, and when the elements are brought back together in a single portion, there will be an important lack of criterion in identifying the two portions …” (MO 10, my italics). Again, insofar as a portion of matter is said to have a “more or less clear-cut boundary or form and is distinguishable from the rest of existence” (MO 5) it seems to be thought of as chunk-like in the ordinary sense.

2 Earlier, the terms “chunk of”, “hunk of” “parcel of” and “portion of” all appear to be used interchangeably (see MO 4–5).

3 There is equivocation in Denkel's paper between a concern (a) to actually identify some “third level” of analysis and then to show that this level is misinterpreted as being a level of the concrete non-particular, and (b) to deny the existence of any “third level”—in effect, of any potential problem—in the first place.

4 That is, “… of stuff” is used as equivalent not to “chunk of stuff” in the ordinary sense, but just to “stuff” itself, as it occurs as a general term after the definite article or a demonstrative. In the literature, terms like, e.g., “portion of bronze” are sometimes introduced simply as count nouns, supposedly to say what, e.g., the bronze of some statue is one of, given that expressions of the form “one bronze” are not well-formed for the purpose. In short “this portion of …” is sometimes introduced as a (putatively) syntactic variant on “this …”, since (trivially) the mass noun itself is not a count noun and cannot be combined with numerical adjectives.

5 This is I believe made perfectly clear in “Theories of Matter” (see note 6 below), a paper intended to clarify the doctrine of SQO and with which Denkel may not be familiar.

6 See Laycock Henry, “Theories of Matter” in Pelletier F. J., ed., Mass Terms: Some Philosophical Problems, Synthese Language Library (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1979), 89120. Aspects of the doctrine have been criticized by, among others, Cartwright Helen, “Parts and Partitives: Notes on What Things Are Made Of”, Synthese 58 (1984), 251277; Hacker P. M. S., “Substance: The Constitution of Reality”, in Midwest Studies in Philosophy IV: Studies in Metaphysics (1979), 239261; Cook Kathleen C.. “On the Usefulness of Quantities”, in Pelletier, Mass Terms; and Wald Jan, Stuff und Words (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Department of Philosophy and History of Ideas. Brandeis University, 1977).

7 Treatise, Book 1, Part 4, sec. 6.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
  • URL: /core/journals/dialogue-canadian-philosophical-review-revue-canadienne-de-philosophie
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