Plato on Parts and Wholes: The Metaphysics of Structure by Verity Harte

By Verity Harte

What's the relation among a complete and its elements? The metaphysics of constitution and composition is way mentioned in smooth philosophy; now Verity Harte offers the 1st sustained exam of Plato's wealthy yet missed dialogue of the subject, and exhibits the way it can light up present debates. This booklet is a useful source either for students of Plato and for contemporary metaphysicians.

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Here's how Lewis puts it (at least at first): given a prior commitment to cats, say, a commitment to cat-fusions is not a further commitment. The fusion is nothing over and above the cats that compose it. It just is them. They just are it. Take them together or take them separately, the cats are the same portion of Reality either way. Commit yourself to their existence all together or one at a time, it's the same commitment either way. If you draw up an inventory of Reality according to your scheme of things, it would be double counting to list the cats and then also list their fusion.

But if, on the other hand, the complex is single and without parts, then complexes and elements are equally unaccountable and unknowable—both of them for the same reason. (205d7-e4) Both horns of the dilemma thus depend upon identifying a whole with its parts. How should we understand this identification? The attempt to salvage the arguments of the first horn from the charge of fallacy suggested that we should understand the composition of a whole—the syllable, only if identical to its letters—as having the ontological innocence to which Lewis aspired and which Baxter might claim to have achieved.

SOC. That is, six? THT. Precisely. SOC. Then in all things made up of number ( ), at any rate, by ‘all of it’ and ‘all of them’ we mean the same thing? THT. So it seems. SOC. Now let us talk about them in this way. The number of an acre is the same thing as an acre, isn't it? THT. Yes. SOC. Similarly with a mile. THT. Yes. SOC. And the number of an army is the same as the army? And so always with things of this sort; their total number is all of what each of them is. THT. Yes. SOC. But is the number of each anything other than its parts?

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