Philosophical Studies                               (2023 )Cite this article                          Whereas Mereol

Who’s afraid of reverse mereological essentialism?

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2023-03-18 15:00:04

Philosophical Studies (2023 )Cite this article

Whereas Mereological Essentialism is the thesis that the parts of an object are essential to it, Reverse Mereological Essentialism is the thesis that the whole is essential to its parts. Specifically—since RME is an Aristotelian doctrine—it is a claim not about objects in general but about substances. Here I set out and explain RME as it should be understood from the perspective of the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition, as well as proposing a kind of master argument for believing it. A number of objections (many of which have been raised by Kathrin Koslicki or Robert Koons) are then considered, the replies to which help further to clarify and motivate RME. The final section considers some important questions concerning parts and matter in light of Ross Inman’s recent defence of RME under the guise of what he calls Substantial Priority. Considering these questions further illustrates right and wrong ways of understanding RME. Overall, the case for Reverse Mereological Essentialism is strong albeit with a number of difficulties that need to be resolved through further investigation.

Mereological Essentialism is the thesis that every whole has its parts necessarily.Footnote 1 There is nothing surprising in the elision of ‘essential’ and ‘necessary’, since the thesis has its home in extensional mereology, where what is essential and what is necessary are one and the same. For a metaphysician of Aristotelian and Scholastic inclinations, this makes Mereological Essentialism doubly objectionable. First, from the Aristotelian-Scholastic viewpoint, whether parts are had necessarily depends on whether they are had essentially, and whether they are had essentially depends on the essence of the object under investigation, say whether it is a set or a setter. Secondly, the thesis is patently false as a general claim about what there is, and likelyFootnote 2 universally false across whole swathes of the furniture of the cosmos—macrophysical substances.

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