Lumps and Statues

I'm still thinking about "first contact"--whether seeing blobs on an ultrasound is seeing our children for the first time. Or is that just an organism we see, and does the organism only later come to "constitute" (but not literally become) a child/person?  Which means I am reading and thinking a lot about ...  you guessed it ... lumps and statues.

The constitution view says a lump is one thing, a statue is another.  The lump constitutes (but isn't identical with) the statue.  If that makes sense, you might be able to use the same tools to describe the organism-to-person relationship.  An organism constitutes a person just as a lump constitutes a statue. Only (I confess) I have a very hard time taking lumps and statues seriously.  They seem "socially constructed"--to use a rather slippery term. That becomes clear when you tell different lump-becomes-statue stories:

Story #1 -- Once there was a rich man with a huge blob of gold.  He loaned the blob to famous sculptor, but said he wanted it back.  The famous sculptor heated it up a bit and shaped it into an eagle.  The eagle was on display at the Met for a year and then the sculptor gave it back to the rich man, who heated it up and got rid of the eagle shape. He was thrilled to repossess his blob.

Story #2 -- One day Jimmy was eating breakfast and saw a can of pink play-doh on the table. He grabbed the lump of play-doh and shaped it into a snail, then smashed it and put it back into the can. Then he resumed eating his Cheerios.

In the first story, it seems like there are two entities:  blob and eagle.  The blob temporarily constitutes the eagle. In the second story, it seems like some play-doh just temporarily takes on a certain shape--no lump, no statue! But from a God's eye perspective there's surely no difference between the two sequences of events.  In the first, the blob and the eagle both seem important and "ontological", but surely that's just because we care about rich men, ownership, sculptors, and artistic creativity.

I'm tempted to say we're reading too much into the first story, and the truth about both is what we immediately see in the second.   There's some playdoh in the can--it doesn't especially seem like a single entity, just because it's cohesive.  And it gets a shape--it becomes "ensnailed" so to speak. Thus, in both situations, no lump really, no statue really!

If that's right, lumps and statues don't especially help us think about constitution.  The constitution literature says (more or less)--"Don't worry, choose another example!"  But I find that not as easy as you might think. It's easy to think of examples of the composition relation--every object has lots of parts.  It's not so easy to think of instances of the constitution relation, which is supposed to hold between one thing and just one other thing, like one statue and one lump.  So ... scratching head, reading onward.

1 comment:

David Duffy said...

How about "what's that lump supposed to be? An eagle?"