29
Jul
09

Do we endure or perdure?

In metaphysics, there is a debate about whether things, us included, exist completely at each moment of time, or if only part of us exists at any given time. Is that ball over there the exact same one that was sitting there before, or are these two moments just two parts of the ball; two temporal slices of the ball, which is extended in space and time.

Think of a row of cut out people that preschoolers usually make. In the picture below, there is one cutout made up of four person shapes.

paper cut outs

The perdurantist thinks that we are the cutout, with each of the moments of our life as just person-shaped part of the cutout. The endurantist thinks that we look  more like this:

stick figure

We are wholly present at each moment, and we aren’t just parts of some extended cut out, we are only one person and we exist completely at every moment at time.

The natural impulse is that the endurance view is right, but there is a powerful challenge to it offered by David Lewis. Pretend that I bend over and then straighten again. My shape changes, which is plausibly an intrinsic property. But, if I exist completely and identically at each moment, how can I be both bent and straight? To be the exact same thing, it seems that I must have the exact same shape. Of course, one will say that I’m bent at a time and then straight at a time, but this transforms shape into a relational property (like taller than), which is an unattractive result. Shape seems like something that should not be relative to a time, just as we don’t think that shape is relative to a viewer (“o that’s just triangle-to-you but square-to-me, no we think that something is a triangle end of story”)

On the perdurantist view on the other hand, straight and bent me are easy to explain. One temporal part of me is bent and another is straight. I am the series of all these parts, and so each slice can have different shapes.

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