Saturday, April 27, 2013

Artificial Objects and the Agent Intellect

Artificial objects are metaphysically interesting and curious. Artificial objects include tables, books, cars, etc. Many metaphysicians are realists about material artificial objects. An interesting question regards how they come into existence. On one hand, although this is perhaps too simplistic, it seems that they are in some way dependent on human agency. For example, one takes some raw materials and fashion some object for some purpose. A common view as well is that artificial objects exist as constituted by their material parts; e.g., I have fashioned material parts, each with their own intrinsic properties, in such a way to bring into existence an artificial object that is not identical merely to the sum of its parts. However, it seems that in some cases artificial objects can come into existence just by thinking of something in a certain way. If I can bring a chair into existence by fashioning one out of wood, fabric and nails in the way described above, then it seems that I should be able to bring an artificial object into existence merely by taking something or thinking about it in a certain way. For example, haven't I brought a chair into existence when I have selected a low laying crook in a tree branch as a place to sit? So, it seems that one can bring into existence a material object (e.g., a chair, which is an artificial material object) just by thinking about it.

If this is so, then it raises an interesting thought. Perhaps there is a relation that goes in the other direction between some our object and our thought of it that may be telling about the properties of mental content in relation to their related material objects. Assume realism about material objects; the view that there are material objects and we can know things about how material objects are in themselves (anti-constructivism). Assume metaphysical constitutionalism; the view that material objects are fully constituted by their material parts without merely being identical to the sum of these parts (constitution does not equal identity).

1. A chair is a material object that can be brought into existence just by thinking about it.
2. In order to bring about the existence of a chair at t2 one must already have been thinking about that chair at t1.
3. Excluding perhaps "existence," the properties of the chair before I brought the material object into existence are indiscernible from the properties of the chair after it was brought into existence.
4. The kind of material thing brought into existence by thinking about it depends on the kind or configuration of the matter that constitutes it.
5. The material thing that has been brought into existence adds additional intelligible content to the matter that constitutes it; namely, that this arrangement of matter constitutes a chair.

Given 1-5 I think that it might be interesting to reverse the order when coming to know material objects (namely, objects constituted by its matter) in a way suggestive of something like a realism that includes something like the medieval Aristotelian doctrine of agent intellect.

Take an object like a dog. The dog is constituted by its material parts and one comes to know it through experience of it: the dog exists then one experiences the dog and then one comes to know some fundamental things relevant to the dog. 

Now look at 1-5: 

True, 1. is dissimilar in the case of non-artificial material objects: the dog is a material object that does not come into existence just by thinking about it, but comes into existence through the constitution of it through its material parts. However, the thought of the dog depends on the existence of the dog that is constituted by its material parts. 

Regarding 2., in order for the thought of the dog to exist there must have already been a dog that was constituted by material parts. 


Regarding 3., the properties of the dog that is constituted by material parts and the thought of the dog are indiscernible. 

Pertaining to 4., the only way for a dog to be constituted by material parts is for there to be a certain kind or configuration of matter that constitutes it. 

Regarding 5., there is additional intelligible content in the mind of the one knowing the dog that goes beyond knowing the material parts of the dog.

But this brings us back to take another look at 1. Although it is true that merely thinking about the dog does not bring the material object that is the dog into existence, at the same time there seems to be a requirement that something bring into existence in the mind of the one knowing the dog knowledge that the matter constitutes a dog. This is because there is additional intelligible content in knowing dog beyond merely knowing a particular set of material parts. Thus, it appears that since the properties of thought of the dog and the dog are indiscernible (or has a kind of formal identity), it would seem that there has to be some faculty in the mind to account for this additional content.

1 comment:

  1. science is really hard to understand and explain at times, it's quite ocmplicated.

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