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Journal ArticleDOI

Kooky objects revisited: aristotle's ontology

01 Jan 2008-Metaphilosophy (Blackwell Publishing Ltd)-Vol. 39, Iss: 1, pp 3-19

Abstract: This is an investigation of Aristotle's conception of accidental compounds (or “kooky objects,” as Gareth Matthews has called them)—entities such as the pale man and the musical man. I begin with Matthews's pioneering work into kooky objects, and argue that they are not so far removed from our ordinary thinking as is commonly supposed. I go on to assess their utility in solving some familiar puzzles involving substitutivity in epistemic contexts, and compare the kooky object approach to more modern approaches involving the notion of referential opacity. I conclude by proposing that Aristotle provides an implicit role for kooky objects in such metaphysical contexts as the Categories and Metaphysics.
Topics: Object (philosophy) (55%), Metaphysics (52%), Ontology (50%)

Summary (1 min read)

Jump to: [I] and [II]

I

  • Kooky objects make their most obvious appearance in Aristotle's discussion of change in Phys.
  • And it turns out that two of those presidents (the twenty-second and the twenty-fourth) coincide with just one person.
  • For if x and y are accidentally the same, it does not follow that x and y have all the same attributes, that is, that they are indiscernible.
  • 13 If Aristotle's point is that only some identicals are indiscernible, his position threatens to be incoherent.
  • Thus, Coriscus may be the same in definition as this man, and yet it would seem possible to know that Coriscus is approaching without knowing that this man is approaching, if one does not know that Coriscus is a man.

II

  • So far the authors have found kooky objects in only a few of Aristotle's texts, where they play a role in solving puzzles about change and about substitutivity in indirect contexts.
  • One might say, of course, that one and the same entity may be a substance under one description (''man'') and a relative under a different description (''father'' or ''slave'').
  • Similarly, Aristotle's idea would seem to be that the paronyms of a given quality are not themselves entities in the category of quality.
  • A kooky object is clearly not a substance, something that exists in its own right; rather, it depends for its existence on the substance with which it coincides.
  • This is what distinguishes a primary substance of the Metaphysics from the c-substances of the Categories.

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KOOKY OBJECTS REVISITED:
ARISTOTLE’S ONTOLOGY
S. MARC COHEN
Abstract: This is an investigation of Aristotle’s conception of accidental com-
pounds (or ‘‘kooky objects,’’ as Gareth Matthews has called them)Fentities such
as the pale man and the musical man. I begin with Matthews’s pioneering work
into kooky objects, and argue that they are not so far removed from our ordinary
thinking as is commonly supposed. I go on to assess their utility in solving some
familiar puzzles involving substitutivity in epistemic contexts, and compare the
kooky object approach to more modern approaches involving the notion of
referential opacity. I conclude by proposing that Aristotle provides an implicit
role for kooky objects in such metaphysical contexts as the Categories and
Metaphysics.
Keywords: accident, Aristotle, ontology, sameness, substitution.
In the cou rse of my forty-year friendship and colla boration with Gary
Matthews, he has taught me many things, more than I have space to
enumerate here. So I won’t try to enumerate them. Instead, I am going to
focus on just one of those thingsFthe idea that it is worth taking
seriously a certain aspect of Aristotle’s ontology that seems at least
quaint, if not weird, to our contemporary ears. Its quaintness, or
weirdness, consists in the fact that it is a finer-grained ontology than we
are accustomed toFit distinguishes between entities that we tend not to
distinguish, and hence gives ontological status to entities that philoso-
phers nowadays are not entirely comfortable with.
Gary is not alone , of course, in his interest in this aspect of Aristot le’s
thought. Other scholars have given it different labels: Frank Lewis talks
about Aristotle’s ‘‘accidental compound theory’ (Lewis 1982, 29 n. 11),
and Nicholas White writes of Aristotle’s doctrine of ‘‘modal individua-
tion’’ (White 1986, 480). But the catchiest label for this view is Gary’sF
he calls it Aristotle’s theory of kooky objects (Matthews 1982 and
1992)Fand the label seems to have stuck. So that is how I’ll refer to it
here. I am going to talk about kooky objects: what they are, where to
find them in Aristotle’s texts, and what roles they play in his metaphysics
and epistemology.
r 2008 The Author
Journal compilation r 2008 Metaphilosophy LLC and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK, and
350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
METAPHILOSOPHY
Vol. 39, No. 1, January 2008
0026-1068
r 2008 The Author
Journal compilation r 2008 Metaphilosophy LLC and Blackwell Publishing Ltd

I
Kooky objects make their most obvious appearance in Aristotle’s
discussion of change in Phys. I.7, where he is discussing the case in which
an unmusical man becomes musical. In such a case, he says, the man
survives but the unmusical does not. It might seem that it is only the
attribute of unmusicality, or perhaps the man’s own peculiar bit of
unmusicality, that Aristotle is supp osing to perish when the man becomes
musical, but he quickly dispels that impression: ‘‘The man survives, but
the unmusical does not surviv e, nor does the compound of the two, namely,
the unmusical man’’ (190
a
19–21).
1
This compound, the unmusical man, is
an example of a kooky object; it goes out of existence when the man
becomes musical, and it comes into existence when the man loses his
musicality.
On this view, the man and the unmusical man are not identi cal, since
one survi ves the onset of musicality, while the other does not. Thus, the
man, the unmusical man, and the musical man are distinct things . What,
then, one wonders, is the relation between the man and the musical man,
if it is not identity? Aristotle’s answer is that they are accidentally the
same
2
or accidentally one.
3
That is, they are distinct entities that may, for
a time at least, coincide; in the sense they may be, for a time at least, one in
number.
Here we have reached our first stumbling block. For it seems decidedly
odd to say that two things can be tempor arily one. Aristotle’s response,
I think, would be to say that our ability to distinguish the entities in
question does not make them two. For the manFlet’s call him Coriscus
(as Aristotle does at 1015
b
17)Fand the musical man are not two
menFindeed, they are not two of anything (Matthews 1982, 226). That
they are distinct entities (onta) does not, in Aristotle’s view, make them
two. For ‘‘entity’’ has a variety of senses (as Aristotle puts it, ‘‘entity is
said in many ways’’),
4
and there is no one sense of ‘‘entity’’ in which both
Coriscus and the musical man are both said to be entities. This leads us to
a preliminary answer to the question of what kind of things these are that
are accidentally the same. Entity, in its primary sense, applies to things in
the category of substan ce, independently existing things such as a man or
1
All translations from Aristotle’s works are my own.
2
Cf. Metaph. D.9, 1017
b
31: ‘‘Both the man and the musical are said to be the same [in the
accidental sense] as the musical man.’’ Cf. also Top. 103
a
30.
3
Cf. Metaph. D.6, 1015
b
17: ‘‘Examples of things that are accidentally one are Coriscus
and the musical and musical Coriscus.’’ Clearly, this is not a list of three accidental unities,
since Coriscus is one per se and not per accidens. Rather, Coriscus and the musical are
accidentally one; Coriscus and musical Coriscus are accidentally one.
4
Cf. Metaph. G.2 (esp. 1003
a
33–
b
5), E.2 (esp. 1026
a
34–
b
26), Z.1 (esp. 1028
a
10–30), K.3
(1060
b
32–1061
a
10).
r 2008 The Author
Journal compilation r 2008 Metaphilosophy LLC and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
S. MARC COHEN
4

a horse. Coriscus is an item in the category of substance, but the musical
man with whom he coincides, at least temporarily, is not.
5
So Coriscus and the musical man with whom he coincides are distinct
but are one in number. This way of doing busines s requires us to be very
careful when we are counting, lest we count things that are one in number
twice. This may seem a daunting prospect, but we are actually able to
handle it pretty well. For example, if we count up the number of U.S.
presidents, we get forty-three (George W. Bush is the forty-third pres-
ident). But if we count up the number of persons who have been
president, we get forty-two. This oddity, as everyone knows, is due to
Grover Cleveland, who was both the twenty-second and the twenty-
fourth president. There have been forty-three presidents, but Cleveland
was two of them. To put it another way, we’ve had forty-three presidents,
but only forty-two people who have been president. From Aristotle’s
perspective, it is easy to account for this. When we are counting people
who have been president, we are counting persons (substances), but when
we are counting presidents, we are counting kooky objects. (This is
intended to be an ontological, not a political, comment.) And it turns out
that two of those presidents (the twenty-second and the tw enty-fourth)
coincide with just one person. Of course, they do not coincide with one
another. So the relation of coinciding with is not transitive.
The system we actually use to number the presidents makes sense
provided that we are comfortable with kooky objects. An ontology that
lacks kooky objects, on the other hand, would have to take a different
tack here. One such tack would be to claim that we have had, in fact, only
forty-two presidents (namely, the forty-two men who have held the
office), but then we would get into trouble if we try to retain our current
numbering system. For we would have to say that George W. Bush is the
forty-third of our forty-two presidents. This does not seem like a happy
solution.
So we would be better off to change our numbering system. We could
insist that Grover Cleveland was the twenty-second president but not the
twenty-fourthFinstead, when Cleveland was elected to succeed Benjamin
Harrison in 1892, the twenty-second president succeeded the twenty-
third. And then we would have to say that when Cleveland’s second term
ended in 1896, the twenty-second president was succeeded by the twenty-
fourth. On this proposal, the twenty-fou rth president turns out not to be
Cleveland at all but rather the man who succeeded himF William
McKinleyFthe man who counts, on the numbering system we actual ly
use, as the twenty-fifth president. On this solution, the numbers add up
(Bush is the forty-second of our forty-two presidents), but the ordering
of presidents becomes strange.
5
Precisely how the musical man fits into Aristotle’s categorial scheme is a complicated
question, which we will postpone for now.
r 2008 The Author
Journal compilation r 2008 Metaphilosophy LLC and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
KOOKY OBJECTS REVISITED
5

All this to save the doctrine that the description ‘‘the twenty-second
president’’ denotes a substance! By contrast, the Aristotelian treatment of
that expression as denoting a kooky object should strike us as eminently
sensible. And it is not only sensible, it is the ont ology that makes the most
sense of our actual practice of counting presidents.
6
There is a residual problem , of course, concerning identity statements.
Because Grover Cleveland was both the twenty-second and the twenty-
fourth president, we might be inclined to express this by means of these
two identity claims.
Grover Cleveland 5 the twenty-second president
Grover Cleveland 5 the twenty-fourth president
But then we would be forced by the transitivity of identity to accept:
The twenty-second president 5 the twenty-fourth president
But this cannot be right, since the former’s term of office preceded that of
Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-thi rd presiden t, whereas the latter’s did
not. The twenty-second and twenty-fourth presidents are distinct (kooky)
objects. Indeed, they are two different presidents. Grover Cleveland and
the twenty-second president, on the other hand, are distinct objects, but
they are not two of anything. The fir st is a substance that coincides with
the latter.
Let us end our little foray into American political history and return to
Aristotle’s example of Coriscus and the musical man. We have determined
that they are distinct entities, although they are not two of anything. Since
they are not two of anything, one might be tempted (as some of Aristotle’s
readers have been tempted) to propose that they are, after all, identical, but
only contingently so. On this view, the relation of accidental sameness is
construed as contingent identity.
7
Of course, to those who think that
identity holds as a matter of necessity where it holds at all, this is a proposal
that Aristotle ought to reject. And, in fact, I think he does reject it.
Aristotle would surely admit that it is a contingent fact that Coriscus
and the musical man are one and the same. But this is not to say that the
contingent fact is that they are identical. Rather, what is contingent is that
two nonidentical entities coincide. Althou gh many of the things Aristotle
classifies as accidentally the same might be considered contingently
identical by proponents of that notion, Aristotle’s accidental sameness
relation is not contingent identity.
8
For according to him, things that are
accidentally the same are in a way the same, and in a way different. But if
6
Rea 1998 makes a good case for treating many other quite familiar objects (e.g., fists
and statues) as kooky.
7
Barnes 1979 makes this suggestion.
8
A convincing case for this has been made in Matthews 1982, 228–29.
r 2008 The Author
Journal compilation r 2008 Metaphilosophy LLC and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
S. MARC COHEN
6

x is contingently identical to y, x does not stand to y in some relation
weaker than identity. Rather, it is supposed to be a contingent fact that x
stands to y in the full-blooded relation of identity. So Aristotle’s notion of
accidental sameness is not conting ent identity.
9
Let us return to the question of what the relation of accidental
sameness amounts to. An approach that might sound attractive to
contemporary ears is this. Accidental sameness is not some relation
weaker than identity. Rather, what Aristotle has discovered is the
phenomenon of referential opacity. Coriscus and the musical man are
identical, in the strictest sense. However, their names are not interchange-
able in all contexts. Sometimes how you refer to something, and not just
what you are referring to, affects the truth or falsity of what you say about
it. A famous passage in Sophistical Refutations (179
a
33–
b
32) seems to
support this understanding of Aristotle. For there Aristotle describes a
case in which you do not know the masked man, but you do know
Coriscus, even though the masked man is Coriscus. In this case, we might
suppose, whether it is true to say that you know this man depends upon
how we describe him. One and the same object is referred to by both the
expression ‘‘Coriscus’’ and the expression ‘‘the masked man,’’ but it can
still be true that you know who Coriscus is but do not know who the
masked man is. The reason is that the expression ‘‘knows who x is’’
generates a referentially opaque context.
But this can hardly have been Aristotle’s solution to the puzzle of the
Masked Man. Aristotle presents the puzzle as an exampl e of the fallacy of
accident. According to his official account in the Topics, one commits this
fallacy when one claims that somet hing ‘‘belongs in the same way both to
a thing and also to its accident’’ (homoio
ˆ
s...to
ˆ
i pragmati kai to
ˆ
i
sumbebe
ˆ
koti huparkhein, 166
b
29ff.). If one thinks of an accident of x as
an attribute that belongs to x accidentally, one may well suppose that
Aristotle has in mind the bizarre fallacy of attributing to a thing an
attribute of one of its attributes. An example of such a fallacy would be to
infer that Socrates is himself a quality from the fact that pallor, one of his
attributes, is a quality. Is it possible that this is the kind of fallacy
Aristotle has in mind? One might expect Aristotle’s examples to clarify
the issue, but unfortunately they are not at all helpful.
His two examples are these: (1) Coriscus is different from a man, and
Coriscus is a man, therefo re, Coriscus is different from himself; (2)
Coriscus is different from Socrates, and Socrates is a man, therefore,
Coriscus is different from a man. About (2) Aristotle comments tersely
that ‘‘it is an accident of that from which he has be en said to be different
9
A notion of contingent identity like that developed by Stephen Yablo (1987) comes a
lot closer to Aristotle’s idea. But on Yablo’s account, contingently identical things are not,
strictly speaking, identical. So contingent identity for Yablo, like accidental sameness for
Aristotle, is not a species of identity.
r 2008 The Author
Journal compilation r 2008 Metaphilosophy LLC and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
KOOKY OBJECTS REVISITED
7

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Cites background from "Kooky objects revisited: aristotle'..."

  • ...I translate both as ‘proper’ 1These sorts of conjunctions, dubbed ‘kooky objects’ by Matthews (1982), have been the focus of much research; see Brower (2010), Cohen (2008), Matthews (1982, 1990), and Peramatzis (2011)....

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Abstract: Modern logicians have sought to unlock the modal secrets of Aristotle's Syllogistic by assuming a version of essentialism and treating it as a primitive within the semantics. These attempts ultimately distort Aristotle's ontology. None of these approaches make full use of tests found throughout Aristotle's corpus and ancient Greek philosophy. I base a system on Aristotle's tests for things that can never combine (polarity) and things that can never separate (inseparability). The resulting system not only reproduces Aristotle's recorded results for the apodictic syllogistic in the Prior Analytics but it also generates rather than assumes Aristotle's distinctions among ‘necessary’, ‘essential’ and ‘accidental’. By developing a system around tests that are in Aristotle and basic to ancient Greek philosophy, the system is linked to a history of practices, providing a platform for future work on the origins of logic.

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Additional excerpts

  • ...See, for example,Hartman 1977, Lear 1982, Cleary 1985, van Rijen 1989, Bäck 1996, De Rijk 2002, Cohen 2008....

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Abstract: With the exception of one article by David Gaunt which originally appeared in Swedish, all of Imhof's choices were first published in French, so the translations into German are unlikely to be of particular use to English-speaking historians. However, Imhof has also written an excellent sixty-five-page introduction to his subject and provides a useful thirty-page bibliography of recent work in historical human biology. Unusual in collections of essays, the volume is indexed. Historians of psychology will find this tough-minded study of Aristotle's views on personal identity greatly rewarding, although by no means easy reading. Aristotle, it is argued, sees the world as populated by individual material objects, rather than by their parts or by universals: material objects are identical with their particular essence, not a combination of form and matter. The author traces the consequences of this theory as applied to the person, a substance whose essence is his soul, and to the relationships between body and mind as expressed in perception, sensation, and thought. These investigations, even if not all equally convincing, have the great merit of taking Aristotle seriously, as a philosopher-scientist worth arguing with, rather than as a historical totem-pole to be noticed, respected, and then preserved as an ineffective curiosity. Five British scientists who turned to socialism at about the time of the First World War are featured in this book by an American-born sociologist: J. By their writings and publicity on science and socialism they became known as leading intellectuals, and they here relate the stories of their lives and of their times through their own eyes. One ofthe absorbing aspects is the difference between the individuals' approaches to their common interests, and their varying backgrounds. It is a scholarly work which will prove to be attractive and valuable to a wide range of readers, including scientists , politicians, and historians of the twentieth century and of its science. Dr. Spink has specialized in infectious diseases for almost fifty years and now presents a history of their control. There are three sections. The first, 'Background of the control and treatment of infectious diseases', includes very pedestrian chapters on early concepts of infection and its control, and the development of bacteriology, immunology, and virology, together with a survey of the evolution of public health in Great Britain and the U.S.A., and of the World Health Organization. The second 483

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References
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Journal ArticleDOI

98 citations


"Kooky objects revisited: aristotle'..." refers background in this paper

  • ...About (2) Aristotle comments tersely that ‘‘it is an accident of that from which he has been said to be different 9 A notion of contingent identity like that developed by Stephen Yablo (1987) comes a lot closer to Aristotle’s idea....

    [...]


Book
28 Nov 2007-

73 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Alan Code1Institutions (1)
TL;DR: The thesis that Aristotle's predecessors had already formulated problems similar to the temporal puzzles so generated is demonstrated, and that the three most prominent reactions to Qume’s puzzles were also anticipated by certain ancient Greek philosophers.
Abstract: In Section II it is shown that some of the Quinean objections to modal logic found in [ 151 can be transferred to the notions used to describe and account for temporal change.’ The remainder of the paper is devoted to a demonstration of the thesis that Aristotle’s predecessors had already formulated problems similar to the temporal puzzles so generated, and that the three most prominent reactions to Qume’s puzzles were also anticipated by certain ancient Greek philosophers. Furthermore, Aristotle’s own reaction as manifested in his analysis of the elements of change in Physics A7 can be seen to involve concepts which easily lend themselves to the kind of semantical analysis which has recently enhanced our understanding of modality. Let us begin, then, by getting clear on just what problems I have in mind.

42 citations


Journal ArticleDOI
Michael C. Rea1Institutions (1)
01 Dec 1998-Ratio
Abstract: In this paper, I present an Aristotelian solution to the problem of material constitution. The problem of material constitution arises whenever it appears that an object a and an object b share all of the same parts and yet are essentially related to their parts in different ways. (A familiar example: A lump of bronze constitutes a statue of Athena. The lump and the statue share all of the same parts, but it appears that the lump can, whereas the statue cannot, survive radical rearrangements of those parts.) I argue that if we are prepared to follow Aristotle in making a distinction between numerical sameness and identity, we can solve the problem of material constitution without recourse to co-location or contingent identity and without repudiating any of the familiar objects of common sense (such as lumps and statues) or denying that these objects have the essential properties we ordinarily think that they have.

41 citations


"Kooky objects revisited: aristotle'..." refers background in this paper

  • ...But if 6 Rea 1998 makes a good case for treating many other quite familiar objects (e.g., fists and statues) as kooky....

    [...]


Book
01 Jan 2000-

38 citations


"Kooky objects revisited: aristotle'..." refers background or methods in this paper

  • ...For from the hylomorphic perspective of the Metaphysics, csubstances are composites of matter and form and are therefore 22 I adopt the terminology of Wedin 2000. r 2008 The Author Journal compilation r 2008 Metaphilosophy LLC and Blackwell Publishing Ltd substances in only a secondary sense....

    [...]

  • ...…substances cannot be identified with either the particulars of folk ontology or their abstract essences.23 Primary sub- 23 It is tempting to argue, as Wedin 2000 in effect does, that Aristotle uses the word ‘‘substance’’ in two different senses, one for c-substances and the other for the…...

    [...]


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