Ship of Theseus

Topics: Metaphysics, Space, Ontology, Universe / Pages: 9 (2028 words) / Published: Feb 4th, 2013
Since ancient Greece, there has been a fierce debate in the philosophical arena about the nature of change and how it affects the identity of objects. Some philosophers believe that nothing ever truly changes and others such as Heraclitus (535-475 BCE), believed that all objects identities are always changing. There are many properties to an object, and many wonder how many properties can change before the object is considered to be something else. This enigma is usually illustrated by the classical story of the ship of Theseus. Change and identity becomes complex and the definition of objects change. An object is a thing that exists in time and space and has many properties or aspects such as size and colour. As these properties change, so do the object and the object’s identity, so therefore objects are always changing with time.

The story of the ship of Theseus has had philosophers puzzled for centuries. The classical story is told by Plutarch (46-120 AD), ‘The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place’, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same ship. Plutarch questions whether the ship would remain the same if each piece were replaced one by one, as the change was only slight. Another puzzle was introduced by philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) wondering what would happen if the parts that were replaced were then used to rebuild a second ship. Which ship is the original ship of Theseus? There are two ships, one has been renovated and the other reassembled. The renovated ship was the original ship of Theseus, but only before it was renovated, all the parts have been replaced which



References: 1. Deutsch, H December 21st 2008, "Relative Identity", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, viewed 12th September 2011, <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/identity-relative/#2>. 2. Graham, W June 21st 2011, "Heraclitus", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, viewed 10th September 2011, <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2011/entries/heraclitus/>. 3. Jubien, M 1997, Contemporary Metaphysics, Identity through time, Blackwell Publishers USA, pp 25-29. 4. Oxford Dictionaries, 2011, Oxford Dictionaries webpage, viewed 12th September 2011, < http://oxforddictionaries.com/> 5. The World Book Encyclopedia 1996, vol 10,13,15, ed. Groman J, World Book Inc. Chicago, USA.

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