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The Ship of Theseus Concept Overview

The discussion of the identity of a whole often includes the paradox called “The ship of Theseus.” In this example, a ship has all of its parts gradually replaced, while the disassembled parts are used in the creation of its copy. This creates an issue of the origin of an artifact, as to whether the first or the second version of the object is considered to be the initial one (Scaltsas 152). The paradox calls for a discussion regarding the definition of the identity of an item.

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Philosophers who discuss this paradox provide different answers based on their views on materialism and the identity of artifacts. Lowe discusses that one of the obvious solutions, initially proposed by Hobbes, is that the “identity of ship parts is neither necessary nor sufficient for the identity of ships” (221). Scaltsas determines the necessary conditions for an object that constitutes its essence and proposes their assessment when determining the original.

They include the continuity of its form, the object’s history, the identity of its parts, and its material (Scaltsas 152). The exact value of each condition, however, is not clearly set in a hierarchical position, which makes it unclear whether the ship from the initial example remains the same in either form. People choose a set of these conditions to define a specific object. For example, there is a clear set of parameters that define the engine B38A12U0, where any change in form will create a technically different item.

Furthermore, this paradox poses a different question in regards to the originality of artworks that have undergone restoration or renovation. Lowe argues that “the original artist’s work is essential to its identity,” and it can not be the result of the efforts of another person (231).

However, in the case of more utilitarian objects, such as a ship, its function and form are detrimental to its identity (Lowe 231). If after a certain amount of renovations a ship changes its purpose from sailing on the water to riding on roads, it is no longer a ship. Therefore, any solution to this paradox is limited to a specific purpose of an object discussed. Moreover, it is crucial to consider the distinct difference between the identity of an item and the identity of a person. I believe that it is impossible to apply the discussion regarding the ship of Theseus to a change in a person’s physical state, as a person possesses qualities beyond their physical form.

Works Cited

Lowe, E. J. “On the Identity of Artifacts.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 80, no. 4, 1983, pp. 220-232. Web.

Scaltsas, Theodore. “The ship of Theseus.” Analysis, vol. 40, no. 3, 1980, pp. 152-157. Web.

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