Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Nils and the Ten Pound Note

Nils and the ten pounds, a tale with a mereological moral.

For the last two weeks at William Bynoes’ (legendary) metaphysics group we’ve been talking about things and parts of things and whether things are identical to the parts of them. Today Ali Oduncu from UCL named the wood that his chair was made of WOOD and named the chair CHAIR. I was ok with naming the chair CHAIR, but naming the wood that the chair was made of WOOD I thought a little confusing. So I thought of this example from true life.

Nils asked me to lend him ten pounds. I said I would so long as he promised to pay me back the ten pounds he owed me. I gave him a ten pound note and wrote Jonny on it. He spent it on lager and I haven’t seen it since.
Now let us imagine a bizarre counterfactual situation. Nils gives me the ten pounds he owes me. But I’ve forgotten about it by now, so I ask him what that is in his hand. He says it is the ten pounds I lent him. I go to the bar and buy drinks and get three pounds change.
The ten pounds I lent Nils is identical with the ten pound note with Jonny written on it.
The ten pounds that Nils gave me was identical with the ten pounds he owed me.
The ten pounds he owed me was identical with the ten pounds I lent him.
The ten pounds he gave me was identical with the ten pounds I spent at the bar.
The three pounds change was part of the ten pounds I took to the bar.
So the three pound coins in my hand are a part of the ten pound note with Jonny written on it.

I have no mereological stance, but for the sake of argument I say that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Identity is not transitive. There are infinite things.


Anonymous Nils said...


I promise I'll give the 10 pounds back soon! Honestly. It just can't be right now. But soon I'll have them. And then I'll give them back.


9:12 AM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

This is a post about mereology. Any connection with real life persons and events is merely coincidental.
Lets name the Nils in the example NILS 1 and the celebrated logician at Kings College NILS 2. Is NILS 1 constituted by NILS 2? Are they identical?
Is the is of identity identical with the is of predication?
is "is" is?

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry but this is a bit silly

The three pounds is not part of the ten pounds you paid at the bar. It is merely the amount of money you are owed if somebody asks you for seven and you give them ten.

11:01 AM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Anonymous, I tend to agree with you about the silliness. That is the whole point. Whether something is a part of something else is a practical, subjective matter. If Nils had gone to the bar and used the change to pay me back, then the three pounds would have been part of the money that he gave me. Would you agree to that? If identity and constitution are metaphysical, objective relations, and identity is transitive, then the three pounds would be a part of the original ten pound note I gave Nils, which is absurd. Therefore identity is not an objective metaphysical transitive relation.
Unless perhaps money isn't a thing at all, but just a relationship between people.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have put your finger on why this is all silly.

Money is two different things in this example: an actual physical £10 note, of which 3x£1 coins are not a part; and an obligation to pay an amount of value equal to £10.

If you want to say that in giving J 3x£1 coins N paid back part of what was owed you are treating the sum owed (£10) as an abstract thing - a legal relationship between two people. You cannot then say that the amount owed was identical to the piece of paper with 'Johnny' written on it. Obligations are not identical to peices of paper

If you want to say the £10 N owed J was identical with the £10 J gave N you have to be thinking that what J wants back is not just any old £10 (money is fungible normally) but his particular favourite £10 with 'Johnny' written on it. But if that is what he wants then you can't claim that 3x£1 is part of that £10 because it isnt.

The example only appears to suggest that identity isnt transitive because it trades on two different referents of '£10': one a piece of paper and one a relationship between two people

6:15 PM  
Blogger bloggin the Question said...

Thanks, anonymous. But I think the silliness generalises. Money is a very interesting thing. But it does seem commnsensical to say that when I give N a ten pound note I am "literally" giving him ten pounds. What is more the ten pounds I am giving him literally is the ten pound note. Any metaphysical or logical axioms that make these statements paraphrases or literally false must be giving the wrong analysis of what is going on.
Likewise a chair literally is wood. But if I lent N some wood, and he made a chair out of it, it would be unfair of me to demand that the chair belonged to me. It would be fair if he gave me some different but equivalent wood. Quantities of properties can be identical. 5g of gold has the identical mass of 5g of silver. Value is a quantity of a property that is universal. zero value is a value. For the purposes of burning the chair has the same value as the wood it is made of, for the purposes of sitting on, it has more value.

1:16 PM  

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