What is the puzzle of the ship of Theseus? Outline and evaluate one potential solution.
The aim of this paper is to give a possible solution for solving the puzzle of the ship of Theseus. I will first outline what the puzzle is about and its main metaphysical implications, and I will then proceed by taking into consideration one of the possible solutions, namely perdurantism and four dimensionalism. I will explain what being a four-dimensional object implies, and give an interpretation of why this might be a possible solution for the puzzle.
The puzzle of the ship of Theseus is a philosophical puzzle that has to do with problems associated with numerical identity and the concept of transitivity. The puzzle goes as follows. The ship that once belonged to Theseus was left in the Athens’ harbour for many years. In order to prevent it from deteriorating, once a year one plank was substituted with a new plank. It is now necessary to state that, for the purpose of this paper, the elements that constitute the ship will be reduced to the planks only, as this does not affect the consequences of the puzzle but it highly simplifies its understanding. Therefore, after 1000 years, the ship of Theseus, that will be referred to as ship A, or original ship, will have undergone a complete change of its components. I shall call this renewed ship ship B. The planks that were taken away from ship A were not dismantled but were preserved and reassembled to reconstruct a new ship, ship C, that was conserved in the local museum of Athens for visitors to see.
Therefore, on one hand, we have that A = B, because it is easily graspable that a ship can undergo a process of repair whilst still being the same ship. On the other hand, we hold that A = C, because a ship (C) made up of the same components as the original ship (A) is also the same ship as the original (A). However, and this is the core of the puzzle, there can’t be two ships of Theseus, namely B and C. As stated above, the problem is twofold. Firstly, it is a problem concerning numerical identity. Numerical identity holds that things are numerically identical if they are one and the same thing; but, according to this definition, both B and C are one and the same with A. Secondly, it is a problem of transitivity. If A = B, and A = C, then, by property of transitivity, B = C; however, we know that ship B and ship C are two different ships, being one in the harbour and the other in the museum.
One way of solving the puzzle is resorting to perdurantism and four dimensionalism.[footnoteRef:1] Before delineating how these concepts can, in actual fact, come as a helpful means in understanding the puzzle, I will give a definition of both. Four dimensionalism holds that objects are constituted not only of spatial parts but also of temporal parts, or stages. In this sense, they are four dimensional, being spread out not only in the three dimensions of space – height, width, depth – but also in time. Following from four...