Processes as variable embodiments

Synthese 203 (4):1-27 (2024)
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Abstract

In a number of papers, Kit Fine introduced a theory of embodiment which distinguishes between rigid and variable embodiments, and has been successfully applied to clarify the ontological nature of entities whose parts may or may not vary in time. In particular, he has applied this theory to describe a process such as the erosion of a cliff, which would be a variable embodiment whose manifestations are the different states of erosion of the cliff. We find this theory very powerful, and especially appropriate to capture the intuition that the same process may go on at different times. However, its formal principles have been subject to some criticisms, mainly concerning the mereological structure of a variable embodiment. Moreover, since the notion of variable embodiment is very general, simply saying that processes are variable embodiments is not enough to understand their ontological nature. To address these concerns, in this paper we proceed in two phases: first, we propose a revised version of Fine’s original theory adapted to the case of processes, which adopts a classical mereology instead of Fine’s hylomorphic mereology, and a temporalized constitution relation in place of Fine’s function of variable embodiment; second, we go deeper into the ontological nature of processes by revisiting the notions of homogeneity, intentionality, and telicity discussed in the literature, and propose an account based on ontological principles and not on semantic properties of predicates. This allows us to organize processes into a novel taxonomy based exclusively on their unity and individuation principles.

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Nicola Guarino
Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche (CNR)

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