On the Constitution of Solid Objects out of Atoms

The Monist 96 (1):149-171 (2013)
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This paper solves the special composition question for solid objects and discusses the properties of wholes in relation to the properties of their parts, including emergent properties. By considering the causal properties of solid objects, this paper argues that it is possible for objects that are undoubtedly ontological units (called atoms) to combine to form a whole that is also an ontological unit of the same standing. It begins by considering the various different kinds of property that a whole object could possess and the ways in which those properties could be related to the properties of its atoms, where some of the properties of the whole could be called emergent properties. There are properties of the whole that are determinate relative to the properties of the atoms, where the atoms’ possessing certain properties, being arranged spatially in a certain way, and with certain forces connecting them determine the instantiation of a specific property of the whole. There are also properties of the whole that are merely determinate as to kind, where the properties of the atoms merely determine that some property belonging to a certain kind will be instantiated. Further distinctions are made between properties of the whole that cannot be possessed by the atoms and properties of the whole that can. These distinctions are illustrated by a few physical examples. A number of different arguments are then given to show that a whole object composed of atoms possesses monadic properties of its own that are causally significant. Next a “real boundary condition for solid objects” is proposed, where the appropriate sort of boundary is both a spatial and an energetic boundary, one having to do with energy states. The paper concludes with a simple example of a solid object that is used to show that the description of the action and motion of the whole cannot be reduced to the descriptions of the actions and motions of its atoms.



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Andrew Newman
University of Nebraska, Omaha

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