# The “Thingness” of Objects

What is it that makes an object the thing that it is? Is it some kind of substance onto which properties are predicated? Can two (or more) things colocalize (there exists in a single region of spacetime both a thing I call my hand and a thing I call my fist)? In what follows, I am going to riff on some ideas I have for a theory of thingness.

One of the problems that consume metaphysics in modern times is the composition problem of mereology: if there are two simple objects, then should we say that there exists two things or three things (only the two simples exist or the simples plus the composition of the simples)? A more concrete example: when atoms are arranged tablewise, should we say only that there is an arrangement of atoms (the simples) that we find interesting, but that does not instantiate anything new, or is there something above and beyond the arrangement of atoms tablewise, namely the table, that also exists?

I am inclined to take the Heideggerian idea of Dasein as the determination of an objects thingness – the tableness that exists above and beyond the arrangement of atoms tablewise. What makes a table a table rather than just atoms arranged tablewise is all of the possible relations the atoms arranged tablewise can take with all other actual existing objects in the universe at a given time. Or, more formally:

An arrangement of simples x is a thing F above and beyond x by virtue of all possible relations R of x with all other currently existing objects O such that F=ROx

The relationship ‘by virtue of‘ is a grounding relationship, defined as: “if the truth that P is grounded in other truths, then they account for its truth; P’s being the case holds in virtue of the other truths’ being the case” (Fine, 2001). In the instance of the table, the fact that something we call a table exists above and beyond the arrangement of atoms tablewise is grounded in all of the possible relationships of the atoms arranged tablewise with all other objects in existence.

This works because the thingness of an object – such as a table’s tableness above and beyond atoms being arranged tablewise – is due to what the object can do by virtue of its atoms being arranged in the way that they are: a table has tableness (above and beyond atoms arranged tablewise) because the possible relations the table can have with other objects are the relations that a table has with objects.

This goes along with my idea of PhenomIntensioNominalism (PIN for short – a portmanteau of Phenomenology, Intensionality, and Nominalism) wherein the truth of the statement “this is a table” (i.e. this arrangement of atoms tablewise is concurrently a mereological object that instantiates tableness above and beyond the tablewise arrangement of atoms) is due to:

1) the modality, quantifier, subject, and predicate of any proposition containing “this table” refer to mental concepts (the mereological ontology of tableness is a purely mental concept). The ontologically arbitrary partition of physical reality into a system of atoms arranged tablewise and the rest of the universe is only a mental concept constructed in virtue of
a) our particular phenomenology: if we either perceived reality differently, or we did not possess mental concepts of tableness, then we would not make the particular partition of the universe into “this table” and “all of the universe that is not this table”. The table would simply be another arbitrary local arrangement of atoms among the totality of atomic arrangements throughout the universe; it may perhaps take on some other mental concept, but it would not instantiate tableness.
b) the way in which humans conceive of tables: the tableness of the object is in virtue of how those conscious entities who hold the mental concept of “table” arrange (mentally and physically) objects in relation to the objects we hold to be tables in order to use them as tables

2) a table is capable of being understood by anyone familiar with the concept of tables in a way that is significantly similar (when I say “table” that does not reference what I would understand as “kittens” in your mind but which you call “tables”). Even if we might disagree on what defines a table (for example, you say that a boulder onto which objects can be set is included in the concept of table and I disagree that such a boulder counts as an instance of a table because I believe that human agency is a necessary condition for something to instantiate tableness), the disagreement would be a good faith difference in definition rather than a misconstrual of each other’s definitions or some attempt at redefining tableness.

3) tables are internally coherent (no contradictions or paradoxes) with all other concepts held to be true (by law of non-contradiction): the fact that the concept of “tables” exists in my mind does not contradict any other concepts within my mind. For instance, my acceptance of the concept of tableness does not infer or logically compel me to believe that the color blue does not exist or that square circles are possible.

4) the existence of the mental concept of tableness can be used to make correct predictions and retrodictions about the world: if you say “this is a table” then I will correctly predict that it will (and can correctly retrodict that it has) function the same way that other objects I understand as tables function – I know that if I alter the relation of some other object relative to the tablewise arrangement of atoms, that the arrangement of atoms will behave the way I predict that objects with tableness (above an beyond their arrangement of atoms) behave.

Edit: upon thinking about this further, I wonder if maybe 4) ought to be revised so it is less human-centered. My reason for thinking this is because there was a reason for arrangements of atoms to come together prior to human needs: the first replicators that are the forebears of life would be such pseudo-teleologically arranged atoms – the reason that atom-arrangement A has the arrangement it does is because such an arrangement has resulted in A replicating itself with greater fidelity and endurance.

And so, perhaps instead of saying that “this is an A” allows a conscious entity to make correct predictions about A, we would say that “this is an A” is in virtue of the A-wise arrangement of atoms resulting in A being able to influence its local surroundings in a predictable way (such as tables functioning as tables or replicator molecules replicating themselves). And so, instead of saying

“I know that if I alter the relation of some other object relative to the tablewise arrangement of atoms, that the arrangement of atoms will behave the way I predict that objects with tableness (above an beyond their arrangement of atoms) behave”