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.
The colloquial way of defining what it means for a statement to be true is that it corresponds to reality: if I say “it is raining” and it’s also the case that it’s raining, then what I said is true; if I say “it is raining” and it’s not the case that it’s raining, then what I said is false. This is an extensional truth condition – the extension of the proposition must be the case in reality for the statement to be true. But is this really how truth works? In what follows, I am riffing on some ideas floating around in my head, so feel free to point out any problems so as to help me clarify my thoughts.
In the twentieth century, Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that existence precedes essence, which is the reverse order of what the Medieval philosophers believed. In this line of thinking, a thing first exists, and then due to its form of existing, it has essence bestowed upon it by observers. This is where the Existentialist idea of radical freedom came from. In the Medieval philosophy, you were your essence first, and it was God that bestowed upon you your existence. But that means your essence is immutable. In Existentialism, it is you that creates your essence to be what you want, and your essence is only determined by what you do, not by your intentions. What this idea ultimately concludes is that there is nothing special about an existing object apart from the meaning given to it by minds, or being-for-itself in Sartre’s parlance, denoting the objectness of the mind. But if the mind is an object, then what is it about the mind that makes it special, allowed to bestow meaning on the objects around it?
The following post is an excerpt from a book I’m writing that has to do with human consciousness and the human condition. In this section I discuss why materialism offers only an incomplete explanation for consciousness.