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Parts and Wholes: Foreword

Varzi, Achille C.

Part-whole theories, or mereologies form a central chapter of metaphysics throughout its history. Their roots can be traced back to the earliest days of philosophy, beginning with the Pre-Socratics. It is plausible to hold that Parmenides argues that there can be no parts, thus everything there is is one whole; and Zeno argues for his striking paradoxes on the assumption that there are parts (whether spatial or temporal ones). Democritus introduces the idea that everything consists of atoms (literally: “indivisibles”) which are themselves simple, i.e., partless; Anaxagoras, on the other hand, maintains that everything consists of basic stuffs which are infinitely and homogeneously divisible: any portion of such a stuff is the same sort of stuff, and any portion, no matter how small, can be divided into further such portions. Sophisticated analyses in terms of parts and wholes figure prominently in the writings of Plato (especially in the Phaedo, Republic, Theaetetus, Parmenides, Timaeus, and Philebus) and Aristotle (most notably in the Metaphysics, but
also throughout his logical, natural philosophical, and even his ethical treatises).


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Journal of Philosophy

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November 19, 2014