The Ship of Theseus

I thought I would pause from making long posts in favor of presenting something more concise but hopefully no less thought provoking. In fact, I am considering interjecting brief philosophical questions in-between my longer notes concerning social and political issues;  I may even create a series of scenarios centered around a particular ethical theme.  Doing so will not only diversity my material, but allow me to update my blog without having to expend time and energy into essay-like submissions (let’s face it, do you guys really want to read several pages of my ramblings every other day!?)

Anyway, on to the topic in question.

The Ship of Theseus is a paradox which raises the following question: if an object has had all it’s component parts replaced, is it still fundamentally the same object? What if a ship, after a long period of gradual refurbishing, eventually had all it’s parts replaced? Would it still be the same ship? This topic is pertinent to the concept of identity – what constitutes self, and how do we truly define an object?

There are many similar concepts and variations to this paradox.

Heraclitus was famously quoted as saying that  “upon those who step into the same rivers, different and again different waters flow.” Basically, you never step in the same river twice, as it is always different water.

Thomas Hobbes put an interesting spin on  the ship scenario as well: what if all the planks from one ship were taken, after being replaced, and used to construct another? Which ship, if any, is the “original?

The question becomes more complicated when you consider the fact the average age of a cell in the human body is less than ten years That means that we come to replace our entire cell structure several times throughout our lives. We are cellularly and biologically completely different. This extends all the way down to the molecular and atomic level too – in around seven years, the human body completely replaces all the atoms that comprise us.

It’s strange to imagine how much we change and transform throughout our lives, without even remotely noticing (besides the typical growth that occurs prior to adulthood). Physically, we become completely new beings every few years, yet we’d never realize it. That’d be difficult enough to fathom without considering what all this means about who we are and who we perceive ourselves to be.

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