Between Atomism and Superatomism

Journal of Philosophical Logic 49 (6):1215-1241 (2020)
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There are at least three vaguely atomistic principles that have come up in the literature, two explicitly and one implicitly. First, standard atomism is the claim that everything is composed of atoms, and is very often how atomism is characterized in the literature. Second, superatomism is the claim that parthood is well-founded, which implies that every proper parthood chain terminates, and has been discussed as a stronger alternative to standard atomism. Third, there is a principle that lies between these two theses in terms of its relative strength: strong atomism, the claim that every maximal proper parthood chain terminates. Although strong atomism is equivalent to superatomism in classical extensional mereology, it is strictly weaker than it in strictly weaker systems in which parthood is a partial order. And it is strictly stronger than standard atomism in classical extensional mereology and, given the axiom of choice, in such strictly weaker systems as well. Though strong atomism has not, to my knowledge, been explicitly identified, Shiver appears to have it in mind, though it is unclear whether he recognizes that it is not equivalent to standard atomism in each of the mereologies he considers. I prove these logical relationships which hold amongst these three atomistic principles, and argue that, whether one adopts classical extensional mereology or a system strictly weaker than it in which parthood is a partial order, standard atomism is a more defensible addition to one’s mereology than either of the other two principles, and it should be regarded as the best formulation of the atomistic thesis.
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