The limits of classical mereology: Mixed fusions and the failures of mereological hybridism

Dissertation, The University of Queensland (2020)
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In this thesis I argue against unrestricted mereological hybridism, the view that there are absolutely no constraints on wholes having parts from many different logical or ontological categories, an exemplar of which I take to be ‘mixed fusions’. These are composite entities which have parts from at least two different categories – the membered (as in classes) and the non-membered (as in individuals). As a result, mixed fusions can also be understood to represent a variety of cross-category summation such as the abstract with the concrete, the physical with the non-physical, and the possible with the impossible, just to name a few. Proposed by David Lewis (1991) alongside his defence of classical mereology (the major theory of parthood which permits such transcategorial composites through its principle of unrestricted composition) it is my contention that mixed fusions are an under-examined consequence of indiscriminate mereological fusion which harbour a multitude of complications. In my attempt to discern their substantive character, throughout this thesis I make a case study of mixed fusions and uncover several problematic consequences which I think follow from their most plausible assessment. These include: (1) that mixed fusions’ probable membership relations may lead to dubious foundational loops in the mereological Universe, or (2) otherwise that mixed fusions oblige an implausible ontological priority of the mereological Universe as a whole; (3) that mixed fusions contradict the reductive account of set theory they are proposed within, by plausibly being seen to have the same members as their class parts, and (4) that mixed fusions therefore confound a mereological thesis of Composition as Identity, which some (including Lewis) use to support classical mereology – a consequence which is potentially self-defeating; (5) that mixed fusions as sums of abstract and concrete entities both subvert Lewis’s (1986) system of modal realism, while (6) also undermining less expansive theories of possible worlds; and finally, (7) that even where some of the foregoing is resisted, it remains implausible that mixed fusions are ontologically innocent, because their supposed distinction from their parts in this case ensures that they need to be counted as additional entities in one’s ontology. To be clear, I do not advance a theory of mereological hybrid nihilism in the sense of denying all cases of transcategorial composition. (I only cover a few select instances of mereological hybridism via mixed fusions after all.) Rather, I deny that mereological hybridism is plausible in full generality, by demonstrating that any cases of it are at least limited by the constraints that I identify. This in turn vindicates a call for a restriction on parthood theories and composition principles which allow certain types of categorially mixed entities – including restricting classical mereology with its principle of unrestricted composition. Although theories of parthood like the standard classical mereology are not ordinarily developed for the sake of mereological hybrids like mixed fusions, these and other transcategorial composites are still among the logical consequences of such parthood systems operating with sufficient generality. The significance of my thesis, then, comes from showcasing how some of these kinds of entities do not conform to the systems in which they are included as required, and hence I argue for the rejection of unrestricted mereological hybridism as well as any mereological principles which support it.

Author's Profile

Joshua Kelleher
University of Queensland (PhD)


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