From Unity to Wholeness

Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2013

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



I present and defend object dispositionalism, a moderate theory of composition. Object dispositionalism proposes that a multitude of features contribute to whether composition occurs. These features, when suitably combined, ground not only the occurrence of composition but, also, the presence of the causal power to prompt us to perceive a unified whole in the region where those features are exemplified. That this disposition is present wherever composition takes place allows the object dispositionalist to offer a systematic, predictive answer to Peter van Inwagen's special composition question: A plurality composes a whole just when it has the disposition to cause us to perceive a unity in the region it occupies and because it possesses features that in combination realize that disposition.

Relying on object-perception research in psychology, especially that of the gestalt school, I argue that those features that contribute both to whether composition occurs and whether the relevant disposition is present include: 1) Being bounded by closed, smooth contours. 2) Possessing symmetrical, convex shape. 3) Being uniform in color and texture. 4) Exemplifying qualitative continuity over time and place. I further argue that the relevant disposition manifests when we perceive the features in a given region as forming a unity and that this perception of unity has a distinctive phenomenal character.

I motivate object dispositionalism in two ways. First, I argue that we must offer an answer to the special composition question in order to uphold the commonsense epistemology of ordinary-object claims. Second, I argue that neither nihilism nor universalism (unrestricted composition) constitute an adequate answer. I reject nihilism and universalism because the semantics of ordinary-object claims reveal that ordinary speakers are committed to the existence of objects that nihilists refuse and committed to the non-existence of objects that universalists accept.

Finally, I defend object dispositionalism against charges that it's anthropocentric and leads to ontic vagueness, and I discuss how the object dispositionalist can and should address matters of persistence.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Thomas Sattig

Committee Members

Eric Brown, Ned Markosian, Gillian Russell, Roy Sorensen, Jeffrey Zacks


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K79K486D

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