Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2011

Capstone Advisor

Kris McDaniel

Honors Reader

Mark Heller

Capstone Major


Capstone College

Arts and Science

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories


Subject Categories

Other Philosophy | Philosophy | Philosophy of Mind


The objective of this paper is a defense of a particular answer to van Inwagen’s Special Composition Question: when is it the case that some objects together compose some additional object? The answer is the conjunction of two claims. The first claim, compositional nihilism says that, necessarily, there is never an instance of material composition, and therefore all material objects that do exist are simple, or without proper parts. The second claim, existence monism, says that there exists a material object, and that all other material objects are identical with this object. In other words, there is just one material object that extends throughout the entirety of the material world.

These claims are formalized as follows, where (N) represents compositional nihilism and (M) represents existence monism:

(N) [∀x: x ∈ M] ~∃y(Pxy ^ x ≠ y)

(M) [∃x: x ∈ M] ∀y[(y ∈ M) ⊃ (x = y)]

Other claims will be argued for. While I do believe these additional claims are true, I am not committed to them as strongly as I am to compositional nihilism and existence monism. These other claims serve mostly compliment the primary two claims.

The dialectic of the paper is essentially that of an argument to the best explanation. Alternatives to compositional nihilism universalism and compatibilism – are eliminated on various grounds. Alternatives to existence monism – versions of pluralist nihilism – are also argued against. The idea is that the two views are the only strong candidates for an ontologically sound theory.

One last task of the paper is to disarm various objections to the two primary claims. This is done by demonstrating that what was previously seen as objectionable consequences of the views are, in fact, unproblematic. In at least one instance, a previously objectionable consequence is shown to be, in fact, a potential benefit of the views.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.