I'm having trouble understanding the exact viewpoints of perdurantism, and endurantism. I understand that perdurantists believe in temporal parts, and endurantists believe in only spacial parts, but I am unsure what their conclusions what be about the paradox.

I'm also not sure what the solution each of these theories arrives at regarding the ship of theseus.

  • 2
    Can you summarize the two viewpoints as you understand them in your question? That way answerers will know where the disconnect or knowledge gap is located?
    – hellyale
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 18:27
  • 1
    I agree with @hellyale. Please provide more details. Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 23:58

1 Answer 1


Let's supposed we're only talking about people who actually believe the ship exists, and that it continues over time. (There are many, many positions on this question, and endurantism/perdurantism isn't relevant to all of them.) The question that is at stake is how can one thing have two contradictory properties? The ship has a certain plank at one time and lacks that same plank at another, so it looks like the ship has a property and lacks that property.

On the perdurantist picture, "the ship" is a four dimensional entity, and what you or I call "the ship", pointing to it at one particular instant is really just one 'temporal part' of the actual ship, which is this four dimensional entity. On this view, the same entity, the ship, can have contradictory properties at different times--such as having a certain plank at t1 and lacking that plank at t2--precisely because each of those temporal parts are not per se the ship. The ship does not per se have that certain plank or lack it, rather, the plank is present in one of the ship's temporal parts, and lacking in another; hence there is no contradiction. (think of a soccer ball--it can't be both white and black, but it can be white in one part and black in another part.)

Endurantists, on the other hand, want to say that this isn't the right way to think of identity. If the ship has a plank at t1 and lacks it at t2, that doesn't mean the ship is four dimensional; it just means that having or lacking that plank isn't essential to the identity of the ship. On this view, i take it, one would simply reply to the question about the contradictory properties by saying that it is not a contradiction for a thing to have different properties at different times. In other words, perdurantists look at identity as a timeless relation, whereas enduratists think that identity is time-indexed. Nothing can be both black all over and white all over at the same time, but there is nothing about the soccer ball's being black all over on monday that means that it can't remain the same soccer ball on tuesday when it is white all over.

tl;dr -- the debate is about whether identity is time-relative or not. Perdurantists say no, and hence say the ship is a four-dimensional spacetime worm. Endurantists say yes, and say the ship exists completely and totally in the present; there are no "temporal parts".

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