If human beings are made of molecules and these molecules are distinct such that there is not just one molecule that is John, does that makes human beings aggregates?

What does this say about the existence of human beings? That if, if aggregates are a multiplicity and not a unity, then does John exist?

  • 1
    Yes it does, not much at all, and only according Parmenides. ;)
    – David H
    Jul 17 '13 at 22:12
  • Oops! I read your last question backwards. Only Parmenides would dispute the existence of John on account of being a multiplicity and not a unity.
    – David H
    Jul 17 '13 at 23:30
  • 2
    John, and all life forms, are dissipative systems, constantly exchanging energy and matter with their environment, merging with new molecules while unmerging with existing molecules, all the while maintaining an identifiable form and systemness.
    – obelia
    Jul 18 '13 at 0:01
  • 2
    "Exist" is an english word used for communicating a certain concept. If you told me "John does not exist" and then, five minutes later, John walks in the door, I would consider you to have lied to me. If that is not the "exist" you are talking about, you need to specify your query; "exist" for what purpose?
    – shieldfoss
    Jul 18 '13 at 12:24
  • 1
    Do you intend this as a question about mereology or personal identity? That is, are you concerned with whether separate molecules can compose a person (or any object), or with under what conditions a person persists through time?
    – Dennis
    Jul 19 '13 at 1:00

How I understand the question:

Humans are composed of molecules. Is there an entity, John, that overlaps each molecule additionally to all the molecules (that hes made of)?

Different answers depending on your view of the world:

Nihilism: No, there are just the very small things, probably smaller than molecules (quarks etc.), and those are the only things that exist. If there are bunches of matter, we only count all the little things the bunch is composed of, and not the bunch. According to the Nihilist, strictly speaking, John does not exist, there are just mereological atoms arranged John-wise.

Van Inwagen-Nihilism: Everything is either a small thing without proper parts (probably quarks etc.) or a living thing. According to this view, John exists, but your chair does not. One result here is that existence (as identity) is vague.

Monism: There is just one thing, The Universe, which has no parts. It is a 'seamless one'. And therefore John does not exist. The Universe is just John-ish there-ish.

Classical Mereology: John exists, tables exist, chairs exist...But also the thing composed of your nose and the Eiffel-Tower does exist. Here also problems with existence and identity arise. The ship of Theseus, the gold statue that is melted, Cats whose tails get cut off, to name a few.

*Note that these are big theories summarized in just a few words. If something sounds very stupid or more interesting, just look for more e.g. in the SEP

  • Yes, but you didn't answer what would constitute John in each case as he underwent change. Also, my physical/chemical characterization of John places certain constraints on the kinds of metaphysics that can be held. Jul 18 '13 at 17:13
  • @RobertLeChef Characterizing John as some time-dependent aggregate of matter that clearly specifies what physical objects can properly be labeled 'John' and what can't be, this approach is bound to failure and on top that it wouldn't be a useful approach even if it did work. Consider the much simpler task defining a boundary between what constitutes the atmosphere and what constitutes outer space.
    – David H
    Jul 18 '13 at 18:03
  • Well, it is hard to say what would constitute John in each case as he underwent change for in most cases John does not exist. Van Inwagen offers us an explanation/solution to identity over time. As I mentioned, he has to say that identity and existence are vague notions.
    – Lukas
    Jul 19 '13 at 18:43

We are not the sum of our components. We know from biology that all the cells in our body are completely replaced in seven to ten years. We know this is true because it's in the New York Times!


If our cells are completely replaced every ten years, are we still us? I say yes. We are not the sum of our cells, let alone our atoms or quarks. We are the template or pattern underlying the generation of the cells.


For the theory of systems, a system is a group of parts. (=aggregate!)

Feynman stated that everything is built of atoms. So, if you think, nothing really exist, nature is only atoms and it's we who interpret groups out of it. We give existence -and a persistent name- to the river, even if it changes permanently.

This point of view is coherent with solipsism. I'm working a book about it. But you can find my previous book with related ideas on the link in my profile.


You might want to investigate the word “Holism”.

“Holism in general terms (whether in science, sociology, economics, linguistics or philosophy) is the idea that all the properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone, but the system as a whole determines in an important way how the parts behave”


“Meaning Holism

The term “meaning holism” is generally applied to views that treat the meanings of all of the words in a language as interdependent. Holism draws much of its appeal from the way in which the usage of all our words seems interconnected, and runs into many problems because the resultant view can seem to conflict with (among other things) the intuition that meanings are by and large shared and stable.”



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