If a tree were to be cut down and turned into a couple of wooden logs, informally one can say referring to the logs that the logs are the current state of the tree. But how true is this ? Shouldn't there be some form of "tree-ness" left in something in order to call it a tree in the first place and then specify its state ? In normal discourse we always seem to do this to objects after performing actions on them which destroys almost all of its defining features. Another example is, say we start destroying the earth with nuclear bombs, if there is a tiny bit of anything left we immediately refer to it as the current state of the planet, but if there's a bunch of gas particles thats all there is left, how right is it to say that is the current state of the planet even though there is no form of a planet in actual existence. So in effect, are we describing the state of a planet or the state of an object that was once a planet?


2 Answers 2


The question mixes two different problems:

a) The scope of any concept: when does a tree becomes a set of logs? This might depend on what percentage of the tree that has been cut, and that is subjective. No rule will say "as soon as 50% of the tree is separated, it is not anymore a tree but a set of logs". The definition of objects is subjective. If you say that a male is either a child or an adult, which is the exact moment when it transitions from one to another? It's subjective.

b) The concept of state: A state is normally an impression, almost independent of time. For example, your memory of a river, that's an state. The river as such does not exist anymore, but an state of it is part of your memory. A picture of the river is also a register of the state of the river. States are also subjective.

Mixing both, given that a lot of Aristotle's body molecules are now in my body, should you call me the current state of Aristotle? Don't think so, but that's subjective. You can say I am the current state of Aristotle, or that I am the state of what once was Aristotle. Language is just another resource allowing improving our existence.

  • by an impression, you mean an impression in the mind of the observer ? And could you say how such an impression is independent of time. Whenever I think of the state of something, i immediately associate it with the progress of a process it is in, for example a person who is recovering from an illness we say he is in a state of recovery and we can ask what his current state is by which is meant how "far" has he recovered/become normal. "State of flowing", "state of recovery" all seem to be dynamic states. Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 19:00
  • a) Yes, the impression in the mind of the observer. b) Precisely: I've wrote "almost independent of time". A state implies no change (hence the form "static"), and that implies no time involved. If you describe something as in a "changing state", the state is independent of time, while the change itself is dependent on time. That is equivalent to take a (static) picture of a switch in the "change" position, what you call "dynamic state".
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 20:41
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    @RuldolfoAP thank you ! Commented Jan 8, 2022 at 7:21

Words can have intensional it extensional meanings. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extensional_and_intensional_definitions

In science and engineering, it is more useful to have explicit definitions, such as what a square is. Then whether a transformation destroys a thing because the result does not satisfy the definition anymore is clear.

However in less formal contexts, it is common for natural language to assign meaning to words by example. This shifts over time as word usage in society changes, and can also differ between groups. So there are no formal rules there, and the word "tree" in common usage applies to so many objects that the concept of family resemblance applies https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_resemblance. Meaning many things can be called trees without any set of properties being common to all the things called trees.

Also the question touches upon the topic of identity over time, such as the ship of Theseus paradox https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus which indicates that it is not possible to bind an identity to parts constituting a larger thing in a way that satisfies us in all situations.

All this to say: yes, if we call something X and make changes to it, calling the new configuration of us part still X does depends on various things, which can be "Xness". But it's not straightforward and two people may reasonably disagree on what they consider "Xness" for any such X, unless a formal framework like Maths is applied.

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    Thank You ! In short Xness is generally subjective unless explicitly defined Commented Jan 8, 2022 at 7:24

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