The ship of Theseus

There are a lot of things we can learn from history. The people who lived before us were sometimes pretty clever and thought of things that seemed way ahead of their time. Sometimes it makes me wonder if I should have paid more attention during history class. But seeing how riddled with boring material a lot of education is, I probably didn’t miss too much. I remember just having to remember important dates like it means something. Not to go on a tangent, but I am remembering now that they used to ask us really convoluted questions as to why people would do certain things. I think those questions were framed poorly because the concept makes sense to me now, but back then I just got stuck thinking “how am I meant to relate to a 1450s lord” and giving up on getting a passing grade. For reference, I got a 4 out of 10 on my exam for history and just barely got my diploma. Good times.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Let’s talk about a legend instead. 

“The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment about whether an object that has had all of its original components replaced remains the same object. According to legend, Theseus, the mythical Greek founder-king of Athens, had rescued the children of Athens from King Minos after slaying the minotaur and then escaped on a ship to Delos. Every year, the Athenians commemorated this legend by taking the ship on a pilgrimage to Delos to honor Apollo. The question was raised by ancient philosophers: After several centuries of maintenance, if every part of the Ship of Theseus had been replaced, one at a time, was it still the same ship?”

  • Taken from Wikipedia

To make an already short story even shorter, the question posed is if a ship has every part replaced, is it still the same ship. I find this thought experiment very fascinating. I’d like to just talk about it a little bit and explain what my thoughts on it are.
Let’s begin at the end. Yes, I do believe the ship is still the same. I look at a ship as a social construct. We’ve slapped together individual parts and called it something else. It’s a sum of its parts. But it’s not the parts itself. If you want to watch a great video about social constructs, I recommend this video by Philosophy Tube. She does a much better job of explaining things than I ever could. There’s a good reason that even wise philosophers have different opinions about this thought experiment. There’s really no concrete answers. You can argue that the ship is the same as long as you never stopped considering it to be your ship (which is what I would say.) You can argue that the ship is the same as long as one part of the initial build still persists. You can even argue that the moment more than half of the materials, or even one piece of the construction is replaced it’s no longer true to its original form.

I found this quick little explanation on google. I think it’s such a fun question.

There’s other versions of this story as well, such as grandfather’s axe where both the handle and the axehead get replaced over time. I’d like to think of a cool version of this for  the story I’m writing. There’s no Theseus in the lore of my world and just using ol’ gran-gran’s axe feels a bit too easy. I guess a computer is similar when you replace parts, but there’s also no computers in my world. Let me know if you have any suggestions as to what could be a fantasy world’s alternative to this thought experiment. I’d also like to know if you thought this was interesting. I’d love to talk about more random things from time to time, since I sometimes come across interesting stuff when searching for things to write about. Either way, please leave a like or a comment if you enjoyed this post and as always, thanks for reading.

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