Q.: I have a clay statue on my mantelpiece. A friend who’s a philosophy student argues that the statue is not one thing, but two. The first is a statue that can be gravely harmed by squeezing. The second is a lump of clay that can’t be harmed no matter how you squeeze it. I think there’s really only one thing on my mantelpiece, but I don’t know how to answer him. Can you help?
A.: Ask your friend how many things he is. Let’s say that, first, he’s a human being who can be gravely harmed by squeezing him too hard; and, second, he’s just a sackful of chemicals (mainly water) that cannot be harmed even if flattened by a steamroller. But why stop there? Maybe, third, he’s a young man who likes to be squeezed — especially by an attractive member of the opposite sex. And, fourth, he could be a philosophy student whose main source of entertainment is provoking existential crises in people who aren’t philosophy students. In other words, why stop at only two things on your mantelpiece? Where does it all end? (Good heavens. I’ve begun to sound like a philosophy student!)