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Do We Need Two Notions of Constitution?

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Traditionally, constitutionalists have offered just one notion of constitution to analyse the relation that an object, such as a statue or a chain, bears to the object/s from which it is made: let us say, a piece of marble in the first case or a piece of metal in the second. Robert Wilson proposes to differentiate two notions of constitution and, in this way, to offer constitutionalists a more varied range of metaphysical tools. To justify the introduction of the difference, he presents several phenomena and problems, the explanation of which would justify the distinction he makes. In this paper I argue that Wilson’s proposal would not increase the explanatory power of a theory of constitution as it has traditionally been understood, only its complexity. Increasing the complexity without increasing the explanatory power of a theory, I defend, goes against one, at least prima facie, basic theoretical virtue: parsimony. In my argumentation I crucially use, for the case of Wilson’s first three arguments, the existence of principles of existence−persistence, which constitutionalists, Wilson among them, usually accept. In arguing against Wilson’s fourth argument I use a slightly modified version of Lynne Rudder Baker’s theory of constitution.

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  1. Fine (2003) introduces the terminology. A pluralist claims that, for example, the statue, the piece of clay and the clay are different. A monist claims that we have just one object. I will follow this terminology, but it has to be said that the pluralists I mention in the main text do not necessarily agree with the rest of Fine’s claims. For example, Fine thinks that the relation of constitution takes place between, in our example, the statue and the clay, and the authors I discuss admit constitution relations between the statue and the piece of clay.

  2. For an introduction to the debate see, for example, Sider (2001) and Hawley (2001).

  3. See Wilson (2007, 2008) and Baker (2007) for further discussion and references. Given the main purpose of the paper, I mention here just the basic intuition I think, in principle, justifies the addition.


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I would very much like to thank all the members of the LOGOS group, the participants of the 4th IJN-LOGOS Workshop and an anonymous referee for their invaluable comments on previous versions of this paper. Financial support for my work was provided by the DGI, Spanish Government, research project FFI2010-16049 and Consolider-Ingenio project CSD2009-00056; by the AGAUR of the Generalitat de Catalunya (2009SGR-1077), and by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013 under grant agreement no. 238128. Thanks also to Michael Maudsley for his linguistic revisions.

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Correspondence to Marta Campdelacreu.

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Campdelacreu, M. Do We Need Two Notions of Constitution?. Philosophia 41, 503–519 (2013).

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