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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The Ship of Theseus Paradox: When a Ship’s Identity Hangs by a Thread

The paradox challenges notions of the identity of an object or a person

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Aditya Saikrishna
Aditya Saikrishna
I am 21 years old and an avid Motorsports enthusiast.

INDIA: The Ship of Theseus paradox has long perplexed philosophers and thinkers, challenging our fundamental understanding of identity and existence. This ancient thought experiment raises profound questions about an object’s nature and persistence over time.

The paradox centres around the legendary Ship of Theseus, preserved in Athens, symbolising their national heritage.

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Over the centuries, as the ship weathered and decayed, its wooden planks and sails required frequent repairs and replacements. Eventually, new materials replaced every part of the ship. The question arises: Is the vessel that stands before us, fully restored, still the Ship of Theseus?

On the surface, it may seem like a simple question with a straightforward answer. However, delving deeper into the paradox reveals a complex philosophical dilemma.

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If the maintenance process replaces all the original parts, can we still consider it the same ship? Or is it an entirely different entity?

One school of thought argues for the ship’s persistence through time, asserting that its identity lies in its continued existence and function.

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According to this view, if the ship maintains its purpose and maintains a sense of continuity, it remains the Ship of Theseus. The replacement of individual parts does not alter their essence. On the other hand, proponents of the opposing viewpoint contend that identity lies in the ship’s original components.

The opposition argues that once maintenance replaces every part of the ship, the vessel loses its connection to its historical context and becomes a different vessel altogether.

They question whether a collection of new parts, no matter how meticulously recreated, can truly embody the essence and history of the original ship.

The paradox deepens when considering a related scenario: Suppose the discarded original parts were collected and meticulously reconstructed into a new ship. Which of the two ships, if any, would rightfully claim the title of the Ship of Theseus?

This thought experiment has far-reaching implications beyond ships and extends to personal identity concepts. If our bodies and cells constantly change, are we still the same people we were in the past? Does our identity lie in our physical continuity or something more abstract, such as memories and consciousness?

Philosophers throughout history have grappled with the Ship of Theseus paradox, offering various perspectives and interpretations.

Some propose that identity is a matter of convention and that we assign meaning and continuity based on our shared understanding. Others argue for a more metaphysical approach, suggesting that identity combines physical and psychological factors.

While the paradox may not provide definitive answers, it invites us to ponder the nature of existence and the complexities of identity. The paradox challenges our preconceived notions of what makes an object or a person who they are.

The Ship of Theseus paradox reminds us that truth and reality can be elusive, urging us to think, contemplate, and embrace the mysteries beyond our immediate comprehension.

Also Read: Unravelling the Mind-Bending Achilles and the Tortoise Paradox: A Puzzle of Infinite Steps


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