Is It Art?
June 1, 2012
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What used to be a philosophical question is now being settled by judges, reports the Wall Street Journal here.
The conundrums judges face when it comes to art are often no less perplexing than the ancient philosophical paradox of Theseus’ ship. Imagine a ship that is prized because it was sailed by the hero Theseus. Over the years, its caretakers carefully repair it by replacing worn planks and woodwork. At some point, every piece of the ship has been replaced. Is it still Theseus’ ship? And what if someone saved all the worn pieces and assembled them into a complete (if tattered) boat—which one is the true ship of Theseus? Philosophers have gnawed on this paradox for thousands of years. But imagine the poor judge who finds Estate of Theseus v. Ancient Athens Salvage Yard tossed in his lap: He doesn’t have the philosophical luxury of pronouncing the controversy unsolvable; he has to decide which of the competing claims to honor.