What is change?
In motivational seminars, one is often piled with phrases about change. But what is actually behind it?
"Life means change. Standing still means going backwards. Nothing is as constant as change." Hardly anything is as popular a speaker's cliché as these sentences. In economics there is even a discipline of its own, "change management", which deals with how companies and other organizations should cope with constant change.
But what does change even mean? Wouldn't one even have to know what it is before suspecting it everywhere? As soon as the question arises as to what something as general as change is, we are, as so often, in the middle of philosophy.
One could say quite naively: Change is when something is first somehow and later no longer (or vice versa). It is now quite common to call the something an object and the "being somehow" a quality. So change would be to state, if an object has a property and later no more - or vice versa. Since philosophy turned to language at the end of the 19th century, the fact that an object has a property or not is usually broken down to the fact that a true proposition ascribes a predicate to a subject.
This allows us to define clearly what change is: the difference in the truth value between two propositions that attribute the same property to an object at different times. An example: The propositions "France was a kingdom in 1788" and "France was a kingdom in 1794" are equal except for the mention of different points in time and the fact that the first is true and the second is false. In this precise form, this definition of change goes back to the great British
mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), who first formulated it this way in 1903.
Since then, there have been different philosophical lines of discussion about change. Followers of this definition try to clarify which boundary conditions have to be added to it in order for it to reflect "real change". First of all, it is reasonable that not every object can change. For example, if I drop a tea cup, it may mean that the sentence “the number of teacups, yesterday, is 5” is wrong, but the sentence “the number of my teacups, today, is five” is true. Does that mean that the number 5 has changed? I suppose most would say that would be an absurd idea. Change cannot affect any object. But which ones are changeable then?
Nor can every characteristic constitute a change. If I move my cupboard, then the sentence "My closet was one meter away from the wall yesterday" may be wrong, the sentence "My closet is one meter away from the wall today" may be true. But the closet is still the same, it's just in a different place. According to them, change should only exist where intrinsic properties change, i.e. those that have objects quasi without outside help. The problem is that there is literature on the question of when properties are intrinsic.
I have to slow down a little here because I did my doctorate on this subject and the column should not be too long. In any case, it seems more sensible to me personally to talk about change than about action: change is then, roughly speaking, action that makes another action possible or impossible. But that's not what it's all about here in the first place.
It was important to me to show one thing: In the end, the attempt to specify an everyday intuition about a general term ("change is when something is somehow and then no longer") as precisely as possible leads to great difficulties. To try and, if necessary, to fail over and over again in such clarifications is what philosophy deals with - at least much more than with the production of non-binding sayings à la "life means change".
This blog was translated from the following article: https://www.spektrum.de/kolumne/was-ist-eigentlich-veraenderung/1647468
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