Unit 2: Metaphysics

15 Ship of Theseus

Plutarch and Henry Imler

Classic Formulation as Recounted by Plutarch

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.

Citation and Use

Plutarch. “Theseus.” Internet Classics Archive, n.d. http://classics.mit.edu/Plutarch/theseus.html.

This is in the public domain.

Scavenger Variant[1]

Theseus leaves Athens on a 30-year journey in a brand new ship. During the course of this journey, parts of the ship wear out. As parts wear out, they are replaced with new parts. At the same time,

Theseus is dogged by a scavenger. She collects each of the discarded parts and begins to reassemble them in the same pattern.

By the time Theseus returns, every single part of the ship has been replaced. Theseus and the Scavenger arrive in Athens at the same time.

Which ship (scavenger’s or Theses’) is the ship that left Athens?


  1. This section was written by Henry Imler

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Ship of Theseus by Plutarch and Henry Imler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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