The Fairphone of Theseus

Suppose that a FP2 is left in the care of a very clumsy non-risk-averse fellow who lives in a highly corrosive coastal environment, and that over time all of the individual parts are replaced as they fail. Is this fundamentally the same FP2 as the original? :thinking:

Suppose then that this fellow hoards all these tiny damaged components in a drawer, and then later on they are restored with improved nanoscopic electronics repair technology, and re-assembled into a working FP2 with a set of user data much more recent than the last backup that was restored to the other mentioned FP2’s core module. Is this still the original FP2, and if so, then how does this affect how original the other FP2 is?

What do you guys think?
I have to know. This is important! I’m… asking for a friend. :smirk:


You can’t. Some philosophy questions are designed in a way that they can’t have one true answer.
Like: What came first; the chicken or the [chicken-]egg?

Warranty-wise the original phone is the one with the core module that has the IMEI number the phone was bought with. Than again each other module has it’s own warranty and identifier too.

Personally I’d say the phone that has 0% original modules is 0% original and the phone that has 100% original modules, no matter how long they were in drawers - is 100% original.

The only question I’m having is: Why is this important? :wink:

@paulakreuzer well, actually you can answer this. It’s the chicken. It was created by a random mutation in the genome of the chicken-ancestor. Although you could say that the chicken probably grew up in an egg, so the first appearance of the first chicken was actually an egg.

However, this sparks another question: At what point is one specific animal called chicken and not chicken-ancestor anymore?
If the fellow living in the coastal environment has a beach nearby and he takes a hand full of sand and then starts to remove the sand grain by grain, at what point would the hand full of sand stop being a “hand full” and start being a “little bit”?

@4ndy At least only your phone broke down and there wasn’t a complete Coast Breakdown :wink:

The number of examples for that kind of questions is endless.
Regarding the first posting, I would say: “Define original”.

It’s the same with old buildings. Over time, they are renovated over and over again, until there is no stone left, that was there, wehen the building was opened.
Still it stays the original building, as each and every stone is made to be a (most) exact copy.
No one would ever call an ancient cathedral to be no ancient cathedral just because over time the stones have changed.
As I see it, with every stone changed, this becomes the new original.
In my opinion, @4ndy in his example ends up with 2 original FP, as I would not say that the phone rebuild using all the restored parts is not the original phone.
Otherwise it could be argued, that the nanofixing has changed the originality of those parts as well.

Defining such things is always setting a border, that is kind of arbitrary. There will most likely always be arguments to move this border further in one direction or the other; e.g. regarding the chicken-ness of a lifeform. And probably there will never be a definition absolutely everyone agrees upon.

You’re basing your answer on the assumption that a chicken-egg is defined as an egg laid by a chicken, not as an egg a chicken can hatch out of.

All you are saying is that the parent of the first chicken was not a chicken, that still doesn’t answer the egg question.

I think it depends on how big parts you replace.
A 90 year old human has no substance left from when they were 1, but it’s still the same human. A building or a piece of art that has been restored many times over is still the original. Nobody ever said: “Do you want to see the Mona Lisa? Let’s go to the Louvre’s workshop and look at the dust on the floor.”
If you however replace large parts of something, where each part can be clearly identified as a part of the original - like with a modular phone - then the question is which part is the one that is most determining. And if e.g. we say that’s the core module for a Fairphone, what happens if we change smaller parts in the core module?


I love your example of the 90 year old human.
Regarding this; isn’t it a question of definition as well, what part you consider to be most determining or what you consider to be clearly identifiable? E.g. every human cell containing a dns is clearly identifiable, just not by simple eyesight. And there we are back to definitions, when it comes to the means of identification.

To me, my FP2 would be the original, even if would have had to exchange the core module, while building a new phone from spare-parts just around my core module might give me another original phone. But that - as I see it in the end - is more or less a question of emotions. Do you feel emotionally more attached to one of the two phones, so you see this as the original one.
And my guess is, that the those arguments are used, that match the emotional attachment; which is perfectly fine of course and as valid an argument as any.

I have a trick. Just get those two FP2 phones and put them each in a sock whose original material has been replaced with patches. Then, hit them with your grandfather’s axe, which has had both head and handle replaced. Don’t forget to give the first a a wash in a river, then the second in another river (psst: it can be the same river). Then power on both and cross your fingers. It worked for me in the past, but it doesn’t work for me now.


No, I’m not. Where did you get that from?

It is a fact often remarked upon that the soul of the FP2 resides in the wifi antenna.


Nah, the chicken-egg problem is easy by comparison, the first chicken came from an egg laid by captive red junglefowl.

But what if one switched the IMEI stickers and spoofed the IMEI number? :exploding_head:

This is important because otherwise, how do you know if you’re an OG? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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This is actually a good question which also came up with the core module replacement discussion, and in a bunch of sci-fi movies.

We need to define such for the purpose of definitions. What can we look at? How much money is spend? How much the environment is harmed? How much the device is akin to the original?

I would say, if the core module is replaced, that is the aorta of the device. When is a human being clinically dead?

Great analogy. What if a human being is burned for say 95% and becomes an evil robotic father? Or is replaced by AI?

SDR is God. :angel:

Well obviously then chickens will die out because they will all lay red junglefowl eggs.

No seriously: That’s exactly what I meant here:

If we say the core module is what determines which FP2 you have, then which part of the core module is most important? I’d say switching a sticker and some software code wouldn’t be enough to change the phone - you just made it hard to identify it (which was probably the purpose) - but I don’t know what on the other hand would be enough change.

From a circular economy standpoint:

  • original FP (possibly with peripheral modules changed)
  • upgraded original FP (with peripheral module(s) upgraded)
  • reused original FP (with all data from the original user wiped)
  • repaired original FP (possibly with parts on the core module exchanged for parts with same purpose)
  • modified original FP (with DIY modifications made on the original core module in order to enhance something)
  • refurbished like-new FP (made from broken original FP - sent back to factory where everything broken is repaired and replaced and the FP gets a new IMEI, a new battery, a factory reset and a new life)
  • recycled new FP (theoretical FP made of all the shredded material of the original FP - which isn’t technically possible yet).

From a different understanding of originality standpoint:

  • original FP (each FP ever sold by the company, no matter how many parts were replaced as long as they were replaced with equivalent parts from Fairphone)
  • FP version 1.x (each FP ever sold by the company with upgraded modules as created by the company)
  • forgery FP (phone created by a manufacturer that steals the blueprint of the FP and rebuilds a similar phone with the same tech specs, but probably doesn’t care about the fair aspects)
  • facsimile FP (phone created by different manufacturer that tries to rebuild the FP as accurately as possible - so also with all the fair specs)
  • derivative FP (phone built on the blueprint of the original FP, but with certain things changed deliberately - like this)

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