In mereology, the term gunk applies to any whole whose parts all have further proper parts. That is, a gunky object is not made of indivisible atoms. In contrast, an atomic individual is entirely decomposable into atoms.

If point-sized objects are always simple, then a gunky object does not have any point-sized parts. By usual accounts of gunk, such as Alfred Tarski's in 1929, three-dimensional gunky objects also do not have other degenerate parts shaped like one-dimensional curves or two-dimensional surfaces. (See also Whitehead's point-free geometry.)

Gunk is an important test case for accounts of the composition of material objects: for instance, Ted Sider has challenged Peter van Inwagen's account of composition because it is inconsistent with the possibility of gunk. Sider's argument also applies to a simpler view than van Inwagen's: mereological nihilism, the view that only material simples exist. If nihilism is necessarily true, then gunk is impossible. But, as Sider argues, because gunk is both conceivable and possible, nihilism is false, or at best a contingent truth.

Gunk has also played an important role in the history of topology (Zimmerman 1996a) and in recent debates concerning change, contact, and the structure of physical space. The composition of space and the composition of material objects are related by receptacles - regions of space that could harbour a material object. (The term receptacles was coined by Richard Cartwright (Cartwright 1975).) It seems reasonable to assume that if space is gunky, a receptacle is gunky and then a material object is possibly gunky.

The term was first used by David Lewis in his work Parts of Classes (1991) and "Nominalistic Set Theory" (1970). Dean W. Zimmerman defends the possibility of atomless gunk (1996b). See also Hud Hudson (2007).


  • Cartwright, Richard, 1975, "Scattered Objects", in Keith Lehrer, ed., Analysis and Metaphysics (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1975), pp. 153-171. Reprinted in Philosophical Essays, pp. 171-186.
  • Hud Hudson, 2007. "Simples and Gunk", Philosophy Compass 2 (2), pp. 291–302.
  • Lewis, David, 1970. “Nominalistic Set Theory”, Noûs 4, pp. 225-40.
  • Lewis, David, 1991. Parts of Classes, Cambridge: Basil Blackwell.
  • Sider, Ted, 1993. "Van Inwagen and the Possibility of Gunk", Analysis. 53(4): 285-289.
  • Tarski, Alfred, 1929. "Foundations of the Geometry of Solids."
  • Zimmerman, Dean W., 1996a. "Indivisible Parts and Extended Objects: Some Philosophical Episodes from Topology’s Prehistory." Monist 79(1). 148–180.
  • Zimmerman, Dean W., 1996b. "Could Extended Objects Be Made Out of Simple Parts? An Argument for 'Atomless Gunk'", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56: 1-29.

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