The Ship of Theseus and the Masonic Lodge

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Jim Stapleton

The Ship of Theseus is a philosophical paradox that raises questions about identity, continuity, and the nature of existence. The thought experiment challenges our understanding of what it means for an object, person, or organization to retain its identity over time.

Plutarch posed the paradox where Theseus, a mythical Greek hero, had a ship that was eventually kept as a museum. As the planks started to rot over time, they were replaced with new ones. If all of the planks were replaced, is the ship still the same ship as the one Theseus initially owned? If it is no longer the same ship, at what point along the way did the transformation happen?

The Ship of Theseus challenges our notions of identity. We often associate identity as something that is static and unchanging. However, this paradox causes us to reconsider this assumption. Is a ship that is completely remade of new components the same as the original as long as its function, purpose, and design, are preserved? Or is the ship the same if it maintains temporal continuity connecting its past and present states?

Now, let's draw a parallel between the Ship of Theseus paradox and a Masonic Lodge. Each Masonic Lodge has its own traditions and membership. The Lodge itself can be seen as an entity with its own identity, just like the ship.

Similar to the Ship of Theseus, a Masonic Lodge can experience transition. Lodge membership changes over time as new members join and others leave or pass to the Lodge on High. Lodge leadership changes with each Worshipful Master. A Lodge's physical location could also change.

The paradox arises when we consider that, just like the ship, the lodge can experience a complete turnover of its members and leadership. Over time, every member who was part of the original Lodge may no longer be there, and new members have taken their place. So, is the Lodge still the same Masonic Lodge after several decades?

Every member of the Craft should think about how their presence and activities within a Lodge affects the overall identity of the organization. An individual member’s action (or inaction) can have significant repercussions that impact the very fabric of the Lodge.


Jim Stapleton is the Senior Warden of USS New Jersey Lodge No. 62. He is also a member of the New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786. Jim received the Distinguished White Apron Award from the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. He was awarded the Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award. Jim is also a member of the Society of King Solomon.

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