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Problem with Identity

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Posted

I just constructed a couple of posts on philosophyforums and I thought they were interesting enough to post here as well.

I think I just found a serious problem with identity. The problem is not only don't we know what the meaning of identity is, but I don't think it is possible to know what the meaning of identity is.

When we stipulate that two things are identical, we aren't also stipulating what the meaning of identity is. If we were to stipulate both that two things are identical and what the meaning of identity is at the same time, that would be begging the question.

Yet to describe two things as being identical implies that we already know what the meaning of identity is. And when we ask whether two things are identical, we can't determine whether they are identical until after we decide they are identical.

Even furthermore, we can't define identity to mean a certain thing because it is a prerequisite to a definition that the term being defined has to be synonymous with it's definition. But synonymity is meaningless unless you already know what identity means.

So not only do none of us, nor any philosopher in the past, know what identity means but it's impossible to know what identity means. And since we don't know what identity means, how is it that we determine that two things are identical?

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Posted

When we stipulate that two things are identical, we aren't also stipulating what the meaning of identity is.

Parody, why not? Could it possibly be that we define whether something is identical to something by properties? Do we necessarily need to understand the meaning of identity to know that a = a?

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Posted

I think I've answered your questions already in the OP. Basically, we need to know what the meaning of identity is before we can know whether or not two things are identical. Whether A = A depends on what you substitute for A.

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Posted

Parody, I don't think you can say that philosophers haven't any idea what identity is, wiith any authority whatsoever, for their treatment of the concept is much more subtle and nuanced than your assertions.

One, we do not have a conception of identity from the get go, because it is an abstraction derived from what two or more concrete particulars have in common. Even if this were little more than "begging the question," that is precisely how the idea of identity emerges, from the act of abstracting from experience, and seems to be a crucial part of how we assign a common noun to different things.

Two, many philosophers have analyzed identity and its logical counterpart, difference, with different results, so I recommend a thorough study of this topic than your OP seems to indicate. That means, discuss the actual works of the thinkers instead of resorting to hasty generalizations.

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Posted

I think if I have made a hasty generalization, it would be better for me if you showed me where I have made that hasty generalization, because I don't see it. If I've made a logical error in my argument, that would be something I'd like to see. But for the most part you seem to be appealing to authority, saying "Well, real philosophers have disagreed with you, therefore you must be wrong." I'm not saying that reading philosophy isn't valuable, but I come from the school of thought where arguments should stand by themselves.

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Posted

Hey, parody:

it would be better for me if you showed me where I have made that hasty generalization, because I don't see it.

So not only do none of us, nor any philosopher in the past, know what identity means but it's impossible to know what identity means.

So construed, it may be impossible to know what identity is, according to the rules you've set down, but these philosophers have analyzed the concept according to different rules.

Take Hegel's, for instance. :twisted:

... for the most part you seem to be appealing to authority, saying "Well, real philosophers have disagreed with you, therefore you must be wrong."

Actually i was hoping you'd read it as saying "go do some work." Not that you are incorrect because you didn't pay the right amount of lipservice, but that you haven't plainly done your homework.

I couldn't care less who said what, but you yourself made a reference to the philosophers. So, deal with them on their terms and locate the appropriate language of their unexamined assumptions. Transcendental arguments are nice but they're kinda isolated and don't really hit the intended target.

... I'm not saying that reading philosophy isn't valuable, but I come from the school of thought where arguments should stand by themselves.

Indeed, but it takes a person, a thinker, and the language to articulate them. There sure as hell ain't no "argument-in-itself."

Alas, your Nietzschean toxin has become diluted, but here's a freebie:

There's no philosophy, but philosophers. :slap:

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Posted

Alright, I did some checking and I think the problem is that my argument doesn't encompass such things as personal identity or the identity of a thing over time. I think what I had in mind when I formulated the argument was identity of sense or synonymity, which I realize now is just one narrow form of identity. I think if you replace "identity" in my argument with "synonymity", the argument has a better chance of holding.

I basically looked into a philosophical encyclopedia and read the article on identity and realized that they were talking about a lot of things that I wasn't. I also found my excerpt of Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" and realized that he spoke of synonymity rather than identity, since my criticism is really over the analytical nature of the law of identity.

I hate homework :)

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