Noonan (Harold)
Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2004-9
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Author’s Abstract

Much of the debate about identity in recent decades has been about personal identity, and specifically about personal identity over time, but identity generally, and the identity of things of other kinds, have also attracted attention. Various interrelated problems have been at the centre of discussion, but it is fair to say that recent work has focussed particularly on the following areas: the notion of a criterion of identity1; the correct analysis of identity over time, and, in particular, the disagreement between advocates of perdurance2 and advocates of endurance as analyses of identity over time; the notion of identity across possible worlds and the question of its relevance to the correct analysis of de re modal3 discourse; the notion of contingent identity4 and the notion of vague identity5. A radical position, advocated by Peter Geach, is that these debates, as usually conducted, are void for lack of a subject matter: the notion of absolute identity they presuppose has no application; there is only relative identity. Another increasingly popular view is the one advocated by Lewis: although the debates make sense they cannot genuinely be debates about identity, since there are no philosophical problems about identity. Identity is an utterly unproblematic notion. What there are, are genuine problems which can be stated using the language of identity. But since these can be restated without the language of identity they are not problems about identity. (For example, it is a puzzle, an aspect of the so-called “problem of personal identity”, whether the same person can have different bodies at different times. But this is just the puzzle whether a person can have different bodies at different times. So since it can be stated without the language of personal “identity”, it is not a problem about identity, but about personhood.) This article provides an overview of the topics indicated above, some assessment of the debates and suggestions for further reading.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Logic of Identity6
  3. Relative identity7
  4. Criteria of identity8
  5. Identity over time
  6. Identity across possible worlds
  7. Contingent Identity9
  8. Vague identity10
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First published Wed Dec 15, 2004; substantive revision Sat Nov 7, 2009; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Archive: Identity.

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