Absolute and Relative Identity
Noonan (Harold)
Source: Lovibond & Williams - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction (Sections 1 & 2)

Author’s Conclusion
  1. Thus, I suggest, though neither the position of the relativist nor that of thee absolutist is wholly correct, the relativist position is nearer to being so.
  2. The main emphasis of Geach's work on identity has always been on the uselessness of the notion of absolute identity, and on its inability to provide any usable criterion of identity. If the arguments given in this paper are correct, this point is vindicated.


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2:
  • In a well-known passage, referred to by Wiggins, Strawson draws the distinction between sortal and non-sortal concepts in the following terms; 'A sortal universal provides a principle for distinguishing and counting the particulars it collects. It presupposes no antecedent principle or method of individuating the particulars it collects. Characterizing universals . . . whilst they supply principles of grouping, even of counting particulars, supply such principles only for particulars already distinguished, or distinguishable, in accordance with some antecedent principle or method' ("Strawson (Peter) - Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics" (1959), p. 168).
  • Wiggins rightly criticises the suggestion here that countability is a necessary condition of a concept's qualifying as a sortal concept, but it seems plausible if taken as a sufficient condition. However, if so, resistance to the relative identity thesis must be unmotivated. For, as Geach has made plain, and is now generally accepted, we can count by relations weaker than absolute identity.
  • Moreover, as Wiggins has made plain, a relation may be such that it cannot hold between two objects which are simultaneously spatially distinct without being an absolute identity relation. The thesis that a sortal concept supplies a principle for counting particulars thus does not require that identity under a sortal concept be Leibnizian. It is only when the notion of a criterion of identity is included in the account of a sortal concept that opposition to thesis R becomes comprehensible.

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