On Van Inwagen's Defense of Vague Identity
Cowles (David)
Source: Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 8, Logic and Language, 1994, pp. 137-158
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. In his recent book, Material Beings, Peter van Inwagen presents and defends an interesting view about material objects, a view he formulates in two related theses: the Proposed Answer and Life. Roughly, the idea is this. According to the Proposed Answer, every composite material object is alive. According to Life, a (composite) material object persists through a stretch of time by living through it. There are people and dogs, but no cars or bikes.
  2. Near the end of the book, van Inwagen acknowledges that his views have further implications about vagueness….
      There could be a case in which, owing to its being indeterminate whether a life now going on was the same event as a life that had been going on at an earlier time, it was indeterminate whether a currently existing composite object was the same object as one that had existed at an earlier time. (MB, 228)
    Put another way, "the principle Life, which purports to describe the persistence of composite objects, appears to entail that identity is vague" (MB, 241). And van Inwagen admits that such "a metaphysic…places its defenders in rather a difficult position" (MB, 228). Van Inwagen devotes much of the remainder of his book to the task of showing that the position is not so very difficult after all. His attempt includes a detailed rejection of Gareth Evans's familiar argument.
  3. Here I will consider in some detail van Inwagen's treatment of Evans's argument, and try to show that van Inwagen's rejection is misguided, and that it ultimately fails. I offer in its place a choice: either accept the possibility of a and b being "indefinitely identical" even though "they" are involved in a definite property disagreement (of sorts); or else reject the presupposition (present in one or another form in all the "logical" arguments against vague identity)1 that we could determinately refer to vague objects. I conclude with the beginning of an argument for the second disjunct.

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