Minds and Bodies: Introduction
Hirsch (Eli)
Source: Hirsch - The Concept of Identity, 1982, Introduction to Part 2
Paper - Abstract

Paper StatisticsBooks / Papers Citing this PaperNotes Citing this PaperColour-ConventionsDisclaimer

Full Text

  1. This part attempts, first, to clarify and defend some of the views already presented, and, second, to open up some additional questions about the nature of identity. Each chapter is designed to be an essentially self-complete essay, though there is inevitably a considerable amount of cross-reference.
  2. The first two chapters deal directly with several objections to the previous views. Chapter 6 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Foundations of Identity") addresses in detail the crucial objection that an analysis of our concept of bodily identity is necessarily circular because the concept is more fundamental, both metaphysically and epistemologically, than any concepts in terms of which the analysis might be couched. In Chapter 7 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Matter, Causality, and Stereotypes of Identity") I take up Shoemaker's suggestion that causal connectedness1 is necessary for identity, and the radical suggestion that there are no logically sufficient criteria of identity2. Here I also show how Putnam's notion of a stereotype might be applied to an analysis of identity.
  3. Several times in Part One3, I expressed the conjecture that our concept of bodily identity is innately determined. This is elaborated and defended in Chapter 8 ("Hirsch (Eli) - A Sense of Unity"). The question of innateness leads to a consideration of the essential connection between the issue of "unity4" and the issue of "similarity," a connection which is pursued in Chapter 9 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Natural Kinds and Natural Units"). The notion of a natural kind5 is prominent in recent literature, and in the latter chapter I explore various points of connection between that notion and what I call a "natural unit."
  4. The topic of personal identity, which I studiously avoided in Part One, is now addressed in Chapter 10 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Constraints on Self-Identity"). This chapter extends various issues of relativism, conventionalism, and innatism into the realm of personal identity. In this discussion I adopt the rather extreme device of assessing at length an utterly alien conception of personal identity; the device will not, I hope, overly tax the reader's indulgence for the philosophy of the weird.
  5. Running through a number of these discussions is my preoccupation with the issue already broached in Chapter 5 ("Hirsch (Eli) - The Metaphysics of Persistence") of what the status is of our ordinary identity concept. There I considered the claim that:
    → There are compelling reasons for us to describe the world in terms of ordinary objects.
    And now in Chapter 6 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Foundations of Identity") I go on to consider the claim that;
    → Ordinary objects are basic,
    and in Chapter 9 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Natural Kinds and Natural Units") the claim that:
    → Ordinary objects are natural units.
    These are three ways of conferring upon ordinary objects a special and exalted status.
  6. The three status claims are evidently not unrelated, but they do carry rather different philosophical associations. The first claim suggests that we could cite some ordinary reasons in support of our identity concept, theoretical or practical reasons akin to those – e.g., of probability or efficiency – which we ordinarily give in support of a belief or practice. I have already criticized this position, and will argue against it again in somewhat different contexts in Chapters 8 ("Hirsch (Eli) - A Sense of Unity") and 10 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Constraints on Self-Identity").
  7. The claim that ordinary objects are "basic" can be taken in two senses.
    1. From a metaphysical standpoint the claim suggests that the ordinary concept of an object cannot be analyzed or defined in terms which do not already presuppose the concept.
    2. From an epistemological standpoint the claim suggests that our knowledge of the world depends on our knowledge of ordinary objects.
    The metaphysical claim does not seem to me convincing: some of the central issues here have partially emerged in Chapter 5 ("Hirsch (Eli) - The Metaphysics of Persistence"), and will be clarified and developed in Chapter 6 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Foundations of Identity").
    As regards the epistemological claim it is necessary to distinguish between two questions.
    1. We can compare the status of an ordinary object to the status of the momentary stages of an object; or
    2. We can compare the status of an ordinary object to the status of other successions of stages, successions, that is, which do not correspond to what we ordinarily conceive of as persisting objects.
    Whereas I will suggest in Chapter 6 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Foundations of Identity") that the stages may be epistemologically more basic than the objects, I would certainly hold that the objects are epistemologically more basic than other successions; obviously this is so if, as I think, our minds are innately determined to synthesize the stages into ordinary objects. Note that from the metaphysical standpoint this distinction between the two comparisons seems inconsequential: ordinary objects, it seems, are more basic metaphysically than the other successions if and only if they are more basic metaphysically than the stages.
  8. What is suggested by the claim that ordinary objects are "natural units"? When philosophers talk about "natural kinds" they seem to imply that there is an objective distinction, apart from our human attitudes and practices, between kinds and artificial constructions. The analogous claim with respect to objects is that there is an objective distinction between ordinary persisting objects and other successions of stages, a distinction that can be drawn without reference to our attitudes or practices. But that claim seems almost trivially correct; and certainly it does not confer any special status on the objects. That ordinary objects are objectively distinguishable from the other successions surely does not exalt the objects above the other successions. The objects are, I think, exalted and "natural" only in the psychological sense that it is natural for us to conceive of the world in terms of such objects. If it is held that there is an objective distinction between natural kinds6 and artificial classes – a position which (as I explain in Chapter 9 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Natural Kinds and Natural Units")) is denied by certain nominalists – then it may perhaps also seem plausible to regard the natural kinds7 as metaphysically basic, as presupposed in any adequate conception of the world. But this connection between "naturalness" and "metaphysical basicness" is, I shall maintain, not plausible for "natural units." Though there is an objective enough distinction between the natural units – i.e., the ordinary objects – and other successions, the special status of the ordinary objects seems to be essentially subjective, essentially a function of how we think.
  9. And it is not just physical things that seem to lack an objectively or metaphysically exalted status but persons too; or so I argue in Chapter 10 ("Hirsch (Eli) - Constraints on Self-Identity"). But here especially the psychological centrality of our concept of identity seems strikingly evident. One aspect of my view, then, is that our concept of identity, in its application both to bodies and to persons, suffers from a certain kind of metaphysical arbitrariness. That theme has already been sounded at the end of Part One, and will be amplified in this Part. But in the ensuing chapters I want also to lay stress on the correlative point that our concept of identity is psychologically not arbitrary at all; there are probably deep psychological constraints which determine that just this concept should structure our understanding and knowledge. If our identity concept disappoints us as metaphysicians, it may yet fulfill our expectations as philosophical psychologists and epistemologists.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3: See "Hirsch (Eli) - The Persistence of Objects: Introduction" and the following Chapters.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - Dec 2020. Please address any comments on this page to theo@theotodman.com. File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page