Individuals Without Sortals
Ayers (Michael R.)
Source: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 4.1, Sept. 1974, 113-148
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Consideration of the counting and reidentification of particulars leads naturally enough to the orthodox doctrine that, Mon pain of indefiniteness,"1 an identity statement in some way involves or presupposes a general term or "covering concept': i.e., that the principium individuationis1 or criterion of identity implied depends upon the kind of thing in question. Thus it is said that an auditor understands the question whether A is the same as B only in so far as he knows, however informally or implicitly, the answer to the supplementary question, 'The same what?"
  2. It is true that there are disputes. Some hold that the "covering concept" completes, in each proposition, the incomplete concept of identity, determining, as it were, the kind of sameness involved; while others strongly deny that identity itself is an incomplete concept, preferring to locate the function of the covering concept within the acts of reference necessary to any identity statement. On the latter view, simply in order to have something definite in mind, we must know what kind of thing it is essentially. It is perhaps something of an oversimplification, but a suggestive one, to say that the dispute concerns the question whether or not the sentence "A is the same man as B" can be explicated by the sentence "The man A is identical with the man B." My own present concern, however, is with the possibility that this sort of dispute overlies some common assumption itself deserving critical examination.
  3. Now it is, I believe, indisputable that if a speaker indicates something, e.g. demonstratively, then in order for other people to catch his reference, and to understand what he is indicating, they must know, at some level of generality, what kind of thing he is intending to indicate. They must certainly know what category of thing it is: whether it is an event, a physical object, a quality or whatever. It is, with unimportant exceptions, impossible to think about something without knowing that much about it. But does the knowledge necessary for identification extend further in this direction? Must it be known not only that the object of reference is an event or process, but that it is specifically an explosion, a cricket-match or a fit of anger? The plausibility and popularity of the view that such further knowledge is indeed necessary stems, as I have said, partly from the topic of identity through time and partly from the nature of number. If someone says no more than "It will be over in one hour's time," he would naturally be taken to speak of an event or process, but it will be impossible to know whether his assertion is true unless we know more: e.g. that he was referring to the bombardment rather than to the battle or .to the war. Likewise we cannot count events merely, we must know what sort of event to count.
  4. Yet is what is true of the identification of events also true of the identification of physical objects or "things" in the narrow sense? If we can show that it is not, and I believe that we can, then a direct, refreshingly "logical" rather than "epistemological" route is opened up towards the theory that rightly enjoys some popularity, namely that there is something central and fundamental about this category of individuals, the "primary substances." For their individuality would then appear peculiarly "absolute" and independent of human concepts or ways of looking at the world.

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