Oxford Scholarship Online
- For any x there can be nothing y such that there is no fact that x = y and at the same time no fact that x <> y.
- For if there were, then y would differ from x in this respect: that there is no fact that x is it and no fact that x is not it.
- In this case there is a fact that x <> y. In short, identity is always determinate.
- This argument is defended at length against the most developed response to date, that of Terence Parsons. The proof is also contrasted with a similar proof due to Gareth Evans.
- The history of philosophy is a story of agreements and of disagreements, often thoughtful disagreements among reasonable people. No doubt these agreements have reflected genuine convergence of opinion on matters of philosophical substance, and the disagreements genuinely clashing points of view. Often they have not. Too often an apparent disagreement is based on a serious misunderstanding of the very language in which the disagreement is couched, reflecting linguistic deviance more than a genuine difference of opinion, with any substantial conflict of viewpoint camouflaged by terminology and usage.
- Even more misleading, misunderstanding has concealed fundamental divergences in viewpoint behind a veil of apparent agreement. Through misunderstanding and misuse, apparent agreement masks underlying disagreement and vice versa. Sometimes the misunderstanding is explicit. Sometimes it is implicit. But too often it is simply unclear what view is actually being held.
- The phenomenalists spoke of "tables" and "chairs," but such talk, they maintained, concerned the occurrence of sensibilia, both actual and would-be, rather than a strictly external world. Before them Bishop Berkeley believed in the real existence of tables and chairs, he said, but claimed they were made of ideas rather than matter. Did he believe in tables and chairs while holding an incorrect view as to their constitution? Or did he disbelieve in them, while deceptively mislabeling the ideas of tables 'tables' and the ideas of chairs 'chairs'? That he sincerely denied doing the latter is, of course, no proof. For if he did mislabel ideas of tables 'tables', he likewise misused the phrase 'idea of tables' as a term for ideas of ideas of tables. His clarifications of his own meanings are subject to the same problem: if he misunderstands terms like 'table' and 'idea of a table', then his use of these terms in the metalanguage produces a mis-statement regarding his own usage.
- No one will explain his or her own usage by saying "I use the word 'table' for something other than tables" - including those who do so misuse the term. Given his pronouncements that "tables and chairs are not material," Berkeley's clarifications of his own linguistic usage do not constitute evidence one way or the other. Perhaps (as I am inclined to think) he misidentified tables with perceptions or images of tables and used the word 'table' indiscriminantly, covering both tables and table perceptions. (Again, his protest that he did not do so, however sincerely made, is in itself no evidence one way or another.) Nor would this problem have been avoided if Berkeley had symbolized his pronouncements in Principia Mathematica notation. For we would still be left wondering about his non-logical propositional-function constants.
- The problem of linguistic misuse in philosophy is not restricted to the controversy over the nature of tables and chairs. Wherever there is sharp disagreement, there is a serious potential for misuse and a resulting cloud of misunderstanding: theories of right and wrong, epistemologies (skepticism vs. anti-skepticism), theories of mind, theories of freedom, theories of the contents of proper names, theories of truth (correspondence vs. coherence vs. pragmatic), theories of essence, theories of reality (mind- or theory- dependent vs. mind-independent) - the list is as long as the history of philosophy. In all cases, attempts at clarification of one's terminology does not automatically solve the problem. For any such attempt is itself verbal, and hence subject to the very same misuse and misunderstanding, or to a related one (e.g., a corresponding metalinguistic misunderstanding). The potential for misuse and misunderstanding does not mean that we can never know whether we disagree on matters of substance. On the contrary, we surely do often know exactly that. What the problem of misusage does mean is that what passes superficially as an agreement on substance or as a disagreement is not always what it appears.
- One recent controversy that has been clouded in misuse and misunderstanding concerns the question of whether there can be a pair of objects for which there is no fact of the matter as to whether they are identically the same thing or instead distinct things. Fruitful discussion of this controversy calls for agreement at the outset concerning just what the issue of contention is about. Identity, in the relevant sense, is simply the relation of being one and the very same thing. This is sometimes called numerical identity1, as opposed to qualitative identity or indiscernibility, i.e., the relation of being exactly alike.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)