Indefiniteness in Identity
Broome (John)
Source: Analysis, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Jan., 1984), pp. 6-12
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. A club is constituted by its rules and society's conventions, and these may not be enough to determine everything about it. The rules and conventions, for instance, may not specify the procedure for removing a dishonest treasurer. And they may not determine precisely what counts as the club's demise. Consequently, circumstances can arise that make it unclear whether or not a club started at some date is the same as a club that exists at some later date. (Suppose, for example, that the club has no meetings for a long time and then some people, including perhaps a few of the original members, start to meet again under the same name.) The indefinite- ness here is not merely epistemological. Even if we knew everything there is to be known about the case we might still not know whether the clubs are the same or different. The question of identity has no answer; the facts do not determine one. The club's constitution leaves this particular question unsettled.
  2. This account of the matter - that it is indeterminate whether or not the club existing earlier is the same as the one existing later - seems perfectly transparent; nothing about it is hard to understand. But an alternative account is possible. We could say that the act of creating an object, such as a club, is incomplete unless the object is defined in enough detail to settle all questions of identity; unless its constitution has this much precision no club has been created. This account, though, is obscure. Few actual clubs can have such precise constitutions, so according to this account most people who think they belong to a club must actually not do so. Indeed they must not belong to anything, not even an uncompleted club, because the same unsettled questions of identity will arise about uncompleted clubs as arise about clubs. It is hard, then, to understand what exactly is supposed to be the condition of these people who think they belong to a club.
  3. A third possible account insists that if this matter of identity appears to be indeterminate then the clubs must in fact be definitely different, or perhaps definitely the same. This too is obscure. For we can describe cases that plainly amount to the continued existence - or the revival - of the same club, and we can describe cases that plainly amount to the dying of one club and the creation of another, and by varying the conditions gradually we can arrive at cases that are intermediate between these two. It is hard to under- stand what could make a sharp division between them, as this account insists there must be.
  4. So we have, at least, a good prima facie example of indefinite identity.

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