Aristotle on Identity and Its Problems
Barnes (Kenneth)
Source: Phronesis, Vol. 22, No. 1 (1977), pp. 48-62
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. There are certain problematic arguments, collective reference to which is often compressed into the expression, "the problems of identity." Strictly speaking, of course, there are no problems of identity. But there are problems, if only apparent, for a certain view about identity, namely, the view that identicals are indiscernible. In light of the seeming freshness of these philosophical problems, it is remarkable that we find in Aristotle's early writings what seems to be a formulation of the view that identicals are indiscernible, as well as a confrontation with certain arguments that raise apparent difficulties for that view. Philosophers have not always been clear about these arguments, and some have taken them to prove the need to qualify the view that identicals are indiscernible. Aristotle is among those who have drawn such a conclusion, but so are some contemporary philosophers. In this paper I examine Aristotle's solution to certain problems of identity. I attempt to state the solution clearly and indicate the mixture of insight and error that influenced it.
  2. Aristotle's Law: There is a principle that states: “If x and y are identical, then every attribute of the one is an attribute of the other”. Often called "Leibniz's Law1," or "one-half of Leibniz's Law2," the principle does not seem to be due to Leibniz at all. Scholarly investigations of late have turned up no evidence that (the Indiscernibility of Identicals)3 is among the principles asserted by that philosopher. Some - myself included - have thought the principle due to Aristotle.

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