Review of 'Kinds of Being: A Study of Individuation, Identity and the Logic of Sortal Terms' by E. J. Lowe
Baur (Michael)
Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Sep., 1992), pp. 166-168
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  1. This book is an extended reflection on a basic but far-reaching claim: "There are no 'bare' particulars" (p. 3). Because "individuals are necessarily individuals of a kind," Lowe argues, "realism with regard to particulars or individuals . . . implies realism with regard to sorts or kinds" (p. 5). A "sortal1" concept (a label which Lowe borrows from John Locke) is "a concept of a distinct sort or kind of individuals" (p. 1). Lowe's purpose in this book is to examine the meaning and implications of sortal2 concepts, and to challenge relativist conceptions of identity and reductivist strategies in metaphysics.
  2. Since the meaning of any given sortal3 concept depends on some criterion of identity for individuals of that sort, Lowe begins his argument by discussing sortal4 terms and criteria of identity (chap. 2). A criterion of identity is a semantic rule which specifies, in an informative way, "what it takes for x and y to be the same or different" (p. 16). While the criterion of identity associated with a given sort may make use of the notion of identity itself, the criterion can be informative "by alluding to the identity of things of another sort or sorts" (p. 20). This, of course, raises the further question: Must we acknowledge an infinite regress of criteria of identity for sorts, or is there some "basic" sort whose criterion of identity cannot be expressed in terms of any other sort? Lowe leans towards the latter of these two options, suggesting that the requisite basic sort may be that of "person" (to be discussed later in the book).
  3. Lowe turns next to the meaning of individuals and sorts, and the instantiation relation between them (chap. 3). He suggests the following: "X is an individual if and only if X is an instance of something Y (other than itself) and X itself has no instances (other than itself). X is a sort if and only if there is something Y such that Y is an instance of X and Y is distinct from X' (p. 38). This definition, while clearly distinguishing between individuals and sorts, also allows for the possibility of one sort instantiating another, as in the relation of species to genus. Contrary to reductivist metaphysics, the meaning of "individual" here (and thus the difference between "individual" and "sort") depends upon the indivisibility of reference, rather than upon material indivisibility.
  4. Lowe's next move is to defend the absolutist conception of identity against the relativist position of P. T. Geach (chap. 4). According to the absolutist conception of identity, "an individual of one sort or kind cannot also belong to another sort or kind with a different criterion of identity from that of the first" (p. 53). Lowe's critical response to Geach proceeds by way of a reductio argument: if we were to say that some individual x belonged to two different kinds, and that these two kinds had different criteria of identity (and thus different conditions of persistence), then we would be laying ourselves open to "the intolerable possibility that circumstances should arise in which [we] would be obliged to say that x both did and did not cease to exist" (pp. 56-7).
  5. Lowe strengthens his case against the relativity of identity by arguing for the necessity of acknowledging a distinctive "is" of constitution (chap. 5). As Lowe states, putative examples of the relativity of identity arise only where the sortal5 terms in question are conceived as having different criteria of identity associated with them (for example, when one wants to identify "river" and "water"); however, the putative identification of individuals having different criteria of identity seems plausible only when one (mistakenly) conflates the distinctive "is" of constitution with some other sense of "is." To summarize, the relativity of identity would imply the possibility of identifying two individuals falling under two different kinds, where both (a) these two kinds have different criteria of identity associated with them, and (b) the identification of the two individuals in question does not rest on the equivocal use of "is." As Lowe argues, however, the identity relativist cannot have it both ways.
  6. After having laid the foundations for antireductivist metaphysics and an absolutist view of identity, Lowe begins to apply his principles to some disputed questions. Concerning the relation of parts to whole, Lowe argues that one can distinguish between three different kinds of wholes (aggregates, collectives, and integrates), and that some wholes, but not all, are distinct from any sum of their parts (chap. 6). Turning to the fascinating and complex issue of personhood, Lowe argues that persons are neither identical with, nor constituted by, the physical entities in which they are embodied; in fact, since a "person" is probably not constituted by anything at all, it is most likely that the sortal6 term "person" is unanalyzable and "basic" (chap. 7). Discussing the role of sorts in nomological generalizations, Lowe argues that the assertion of scientific laws commits us to some version of realism with regard to sorts; Lowe himself is most sympathetic to Aristotelian realism, according to which sorts are distinct but not separable from their individual instances (chap. 8). In the penultimate chapter, Lowe articulates the revisions which would have to be implemented if orthodox formal logic is to accommodate dispositional predicates with sortal7 terms in subject position (which are ineliminable, on Lowe's view) (chap. 9). Finally, Lowe addresses the difficult problem of the analysis of sentences containing semantically complex sortal8 terms (chap. 10). Carefully argued and well written, this study will be a challenge to anyone who wants to deny that "there are no 'bare' particulars," as well as to anyone who has paid lip service to this claim without thinking through its far-reaching implications.


Review of "Lowe (E.J.) - Kinds of Being: Study of Individuation, Identity and the Logic of Sortal Terms"

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