Almost Indiscernible Objects and the Suspect Strategy
Koslicki (Kathrin)
Source: Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 102, No. 2 (Feb., 2005), pp. 55-77
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. In this paper, I argue that a surprisingly widespread strategy in metaphysics is suspect for various reasons and hence ought to be abandoned. In very broad strokes, situations which give rise to the Suspect Strategy (TSS) contain as one of their ingredients a general metaphysical principle of some form whose truth the proponent of (TSS) wishes to uphold; the nature of the principle differs from context to context, but examples include the following:
    • (LL) Leibniz's Law: If x = y, then every property of x is a property of y.
    • (RI) Restricted Indiscernibility: If a certain relation, R, holds between x and y, then every Φ-property of x is a property of y.
  2. The second ingredient which is needed to give rise to (TSS) is a certain troublesome class of contexts, Σ (for example, contexts like '__ is essentially a statue'). These contexts appear to satisfy the purely formal syntactic and semantic well-formedness conditions expressions must satisfy in order to play the semantic role of predicates. (For example, they are "unsaturated," in Frege's sense: that is, when combined with singular terms, they yield statements that can bear a truth value; they apparently do not lead to paradox, and so forth.) However, to allow that these contexts straightforwardly determine properties and that these properties straightforwardly fall under the scope of the general metaphysical principle in question would conflict with certain other metaphysical priorities of the proponent of (TSS).
  3. To resolve this tension, the philosopher in question invokes (TSS), with the intended result that the troublesome contexts in Σ be excluded from the reaches of the general principle in question, either because these contexts fail to determine properties at all or because the properties they do determine fail to fall under the scope of the general principle at issue. What makes the strategy in question suspect is that, as we shall see, the different kinds of methods by which the troublesome contexts are excluded from the reaches of the general principles raise serious methodological concerns or are objectionable for other reasons.
  4. We should draw two conclusions from the failure of (TSS).
    1. First, the need to invoke (TSS) by itself counts as a strike against a philosophical theory; hence, competing theories which require no such appeal are preferable in this respect.
    2. Second, unless other independently motivated considerations are provided, the rejection of (TSS) presents a good reason to accept that the contexts in Σ determine properties and that these properties fall under the scope of the general metaphysical principle in question (provided, of course, that this principle is taken to be true).
    Though I cannot properly argue for this stronger claim here, this second consequence of the failure of (TSS) in my view further commits us to a universe populated with numerically distinct yet almost indiscernible objects.


See Koslicki - Almost Indiscernible Objects.

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