Kinds of Being: Study of Individuation, Identity and the Logic of Sortal Terms
Lowe (E.J.)
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  1. In Kinds of Being Johathan Lowe examines a cluster of interrelated issues in metaphysics, logic and the philosophy of language, focusing on the role of sortal1 concepts in the determination of individuation2 and identity.
  2. Through a discussion of the issues of personal identity and the mind/body problem, the author advances the claim that where sortal3 concepts are governed by different criteria of identity it makes no sense to identify individuals falling under these different concepts.
  3. As such this is a defence of the absoluteness of identity and an argument against identifying persons with their bodies.
  4. It also represents a challenge to the assumptions of nominalists and orthodox logicians. Jonathan Lowe concludes this study with an examination of the semantics and logic of sortal4 terms in natural language, paying particular attention to their place in the formulation and empirical confirmation of scientific laws and theories.


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

Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Sep., 1992), pp. 166-168

Full Text
  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.

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

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

Source: Philosophy, Vol. 66, No. 256 (Apr., 1991), pp. 248-249

Full Text
  1. E. J. Lowe's new book is a study of the issues in metaphysics, logic and the philosophy of language involved in debates over the nature of sortal1 concepts, the concept of a criterion of identity, and the relativity of identity. A substantial part of the book is devoted to a discussion of the problem of personal identity and a defence of a view of persons as simple entities for which no criterion of identity can be given – personal identity, Lowe argues, is primitive and ungrounded.
  2. Lowe writes with clarity and vigour and his book is a useful contribution to its series (the Aristotelian Society Series). In the rest of this review I wish to focus on two of his central themes: the necessity of criteria of identity for individuation2, and the wrongheadedness of the idea of relative identity3.
  3. It is a familiar idea, which Lowe endorses, that reference to an individual (and hence the possibility of baptizing it with a proper name) is only possible against the background of a sortal4 concept supplying a criterion of identity – if one says 'Let us call this "N"', one must be able to answer the question 'This what?' But why is this so? Surely I can refer to an item if I can identify it and I can identify it if I can specify a property (possibly a complex property involving an egocentrically defined spatio-temporal location) that it alone satisfies? The ability to provide a criterion of identity satisfied by the entity cannot be an additional requirement. But if not, then the thesis has to be that without specifying a criterion of identity one cannot identify an individual, and this could only be so if in any spatial location at a given time there are several individuals indistinguishable in their properties at the time but distinct in their histories. Thus the thesis that criteria of identity are essential to individuation5 implies an ontological thesis – a thesis about the sorts of individuals there are in the world.
  4. Now from a certain point of view this ontological thesis is utterly trivial. It is so, for example, if one accepts a Quinean 'four-dimensional' picture. But Lowe is emphatic in his rejection of this picture and draws attention in his discussion of Geach's relative identity6 thesis to what he regards as an unwelcome ontological commitment of Geach's view – the existence of concrete, spatio-temporally intermittent entities (heralds) coinciding in their histories with the histories of different men at different times. I do not think that a limited ontology of the sort Lowe appears to favour can support his acceptance of the orthodox view that reference is only possible against the background of a criterion of identity.
  5. Lowe's argument against Geach's relative identity7 thesis turns on the idea that a counter-example would be an individual satisfying two sortal8 concepts conveying distinct criteria of identity. But Geach requires no such thing. All he requires is that it be possible for two individuals to be identical in their non-historical properties at a particular time, but distinct in their histories. (Tib and Tibbles9, after Tibbles10' unfortunate accident would be such a pair of individuals.) Geach's argument for relative identity11 then turns on the claim that a sortal12 term like 'cat', in its predicative use, may be defined in terms of a subset of the non-historical properties possessed by the two individuals. Geach may be wrong about this, but the thesis is certainly not an incoherent one. Nor do large issues turn on the matter, as Lowe suggests. The substantive issue here is rather the ontological one – whether one can always find individuals identical in their non-historical properties and distinct only in their histories. On this issue Geach is at one with Quine, and Lowe is at odds with both of them. It is, I think, only if one takes the Geachian or Quinean line that one can make serious use of the notion of a criterion of identity – at least with reference to spatio-temporal individuals.
  6. It will be evident from the above that the extent of my disagreement with Lowe is considerable. But none the less, I enjoyed this book and found it very thought-provoking. Lowe's argumentation is clear, honest and unpretentious; it is worth getting to grips with.

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

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

Source: Mind, New Series, Vol. 101, No. 403 (Jul., 1992), pp. 581-582

Full Text
  1. The basic theses of Jonathan Lowe's interesting and lively monograph are that particulars are always instances of some sort, that sorts come provided with criteria of identity, which are semantic, not epistemological principles, and that individuals with different criteria of identity cannot be identical. This last claim, which one might call the criterial exclusion principle, is made with a definiteness which invites scepticism, but despite trying, I could think of no convincing counterexample. Different sorts may share the same criterion of identity, by virtue for instance of being co-ordinate species of one genus. The basic ingredients in this position are now fairly familiar, but Lowe picks his own distinctive way through the alternatives, and adds ingredients of his own. After a preliminary exposition and account of the roles of sortals1 and criteria of identity with which I found nothing questionable except the rather determined realism about sorts, Lowe mounts probably the most sustained attack on Geach's thesis of the relativity of identity, driving another nail or two into what is by now widely regarded as a defunct position. Further chapters on identity and constitution, and part/whole are full of good sense. The last four chapters deal with persons, laws of nature, dispositions, and the logic of sorts. The idea of laws of nature as norms concerning sorts is an interesting though complex one. It avoids certain standard problems of scientific explanation like the raven paradox, though I think the rejection of a statistical account of norms for biological kinds is too hasty, and the description of sorts without abnormal exemplars as "semi-ideal" (p. 174) is questionable. However, I shall comment further on just two issues: sortal2 realism, and persons as a basic sort.
  2. Lowe is a realist about sorts: we quantify objectually over them in laws of nature and elsewhere. Sorts are stratified: Socrates is to Man as Man is to-what? Mammalia, Hominidae? In fact, what biologists call "higher taxa" are by no means obviously objectively stratified. How many ranks is the sort Chordata above Socrates? There must be some fact of the matter here for Lowe, but biologists waver much more. Lowe considers but rejects substitutional quantification for sortals3, because of the analogies with proper names. The analogies are imperfect, and the facts about laws and definitions which lead Lowe to treat sortal4 terms as referential can also be reasonably explained by a kind of nominalism he does not consider, namely trope nominalism.
  3. A basic sort is one for which no informative criteria of identity can be given, and Lowe considers persons to be a basic sort, distinct from material bodies or biological organisms. The basis of the account is Lockean. First, Locke's convincing arguments for distinguishing organisms from masses of matter (or aggregates of material particles) are rehearsed. Lowe declares more than once, e.g. on p. 26, that he is no slave to idiom, but the argument on p. 99 that a gold atom cannot be golden because it is not made of gold seems to bow too low to ordinary usage: if one gold atom is not golden, how many are? Two? But if one atom is not gold, how can two atoms be gold, not being made of gold? And if not two, when? A gold atom is the natural minimal unit of gold, so it is much more sensible to gently bend the phrase is made of to include the limiting case of one gold atom than to worry about such trifles. The statement on p. 107 that it is not contingent that rivers are made of water seems to be a slip: could there not be rivers of methane or lead on alien planets? But otherwise this part is a plausible continuation of the discussion of constitution. The chief claim is that living organisms are essentially material.
  4. When the discussion moves to persons, things become much more questionable. Having given Locke's self-consciousness5 account of the nature of persons, Lowe argues that it does not follow from the Lockean characterization that a person must be embodied, that there is no absurdity in speaking of a disembodied6 person as there is in speaking of a disembodied7 tree, so persons are not essentially material or alive like organisms, and hence, since they have a different (albeit, as it turns out later, uninformative) criterion of identity, by the criterial exclusion principle, no man or woman is a person (!).
  5. If, as Lowe says, we find no absurdity in thinking of persons as disembodiable, I see no reason to deny this possible privilege to other things. The Torngak spirits of the Eskimo are not confined to humans: aside from bears, whose spirits are the most powerful and most feared, trees, stones, winds, rivers, indeed everything in nature has its own spirit or innua, which can survive after the destruction of the physical thing. That does not seem absurd to the Eskimo, and the spirits of inanimate things need have no more exalted mental powers than their corporeal counterparts, so the idea of a disembodied8 tree, despite its unfamiliarity to Western thought, is not obviously more incoherent than that of a disembodied9 self- conscious thinker. Even a Lockean person "can consider it self as it self, the same thinking thing in different times and places" (my emphasis), which at least suggests essential sometime embodiment. The obvious counter to Lowe's proposal is that "person" is not a simple sortal10 term, but that persons are acting, perceiving, self-conscious material things of some suitable sort, borrowing their criteria of identity from the sort or sorts in question. (I agree with Lowe that we cannot rule out a priori the possibility of non-organic persons.) Lowe considers this alternative but rejects it because "the difficulty resides in deciding in a principled way what sortal11 term... should figure in the analysis" (p. 116). But surely it is a strength of the concept of person that it is an open question precisely what kinds of physical system can support personal characteristics. By denying that persons form a sort with its own criterion of identity, we who read his book can happily resume believing that we are both persons (accidentally and for only part of our lives) as well as human beings (essentially and throughout). Lowe does not believe that persons are incorporeal Cartesian souls, but the idea of persons as a distinct sort would be more secure if he did.

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

"Lowe (E.J.) - Kinds of Being: Introduction"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 1

  1. The Varieties of ‘is’
  2. Individuals, Kinds and Realism
  3. Semantics, Metaphysics and Necessity

COMMENT: Photocopy of complete book; Filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

"Lowe (E.J.) - Sortal Terms and Criteria of Identity"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 2

COMMENT: Photocopy of complete book; Filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

"Lowe (E.J.) - Individuals, Sorts, and Instantiation"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 3


"Lowe (E.J.) - The Absoluteness of Identity: A Defence"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 4

COMMENT: Photocopy of complete book; Filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

"Lowe (E.J.) - The Absoluteness of Identity: Some Formal Principles and Arguments"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 4 (Appendix)

COMMENT: Photocopy of complete book; Filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

"Lowe (E.J.) - Identity and Constitution"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 5

COMMENT: Photocopy of complete book; Filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

"Lowe (E.J.) - Parts and Wholes"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 6


"Lowe (E.J.) - Persons and Their Bodies"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 7

  1. Matter and Organisms
  2. Organisms and Persons
  3. Is there a Criterion of Personal Identity?

COMMENT: Photocopy of complete book; Filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

"Lowe (E.J.) - Sortal Terms and Natural Laws"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 8

COMMENT: Photocopy of complete book; Filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

"Lowe (E.J.) - Laws, Dispositions, and Sortal Logic"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 9

COMMENT: Photocopy of complete book; Filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

"Lowe (E.J.) - An Axiomatic System of Sortal Logic"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 9 (Appendix)

COMMENT: Photocopy of complete book; Filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

"Lowe (E.J.) - Complex Sortal Terms and the Differentiation of Sorts"

Source: Lowe - Kinds of Being, 1989, Chapter 10

COMMENT: Photocopy of complete book; Filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

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