David Brownell david-b at
Tue Jun 22 18:05:04 BST 1999

Miles Sabin wrote:
> David Brownell wrote,
> > John Cowan wrote:
> > > What's hard is *determining* identity.
> > Which I see as part of what "identity" is ...
> If that's how you want to use the word 'identity', fine:
> but it's not the way a lot of people use it.

It's the way some other lot of people use it ... :-)

>	 John's
> using the term in a way which is *completely*
> independent of anyones ability to establish whether or
> not two descriptive expressions pick out one and the
> same thing. That's quite a popular conception of
> identity with philosophers (the sensible ones, not the
> Foucaults and Derridas).

Hmm, so you think that "what identity is" is the same
problem as "are these identities the same"?

I'm not sure I'd go that far, and I certainly wasn't
assuming that all three questions were inseparable.
There are types of "identity" where you can't answer
that question in all cases.

> The trouble with an idea of identity that ties it up
> with being able to tell whether two descriptions pick
> out the same or different things is that it has the
> unfortunate effect of relativising the idea to differing
> abilities to pick out differences.

Unfortunate?  Hmm.  All of us have differing abilities.
Why is it unfortunate to acknowledge that in our thinking?
It seems fine to me to acknowledge limitations, and accept
that "we see through a glass, darkly".

The notion of an absolute truth, which is independent of
perceptions, is not universally accepted.  For one example,
Heisenberg had things to say about that, even in the case
of seemingly simple physical objects.

>	 Lois Lane belives
> that Superman isn't the same person as Clark Kent. Clark
> Kent presumably believes otherwise. Which one of those
> two beliefs is true? On Johns view of identity we know
> that there's an answer to this question (even if we
> don't know what it is). What could we say on yours?

When you define the identities carefully, all becomes clear.
For example, there is at least one Lois Lane who believes as
Clark Kent does and thus renders that question meaningless!
(Excercise for the reader:  how is that Lois Lane the same
identity as the one Miles mentioned?  How is she different?)

On the other hand ... wasn't Superman the "secret identity"?
Isn't there something distinct between "normal" and "secret"
identities?  Even beyond mild manners and being a reporter?
Why wouldn't Clark have multiple identities?

To the original subject of this debate, I find the lesson
clear:  until you choose a clear definition of "identity",
you can't begin to answer simple questions like "what is the
identity of the web resource whose URI is X".  And there are
a lot of nuanced definitions people choose, all the time.

- Dave

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