Miles Sabin msabin at
Wed Jun 23 15:28:36 BST 1999

Lars Marius Garshol wrote,
> Or, even better, you can just go back and re-read my
> post, noting that since I say '_Within_ that 
> fictional universe' I effectively stop regarding it 
> as fiction. :-)


OK, no problems. But I think it'd help the non-
philosophers amongst us not to have to deal with an
extraneous modal operator ... 

> You use the term 'denote' in discussing names and 
> identity, but seem to ignore the fact that this makes 
> some fundamental assumptions about the universe and 
> the web, and it's not immediately obvious that these 
> are valid.

Granted, but my usage and assumptions have quite a 
respectable pedigree ... Russell, Wittgenstein mark 1,
lots of contemporary analytic philosophers. Sure, it's
not immediately obvious that it's valid ... what do
you expect: this is philosophy after all.

This _ought_ to ring alarm bells. If we're arguing 
about things which are live issues amongst present day 
academic philosophers we can be fairly sure that we're
not likely to come to a satisfactory resolution any 
time soon ... it might be sensible to try and duck
the issue altogether.

> For example, you like to think that the term 
> 'Jupiter' denotes a planet, and that this planet is a 
> solid well-defined thing, right? Well, it's not 
> obvious that this really is so. You're referring to a
> ball of gas floating in a near-vacuum, but you'd be 
> hard pressed to find a precise border where you can 
> say that "Here the near-vacuum ends, and Jupiter 
> begins", since the transition from the one to the
> other is so gradual.

Well, I'm with John on this one. The problem you're
hinting at isn't anything to do with _identity_ per
se, it's to do with what counts as (exactly one)
object (of a particular kind). For some things it's
quite easy, for others it's very hard.

The kinds of things which are easy are the ones which
are relatively stable (in some sense or another). The 
kinds of things which are hard are the ones which can 
split, fuse, pop into and out of existence, and which can 
persist across a rapid turnover of constituents. Social 
institutions are one example of this sort of thing. Web-
sites, even individual pages, look suspiciously like 
being another.

> but I'm not so sure that things are that much clearer 
> on the web.

I think we agree :-)

> For example, do these two URLs denote the same 
> resource?
> [snip: two URLs]
> They're not byte-by-byte equal, but there certainly 
> seems to be a connection between them. What criteria 
> should a web robot apply to decide that they are the 
> same resource?

I've no idea. And I'm fairly sure that there's no
general answer to this sort of question. But this 
isn't an issue about *identity*, it's an issue about

> In all these cases ('Jupiter' and the web examples) 
> we, humans, impose a categorization on the universe 
> we observe into distinct objects with identity and 
> it's not really clear that this grouping into objects 
> has any independent existence outside our heads.

Ahh ... well that's controversial ;-)

I think that you might have a point when it comes to
artifacts, particularly semantically laden artifacts
like web-stites or pages: if enough people _believe_
that a fluctuating bunch of pages constitute a single 
site over time, then that's enough to make it so. 

I don't think the same applies to Jupiter tho'.



Miles Sabin                          Cromwell Media
Internet Systems Architect           5/6 Glenthorne Mews
+44 (0)181 410 2230                  London, W6 0LJ
msabin at           England

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