Miles Sabin msabin at
Wed Jun 23 17:36:06 BST 1999

Lars Marius Garshol wrote,
> [snipped out of order]
> Miles Sabin wrote,
> > But this isn't an issue about *identity*, it's an 
> > issue about *identification*.
> You lost me here. What is the distinction between 
> those two terms to you?

I'll deal with this first, because I think it'll tidy
up some of the misunderstandings that've been flying 
around in this thread.

When John Cowan (apologies in advance if I'm 
misrepresenting him) and I have been talking about 
'identity' we've been talking about a *relation*: the
= of logic and mathematics, or the == of various
programming languages. This is very different from the
way the term is often used in informal talk, where it's
often used to pick out an *object* (in a very broad
sense of object). A fairly venerable term for this
second sort of usage is 'essence'. Essences haven't been
in very good odour recently (Quine did a fairly good job 
of killing them off back in the 60's). Still, like most
things philosophical, it's swings and roundabouts, and
they're coming back into fashion.

OK, so I take identity to be a relation. What sort of
relation? Pretty much a primitive and undefinable one:
everything stands in the identity relation to itself,
and only to itself, and, err ... that's it.

Identification is a different kettle of fish altogether.
It's about how you come to know that the thing picked
out by one description is identical to the thing picked
out by another. Unlike identity, which just does it's
thing, identification is problematic, because it 
requires an identifying agent of some sort, and most 
identifying agents are fallible.

> You're right that I'm arguing about what counts as 
> exactly one object, but you're wrong that this has 
> nothing to do with identity. In fact, resolving that 
> issue is in fact the first step in assigning identity,
> because it gives you something to assign identity to.

OK, I think that if you replace 'identity' with
'essence' or 'gestalt' then we're probably in synch.
Trouble is, I think your chances of getting anywhere
with defining the essence of a web-site are likely to
be very slim indeed.

> > 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.
> These are difficult, I agree, but they're by no means 
> the only cases.

Err ... but surely these are exactly the kind of cases 
that we're talking about?

> [snip 2 URLs]
> > I've no idea. And I'm fairly sure that there's no 
> > general answer to this sort of question. 
> Do you agree that this means a failure to provide a 
> good chopping mechanism for the web?

I agree that we haven't got one. I doubt that we ever 



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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