What Is Identity?

What Is Identity?

What Is Identity?

What Is Identity?

Synopsis

The concept of identity has been seen to lead to a paradox: we cannot truly and usefully say that a thing is the same either as itself or as something else. Williams here examines this paradox in philosophical logic, and its implications for the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and relativism about identity.

Excerpt

What is Identity? is the last volume in a trilogy which began with What is Truth? (Cambridge University Press, 1976) and continued with What is Existence? (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981). The other two members of the trilogy were largely devoted to the defence of positions held by earlier philosophers: the view of Frege and Russell that existence is not a property of objects, but of concepts or propositional functions, and Ramsey and Prior's so- called prosentential theory of truth. The most original part of What is Existence? was the section on the Analogy of Being, i.e. the attempt to explain how the same word can have both a copulative and an existential function. Since this theory was presented in the final chapter of the book, it is not surprising that few readers, to judge from the reviews, persevered long enough to become acquainted with it. The impression left may have been conservative rather than radical.

The present volume, however, has a greater component of originality. To be sure, it begins with an exposition and defence of Wittgenstein's curiously neglected denial that identity is a relation. But it dissents from Wittgenstein's accompanying view that there is no need of a sign of identity. Consideration of intentional contexts seems to make clear that the concept of identity requires verbal expression. What is important, however, is that the expression required is not one that belongs to the category of two- place, first-level predicable, an expression whose purpose is to form a proposition when attached to a pair of names. Rather, it belongs to a category whose function is, roughly speaking, to form a one-place out of a two-place predicable. More of this later. It is already apparent that, like the other members of the trilogy, the theme of this book is that what is required for a proper understanding of concepts like being, identity, and truth is an appreciation of the syntactical categories to which the words which . . .

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