Almost Indiscernible Objects and the Suspect Strategy

Journal of Philosophy 102 (2):55 - 77 (2005)
This paper examines a variety of contexts in metaphysics which employ a strategy I consider to be suspect. In each of these contexts, ‘The Suspect Strategy’ (TSS) aims at excluding a series of troublesome contexts from a general principle whose truth the philosopher in question wishes to preserve. We see (TSS) implemented with respect to Leibniz’s Law (LL) in the context of Gibbard’s defense of contingent identity, Myro and Gallois’ defense of temporary identity, as well as Terence Parsons’ defense of indeterminate identity. Our example of (TSS) as implemented with respect to the Existence Principle (EP) is Terence Parsons’ defense of non-existent objects. Finally, the coincidence-theorist’s analysis of the problem of constitution as given by Baker, Fine and Yablo, as well as Deutsch’s recent defense of the relative-identity theory provide examples of (TSS) as implemented with respect to restricted indiscernibility principles of the form in (RI). While we of course cannot conclude from our exposure to extant versions of (TSS) that no exclusion-procedure could ever overcome the troubling features we encountered, my remarks in this paper should, I think, at least give us reasons to be skeptical that any strategy which proceeds by means of purely formal (e.g., syntactic) individuation-criteria could achieve its intended purpose; for we have seen that such strategies are in general too coarse-grained to individuate contexts correctly into those that should and those that should not be excluded from the reaches of the general principle under discussion. I suspect, moreover, though I do not argue for this stronger claim, that any strategy which does not proceed by means of purely formal criteria would in some way succumb to the charge of circularity. As a result, I recommend that we should learn to become accustomed to a universe populated with a surprising multitude of numerically distinct yet almost indiscernible objects, such as statues and the lumps of clay that constitute them. Given the large amounts of overlap among these almost indiscernible objects, such a densely populated universe is actually quite easy to live with, but that’s a story for a separate occasion.
Keywords Leibniz's Law  Identity  Indiscernibility  Contingent identity  Temporary identity  Relative identity  Indeterminate identity  Material constitution  Coincident objects
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DOI 10.5840/jphil200510223
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