Occasions of identity andré Gallois [Book Review]
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 52 (2):401-405 (2001)
André Gallois’s Occasions of Identity injects a refreshing new perspective into an old debate. Actually, what is new is the advocacy of the perspective: Gallois takes up a view that many consider a non-starter, and shows this reaction to be premature. The debate is over the right way to understand the traditional puzzles involving two things being in the same place at the same time; the perspective is that identity can hold temporarily. Suppose an amoeba, name it AMOEBA, divides in two. One of the resultant amoebas, POND, lives in a pond; the other, SLIDE, is examined on a slide in a laboratory. Does AMOEBA survive this process, and if so, does it survive as POND or SLIDE? If we stipulate that POND and SLIDE are symmetrically related to AMOEBA then it seems arbitrary to identify AMOEBA with exactly one of POND and SLIDE. But we cannot identify AMOEBA with each, for then by the transitivity and symmetry of identity we would wrongly identify POND and SLIDE. We are left with the conclusion that AMOEBA is identical to neither. But this seems wrong too; surely fission does not result in death. So just what does happen to AMOEBA? How to respond to this and related cases has been much discussed.1 There are many proposals, each with distinctive strengths and weaknesses. To these Gallois adds his own, which runs as follows. After division, there are two amoebas, POND and SLIDE, each of which existed before division. But it does not follow that there were two amoebas before division. Though POND and SLIDE are numerically distinct after division, they were numerically identical before division. The identity relation can hold temporarily, or occasionally, as Gallois puts it. My sense is that this sort of claim is regarded by most metaphysicians as downright wacky. And yet there is something very natural about it. Why distinguish POND and SLIDE today because they will differ tomorrow? I suspect the “wackiness” reaction has two sources, one based on Leibniz’s Law..
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