The Law of Identity: What does it mean?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Speakpigeon, Mar 5, 2019.

  1. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

    This thread is about the Law of Identity: for all things, a thing is itself.
    This isn't a thread about logic or about the logic of the Law of Identity. So, please remember that in your replies.
    Some context now...
    The Law of Identity has been assumed as an axiom of logic since Aristotle some 2,400 years ago, but a few people here and there deny any validity to it. This is their constitutional right, of course, but some of them, possibly all of them even, may not in fact understand what the Law of Identity means to begin with.
    So, here is your chance to articulate eloquently what you think the Law of Identity really means to all of us.
    I'm not interested in quirky theories that will inevitably be about something not the Law of Identity. I'm only interested in what you think the Law of Identity means, and means to most people, even those people who have never thought about it, and including what it meant to people like Aristotle who of course are long dead now.
    Please also note that as far as I am concerned, whatever explanation as can be found in encyclopedias and such about the subject remains open to debate. We may perhaps improve our understanding of the subject by sharing our most intimate intuitions about it.
    Also, please, don't ramble. Keep to the point and leave the question of the logic of it at the door.
    However, please abstain if you can't articulate your point or argue your position in a rational way, i.e. from logic and facts.
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  3. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

    The Greeks may have come up with the word "atom" but a lot has passed since. I could argue that water is not water -electrolysis.
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  5. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

    Each of us is unique.!!!
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  7. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Since you say you're not interested in the logic of it, but only want opinions, including from those who haven't thought about it, I'll jump in having done no research on the topic at all. So, off the top of my head...

    What does the law of identity mean?
    Answer: It means we can split the world (physical and mental) into discrete things, such that each thing is distinct from other things.

    What does it mean to most people?
    Answer: I have no idea. How could anybody know, without taking a poll or asking lots of people in an attempt to get a representative sample?

    What did it mean to Aristotle?
    Answer: I have no idea, not having read his writings or reported opinions on the matter. We can't ask him, obviously, so I suppose it's a matter of looking at the extant evidence and drawing some kind of conclusion based on that.

    What did it mean to people like Aristotle, who are now long dead?
    Answer: that's a much more difficult question to answer than the one pertaining to Aristotle himself, for obvious reasons.

    I have a question of my own:

    Since this Law of Identity thing seems like common sense (how could a thing be other than itself), why is it considered problematic by some?
    RainbowSingularity likes this.
  8. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

    Yeah but you're equivocating on "mean".
    We can do that, yes, and it seems it's even the only way our mind can work, but is it really what the Law means to us?
    To say that each thing is itself is not quite the same as saying each thing is distinct from other things. Clearly, the two ideas are not equivalent.
    I didn't ask if you knew. I asked what you thought.
    OK, when you have the time...
    Fair enough.
    Why I don't know but one guy for example says mathematical logic mistakes equality for identity because the Law is usually formalised as ∀x, x = x. More generally, I suspect that whatever you say, you'll find there is someone who will disagree vehemently.
    As I see it, the conventional interpretation of the Law seems somewhat fluffy to me.
    Anyway, thanks for trying.
  9. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

    Well if you're cherry picking the obvious...
  10. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    In what way do you think the two are different?
    What do you think they each mean?
    What do you think the conventional interpretation is?
    What about it seems "fluffy"?

    What does the law of identity mean to you?
    Yazata and Quantum Quack like this.
  11. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    There is the notion that objects have certain irrevocable qualities, and thus on one side, it becomes meaningless to talk about them outside of such qualities (like a round square or a married bachelor or a half pregnant woman), or, to the other side, to talk about them with different qualities is to talk of taking them outside of what is perceived as it's "natural state." So for instance, water can be known by its liquid form or "wetness". It can also take a form contrary to this (such as making it a gas or frozen), but to do so is to introduce it as a "different identity" (so it then becomes meaningful to discuss what is the identity of frozen or gaseous things, as opposed to liquids) .... and upon it being returned to its "natural" environment, it returns to its liquid state ... of course the big issue with the latter example is "what constitutes natural?" .... which tends to head down teleological paths.
  12. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

    OK, this in my opinion conclusively proves that the same thing can be very different from itself.
    And I can look at myself in the mirror today and see how different I look compared to what I looked in a distant past.
    So, I guess you just disproved a 2,400-year old law in just a few words. Well done!
    I knew it was all crap.
  13. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    ??? Kiss rationality goodbye to begin with if we don't maintain the nature or meaning which has been agreed upon and assigned to whatever "things". There's no consistency if the identities which have been set beforehand (for entities, symbols, properties, concepts, relationships, rules, stages, phases, etc) are not adhered to or maintained throughout a process. Barring it being part of the overall scheme's or practice's principles itself that the character, value or label of something be altered at a certain stage of development. That preservation of identity includes the assigned general and specific attributes of the latter system itself that such activity is crouched in and being regulated by.

  14. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I'm not sure what's left of the so-called "Law of Identity" is we exclude the "logic of it". Maybe Speakpigeon wants to discuss its metaphysical implications.

    It's hard for me to comment, since the "Law of Identity" plays almost no role in my own philosophizing. (At least consciously, maybe I'm assuming something like it implicitly.)

    Dipping into logic a little, any proposition that's true of A is going to be true of A too.

    I'm inclined to think of it in terms of Leibniz's principle of the Identity of Indiscernables. That says something to the effect that two distinct things can't have all of their properties in common. If they are two things rather than one, there has to be some difference between them.

    If everything that can truthfully be said about one is true of the other, then they are two different names referring to one and the same thing.

    Did the "Law of Identity" really originate with Aristotle?

    My impression (very possibly wrong) is that it's more a product of the medieval Aristotelians than Aristotle himself.

    Musika already commented on that. There's problems of identity through change. Presumably you are the same person now that you were when you were five. Yet virtually all of your properties today are different than your properties then.

    That's kind of the reverse of Leibniz's law. Leibniz seemingly wanted to say that two different things can't share all of their properties. This identity through change problem imagines that if A and B have different properties, then they can't be the same thing. That's more a non-identity of discernables principle.

    Or take Musika's example of water: ice, liquid and vapor. Presumably there are some properties (its being H2O) that make all three water despite their very different physical properties. Which suggests some kind of essentialism (Aristotle was very much into that).

    If we construe the "law of identity" in a very strong Leibnizian sort of way, it would seem to only apply to particular individuals at particular instants in time. More general species and genera that include multiple distinct individuals each with its own properties, and objects that change through time, present difficulties. The Aristotelian sort of answer is to introduce some kind of essentialism. Some essential subset of properties that define an object as being whatever it is. As long as the essential properties remain the same or continue to be shared, then the general name continues to apply.

    Last edited: Mar 9, 2019
  15. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    The devil is in the details.
    It all depends on what you are working with in the name of "natural environment" in order to determine "identity". I'm pretty sure that if you looked in the mirror and didn't see anything remotely indicating yourself, you would be quite surprised.
  16. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Perhaps outside the formal declarations about LOI -- or beyond the robotically strict game which Speakpigeon is supposedly entreating us to avoid -- its purpose can more freely be construed in the practical world as unclearly emphasizing: "Throughout a process maintain the bloody identities (properties, values, characteristics, classification) that either you or an institutional system have assigned to our descriptive/conceptual versions of things and abstract representations of them. Otherwise there will be errors, inconsistencies, contradictions, etc committed in the course of the outcome." Because minus that, there is indeed a "duh" aspect to LOI when viewed from the perspective of everyday life.

    It's a given that our descriptive/conceptual versions of "things" and "circumstances" are not going to be 100% accurate or exhaustive (such as failing to capture change sometimes). They may not truly reflect the original affairs as they are, independent of human representation. Thus even if successfully outputting thought, practices, or actions that are internally coherent (the rules were followed, the identities maintained) -- the results may not yield a satisfactory solution, prediction, account, etc. (If there was an intention of the results being compared to or applied to reality to begin with.)

  17. RainbowSingularity Valued Senior Member

    equivalence is parity not identity
    parity may exist without identity

    this has been hotly discussed in quantum physics
    non localized event ? etc ...

    can identity exist without known parity ?
    thus its understanding of the nature is by subjective reference ?

    do you count my interpretation of someones opinion to be my own opinion or theirs ?(im not trying to chicken or egg rabbit hole the concept)

    what i read between the lines tells me your wanting people whom have studied
    to enter discussion.
    in which case it is exclusionary and maybe you should start with a "read no further if you have not studied xyz" kinda thing
    an ethereal entrance to encapsulate an audience (may appear)disingenuous if you then hide behind metaphor to try and invalidate others opinions or involvement.

    ... queue what i read is your frustration in people nit picking on things applying quantitative logic to literary means instead of applying theoretical conceptual logic.
    which i find a fair comment in your method of extrapolation.
    i enjoy reading most of your posts(i am not trying to troll or thread jack)
  18. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

    So, the law of identity identifies a necessary assumption, even a prior assumption in that no rational thinking could take place without the subject assuming it.
    That's certainly my impression.
    Well, "a process"... Isn't the whole civilisation since Aristotle a long process, and one where we certainly revised our beliefs about what things there are and what properties they have. I get your point, but you would need to make explicit the kind of process you mean.
    That's an interesting point. Could you give an example?
    So I guess a thing may be existing a different times, indeed at all times, with possibly different qualities or properties at different times while still being the same thing?
  19. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

    It's a wonder we can make any rational sense of the world...
    I don't know, maybe we don't? Is the whole of science just our wild imagination?
    Maybe the law of identity is only really used in the kind of formal theories science does. We ordinary folks just move through life relying only on our bestial instincts and senses. Reacting rather than actually thinking. Do I need the law of identity to repair the washing machine?
  20. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

    I guess you have a point here. I'm asking people to broaden the perspective. Reasoning about logic using formal logic won't get you anywhere. We 're all on our own when it comes to fundamental questions. I'm assuming people have thinking capabilities. Bootstrapping.
  21. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Context is generalized or moved up to a hypernym like "process" because reasoning, proper thinking, logic, etc have been discouraged from specific mention in the topic. But any procedural activity which fails to maintain the identities of its components ("A shovel is for digging, an axe is for chopping.") would have some degree of inefficacy or failure looming over it. Thus shifting away from LOI's role in enforcing or promoting consistency in symbol manipulation to similar importance for "processes in general" is thereby just accommodating the topic's requested orientation. (The spirit of the idea at least, not necessarily an outright "law" being invoked in those other territories.)

    In a practice like cutting down and processing trees, the latter eventually cease to be identified as living organisms and become firewood or construction material. A participant entering the scheme and operations of marriage becomes a spouse and may optionally acquire additional attributes of parent, cheater, abuser, etc. In the course of commercial ice production via refrigeration, water from the company's plumbing will cease to be classified as a liquid (a contingent property of its identity). In a system of righteous hierarchy, a Greeter at a temple foyer may move up (or down?) to the duty of being an Excommunicator of transgressive members.

    General concepts -- in the course of trying to abstract universal or immutable properties, principles, and identities from structure and changes -- at least tend to be static and applicable over stretches of time. A canine pet called Bolo can always be subsumed under the umbrella identity of "dog", until he dies and decomposes. We understand and represent (isolate, interpret, conceive, describe, formulate, label, categorize, etc) the mutable affairs of the external-oriented half of our experiences in a variety of ways which serve our specialized needs. While only certain professions really engage in the recreation of worrying about what the uttermost archetype of a sensory manifestation is and its conversion to or treatment as communication signals (language, symbolism, description).

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  22. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    It is a tenet of buddhism that no thing has existence (identity) because any "thing" can be broken down into dependent parts and the whole scene is subject to change. So a book has pages, pages are made from trees, and everything deteriorates and takes a different form. They say there are parts but no whole.

    In Avaita Vada (Sankaracharya) there is the tenet that there is only one sort of existence (tat tvam asi ... you are that), since every sort of existence inevitably comes down to a homogeneous plateu so they say there is a whole but no parts.

    The problem with the first, is that because something is temporary, or contingent on something else, doesn't mean it has no existence. A pile of clay can not hold water like a clay cup, so a clay cup has an identity distinct from clay.

    The problem with the latter is that it doesn't explain variety or the nature of duality or illusion. At the very least, if there is a "you" and a "that", there must be at least two things (you and that .... and arguably a third thing, namely the means of "you" becoming "that").

    So after some philosophical amelioration, a school of thought developed along the lines that the world is best investigated as simultaneously containing parts and wholes, since to talk of one without the other borders on the absurd.

    So it's the case that water, ice and the process that water becomes ice are three quite distinct "things" .... or dogs, dead dogs, and the process by which dogs die, or trees, paper and the means trees becomes paper.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2019
  23. TheFrogger Banned Valued Senior Member

    Id-entity. Anything with an, "Id."

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