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The Identity of Indiscernibles

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 December 2014

Abstract

A number of distinctions are needed to assess The Identity of Indiscernibles. The first concerns its purported status as true or, more strongly, necessarily true. The second concerns the nature of the properties the principle ranges over. One way to divide up properties is in terms of those that entail the existence of a particular object, those that entail the existence of an object but no particular object, and those that don't entail the existence of an object at all. A second way is divide up properties is in terms of ‘indicative’ and ‘counterfactual’ properties. Combining these three distinctions yields twelve different versions of the Identity of Indiscernibles. In the long run, however, four more are needed to do the principle justice. Sixteen different versions of the principle, then, need to be, and in this paper are, assessed. Particular attention is paid to methodology and to constraints on the generation of properties needed to support various versions of the principle. Bottom-up reasoning is found sufficient to vindicate the great majority of them, but there does not appear to be a good bottom-up or top-down argument for the two most interesting and important versions of the Identity of Indiscernibles, and there is some reason to think both false. An open mind needs to be kept, however, for definitively establishing or refuting them probably requires a relatively complete and plausible metaphysics.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2014 

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References

1 Written as a stand-alone piece, this paper is intended to be comprehensible independently of acquaintance with the vast literature on the Identity of Indiscernibles. To ensure such self-containment and accessibility, references to the literature are virtually non-existent, and a number of issues that could be critically explored – especially (a) quantum physics and the Identity of Indiscernibles, (b) interpretations of Leibniz on the principle, and (c) the Identity of Indiscernibles and bundle theories of physical objects (all three of which are heavily represented in the literature) – are bypassed or no more than very lightly touched upon. Space limitations, clarity, and coherence would dictate such limitations, even if the desire for ready accessibility didn't. Available from the author upon request, however, is an extensive bibliography covering a fair amount, even if not quite all, of the recent literature on the principle, as well as on a number of topics in the near vicinity.

2 Ayer, A.J., ‘The Identity of Indiscernibles’, in Ayer, A. J., Philosophical Essays (Macmillan Publishing, London (1954)), 3435Google Scholar.

3 Ibid. 35.

Ibid.

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