John Hawthorne

in The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics

Published in print September 2005 | ISBN: 9780199284221
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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The topic of identity seems to many of us to be philosophically unproblematic. Identity, it is said, is the relation that each thing has to itself and to nothing else. Of course, there are many disputable claims that one can make using a predicate that expresses the identity relation. For example: there is something that was a man and is identical to God; there is something that might have been a poached egg that is identical to some philosopher. But puzzling as these claims may be, it is not the identity relation that is causing the trouble. The lesson appears to be a general one. Puzzles that are articulated using the word ‘identity’ are not puzzles about the identity relation itself. One may have noticed that our gloss on identity as ‘the relation that each thing has to itself and to nothing else’ was not really an analysis of the concept of identity in any reasonable sense of ‘analysis’, since an understanding of ‘itself’ and ‘to nothing else’ already requires a mastery of what identity amounts to.

Keywords: identity; identity relation; puzzles; gloss on identity; concept of identity; identity analysis

Article.  17167 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic

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