Sameness and Individuation

  • D. Gabbay
  • J. M. E. Moravcsik
Part of the Synthese Language Library book series (SLAP, volume 6)


Is ‘same’ always used in the same sense? Do the truth conditions of statements of the form ‘x is the same as y’ remain constant throughout the variety of uses in which they may be embedded? These questions have been worrying linguists and logicians for some time. This paper is designed as a modest attempt toward the clarification of these issues. Its main claim is that we must distinguish the concepts of identity, persistence through time, and individuation: concepts which are interwoven in a variety of ways in our uses of ‘same’. On the basis of these distinctions a rigorous semantics can be developed that clarifies the meanings of a number of key phrases in natural languages like English. It should also aid those who probe the depths of certain metaphysical and logical problems concerning identity.


Natural Language Truth Condition Logical Problem Main Claim Modest Attempt 
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  1. 1.
    Reference and Generality Ithaca,N.Y.: Cornell, 1962), pp. 39 passim. Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Same F’, Philosophical Review 79, 2 (April 1970): 181–200.Google Scholar
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    Let us explore briefly an issue that does not affect the controversy between unitarians and pluralists. This is the issue of equalities of differing strengths. These will be illustrated, and their structure incorporated in the formal semantics to be given in the appendix of this paper. These differences, however, do not affect the issue of whether Geach’s formula has application, and whether sameness is relative to predicates.Google Scholar
  4. The explication of these equalities requires the following basic notions. We conceive of a variety of relations between entities that have histories in time and that figure in possible as well as actual states of affairs. Thus we have individuals in the actual as well as in possible worlds, with their actual as well as possible histories.Google Scholar
  5. The weakest case of equality is that of contingent coincidence between two entities through a part of their histories. For example, Richard Nixon is only contingently the president, and he has this role only through a part of his history. Again, construing the office of the president as composed of a series of stages, it is contingent that one of these should coincide with Nixon, and it is only a small part of the history of the office that intersects with Nixon in this way. This is, then, the analysis forGoogle Scholar
  6. A) Nixon is now the president of the USA.Google Scholar
  7. Then there may be cases in which this partial overlap between the histories of two entities is not contingent: i.e., it holds in all the possible worlds in which the two entities exist.Google Scholar
  8. B) The young religious ruler in Tibet is necessarily the saddest child in Tibet. In different possible worlds different people will rule Tibet. Likewise, different people will be spending their childhood as the saddest child in Tibet. But, if (B) is true, in all the possible worlds in which Tibet has a religious ruler and has children among its citizens, the partial overlap between the history of the ruler and that of the man who in his youth is the saddest child, will hold.Google Scholar
  9. Passing from partial overlaps to total coincidence through history, we note that there are cases in which this coincidence is contingent. For exampleGoogle Scholar
  10. C) Joe Smith is the only lawyer in Dexter.Google Scholar
  11. In this case Joe Smith need not have chosen this particular career, and in its different possible histories the town of Dexter has different individuals as its only lawyer.Google Scholar
  12. The strongest case is that in which two entities coincide through their histories in all the possible worlds in which they exist. For abstract entities such as properties, this would mean the class of all possible worlds; and the same would hold for God, if he exists and does so necessarily. For other entities, such as most particulars, this type of equality would hold in all those possible worlds in which they exist. Opinions vary as to which, if any, types of statements about particulars exemplify this type of equality which is called “absolute identity.” Among the candidates would be:Google Scholar
  13. (D).
    Tully is Cicero. (D’) The Evening Star is the Evening Star. [For this view on names see S. Kripke, ‘Identity and Necessity’ in M. Munitz ‘ed.‘, Identity and Individuation (New York: NYU Press, 1971), pp. 135–164. 1Google Scholar
  14. These four types of case require only two basic notions of equality: coincidence and absolute identity — as will be shown in the appendix. These distinctions can be accepted by what we have called the “unitarian” position, and they do not require any relativization of ‘same’.Google Scholar
  15. 4.
    There is a close link between these notions in Aristotle’s treatment of sameness: see, e.g. Metaphysics Bk. V, Ch. 9.Google Scholar
  16. 5.
    R. Chisholm, “Problems of Identity” in Munitz, op. cit.,pp. 3–30.Google Scholar
  17. 6.
    For an able exposition of this view see H. M. Cartwright, ‘Quantities’, Philosophical Review 79, 1 (January 1970): 25–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 7.
    For a discussion of how the + — count distinction cuts through the + — abstract distinction, see J. Moravcsik, “Subcategorization and Abstract Tends,” Foundations of Language, 6, 4: November 1970 ): 473–487.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Gabbay
  • J. M. E. Moravcsik

There are no affiliations available

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