Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are Scotus's haecceities really unrepeatable?

In my last post, I explained that the only way I can see that a thisness (haecceity) would be unrepeatable would be if the thisness involved some identity reference to the individual in question. Otherwise, I can't see how cloning it would result in a contradiction.

Does Scotus think a thisness involves some identity reference to the individual in question? I don't see how he could think this. Two reasons.

(1) First, identity reference is a relation, and Scotus argues that thisnesses are absolute (non-relational) entities. So it's hard to see how Scotus could say that a thisness is constituted by any reference to the individual.

I wonder, then, if a thisness is supposed to be an absolute entity, why couldn't God clone it? Why couldn't God clone any absolute entity? I can't see why not.

(2) Second, Scotus believes that relations supervene on the things they relate. That is, they are posterior to the things they relate, so if they supervene on an individual, then the individual is already individuated. In short, relationships cannot do any individuating, for they show up on the scene too late, as it were, to do any individuating.

Indeed, to say that Socrateity is the property of being identical to Socrates already presupposes that Socrates is an individual. Otherwise it would make no sense to make an identity reference to Socrates as the individual that he is.

This, I think, is a particularly powerful desideratum here. Take the view of the venerable Robert Adams. He argues that a thisness is just the property of being identical to oneself, and this explains nicely why a thisness is non-qualitative (unrepeatable) property: reproducing it would generate a contradiction.

But what I don't understand is how it does not presuppose the individual in question. If Socrateity is the property of being identical to Socrates, then doesn't that presuppose that Socrates is already an individual? How could we say x is identical to Socrates if we didn't already think of Socrates as an individual?

As Scotus would put it, identity relationships (and in fact all relationships) are naturally posterior to the things they relate, so they show up on the scene too late, as it were, to do any explaining.

One might further suggest, I suppose, that identity relationships are just figments of the imagination. When I think 'Cicero is identical to Tully', I'm imagining Cicero and Tully as if they were different individuals: I have a picture of Cicero in my mind, and I have a picture of Tully in my mind too, and then I connect them and say 'those are the same person'. But in reality, there are not two persons there. There's just one dude, so the 'identity relationship' is really not some sort of entity that exists 'out there' in Cicero/Tully. It's just a (true) connection I've drawn in my mind.

So also with Socrateity: the fact that Socrates is identical to Socrates would be a fact that supervenes on the fact that Socrates is Socrates. But doesn't that already presuppose that Socrates is already the individual Socrates that he is? How could I possibly refer to him if he wasn't?

In any case, it seems to me that Scotus cannot answer any of these questions. He says a thisness is a positive, absolute entity, but if it is an absolute entity, why couldn't it be cloned (by God at least)? I think Scotus has to take thisnesses as entities that are just (somehow) primitively unrepeatable. And that doesn't really explain very much.

But perhaps that is the meat and potatoes of Scotus's position. If so, then Scotus would be saying: we simply cannot explain individuation, for we always presuppose the individual in question. Consequently, it must be the same in reality: there must be some sort of entities 'out there' in the world which are, in and of themselves, (somehow) unrepeatable.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What makes a haecceity unrepeatable?

My question is this: what is it about a thisness (haecceity) that makes it so unrepeatable? Take Socrateity. Why couldn't God create another one, an identical copy or clone?

As far as I can tell, if we assume that God is omnipotent (by which I mean that God can bring about anything that does not involve a contradiction), then the only way that a thisness could not be cloned is if doing so brought about a contradiction.

Suppose, for instance, that we assume (as some modern metaphysicians do) that a thisness is the property of being identical to oneself. In that case, Socrateity would be the property of being identical to Socrates. Now suppose that God created a clone of Socrates, and cloned his Socrateity as well. Let's call this clone 'Harold', and let's call the Socrateity-clone 'Haroldeity'.

Since Haroldeity is a clone of Socrateity, it would be the property of being identical to Socrates. Thus, Harold would be identical to Socrates. But Harold is not identical to Socrates. On the contrary, he is just a clone of Socrates. Thus, Harold would turn out to both be identical to and non-identical to Socrates, and that's a contradiction. So God could not clone Socrateity if it amounted to being identical to Socrates, for cloning that property would result in a contradiction.

One might take this example and generalize: the only way that cloning a thisness will result in a contradiction is if the thisness involves some sort of intrinsic reference to the individual in question. For ultimately, the contradiction is going to involve being identical to vs. not being identical to the individual in question. (It would be irrelevant if the resulting contradiction amounted to being identical and not being identical to Beulah the cow. We're talking about Socrates here, so the contradiction is going to have to pertain to him.)

So, one might think, if a thisness lacks any sort of reference to the individual in question, then it could be cloned after all.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What are haecceities?

One of the major questions that I wonder about is this: what is the difference between haecceities and quiddities (or 'thisnesses' and 'suchnesses')?

One option is to say this: a suchness is qualitative, whereas a thisness is not. But what does that mean? My pre-theoretical intuitions are this: something that is qualitative has some sort of content, whereas something that is non-qualitative does not (it's more abstract -- whatever that means). 

But it's hard to come up with examples for that sort of distinction, and that tells me that my pre-theoretical intuitions are just confused.

Another option is to say this: a suchness is repeatable, whereas a thisness is not. That is, a suchness can be instantiated more than once, whereas a thisness cannot. There can only be one of any given thisness.

That is how most analytic philosophers these days distinguish 'qualitative' and 'non-qualitative' properties. Anything that is repeatable is qualitative, and anything that is not is non-qualitative.

But still, what are some examples? It's hard to come up with an example of a non-qualitative property or constituent. Any entity I can think of is the sort of thing that could be repeated: God could create another identical copy of it, for instance.

So why couldn't God create an identical copy of a haecceity? What makes it so unrepeatable?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Scotus: haecceities must be some positive entity

Medieval philosophers offered a variety of theories about individuation -- that is, about the formal cause of individuation. Here are two popular medieval options.

(1) Some proposed that individuals are individuated by their unique set of incidental features. For instance, if we ask why you and I are different, the proponent of this theory would say that you and I have different heights, weights, shapes, colors, and so on, and this particular set of features that I have is unique: no other individual has these features, just as no other individual has your particular set of features.

This view obviously rests on the identity of indiscernibles: any things that have the exact same properties are indistinguishable, and hence the very same thing. So, for instance, if someone else looked exactly like me in all respects, you couldn't tell us apart, and for that reason we would be same individual.

One might object, of course, that we could easily distinguish me and my twin because I am sitting here, in this chair, and my twin is sitting there, in that chair. In other words, we occupy different regions of space-time.

But the advocate of the theory in question would say that space and time are also part of our incidental features, and so me and my twin would not have the very same features after all. We would have a lot of them in common, but we would not have our spatial and temporal features in common, and for that reason we would not be the same individuals.

Max Black famously questioned this theory. There's no reason, he proposes, that we couldn't imagine two exactly similar identical spheres in parallel dimensions. (I must admit that I have never understood this. Even if they have all the same features, they are still indexed to different dimensions, and so wouldn't they differ with respect to that? I confess that I don't get how Black's example is a genuine counter-example.)

(2) Others proposed that two individuals differ because they are made up of different chunks of materials. So, for instance, me and my twin might have all the same features, except I am made of this chunk of material, and he is made of that chunk of material.

(This theory seems to assume that different chunks of material are distinct -- either primitively, or in virtue of the fact that they occupy different regions of space. But again, couldn't one suppose: what if these two chunks of material had the same spatial and temporal properties? How would they be distinguished then? I think that most advocates of this theory would have to maintain that different chunks of material cannot occupy the same region of space-time simultaneously.)

Scotus argues that neither of these two theories actually explain individuation. For Scotus, each of these theories presupposes individual entities. The first theory assumes that incidental features are already individual, and the second theory assumes that chunks of material are individual. But that still leaves us wondering: how are incidental features or chunks of material individuated? So as Scotus sees it, neither of these theories have really explained individuation after all.

In fact, Scotus goes through all the major theories that he knows of and points out that they all presuppose some individual entity, and for that reason, he rejects all of them.

Scotus then concludes that we must assume that individuation comes about by some primitively individual entity -- and this is called a haecceity. We don't know what this entity is, but it must be a positively real thing, and it must be individual in and of itself. Since all of our theories about individuals assume individuality already, we must postulate some primitive individuator.