Friday, November 27, 2009

More on the deflationary account of diachronic identity

[Cross-posted from Matters of Substance.]

First, the easy version of the deflationary account. Here is a question about diachronic identity: What makes it be the case that:

1. Some F0 at t0 is diachronically identical with some F1 at t1.
1. There exists an x such that x is an F0 at t0 and x is an F1 at t1.
Observe that (2) does not make use of "diachronic identity" in its statement. Moreover, all of the conceptual ingredients that (2) uses are ones that any substantive account of diachronic identity (the memory or bodily continuity theories in the case of persons are paradigms) will also have to use in analyzing (1): being an F0 at t0, being an F1 at t1, quantification and conjunction (I have a hard time imagining any substantive account of diachronic identity that somewhere doesn't presuppose conjunction!) So, (2) is simpler, and if it is conceptually circular, so is any substantive account.

Now, the somewhat harder version, the question of analyzing diachronic identity wffs. Question: What makes it be the case that:

1. x at t0 is diachronically identical with y at t1.
1. x exists at t0 and x exists at t1 and y exists at t1 and x is synchronously identical at t1 with y.
Since we all need synchronous identity, and it does not seem to be posterior to diachronic identity, it seems fair to presuppose it in an account of diachronic identity. The result seems to be an account of diachronic identity much simpler than any substantive account.

If one is worried that "x exists at t" presupposes diachronic identity, consider this. What is it to exist at t? Here are some standard proposals:

• Presentism: At t: x exists.
• Perdurantism: a part of x is located within the spacelike hypersurface t.
• Eternalist endurantism: x is wholly located within the spacelike hypersurface t.
None of these proposals seem to presuppose diachronic identity. Now, the last two proposals require an analysis of being located or wholly located in a region R. But this could be just a matter of instantiating a primitive located-at relation to R, or a matter of having R if regions just are properties (I am fond of--though I do not endorse--the proposal that regions are properties, with containment being entailment, and that to be in a region is to have the region as a property), or a matter of being appropriately related to other entities by the nexus of spatiotemporal relations.

In any case, substantive accounts of diachronic identity do not clarify what it is to be located in a region of spacetime or what it is to exist at t. Substantive accounts of diachronic identity explain what it is for an object that is located in one region to exist in another region, but that still doesn't explain what it was for the object to be located in the first region. In fact, there is something really weird about substantive accounts of diachronic identity here. It would be very strange to claim to have a good account of what it is for a person who is queen of country x to also be queen of country y (for general non-identical x and y) without that account also being an account of what it is for a person to be queen of x (for a general x). Surely we all need an account of what it is for a person to be a queen of x, and once we have that, the account of what it is for the queen of country x to also be the queen of country y is just a matter of applying that account twice (and using synchronic identity to take care of the definite articles). But like the queen-identity theorist, the substantive diachronic identity theorist has an account of what it is for, say, a person who occupies R1 to also occupy R2, without having an account of what it is to occupy R1. And once we have an account of what it is to occupy R1, we get for free an account of what it is to occupy R1 and R2, at least if we have synchronic identity.

Maybe the simplest way to summarize the deflationary account is this. It is no more mysterious how it is that x at t0 is identical with y at t1 than it is how it is that x who is the Queen of England is identical with y who is the Queen of Canada.

However, the above arguments presupposed that we're dealing with entities facts about which do not wholly reduce to facts about some other entities. In the case of wholly reducible entities, my arguments fail. The reason for that is that in the case of a wholly reducible entity, what it is to exist at t will be reducible to facts about some other class of entities. For instance, for a reducible x to exist at t will not be a matter of x's instantiating some primitive located-at relations. In that case, the conceptual baggage of "exists at t" might be the same as the conceptual baggage of the substantive account of diachronic identity, and so the deflationary account may be incorrect. (I think of wholly reducible entities as akin to wholly stipulative meanings. In the case of words with wholly stipulative meanings, we might not expect deflationary accounts of truth and meaning to apply--we might want the stipulations to be expanded out, like abbreviations, before the deflationary account is applied.)

If I am right, then someone giving a substantive account of what diachronic identity for Ks consists in is committed to Ks being reducible.