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# Identity exists because it doesn't

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Sorry for the obnoxious topic title, but the phrase: "Identity exists because it doesn't" actually sort of perfectly describes the problem I've had in answering the question I'd like to discuss.

The question is: what is identity, metaphysically?

I'm inspired in part by a recent thread concerning mathematics, so I will use an example from that discussion.

Consider a continuum, 1 2 3 4 5... etc. Assign 1 to the identity 'apple'. Now, what are 2 apples? 3? etc. What are -2 apples? Or 3^-2 apples? Or 5i apples?

Of course, those questions here are rhetorical, and answers to them can be found elsewhere. My concern has to do with the assignment made at the beginning of the question. Apple = 1. What I mean is that 1 isn't an abstract number, really, but a concrete expression of the law of identity. The number 1 is defined by the law of identity, and everything else is derived from that (2, 3, -4, i, etc.).

My question, then, if you have followed my thought process, is what occurs metaphysically when you equate 1 with apple? Or 1 with car? Or 1 with inch? (bear with me)

I suppose the epistemological question is easier to answer, and this process of assignment seems pretty much an epistemological matter. You are integrating reality into concepts. Instead of going into epistemology (feel free to do so, however, since that is more in line with my concern than mathematics), I want to veer back to metaphysics.

What is an Apple? Does it exist as an apple? Or does it exist as other things that cause it to be identified as an apple? As opposed to an orange. (this is rhetorical)

More fundamentally, what is an atom? What is a quark? A superstring? Energy? Matter? (these questions are less rhetorical, and I would be happy to entertain discussion in this direction)

The core of my question is: how can something 'exist' as itself, except that it be differentiated from and identifiable by some other thing, as a reference. More metaphysically, by what means can identity and reality exist? I refer to the means.

I have never conducted a rigorous logical deconstruction of why using 'God' as a universal frame of reference or first cause is not a sufficient explanation, but amateur speculation tells me it is not. I say that because I expect that others have more experience with this question and will be able to speak more authoritatively about it. Still, my conclusion is that no mystical explanation can adequately, just by definition, account for reality. Which brings me to the same quandry.

My conclusion, answering my own question, is that identity doesn't exist as something 'in itself' but rather identity exists only as identity. That is, identity is a concept, which serves an epistemological purpose, that exists only because, metaphysically, existence exists.

As an example, an apple is an identity, but there is no 'real' thing that is an apple. 1 'Apple', the identity, is a concept that can be justifiably applied to a certain arrangement of molecules. You know it exists because of the distinction between existence vs. non-existence. I.e.: the molecules are arranged the way they are as opposed to not being arranged that way.

So, recalling my title, you could say that an 'apple' exists in reality only because it is just a concept that can be subjected to a test of existence vs. non-existence. Its identity exists because identity doesn't exist. I don't know if I'm getting at the idea of Platonic Forms (and trying to argue against it), but I think that's basically what I'm trying to do. So, I suppose I'm saying that 'identity' as a 'Form' doesn't exist, and that's why in reality, identity can in fact exist. It's an obnoxious wordplay, as I stated originally.

But I would still like to know if there's a better way of looking metaphysically at the concept of identity. My current best guess (forgive me) is that anything that exists only exists in relation to other things that exist. That reality is sort of recursive, and that rather than ask 'who set up the loop', you should think all potential loops all potentially exists, and that at certain 'resolutions' of 'chaos' (or 'anything'/'everything' except without any bound or definition, hence, chaos) you begin to have enough consistent differentiation to practically establish a sense of existence vs. non-existence, based upon identity. This means, perhaps, that existence and identity are unified concepts. This theory also preserves the supremecy of reality.

Let me apply it to what I understand about Kant. True, by my theory, conciousness 'only' perceives a certain 'resolution' of 'everything'. But, essentially, isn't that 'resolution' the only thing that actually exists? The rest is chaos, non-existent. So, he's wrong even by this seemingly zany theory.

I have strayed somewhat by now, but want my difficulties expressed in the context of my worldview.

So, please, given all I have written, help me understand what identity is metaphysically. And feel free to use/comment on anything I have written here. I only ask that you be mindful that I am exposing an intimate thought process for the purpose of maximum clarity. That is, I am not attempting to argue and advance incorrect knowledge. If I have erred, I ask for clarification of my error. I am not trying to prove a theory, only present it so that my question may be properly answered. You may, but do not need to refute my theory. I am not sure myself if what I have advanced here is correct, but I haven't found a proper alternative. Thank you.

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Existence is Identity. Whatever exists, exists as what it is and not something else. In other words, that something exists as some thing is what identity is metaphysically.

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Existence is Identity. Whatever exists, exists as what it is and not something else. In other words, that something exists as some thing is what identity is metaphysically.

Thank you. You seem to confirm that existence and identity are unified concepts. One can (falsely) seperate the concepts either by saying 1) metaphysics is above identity, or, all identities exist 'in' 'existence' or 2) Identities are forms, that exist as identities, even if there is no 'thing' that actually exists to which that identity applies. This seems to be a source of much mischief.

Anyway, a thing existing as what it is means that there has to be something else that it is not. So nothing can exist 'by itself'. What does this imply about reality? That's a question I still want to find a good answer to. Thanks.

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Consider a continuum, 1 2 3 4 5... etc. Assign 1 to the identity 'apple'. Now, what are 2 apples? 3? etc. What are -2 apples? Or 3^-2 apples? Or 5i apples?

This looks like a linearly ordered unbounded sequence to me (the integers). Under what topology and ordering is it dense and compact? These two properties are what make continua.

Bob Kolker

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Anyway, a thing existing as what it is means that there has to be something else that it is not.

How do you arrive at this?

If I said to you that the universe (meaning the collection of all things) exists, then what "thing" exists that is not the universe.

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Anyway, a thing existing as what it is means that there has to be something else that it is not. So nothing can exist 'by itself'. What does this imply about reality? That's a question I still want to find a good answer to. Thanks

It seems to me that you need to make explicit the concept entity for yourself. All entities are bounded and therefore separate from the rest of the entities in existence. This is what makes otherness perceptually discernible. Your apples and ones correspond to entities. Multiplicity is fundamental as far as I can tell.

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"To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes. Centuries ago, the man who wasâ€”no matter what his errorsâ€”the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself. You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.

"Whatever you choose to consider, be it an object, an attribute or an action, the law of identity remains the same. A leaf cannot be a stone at the same time, it cannot be all red and all green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time. A is A. Or, if you wish it stated in simpler language: You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.

Galts speech

Edited by Plasmatic
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'Nothing' can't exist, nothingness is a negation of existence. If 'nothing' were to exist, it would mean that existence is nothing, which would negate all of existence. To exist requires existence, of which 'nothing' is the opposite. Three ways of simply stating Axiom 1.

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So, please, given all I have written, help me understand what identity is metaphysically. And feel free to use/comment on anything I have written here. I only ask that you be mindful that I am exposing an intimate thought process for the purpose of maximum clarity. That is, I am not attempting to argue and advance incorrect knowledge. If I have erred, I ask for clarification of my error. I am not trying to prove a theory, only present it so that my question may be properly answered. You may, but do not need to refute my theory. I am not sure myself if what I have advanced here is correct, but I haven't found a proper alternative. Thank you.

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--------------

So, please, given all I have written, help me understand what identity is metaphysically. And feel free to use/comment on anything I have written here. I only ask that you be mindful that I am exposing an intimate thought process for the purpose of maximum clarity. That is, I am not attempting to argue and advance incorrect knowledge. If I have erred, I ask for clarification of my error. I am not trying to prove a theory, only present it so that my question may be properly answered. You may, but do not need to refute my theory. I am not sure myself if what I have advanced here is correct, but I haven't found a proper alternative. Thank you.

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How do you arrive at this?

If I said to you that the universe (meaning the collection of all things) exists, then what "thing" exists that is not the universe.

This is what I'm getting at. By saying the universe exists, you are refering to the concept - the collection of all things - so really your universe exists because it is made up of things that exist. The process for arriving at the concept of 'universe' is: there is everything else besides me, then add me, and that's everything.

There is no thing or Form that is 'the universe', the universe is just what you call everything when you talk about it collectively.

So, to answer your question, you can't talk about the universe without talking about the things in it. This means that there would be no thing that is outside the universe, but there are things that are not the universe (its components) which are needed to define 'universe'.

I stand by my point that there are no things, anywhere, that are just self-defined things. That absolutely does not mean that there are not such things as identities.

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I stand by my point that there are no things, anywhere, that are just self-defined things. That absolutely does not mean that there are not such things as identities.

I agree with this.

To exist is to exist in relation with all the other things that exist. Those relations are the only way that identity means anything. A hypothetical pure intrinsic existent which was beyond inert to be intangible and invisible in all possible ways would effectively not exist in this universe, or any universe.

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I stand by my point that there are no things, anywhere, that are just self-defined things. That absolutely does not mean that there are not such things as identities.

This is my issue and you repeat it here. You are confusing the epistomological way that we arrive at the idea of an entity, and the metaphysical nature of the entity itself.

As you said before "Anyway, a thing existing as what it is means that there has to be something else that it is not."

This is a metaphysical statement and it is not true. It is a statement of metaphysical necessity. There is nothing about the existing of anything that requires something else to exist. Your second statement is an epistemological statement as you use the term "self-defined".

Things just are.

Things have identities.

There is nothing in the existence of anything that requires the existence of anything else, as your first statement would suppose.

The fact there there is more than one thing, just is. It is a fact of existence. There is nothing about any of the things that requires any other thing.

However, we learn about things in themselves by comparing them to other things. We have to subdivide the universe in order to form the concept of existents, and the wider concept of existence, an identity. But that implies nothing about their metaphysical interdependency the way you have phrased it.

I used the example of the universe because you were having such a tough time with the idea of something that is made up of other thigns, ie that existents can be composite. The universe is certainly a thing, the way that an apple is thing. It is not a special case, but what that particular entity does is negate the metaphysical statement you made without negating its implications for our epistemology.

You started this thread asking about the metaphysical nature of existence. You still haven't quite got it.

Your whole confusion here is the confusion of the existent with the concept we hold for it.

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However, we learn about things in themselves by comparing them to other things. We have to subdivide the universe in order to form the concept of existents, and the wider concept of existence, an identity. But that implies nothing about their metaphysical interdependency the way you have phrased it.

I see your conclusion as distinct from this:

To exist is to exist in relation with all the other things that exist. Those relations are the only way that identity means anything. A hypothetical pure intrinsic existent which was beyond inert to be intangible and invisible in all possible ways would effectively not exist in this universe, or any universe.

There is an agreement on the epistemological issue, but not metaphysically.

I agree with Grames. And I think it is important to make this point. Understanding the metaphysical nature of the world is important. I see this issue of metaphysical interdependency becoming relevant based on observations of the physical world i.e.: relativity and quantum mechanics. For whatever imperfections these theories hold, they both describe observable characteristics of the universe. The uncertainty principle is troubling. I am not a physicist, but I've felt like this issue of metaphysical interdependency might explain why quantum physics is the way it is, with basic statistical rules explaining how on a large scale you get newtonian effects. In the field of economics, the issue of one price, real money, and other odd concepts lead me to desire a better way of looking at economics. Price is relative to so many factors, and again, at least conceptually, I've wondered if this issue of the metaphysical interdependence of things - if we had a mathematics that better understood and operated according to it - if we could have a better economics and a better physics. What brings me to consider this in the first place is by considering metaphysics alone, but then see how it might apply.

So, to reiterate, given the language provided by those good enough to respond, I think there must be a metaphysical interdependence between existents. That is not just how we know they exist, but that is in fact how they exist. That's without any understanding of physics, only philosophy. But it seems that physics supports this.

Back to the universe example, the universe does exist, but it could not exist with the things that are its components. It would not exist without them. It is dependent on some component part to exist. Looking at any part, how can it exist except through components. Let's assume a basic unit existent, an atom in the classical sense, how can such a thing exist? 'It just does' isn't adequate. To whom? To us? Fine, there's an interdependence. To another atom? Same situation. To itself? It cannot, because if it is an atom, it has no effect or influence on itself except through how it influences other things.

This is why I mentioned 'Forms'. Because if you employ mysticism, you can say that atoms exist 'to God' or 'in the space-time continuum' or 'in the aether'. Is the aether not the perfect example of 19th century philosophy run amok in the sciences? But then, so are many interpretations of quantum physics.

I'm sort of inserting this last point out of place, but wanted to address KendallJ's point. I imagine that 'things' are more concepts than anything else. When we use epistemology to understand the real things going on in the universe, we create concepts and therefore things. An apple is not a thing, it is only a concept. But there are things to which the concept of apple can be applied usefully, real existing things. Again, I've read only 2 chapters of ITOE, and am trying to read the rest this weekend, but I don't feel like what I'm saying is wrong, though it may have been exhaustively addressed elsewhere. When we talk about metaphysics, it seems that we have to be careful about whether the 'thing' we are talking about is a concept, or a real thing. Just an example to clarify: the wind is a thing, a concept, but as an existent, it is an effect resulting from the aggregate interactions of a large complex system of air molecules. The wind may 'come' and 'go', but the molecules just swirl around until we find ways to quantify or measure their swirling.

This metaphysical question remains very important to me, and still unresolved in the sense that I still don't agree with KendallJ, though I remain attached to my first conclusion. But I'm happy to agree with him if he convinces me. I am not asking, however, that someone continue to make a point if they feel like they have and it is simply not getting across. If that's the case, I would appreciate someone try and explain where I've erred.

Edited by ZSorenson
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... metaphysical interdependency ...

But why use the word interdependency? That goes beyond what I said about the relational quality of identity to substitute the relation for the identity.

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But why use the word interdependency? That goes beyond what I said about the relational quality of identity to substitute the relation for the identity.

First, you did not say as much, I borrowed the word from KendallJ who does not agree with me. I was responding to you and KendallJ, with the intent of showing contrast between two different viewpoints, because my reaction to both of your statements. That's not to say you were intending to oppose KendallJ's point of view, so if I left the wrong impression, sorry.

I have come to think that the word interdependent is appropriate, however. I'm suggesting that there are only relations, in reality. Identities are the product of this, representing concepts that accurately characterize relationships. In fact, if you assume human conciousness results from a fundamental dichotomy of 'self' and 'other', then you have right there a definition of 'identity' that can be applied to anything so long as it is done accurately. I describe here only a brief attempt to detail the implications of what I have been thinking. I don't think that what I have written contradicts the law of identity. A is still A because in the context of knowledge (understanding of reality by concious being), reality is comprised only of identities, which represent real things and actions, and there is no thing outside of reality. But because consciousness doesn't create reality - only understands it - then I have to assume that identities themselve must remain identities without a conscious mind to conceive of them - in order to be real metaphysically.

Instead of getting bogged down by the apple example, I want to turn now to the example of the classical atom. With the apple, the conversatin can get mixed up around semantics - and turn into a 'if a tree falls in a forest' discussion. That's not what I'm getting at with the apple-as-non-metaphyical-identity argument (as in, although there is no 'sound' if no one is in a forest to hear a tree fall, yes, the same physical phenomena that are interpreted as sound by people still occur).

I'm trying to say that I can't conceive of any metaphysically consistent way an identity can exist as an identity, and not as a relationship between identities (themselves realtionships and so on). I mean that at some fundamental level, you would cease to see elementary particles, and would have to define those things that are identifiable by defining them as relations and not as identities (relations between identities of 'higher' particles).

Assume the classical atom is represented by a lego brick. There is a block of 12 lego bricks. It has an identity for many reasons, but overall the combined bricks are of a relevant size and shape and these have a common momentum if moved, thrown, etc. But metaphysically, it is a block of connected lego bricks. So maybe this is my problem, a semantic argument. Perhaps the definition of identity is already acknowledge as 'that aggregate of real things which are behind a concept', where the identity is acknowledge only as that aggregate, without regard to the metaphysical origin of the components. If so, yes, identities do obviously exist metaphysically according to that sort of definition. If this is my problem, then I have to rephrase my question, which I will do.

How do things exist metaphysically? I do not mean, how did the universe come to be? My question is philosophical. And the answer that seems most true to me is that broken down to components, all that exists metaphysically are relationships, identities arising from these. This because I can conceive of no means in reality by which things exist as themselves - there is no classical atom. There is a running thread up now about what remains if you remove everything from the universe, the nothingness that remains. I'm suggesting there never was this nothingness, no continuum, no vacuum, that these are just effects of relationships resolved into identifiable things.

You may ask, how can that possibly be? As I have said, I think physics has observed something like this. But my understanding is very limited, and all the well-educated physicists I know are either nihilistic (nothing/everything/anything exists, all is uncertain) or Platonic in their thinking (their explanation: the real universe doesn't meet my Platonic expectations for reality - see Godel and completeness - so there must be some mystical explanation for it all). I was hoping this thread would provoke a response from someone who knows physics but who also understands objectivism. My thinking about how physics works is that if only relationships exist fundamentally, then you would see elementary particles more subject to probabilities/relativity and so forth. That's not a complete picture, it's something you have to think about.

So, perhaps I have misunderstood the definition of identies, but still, I haven't felt like my question has been properly addressed. I feel like the semantics of my argument have been criticized, not the meat of it. It seems that if I'm right, it would explain a lot about physics, and economics, and could be the basis for a better mathematics. One that deals in relationships over identities, and sees identities forming from those relationships. How would that work? I don't know, I suspect probabilities, recursiveness, and focusing in on certain 'resolutions' where identities resolve would be part of it.

But I feel like I have said all I can about this. So I hope there is still more that more of you can say.

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I have come to think that the word interdependent is appropriate, however. I'm suggesting that there are only relations, in reality. Identities are the product of this, representing concepts that accurately characterize relationships. In fact, if you assume human conciousness results from a fundamental dichotomy of 'self' and 'other', then you have right there a definition of 'identity' that can be applied to anything so long as it is done accurately. I describe here only a brief attempt to detail the implications of what I have been thinking. I don't think that what I have written contradicts the law of identity. A is still A because in the context of knowledge (understanding of reality by concious being), reality is comprised only of identities, which represent real things and actions, and there is no thing outside of reality. But because consciousness doesn't create reality - only understands it - then I have to assume that identities themselve must remain identities without a conscious mind to conceive of them - in order to be real metaphysically.

To start with a point of agreement, identities are discovered through relationships. However, there cannot be such a thing as a relation without two different entities standing in relation to each other, so it cannot be true only relations exist.

There are two aspects to identity. An identity is the totality of all the relations an entity has with everything else that exists. Identity is also that which impresses a coherence, a non-contradictory regularity among all of its relationships. This latter property is intrinsic to all identities and leads to the law of non-contradiction.

I also want to object to your use of the word 'represent' in the phrase "identities, which represent real things and actions". This implicitly separates identities from those real things and actions with some intermediate layer of .. what exactly? There is no sensible answer to that question. You were naturally led to conclude representationalism when you decided there were no things only relationships.

The only representationalism in Objectivism is a word representing a concept. Concepts themselves are not representations of their referents, they are new things, integrations of percepts and concepts to create a new relationship within a mind.

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Identity qua identity isn't a metaphysical existent, it's the attribute which defines "that which exists" (that which exists possesses identity).

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Thank you, I think I have the right way of thinking of it now.

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Identity qua identity isn't a metaphysical existent, it's the attribute which defines "that which exists" (that which exists possesses identity).

This is not quite right either. "Existence is identity." This phrase appears in Galt's speech and is discussed a little further in one of the dialogues appended to Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

Existence does not have identity, it is identity. Identity is inseparable from existence. There is no substratum upon which is hung attributes.

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