identity crisis

the identity property is pretty central to a lot of endeavors. if there's one thing our logical proofs, self-congratulatory objectivism and philosophical arguments rest on, it's the fact that "A is A."

of course, this is a perfect example of why traditional logical assumptions and standards shouldn't be applied wholesale to the study of language. in philosophy of language "A is A" is the foundation for the idea that any statement is identical to itself. this works alright for physical objects, but when it comes to language, there are never two identical statements. there are never two identical statements. there are never two identical statements.

the first A is not the same as the second A. in the most trivial sense, they're in different places on the page. they're articulated at different times, drawn slightly differently or pronounced slightly differently. the fact that these types of differences don't count as differences is the most primary function of language. as derrida says, language is repetition and difference. language is, by pretty much anyone's definition, made of repeating elements. but each repetition involves a difference. it's that whole can't-step-in-the-same-river-twice thing.

to say "A is A" is true is not a tautology. it's not a definition handed down by god or a self-evident truth about the universe. it should be seen as a statement of our most basic assumptions about language. assumptions probably isn't even the right word because it's something even stronger than an assumption. it's the nature of language's functioning to flatten out certain differences, especially the differences that context and repetition throw into the works.

i'm not saying "A is A" is not true. it IS true precisely because we understand two separate tokens of the same bit of language (two of the same statement, two "A"s) to be the same thing. and we have this understanding because of the nature of language. and that's a shaky place to build your logic!


Seb said...

I think that analyzing "A is A" the way you have done does not do justice to the way philosophers mean it. Philosophers are not saying that the linguistic tokens that look like 'A' in each place are identical, but rather the referents of those tokens are.

Consider the sentence

"Hesperus is Phosphorus"

Nobody--not even logicians--would say that the word or utterance or use of 'Hesperus' is identical to 'Phosphorus.' What they are saying is that the referent of 'Hesperus' is the same thing as the referent of 'Phosphorus.'

That means that while it is true that the first 'A' is not the same as the second 'A', for all the reasons you mentioned (different positions and times, etc.), to demonstrate your point you have to show something stronger: that the referent of the first 'A' is not the same as the referent of the second 'A'.

Cristi said...

really good point, seb

but i think my point still stands (or sits down and takes a load off and gets even chiller) because i'm willing to say "A is A" is not simply true of the referents either. because "A is A" is always an utterance. any statement of identity is always a statement.
moreover (and more importantly), any assertion of identity involves some representative act. and that representation involves a tokenization (or making-into-a-repeatable-element) of some object, whether it's the term or referent. and that tokenization involves the kind of flattening of difference that i'm talking about.

i think.

i may have gone off the deep end here, but i think i'm right to do so.

Seb said...

You lost me.

It's true that any statement of identity is a statement.

What do you mean when you say "'A is A' is not simply true of the referents"? Maybe you could get more concrete here, since I don't know what A is refering to here. Or actually--we could talk about "A is A" itself, but we'd have to be understanding A as a variable.

You completely lost me at:
- representative act
- tokenization

You're writing postmodern ;)

I'm going to quote you on the deep end though.

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