X-Message-Number: 27644
Date: Tue, 21 Feb 2006 11:31:23 -0500
From: Daniel Crevier <>
Subject: Cloisters and identity
References: <>

To Valera Retyunin.

Thank you for taking the time to explain your position. Your exposition is
quite witty, and I didn't find it dull at all, even though you used the
techique of point by point rebuttal, which makes it hard to keep an argument
interesting. I think now I know where you are coming from and where we

Part of the divergence comes from your insistence that identity requires
physical continuity. I counted seven occurrences of the phrase "different
physical entity"', or variations thereof, in your message. This is a
criterion that is often used, and there is a good discussion of it in
Michael Perry's book "Forever for All", Universal Publishers, 2000, where he
also quotes Derek Parfit's "Reasons and Persons", Clarendon Press, 1987.
(I'm giving these references to point out that these ideas have been kicked
around by pros long before we started discussing them. Let's not reinvent
the wheel if possible). In Chapter 4, Perry opposes to the requirement of
physical continuity, which he calls "physical reductionism", the equally
materialistic concept of "psychological reductionism". The idea is roughly
that for B to be the same as A, it is more important for it to be
structurally like A that to be made of the same material.

I like to think that the original physical reductionists  said that for B to
be the same as A, it had to be made of the same atoms. When it was pointed
out to them that the atoms of our bodies were being continuously replaced,
they said, "O.K., different atoms are allowed, as long as they are replaced
slowly." This requirement certainly reflects the way we are used to see
things happen, but I, and many others who also call themselves materialists,
don't see how it can be a necessary condition for the preservation of

But the rift goes deeper: I claim that the very concept of identity doesn't
correspond to anything tangible. To illustrate and relate this to the above:
There is a place in New York city called the Cloisters Museum. It contains
five european cloisters that were disassembled at their original locations,
their stones carefully numbered, and then transported and reassembled. Are
these the "same" as the original cloisters? I am very much inclined to
decide "yes".You, a physical reductionist if I read you correctly, would
have to decide "no", because of the huge discontinuity in the cloisters
physical integrity. We may both be right.

To end this post as I started my original one: our respective decisions on
this matter reflect our personal choices and do no change anything about the
cloisters themselves. The cloisters are not the same or different, they just
are. "Same" and "different" are our own constructs.

This would be an elegant ending, yet I can't help but to add that examples
like this show that "same" and "different" are concepts that were developed
to accomodate everyday situations. They break down in limiting cases where
we disassemble Kirk or monasteries. Michael Perry suggests to replace the
concept of "same" with that of "continuer", which makes a much better job of
sorting out these new situations.

Daniel Crevier

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