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Fr. 707

January 16, 2016

Of Mogensen’s methodology, we have posed four questions:

  1. Is Mogensen’s quest to isolate formal a priori criteria for identity centrality flawed?

  2. Are all propositions, trivial and evaluative, to be considered as homologous?

  3. Is it sound to isolate meanings of identity without specifying the purpose which they are to serve?

  4. If our intuitions about individual identity stem from psychological essentialism, can we nonetheless check candidate principles against those intuitions?

For each of these questions we have attempted to give a evenhanded account both of the critical position of the author’s reasons for proceeding as he does. While it bears mentioning that the methods employed are standard fare in philosophy, this does little to absolve its practitioners from a more careful examination of their way of doing things. When dealing with objects of a non-empirical kind, the burden of proof is as much on the practitioners as their critics.

On the four counts, we have isolated that which poses a more general problem. With regards to 1.), pragmatism and philosophy of language cast serious doubts on the soundness of the quest for a single universal a priori criterion permitting to identify each and every token of a given type. As for 2.), the author’s analogy between all traits was called into question as, at least for some criteria, the present of evaluative dimensions in certain traits rendered their similarities with others insufficient. In 3.), we saw an extension of the dissolution of the descriptive-normative divide; as per an explanation’s descriptive and normative cast, we then maintained that an explanation’s soundness can only be judged relative to some action-guiding principle rather than in isolation from such. Finally, 4.) provided us the opportunity to question whether illusory intuitions can both be the measure and the object of one and the same test.

Although we focused on the questions that we might pose from a methodological point of view, there perhaps remains further engagement with more substantive notions in Mogensen’s text, e.g. whether the ethics of authenticity can place exacting demands on identity and its expression. Despite the differences of method and certain opinions, it bears noting that we are largely in agreement with Mogensen that individual identity, understood as a substantive, metaphysical, true or deep self, is an overly contentious notion incapable of empirical verification. Accordingly, we stand with the author in maintaining that individual identity is, in a word, an illusion and that we should adopt a more tenable understanding of identity and self (perhaps in the form of self-image, particularly with regards to discursive identity in reason-giving).

Nonetheless, our positions do not fully coincide, and we will close by recalling that all illusions are not to be condemned one and all to the rubbish. After all, certain illusions can be salutary, heuristic or otherwise useful, a point which we hope to elucidate in future writings with regards to identity and self.



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