Plenitude and Self-Identification
Many people are happy to say that some of their social properties are central to their identity and definitional of who they are. They take these properties to belong to their core and sometimes claim their having of them to hence deserve special protection. It is tempting to hold that the distinction between such identity-constituting properties and other less central properties can be captured in terms of essence: Proponents of essence being a central metaphysical posit often elucidate the notion of essence in terms of identity and (real) definition. However, there seem to be weighty reasons to not claim that persons essentially belong to social categories. First, some if not all of the aforementioned features, like membership in a religious community, can be lost and gained over a lifetime. Secondly, no person’s existence seems to be dependent on there being some social category like womanhood or blackness.
In my talk I argue that one can model the centrality of certain features to persons identities in terms of essence without giving these features any special metaphysical weight or taking them to be immutable in any way other properties are not. The proposed account is based on the assumption that wherever there is an object, there is a plenitude of co-located objects; every coherent modal profile for an object located at a particular location is such that there is an object at the given location that instantiates this profile.
Plenitude has it that wherever there is a person, there are myriads of entities (slightly or massively) differing in their modal profile. The account I defend is based on the idea that it is a matter of context which of these objects is relevant in social interactions and should be identified as the speaker in conversations. Considerations of charity are argued to play a major role in identifying the speaker, which allows for a practice of contextual self-identification that enables speakers to truthfully say of themselves that they instantiate social properties essentially.
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