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.


2 thoughts on “Plenitude and Self-Identification

  1. Williams, Robert says:

    I found this talk very interesting! I have a couple of small questions. To check I understood: Let’s say that H is a human animal, and C1….Cn are various person candidates, differing in essential properties, that are colocated with H. If I get you right, you think that many of the Ci will be actual thinkers (you say they share beliefs and other attitudes, so long as those attitudes don’t have de se content). But the *thinker* of “I” thoughts (in the context) is whichever Ci maximizes the truth and rationality of the de se thoughts (of that context).

    The first small question is why you think that the Ci do not share de se as well as general thoughts. Suppose that the charity-maximizing candidate is C1. Then why shouldn’t we interpret C2 as having I-beliefs, where the I picks out C1? Those I-thoughts are not self-referential (C2’s I-thought refers to something that is not C2), but what reasons have we to think, in this peculiar ontology, that I-thoughts are strictly self-referential?

    The second small question concerns the interaction of temporal and modal properties. If I’m currently essentially a beatnik, presumably I can’t survive an episode where my beatnikitude is destroyed. So if a beatnikitude destroying event in fact will occur tomorrow, then I will in fact not survive tomorrow. So not only the modal profile, but also the space-time region inhabited by different candidate persons will vary (and won’t coincide with the space-time region occupied by the human animal). Do you take that to be the implication of your view? More generally are questions of personal identity over time, as well as essential profile, to be fixed by charity considerations of truth and rationality maximization? (I wonder about cases where I now have absurd beliefs—like that I used to be identical to a specific turnip).

    1. Williams, Robert says:

      Thanks for the reply in the live event. Maybe you already know of David Mark Kovacs’ Diachronic Self Making paper? (AJP 2020)? It seems like a view that might fit neatly with your own.

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