Wednesday, February 03, 2010


At some point that day, Hitler returned to the relative comfort of his two-story farmhouse billet, opened this hardbound volume, and laid claim to its content in a notably timid hand, scribbling his name and place and date in the upper-right-hand corner of the inside cover in a space no larger than that of a postage stamp.

Eighty years later, Osborne's book attests to its frontline service. Blunted and brown, the corners curl inward like dried lemon rind. The spine dangles precariously from frayed linen tendons, exposing the thread-laced signatures like so many rows of rope-bound bones . . . When I opened this fragile volume in the Rare Book Reading Room in the Library of Congress, with the muffled sounds of late-morning traffic wafting through the hushed silence, a fine grit drizzled from its pages.
Timothy W. Ryback, Hitler's Private Library


Anonymous Keih Talent said...

Coincidentally currently writing about the metaphysics of quiddities (qua second-order haecceities), in contemporary metaphysics the term is generally used to denote the primitive identity of properties rather than the essence of an object which is the more regular usage

February 03, 2010 1:36 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

I like the sound of the primitive identity of properties. Off in search of enlightenment.

February 03, 2010 6:25 pm  
Blogger George Berger said...

Paul, start at the great Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is online.

February 03, 2010 6:59 pm  
Anonymous Keith Talent said...

Second vote for the greatness of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it's peer reviewed and generally the articles are written by good philosophers. There doesn't seem to be a great deal about quiddities on there (at least not in the contemporary sense - there's medieval theories of what are called 'quiddities' but appear to be somewhat different to how the term is currently used). I cannot find a great natural in to finding out more on the net, though the paper 'Quiddistic knowledge' on Jonathan Schaffer's page:

Schaffer's papers

may be of use.

Roughly though there is a fairly pervasive thought in metaphysics that we can distinguish between objects and the properties that those objects exhibit, so there's this object here, and it has the properties *redness* and *being ball shaped* and so on.

Then the defender of quiddities would hold that these properties are such that their identity is not solely dependent upon which objects exhibit them. So imagine a world that's just like ours but the things that are positively charged in this world are negatively charged in that world and vice versa then the defender of quiddities would wish to say that the two worlds were indeed different, because the properties of *being negatively charged* and *being positively charged* have swapped roles.

February 04, 2010 8:22 am  
Blogger George Berger said...

There is another problem. In Quantum field theory one has a mathematical formalism called "Fock Space". It's a simple extension of the idea of a vector space. But it allows for two strange things. First, it accommodates 'identical' particles that are somehow not the same ( figure that one out!). Second, it can represent the creation and annihilation of particles. I am sure that in physics this affects the notions of quiddity and haechaity. So lots of current philosophical metaphysics might be misleading about how the world really is. As for myself, I haven't a clue!

February 04, 2010 8:41 am  
Anonymous Keith Talent said...

George is the distinction between numerical identity and qualitative identity? It seems fine that there's two objects which have all the same properties and so are qualitatively identical but are nevertheless not numerically identical, i.e. they are two not one. So I don't quite see how this affects whether or not the notion of quiddity is a coherent one nor even whether or not properties have quiddities.

But there's certainly lots of interesting issues about the notion of not just qualitative identity but also numerical identity in quantum physics. And there's some recent argument by e.g. James Ladyman to the effect that current physics undermines much of contemporary metaphysics (because, roughly, contemporary metaphysics is based on the false presupposition that some classical physical theory is accurate at the micro as well as macro level). In fact FWIW I'm not yet persuaded that those arguments hit their mark and in general there are lots of metaphysicians who don't find them suasive.

Btw this page:

Identity and Individuality in Quantum Theory

is a good overview on identity in quantuum physics written by Ladyman's supervisor as it happens.

February 04, 2010 9:05 am  
Blogger George Berger said...

Hi Keith--I wish I knew, but I don't. And neither does anybody else! The idea seems to be that we have real identity that's somehow repeated, qualities and all. As you suggest, qualitative identity just might be OK, since Leibniz's law doesn't concern, e.g., spatial location. So we just might have qualitative identity with numerical diversity. BUT (damn those philosophers!) this yields at least two other problems. First, does numerical identity need entities like Bare Particulars, that are simply distinct? Second (the answer I like) perhaps the notion of a particle is outdated, so that physics needs a new ontology quite far removed from those common-sense billiardball-like particles. Perhaps an event ontology, or a field ontology. I too am interested in Ladyman and might buy his book. But really, nobody has a clue. As one mathematician told me, "Physics is up for grabs." So the commonsense pretences of "analytical metaphysics" (I'm sure that's what you are referring to) don't interest me; they involve a partial return to Aristotelianism/Scholasticism. Ladyman is good on that but has no developed replacement.

February 04, 2010 10:52 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Keith and George,

All this is stuff falls or folds into something I'm thinking about, so thanks for all the pointers! (I'm also reminded that I came across distinguishing between objects and the properties they possess while reading up on theory of consciousness a few years back...).

February 04, 2010 3:38 pm  
Blogger George Berger said...

Hi Paul--I know a bit about consciousness and the relevant metaphysics, so if you are still interested and can give me a starting point, I'll see if I can get some references. But beware, the philosophical literature on consciousness is enormous and has not achieved very much that's considered definite. Lots of good distinctions, however. Right now my main interest here is in neurophysiology of the brain. Fascinating stuff. I can say that if one reads Peter Watts' "Blindsight" and thinks along with him, one shall learn much of what the philosophers (alas, myself included) have achieved or pointed to. One will also have more fun.

February 04, 2010 11:17 pm  

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