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Identity in Cognitive Science, Quantum Mechanics, and Metaphysics

English title Identity in Cognitive Science, Quantum Mechanics, and Metaphysics
Applicant Mulligan Kevin
Number 185435
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Istituto di Studi Filosofici Facoltà di Teologia di Lugano
Institution of higher education Università della Svizzera italiana - USI
Main discipline Philosophy
Start/End 01.08.2019 - 31.12.2021
Approved amount 264'775.00
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Keywords (6)

identity; metaphysics; quantum mechanics; distinctness; cognitive science; essence

Lay Summary (German)

Identität ist die Relation in welcher jeder Gegenstand zu sich selbst steht. Philosophen interessieren sich für Identität nicht nur um ihrer selbst willen, sondern auch, weil Identität als Grundbegriff entscheidende Rollen in Erklärungen philosophischer Begriffe wie beispielsweise "Person", "Objekt" oder "Zahl" spielt. Einer unter Philosophen weit verbreiteten Ansicht zufolge ist Identität einfach, unproblematisch und bedarf keiner weiteren Klärung.
Lay summary

Der Grundgedanke dieses Projekts ist es, dass diese Ansicht aufgrund philosophischer Argumente, philosophischer Interpretationen bestimmter Aspekte der Quantenmechanik und Studien aus der Kognitionswissenschaft hinterfragt und neu bewertet werden muss. Das Ziel dieses Projekts ist es, eine solche Neubewertung systematisch durchzuführen.

Im Zuge des Projektes werden wir hauptsächlich zwei verschiedene Typen von Argumenten untersuchen. Erstens, Argumente welche die Existenz der Identitätsrelation in Frage stellen. Solche Argumente finden sich nicht nur in der philosophischen Literatur zur Metaphysik, sondern werden auch von der Physik und insbesondere von der Quantenmechanik ununterscheidbarer Teilchen nahe gelegt. Zweitens werden wir Argumente untersuchen, welche nicht die Existenz, sondern den Status der Identitätsrelation als den einer fundamentalen Relation in Frage stellen. Argumente solcher Art finden sich in der philosophischen Literatur, aber lassen sich auch aus kognitionswissenschaftlichen Studien ableiten.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 08.04.2019

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Project partner

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
173040 Connectives, Predicates, and Priority 01.06.2017 Project funding (Div. I-III)


Identity is the relation every object bears to itself and to no other thing. Thus understood, identity is a core concept in philosophy. Not only has identity been a topic of discussion since the birth of the discipline, it also plays a crucial role in explaining other concepts such as those of person, object, and number. For example, to understand what a person is, we must understand what it takes for a person to still count as the same person after going through a period of time in which it may undergo substantial change. Even though the notion is crucially involved in explanations of other concepts, the received view in philosophy is that identity is simple, unproblematic, and in no need of further explanation. This special status of identity is arguably what motivates an important recent trend in metaphysics. This trend consists in relying on notions of generalized identity to define other important metaphysical notions such as those of grounding, fundamentality, or essence, which have traditionally been assumed to be systematically related to that of identity simpliciter (see Correia and Skiles forthcoming; Fine 2015).The starting point of this project is the observation that the received view that identity is simple, unproblematic, and in no need of further explanation ignores the challenges arising from important philosophical arguments and the philosophical interpretation of certain aspects of quantum mechanics. Furthermore, studies in cognitive science might be understood as undermining the idea that the concept of identity is unproblematic. The main objective of this research project is to evaluate the received view of identity in light of these challenges. To achieve this goal, we will systematically investigate and critically discuss the two major kinds of arguments against the received view of identity. Arguments of the first kind question the existence of the relation of identity. Such arguments (to be studied in subproject A1) have been proposed in the philosophical literature on identity, in particular in the metaphysical literature. They are also suggested by contemporary physics, in particular by the quantum mechanics of indiscernible particles (that will be studied in subproject B1). The second kind of arguments (to be studied in subproject A2) questions not the existence of the identity relation, but rather its claim to fundamentality. Besides the philosophical literature, an important source of this kind of argument are studies in cognitive science which appear to provide reasons for denying to identity the status of a fundamental concept (to be studied in subproject B2) To pursue these aims and achieve the overall goal of the project, we will study the relevant literature in philosophy, physics, and cognitive science. We will analyse and develop arguments explicitly made or merely suggested therein. We will test these arguments by drawing on methods from logic, semantics, and conceptual analysis-the construction of relevant thought experiments and counterexamples. As the main result of the project, we expect to either vindicate the received view that identity is simple, unproblematic, and explanatorily fundamental, or to make a case against this view based on the results of the project. The project outcomes will be important to the many discussions and theories in philosophy that explicitly or implicitly rely on identity, and may prove interesting to researchers from other disciplines like cognitive science, whose work touches on identity or closely related notions.