Proper Names, Rigidity, and Empirical Studies on Judgments of Identity Across Transformations

Topoi 39 (2):381-388 (2020)
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The question of transtemporal identity of objects in general and persons in particular is an important issue in both philosophy and psychology. While the focus of philosophers traditionally was on questions of the nature of identity relation and criteria that allow to settle ontological issues about identity, psychologists are mostly concerned with how people think about identity, and how they track identity of objects and people through time. In this article, we critically engage with widespread use of inferring folk judgments of identity from study participants’ use of proper names in response to experimental vignettes. We provide reasons to doubt that using this method one can reliably infer judgments of numerical identity over time and transformations. We also critically examine allegedly-Kripkean justification of this method and find it lacking. Merely assuming that names are rigid designators will not help. A study participant’s use of proper names can be taken to track the participant’s identity judgments only if supported by the participant’s belief that names used in the scenario are used rigidly.
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Archival date: 2017-11-21
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