Avoiding Mistaken Identity

Philosophers approach the first question as being about the object’s identity conditions. Roughly put, under what conditions do we say that object 1 and object 2 are the same object? “Same” doesn’t just mean “similar” here. We’re concerned with “same” in the sense of one-and-the-same. Philosophers distinguish between two uses of “identity”—numerical identity, or being one-and-the-same, and qualitative identity, or having the same qualities or properties as one another.

If we’re both following the instructions, my build of set #4842 Hogwarts Castle is qualitatively identical to your build of the same set, but they are not numerically identical (there are two models here, not one). When Emmet Brickowski wonders whether he is the Special, he wonders whether he and the prophesied Special are one-and-the-same (numerically identical), not whether they are two individuals who are similar to one another (only qualitatively identical).

Sometimes we have numerical identity without qualitative identity. Consider the White House (not the LEGO Architecture one, but the one where the president lives). It was initially completed in 1800, but Thomas Jefferson added colonnades in 1801, James Monroe added the Southern portico in 1824, Andrew Jackson added the Northern portico in 1829, William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first oval office in 1909, just to name a few architectural changes to the mansion. We can say that it’s been the (numerically identical) White House all along, yet comparing the 1800 building to the one in 2016, there are many qualitative differences. So we can have numerical identity without qualitative identity. In the same way we can ask whether the original Cuusoo DeLorean is the same model as, or numerically identical to, set #21103, even if they’re not qualitatively identical. If they are the same model, that would explain why Team BTTF deserves creative credit. So are they numerically identical?

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