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   Re: Identity

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  • From: Lars Marius Garshol <larsga@ifi.uio.no>
  • To: "'xml-dev@ic.ac.uk'" <xml-dev@ic.ac.uk>
  • Date: 23 Jun 1999 16:29:00 +0200

* Lars Marius Garshol
| You use the term 'denote' in discussing names and identity, but seem
| to ignore the fact that this makes some fundamental assumptions
| about the universe and the web, and it's not immediately obvious
| that these are valid.

* Miles Sabin
| Granted, but my usage and assumptions have quite a respectable
| pedigree ... Russell, Wittgenstein mark 1, lots of contemporary
| analytic philosophers. 

Sure, but that doesn't change anything. I suppose one could claim that
these operate on a higher level than the one I've been arguing on, and
that something is missing before we can move onto this level when
discussing the web.

| This _ought_ to ring alarm bells. If we're arguing about things
| which are live issues amongst present day academic philosophers we
| can be fairly sure that we're not likely to come to a satisfactory
| resolution any time soon ... it might be sensible to try and duck
| the issue altogether.

Well, I've been sticking to Kant/Hume and the Buddhists, none of which
have been alive for the past few centuries. You're the one who's
mucking around with present-day philosophy. :)
* Lars Marius Garshol
| For example, you like to think that the term 'Jupiter' denotes a
| planet, and that this planet is a solid well-defined thing, right?
| Well, it's not obvious that this really is so. You're referring to a
| ball of gas floating in a near-vacuum, but you'd be hard pressed to
| find a precise border where you can say that "Here the near-vacuum
| ends, and Jupiter begins", since the transition from the one to the
| other is so gradual.
* Miles Sabin
| Well, I'm with John on this one. The problem you're hinting at isn't
| anything to do with _identity_ per se, it's to do with what counts
| as (exactly one) object (of a particular kind). 

You're right that I'm arguing about what counts as exactly one object,
but you're wrong that this has nothing to do with identity. In fact,
resolving that issue is in fact the first step in assigning identity,
because it gives you something to assign identity to.
Until the universe has been chopped into pieces there is nothing to
assign identity to, and it seems to me pretty obvious that if we chop
it differently then we're going to have serious trouble agreeing on
the identities of the pieces or even what it is that constitutes

And you might well view Lois' distinction between Superman and Clark
Kent as a failure to chop the universe correctly, rather than as a
failure to correctly assign identities to the people she meets. 

And, anyway, this whole discussion has been resolving exactly what we
mean by identity. To me that is a discussion of how we should chop the

| The kinds of things which are easy are the ones which are relatively
| stable (in some sense or another). 

Not just. Superman is stable, but different choppings of the universe
can leave him and Clark Kent as both one or two objects (and probably
more, if you feel sufficiently perverse).

| The kinds of things which are hard are the ones which can split,
| fuse, pop into and out of existence, and which can persist across a
| rapid turnover of constituents. Social institutions are one example
| of this sort of thing. Web- sites, even individual pages, look
| suspiciously like being another.

These are difficult, I agree, but they're by no means the only cases.
* Lars Marius Garshol
| For example, do these two URLs denote the same resource?
| [snip: two URLs]
| They're not byte-by-byte equal, but there certainly seems to be a
| connection between them. What criteria should a web robot apply to
| decide that they are the same resource?
* Miles Sabin
| I've no idea. And I'm fairly sure that there's no general answer to
| this sort of question. 

Do you agree that this means a failure to provide a good chopping
mechanism for the web?

What I've been arguing is not that answering this is hopeless, but
rather that we have a choice as to how we want to do it. (The original
post describes two ways, and there must be more.)

| But this isn't an issue about *identity*, it's an issue about
| *identification*.

You lost me here. What is the distinction between those two terms to
* Lars Marius Garshol
| In all these cases ('Jupiter' and the web examples) we, humans,
| impose a categorization on the universe we observe into distinct
| objects with identity and it's not really clear that this grouping
| into objects has any independent existence outside our heads.
* Miles Sabin
| Ahh ... well that's controversial ;-)

Sure, but I'm not trying to settle that issue, I'm trying to argue
that we can work our way around it. It doesn't matter if the universe
really is discrete or not, what matters is how we view it.
| I think that you might have a point when it comes to artifacts,
| particularly semantically laden artifacts like web-stites or pages:
| if enough people _believe_ that a fluctuating bunch of pages
| constitute a single site over time, then that's enough to make it
| so.
| I don't think the same applies to Jupiter tho'.

Then let's put Jupiter to rest and argue about web pages. :)

--Lars M.

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    • RE: Identity
      • From: Miles Sabin <msabin@cromwellmedia.co.uk>


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