Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Names, Identity, and Existence

In the discussion on Tuesday, I was reminded of a note I read somewhere a while ago. I believe that a question came up that related identity to a persons or things name - I think that this question can be reversed in an interesting way. That is, if something can not be named, does it exist? There are of course things that are not yet named, because we do not know about them - but once we do, they CAN be named. Is there anything that can exist but cannot be named? Theoretically, there might be things that are never discovered by science - but then can't they be named "those things not discovered"?


  1. Maybe we should replace does the object exist with does it exist in our reality. I think a distinction needs to be made as to a person’s or object’s identity and what we perceive that identity to be, for surely they can be two different things. When we give something a name we are imparting onto it our personal ideas and beliefs. This “naming” is usually based on characteristics we have obtained via our senses. One needs only to think of scientific naming using Latin nomenclature. Someone, based on a fossil bone, perceived the ground shook like thunder when a creature walked and thus we get thunder lizards.
    As an extension of his theory that the senses cannot be trusted, Locke felt that characteristics provided by our senses, such as color, smell, sound, etc were not ‘true’ to the nature of the object/person itself. Therefore if we are to follow the reasoning of Locke that scientific “naming” has no relation to the identity of the object. So according to Locke call it what you will but a name does not relate to the ‘true’ identity of an object/person. It is just another descriptor made up by our fallible senses.
    Yet in a deterministic sense do we not assume our actions have influence on other objects/persons and vice-versa? So again by naming something we are imparting onto it our feelings and beliefs and therefore our naming does have an effect on the object/person going forward.
    Which is right then? Maybe both. Maybe before an object/person becomes part of our reality it has one nature and after it becomes entangled with our reality it has a different nature. So which is the ‘true’ identity? I guess that depends on which is the real reality, and that is easy to determine. For we don’t have to determine it, we can simply make something up, plant a flag, and called it our frame of reference.

  2. I like this thread--Jan and Woody. Thanks for the initial thread, Jan, and thanks for bringing in Locke, Woody--very interesting. Language just describes--it is as fallible as the senses.
    The notion of words pointing to concepts is a good observation. Concepts like Stoicism come into being because it comes onto our radar.
    The history and social construction of color is another good example: Westerners see 7 colors (ROYGBIV); whereas, the Shona culture of Zimbabwe has three colors they call cipsuka, cicena, and citema. The number of colors recognized within cultures is not set, so how many colors exist? --
    As concepts come into being, we assign names to our new perceptions--language is in some way a map or guide to human perception.

    I like looking at Neologisms--new words/new terms---lots of insight into culture and philosophy...
    Here is a link I put up a while back:

  3. Maybe Stoics also thought accepting your fate was not really accepting your fate and giving up but felt it was a way to gain knowledge through a difficult experience. By accepting the physical rigors of servitude one could help to remove the calluses of this world and see things as they truly are. It may simply be another technique of eluding the physical form by overloading the senses instead of depriving them. While this seems absurd it is readily apparent in some Western schools of mysticism and some pre-Columbian American teachings such as the Don Juan’s series’ ‘immaculate oppressor’.
    Another concept that was brought up, and maybe why we have such a difficult time with stoicism, is the similarity of stoicism and Eastern Philosophies. The book of Tao repeatedly discusses the concept of accepting ones lot in life. The first chapter even talks about being free from desires to be able to truly understand the mystery. This seems very inline with stoic beliefs. I believe Buddhism and Taoism both teach that one should be in harmony with ones’ life and surroundings. I think not so much as to alleviate suffering but to get into tune with the cosmic force/spirit from which we all flow. This sounds very similar to the stoic and Native American view of accepting ones fate and the universal spirit that all objects are part of.
    Maybe stoicism is not so much about giving up desires and accepting ones lot in life but going with the flow and living in harmony with the universe. The Eastern parable of the drowning man in the river comes to mind. If you have heard this please bear with me.
    The basic gist of the parable is that two men see and older man in a rapidly moving river. Assuming he is going to drowned they rush along the river trying to pull him out. Then they see him go under in some rapids and not come up. Assuming he is now dead they began to morn until one of the men sees the older man climbing out of the river in a slower spot. They immediately rush to him and ask how he did not die. The older man throws a stick into the water and tells the younger men to watch as the stick bobs up and down, goes under and comes back up. He then tells them it is the nature of the stick to float, so when the river pulls it under it doesn’t fight it simply goes along knowing it will return to its true state at some point. The older man then states we are like the stick and the river is nothing more than our lives. No matter how rough the waters become we should go with the flow knowing at some point we will go back to our true state.
    This brings us back to philosophy in films. When we traditionally think of stoicism we hearken to the great Western actor John Wayne and how his portrayal of the rugged American cowboy became the stereotype for our version of stoicism. However, we should also consider the other stoic icons of the spaghetti Western genre which were mostly based on samurai flicks and their Buddhist and Taoist teachings.