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On Sameness and Identity A Psychological Study_ Being a Contribution to the Foundations of a Theory of Knowledge

On Sameness and Identity
A Psychological Study_ Being a Contribution to the Foundations of a Theory of Knowledge
Title: On Sameness and Identity A Psychological Study_ Being a Contribution to the Foundations of a Theory of Knowledge
Release Date: 2018-10-01
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Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, On Sameness and Identity, by George StuartFullerton

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Title: On Sameness and Identity

A Psychological Study: Being a Contribution to the Foundations of a Theory of Knowledge

Author: George Stuart Fullerton

Release Date: October 1, 2018 [eBook #57998]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8



E-text prepared by the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
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A list of corrections can be found at the endof the document. The Table of Contents can be found after the main text.







No. II. Studies from the Laboratory of ExperimentalPsychology.

Researches are in progress on: Memory and the LeastNoticeable Difference in Sensation; Measurement in theDiagnosis of Diseases of the Nervous System; The Rate atwhich the Nervous Impulse Travels; The Personal Differencein the Time of Mental Processes; The Rate, Extent, andForce of Movement; Accuracy of Perception as a Function ofthe Time of Stimulation; The Correlation of Mental Time,Intensity, and Extensity; The Relative Value to Science ofExperiment, Observation, and Memory; The Building ofComplex Perceptions; etc.

No. III. Descartes' "Meditations,"

with Latin andEnglish Texts, and Philosophical Analysis.By George Stuart Fullerton and WilliamRomaine Newbold.

Publications of the University of Pennsylvania



Professor of Philosophy

Professor of Psychology.

No. 1.
April, 1890.


A Psychological Study: Being a contribution to the foundations
of a Theory of Knowledge.





On Sameness and Identity.


And some require everything accurately stated; whereas, this accuracy annoys others,either because of their inability to follow a train of reasoning through, or because of its hair-splittingcharacter; for accuracy does involve some hair-splitting.

Aristotle, Metaph. Book I, The Less, c. 3.

Section 1. There are few words the ambiguity of which hasled to more confusion and profitless dispute than that of the wordsame. Men constantly use this word as though it had but onemeaning, and that meaning were always clear, whereas it reallygives expression to a number of widely different experiences,some of which are quite difficult of analysis. It is highly desirablethat these experiences should not be confounded with eachother, but kept clearly separate, as the consequences of suchmisconception are very far-reaching. How far-reaching, I shallin the pages to follow try to indicate.

It is my purpose to point out the differences in connotation ofthe several senses of this highly ambiguous word, to show theelement which they have in common, and to trace some of thedifficulties and absurdities which have sprung from using theword loosely and without proper discrimination. I shall have toplead guilty to something very like hair-splitting, but I may putforward in excuse the undeniable fact that "accuracy doesinvolve some hair-splitting." If anyone prefers the self-contradictionsand preposterous conclusions to which loose and unanalyticthought has so often led the unwary, he is welcome to them.I shall hold a few of these up to inspection after a while. Formy part, I prefer a little quibbling at the outset of a discussion[6]to a systematic incoherence all through it, with the chances offinding myself in a cul-de-sac at the end. Whether I am successfulin dissipating to some degree the fog which has hung aboutsamenesses and obliterated important distinctions, each one mustjudge for himself.

The kinds of sameness I find to be as follows:

Sec. 2. I. We speak of any sensation, feeling, or idea, orcomplex of sensations, feelings, or ideas, as being the same withitself at any one instant. The pain in my finger is what it is atthis moment. The finger itself (the immediate object of knowledge,a complex from sense and imagination) is, at each moment,what it is. It is to this sense of the word that the logical lawsof Identity and Contradiction have ultimate reference.

Sec. 3. II. A sensation, feeling, or idea, or complex of sensations,feelings, or ideas, considered in itself and without referenceto the world of material things, is called the same withone previously existent when the two are alike. I say, forexample, that I feel to-day the same pain I felt yesterday, orthat I have dreamt the same dream three times. This is evidentlynot sameness of the kind first mentioned.

Sec. 4. III. We speak of seeing the same material thing at differenttimes. Suppose a man passing along a country road to lookacross a field at a distant tree. What he actually sees is a smallbluish patch of color, which, interpreting in terms furnished byhis previous experience, he supplements with material drawn frommemory and imagination. On the following day he looks at thetree again from a nearer point and sees a larger green patch ofcolor with distinct differences of shading and with a clear outline.This he interprets in a similar manner.

Now, without being a philosopher at all, and without consciousreference to anything beyond what he has experienced or canexperience, he affirms that he has on two successive days seen[7]the same tree. I ask, just what is the significance of the wordsame as used in this connection? What peculiar experience hasit been employed to mark? What is perceived on the one occasionis not the same as what is perceived on the other in thesense of the word first given (by "perceived" I mean existing inconsciousness as a complex of mental elements. With the supposedexternal correlates of our percepts I am not now concerned).And it is equally clear that two such percepts neednot be the same in the second sense of the word, for they may bequite unlike. In this case they are unlike, so far at least as whatis actually in sensation is concerned.

What peculiar experience then does the word mark when theobserver declares that he has seen the same tree twice?

We are now in the sphere of material objects (i. e., as experienced;I refer to the mental content and nothing more), and arenot concerned with our experiences as isolated elements, but asgrouped and arranged in series. Our total possible experienceof any one object is a collection of partly simultaneous andpartly successive actual and possible sensations which conditioneach other, and which we regard as a unit. The Idealistbelieves that this is all there is of the object, and all we meanwhen we commonly employ the word. The Realist assumesthat there is something beyond and corresponding to this experience,and which is to be regarded as the real thing. He, however,must admit that all we can know of any object, in whateversense we choose to employ that word, all our evidence formaintaining its existence and determining its qualities, must bedrawn from this group of sensations. It is this that we immediatelyknow, and anything inferred must be inferred from this.

From this it follows that when any one, whether Realist, orIdealist, or unreflective man, feels justified in asserting that whathe perceives to-day is the same object he perceived yesterday, he[8]is led to make this assertion on the strength of some distinctionin his immediate experience, and he refers only secondarily, if atall, to anything beyond and external to this. The distinctionwhich he marks by the word is this: He has reason to believethat the two percepts in question belong to the one series,—to theone life history, so to speak. He believes that had he cared todo so he could have filled up the gap between them by a continuousseries of percepts, each conditioned by the preceding, andforming the one chain. Each represents to him the one object,in that each stands for the whole series, and his thought is muchmore taken up with the series as a whole than with the individualscomposing it. He knows that the percepts in such a seriescan only be successive, never simultaneous. Had he reason tosuspect that the two percepts we are discussing belong to differentseries of this kind, and that there is nothing in the natureof the case to prevent their being simultaneous, he would decidefor two trees.

But each percept contains more than one mental element, andjust as we may regard each percept as representing the wholeseries, so we may regard each element as representing the wholecomplex which may be experienced at one time, and through thisthe whole series of percepts. I say that the orange I smell isthe same with the one I see; that I can reveal by striking alight the chair I fell over in the dark; that I hear rattling downthe street the coach I stepped out of a few moments ago. It isnot worth while to distinguish this use from the use of the wordsame just mentioned, for they agree in making a single experiencestand for a whole group or series, which is assumed to beat least potentially present with each one. When we have hadtwo experiences thus representing the one group, we say that wehave in two ways, or on two occasions, experienced the sameobject. In this sense has the man in our illustration seen yesterday[9]and to-day the same tree. In this sense could he at the onetime see and touch the same tree.

It is in this sense also that we use the word when we say thatthe object seen with the naked eye and the object seen througha telescope or under a microscope are the same. If I look at adistant object with the naked eye and then look at it through atelescope, what I actually see (or what is actually in the sense)is in the two cases very different. But just as seeing an objectfrom a distance with the naked eye, I may walk towards it andsubstitute for the dim and vague percept which I first had a seriesof percepts increasing in clearness and ending in one which Iregard as altogether satisfactory, so I may substitute at once thisclear percept for the dim one, by the use of the telescope, andmay know that it properly belongs to the series which, taken asa whole, constitutes my notion of the object. This I may knowfrom the relations which this percept bears to the other perceptsof the series, and which allow me to pass in my inferences fromit to them as I can from any one of them to another. If, seeinga dim object upon the horizon, I raise a telescope and through itperceive the figure of a man, I know that I could have had asimilar percept without any telescope by simply approaching theobject. Conversely, on perceiving a man near at hand, I know Icould have a similar percept from a distance by looking througha telescope. I call the man seen through the telescope the sameas the man seen with the naked eye, for the same reason as I callthe man seen by the eye at a distance the same with the manseen near at hand.

And the apparently non-extended speck which I see with thenaked eye looks very different from the curious insect I

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