Reid’s Imperfect Identity Theory and Theseus’ Ship
February 11, 2013
Dr. Dwayne Moore
Word Count: 1,021
Theseus’ Ship set sail with a cargo of lumber, and each day, Theseus used the lumber to replace parts of the ship. By the time it arrived at its destination, the cargo was empty and all the parts of the ship had been replaced. Was it still the same ship? And if not, at what point did it stop being the same ship? Was it when the first change was made? When Theseus replaced half of the original ship? Would he have had to replace more than half for it to be a different ship? This question and the variety of possible answers has been a topic of great controversy among many philosophers over thousands of years, yet there still has never been agreement on one right answer. So many theories have been used to determine an answer to the problem, and every one has faced praise from some, and academic criticism from others. Thomas Reid’s imperfect identity theory, however, offers the most practical solution to the Theseus’ Ship question.
In Of Identity, Reid stated, “That which has ceased to exist cannot be the same with that which afterwards begins to exist; for this would be to suppose a being to exist after it ceased to exist, and to have had existence before it was produced, which are manifest contradictions” (Moore and Jacobsen, 44). Using this logic towards the Theseus’ Ship example, it would make sense to say that once the first change was made, Theseus’ Ship was no longer the same ship. It’s not possible for the original part of the ship to exist after it’s ceased to exist, nor is it possible for the replacement part to have been in existence before it was ever created. However, Reid’s imperfect identity theory suggests that if an object is changed and there is no persisting identity, but it holds the same qualities and characteristics of the previous object, one can call it the same thing for the sake of convenience. Though Reid hadn’t...
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