Difference, Identity and Quantification



Most theorists treat the ‘relation’ of identity as being more fundamental (or basic) than the ‘relation’ of (numerical) difference. Herbert Hochberg suggests, instead, that difference is to be treated as basic. My goal in this paper is to answer two related questions. First, what is it for a theorist to treat difference or identity as basic? Second, which of these two ‘relations’ is to be treated as basic? I begin by outlining four reasons that one might be motivated to endorse the view that difference is to be treated as basic. Based on these reasons, I distinguish three ways of conceiving of what is involved in treating difference as basic: one conception involves the reification of the relation of difference, whereas the other two do not. Finally, I consider the theoretical consequences, particularly as concerns ontological parsimony, of treating difference as basic in these ways. My ultimate position is that there is a sense in which the second question from above is wrongheaded: difference and identity are, so to speak, features of the same ‘ideological apparatus’ (namely, that of quantification), so there is no real decision to be made about which to treat as basic. If this is correct, then the consequences for a theory's ontological parsimony that result from treating difference, identity, or both as basic are just the same as those that issue from the employment of quantification within a theory – namely, one's theory thereby incurs an ontological commitment to things.