The Argument from Difference

Review of Metaphysics 21 (2):244 - 249 (1967)


In the first premiss, how is the word 'different' used? If we are prepared to say that, in certain areas of discourse, the word 'different,' like the word 'same,' has two uses and that there are two senses of the word, there seem to be two ways of interpreting the first premiss. On the one hand, we can take the word 'different' to be used in the way in which it would be used if someone wished to point out that the table that was in this room was replaced by another very similar table and, to point this out, said that the table that is here now is different from—or is a different table from—the one that was here a week ago. If in the first premiss we take the word 'different' to be used in this way, the premiss can be read: "Everything is numerically different from everything else." On the other hand, we can take the word 'different' to be used in the way in which it would be used if someone were to say, about two tables that were in front of him, that one is different from the other, and elaborate on his remark by saying that the one is a darker brown than the other. If we take the word 'different' to be used in this way, the first premiss can be read: "Everything is qualitatively different from everything else." Which of the two interpretations is correct? It seems that both are, for, although Mr. Blanshard purports to be discussing one argument, what he says in reply to Nagel's objections supports the second interpretation; whereas his statement of the argument at the outset supports the first interpretation. When he answers Nagel's objections, he considers the case of two "patches." A is a circular patch on the earth, and B a triangular patch on Mars. Maintaining against Nagel that A and B are internally related, the relation between A and B that he contends is internal is their difference in shape. And the argument that he seems to be defending here would have as its first premiss that everything differs qualitatively from every other thing. Yet, when he presents the argument on p. 229, he seems to have a different argument in mind. To show that two seemingly unrelated things are related, he says that a farmer in Iowa and a ballet dancer in Moscow are "different individuals," and the point that I take him to be making here is that, from the proposition that the farmer in Iowa and the dancer in Moscow are two individuals, it follows that the one is different from the other and hence that the two are related. This favors the first interpretation, viz., that in the first premiss the word 'different' is to be understood as in the remark that the table that is here now is different from—is a different table from—the table that was here a week ago.

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