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Strawson: Part 1

1 We have a certain conceptual scheme of the world. We think of the world as occupied by
independently exiting particular things and events about which we can talk and think about. Strawsons
goal is to exhibit the general and structural features of this conceptual scheme. The overarching project
is to show that bodies are basic in our conceptual scheme. The central idea to keep and mind and
around which everything revolves is that the identification of things of all sorts rests at bottom on our
ability to identify bodies.

2 We need some way that we can place or locate particulars into our own general picture of the

When is it that we know that something has been successfully identified? When the particular
being referred to or thought about is identical to some particular which the individual knows
an individuating fact about, a fact which is true of one and only one particular.

For Strawson, certain theoretical possibilities give us an idea as to the structure of our conceptual
scheme. Can we plausibly claim that there is a single system of relations in which each has a place, and
which includes whatever particulars are directly locatable? 22. For Strawson, that system is the
spatiotemporal system. Within the system of spatiotemporal relations, not only is every particular
uniquely related to one another within the framework, it is necessarily true that they are. Perhaps not
all particulars are in both time and space. But it is at least plausible to assume that every particular
which is not, is uniquely related in some other way to one which is. 23.

Strawson holds certain difficulties with this picture to be merely apparent. The skeptical among us
might be suspicious and claim that no matter how detailed of a description we may offer, we can never
be certain we are providing a truly individuating description. Perhaps there is a reduplication of our
circumstances in an exactly similar portion of the universe? For example, how do we know that there is
not in fact a man qualitatively identical to myself (perish the thought) in a qualitatively identical state of
affairs on a qualitatively identical planet tucked away in some corner of the universe? For Strawson,
even if the universe suffered from various re-duplications, it would still be no obstacle to using
descriptions supplemented with demonstratives to uniquely relate any given particular to our reference

It is a necessary truth that any new particular of which we learn is somehow identifyingly
connected with the framework Each element is uniquely related to every other and hence to
ourselves and our surroundings. It cannot be denied that this framework of knowledge supplies
a uniquely efficient means of adding identified particulars to our stock.24.

3 Not only can we identify things and recognize how things are related, we can recognize one
thing as identical to something we encountered before.

If we are to operate with the spatiotemporal framework then we must be able to re-identify

This is because we cannot observe in a comprehensive fashion the entirety of the framework and cannot
observe any part of it continuously. We get tired and sleep. We get hungry and eat and simply lack a
G*ds eye view. Therefore, operating with the framework relies on distinguishing between qualitative
and numerical identity.

It is the essence of the matter that we use the same framework on different occasions...
Whatever our account may be must allow for discontinuities and limits of observation. 32-33.

The reidentification of places is essentially tied to the reidentification of things. One

requirement for the identity of the material thing is that its existence be continuous in space. There
must be a continuous set of places occupied by the thing we are talking or thinking about. Furthermore,
if there is a single spatiotemporal network there must be an answer to the question of what is the
spatial relation between various places over time. To answer that question one must also be able to
reidentify places. However, according to Strawson the reidentification of places is not independent of
the reidentification of things. Places are defined only by the relations of things So the identification
and distinction of places turn on the identification and distinction of things; and the identification and
distinction of things turn, in part, on the identification and distinction of places. There is no mystery
about this mutual dependence. 37.

4 Is there a class of particulars which are basic insofar as particular identification is concerned?
The way in which we use expressions to identify particulars in many cases suggests that the
identifiability of some classes of particulars is dependent on the identifiability of others. This, together
with the facts about the spatiotemporal framework makes it seem as though there will be some
particulars which are basic. Basic here meaning there would be at least some particulars which it would
not be possible to identify without, nor would they rely on any other kind of particular to make
identifying references to them.

Strawson holds that which particulars are basic can be deduced from the general character of
the conceptual scheme itself.
Note: We must be careful to distinguish this from a metaphysical thesis. Even if material bodies
were strictly speaking ontologically basic in the sense that events or processes just were
changes in bodies, this would not be sufficient for his purposes. Basic here is basic for the
purposes of identification, having to do with thought and communication.

5 What particulars can we rule out? There are cases where reference to a certain kind of
particular must be supplemented by reference to another kind of particular. For example, private
particulars such as sense data are dependent on the class of particulars persons. Contra Russell, they
cannot be basic because individuating them ultimately relies on identifying the persons to whom they

This brings up an important point for Strawson. Since our framework is spatiotemporal, whatever
the basic particulars are, they must have a kind of spatiality in order to confer the proper characteristics
on the framework. However, there is spatiality and spatiality.

It is not enough that basic particulars simply be observable.

Afterall, echoing Moore, we can speak of the observability of sense data.

Basic particulars must be public objects of perception, capable of being directly located or
are identifiable without a mediating reference to any other particular. Different people can
quite literally see or hear or feel by contact or taste or smell the same objects of these kinds.

6 Even at that, simply because it is possible for something to be directly located without relying on
reference to any other kind particular does not by itself tell us that such a thing is basic. There is a
distinction in the realm of publicly perceptible things. There are events and processes and material
bodies. Both processes and events and material bodies can meet the conditions.

Strawson gives a number of cases where particular events or processes are directly locatable
public objects. For example;

Such expressions as That terrible noise, uttered while the noise continues, enable the hearer
directly to locate the particular in question. They involve no reference to any particular at all
Suppose All the flashes and bangs that occurred can be ordered in a single temporal series.
Then, every member of the series could be identified without reference to anything that was
not a member of the series. Thus a directly locatable sequence for a speaker hearer pair at a
certain time would be a series which was going on at that time or had just ceased at that time
and all the members of which were audible to both members of the pair. 47

Though there are cases where events and processes are directly locatable or locatable in such a way
as to make no reference to any other kind of particular, these are highly restricted cases. The limitation
of states and processes and events is that they fail to deliver the kind of consistency required for a
stable framework. There is a definite practical limitation here. Not every event or process will be such
that we can referentially identify it without reference to any other kind of particular. For example, if I
ask you if you heard the loud thunder last night how else do we determine that we in fact heard the
same thing? Apparently, we will make use of the settings surrounding events and processes e.g. the
body or bodies undergoing or taking part. This is especially salient in regards to possibly simultaneous
events. Furthermore, there is serious question as to whether every directly locatable event or process
and directly locatable sequences could be coordinated in such a way as to uniquely individuate a given
particular. There is no reason to suppose that any such series which any one person was able to make
use of for identificatory purposes would be identical with any similar series which any other person was
able to make use of for these purposes. 49. Our practice reflects this practical consideration as we are
more often than not not in a position to place an event or process in a directly locatable sequence and
simply identify them by reference to a particular of a different kind. Lastly, there will be a large amount
of events and processes which are necessarily dependent on other particulars bodies because they are
events or processes which happen to or things which bodies do or undergo.

7 Most importantly, it is not that we have a certain conceptual scheme with which we run into
problems of identification and so then look to a class of things which can resolve the problem.

The very reason the question of identification can come up at all is because material bodies are
basic. Quite cryptically, It is only because the solution is possible that the problem exists. 40.

Identification and reidentification rests on locating a given particular in a unified spatiotemporal

The only things which can constitute the framework are those which give it its fundamental
spatiotemporal characteristics. For Strawson, it follows from this that the basic particulars must
be temporally subsistent material bodies.
Whereas events and processes satisfy the criteria of identification and reidentification only in
special circumstances, it is simply the normal condition of material bodies that they satisfy these
conditions. They stand to produce a framework of reference in which any constituent can be
identified without reference to a particular of another type. The fundamental condition of
identification about dependence on alien types- viz. the forming of a comprehensive and
sufficiently complex type homogenous framework of reference-is satisfied for the case of
material bodies. 54.
The reidentification of material bodies does not turn on any other particular type. On the other
hand, the criteria of re-identification for other types will at least in part turn on material bodies.
Strawson: Part 2

1 As weve seen the conceptual scheme must meet the criteria of identification and
reidentification. For any scheme, these concepts must be intelligible even where material bodies are not
basic. The chief question now is whether or not it is possible that there could be a conceptual scheme
which recognized or allowed for objective particulars where the basic particulars were not material
bodies? Objective particulars in our scheme have a kind of spatiality in the public sense. More broadly

Objective particulars are those distinguished by thinkers from themselves and their own states
of mind and regarded as at least as possible objects of experience.

2 We must bear in mind that this is not some piece of metaphysical science fiction of possible
worlds. Rather, Strawson is looking for a model which allows us to explore the logical or conceptual
relations between bodies and identification.

How far can we break the connections of certain central concepts with each other and with
certain types of experience without seeming to destroy those concepts altogether? 63.

He suggests that we ask whether or not there is a scheme which provides for a system of objective
particulars which is non-spatial. He finally settles on asking whether or not a being whose experiences
were purely auditory could have a conceptual scheme which provided for objective particulars?

3 Reidentifiability appears central to any framework which could provide or allow for objective
pariculars. Whether or not there can be re-identifiable sound particulars is intimately tied to the
question of whether a being whose experience was purely auditory (i.e. did not work with the
spatiotemporal framework where material bodies are basic) could make sense of the distinction
between themselves and their states and something not themselves or states of themselves. For
Strawson, if such a being could make such a distinction it would entail the possibility of re-identifiable
sound particulars. In order to have a conceptual scheme which allowed one to make such a distinction
would be to have a conceptual scheme in which things occupying the framework are logically
independent of ones existence and states. It would thereby be a conceptual scheme where it would be
at least logically possible for such things to exist whether or not they are being observed. The limits on
observational capacity, like in our own scheme would presuppose the ability to re-identify in order to
have such a framework.

We must remember that objective particulars have a kind of publicity, capable of being directly
located or are identifiable without a mediating reference to any other particular by different
individuals. This will roughly entail that normal hearers will roughly hear the same thing and what is
heard will be related in various ways to roughly the same setting and have the same causal source. We
can imagine a case of Beethovens Symphony No 3 Eroica being played simultaneously in two different
concert halls. The individuals hear the same famous opening chords but different particular instances of
them. This is determined to be so because the surroundings of the source of those sounds differ. To
have an intelligible concept of the publicity of sound we must make intelligible something like the idea
of identical surroundings and public auditory object in purely auditory terms. But it is precisely the
possibility of public sounds, and a purely auditory world that is in question. 68. No begging the
4 We must also answer whether or not we can find room for the concepts of identifiable objective
particulars at all. One might think that we could use audible continuity or discontinuity to distinguish
between sound particulars. However it is difficult to see how something so simple could get us beyond a
kind of Heraclitean flux.

But could there be identifiable, in the sense of re-identifiable sound particulars?... Of course
sounds could be re-identified if sounds is taken in the sense of universals or types But what
sense could be given to the idea of identifying a particular sound is the same again? 70.

We can see the difficulty of distinguishing between distinct particulars in the orchestra case. We can
imagine that the opening notes of the two performances of Eroica are qualitatively indistinguishable in
addition to their being simultaneous. How is it that we distinguish one from the other? We cannot in this
case say I was at Carnegie Hall, what about you? Alternatively, consider the following analogy.
Suppose were trying to identify whether or not an entire piece of music is identical with another. You
hear Eroica on NPR for example. The dial is moved around for a bit finally settling on a station and you
hear what appears to be a later part. How is it that we reidentify and establish that the later parts are in
fact a part of the same symphonic performance. We must have a criterion for distinguishing between
reappearance on one hand and the appearance of something qualitatively identical on the other.

5 Most importantly, this brings out the connection between a re-identifiable particular and the
idea of the continued existence of a particular while it is not being observed.

Certain important points emerge... The connection between the idea of a re-identifiable
particular the idea of the continued existence of a particular while it is not being observed. 70.

We might think of a discontinuous sound, which we deemed to be a part of one in the same particular
(such as in the case of hearing Eroica on the radio) as a drowned out. Strawson warns us not to draw too
heavily from our familiar world.

Where are these particulars housed when not observed?

This leads us back to our own world. What feature of our world allows for the idea particulars existing
continuously in the absence of observation? It is the spatial system. Things have a place in and move
throughout a system of interrelated things in a system which extends beyond our observational powers.
The sense in which the sound of a tree falling in the forest exists in spite of my not hearing it consists the
fact that there is a place where the sound can be heard by (mostly) anyone. If you or I were there we
would hear the sound.

By particulars occupying the unseen dimension provided by space, it makes sense that they exist
beyond us and so make sense that they may be re-identified.

6 The question then turns to whether or not we can provide an analogy of space in the auditory
world where particulars can be analogously housed. To establish a spatial analogy, Strawson looks to the
properties of sound. We imagine the sound of a certain timbre and loudness heard continuously. This is
what Strawson calls the master sound. The analogy of moving about space is provided by variance in
this sounds pitch. Other sounds are heard in the context of or are related to the master sound.
Variations in the master sound are correlated with variations in other sounds. For instance, when the
master sound is at pitch A, a sound particular is heard at a particular level of loudness. As the master
sound moves from pitch A to pitch B the particular decreases in loudness.

The pitch of the master sound provides us with an analog of position and so we can in a way
possibly conceive of the auditory world as containing particulars which, while unheard, might be
audible at other positions relative to the master sound. For example, we hear an instance of sound 1 at
position A on the master sound. We move from position A to position B and back to A and hear a later
part of the same sound 1. We thereby might be understood as reidentifying that particular. If we move
from A to B to C and hear sound 1, it is qualitatively identical but a different instance of the same sound.

7 Strawson thinks it unwise to fret over certain skeptical worries. What we cannot consistently
do is accept the scheme which allows for re-identification of sound particulars and then to say that, of
course, particular identity would always be in doubt. 77. As we saw earlier, acceptance of a scheme
presupposes limited capacities of observation. Therefore, discontinuities in observation cannot in and of
themselves be marshaled against the scheme. What is more important for our purposes is what this
draws out of our actual scheme.

Remember that Strawson holds that it is possible to argue as to what the basic particulars are
from the general character of the conceptual scheme itself.

Let us assume that the auditory case is a case of successfully re-identifying without reference to
particulars of another type. Both this and our normal scheme depend on the idea of a dimension where
particulars are thought of as occupying when they are not attended to. (Admittedly it is far from clear
what the dimension could be in the auditory case thereby problematizing the auditory scheme.)

It is the character of this dimension which determines the kind of particulars that can be
reidentified without dependence on particulars of another kind. i.e. the character of this
dimension determines what the basic particulars are. Those which can be independently
reidentified in our scheme are spatial material bodies. I can reidentify you after having turned
my back because there is somewhere you are!

8 Though Strawson takes the analogy to have some preliminary merit, he finds it ultimately
uncompelling. For example, there is no way thus far to distinguish this scheme as one which allows for
the re-identification of sound universals as opposed to particulars. Even though various other objections
may be raised, the problem is ultimately that, There remains a doubt about the meaning of saying that
we have here a possible reinterpretation of the idea of an unperceived and hence re-identifiable
particular. What are the tests for whether it is a possible reinterpretation or not? 81. There is not much
we can go on other than what we intuitively find satisfactory. We may point out certain respects in
which the analogy fails and find ways to improve the analogy but that is it.

The other question which Strawson posed was whether a purely auditory world could yield the
conditions necessary for a non-solipsistic consciousness? How is it that we might construct the scenario
in such a way as to provide for these conditions? We must think of conceptions and features of
ourselves which are essential to a non-solipsistic scheme. We could then try and find analogies within
the auditory world. This question ultimately runs into similar problems as the above. It is not obvious
which of the features are essential nor is it clear whether or not we can know the analogies would be
sufficient reinterpretations.
9 Take home. By what right do I assume the possibility of such types of experience, and such
schemes? My real concern is with our own scheme, and the models of this chapter are not constructed
for the purpose of speculation about what would really happen in certain remote contingencies. They
are models against which to test and strengthen our own reflective understanding of our own
conceptual structure. 86.