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Evans on Identification-Freedom

From: Canadian Journal of Philosophy
Volume 37, Number 4, December 2007
pp. 605-618 | 10.1353/cjp.2008.0003

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

I Introduction

Gareth Evans' account of Identification-freedom (IF), which he develops in Chapters 6 and 7 of The Varieties of Reference (henceforth VR) is almost universally misunderstood. Howell is guilty of this same misunderstanding, and as a result claims to have mounted a criticism of Evans, when in fact he has not. I will take the occasion of Howell's otherwise insightful article to clarify Evans' position. Note that the bulk of Howell's analysis is targeted at the phenomenon known as immunity to error through misidentification (IEM), which is related to but not (necessarily) identical to IF. Therefore, the accuracy of Howell's treatment of Evans in particular is tangential to the main thrust of his article. My exegesis of Evans' account — like any non-trivial exegesis — goes somewhat beyond anything Evans overtly says. That Evans did not explicitly put the pieces together in the way I suggest they fit no doubt contributes to the widespread misunderstanding of his views. But I am confident that once my interpretation is on the table it will be post hoc obvious that it really is the correct interpretation Evans' account.

II A rough definition if IF, and two versions of a criterial test

Near the end of Chapter Six of VR, Evans points out that his account of demonstratives has as a consequence that in normal circumstances demonstrative judgments — such as that book is red (made in appropriate circumstances) — are IF. To a rough first approximation Evans means by this that in the normal case such a judgment is reached in a way that does not involve any distinct identity judgment. An example of an identification-dependent (ID) judgment would be my judgment my golf ball is dirty, made when I see a dirty golf ball in the bushes that I take to be mine. In this case, from the demonstrative judgment that golf ball is dirty and the identity judgment that golf ball is my golf ball, I arrive at the ID judgment my golf ball is dirty. Because this judgment is made in part on the basis of an identity judgment, it can turn out to be in error if the identity judgment is false. If the ball I am looking at is in fact not my ball, my judgment that my golf ball is dirty will have fallen to an error of identification. But in the IF case, my demonstrative judgment that, say, that book is red (when made in the normal way — e.g. looking directly at a red book in good lighting conditions) does not rest on any intervening identity judgment.

Evans articulates a criterial test to determine whether a judgment is IF:

… a judgement is identification-free if it is based upon a way of knowing about objects such that it does not make sense for the subject to utter 'Something is F, but is it a that is F?,' when the first component expresses knowledge which the subject does not think he has, or may have, gained in any other way.

(VR, 189-90)

So when I see the golf ball in the bushes, I can coherently wonder: something is dirty, but is it my golf ball that is dirty? However, it seems to not make sense for me to wonder, of the book I can plainly see in front of me: something is red, but is it that book that is red?

Because it is couched in terms of identification-free judgment, the form of Evans' test, and his discussion generally, unhelpfully elides two separate issues. The first is what I will call the purely psychological aspect of IF, which has to do with whether a certain kind of psychological episode — what I will call a thought-attempt or judgment-attempt (a judgment is a thought that is held true) — is identification-free. The second is Evans' doctrine that some types of thoughts are object-dependent in that there are conditions that must obtain in order for certain sorts of thought-attempts to qualify as thoughts. And so an identification-free judgment is, for Evans, something that both i) is a psychological episode that is IF; and ii) is a psychological episode that...

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