A Dynamical Approach to Identity and Diversity in Complex Systems

  • John Collier
Part of the Issues in Business Ethics book series (IBET, volume 26)


The subject of this chapter is the identity of individual dynamical objects and properties. Two problems have dominated the literature: trans-temporal identity and the relation between composition and identity. Most traditional approaches to identity rely on some version of classification via essential or typical properties, whether nominal or real. Nominal properties have the disadvantage of producing unnatural classifications, and have several other problems. Real properties, however, are often inaccessible or hard to define (strict definition would make them nominal). I suggest that classification should be in terms of dynamical properties of systems, starting with individual systems rather than classes, and working up by abstractions that fit causal generalities. The advantage of this approach is that individuality is testable and revisable as we come to know more about systems. Another advantage is that if anything is real, then it is the dynamical. Once I have presented this approach in general, I will show that the central concept of dynamical cohesion (the “dividing glue”) is amenable to giving a principled account of individuation as a process, at the same time explaining the origin of diversity. Some other advantages of this approach are presented, including how it can be used as a basis for testable classifications. This last has moral implications, since cohesion at the individual and the social levels, and their interactions, can impinge on proper moral decisions.


Equivalence Relation Entropy Production Identity Relation Unity Relation Modal Identity 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Philosophy and EthicsUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa

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