Who Do You Think You Are?
Relations, Subjectivity, and the Identity of Persons
St. Anselm College
There are two ways of being lost: (1) You can have no map and be ignorant of the lay of the land around you. (2) You can also be lost even though you have a perfect map and detailed knowledge of the layout of the surroundings. You can be unaware of where on the map you are, uncertain as to where, on your objective picture of the surroundings, you are located. (Hence, there are usually little arrows on most public maps saying "You are here." )
As Charles Taylor (Taylor 1989) has pointed out, these two ways of being lost reflect two different problems of personal identity: what I will call the problems of objective identity and subjective identity. The problem of objective identity (having no map) is the problem of forming an adequate objective conception of oneself. Most of the traditional literature on personal identity deals with this problem, proposing various of our attributes, such as memory, the state of the brain, or the soul as providing adequate objective accounts of our identity over time. Popular statements about "finding oneself" also deal with this problem: What is wanted is an adequate objective account of who one is that will make sense of one's situation. This is not the problem that I will deal with in this paper. In fact, I will argue that it is impossible to give an adequate objective account of identity.
This paper deals with the problem of subjective identity (not knowing where on the map you are). I will be considering cases in which, even though one has an adequate objective conception of the world, one can be at a loss as to which of the persons in this objective picture is you. You and five other people put you hands in a pile in the center of the table, and, looking at the mass of hands in the center of the table, you wonder "which of those hands is mine?" You are at the department store with your family, and you see the tops of your heads in the security video camera and ask "Which of those heads is me?" In this paper I will consider the problem of subjective identity and the problems it raises for our general understanding of personal identity as well as the implications it has for our understanding of objectivity and of the role of objective identity.
In particular, I will argue for three distinct theses: (1) Narrow Thesis: There can be no adequate objective account of personal identity. That is, there is more to identity than objective identity. Subjective identity cannot be reduced to any objective account. (2) Broad Thesis: A necessary component of personal identity (and, indeed, of any type of identity) is perspective (where perspective is defined as the total concrete set of relations an object has to its environment). The perspective or set of concrete relations which defines identity is not reducible to the objectively conceived content of those relationships. (3) Very Broad Thesis: An understanding of the notion of subjective identity and the related notion of perspective has important implications for our understanding of objectivity and subjectivity, as well as for our views of objective identity and the relative precedence of essence and existence and their roles in the determination of our identity. In particular, I will argue that a correct understanding of the roles of essence and perspective in determining identity will reveal (a) that there are fundamental problems in standard accounts of objectivity, in particular those explained most clearly by Thomas Nagel (1974, 1979, 1986), and (b) that, in different ways, it is correct to say both that essence precedes existence and that existence precedes essence in the determination of identity.
Before I begin, I should explain the meanings I will attach to two of the key terms in the above theses. I will be using the term objective in a non-standard way. Since one of my theses is that Nagel's account of objectivity is mistaken, I will argue for this new usage later. The term objective in the narrow thesis is to be understood as including any of the possible objects or contents of our experience described in terms of qualities or properties, whether they be physical and public, internal and private, or immaterial. I will also use the term essence in a non-standard way to refer to some set of these properties or qualities that is taken to define the identity of a thing. Hence, essence, in my usage, will refer to an account of the objective identity of a thing.
In order to understand the main thesis that perspective, and not merely essence or objective identity, is a necessary component of identity, we need to consider exactly what is meant by perspective in this context. By the perspective of a thing, I mean the unique set of concrete relations to the objects that comprise that thing's environment. A spatial metaphor may make this clearer. A point in space is defined by the set of spatial relations it has to all other points and objects in its environment. If the only relations to be considered are spatial, then we can call this set of relations to all other objects the perspective of that point. Note that the point is defined by its perspective, or set of relations, not by its content, or what occupies that point. This metaphor is useful in visualizing the distinction I intend to draw between the perspective of a thing (the unique set of concrete relations the thing bears to all other objects) and its essence (the set of objectively conceived properties that describe each of these relations and through which we describe the object). Understood in this way, my thesis might be restated as the claim that the identity of a thing is not defined merely by a set of objective properties, but also by the concrete set of relations that the object has to all other things, and that this set of relations, the perspective, is not reducible to any set of properties that the object has.
I will begin my consideration of the problem of subjective identity by looking at some contemporary arguments against the possibility of giving an objective account of identity. I will consider arguments by Daniel Dennett, Derek Parfit, and John Perry along with an argument of my own. I will then look at Thomas Nagel's analysis of the problem of subjective identity and his notion of the objective self and contrast it to the solution that I propose.
Can There Be an Objective Account of Identity?
The arguments that follow involve cases where the identity of a person seems to be independent of any of the objectively describable properties that can be ascribed to the person. The thought experiments I will consider by Daniel Dennett, Derek Parfit, and John Perry were not originally intended to address the problem of subjective identity. Hence, while the examples are theirs, the arguments that I will attach to them should not be attributed to these thinkers.
Daniel Dennett's "Where am I?": (Dennett 1978)
Part 1: Where am I and Where did I go?: Our identity is tied to our particular perspective on the world, but this is only accidentally connected with any of our objective features.
Dennett describes a fictional situation where he must go underground in Oklahoma to retrieve a warhead which gives off radiation which is deadly to the brain, but which is harmless to other parts of the body. It is decided that he must leave his brain behind. His brain is removed, placed in a vat in Houston, and fitted with thousands of tiny radio transmitters which maintain the connections of his brain to his nervous system. He still is able to perceive through his senses and control his body. The increased time lapse caused by the greater distance between his brain and his body is only noticeable when he engages in activities that require great hand-eye coordination, such as hitting a baseball. The first question that occurs to him is "Where am I, in the vat where my brain is, or where my body is?" He finds it most natural to imagine himself as located where his body and its point of view are located. He even points out that if he were to locate himself where his brain is, his body would be able to commit crimes with impunity. They could imprison his brain, but his body would still enjoy freedom. At last he (his body) travels to Oklahoma and heads underground to retrieve the warhead. As he is working he suddenly loses his hearing. Something is going wrong with the radio links between his brain and his body. His voice and control of his muscles fail as well, and then his eyesight disappears too. He is stuck, deaf, dumb, and blind, underground in Oklahoma. But then, as the last of the radio links to his body is severed, he finds that he is back in Houston, a disembodied brain. Dennett uses this amazing transfer to provide a (tongue in cheek) argument for the immateriality of the soul. Instantaneously, he went from being deaf, dumb, and blind in Oklahoma to being disembodied in Houston. No material entity made this trip, hence whatever it is that moved from Oklahoma to Houston must be an immaterial thing.
There are three separate morals that can be drawn from this story: (a) Our identity is tied to the particular perspective from which we perceive and are related to the world, not the content of those perceptions. Dennett finds it most natural to identify himself as being where his body is, because that is the center of the set of relations that defines his view of the world, not because that is what is most closely connected with the content of his perceptions. It is his brain that is the subject of the content of those perceptions. His body simply determines the point of view from which he perceives the world. (b) The connection of a perspective to any objectively describable object is only accidental. Dennett's perspective was not necessarily tied to his body. Once his body ceased being the center of the relations which tied him to the world, his perspective, and his identity, switched back to his brain in Houston. (c) Dennett's tongue in cheek argument for the immateriality of the soul can be adapted as an argument that no objectively describable state of affairs can define identity. Dennett's identity moved from Oklahoma to Houston. No objectively describable object made the trip. Hence, his identity is not determined by any objectively describable thing.
Part 2: Which one is me, and how many of us are there?: Objective features can be duplicated without duplication of identity, and identity over time is related to continuity of perspective.
As if the first part of the story was not bizarre enough, Dennett wakes up from his disembodied state to find that he has been provided with another body, connected by radio transmitters to his brain as before. Although at first the new body seems strange, Dennett soon gets used to it and accepts it without any change in his identity. During a visit to his brain in the laboratory, Dennett makes a disturbing discovery. The scientists have made an exact duplicate of the contents of his brain on a computer. The computer is also fed the signals that are sent, via the radio signals, from Dennett's (new) body. This copy is so exact that it exactly duplicates, with split second synchronicity, the exact perceptions, thoughts, feelings, decisions, and actions that Dennett's brain is going through. In fact, the scientists have rigged up a switch which can transfer the control of the body (now hooked up to the brain in the vat) to the computer. Dennett flicks the switch, transferring the control of his body to the computer. He notices no change in his feelings, perceptions, or in his (apparent) control over his body. The computer is completely synchronized and identical to his brain and its activities. He concludes that this spare brain (as he calls it) is no threat to his identity and that there is still only one Dennett. He even removes the markings on the switch that tell him whether the brain or the computer is in control of his body. He continues, confident in his essential Dennettness, oblivious to the real objective source of his ideas, emotions, and actions. Dennett flicks the switch from time to time to ensure that the brain and the computer are still in sync. Once, when he does this, instead of the usual sameness, a new voice appears saying "THANK GOD! I THOUGHT YOU'D NEVER FLIP THAT SWITCH! ... About two weeks ago our two brains drifted out of synch.... In no time at all the illusion that I was in control of my body--our body--was completely dissipated.... It's been like being carried around in a cage ... hearing my own voice say things I didn't mean to say, watching in frustration as my own hands performed deeds I hadn't intended." (Dennett 1978, p. 229)
Again, there are three things to notice about this part of the story: (a) Dennett claims that it doesn't matter to his identity which of his two brains is in control of his body. The perspective provided by his body is the same in either case. (b) More importantly, there are two distinct objectively describable objects, the brain and the computer, yet there is only one Dennett. If there can be two objectively describable objects and one identity, identity cannot be determined by the objective entities alone. (c) the two identities diverge only when there is a divergence of perspective. The two brains with the same contents comprise one identity until they go out of synch. Then, even though they retain the same memories, personality, and mind, they become different persons as the perspectives, or sets of relations they bear to the world, diverge.
Parfit's Star Trek Examples: A set of common examples made famous by Derek Parfit (Parfit 1984) make some of the key features of the second part of Dennett's example even clearer. They show that any objectively described entity can be duplicated. All objective properties are universal. Objectively identical beings given diverse perspectives become different:
Imagine a transporter that functions the way the transporters on Star Trek do. They make a complete record of the physical structure of a body down to every detail of its subatomic structure. They then destroy the original body, transfer the information about it to a new location, and then reconstruct a new body, identical in every way to the old one. It is assumed that this process leaves one's identity unchanged and that you would still be the same person if you were transported in this manner. Parfit points out that this intuition is undermined if the original body is not destroyed and two identical bodies are left after the transport. He points out that if you were transported and the machine that destroys your old body malfunctioned, the old you would not be consoled if it were told not to worry, that a copy of you is now on Mars with your wife, and that they were now going to destroy you, as had been originally planned. As soon as the two identical bodies occupy different places and their histories diverge, their identities diverge as well.
The two morals of this story are similar to the second part of Dennett's: (a) A problem with claiming that identity is determined by some objective set of properties is that any such set of properties is universal. It is at least theoretically possible that these properties could be duplicated, violating our intuition that identity is unique, that there can only be one of us. No two perspectives, or set of relations to everything else in the world, can be identical in this way. (b) Two objectively identical beings, the two bodies, become different persons as soon as they occupy different perspectives, that is, as soon as they take up different sets of relations to the rest of the world.
Perry's Essential Indexical: A less bizarre example given by John Perry (Perry 1979), in a context not directly related to personal identity, also supports the position that identity cannot be reduced to any set of objective properties. He argues that no objective proposition (one without an indexical) exhausts the meaning of the word I .
Perry describes himself as walking in a supermarket pushing a cart. He notices a trail of sugar on the ground. He surmises that someone has a hole in their bag of sugar and is unknowingly making a sugar trail as they shop. Being a good-hearted soul, Perry decides to find the offender and tell them they have a hole in their sugar bag. He sets off, following the trail of sugar. After going in a circle around the same aisle a number of times, Perry comes to the realize this proposition: 'I am the one who's making a mess'. He argues that there is no proposition without an indexical that can capture the content of the belief he had when he stopped chasing the sugar trail. It cannot simply be the proposition 'John Perry is making a mess' or 'The philosopher from Stanford is making the mess', for if you were to believe these propositions you would not check your bag of sugar unless you also believed 'I am John Perry' or 'I am the philosopher from Stanford'.
The moral here is straightforward. No objective description of who we are exhausts our identity. Our identity is essentially tied to a particular perspective, and we associate our identity with certain objective properties only because of the habitual connection between these properties and our perspective. No description of where we are on the objective map of the universe describes our identity unless it includes the knowledge that "You are here, at the location specified by the objective description." But this knowledge cannot be reduced to any objective description; it is indexical, i.e., indexed to a particular perspective.
Who Do You Think You Are?: One last example, which again involves a foray into the bizarre, will complete our list of arguments for the irreducibility of subjective identity. Imagine that you are abducted by some devious torturer and awake to find yourself incapable of viewing the world in the normal way through your eyes and bodily senses. Instead, your only perception is a visual view of five people lined up against a wall, each with various wires and electrodes leading to their head. None of the people look in the least familiar. You hear a voice which informs you that one of the people you are viewing is you, is the body that is keeping you alive, and has the brain in which your thoughts are taking place. (Obviously, your captor has either erased your memory of your body, or changed it, since none of the bodies looks familiar.) The voice further informs you that it will be happy to provide you with any objective information about the world you like. He will allow you to examine the bodies more closely, and to look at records of their histories, or to examine the micro-structure of their brains. He will give you any information you like, except any that necessarily involves a view or perspective that is obviously connected to one of these bodies you see. Hence you cannot see the world through your eyes or bodily senses. The voice then asks the obvious question: "Well, who do you think you are?" I submit that there would be no way of telling which of these bodies you were. This is true for the same reasons that applied in the above examples: (1) There is no necessary connection between the view or perspective which you have (and which defines your identity) and any objective properties. Hence you might note correlations between events in the brain of one of the people and your thoughts, but there is no reason to assume that this event in the brain is you, is what has your perspective. (Your captor may have linked your brain to the other brains as well so that they are all correlated.) (2) Any objective features you have can be duplicated (if we assume our devious captive is clever enough). They are universal properties. Any feature you might identify as showing who you were might be duplicated in all of the bodies by your captor.
Of course there are various ploys that one might try to determine who one was: (1) The action ploy: Suppose you convince your captor to allow you to regain some measure of control over your body. You might think you could determine who you were by seeing who moved the way you decide to. Say you decide to move your arm. You watch, with anticipation, to find out who you are, and, to your surprise, none of the people move their arms, but all move their legs. There is no necessary connection between your acts of willing and their objectively observable result. And even if there were, your captor could reproduce these objective results in all five bodies. It should be noted that the force of the argument does not depend on the lack of any necessary connection between mental and physical properties (See Nagel 1974). (Recall that I am using objective to refer to any contents of experience, including private ones.) (2) The subjective character ploy: Imagine that your captor allows you to hook into (through some device) the subjective character of experience associated with each body. You are overjoyed, thinking that you will surely be able to tell who you are by comparing the subjective character from each body with what you feel. To your dismay, you discover that none of the bodies has a subjective character of experience indistinguishable from yours. (Your captive has obviously altered the way your subjective experience arises.) As if that weren’t bad enough, persons three and four are indistinguishable. The subjective character of our experience also involves properties that are only accidentally connected to our perspective and which are universal and can be duplicated.
Solutions to the Problem of Subjective Identity:
What Are You If Don't Know Who You Are?
The answer to the above question is, obviously, that there is no objective set of properties that are what you are. An essential part of your identity is your perspective, the sum total of the relations you bear to the rest of the universe, your place in the world. The sum total of these relations obviously has some effect on the properties that are connected with you, but it is not reducible to these properties. Perspective determines the set of objective properties that comprise the content of that perspective, but it is not exhausted by that content. The way the content of each of the individual relations that make up a perspective will be combined to make a unique subject is not determined by their individual contents, but by the way they are combined with the other relations that make up that perspective. Identity necessarily involves both perspective and some set of objective properties determined by that perspective (call these properties essence). Note that perspective necessarily involves essence, but essence in itself is universal and cannot determine a unique individual. Hence, a particular object requires perspective. To be is to be a perspective (among other things).
Let us compare this solution of the problem of subjective identity to that proposed by Thomas Nagel (Nagel 1983, 1986), one of the few philosophers to deal explicitly with the problem of subjective identity. Nagel breaks the problem up into two questions: (1) How can TN be me? and (2) How can I be (merely) TN? TN here refers to an objective picture of the properties that make up Thomas Nagel; it is the component of our objective picture of the universe that we identify with Thomas Nagel.
The first of these problems (How can TN be me?) is closest to the problem we have been discussing. The objective description of TN seems incomplete:
. . . how can a particular person be me? Given a complete description of the world from no particular point of view, including all the people in it, one of whom is Thomas Nagel . . . something absolutely essential remains to be specified, namely which of them I am. (Nagel 1986, p. 54)
Hence, the first question is how can an objective set of properties be me, since it does not and cannot contain the fact that I am specially connected to those properties.
The second of these questions (How can I be, merely, TN?) plays the greatest role in determining Nagel's solution to the problem of subjective identity. It is the problem of how I, who am capable of forming in my mind an objective picture of the world (a picture that includes TN), be merely a small part of this picture. I am the subject of an objective view that contains TN; how can I be TN? This is somewhat similar to the puzzlement one might feel upon looking into the mirror and wondering how that thing in the mirror, which is merely an object in my consciousness, which I can make disappear by closing my eyes, can be me.
For Nagel, the meaning of the term I in these queries is the objective self: the subject of the centerless conception of the universe that we form when we look at things objectively:
The picture is this. Essentially I have no particular point of view at all, but apprehend the world as centerless. As it happens, I ordinarily view the world from a certain vantage point, using the eyes, the person, the daily life of TN as a kind of window. But the experiences and the perspective of TN with which I am directly presented are not the point of view of the true self, for the true self has no point of view and includes in its conception of the centerless world TN and his perspective among the contents of that world. It is this aspect of the self which is in question when I look at the world as a whole and ask, "How can TN be me? How can I be TN?" (Nagel 1986, p. 61)
Nagel's solution to what I have called the problem of subjective identity is not subjective at all. It is what he calls the objective self. It is the subject of a view from nowhere in particular, which can contain within itself a true objective characterization of any object, and, hence, cannot be exhausted by any particular objective account. It is the self as the subject of general and immaterial knowledge. The idea that the self that knows is separate from the material self and the self that feels is one with a long and venerable history stretching back at least to Plato, but I shall argue that it is not the solution to the problem of subjective identity, and is, in fact, based upon a mistaken model of objectivity.
Subjective and Objective
I will first deal with the objective self as a solution to the problem of subjective identity, before I pass on to a discussion of the very notions of objectivity and subjectivity themselves. The first problem with Nagel's solution is that it simply does not solve the problem: The objective self is not a self; it is too objective. While it is certainly too big to be contained in any one objective picture of an object, it is certainly not what makes me me. It is not what makes a particular part of my objective picture of the world the one that is me. The objective self of every person who sees things truly is identical. The objective self is a notion of the world soul or Absolute Spirit, not a notion of personal identity.
The second problem is that the picture Nagel presents of the objective self is just false. There is no special subject of our objective conceptions of the world besides ourselves. There is no multiplicity of subjects within human experience. This view seems to be the result of a Cartesian 'Mind's Eye' model of perception and conception. The subject of our experience is not a perspectiveless Mind's Eye which peers from the depths into the particular perspective and the images and ideas that comprise our mind. To see why this is so, we need to broaden our discussion to consider Nagel's conception of objectivity.
Nagel defines subjectivity as the internal, the private, the personal, what it is like to be a thing. (Nagel 1974, 1979, 1986) He defines objectivity in terms of stepping outside of this limited point of view to gather other points of view. The subjective involves one or few points of view. The objective involves many or all (or no) point of view. Note the diversity of points of view involved in subjectivity and objectivity. We step outside of ourselves to view the world more truly, and, hence, the particular perspective from which we start is inessential to the self that knows. Note also that the “stepping outside of oneself” metaphor implies a different subject. But this metaphor of stepping out of oneself into a centerless point of view is not apt: Objectivity does not involve leaving one's own point of view behind. If it did, objectivity would be impossible. You can't be inside and outside yourself at the same time. (Of course, pointing out this fact has been a favorite argument of skeptics eager to disprove the possibility of objectivity, so defined.) I cannot, here, provide a rigorous argument that the model of objectivity so lucidly described by Nagel is mistaken. I will, however, attempt to articulate an alternative model.
To be a subject is to be the subject of a set of concrete causal relations to one's environment. To be a subject is to be the locus of a perspective. The subjective has to do with those aspects of an object that have to do with its status as a subject. To be an object is to be a particular content for a subject. The objective has to do with the particular properties or qualities a thing has as the content of a particular perspective. In the terms used earlier, the subjective has to do with perspective and the objective with essence. What we normally try to capture in terms of the number of perspectives taken into account is the particularity or the generality of the objective account we have of other things (subjects).
To perceive a thing in the way Nagel calls subjective is to perceive it through universal properties that are determined specifically by your perspective. The reason why what Nagel calls objectivity is taken to be connected with truth is because it involves seeing things in terms of universal qualities that are not determined by our perspective. We can talk about the distinction between the objective and the subjective in a way that is relevant to knowledge without talk of stepping outside of ourselves and without multiplying subjects needlessly. Our only point of view is our own; from that point of view we can see objects with varying degrees of regularity and independence of our perspective.
Existence Precedes Essence and Essence Precedes Existence
As a conclusion to this discussion, I wish to return to the problem of objective identity (the problem of giving an adequate objective account of our identity) to see how a better understanding of subjective identity can affect our view of this problem as well. Of course, the first thing to note is that it is impossible to give an adequate objective account of our identity. The Existentialists were right to say that we are more than our essences. Besides the objective qualities that we embody, we are a perspective, a particular complex of relations to all that exists. They were wrong, however, to think (if, indeed, they did) that this meant that we create ourselves ex nihilo. A perspective necessarily implies a content, one determined by the type of perspective involved. To be a subject is to be a subject of relations to other things which determine one's nature as subject. To be at a particular location in the universe is to bear certain determinate relations to the rest of existence, and these determinate relations determine what you are. But the relations are prior to and irreducible to the substance that has them. Existence necessarily involves an essence, but it is always more than just that essence.
This can be made clearer by looking at how identity is maintained over time. Identity over time involves a continuity of perspective effected by autonomous action. A thing is defined (partially) by a perspective that determines the content of that thing and how it will be synthesized into one coherent whole. As the thing changes, both its objective content and its perspective change. The thing can be said to remain the same thing if the determinant of its perspective in the latter stage is the synthesized objective content of the previous stage, if its perspective (the source of its present identity) is caused by its past essence as a whole and not by external factors or by any single part of its past essence. The continuity of our identity is maintained by autonomous action, in which our past self as a whole, our essence, determines our place in the world for the next instant, our perspective (which in turn determines what we will be at the next moment). Hence, past essence determines present perspective (at least in things that have an integrity over time). It seems we can have it both ways: (past) essence precedes existence and existence precedes (present) essence. In different senses, we both create and inherit our identity.
Dennett, Daniel C. 1978. "Where Am I?," in Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology. Bradford Books, 1978. Also in The Mind's I. Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett editors. Bantam Books, 1981. (The pagination of citations in the text refers to the latter edition.)
Nagel Thomas. 1986. The View From Nowhere. Oxford University Press, 1986.
____________ 1983. "The Objective Self," in Carl Ginet and Sydney Shoemaker (eds.) Knowledge and Mind. Oxford University Press, 1983.
____________ 1979. "The Subjective and the Objective," in Mortal Questions, Cambridge U. Press, 1979, pp. 196-214.
____________ 1974. "What is it like to be a bat?" Philosophical Review, LXXXIII (October 1974). Also in Mortal Questions, Cambridge U. Press, 1979, pp. 165-180.
Parfit, Derek. 1984. Reasons and Persons. Oxford University Press, 1984.
Perry, John. 1979. "The Problem of the Essential Indexical," Nous, 13, 1979, pp. 3-21.
Rorty, Richard. 1983. Consequences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.
Charles. 1989. Sources of the Self. Harvard University Press, 1989.
 Since, under normal conditions, we seldom encounter such situations, the arguments that follow involve thought experiments, often based upon seemingly outlandish premises. This is necessary to test our intuitions about whether properties that are never usually absent are part of out identity. Of course, some of these intuitions may be suspect because of the unfamiliarity and strangeness of the situation. Even if one does not find all of the arguments convincing, the examples can at least serve to sharpen our understanding of the problem of subjective identity. Ultimately, the conclusions that I shall draw from these arguments will have to stand or fall on their own.
 Note that this holds for any objective property, not just for physical ones. If it is our memory or our soul that makes us who we are, and these are conceived as being exhausted by some objectively describable set of properties, then God could conceivably create another being with just those properties.
 This is ensured by Leibniz's principle of the identity of indiscernibles. Even if the world consisted of only a left hand and a right hand, the perspectives of the two index fingers would not be identical since they would bear different relationships to each other.
The latter suggestion
presupposes that there is some way of breaking out of language in order to
compare it with something else. But there is no way to think about either the
world or our purposes except by using our language. One can use language to
criticize and enlarge itself, as one can exercise one's body to develop and
strengthen and enlarge it, but one cannot see language-as-a-whole in relation
to something else to which it applies, or for which it is a means to an end.
Philosophy, the attempt to say "how language relates to the world" by
saying what makes certain sentences
true, or certain actions or attitudes good or rational, is, on this view,
It is the impossible attempt to step outside our skins - the traditions, linguistic and other, within which we do our thinking and self-criticism - and compare ourselves with something absolute. (Rorty 1983, p. xix.)
 Since any perspectival representation is subjective, objectivity can only be reached by stepping outside of our present perspective to broaden our view and to reduce the biasing influences of any one perspective. The aim is to reduce the perspectival nature of our representation, to get a representation that takes into account all views and is, hence, a view from nowhere in particular. That this model of objectivity is self-defeating can be seen from the following allegory:
The Amazing Objectivist Platform: Imagine a platform being built to reduce the amount of load carried by any one of its supporting beams. In order to reduce the load carried by any particular beam upon which the platform rests, the number of beams is increased. Imagine also that as each beam that is added, we whittle a little bit of wood off of all the beams, including the one we add. As more beams are added the strength of each beam is decreased, but this is OK because the portion of the load that each carries is also decreased as we add more. This lessens the load on each beam and decreases the degree to which the platform depends on each beam. The ideal limit of this process is obvious. As you add more and more beams the width of the beams and the weight supported by each will approach zero. This is an attempt to get a platform held up by so many beams that it isn't held up by anything at all.