Primitive identity judgments are the original conceptualizations.
Nearly everyone identifies with their minds, with their thoughts and emotions.
What is mind? How are conceptualizations or judgments made? How does mind become infected with ego? How do emotions happen? The philosophy of mind is the serious attempt to answer these and related questions.
If, at least in part, you are mind and you do not understand mind, then you do not understand yourself. Except by accident, there is no chance of living well or wisely without understanding yourself, which is why these are important questions.
Conceptualization would be impossible without primitive identity judgments. Surprisingly, almost nobody discusses them.
There are different kinds of conceptualizations [click here for a sorting]. None would be possible without the innate ability to make primitive identity judgments.
I invite you to wonder about this by imagining how you must have started understanding.
Even though you were born with the innate ability to make them, there must have been a time when you initially began experiencing the world. If there had been no such time, you would have had nothing to understand; there would have been nothing for you to conceptualize.
How did you begin to understand or conceptualize?
My thesis is that you just started making primitive identity judgments.
The reason for this is that there could be no understanding without them. Merely experiencing things, merely singling out objects, is not understanding them.
What might have been your very first judgment?
Notice that it could not have been an ordinary predication of the form x is F (where x stands for some object and F stands for some concept). Why not? Because where would F have come from? We are assuming that you lacked all concepts, that you hadn’t yet learned any. This is a time way before language acquisition and you can’t learn language without concepts.
Here is where primitive identity judgments come in. Why?
Well, imagine that you are experiencing the hum and buzz of singling out many different objects such as sounds, sights, tactile sensations, and so on. In this pre-world, there is nothing but raw experiencing in the sense that everything is unrelated to everything else. Nothing is conceptualized – even incorrectly.
So, again, what might have been your very first judgment? Of course, you made it without having language to express it. You began to do a lot of understanding well before you began to learn a language.
What must this pre-world have had to have been like in order for you to make any initial conceptualization?
Must not there have been at least the appearance of repetition or regularity? If everything were ceaselessly different, even with an innate ability to understand, you would never had understood anything without some kind of recurrence (whether of qualities [click here for more on qualities] or of individuals [click here for more on individuals]).
I suggest that your initial conceptualizations were the recognition of this appearance of repetition. They turned nonsense into sense, chaos into order, perhaps primordial unity into multiplicity.
A [material] identity judgment always has the form x is y (where x and y denote objects, anything singleoutable). A primitive one is primitive in the sense that it lacks justification and doesn’t follow from anything else.
You’ll never know what your original conceptualizations were, but they would have been all about taking what appear to be two objects to be one entity.
As Butchvarov writes in Being Qua Being: “In a world without material identity nothing is recognizable, nothing can be classified . . . “
Perhaps, for example, you thought what we now would express by thinking or saying something like this: “this (color patch I’m seeing now) is that (color patch I saw before).” In this case, of course, you would not have had the concept “color” but that concept is not needed either for singling out a particular patch of color or for identifying two patches as being the same color.
Perhaps in your case your first judgment was thinking something like “this (visual thing) is that (tactile thing),” in other words, you might have identified what you were looking at with what you were touching. (Notice that a judgment like this about spatiotemporal coincidence avoids issues of memory and time or continuity.)
What is critical about any primitive identity judgment is simplification: what appear as two come to be understood to be one. Simplification permits order to arise from disorder.
Once one entity is recognized, there’s the next step of realizing that that entity is not some other entity, which is a negative primitive identity judgment (“it is not the case that x is y“). One entity plus negation permits a second entity, and a third, and so on. That is world making.
World making does not mean that we make what we might call the content of conceptualizations; rather, we organize the content that we experience.
There is nothing to guarantee that we each make our worlds, our surrealities, the same way. Later, language provides a powerful impetus to making them similar.
Still, how can you be sure that your surreality matches reality, the world as it really is? I suggest that you not be so sure of that, that you realize that it’s possible that your use of primitive identity judgments may have been warped in some way. [Click here for more on perspective.]
Having some humility about original judgments – or anything else you think you understand – is a very good thing. More humility, less confidence and conflict.
We just begin making primitive identity judgments and, sometimes, later revising them. Once we make primitive identity judgments, we enforce them. It is this enforcement that can lead to conflict.