I've been thinking lately that if people are united at level N, that intrinsically makes them divide at level N+1.

Let me make myself clear. At level 0 I'm alone - myself. Level 1 might be my family. Going up, at some level i comes my nationality. I'm united with my fellow citizens with the identity of nationality. But the same identity (nationality) makes me and people of this world divided.

  1. Is this a valid statement (I can't think of a good counter example)?
  2. (I've zero knowledge in philosophy) I need more food for thought if this idea comes under a certain topic in philosophy.
  • 1
    This is a very interesting question, but trying to describe in such a mathematical/formal language way (level N, level N+1, etc...) makes it confusing I think. You might want to look up resources on social identity theory, identity politics, and ingroups and outgroups. Commented May 25, 2017 at 21:38
  • Sure I'm gonna take a look into social identity theory and the other topics you have mentioned so that I can make the question description less confusing. Meantime I also appreciate if anyone can edit the question description to make it more clear.
    – ngub05
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 21:43
  • I don't want to edit the question on my own, for fear of misrepresenting your thoughts. Are you trying to ask the following: "Does the concept of ingroup necessarily entail conflict with an outgroup? or is it possible to have affinity with an ingroup without this implying animosity towards outgroups?" Commented May 25, 2017 at 22:33
  • 1
    You might be getting at the classical Aristotelian way of defining or classifying things by genus and differentiae. What is genus (unifying property) at one level becomes a differentia (distinguishing property) one level up.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 23:47
  • 1
    Its the kind of question that one expects a Borg to ask - a Borg that wants to hide, why not come out in the open where can see you; there, that a nice Borg! It's called the dialectic, in short. Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 1:40

7 Answers 7


No matter which criteria (gender, race, nationality, religion, ideology, hobby, ...) humans apply to associate themselves with others, any such association inevitably results in a division between members of that group (the ingroup) and everyone else (outgroups). Typically, this results in biases favoring the ingroup over the outgroup, known as In-group favoritism.

This phenomenon has been well-researched and well-understood by scientists in the fields of social psychology and sociology. For more details, I suggest you do some research on crowd psychology, social identity and how they correlate with each other.

This cartoon perfectly captures the phenomenon perfectly:

enter image description here


An interesting question, one that relies on certain mathematical ordering principles in the current form of the inquiry. It is noticeable that you implicitly applied a sort of set/subset/superset reasoning to the question, particularly from the areas of number theory and set theory, though I think your question can be removed from that sort of or organization but still retain its essential merit.

You do provide a thoughtful basis for attempting to classify and delineate where exactly singular identity can give way to multiplicity, and somewhat inevitably, division and conflict. Now, you conjecture that this boundary exists as a readily identifiable, or as you more strongly state, in an "intrinsically" defined manner based upon the current state of a system. This already begins to suggest social theories of organization, as well as cognitive and psychological theories of the individual. For this, I am not qualified to answer, but I think you would perhaps enjoy as a starting point Sigmund Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents, which more or less discusses how people came to organize themselves, and how conflict can be intrinsically present through the suppression of human instincts.

To provide a personal judgement on your conjecture, I think that it is false, and by way of counterexample. You seem to implicitly rely upon the assumption that there can only be one level of unity, lets say level n, and therefore disunity results at level n + 1. This becomes problematic, because in your example, you show that any level of unity must necessarily rely on preceding levels of unity, i.e., n - 1, which is a contradiction, as n - 1 necessarily implies, by the hypothesis, that level n is disunity. We have reached a contradiction, but how? This is motivated by a physical interpretation of what is going on. For example and in a more concrete sense, can you have national coherency without the cohesion and harmony of a family? Without the cohesion and harmony of social or political organization? Perhaps yes, perhaps not. Essentially, the way in which you attempt to order 'unity' is highly intriguing, but not entirely iron clad. Interesting attempt of applying mathematical ordering to think about, though.


If one country (N_c) went to war against another, families (N_f) would unite to match the highest order of N.

Even the very idea of family unites some and divide other, but in the case of being challenged by a group of higher N, the challenged group would rise in N.

I think the magnitude of the N depends on the challenge to this magnetude.


Yes, going up a level will obviously exclude some people, because the definition becomes more specific. But you seem to be saying that it will exclude everyone in the lower level group, which is clearly incorrect.

I've been thinking lately that if people are united at level N, that intrinsically makes them divide at level N+1.

You and I live in the same world so we are together at level N. We also both speak English, so we are united at level N+1 as well.

There's your counterexample.


The effect is an artifact of the assumption that if level "N" exists, then it must unify more individuals than level "N-1" did. Without that assumption we can do things like define Level N-1 to be "family" and Level N to be "family" as well.

Of course, even if we require that each level be different from the previous, this process could end at a highest level which contains all individuals if the number of individuals is finite. If the number of individuals is countably infinite, then your theory holds and retains its oddness, but it wouldn't be the least intuitive part of infinity.

If you can identify a highest level, then you can phrase the construction backwards and the behavior is a bit more sane. If you have a level N, you can define a level N-1 by creating a partition around an attribute. This process continues until you reach level 0, which is an individual that cannot be divided further.


Yes the answer here must be scientific in nature. The real identity of anybody is that of the observer in the scientific field sense of the word. Consider a car with darkened windows driving along the road, we cannot distinguish any local identity of the driver whether old young male or female but we can know them in the respect that they are observers in the scientific sense of that word, and judge there actions independent of any local identity.


It's not so much that having another level divides people, but that people being divided means that there is another level. It's not you being united in your nationality that causes different nationalities to be divided. It's that different nationalities being divided causes nationality to be a different level.

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