1) A thing has an identity if there's something else delimiting and defining it.

2) The universe (intended as the totality of things) has necessarily no identity, because being the totality of things, it has nothing that is other than itself.

Is this assertion correct?

I attach here an interesting answer from a personal conversation with a friend (Manuel Micaletto): the universe as "the totality of things" obtains conceptual identity starting from the relationship it has with the partiality of the single objects that compose it (or of infinite possible groups of objects, more or less extended, but in any case for hypothesis no cuncta stricte discussurus): the difference in relational terms is given, but internally, it is not outside. It is therefore not true that the universe has "nothing else on its own": any object (or, again, group of objects), although belonging to the whole universe, is not the universe.

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    The second statement answers the question (besides, the logic does not follow, the dog is [also] necessarily indeterminate, because as a totality it has nothing that is other than itself has the same form and level of truth). Can you please reformulate?
    – RodolfoAP
    Aug 19, 2018 at 16:36
  • I made the question more explicit, thank you. Your statement is not analogous to (2), because a dog is not the totality of things, so there can always something different from it. I edited also this point, in order to make it clearer. Aug 19, 2018 at 18:58
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    I think you may be using "indeterminate" in a slightly unusual way. When we talk of an indeterminate universe, it is typically in the context of determinism, which treats things like the result of radioactive decay after a period as indeterminate. You seem to be using it to describe "a thing with no identity."
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 19, 2018 at 21:34
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    I think of the adjective, indeterminate, as used here with respect to the Universe, in the horticultural sense: determinate plants stop growing when they reach a specific size, while indeterminate plants tend to continue to grow to indefinite proportions, with time and the right conditions. The indeterminate forms typically considered in the literature are denoted... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indeterminate_form Indeterminate form is related to the concept of infinity.
    – Bread
    Aug 20, 2018 at 2:06
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    To me it is not identity that is the issue, but that there can be is no positive or partial definition. This is a major issue in metaphysics. Identity seems a different issue, It;s not that the 'All' has no identity but that we cannot state that identity in an ordinary language due to the way language divides the world by its use of predication. It would be for this reason that Bradley points out the use of predication is both necessary and illegitimate in metaphysics,. A deep topic. .
    – user20253
    Aug 20, 2018 at 11:51

4 Answers 4


There's a distinction dating from Frege (or earlier, perhaps the Stoics or Aristotle) between identity and individuation. There is no way of individuating the universe (taken as a whole of reality) since there is nothing (else) to distinguish it from.

If, however, following Frege, we interpret identity as continuity over time, there seems no insuperable difficulty in attributing identity to the universe - 'the universe' has the same referent today as yesterday.

The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, ed. R. Audi, 1995, articles on 'Identity', 'Individuation'.

  • Like every good answer, it opens new problems: what is continuous over time? Can something that include time be continuous over time? Aug 20, 2018 at 10:25
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    Nice point. clever comment. Something else to ponder. Best - Geoffrey
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Aug 20, 2018 at 11:46

A common philosophical problem is to assume that others share one's subjective assumptions.

1) A thing has an identity if there's something else delimiting and defining it.

  • You are assuming the existence of things, but that's false. There are no things in the universe. Things are just a mental construct, useful to survive and interact. How is a rainbow, a thing? Rainbows change depending on the observer's point of view; rainbows are an excellent example of our subjectivity, due to the same properties are applicable to clouds, water, a rock or just concepts and ideas. They all are just mental constructs; the real, effective, physical universe is just interacting energy (which we don't understand).
  • You are assuming that the universe -- or things -- can be "delimited", but delimiting is a mental process. Perhaps it's better to talk about physical interaction: sections of the universe might interact with others. For that, I recommend you to read my theory of interaction, check my profile. I always recall Richard Feynman: "mass is just interaction".
  • You are assuming that a thing could have an identity. As said, that's just for our human-mental-subjectivity. Entities and identities don't really exist, the universe is just interacting energy. But I can agree on the idea that an entity could exist for another entity if it is able to physically interact with it. Nevertheless, inside such idea you have already our subjectivity: entities are just ideas. This problem is similar to the problem of temperature in thermodynamics: temperature is a feeling, and physics books cannot use it as such. Nobody noticed that, even after the three laws of thermodynamics were formulated (first, second, third). So, they detected the problem, and added one more law: the zeroth law, to say that temperature is not just a feeling, it is a physical magnitude if we can compare it. Read the zeroth law and you will see I'm not joking. Science has a lot of subjectivity.

2) The universe (intended as the totality of things) has necessarily no identity, because being the totality of things, it has nothing that is other than itself.

  • You are assuming, again, that entities and identities are physical instead of mental, conceptual, ideal, and they are not. So the answer is yes (because there is no person out of it that can grant it of an identity) and no (because you can do it from the inside, even if you don't know it, since your ideas do not belong to the physical universe, but to an alternate realm which has no correspondence with the universe).
  • Although you are correct in stating that "the real, effective, physical universe is just interacting energy," this is only true at the ATOMIC (microscopic) level! At the MACROSCOPIC level, the "interacting energy" acquires physicality and reality. The result of this, is that there ARE things in The Universe that exist separately from ANY "mental construct."
    – Guill
    Aug 22, 2018 at 7:11
  • @Guill: Your statement differentiates two universes (why not twenty-nine?), based on distances/sizes: macro/microscopic, depending on subjectively-defined boundaries (1 nanometer? 193?). Thermodynamics make the same differentiation: micro and macrostates. But macrostates are subjective. As well as the macroscopic universe: both depend on your scale of existence, of you, as a person. There are no different universe sizes, that's human-subjective. See my answer here philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/16107/…
    – RodolfoAP
    Aug 22, 2018 at 10:40
  • The matter of identity is quite present in the debate for abortion, when there is an issue trying to settle how to delimit the woman's body and thus apply appropriate legal measures, or not. So the "separately existing" things are not always such.
    – user14065
    Aug 22, 2018 at 16:32

The Universe does have identity!

Per your fist statement, I delimit and define The Universe as all that can be observed directly or indirectly by my senses. Therefore, The Universe has an identity!

  • The first statement doesn't talk about the universe, but about things in the universe. Aug 22, 2018 at 9:49
  • Let me clarify my answer. "1) A thing (The Universe) has identity if there's something else (me) delimiting and defining it."
    – Guill
    Sep 2, 2018 at 2:30

There may be a multiverse of spaces which cannot be travelled or crossed between by any possible means, like a more extreme version of an event horizon. As such, the multiverses may be unfalsifiable, and not meaningfully part of our universe. And yet, form a space of potential outcomes our universe could be compared to. Note, I am not taking a stance on connection and unfalsifiability, only pointing out that 'all that exists' is slippery. https://www.universetoday.com/48619/a-universe-of-10-dimensions/

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