If an object named A is cloned/copied and the copy, named B, is 100% identical to A, and A "ceases to exist", does that mean A continues on as B as though A never "ceased to exist" or does that mean there is no A despite its 100% identical copy (B) still existing?

How are the "identities" determined?

  • Regarding "identity" you can see two well-known historical cases: Martin Guerre (16th century) and Bruneri-Canella case (20th century): neither judiciary nor historians have been able to identify the original and the "copy". Mar 7, 2022 at 9:09
  • Thus, form a "ontological" point of view, we have the original and the copies (one or many) but we cannot be able to decide which is which: the problem will be undecidable. But the same concept of copy implies that there is one original of which the copy is the copy. Mar 7, 2022 at 9:11
  • You have to consider the perspective of B in your example: A is just as much a perfect copy of B as B is of A. So can we say A was in fact B all the time ?
    – armand
    Mar 9, 2022 at 23:04
  • It is impossible for a clone to be 100% identical to the original. Impossible from a physical perspective (atoms constantly change, so, you will never have the "same atoms" in the clone), and impossible from a metaphysical perspective (by definition, it is a clone; it is not the original; such is an evident and essential difference).
    – RodolfoAP
    Mar 10, 2022 at 6:28
  • While the question body may contain a duplicate from the other posted question, the title question here about determination of identity appears different from the other posted question. My answer here addresses both.
    – Michael
    Mar 10, 2022 at 16:32

1 Answer 1


Identity is subjective and purposive to the mind applying it. Historically for humans, one of identity's main purposes has been to facilitate social interaction. For beings, it matters because different individuals have different minds, as understood by theory of mind. For objects and foods, it matters for practical purposes, such as whether a fruit is getting old, whether an object has been contaminated, or even the mere contents of a bag.

The consideration in common here is the accessibility of attributes. If one cannot see or otherwise sense an attribute, such as name, then that attribute has to reside in an imaginary realm or space we call identity. Identity is the meta information stored in a mind with respect to a thing.

In the example of A cloned to B, followed by A's erasure, the identity of B depends on one's intent:

  • If the intent is genetics, then B is A, both before and after A's erasure.
  • If the intent is lineage, then B and A belong to a higher identity.
  • If the intent is body, then B is new and distinct from the start.

Let us consider a deck of cards called A. This deck has three personal properties:

  • Label [A] -- the name given for reference (practicality) or aesthetics (vanity).
  • Matter [paper] -- the material, in the base substance of its universe.
  • Sequence [shuffle] -- the internal configuration of its parts.

Identity can be chosen as any of these properties (label, matter, sequence), depending on our purpose in distinguishing between decks. Matter is to body as sequence is to genetics. Say we have two decks in the same order. If we choose to identify by sequence, then erasing either deck of cards leaves the animal intact. Here, A and B are merely windows through which the true animal is viewed. Their presence has no bearing on its metaphysical form. But should we choose to identify by matter, then each deck stands alone, as a distinct animal. In this case, labels A and B correspond to separate entities. Taking it further, we could identify by various abstract criteria, leaving perhaps an open-ended set of possibilities.

In short, you, the mind, decide the identity of your objects.

On a sidenote, when I look at a familiar object or animal in my surrounding, instead of seeing the matter as-it-is, I "see" abstract meta knowledge -- history, function, feeling. When I look at the screen, I see Stack Exchange and its personal connotations -- not a collection of pixels or arrangement of light. When I look at a shelving unit, I see "a thing I got x time ago for y" -- not a strangely shaped configuration of parts. At least for me, taking a moment to look around at objects while seeing their material nature, unobstructed by intent, purpose, or history, gives a novel, sometimes nostalgic experience, like seeing something new or lost. For those who share this predicament, identity serves to blind us, hiding the other half of our world.

  • But if B is A, it means A was never erased
    – ActualCry
    Mar 6, 2022 at 17:26
  • @ActualCry -- The label may retire, but the animal stands.
    – Michael
    Mar 6, 2022 at 20:10
  • Are there philosophies that don't claim B is A? :0
    – ActualCry
    Mar 7, 2022 at 18:24
  • @ActualCry -- I would hardly call this in the abstract as a philosophy, but something closer to a perspective, viewpoint, or tool of thought. There are two fundamental aspects here -- delineation and significant features. How we divide matter, and which features matter, comes back to what we want to accomplish. The limit is our imagination and intent. We can be as concrete or abstract as the mind can handle.
    – Michael
    Mar 7, 2022 at 23:00
  • @ActualCry -- the point Michael is making is that "identity" is not actually a property of our world. "A is", is just a mental toolkit we use. Hence "A=A" "B=A", and "A is erased" are all technically false, if applied to our world. Labels are just tools of convenience.
    – Dcleve
    Mar 8, 2022 at 21:06

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