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in philosophy, problem of distinguishing sameness from change, or unity from diversity; primarily examined in connection with personal identity, universals, and the law of identity in logic. In personal identity the concern has been to determine whether anything in the body or mind remains constant; philosophers have reached no general agreement on this point. The term identity has also become increasingly important in modern psychology, largely through the work of Erik Erikson. He has used the term to designate a sense of self that develops in the course of a man's life and that both relates him to and sets him apart from his social milieu. The terms "identity crisis" and "identity confusion," introduced by Erikson, have gained a wide usage, which often varies from their intended technical sense.
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the sense, and continuity, of SELF that develops first as the child differentiates from parents and family and takes a place in society.

The NEO-FREUDIAN theorist. Erik Erikson, has proposed that there is a crisis of identity in adolescence. It is at this stage of development that a young person searches for an identity, trying out different friendship groups, different lifestyles, different career plans. Ideally, by the end of adolescence the identity has stabilized and the young person accepts him/herself, feeling at ease with this identity.

In Erikson's view, therefore, identity forms as a result of social interaction, and problems with identity occur if the adolescent feels alienated from society through, for example, ethnic differences or unemployment. See also IDENTIFICATION.

There are broad similarities but some differences in the emphasis on identity and the process of identity formation in sociology compared with psychology (see MEAD, COOLEY). see also SOCIAL IDENTITY.

In some versions of psychoanalytic theory, especially the poststructuralism of LACAN, identity is altogether more problematic. Lacan challenges the central presupposition involved in the question ‘Who am I?’, the assumption that there exists a Cartesian self. Instead ‘identity’ involves a dependence on a dialectic of self and others. While such a dialectic is, of course relatively commonplace in sociology, Lacan's formulation is distinguished by the far greater radicalism of its implications for identity There is no PRESENCE, only language, and the lack of an identifiable core ‘self, according to Lacan, can only be repaired by an ‘imagined self, a ‘phantasy’ in which identity is only preserved by DEFENCE MECHANISMS such as ‘denial’.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



The abstract counterpart of unity is the co-called identity (or identity element). Specifically, let the symbol * denote a (binary) operation on some set S. An element e in S is called an identity relative to the operation * if a*e = e*a =a. If * is a noncommutative operation, that is, if there are elements a and b such that a*b ≠ b*a, then we define a right identity to be an element er such that a*er for all a in S and a left identity to be an element er such that el*a = a for all a in S. If more than one operation is defined on the set S, then we speak of identities relative to the individual operations (for example, In the case of multiplication we speak of a multiplicative identity and in the case of addition of an additive identity).



a fundamental concept in logic, philosophy, and mathematics; it is used in the language of scientific theories to formulate definitions, laws, and theorems.

In mathematics, an identity is an equation that is satisfied identically—that is, an equation that holds true—for all admissible values of its variables. In logic, identity is a predicate that is represented by the formula x = y (to be read as “x is identical to y, ” or “x is the same as y”); the predicate’s corresponding logical function is true when the variables x and y denote different occurrences of “one and the same” object, and false in the opposite case. In philosophy, or epistemology, identity is a relationship based on ideas or judgments about the meaning of what it is to be “one and the same” object of reality, perception, or thought.

The logical and philosophical aspects of identity are complementary: the former provides a formal model of the concept of identity, while the latter provides grounds for the model’s application. The first aspect includes the concept of “one and the same” object, but the formal model does not depend for its meaning on the content of this concept; the method of identification is ignored, as is the dependence of the results of identification on the conditions or methods of identification and on the abstractions that are explicitly or implicitly assumed in the given case. In the second, or philosophical, aspect, applications of logical models of identity are considered in relation to the methods and tests by which objects are identified; such considerations, in effect, depend on the point of view, conditions, and means of identification.

The distinction between the logical and philosophical aspects of identity goes back to the well-known statement that identity as a concept is not one and the same as a judgment about the identity of objects (see Plato, Soch., vol. 2, Moscow, 1970, p. 36). It is essential, however, to emphasize the independence of and lack of contradiction between these two aspects. The meaning of the concept of identity is settled by its corresponding logical function; the concept is not deduced or extracted from the actual identity of objects, but rather it is an abstraction achieved under “suitable” experiential conditions or, in theory, by means of assumptions, or hypotheses, about actually allowable identifications. At the same time, in the case of a substitution carried out, as in axiom (4) below, in an appropriate domain of abstraction of identification, “within” this domain the actual identity of objects precisely coincides with identity in the logical sense.

Because of the importance of the concept of identity, the need arose for specific theories of identity. The method most commonly used in constructing these theories is the axiomatic method. For example, all or some of the following axioms may be applicable:

(1) x = x

(2) x = yy = x

(3) x = y & y = z ⊃ x = z

(4) A(x)⊃(x = yA(y))

Here A(x) is an arbitrary predicate containing x free and free for v, while A(x) and A(y) differ only in their occurrences (even if only one) of x and y.

Axiom (1) postulates reflexivity as a property of identity. In traditional logic, reflexivity was considered the only logical law of identity—a law to which axioms (2) and (3) were customarily added as “nonlogical postulates” (in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry). Axiom (1) may be regarded as epistemologically justified, inasmuch as it is sui generis a logical expression of individuation. It is such individuation, in turn, that forms the basis for the experiential “givenness” of objects, or makes it possible for objects to be recognized: in order to speak of an object as of a given, it is necessary to isolate it in some fashion, to distinguish it from other objects, and to maintain this distinction at all times. In this sense identity, based on axiom (1), is the particular relation of “self-identity” in which each object is bound only to itself, and not to any other object.

Axiom (2) postulates symmetry as a property of identity. According to this axiom, the result of any identification is independent of the order in pairs of objects being identified. This axiom is also justified to some extent by experience. For example, when a weight and a piece of goods are placed on weighing scales, their respective position—on the left or on the right—is different for the customer and the salesperson facing each other, but the result—in this case, equal weight—is the same for both.

Axioms (1) and (2) jointly are an abstract expression of the principle of the identity of indiscernibles—a theory in which the notion of “one and the same” object is based on the factual non-observability of differences. Essentially, this theory depends on the criteria of differentiation—the means, or instruments, that distinguish one object from another; it depends, in the final analysis, on the abstraction of indiscernibility. Inasmuch as there is an inherent dependence in practice on the “threshold of differentiation, ” the notion of identity that is satisfied by axioms (1) and (2) is the only natural result that can be obtained in any test.

Axiom (3) postulates the transitiveness of identity. It states that the composition of the identity relation with itself is again the identity relation, and it is the first nontrivial assertion concerning the identity of objects. The transitiveness of identity is either an “idealization of experience” under conditions of “decreasing accuracy” or an abstraction that expands upon experience and “creates” a new meaning of identity, other than indiscernibility. Indiscernibility is guaranteed by identity only in the domain of abstraction of indiscernibility, whereas the latter is not linked to fulfillment of axiom (3). Axioms (1), (2), and (3) jointly are an abstract expression of the theory of identity as an equivalence.

Axiom (4) postulates as a necessary condition for the identity of objects that their properties coincide. From a logical point of view, this axiom is self-evident: all the properties of an object belong to “one and the same” object. This axiom, however, is not a trivial one, inasmuch as the idea of “one and the same” object must inevitably rest on assumptions or abstractions of a particular kind. It is impossible to verify this axiom “in general”—that is, for all conceivable properties; it can only be verified in certain fixed domains of the abstractions of identification or indiscernibility. This is precisely the way in which this axiom is used in practice: objects are compared and identified not with respect to all conceivable properties, but only with respect to the fundamental (primitive) properties of a theory in which one wants to have the notion of “one and the same” object based upon these properties and on axiom (4). In such instances the scheme of axiom (4) is replaced by a finite list of “intensional” axioms of identity of the same form. For example, the Zermelo-Fraenkel axiomatic set theory substitutes the axioms

(4.1) zx ⊃ (x = yzy)

(4.2) xz ⊃ (x = yyz)

Assuming that the universe contains only sets, these axioms determine the domain of abstraction in the identification of sets by “the sets that belong to them” and by “the sets to which they belong, ” with the mandatory addition of axioms 1–3, determining identity as equivalence.

Axioms 1–4 belong to the category of the laws of identity. By means of the rules of logic, one can deduce from them many other laws, unknown in premathematical logic. The difference between the logical and epistemological, or philosophical, aspects of identity is not important in the context of general or abstract formulations of the laws of identity. The difference, however, is substantive when these laws are used to describe real states. In defining the concept of “one and the same” object, the axiomatics of identity necessarily influence the formation of the universe “within” the corresponding axiomatic theory.


Tarski, A. Vvedenie v logiku i metodologüu deduktivnykh nauk. Moscow, 1948. (Translated from English.)
Novoselov, M. “Tozhdestvo.” In Filosofskaia entsiklopediia, vol. 5. Moscow, 1970.
Novoselov, M. “O nekotorykh poniatiiakh teorii otnoshenii.” In Kibernetika i sovremennoe nauchnoepoznanie. Moscow, 1976.
Shreider, Iu. A. Ravenstvo, skhodstvo, poriadok. Moscow, 1971.
Kleene, S. C. Matematicheskaia logika. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from English.)
Frege, G. Schriften zur Logik. Berlin, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


An equation satisfied for all possible choices of values for the variables involved.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. Logic
a. that relation that holds only between any entity and itself
b. an assertion that that relation holds, as Cicero is Tully
2. Maths
a. an equation that is valid for all values of its variables, as in (x -- y)(x + y) = x2 -- y2. Often denoted by the symbol ≡
b. a member of a set that when operating on another member, x, produces that member x: the identity for multiplication of numbers is 1 since x.1 = 1.x = x
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005

Identity 2.0

An umbrella term for user-centric identity management on the Internet, in which users have complete control over which third party authenticates them. It also implies that users have control over the data they share over the Internet and can transfer and delete the data when required. The "2.0" was taken from the widely used "Web 2.0" umbrella term that refers to user-oriented capabilities. See identity metasystem and Web 2.0.

identity management

The management of a user's identity. Within the enterprise, an identity management system comprises a system of directories and access control based on policies. It includes the maintenance of the system (adds, changes, deletes) and generally offers single sign-on so that the user only has to log in once to gain access to multiple resources. See user management and provisioning, network directory and directory service.

The Public Internet
On the Internet, traditional identity management is a username/password system developed for each website or group of websites. Identity infrastructures, such as OpenID and the identity metasystem, embodied by Microsoft's CardSpace and the Higgins project, were designed to provide a unified approach to identity management in the public online world.

Identity management also embraces data sharing, and the infrastructures mentioned above offer users control over how their data are shared with websites and other online entities. See OpenID, identity metasystem and single sign-on.

identity metasystem

An infrastructure that enables different Internet identity systems to work in a secure manner with a consistent user interface. The identity metasystem was first developed by Microsoft and was embodied in the now-defunct CardSpace system (see Windows CardSpace). Higgins is an open source identity metasystem that supports all platforms and is compatible with CardSpace (see Higgins project).

The identity metasystem is designed to prevent identity theft on the Internet by providing a secure framework for authentication as well as give users control over the data they share on websites. If and when fully implemented, it would provide a system that eliminates the myriad usernames and passwords for each user. It would replace the browser password manager with a more secure system.

Multiple Authenticators
The identity metasystem lets multiple organizations authenticate a user's identity just as a driver's license and credit card serve as two forms of ID in day-to-day life. The user confirms what should be used to satisfy a website's request for authentication.

The Wallet Metaphor - Information Cards
The metasystem uses "information cards," which are the digital counterpart to the plastic cards people keep in their wallets. The user is presented with a window full of card images to choose from, just like you might remove all your business, ID and credit cards from your wallet and lay them out on a table.

Personal cards (p-cards) are self-issued and hold the data users typically type into website registration forms. A person can create multiple p-cards, with one card having more data than another.

Managed information cards (m-cards), such as membership ID cards and credit cards, are issued by organizations. M-card data are stored on the managed card provider's site, while p-card data are stored on the user's computer. However, transaction history for all cards is stored on the client side.

The identity metasystem also supports the OpenID authentication system, and one of the cards in the card selector can be an OpenID card (see OpenID).

Relying Parties Rely on Identity Providers
A website that accepts information cards is known as the "relying party," because it relies on a third-party "identity provider" for authentication, rather than authenticate the user directly as is common today.

The software in the user's computer that orchestrates the interaction between the relying party (RP) and the identity provider (IdP) is the "card selector," also called the "identity selector." The CardSpace and Higgins software in the user's computer is the card selector.

When a user visits an information card-compliant site, the site (the relying party) states its identity requirements, and the user's card selector highlights the cards that meet those requirements. The user confirms the selection, and a request is sent to the identity provider. The identity provider sends back a digitally signed token that the user can inspect to be sure it is genuine before releasing it to the relying party for authentication.

In the case of a personal card, the card selector functions as the identity provider and sends a secure token to the relying party.

The identity metasystem uses the term "claims" to refer to any data that is captured in information cards. Although the term "assertion" has been traditionally used, "claim" implies that it has to be proven.

Web Services Protocols
An identity metasystem relies on the Web services protocols for interaction between the relying party (RP), the identity provider (IdP) and the card selector. See Windows CardSpace, Higgins project, Web services protocols and Identity 2.0.

The Authentication Process
The card selector highlights the card that satisfies the site's identity requirements and sends it to the identity provider (IdP) with the user's approval. The IdP returns a security token that is forwarded to the relying party, once again, via the user's confirmation. The PIN exchange in step 5 is optional.

identity theft

Stealing the identity of others by using their credit card, drivers license, social security or other personal identification numbers. With "true name" identity theft, the thief uses the information to open new accounts. With "account takeover" identity theft, the thief uses the information to access existing accounts.

Not only can the thieves run up bills for the victims, but they can commit crimes pretending to be the victim, who may have enormous difficulty proving otherwise. Although catalog shopping by telephone has been around for decades, it is possible that an order taker might find someone acting suspicious. However, the complete lack of human interaction on the Web has caused identity theft to increase. In 1998, the U.S. Congress made identity theft a federal offense.
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References in periodicals archive ?
transcendence before the old worn out ego identity has quieted
The third canonical variate revealed that referral program involvement for exciting, appealing, and fascinating was positively associated with ego identity characteristics of likes challenge, self-willed, and gender identity.
Ego identity. Erikson's concept of ego identity, on which the Ego Identity Process Questionnaire (EIPQ; Balistreri, Busch-Rossnagel, & Geissinger, 1995) is based, is the primary theoretical paradigm of ego identity (schwartz, 2001).
The empirical study of ego identity. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc.
The Ego Identity Process Questionnaire: Factor structure, reliability, and convergent validity in Dutch-speaking late adolescents.
Ego identity has been approached either from a typological point of view (e.g., Marcia, 1980) or from a factorial bipolar perspective (e.g., Rasmussen, 1964).
With reference to ego identity, Erickson referred to this as the identity crisis or moratorium, "a necessary turning point, a crucial moment, when development must move one way or another, marshalling resources of growth, recovery, and further differentiation" (1968, 16).
Ego identity and substance abuse: A comparison of adolescents in residential treatment with adolescents in school.
Exploring the relationships between racial/cultural identity and ego identity among African Americans and Mexican Americans.
Appended are: (1) Description of What Will Be Covered in the Introduction; (2) Demographic Form; (3) Institutional Integration Scale (IIS); (4) Self-Efficacy for Broad Academic Milestones Scale (SE-Broad); (5) Career Decision Self-Efficacy Scale--Short Form (CDSES); (6) College Self-Efficacy Instrument (CSEI); (7) Occupation Identity Scale of the Extended Version of the Objective Measures of Ego Identity Status (EOM-EIS); (8) Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D); (9) Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE); (10) Commitment to Career Choices Scale (CCCS); (11) Participant Raffle Form; (12) Debriefing Form; (13) Informed Consent Form; and (14) Notification of Gift Certificate.
The most important contribution of Erikson's psychosocial development theory is his introduction of the concept ego identity development during adolescence.