In my previous essay I introduced the notion of using the notion of essential properties to address the question of whether James Bond must be a white man. I ran through this rather quickly and want to expand on it here.
As noted, an essential property (to steal from Aristotle) is a property that it must have. In contrast an accidental property is one that it does have but could lack. As I tell my students, accidental properties are not just properties from accidents, like the dent in a fender.
One way to look at essential properties is that if a being loses an essential property, it ceases to be. In effect, the change of property destroys it, although a new entity can arise. To use a simple example, it is essential to a triangle that it be three-sided. If another side is added, the triangle is no more. But the new entity could be a square. Of course, one could deny that the triangle is destroyed and instead take it as changing into a square. It all depends on how the identity of a being is determined.
Continuing the triangle example, the size and color of a triangle are accidental properties. A red triangle that is painted blue remains a triangle, although it is now blue. But one could look at the object in terms of being a red object. In that case, changing the color would mean that it was no longer a red object, but a blue object. Turning back to James Bond, he has always been a white man.
Making Bond a black man would change many of his established properties and one can obviously say that he would no longer be white Bond. But this could be seen as analogous to changing the color of a triangle: just as a red triangle painted blue is still a triangle, changing Bond from a white to a black man by a change of actors does not entail that is no longer Bond. Likewise, one might claim, for changing Bond to a woman via a change of actor.
As noted in the previous essay, the actors who have played Bond have been different in many ways, yet they are all accepted as Bond. As such, there are clearly many properties that Bond has accidentally. They can change with the actors while the character is still Bond. One advantage of a fictional character is, of course, that the author can simply decide on the essential properties when they create the metaphysics for their fictional world. For example, in fantasy settings an author might decide that a being is its soul and thus an undergo any number of bodily alterations (such as through being reincarnated or polymorphed) and still be the same being. If Bond was in such a world, all a being would need to be Bond would be to be the Bond soul. This being could inhabit a black male body or even a dragon body and still be Bond.
But, of course, the creator of Bond did not specify the metaphysics of his world-so we would need to speculate using various metaphysical theories about our world. That is, would a person changing their race or gender result in the person ceasing to be that person, just as changing the sides of a triangle would make it cease to be a triangle? Since Bond is a fictional character, there is the option to abandon metaphysics and make use of other areas to settle the matter of Bond identity. One easy solution is to go with the legal option.
Bond is an intellectual property, and this means that you or I cannot write and sell Bond books or create and sell Bond films. As such, there is a legal definition of what counts as James Bond, and this can be tested by trying to see what will get you sued by the owner of James Bond. Closely related to this the Bond brand; this can change considerably and still be the Bond brand. Of course, these legal and branding matters are not very interesting from a philosophical perspective and they are best suited for the courts and marketing departments. But the aesthetic option is within philosophy.
One easy solution is that Bond is whoever the creator says Bond is; but since the creator is dead, we cannot determine what he would think about re-writing Bond as someone other than a white man. One could, of course, go back to the legal argument and assert that whoever owns Bond has the right to decide who Bond is.
Another approach is to use the social conception: a character’s identity is based on the acceptance of the fans. As such, if the fans accept Bond as being someone other than a white man, then that is Bond. After all, Bond is a fictional character who exists in the minds of his creator and his audience. Since his creator is dead, Bond now exists in the minds of the audience; so perhaps it is a case of majority acceptance—a sort of aesthetic democracy. Bond is whoever most fans say is Bond. Or one could take the approach that Bond is whoever the individual audience member accepts as Bond; thus allowing for Bond subjectivity. Since Bond is fictional, this is certainly appealing. As such, it would be up to you whether your Bond can be anyone other than a white man. A person’s decision would say quite a bit about them. While some might be tempted to assume that anyone who believes that Bond must be a white man is thus a racist or sexist, that would be a mistake. There can be non-sexist and non-racist reasons to believe this. There are, of course, also sexist and racist reasons to believe this.