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7/01/2016 1:41 pm  #1


Three Problems for Universals

This was originally posted to the reading group on June 24th.

Here are three problems I think anyone building a theory of properties has to consider[1]: 

(1) The first is the multi-location problem:

To see the spatial objection, suppose this apple and that one are on different shelves in the refrigerator. Provisionally, I conclude that this apple is not the same as that one, since a physical object cannot be in more than one spatial location at once. Next, notice how this apple’s color appears to be “on” this apple. It is spread all over it, as is that apple’s color with respect to it. This color, then, appears to occupy a different spatial location from that color. So, this color cannot be identical to that color. The same point may be brought out by noting that this color and that one appear to bear irreflexive spatial relations to each other. Since being a foot away from is irreflexive, this color cannot have it to itself – in other words, to that color.[2]

The traditional reply is that universals are had by particulars that are in space, but aren't themselves in space. (Even most in re or immanent theories of universals claim the universals themselves exist outside space, partly to avoid this problem.)

(2) But this leads to our second problem: if universals exist outside space and we exist inside it, how do we perceive them? This is the problem that led Plato to postulate a special faculty, and is one reason some nominalists are suspicious of universals.

(3) The third problem is separate from the first two:

If this apple and that apple have the same color, then if the color of this apple is destroyed, so is the color of that apple. Yet it is surely possible for this apple to cease without that one ceasing. And if this apple ceases its color does also, does it not?[2]

In other words, if a universal is wholly present in each thing instantiating it, then how come when one of those things is destroyed, the universal doesn't disappear from the other things instantiating it?

There are different answers to these problems, but each has a cost. How would you answer them?


[1]Catholics, in particular, are committed to trope, universal, or trope-universal theories by their need to account for the outward accidents of the Host in transubstantiation. (I would consider this a welcome restriction. Substance-attribute theories are front-runners for a solution to the problem of universals.)
[2]Ernani Magalhaes's summaries of problems (1) and (3) are so accessible that I've chosen to simply quote them, instead of writing my own. They're from his PhD thesis: When are universals?

 

7/03/2016 9:20 am  #2


Re: Three Problems for Universals

There would be major costs to hold to the reply that irreflexive relations can in some sense indeed occur, given that things can have disparate existence. 

What I mean to say is, so red is a foot away-from-itself, and being-a-foot-away from itself, holds always. Redness is not the same thing as a particular having a shade of red. Redness is something that is disparate, as such, red might not have irreflexive relations. Particulars that instantiate red would have relations with other particulars, "This red cup is a foot away from that red cup." I would go on to say that the nature of universals is such that when we are not talking about particulars, what would be wrong in saying that we should not assume what is possible and what is not—for universals to be on par with what is possible or not for objects which instantiate it.

The nature of universals is incredibly distinct from the nature of particulars. It is different because although the same particular object cannot be in two places at once, a universal has the special feature of doing just that. This is because a universal, unlike a particular, cannot change (if they change, they cease to exist). If I destroy all instances of red, red will still be possible and remains stagnant throughout the carpet of space.

If there are two instantiations of me, I can freely raise my hand without physically motivating my second instantiation. I can be discouraged without my counter-part being discouraged. Universals, however, are not like so. They are causally dependent on Gods Idea. If one instance of red causes a phenomenological effect, it will always do that unceasing. Universals always exert one specific causal power throughout their existence and cannot do anything otherwise. They are entirely static and incapable of changing their causal attitude. And their causal attitude is dependent upon God thinking about them, and how they are.

This would leave us with how we can sensibly talk about one thing being in two different places at once. A universal has one numerical identity. I would argue that numerical identity for properties can be retained even if they are multiply-instantiated. So this red and that red are the same red because of attribute agreement and qualitative identity. A particular object1 which instantiates red and another one (object2) which instantiates something which is perceptibly qualitatively-identical with what we identified in object1, red, the universal is wholly present in both objects.

It is not the case that universals are unchangeable because they transcend space-time and thus immune to causal affection, but because even if they are present in space-time, they cannot be causally impressed upon because they are a different category of being—properties, I maintain, are unchangeable, only objects which have properties are afflict-able. I will take this to be a primitive for my theory which is justified to hold because of attribute-agreement between different particulars.

Space is concrete particular in my ontology, as such anything that which inheres in this the substance of space— a concrete particular has a spatial relation. If an object inheres in space, it has spatial relations. Properties as such defined, while though occurring in particulars, due to the particulars being in space time— are present in the fabric or rug of space-time.

The term "red" refers to two things in my ontology. The idea "red" in the mind of God since universals have a causal priority or a logical one or both before particulars, and the diversely unchanging contingent qualitative instantiations there are in the carpet of space-time.

I am assuming that if a property inheres in an object, it doesn't necessarily exclude it from have a spatial relation.

 

7/03/2016 10:22 am  #3


Re: Three Problems for Universals

Two things are strictly identical if they're both qualitatively and numerically identical. The identical twins, Ed and Bill, are qualitatively identical, but not numerically identical. So they're not strictly identical. (If they were strictly identical, they would be one person.) 

It's a truism[1] that each universal is strictly identical in all its instances. So, your qualitatively identical, numerically distinct properties aren't universals:

This would leave us with how we can sensibly talk about one thing being in two different places at once. A universal has one numerical identity. I would argue that numerical identity for properties can be retained even if they are multiply-instantiated. So this red and that red are the same red because of attribute agreement and qualitative identity.

They're tropes. Replacing universals with tropes is definitely one way out of the problems, but is it the one you meant to take?


[1]The whole point of universals is that they let us explain the sameness of (say) two apples' redness by saying there is a strictly identical entity, redness, in each apple.

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7/03/2016 11:21 am  #4


Re: Three Problems for Universals

John West wrote:

They're tropes. Replacing universals with tropes is definitely one way out of the problems, but is it the one you meant to take?



I understand that, but no. I do not want to. The red is strictly identical. This and that red are mere talks of particular objects. The particular objects are numerically distinct but share some qualitatively-identical features. The particular objects have one strictly identical redness in each of its instantiations.

 

 

7/03/2016 12:40 pm  #5


Re: Three Problems for Universals

The nature of universals is incredibly distinct from the nature of particulars. It is different because although the same particular object cannot be in two places at once, a universal has the special feature of doing just that. This is because a universal, unlike a particular, cannot change (if they change, they cease to exist). If I destroy all instances of red, red will still be possible and remains stagnant throughout the carpet of space.

The relation of being a foot from is itself a universal. Since each universal is strictly identical in all its instances, if being a foot from is irreflexive in one instance (the apples) then it can't be reflexive in another (the redness universal those apples instantiate)[1]. But being a foot from is irreflexive in many instances (e.g. the refrigerated apples in (1)). So, being a foot from can't be reflexive in its other instances. So, being a foot from can't be reflexive in the case of universals.

(The multi-location argument gets even worse with relations. We can locate the redness of apples where the apples are, but where do we put multi-located relations? Do they just hang there, floating in the space between the related things?) 

John West wrote:

They're tropes. Replacing universals with tropes is definitely one way out of the problems, but is it the one you meant to take?

I understand that, but no. I do not want to. The red is strictly identical. This and that red are mere talks of particular objects. The particular objects are numerically distinct but share some qualitatively-identical features. The particular objects have one strictly identical redness in each of its instantiations.

Okay, but now you're back at the start. http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/grin.png


[1]This is another instance of the principle of instantial invariance. If a universal is instantiated by two things in one instance, it can't be instantiated by one in another. 

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7/03/2016 9:26 pm  #6


Re: Three Problems for Universals

The motivation I have to deny tropes is because bundles of tropes is still a live option. Obviously accepting tropes doesn't commit oneself to bundles of tropes, but if one can totally deny tropes their reality; it would be much easier, and it's a cleaner ontology. So if I can deny them, I will. However, as you point out, this doesn't seem to a possible task, if possible at all, it seems incredibly hard. 

 

7/04/2016 11:16 am  #7


Re: Three Problems for Universals

There is a distinction between substantial and nonsubstantial tropes. The tropes in bundles are substantial, and don't require further substances to exist. The tropes you want are nonsubstantial, and do require substances to exist. (Think of nonsubstantial tropes as ways things are.)

The motivation I have to deny tropes is because bundles of tropes is still a live option. Obviously accepting tropes doesn't commit oneself to bundles of tropes, but if one can totally deny tropes their reality; it would be much easier, and it's a cleaner ontology. So if I can deny them, I will.

You can admit nonsubstantial tropes, but refuse substantial tropes. Since nonsubstantial tropes require substances to instantiate them, they can't form bundles.

However, as you point out, this doesn't seem to a possible task, if possible at all, it seems incredibly hard.

Like I said, there are different ways to solve the problems. I'm not trying to guide people to any one view.

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