- D. M. Armstrong offers a theory of universals as the only adequate answer to a 'compulsory question' for systematic philosophy: the problem of One over Many1. I find this line of argument unpersuasive. But I think there is more to be said for Armstrong's theory than he himself has said. For as I bear it in mind considering various topics in philosophy, I notice time and again that it offers solutions to my problems. Whatever we may think of the problem of One over Many, universals can earn their living doing other much-needed work.
- I do not say that they are indispensable. The services they render could be matched using resources that are Nominalistic in letter, if perhaps not in spirit2. But neither do I hold any presumption against universals, to the effect that they are to be accepted only if we have no alternative. I therefore suspend judgement about universals themselves. I only insist that, one way or another, their work must be done.
- I shall investigate the benefits of adding universals to my own usual ontology. That ontology, though Nominalistic, is in other respects generous. It consists of possibilia — particular, individual things, some of which comprise our actual world and others of which are unactualised3 — together with the iterative hierarchy of classes built up from them. Thus I already have at my disposal a theory of properties as classes of possibilia. Properties, so understood, are not much like universals. Nor can they, unaided, take over the work of universals. Nevertheless they will figure importantly in what follows, since for me they are part of the environment in which universals might operate.
- The friend of universals may wonder whether they would be better employed not as an addition to my ontology of possibilia and classes, but rather as a replacement for parts of it. A fair question, and an urgent one; nevertheless, not a question considered in this paper.
- In the next section, I shall sketch Armstrong's theory of universals, contrasting universals with properties understood as classes of possibilia.
- Then I shall say why I am unconvinced by the One over Many argument.
- Then I shall turn to my principal topic: how universals could help me in connection with such topics as
Perhaps the list could be extended.
- duplication, supervenience4, and divergent worlds;
- a minimal form of materialism;
- laws and causation; and
- the content of language and thought.
Footnote 1: Footnote 2: In this paper, I follow Armstrong's traditional terminology:
- 'Universals' are repeatable entities, wholly present wherever a particular instantiates them;
- 'Nominalism' is the rejection of such entities.
- In the conflicting modem terminology of Harvard, classes count as 'universals' and 'Nominalism' is predominantly the rejection of classes.
- Confusion of the terminologies can result in grave misunderstanding; see "Quine (W.V.) - Soft Impeachment Disowned" (1980).
- Among 'things' I mean to include all the gerrymandered wholes and undemarcated parts admitted by the most permissive sort of mereology.
- Further, I include such physical objects as spatiotemporal regions and force fields, unless an eliminative reduction of them should prove desirable.
- Further, I include such nonphysical objects as gods and spooks, though not - I hope - as parts of the same world as us.
- Worlds themselves need no special treatment. They are things — big ones, for the most part.
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