In his contribution to the book I am reviewing, Metaphysics: Aristotelian, Scholastic, Analytic (Ontos Verlag, 2012), Lukáš Novák mounts an Aristotelian argument against bare particulars. In this entry I will try to understand his argument. I will hereafter refer to Professor Novák as 'LN' to avoid the trouble of having to paste in the diacriticals that his Czech name requires.
As I see it, the overall structure of LN's argument is an instance of modus tollens:
1. If some particulars are bare, then all particulars are bare.
2. It is not the case that all particulars are bare.
3. No particulars are bare.
On the Very Idea of a Bare Particular
'Bare particular' is a technical term in philosophy the provenance of which is the work of Gustav Bergmann. (D. M. Armstrong flies a similar idea under the flag 'thin particular.') Being a terminus technicus, the term does not wear its meaning on its sleeve. It does not refer to particulars that lack properties; there are none. It refers to particulars that lack natures or nontrivial essential properties. (Being self-identical is an example of a trivial essential property; being human of a nontrivial essential property.) Bare particulars differ among themselves solo numero: they are not intrinsically or essentially different, but only numerically different. Or you could say that they are barely different. Leibniz with his identitas indiscernibilium would not have approved.
The notion of a bare particular makes sense only in the context of a constituent ontology according to which ordinary particulars, 'thick particulars' in the jargon of Armstrong, have ontological constituents or metaphysical parts. Consider two qualitatively indiscernible round red spots. There are two of them and thay share all their features. What is the ontological ground of the sameness of features? The sameness of the universals 'in' each spot. What grounds the numerical difference? What makes them two and not one? Each has a different bare particular among its ontological constituents. BPs, accordingly, are individuators/differentiators. On this sort of ontological analysis an ordinary particular is a whole of ontological parts including universals and a bare particular. But of course the particulars exemplify the universals, so a tertium quid is needed, a nexus of exemplification to tie the bare particular to the universals.
The main point, however, is that there is nothing in the nature of a bare particular to dictate which universals it exemplifies: BPs don't have natures. Thus any BP is 'promiscuously combinable' with any first-order universal. On this Bergmannian ontological scheme it is not ruled out that Socrates might have been an octopus or a valve-lifter in a '57 Chevy. The other side of the coin is that there is no DE RE metaphysical necessity that Socrates be human. Of course, there is the DE DICTO metaphysical impossibility, grounded in the respective properties, that an octopus be human. But it is natural to want to say more, namely that it is DE RE metaphysically impossible that Socrates be an octopus. But then the problem is: how can a particular qua particular 'contradict' any property? Being an octopus 'contradicts' (is metaphysically inconsistent with) being a man. But how can a particular be such as to disallow its exemplification of some properties? (116)
Thus I agree with LN that if there are bare particulars, then there are no DE RE metaphysical necessities pertaining to ordinary particulars, and vice versa. This is why LN, an Aristotelian, needs to be able to refute the very notion of a bare particular.
LN's Argument for premise (2) in the Master Argument Above
LN draws our attention to the phenomenon of accidental change. A rock goes from being cold to being hot. Peter goes from being ignorant of the theorem of Pythagoras to being knowledgeable about it. These are accidental changes: one and the same particular has different properties at different times. Now a necessary condition of accidental change is that one and the same subject have different properties at different times. But is it a sufficent condition? Suppose Peter is F at time t and not F at time t* (t* later than t). Suppose that F-ness is a universal. It follows that Peter goes from exemplifying the universal F-ness at t to not exemplifying it at t*. That is: he stands in the exemplification relation to F-ness at t, but ceases so to stand to t*. But there has to be more to the change than this. For, as LN points out, the change is in Peter. It is intrinsic to him and cannot consist merely in a change in a relation to a universal. Thus it seems to LN that, even if there are universals and particulars, we need another category of entity to account for accidental change, a category that that I will call that of property-exemplifications. Thus Peter's being cold at t is a property-exemplification and so is Peter's not being cold at t*. Peter's change in respect of temperature involves Peter as the diachronically persisting substratum of the change, the universal coldness, and two property-exemplifications, Peter's being cold at t and Peter's being not cold at t*.
These property-exemplifications, however, are particulars, not universals even though each has a universal as a constituent. This is a special case of what Armstrong calls the Victory of Particularity: the result of a particular exemplifying a universal is a particular. Moreover, these items have natures or essences: it is essential to Peter's being cold that it have coldness as a constituent. (This is analogous to mereological essentialism.) Hence property- exemplifications are particulars, but not bare particulars. Therefore, (2) is true: It is not the case that all particulars are bare.
I find LN's argument for (2) persuasive. The argument in outline:
4. There are property-exemplifications
5. Property-exemplifications are particulars
6. Property-exemplifications have natures
7. Whatever has a nature is not bare
2. It is not the case that all particulars are bare.
Premise (1) in the Master Argument
LN has shown that not all particulars are bare. But why should we think that (1) is true, that if some particulars are bare, then all are? It could be that simple particulars are bare while complex particulars, such as property-exemplifications, are not bare. If that is so, then showing that no complex particular is bare would not amount to showing that no particular is bare.
The Master Argument, then, though valid, is not sound, or at at least it is not obviously sound: we have been given no good reason to accept (1).
Property-exemplifications, Tropes, and Accidents
But in all fairness to LN I should point out that he speaks of tropes and accidents, not of property-exemplifications. I used the latter expression because 'trope' strikes me as out of place. Tropes are simples. Peter's being ignorant of the theorem of Pythagoras at t, however, is a complex, and LN says as much on p. 117 top. So the entity designated by the italicized phrase is not a trope, strictly speaking. 'Trope' is a terminus technicus whose meaning in this ontological context was first given to it by Donald C. Williams.
Well, is the designatum of the italicized phrase an accident? Can an accident of a substance have that very subtance as one of its ontological constituents? I should think not. But Peter's being ignorant of the theorem of Pythagoras at t has Peter as one of its constituents. So I should think that it is not an accident of Peter.
I conclude that either I am failing to understand LN's argument or that he has been insufficiently clear in expounding it.
A Final Quibble
LN suggests that the intuitions behind the theory of bare particulars are rooted in Frege's mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive distinction between concepts and objects. "Once this distinction has been made, it is very hard to see how there might be a genuine case of logical de re necessity." (115) The sentence quoted is true, but as I said above, the notion of a bare particular makes no sense except in the context of a constituent ontology. Frege's, however, is not a constituent ontology like Bergmann's but what Bergmann calls a function ontology. (See G. Bergmann, Realism, p. 7. Wolterstorff's constituent versus relation ontology distinction is already in Bergmann as the distinct between complex and function ontologies.) So I deny that part of the motivation for the positing of bare particulars is an antecedent acceptance of Frege's concept-object distinction. I agree that if one accepts that distinction, then logical or rather metaphyscal de re necessity goes by the boards. But the Fregean distinction is not part of the motivation or argumentation for bare particulars.
Just what considerations motivate the positing of bare particulars would be a good topic for a separate post.