In this entry I expand on my claim that Peter van Inwagen's theory of properties commits him to bare particulars, not in some straw-man sense of the phrase, but in a sense of the phrase that comports with what proponents of bare particulars actually have claimed. I begin by distinguishing among four possible senses of 'bare particular.'
Four Senses of 'Bare Particular'
1. A bare particular is an ordinary concrete particular that lacks properties. I mention this foolish view only to set it aside. No proponent of bare particulars that I am aware of ever intended the phrase in this way. And of course, van Inwagen is not committed to bare particulars in this sense.
2. A bare particular is an ontological constituent of an ordinary concrete particular, a constituent that has no properties. To my knowledge, no proponent of bare particulars ever intended the phrase in this way. In any case, the view is untenable and may be dismissed. Van Inwagen is of course not committed to this view. He is a 'relation' ontologist, not a 'constituent' ontologist.
3. A bare particular is an ontological constituent of an ordinary concrete particular, a constituent that does have properties, namely, the properties associated with the ordinary particular in question, and has them by instantiating (exemplifying) them. This view is held by Gustav Bergmann and by David Armstrong in his middle period. Armstrong, however, speaks of thin particulars rather than bare particulars, contrasting them with thick particulars (what I am calling ordinary concrete particulars). When he does uses 'bare particular,' he uses the phrase incorrectly and idiosyncratically to refer to something like (1) or (2). For example, in Universals and Scientific Realism, Cambridge UP, 1978, vol. I, p. 213, he affirms something he calls the "Strong Principle of the Rejection of Bare Particulars":
For each particular, x, there exists at least one non-relational property, P, such that x is P.
(I should think that the first occurrence of 'P' should be replaced by 'P-ness' despite the unfortunate sound of that.) This principle of Armstrong is plausibly read as a rejection of (1) and (2). It is plainly consistent with (3).
But of course I do not claim that van Inwagen is committed to bare or thin particulars in the sense of (3). For again, van Inwagen is not a constituent ontologist.
4. A bare particular is an ordinary concrete particular that has properties by instantiating them, where instantiation is a full-fledged external asymmetrical relation (not a non-relational tie whatever that might come to) that connects concrete objects to abstract objects, where abstract objects are objects that are not in space, not in time, and are neither causally active nor causally passive.
What is common to (3) and (4) is the idea that bare particulars have properties all right, but they have them in a certain way, by being externally related to them. A bare particular, then, is nothing like an Aristotelian primary substance which has, or rather is, its essence or nature. The bareness of a bare particular, then, consists in its lacking an Aristotle-type nature, not it its lacking properties.
My claim is that van Inwagen is committed to bare particulars in sense (4). Let me explain.
Van Inwagen's Bare Particulars
Consider my cat Max. Van Inwagen is committed to saying that Max is a bare particular. For while Max has properties, these properties are in no sense constituents of him, but lie (stand?) outside him in a realm apart. These properties are in no sense at him or in him or on him, not even such properties as being black or being furry, properties that are plausibly held to be sense-perceivable. After all, one can see black where he is and feel furriness where he is. None of Max's properties, on van Inwagen's construal of properties, are where he is or when he is. As I made clear earlier, the realms of the concrete and the abstract are radically disjoint for van Inwagen. They are jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive realms: for all x, x is either concrete or abstract, but not both and not neither. So Max is here below in the realm of space, time, change, and causality while his properties exist in splendid isolation up yonder in the realm of abstracta.
Max and his properties are of course connected by instantiation which is a relation that is both external and abstract. In what sense is the relation external? X and y are externally related just in case there is nothing intrinsic about the relata that entails their being related. Max is two feet from me at the moment. This relation of being two feet from is external in that there are no intrinsic properties of me or Max or both that entail our being two feet from each other. Our intrinsic properties would be just the same if we were three feet from each other. But Max and his brother Manny are both black. In virtue of their both being intrinsically black, they stand in the same color as relation. Hence the latter relation is not external but internal. Internal relatedness is supervenient upon the intrinsic features of the relata; external relatedness is not.
Suppose I want to bring it about that two balls have the same color. I need do only two things: paint the one ball red, say, and then paint the other ball red. But if I want to bring it about that there are two balls having the same color ten feet from each other, I have to do three things: paint the one ball red, say; paint the other ball red; place them ten feet from each other. The external relatedness does not supervene upon the intrinsic properties of the relata.
Given that concrete particulars are externally related to their properties, these particular are bare particulars in the sensedefined in #4 above.
And What is Wrong with That?
Suppose you agree with me that van Inwagen's concrete particulars are bare, not in any old sense, but in the precise sense I defined, a sense that comports well with what the actual proponents of bare/thin particulars had in mind. So what? What's wrong with being committed to bare particulars? Well, the consequences seem unpalatable if not absurd.
A. One consequence is that all properties are accidental and none are essential. For if Max is bare, then there is nothing in him or at him or about him that dictates the properties he must instantiate or limits the properties he can instantiate. He can have any old set of properties so long as he has some set or other. Bare particulars are 'promiscuous' in their connection with properties. The connection between particular and property is contingent and all properties are accidental. It is metaphysically (broadly logically) possible that Max combine with any property. He happens to be a cat, but he could have been a poached egg or a valve lifter. He could have had the shape of a cube. Or he might have been a dimensionless point. He might have been an act of thinking (temporal and causally efficacious, but not spatial).
B. A second consequence is that all properties are relational and none are intrinsic. For if Max is black in virtue of standing in an external instantiation relation to the abstract object, blackness, then his being black is a relational property and not an intrinsic one.
C. A third consequence is that none of Max's properties are sense-perceivable. PvI-properties are abstract objects and none of them are perceivable. But if I cup my hands around a ball, don't I literally feel its sphericalness or spheroidness? Or am I merely being appeared to spheroidally?