———. 1990. Abstract Particulars. Oxford: Blackwell.
Contents: Preface XI-XII; 1. A one-category ontology 1; 2. The Problem of Universals 27; 3. Some general objections to Trope theory 53; 4.
The pattern of the properties 81; 5. Relations, causation, space-time and compresence 97; 6. Fields: dealing with the boundary problem 135; 7. The human and
social worlds 157; Notes 175; References 181; Index 185.
"Many philosophers have held, explicitly or implicitly, that any comprehensive survey of the world's constituents would include the cases of
qualities and relations that occur at particular places and times as the qualities and relations of particular objects. It is not so common to affirm that such
cases are themselves particulars in their own right, rather than deriving their particularity from their association with a substance, but this was G. F.
Stout's distinctive claim (Stout, 1905).
D. C. Williams took another step: these cases, or tropes as he called them, not only form a distinct and independent category of existent,
they are the very alphabet of being, the simple, basic, primal items from which all else is built or otherwise derives (Williams, 1966). In presenting his
view, Williams acknowledged that it 'calls for completion in a dozen directions at once'. This work is my attempt to press ahead towards that completion. The
great, liberating insight which Stout and Williams offer us is this: properties can be particulars, so the denial of universals need not be the denial of
properties. In other words, Particularism (which is economical, plausible and appealing) does not have to take the form of Nominalism (which is economical, but
neither plausible nor appealing).
While the principal inspiration for this book is Williams' work, I have also gained a great deal from discussions with David Armstrong, who
remains a Realist about Universals, but whose successive publications in this area provide sympathetic treatments of the trope or abstract particularist view
(Armstrong, 1978, 1989).
Another colleague, John Bacon, has pursued the trope idea in a more formal way (Bacon, 1988, 1989), while David Lewis treats it as a serious
option for dealing with certain intractable problems facing Realism over universals (Lewis, 1983, 1986). Wilfrid Sellars recognized tropes by another name,
although not, I think, as the sole fundamental category.
Frank Ramsey counselled that when a philosophical dispute presents itself as an irresolvable oscillation between two alternatives, the
likelihood is that both alternatives are false and share a common false presupposition. It is my contention that Realism and Nominalism in the problem of
universals exhibit precisely this pattern, their common, false presupposition being that any quality or relation must be a universal.
This book explores the implications of this position. It also argues for theses about relations (Foundationism) and basic physical properties
(field theory), which are particularly congenial to a trope philosophy, but are in large measure independent of it. They have merits irrespective of the truth
about properties in general." (From the Preface)
The manifest world is a world of things rather than fields. It is dominated by concrete, medium-sized specimens of dry goods, limited to
small parts of space and time, distinct from one another, highly complex. It is there familiar objects, such as toothbrushes and loaves of bread, which make
life liveable. Their salients is responsible for substance ontologies, and for the natural impulse to take as the paradigms of tropes characteristics which
seems to be confined to a specific local existence.
The world of fields dethrones such tropes, of course. But it cannot simply dismiss them. They must be given their due; they are not
illusions, and they are not fabrications; they are well-founded appearances (at least), and must be treated as such. So, if they are not to be accorded
straightforward reality, we must be able to explain, on the basis of what truly is, why the manifest world seems to be as it is.
The co-location of a complex concrete object's properties is a supervenient fact. It arises from the location, i.e. the specific coincidence
with a region of space-time, of a region of relatively high value of several field quantities.
That there are such complex objects, which entourage a substance philosophy of many independent bodies, I take to be entirely contingent.
Indeed, Big-Bang speculation takes us back to a time when space-time and all its fields yielded just an almost smooth, hot putty. That, nowadays, there seem to
be no charged objects without mass (i.e. no zones of high charge intensity but low matter intensity) is a contingent matter of how the fields are causally
coupled. It is patterns of causal linkage like that which give rise to bodies with the complex, localized, physics and chemistry which make up the familiar
material and living realms.
The ontological reality underlying substance thinking is the compresence of tropes one with another. A substance, traditionally concerned,
was a complete, even if finite and local, and self-subsistent or independent entity. What the field view endorses is the completeness; it repudiates the
self-subsistent independence. For tables or apples consist in dependent quasi-parts of real tropes. A genuine substance is a total set of coincident tropes,
and on the field view, each of these tropes is a field. Since they are all coextensive with space-time, they all coincide with one another always and
Thus if we wish to continue with the concept of substance in our metaphysics, we would reach Spinoza's conclusion, that there is just one
genuine substance, the cosmos itself, with the fields as its modes.
Our ordinary causal judgements, judgements about particular changes brought about, or particular states maintained, in the familiar world,
are expressed in terms of quasi-tropes. For example, the gas flame boiled the kettle. Such judgements are true or false depending on whether the underlying
causal relations within and among fields would in fact give rise to just such a quasi-trope sequence. They differ from mere sequence judgements, such as: first
the gas lit, then the television programme carne to an end, which have no deep order of connections to sustain them.
The stuffs the world is made of - gold, copper and tin, for example - are local, derivative, peculiar combinations in the strengths of the
underlying fields. To put it more familiarly, different kinds of stuff occur where there are different patterns of electrons and nucleons. Our interest in such
chemical substances is in the ways the constituent quasi-tropes resemble and differ from others in other places. We are not intent on singling out bounded
individuals, and any occurrence of the appropriate quasi-trope complex is as important as any other. Nevertheless, very much as bodies do, the chemical
elements exist in bounded samples. They are spread through the world like a shifting archipelago. They are natural] kinds, even if not ultimate natural kinds.
And specimens of them, local chunks of the archipelago, are one sort of familiar object in the manifest world.
It is a wise philosophy that can arrange to avoid answering such questions as: at what point, exactly, in converting a metal into a plasma,
has the metal ceased to exist? Or: are two isotopes of an element two different stuffs really, or not? Although categorizations like metal/plasma or
element/isotope are not arbitrary, there is an element of human purpose and of salience for humans in these and many other or our everyday, technological and
even scientific distinctions. On the field version or the trope theory, what such categorizations yield is not the deep fully objective real tropes, but a
world of appearances. Where categorization is well done, the appearances are well-founded and the quasi-tropes deserve their place in our cosmology. They
constitute the manifest world." pp. 153-155.