David Lewis 's New Work For A Theory Of Universals

Decent Essays

One consequence of viewing ontology and identity as relative is that properties and universals hardly seem much more problematic. Although universals obviously do not exist on a fundamental level, I think both David Lewis and David Armstrong provide helpful suggestions on the scope of universals in practical discourse. While David Lewis’s essay “New Work for a Theory of Universals” (1983) is quite extensive in its scope and insight, I only wish to draw attention to his reasoning about the scope of universals. Lewis makes a more radical distinction between “property” and “universal” than most philosophers. Lewis defines the word “property” very broadly: an object has a property by virtue of being a member of a set, so there are as many properties as there are sets. Given that Lewis is a realist about both set theory and possible worlds, he must recognize a vast and exotic array of properties. There is a property of fuzzy redness and non-square largeness as much as there is a property of redness, both being sets. Obviously not everything that is designated a property can claim the status of universal. Only those properties that can be wholly present in multiple locations are candidates for being universals. Among these, those given by empirical science (natural properties) make the final cut and are crowned as universals. In “Universals as Attributes,” Armstrong grants that universals exist but denies that they can exist as uninstantiated abstractions. Rather, he

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