Selections from Moreland (1998) on Bare Particulars

From J.P. Moreland’s Theories of Individuation: A Reconsideration of Bare Particulars, 1998.

What are they?

    What exactly is a bare particular? According to Gustav Bergmann’s classical definition, “Bare particulars neither are nor have natures. Any two of them are not intrinsically but only numerically different. That is their bareness. It is impossible for a bare particular to be ‘in’ more than one ordinary thing…. A bare particular is a mere individuator…. It does nothing else.”9 Bergmann’s statement implies three things about a bare particular: 1) It is not a property or a relation, but rather, a numerically primitive individual of logical type zero in Russell’s sense. 2) It does not “have” a nature nor does it “have” any properties at all. 3) Its only role it to be an individuator.

Why believe in them?

    What solutions have been offered to the problem of individuation? The best way to get at those solutions is by means of the following four propositions:
    (1) The only constituents of objects are their properties.
    (2) Pure properties are numerically identical in their instances.
    (3) (x)(y) [(z)(z is a constituent of x z is a constituent of y) –> x = y].
    (4) Necessarily, (x)(y) [(z) (z is a pure property of x z is a pure property of y) –> x = y].
    The difficulty expressed in these four propositions is that 1–3 entail 4 and
    4 is the assertion that the identity of indiscernibles is a necessary truth when construed as a statement about pure properties. And most philosophers think that the identity of indiscernibles is false.

What are some objections to them?

    The second objection against bare particulars is the claim that the notion itself “is incoherent and self-contradictory”. At least four reasons have been given for this claim: 1) It is a necessary truth that any entity exemplifies properties yet bare particulars exemplify no properties. Why think that this is a necessary truth? I can think of two reasons. Either it follows from one’s overall theory of existence itself or else from a generalization of the second argument to be given momentarily. I will address the issue of existence in the fourth major objection against bare particulars below. Thus, my response to this first point will be made in connection with reason two. 2) Bare particulars are suppose to have no properties, certainly no properties necessarily, yet there are many properties they have and have necessarily: being concrete, being particular, transcendental properties like being colored if green, being the
    constituent of at most one entity, having the property of lacking properties. 3) One cannot grasp or apprehend or conceive something that doesn’t exemplify properties so bare particulars fail in this respect. 4) It is a necessary truth that if a property P inheres in x, then x exemplifies P. Thus, given the fact that bare particulars must have properties that inhere in them, e.g., the properties listed above or the property of being such that properties can subsist or inhere in a bare particular, the notion of a particular being bare is incoherent.

Well, what do you have to say about that?

    These objections fail because they either express gross misunderstandings of bare particulars or else they beg a serious question. Before I argue this directly, it is worth noting that some of the properties listed above are suspect to say the least. In my view, what grounds the truthfulness of the proposition “x is colored if x is green” is not a property, but a state of affairs constituted by a determinable (being colored), a determinate (being green), and a genus/species relation. Nor, arguably, are there negative properties. The fact that a bare particular lacks some property F is not
    grounded in the fact that it possesses the negative property of not-F. As a primitive fact, it simply lacks F itself.
    By contrast, bare particulars are simple and properties are linked or tied to them. This tie is asymmetrical in that some bare particular x has a property F and F is had by x. A bare particular is called “bare”, not because it comes without properties, but in order to distinguish it from other particulars like substances and to distinguish the way it has a property (F is tied to x) from the way, say, a substance has a property (F is rooted within x). Since bare particulars are simples, there is no internal differentiation within them. When a property is exemplified by a bare particular, it is modified by being tied to that particular.

Read the whole thing.

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3 thoughts on “Selections from Moreland (1998) on Bare Particulars

  1. Thanks for the selections! I find this very interesting to say the least. Do you happen to know if JP employs bare particulars to differentiate the members of the Trinity? Swinburne (and DeWeese) argue that haecceities can’t do the job there since haecceities are necessarily tied to essences, so you’d have three essences. It sounds like bare particulars are tied to essences in the same way so that they wouldn’t individuate the divine persons.

  2. DeWeese thinks they are differentiated by subordination relations but I think JP would retort that relations presuppose their relata. I know you reject essential subordination relations, as do I, but it then becomes problematic how they are differentiated at all.

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