Edwards, Douglas. Properties

By Moreland, J. P. | The Review of Metaphysics, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Edwards, Douglas. Properties


Moreland, J. P., The Review of Metaphysics


EDWARDS, Douglas. Properties. Boston: Polity Press, 2014. xiii + 181 pp. Cloth, $64.95; paper, $22.95--Properties is a delightful book. It is clear, fair to, and with some notable exceptions, achieves wide coverage of core issues. It would be an excellent text for upper division undergraduates or first-year graduate students.

Edwards's purpose is to provide a survey and brief evaluation of different views as to what properties are (universals--transcendental or immanent, tropes, various forms of nominalism, and pluralism), develop and apply a methodology for approaching this task (identify the features properties are supposed to have and look at the roles they are alleged to play), and defend a pluralist position. In chapter one, all this is laid out, and throughout the book, Edwards states that there are basically four roles for properties, two metaphysical (to ground similarities among objects, justified by the one over many argument; to ground an object's causal powers) and two semantic (to provide something to serve as the meaning or reference of predicate terms; to serve as the referent of abstract singular terms, justified by the reference and the quantification argument). Unfortunately, Edwards seems to conflate a universal as the meaning and as the referent of a predicate term. In my view, any meaningful predicate term expresses a concept which is a mental universal, but not all meaningful predicates (for example, gerrymandered ones) refer to universals.

In chapter two, Edwards treats transcendental universals (abstract objects that can exist uninstantiated and are not constituents of the things that exemplify them). He also deals with immanent universals as depicted in Armstrong's ontology (and the chapter has a wonderful summary of that ontology), namely, as multiply located entities spatially in or at the location of their exemplifiers. Edwards raises different regress arguments against both realist views and says that the realist must either take exemplification as a primitive or employ Armstrong's strategy of dismissing the need for exemplification. Edwards claims the first strategy is permissible, but that all the views end up with primitives, and this tends to make all the views equally plausible sans other considerations.

Throughout the book, Edwards relies far too much on Armstrong and Lewis and, in my view, it gets him into trouble. Why? Because the most plausible realist view was offered by Husserl. Roughly, Husserl held to Platonism in one sense (universals are abstract entities that can exist unexemplified) and Aristotelianism in another (when exemplified, the universal forms a complex property-instance, it is nonspatially in that instance and, thus, the particular that has the instance). The property instance qua particular grounds or constitutes the causal powers of particulars. He also held that while looking at an instance of, say, red (and Edwards's agreement with Armstrong that there is no universal redness can easily be undercut by saying that redness is a determinable and more specific shades of red are determinates), one can see it by normal perception; but one can also undergo a gestalt shift and actually "see" the universal in the instance by way of eidetic intuition, a form of rational knowledge by acquaintance. …

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