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and A-ribute

We now assume the existence of:

• par5cular things,
• universal proper5es,
• instan5a5on, linking par5cular things to universal proper5es.

Uninstan1ated Universals

Consider the following situa5on:

F G H? [universals]
| /|
| / |
| / |
a b c? [particulars]

Suppose a = Socrates, b = Plato, c = a thing without proper5es, F = snubnosed, G = pale, H =

unicorn. Then the above diagram depicts the following situa5on:

a is F: Socrates is snubnosed.
a is G: Socrates is pale.
b is G: Plato is pale.
nothing is H: Nothing is a unicorn.
c is nothing: c instan5ates no universal.

H is an uninstan,ated universal, c is a bare par,cular. The first ques5on Armstrong asks is

whether we should assume that universals can be uninstan5ated. He considers several
arguments for uninstan5ated universals and decides that none of them is convincing. On this
basis, he decides that there are no uninstan5ated universals. This assump5on will later help
with establishing the view that universals are cons5tuents of states of affairs. (If all universals
must be instan5ated, they must all be part of some state of affairs; this will become clearer in a

The arguments are:

1. For every general term, there is a universal; but there are general terms that refer to no
par5cular thing; therefore, there are uninstan5ated universals. Armstrong dismisses this
as a bad argument. Obviously, it is not generally true that every word refers to an
exis5ng thing; therefore, general terms need not always refer to something.
2. Some universals, such as "just state" or "mathema5cal triangle", have no instances. That
is, no state is, has been, or will ever be perfectly just, and every actual triangle is less
precise and less perfect than a mathema5cal triangle. Armstrong objects that while this
argument may show that there are standards that cannot be met, it does not show that
there are universals that have no instances. (It is not quite clear how Armstrong's
objec5on works.)
3. Many features, such as complicated wall paWerns, might be realized, but never are.
Armstrong argues that this is also true for par5culars: some par5culars might exist but
don't. This does not mean that there are non-existent par5culars. Along these lines, we
will have to say that "uninstan5ated universals" do not actually exist; rather, they would
exist if they were instan5ated.

In any case, Armstrong opts for the following Principle of Instan,a,on:

Every universal was, is, or will be instan5ated by at least one par5cular.

States of Affairs

Skipping a bit, we now introduce the no5on of a state of affairs. States of affairs correspond to
proposi5ons, in the same way in which things correspond to names and verbs and adjec5ves
correspond to proper5es or rela5ons:

"Peter" ==> [a human being]

"pale" ==> [a property]
"Peter is pale" ==> [a state of affairs]

Consider the following situa5on (same as above, leaving out H and c):

| /|
| / |
| / |
a b

This diagram depicts the following states of affairs:

a's being F
a's being G
b's being G

If we are only given the list of par5culars and universals involved in this situa5on, i.e. the list {a,
b, F, G}, we cannot determine whether a is F or not. A picture of the world that only lists
par5culars and universals would not be complete. In addi5on, we will need a list of states of
affairs; this list would tell us whether a is F or not.
This means that the rela5on that a has to F when a is F (i.e. when a instan5ates F) is an external
rela,on. We don't know whether the rela5on obtains by only looking at a and F.
(Note that this might seem counter-intui5ve: of course we usually find out whether Socrates is
pale by looking at Socrates. Armstrong claims that what we are really looking at in order to find
out whether Socrates is pale is the state of affairs that involves both Socrates and his paleness.)
In any case, we may now replace the no5on of instan5a5on with the no5on of a state of affairs.
More precisely, we can work with the following list of basic ingredients of the universe:

• ar5culars: a, b, c, ...
• universals: F, G, H, ...
• states of affairs: a's being F, a's being G, b's being G, ...

We might reduce this to only one list, namely the list of states of affairs. Universals and
par5culars will simply be parts of the states of affairs that are in this list. We end up with one
basic ingredient of the universe: states of affairs.
Now Armstrong suggests that we can say, in different words, what a universal is:

A universal is an iden5cal element present in certain states of affairs. (94)

For instance, F is a universal because F is present in two states of affairs: in a's being F and in b's
being F.
On the other hand, by assump5on, a is a par5cular, and a is present in two states of affairs, too
-- in a's being F and in a's being G. So how is a not a universal?
In order to fix this, we would have to s5pulate:

No par5cular can be present in more than one state of affairs.

This will mean that "a's being F" and "a's being G" are not actually two states of affairs; for
otherwise, a would be present in more than one state of affairs. We will have to merge all states
of affairs that involve a into one state of affairs.
Further problem: a state of affairs such as "Socrates teaching Plato" contains both Socrates and
Plato. Now if no par5cular can be present in more than one state of affairs, neither Socrates nor
Plato can be present in any state of affairs other than this one. A possible solu5on to this
problem is to "nest" states of affairs. That is, suppose we represent states of affairs by

(Socrates / snubnosed) = Socrates' being snubnosed

(Socrates, Plato / teaches) = Socrates' teaching Plato

Now we iden5fy Socrates with the state of affairs of Socrates' being everything he is; and we do
the same for Plato:

Socrates = (Socrates / snubnosed, pale, ...)

Plato = (Plato / pale, ...)

Then, if Socrates teaches Plato, we will have the following complex state of affairs:

( (Socrates / snubnosed, pale, ...), (Plato / pale, ...) / teaches )

In general, whenever two things are related to one another, this state of affairs will include all
states of affairs in which these two things are present.
(Apologies - this looked more conspicuous on the blackboard. Think of the parentheses as
expanded into circles.)

For now, the problem is more important that the solu5on. The problem is on the face of it, both
par5culars and universals figure in several dis5nct states of affairs. Socrates' being snubnosed
and Socrates' being pale look like two different states of affairs, and Socrates is present in both
of them. This is at least as mysterious as the so called "problem of universals", that is, the
problem, of how both Socrates and Plato can be pale, so that paleness is present in two dis5nct
states of affairs.
In a later paper ("How do Par5culars Stand to Universals", Oxford Studies in Metaphysics 2004),
Armstrong suggests that one might iden5fy par5culars and universals with the rows and
columns of a table such as the following:


a x x -

b - x -

c - - -

That is:

a = {F,G}
b = {G}
c = ∅
F = {a}
G = {a,b}
H = ∅

This account is a combina5on of the bundle theory of par5culars and the class theory of
universals: par5culars are bundles of universals and universals are sets of par5culars. It will have
all the problems of these two theories combined. For instance, every two universals will have to
have a different set of instances, and every two par5culars will have to differ in at least on of
their features.

The "fundamental 1e regress"

In one of Plato's dialogues, the Parmenides, Zeno gives (roughly) the following argument:

ONE and MANY are two different things, i.e. ONE ≠ MANY.
Therefore, nothing can be both one and may, because if x is one and x is many, we would
get ONE = x = MANY.

Socrates responds:
We must dis5nguish between things and features. That x is both one and many does not
mean that the feature ONE is the feature MANY; it means that one thing, x, is related to
two features, ONE and MANY.

In a picture:

\ /
\ /

This is a substance-aWribute theory. Parmenides's first reac5on is to ask Socrates for an account
of the rela5on between x and its features. That is, the rela5on between par5culars and their
features, the rela5on of instan5a5on, was the first thing called into ques5on.
Armstrong poses the following problem:

When a is F, a instan5ates F.
Instan5a5on is a rela5on between a thing and a feature.
When x relates to y in way R, both x and y instan5ate R.
Therefore, when a instan5ates F, both a and F instan5ate instan5a5on.
But when a and F instan5ate instan5a5on, all three of them, a, F, and instan5a5on,
instan5ate instan5a5on,
and so forth.

Armstrong argues that this regress is harmless; this can be show by transla5ng instan5a5on-talk
into state-of-affairs-talk:

When a is F, there is a state of affairs (a / F).

Then, there is a state of affairs of it being so that a is F: ((a / F)),
and a state of affairs of there being a state of affairs of it being so that that a is F:
(((a / F)))...

Seen in this way, it is obvious that aler the ini5al step, nothing new happens. This is like asking
someone whether p, then asking whether it is true that p, then asking whether it is true that it
is true that p, and so on: these are really all the same ques5on.