DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N040-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 02, 2022, from

Article Summary

Particulars are to be understood by contrasting them with universals, that term being used to comprise both properties and relations. Often the term ‘individuals’ is used interchangeably with ‘particulars’, though some restrict the term ‘individuals’ to those particulars whose existence has more than momentary duration.

It is sometimes taken as a distinctive feature of particulars that they cannot be in more than one place at a time, whereas universals are capable of being wholly present in more than one place at a given time: if you have a white thing here and a white thing there, then you have two particulars but only one property. This way of distinguishing between particulars and universals may help us to focus on apt paradigm cases of each, but arguably this does not get us to the heart of the matter. On the one hand, some think it is possible, at least in principle, for a magician, or Pythagoras, or a time traveller, or a subatomic particle to be in two places at once, even though each is a particular. On the other hand, some think that there are properties which could not possibly be manifested in two different places at the same time, and yet which nonetheless are universals: think, for instance, of the divine property of absolute perfection, or of the conjunction of all intrinsic properties of a Leibnizian monad (or possible world); or of Judas’ property of simply being Judas.

Particulars are things which have properties and which stand in relations – particulars ‘instantiate’ properties and relations. By itself, however, this does not distinguish particulars from universals since universals, too, are naturally thought to have properties and to stand in relations. What distinguishes particulars is the fact that, while a particular instantiates properties and relations, nothing instantiates a particular. Universals both ‘have’ (properties and relations) and are ‘had’; particulars ‘have’ but are not ‘had’. Since a particular is not instantiated by another thing, it is sometimes said to exist ‘in itself’, whereas a universal exists ‘in’ something else. For this reason, the term ‘particular’ is related to the term ‘substance’, which is traditionally used to mean something capable of independent existence.

    Citing this article:
    Bigelow, John C.. Particulars, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N040-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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