DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N121-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 26, 2020, from

Article Summary

Asked to describe a given tomato, you might cite its redness, its size, and its age. In doing so, some philosophers would claim, you have cited some of the tomato’s properties. A property is what is variously called a feature, quality, attribute, or (as some philosophers put it) a way that something is. A property is supposed to be an entity that things (including particulars, such as tomatoes or people) have.

The topic of properties is part of ontology (the study of what there is). The topic involves two key issues. The first issue concerns the nature of properties. That is, it concerns what sorts of entities properties are. One important question here is whether properties are located in space and time. Some philosophers follow Plato in thinking that properties are located in neither space nor time. Others follow Aristotle in thinking that properties are located in space and time. Another question is whether distinct individuals can literally have one and the same property. The view that they can takes properties to be repeatable entities, or universals. A rival view takes properties to be non-repeatable entities, or particulars.

The second issue concerns the existence of properties. Given a view about the nature of properties – a view about what properties are supposed to be – there is then an issue about whether there are any such entities. The traditional debate typically took properties to be universals. Realists about universals argued that universals exist, whereas Nominalists argued that they do not. With greater recognition emerging during the last century of other ways of thinking of properties, the debate about the existence of properties has become many-sided.

Philosophers who agree both about what properties are, and that properties so understood exist, may find other grounds for disagreement. This raises a subsidiary class of issues. For instance, do particulars exist in addition to properties? A given apple is edible, sweet to taste, and so on. Some philosophers argue that the apple is only a ‘bundle’ of these and other properties. Other philosophers disagree, and take the apple to be a ‘bare particular’ which has various properties, but is distinct from them. Other disagreements concern which properties exist, and how to classify them. For instance, is there a genuine distinction between so-called primary and secondary qualities? Again, is there a genuine distinction between so-called dispositional and non-dispositional (or categorical) properties?

    Citing this article:
    Daly, Chris. Properties, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N121-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2020 Routledge.

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