Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chris Daly on Tropes Precis

This is a recent assignment I did for my metaphysics class. It is not very good. I did my best but my head was not in it. A precis is a concise essay summarizing a larger work. And for this assignment we also had to do a short critical section which is at the end.

Chris Daly claims that trope theorists deny the theory of universals claiming that all properties and relations are particulars which they call tropes. Therefore qualities such as being red are not shared identical relations between distinct substances. If three things are red there is a distinct red trope for each thing rather than a universal of redness that they all share. Trope theory is also distinct because it denies substances and allows only for the existence of tropes as a kind of particular.

The first argument is that trope theory is superior to universal theory because using universals and substances to explain properties and relations creates problems. For example: exactly how is a universal present in multiple places at the same time? The instantiation principle invoked by many universal theorists only makes the question more obscure because it’s not clear how they are instantiated. Trope theory is superior to universal theory because it only uses one type of entity.

The second argument is that trope theory has significant explanatory power. This is because everything can be described and understood in terms of tropes thus eliminating the need for universals and their problems. The third argument is that if every object can be explained as a trope bundle then Ockham’s razor cuts universal theory out.

Daly begins to evaluate trope theory by using Russell’s argument against theorists who denied universals but accepted resemblance. This is because different tropes that would be considered instantiating redness on a universal theory only stand in bare resemblance to each other. They don’t share redness between them but simply look alike. But this leads to an infinite regress because each resemblance itself can only be analyzed in terms of tropes. So there is no place where the analysis can stop in terms of tropes because the resemblance tropes will have resemblance tropes between each other and so we are faced with a vicious regress. This shows that it is necessary for resemblance to be a relation which is a separate entity from tropes.

Campbell and another philosopher Price have responded to Russell’s argument by accusing universal theory of falling prey to the same objection. Because all things that instantiate redness also have a similar shared quality of resembling in respect to red. But this new quality of resembling red will have three instantiations all of which resemble each other. Daly responds to this by claiming that Russell’s vicious regress does not occur here because there is no quality of resembling in respect to red. That is simply a brute fact not a property.
Campbell also responds to Russell’s argument by claiming that the regress is not vicious because the exact same term does not reoccur in each level of the regress but the analysis becomes increasingly abstract. Daly challenges this conclusion by showing that Campbell’s account actually represents the resemblance tropes as being exactly the same. So it is impossible for them to become more abstract as the regress goes on. Campbell’s reason for rejecting the regress as vicious is because each stage of the regress has no ontic additions only formal ones. The additions only come about through logical reflection. Daly thinks that this is exactly the problem and Campbell’s response has failed. Logical reflection forces us to accept the vicious regress. And Daly concludes that Russell’s argument stands against all the rebuttals.

Since trope theory concerns just particulars there is no need to explain a relationship to universals. But how tropes make up the trope bundles which form objects is a problem. Trope theory uses the compresence relation which means separate tropes occupying the same spatio-temporal location. But this relationship is problematic because the tropes and the compresence relation that form trope bundles could all exist independently. In order for a concrete object to be formed out of tropes they would have to be an instantiation of these two things which means that the instantiation objection holds for trope theory.

Campbell’s response is that the compresence relation could just be sharing the same place time coordinates. Daly thinks this response suffers from the same problem. Because nothing is holding the tropes and the time space coordinates together. They could all exist separately. The trope bundle and the space time coordinates need to instantiate the compresence relation in order to form the object in question. And since it still posits the instantiation relation it is no better than universal theory. Thus Daly concludes that Campbell’s defenses of trope theory are “blunted”.

I do not think that Daly’s criticism of trope theory via Russell’s metaphysical regress works. Campbell’s response is pretty much correct. There are no ontic additions throughout the regress and since tropes are a primitive they really can’t be analyzed any further. So the only way to do further metaphysical analysis is to continually use purely conceptual relation tropes. The argument is completely formal and has nothing to do with the actual ontology of the theory. In other words Daly is contriving an unnecessary paradox which is not a part of the ontology of tropes. It’s not as if now that he’s pointed out that you can only analyze the relations between relational tropes in terms of other conceptual tropes that the trope theorist is suddenly committed to a massive undergirding of relational tropes. So the question isn’t whether or not the regress is vicious or virtuous but whether there is a true regress at all.

Tropes are considered the primitive in this theory. And primitives on any theory are going to be unanalyzable. How does a Universal theorist fare any better? Campbell responded to this regress by showing that a similar regress plagues the universal theorist by positing the universal resembling in respect to red. Daly responded to that by claiming there simply was no quality of resembling in respect to red. It’s a contrived regress that doesn’t add new ontological information. So if he can bite the bullet and force the regress to stop there by claiming the resemblance is just a brute fact and not a property it seems the trope theorist can claim basically the same thing about the resemblance tropes in question. It just so happens that the resemblance tropes resemble each other. But that is just a brute fact. It doesn’t perform any new metaphysical function. No new information is added except that we have pointed out the obvious that things which are alike resemble each other.

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