Saturday, March 18, 2006

Moreland on Universals and Existence part 1

Moreland on Abstract Objects and Existence

Moreland’s view of abstract objects treats all aspects of a thing as though they are things in themselves. The red in a chair, for example, is itself a thing (property-instance) that is composed of other things. Hence, everything is composed of increasingly primitive things, and this continues until an ultimate primitive is discovered that accounts for the existence of itself and all other things. This may be likened to the materialist view of the world. While the materialist holds that the objects of our experience are composed of small fundamental units called atoms, Moreland holds that the objects of our experience are fundamentally composed of metaphysical things.

For Moreland the primitive building blocks of existence are the universal, the bare particular and the exemplification relation which is both a constituent in the thing made and the unifier of that which is made. The most difficult entity to grasp is the exemplification relation. Difficulty in understanding this entity arises from the fact that it is supposedly a constituent in a property-instance, while simultaneously being a transcendent entity which brings the other two entities together. One may almost think of the exemplification relation as a sort of universal. For the ability to be in a thing and above a thing at the same time is exactly the function and character of a universal.

Existence as a Universal

Moreland’s view ultimately makes existence itself a universal. He strongly believes that being is a genus. For him, being must be a genus because when existence is predicated of a thing, it must mean the same thing in every predication. His description of existence sounds very much like the description of a universal. On his account, being is identical with existence and existence as such is a multiply repeatable entity. What is more, existence is always the same thing in all of its instances and it is the entity which accounts for identity among numerically different instances. These descriptions are identical to his description of universals.

This is not an uncommon criticism of the contemporary realist’s position. Nominalists sometimes claim that the realist notion of existence entails that it be a universal. They then point out that the realist has simply added another universal to account for existence. Realist’s see that adding another universal to account for existence leads to a vicious infinite regress. There are several versions of infinite regress arguments. One of them deals with the fact that universals have no causal power. Universals require something else to instantiate them. If existence itself is a universal, it would require something else to instantiate it. However, the realist does not have any other ontological entities to account for existence. They simply posit a modified universal
and argue that no vicious regress is necessary so long as the lowest order universal is selfexemplifying.

This tactic appears to fail. If existence is a universal, then existence as such is the lowest order universal. It is like all other lower order universals in that it contains higher order universals. On the other hand, existence is unlike other universals in that it is the only self-exemplifying universal. It must be self-exemplifying in order to avoid the infinite regress arguments leveled against contemporary realists. All other universals require existence in order to bring about concrete realities. Existence, however, does not require any other entity to account for its existence.

In this way, Moreland hopes to avoid not only the infinite regress problem, but also the problem posed by Immanuel Kant. Moreland agrees with Kant in thinking that existence cannot simply be a “normal property like redness”. However, in his attempts to avoid Kant’s criticism he ultimately ends up describing existence in terms of its genus and specific difference. Existence for Moreland is a universal, but it is unlike other universals in that it is self-exemplifying. However, if existence is a “self-exemplifying universal”, then existence becomes a fully determinate being. Existence as such is both that which is determinable and that which is determinate.

However, this leads to a contradictory state of affairs. It is contradictory to say that a being is both determinable and determinate at the same time and the same sense. Moreland may respond by claiming that it is simply the nature of existence to be both a thing in itself and to be in other things as a constituent of them. However, this will not do. Unlike many contemporary criticisms of Moreland’s view, this criticism does not charge Moreland with a “strange” view of existence; rather it claims that the view is contradictory and therefore necessarily false.

Existence as a “What”

Another problem arises when one holds that to be real is to be a thing. For this is what is entailed when Moreland describes existence as “the having of properties”. In their book Being and God: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Being and to Natural Theology, George Klubertanz and Maurice Holloway explain the problem in construing existence in this way. If existence is the being this or that sort of thing, then “there is no effective way to distinguish between a real thing in the proper sense of the word and an essence or a possible thing.” In other words, if all things “are” by virtue of their having properties, and if existence adds nothing to the “what” of a thing, then how does knowing what a thing is inform you of whether or not a thing is?

Moreland attempts to maintain a real difference between essence and existence. He also wants to maintain that a being is more than a sum of its properties. For him, existence is something a thing has in addition to its properties. However, this distinction is blurred by his definition of existence itself. This is because universals account for the “what” of a thing while existence accounts for the “fact” of a thing. However, if Moreland’s view of existence ultimately entails that to exist is to be a “what”, and if existence itself is ultimately a “what”, then the distinction between essence and existence is blurred at best and destroyed at worst.


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