Qualities, Relations, and Property Exemplification

Axiomathes 23 (2):381-399 (2013)
The question whether qualities are metaphysically more fundamental than or mere limiting cases of relations can be addressed in an applied symbolic logic. There exists a logical equivalence between qualitative and relational predications, in which qualities are represented as one-argument-place property predicates, and relations as more-than-one-argument-place predicates. An interpretation is first considered, according to which the logical equivalence of qualitative and relational predications logically permits us ontically to eliminate qualities in favor of relations, or relations in favor of qualities. If metaphysics is understood at least in part as an exercise in ontic economy, then we may be encouraged to adopt a property ontology of qualities without quality-irreducible relations, or relations without relation-irreducible qualities. If either strategy is followed, the choice of reducing qualities to relations or relations to qualities will need to be justified on extra-logical grounds. These might include a perceived greater intuitiveness, explanatory fecundity, compatibility with cognitive ontogeny or developmental psychology, expressive or explanatory elegance or cumbersomeness, and an open-ended list of philosophical motivations that could reasonably favor the ontic prioritization of qualities over relations or relations over qualities. Despite its intuitive appeal, the thesis that logical equivalence together with extra-logical preferences justifies unidirectional ontic reduction of relations to qualities or qualities to relations is rejected in light of the more defensible proposition that the logical equivalence of qualitative and relational predications actually supports the opposite conclusion, that both qualities and relations are logically indispensable to a complete ontology of properties. The logical equivalence of qualitative and relational predications, insofar as we continue to observe the distinction, makes it logically necessary ontically for both qualities and relations to exist whenever either one exists. That logically equivalent qualitative and relational predications have as their truth-makers the exemplification by objects of both qualities and relations as equi-foundational properties further suggests that there is no deeper logical distinction between qualities and relations, but only two convenient lexical-grammatical designations for property predications involving one- versus more-than-one-argument-place
Keywords Abstraction  Exemplification  Identity  Logic, logical equivalence  Metaphysics  Ontic reduction  Ontology  Property  Quality  Relation  Semantics
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DOI 10.1007/s10516-011-9157-9
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