Particulars

In Roberto Poli & Johanna Seibt (eds.), Theories and Applications of Ontology. Springer. 23--55 (2010)
Abstract
According to the standard view of particularity, an entity is a particular just in case it necessarily has a unique spatial location at any time of its existence. That the basic entities of the world we speak about in common sense and science are particular entities in this sense is the thesis of “foundational particularism,” a theoretical intuition that has guided Western ontological research from its beginnings to the present day. The main aim of this paper is to review the notion of particularity and its role in ontology. I proceed in four steps. First, I offer a brief reconstruction of the tasks of ontology as “theory of categorial inference in L”. An ontological theory states which (combinations of) entity types or categories make true L-sentences true; the features of the stipulated categories explain why L-speakers are entitled to draw certain material inferences from the classificatory expressions of L. Second, I draw attention to the fact that since Aristotle this theoretical program typically has been implemented with peculiar restrictions prescribing certain combinations of category features, e.g., the combination of particularity, concreteness, individuality, and subjecthood. I briefly sketch how these restrictions of the “substance paradigm” or “myth of substance” are reinforced by the standard readings of predicate-logical constants, viz. the existential quantifier and the identity sign. Third, I argue that in the context of the substance paradigm foundational particularism is incoherent. I discuss the current standard conceptions of particulars as developed in the debate about individuation (bare particulars, nude particulars, tropes) and show that their main difficulties derive from the traditional restriction that particulars are so also logical subjects and/or individuals. Fourth, to show that the traditional linkages of category features are not conceptual necessities, I sketch the outlines of an ontology (General Process Theory) based on non-particular individuals. For ontologists in computer science working with description logic this monocategoreal ontology based on more or less generic ‘dynamics’ may hold special interest. As General Process Theory documents, ontologists may well abandon the notion of particularity: in common sense and science we do reason about items that have a unique spatial location at any time, but the uniqueness of their location can be taken to be a contingent affair.
Keywords ontology  particularity  individuals  process ontology  substance  methodology of ontology  metaphilosophy
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