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Mind Association

Statements about Universals Author(s): Frank Jackson Source: Mind, New Series, Vol. 86, No. 343 (Jul., 1977), pp. 427-429 Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Mind Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 17/11/2013 15:16
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Statements AboutUniversals

A feature ofmanyversionsof Nominalismis the claimthatall statements putatively about universalscan be translatedas statementsabout particulars.This is certainly possible in some cases, forinstance,'Wisdom was a characteristic of Plato' is equivalent to 'Plato was wise'. I will argue that it is not, however,always possible; in particular, that it is *notpossible for 'Red is a colour' and 'Red resemblespink more than blue'. The usual nominalist suggestion is that 'Red is a colour' is equivalent to somethinglike 'Everythingred is coloured'. There is a standard objectionto this translation (see, e.g., A. N. Prior,'Existence',Encyclopedia of Philosophy, New York, I967, vol. 3, p. 146). Consider the scattered location, L, of all the red things. EverythingL-located is coloured,but evidently L-location is not a colour. Likewise,everything red might have been triangularand vice-versa, so that everything triangularwas coloured; but triangularity still would not have been a colour. The nominalistparticularist can, however, side-step this objection red is coloured' as his translation of by offering 'Necessarily, everything 'Red is a colour'. For it is, at best,onlycontingently truethateverything L-located or triangular is coloured.This replygivesa hostageto fortune, namely,the ontic commitments of such assertions of necessity.But it is arguablethatthese do not include a commitment to universals. It is, thus,important thatthe following, apparently decisive,objection is availableto the realistabout universals.Everything red is both shaped and extended,but red is neithera shape nor an extension.And, further, it is necessarily true that everything red is shaped and extended.This is not to deny that 'Red is a colour' entails that necessarilyeverything red is coloured.But the former says more than the latter.If red's being a colourwere nothingmore than a matterof everyred thingnecessarily being coloured, then red's being a shape and an extensionwould be nothingmore than the fact that necessarilyeveryred thing is shaped and extended.And red is not a shape and not an extension.It seems that 'Red is a colour' says, as realists maintain,somethingabout red not reducibleto something about red things. The nominalistmighthave recourseat this point to the distinction betweenanalytictruthin the Fregean sense of reducibility to a logical truthby synonomysubstitution and necessityin the wide sense. He red is coloured' as might,that is, suggest'It is analyticthat everything his translation. in the way of reducing However, there are difficulties red is coloured' to a logical truth.For instance,one cannot 'Everything replace 'is coloured' by 'is yellow or red or. . .'. Because one cannot

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complete the disjunction,there being no finitelist of all the possible colours; and further, the nominalistcannotexplicatethe dots by saying 'and so on for all the colours' forthis onticallycommitshim to all the colours (as well as being circular). In general,appeal to relations(of synonomyor whatever)between linguisticentitiesis beside the point when seeking an analysis of red being a colour.Red did not become a colourthe day we first commented on thefactin our languages,and its beinga colouris in no way dependent on the existence of Englishor Frenchor whatever languagethe linguistic entitiesmay belong to. Similar difficulties face nominalist attemptsto give a particularist translation of: (i) Red resemblespink more than blue. Following ArthurPap ('Nominalism, Empiricismand Universals: I, Philosophical Quarterly, 9 (I959)), (i) is notequivalent to 'Anything red resemblesanything pink more than anything blue'. For some red things resemblesome blue thingsmorethansome pinkthingsbecause offactors other than colour. For example, a red ball resemblesa blue ball more than a pink elephant.The nominalist mustoffer instead: red colour-resembles (2) Anything anything pink more than anythingblue. The standard realistobjection to (2) (again fromPap, ibid.) is that 'x colour-resembles y' is analysableas 'x resemblesy in colour', where the latteris obtained from'x resemblesy in z' by substitution for 'z'. Hence (2) is onticallycommitted to universals, albeit in disguise,for it containsa three-place relation witha place fordesignations of universals. the trouble with this objection is that it is hard to prove Notoriously, the realist'sanalysisof colour-resemblance withoutbeggingthe question of the existenceof universals.There is, however,a further objectionto (2) which avoids this difficulty. Consider the possible world in which 'red' and 'triangular'are coextensive,'pink' and 'sweet' are co-extensive,and 'blue' and 'square' are co-extensive.In this world, anythingtriangularcolour-resembles sweet more than anything anything square. But no-one will want to say thatin thisworldtriangularity resembles sweetness morethansquareness. Hence, arguingalong the same lines as before,there is more to red's resemblingpink more than blue than the fact that red things colourresemblepink thingsmorethan blue things.For triangular thingsmight colour-resemble sweet thingsmore than square thingswithouttriangularityresembling sweetnessmorethan squareness. It may be suggestedthat I am here misconstruing the nominalist's suggestion.It is not that 'AnythingF +-resembles anythingG more than anything H' is invariably equivalentto 'F resemblesG more than H', it is only equivalentto the latterwhen F, G, H are all +. Now I have no doubt this is true,but it is not something a nominalist can say. It re-introduces forit is theywhich are requiredall to be +. universals, The obvious response for the nominalistis to point out that (2) is true in all worlds,and so to advocate 'Necessarily,anything red colour-

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resembles anything pinkmorethananything blue' as his translation of(i). (This also has the advantage of avoiding difficulties arising fromthe possibility of therebeingno red,pink,or blue thingsmaking(2) trivially true in some worlds.) This responsehas, however,a crucial shortcoming. It cannot handle 'The colour of ripe tomatoesresemblesthe colour associated with girl babies more than the colour associatedwith boy babies'. For this statement is true, while 'Necessarily, anythingwith the colour of ripe tomatoescolour-resembles with the colour associatedwith girl anything babies morethan anything withthe colourassociatedwithboy babies' is false. The statementgovernedby 'necessarily'is true, but only contingently so-tomatoes and baby lore mighthave been such that it was false.(Of course,thenominalist forexample,'anything willwantto write, same-colouredas ripe tomatoes' ratherthan 'anythingwith the colour of ripe tomatoes',but thisis not germaneto the presentpoint.) Finally,the line of argument just outlined can be modifiedto apply to our first statement, 'Red is a colour'. Red is, let us suppose, the most conspicuous propertyof ripe tomatoes; then the most conspicuous propertyof ripe tomatoesis a colour. This cannot be nominalistically translatedas 'Everything with the most conspicuous propertyof ripe tomatoesis coloured'. (I leave aside the question of what further translation the nominalistmightattemptto eliminate'the most conspicuous property.. .'). Because the most conspicuousproperty of ripe tomatoes might have been their smell while it remained true that all tomatoes were coloured(thoughnot so conspicuously);then 'Everything withthe most conspicuousproperty of ripe tomatoesis coloured' would be true togetherwith the falsityof 'The most conspicuous propertyof ripe tomatoes is a colour'. And, of course, it would be wrong to offer with the most conspicuous propertyof ripe 'Necessarily,everything tomatoes is coloured'as thetranslation of'The mostconspicuousproperty of ripe tomatoesis a colour'. The former is false, there is no necessity about it: the most conspicuous propertyof ripe tomatoes mighthave been, as we have just noted,theirsmell,and some thingswiththatsmell mighthave been transparent, so that some thingswith the most conof ripe tomatoesmightnot have been coloured. On spicuous property the other hand 'The most conspicuous propertyof ripe tomatoes is a colour' is true. It seems then that-though some criticisms in the literature of particularist translations of 'Red is a colour' and 'Red resemblespink more thanblue' and the like may not be decisive-there are decisivecriticisms of these translations available to the realist.

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