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Metaphysics: The Bundle Theory vs The Bare Particular

Updated on April 24, 2011

What Makes Us "Be"?

An individual is a bundle of properties. This is the traditional version of the bundle theory, although it has gone through many revisions due to its openness to many metaphysical objections, more on that later. The benefits of the “bundle theory” are obvious, the primary being that it avoids the blob or the unknown substance beneath the properties of something. Since there isn’t a thing which has properties, but properties which make up a thing, one avoids admitting that there is a “bare particular”. Bare particulars as explained by Allaire, are apparently needed to account for sameness and difference, and yet still adhere to The Principle of Acquaintance. Bare Particulars are the grounds for numerical difference between two identical objects, and they account for the place where things are instantiated to become an object. Secondly, the bundle theory avoids having to explain instantiation. Since there is no substance, then there can’t be instantiation. These values of the bundle theory are great, but the objections to the original version are many, and the costs of fully believing the bundle theory in the end are far greater than many are willing to accept.

The first break in the original concept of the bundle theory is that it implies that there is an individual for every set of properties. Therefore, the property of being a sleep medication and sounding whiney like Axel Rose would make a set, and this set would count as an individual. Any possible way of putting properties together would make an individual. This obviously fails. The second fault found was that it implies that every individual is eternal and necessary. The properties are necessary, they exist eternally, and so do the sets. According to this, every set has always existed, and always will. This implies that Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan still exist, and they always will. Thirdly, exemplification cannot possibly be a converse of membership. If an individual is its set of properties, and the individual exemplifies the properties it has, then exemplification must be a property. This is broken. Fourthly, it implies that no individual can change. If you lose a property, then you become a different set. One can’t be something with different properties at different times; it’d be a whole new thing. Fifth, since sets have their members essentially, it implies that objects have all of their properties essentially. Accidental properties are not accounted for, such as being sick. Had I woken up and felt better, I wouldn’t be a different me, I’d be me, only different. Sixth, it implies the Identity of Indiscernibles as a necessary truth since sets are identified entirely by their properties. So, if two objects have the same properties, then they’re the set of the same properties. If there is no difference between the properties of two things, then they are only one thing.

The Identity of Indescernibles most simply states that a ≠b because a is a, and b is b. Max Black proved that the Identity of Indescernibles is not exactly true. In his article, he brings up the idea of a universe, where the only entities in this universe are two exactly similar iron spheres. Since you cannot name the spheres without introducing something to the example, you, in the end, cannot distinguish the spheres as being one or the other. In this way, Max Black proves that there are violations to the Identity of Indescernibles, and since bundle theory relies on it as a necessary truth, when it’s not necessarily true, it definitely creates a problem with the bundle theory.

Van Cleve’s article then goes on to describe a second version of the bundle theory. It states that individuals are sets of properties that are coinstantiated. This theory does not treat instantiation as a third thing, but as a homogenous part. Otherwise it would just be the bundle theory plus instantiation. This version of the bundle theory avoids half of the problems that the first one had. Since the properties of a set are coinstantiated, then there isn’t a thing for every set of properties, there’s a thing for every set of coinstantiated properties. Second, the properties now do not have to be eternal. Third, a coinstantiated group of properties does not exemplify the properties, whereas a mere set alone does do this. The rest of the same problems still exist in this theory though. This theory still implies that individuals cannot change. If an individual is defined by the properties and coinstantiation of the properties that make it up, then if the properties change, so shall the individual. This leads to the problem that individuals have their properties essentially. The coinstantiation of the properties is had essentially to make the individual. Also, with bundle theory appealing to coinstantiation, it does nothing to deny the Identity of Indescernibles. One instantiation of a given set of properties would be identical to the next instantiation of the same set of properties, thus making objects with the same properties the same object

To combat two of these problems, some believers of the second bundle theory have tried to create a saving grace or a swing vote in the form of creating a “core set.” For example, an individual coinstantiates the set A, B, C, D and E has a core of B, C, and D. This means that the individual could lose A or E, and still exist as the same individual. The way of doing this is ridiculous, and completely dialectical. The only reason a person would do this is just to avoid the two objections listed above. How would one ever know which properties are core properties? Anything set as an essential property group would be too small of a group to make up anything that anyone would be able to recognize as an individual. Things must have contingent properties, and just using core properties are not sufficient to make an individual. Finally, using this method, you could have an individual with contradicting properties. Referring back to the previous example, an individual A, B, C, D, E with a core of B, C, D would be the same as an individual ~(not)A, B, C, D, ~(not)E with a core of B, C, D. Nice try, but that’s impossible.

Then, there was made the highly controversial third version of the bundle theory. This theory says that individuals are logical constructions of properties. This version adheres to new style phenominalism, and basically says material object language is a way of talking about sense data and does not acknowledge the existence of actual material objects. To talk about an individual is actually code for talking about a group of properties. This avoids the rest of the objections that the last version ran into by eliminating what the objections are even focused on in the first place; the individual. The reason why this view isn’t terribly popular is apparent; it implies that there are no individuals, including yourself. The only way to get a working version of the bundle theory is to eliminate the individual, but that’s crazy because the bundle theory is a theory on what individuals are. So what do you do?

Allaire thinks the answer to that question would be to skip all of the bundle talk and go with the direct contrast to the bundle theory in the bare particulars. Bare particulars are apparently needed to account for sameness and difference between objects, and adhere to the Principle of Acquaintance, which states that we only know objects which we are aware of. Thusly, Allaire says that we are acquainted with the bare particulars and we are aware of them. They stand as a numerical difference between things. He uses the example of two identical red disks. Together, they are different, and represented as two, but their characteristics or qualities do not owe to this, since they are identical. Our acquaintance with them is as different, so we must be acquainted with their difference. That difference is the bare particular.

An easy counter to this was proposed: What about when you only see one thing? You need to still be able to have acquaintance with a bare particular even when it’s alone, as not everything is always in a pair all the time. The red disks are referred to again, only this time just using one of them. Consider the redness and the diskness, these are two things, but are not individuals on their own. They share a spatial relation with each other, in that they are located in the same place. If this is correct, then a place must be an entity. The place where the redness and the diskness come together is the bare particular! When we are aware of the two together making an individual in virtue of them being in the same place, then we are acquainted with the place. We’re aware of the numerical difference and the bare particular place when characteristics are concurrent in a thing. Locke spoke of the idea of the “bare particular” that it is “a something I know not what,” but Allaire has now shown that it is actually a something we know, and a something with which we are acquainted. The main problem with this is that bundle theorists cannot wrap around the notion of conceiving something (a bare particular) without properties, since they believe the exact opposite is true.

Two opposites in the world of Metaphysics, the bundle theory and the idea of bare particulars have been argued for years. Neither of them is necessarily wrong, although neither of them can necessarily be absolutely correct either, it’s much up to personal preference as to how one would decide to see things, as bundles of properties, or as substances independent from the properties they hold.

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Of the two, which theory do you prefer?

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    • Scosgrove profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      Many theories on why we are. Pretty mind blowing to think about!

    • Druid Dude profile image

      Druid Dude 

      7 years ago from West Coast

      We are what we are. We are what we have always been. The energy of the consciousness moves to a new form, not necessarily higher, but everything flows in the river of time, and in this way evolves into the future. To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Hmmm. Interesting


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