“The One over Many”, in: Problems from Armstrong, M. Keinänen and T. De Mey, eds., Acta Philosophica Fennica, Helsinki.
Abstract: The way a philosophical problem is framed will affect the kind of solution it can be given. David Armstrong identifies the notorious problem of universals with the problem of the One over Many. It is the problem of how numerically distinct particulars can nevertheless seem to be identical in nature. Its solution, he argues, is an Immanent Realism: numerically distinct particulars seem to share certain features because they do share certain features. There is, in nature, a special kind of entity, the universal, that, to use G. F. Stout’s colourful description, “spreads undivided, operates unspent” (1923: 116). It is precisely because of its peculiar nature that the universal can account for what is an initially puzzling phenomenon of unity in manifold. One reason for adopting this solution is, according to Armstrong, the so-called argument from the One over Many. Exactly how strong a reason this is varies. Early on Armstrong explicitly refers to it as the main argument for the existence of universals (1978a: xiii), but in later writings its status is weakened. The argument is now referred to as “a reason” but far from the only and not necessarily the strongest reason for postulating universals (Cf his: 1980; 1997). In this paper, the argument from the One over Many is scrutinized, and it is concluded that it cannot after all provide the Immanent Realist with any special reason for postulating the existence of universals in re.
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