Predication and Instantiation
Predication and Instantiation
Predication is one thing, instantiation another. Predication involves language (and maybe thought), but instantiation relates objects and properties. The subject-predicate relation is not the object-property relation. The subject of a sentence is clearly not the same as the predicate: it sits in a different part of the sentence and can be torn apart from the predicate. No one would ever think that the subject-term is somehow a “bundle of predicates”, while it has been common to identify objects with bundles of qualities. Use-mention confusions never go that far! Maybe the meaning of the term consists in a bundle of concepts, but the term itself is hardly a bundle of predicates. Still, it would not be amazing if the subject-predicate distinction shapes our conception of the object-property distinction: we might conceive of the relation between objects and properties by analogy with the relation between subjects and predicates. And this could lead to an exaggeration of the distance between objects and their properties. It could lead to the idea of the bare particular or the property-less substance—the ontological analogue of the subject-term in all its autonomous glory. It might also lead to the idea of self-predicating properties: properties as containing within themselves the power of predicating themselves of objects. So instantiation would be construed as a property ascribing itself to an object. That is, if we model instantiation too closely on predication we end up reifying objects and anthropomorphizing properties—making objects too far removed from their properties and making properties into peculiar kinds of agents. Instantiation should not be modeled on predication; predication is merely a report of instantiation (when true). The relations certainly should not be confused.
Having absorbed this point the metaphysician may feel free to propose a far more intimate connection between objects and properties. And it does indeed seem as if this relation is much closer than mere coupling: objects are nothing without properties, literally; and properties stick closely to objects, finding their natural home there. This has led theorists to propose that objects simply are bundles of properties—collections or aggregates of them. Properties have the power to congregate and when they do an object emerges. But this theory invites obvious objections: a collection of properties is just a set, an abstract object, not a concrete particular existing at a specific place; such a set is not unified in the way an object is, being just a collection of disparate entities; and it is left a puzzle how properties manage to join with each other (most sets don’t contain joined members). The bundle theory looks quite wrong on reflection, despite its initial appeal. But we don’t want to lapse back into the predication model with its sharp separation between object and property. We want to steer between these two extremes.
This is going to call for some serious metaphysics. I propose that we accept that there is a force in the universe that is not recognized in physics but which is analogous to the attractive forces already accepted.  This force induces fusion among properties: it brings properties together and binds them tight. As electromagnetism holds particles together in a steady state, so too this new force holds properties together in stable wholes. We call these wholes “objects” or “particulars” or “bodies”. If we think of properties in Plato’s style, we can conceive the force as acting on these entities and drawing them into proximity to each other. The idea is that in addition to an ontology of properties (universals, general kinds) we recognize a further ingredient to reality, viz. a binding force that ties properties together. The force is breakable, like other forces, and thus allows for change of properties, but it enables properties to be glued together for the duration. An object is not then merely a bundle, as the solar system is not merely a bundle; it is a unified whole held together by a real force. Plato needed to add a further ingredient to his ontology of universals: a force capable of generating particulars from universals. Of course, this force is pretty mysterious—as all forces are—but its introduction is motivated by theoretical considerations. It offers to explain what the other two theories get wrong; it must be evaluated in the light of the theoretical needs presented by the existence of instantiation. Let’s call this force “grippity”: then we can speak of the grippital force that holds properties together to form objects. Perhaps some pairs of properties have a greater grippital attraction than others, making it harder to break their bond: mass and density, say, may be more tightly joined than color and shape. But generally the universe contains objects that are constituted by a force that links universals to each other. It may involve some transformation of the original properties so as to suit them to melding together, as we may suppose that gravity affects the inner nature of the objects on which it acts. It is certainly a very basic and primitive force, antedating all others, since it is a condition for the existence of any object whatsoever. Putting it theologically, God first made universals as freestanding entities and then introduced a force to form them into clumps. Without this force the universals would simply have gone their own way, never meeting up and fusing. Grippity is what enables concrete universes to form—places where particular objects exist. We might say that it is the fundamental force in nature.
Instantiation, then, is a product of something beyond the operations of predicating or bundling, an extra fact about the universe. Perhaps it is an all-or-nothing force not admitting of degrees (unless we can make sense of possessing a property to a certain degree); it either binds properties together or it does not. Its main mission is to create the things we call objects, i.e. centers of property instantiation. Properties can’t do it by themselves, but they allow it to be done to them by a specially customized force. When you predicate a property of an object you are in effect reporting the result of an active force—just as when you describe someone as standing still you are reporting on the force of gravity. Gravity keeps objects from floating apart; grippity keeps properties from floating apart.
 To my knowledge no theory of this form has ever been proposed, but it is quite natural in the light of the history of physics. Physics has repeatedly postulated new forces to explain observed phenomena, often contrary to entrenched assumptions. The idea that properties just spontaneously clump together to create objects is reminiscent of the Aristotelian doctrine that objects spontaneously move in certain ways. Newton’s introduction of the force of gravity is an admission that we need more in the universe than just objects and their intrinsic natures; we need a force to supplement objects and their natures. Similarly, in order to explain instantiation we need something beyond bare properties and objects; we need a force that binds things together. We need an attractive force acting at the level of properties. The universe is a place of hidden forces of various kinds, and grippity is just another such force.
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