The Protestant Theory of Determinable Universals

In Christer Svennerlind, Almäng Jan & Rögnvaldur Ingthorsson (eds.), Johanssonian Investigations: Essays in Honour of Ingvar Johansson on His Seventieth Birthday. Ontos Verlag. pp. 503-515 (2013)
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In his 2000 paper, “Determinables are Universals”, Ingvar Johansson defends a version of immanent realism according to which universals are either lowest determinates, or highest determinables – either maximally specific and exact features (like Red27 or Perfectly Circular) or maximally general respects of similarity (like Colored or Voluminous). On Johansson 2000’s view, there are no intermediate-level determinable universals between the highest and the lowest. Let me call this the Protestant Theory of Determinable Universals, because according to it the humble lowest determinates commune directly with the most high determinables. My question here shall be whether the Protestant theory is not too austere, and whether a more Catholic approach, with a richer hierarchy, is called for. I will be arguing that it may be: between Red27 and Colored, we may need Cardinal Red to intervene. I will here develop several challenges to the Protestant view. Each challenge presents a task that determinable universals should perform if we are going to invoke them at all, but that turns out to be something they can only do if we countenance more of them than the austere Protestant allows. In section one I will consider the task of analyzing resemblance relations, in section two I will consider some tasks to do with causation and the laws of nature, and in section three I will consider the task of making sense of the possibility of continuous change in gunky objects.

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Jonathan Simon
Université de Montréal


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