Trope Theory: a viable alternative to Substance Theory?
Thesis submitted for the degree
Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, The University of Reading. February
The thesis compares Substance Theory and Trope Theory .
Part 1 is descriptive. It outlines the Aristotelian theory of Primary Substances
and Immanent Realism about Universals. It gives a brief history of amendments and
alternatives put to it, from the Scholastics through to Quine and Sellars, emphasising
that Trope Theory is not new but an amalgamation of recurrent ideas, namely disaffection
with Substance Theory, Nominalism (a wish to dispense with universals), Empiricism/
Phenomenalism, Reductionism, and a wish to fit the latest science. Finally it presents
the ideas of modern Trope Theorists: Stout, Williams, Campbell, Bacon, Martin and
Part 2, Section A analyses Trope Theory’s account for the apparent unity of ordinary
things. It lists the problems many find with Substance Theory and the old Realist
Bundle Theory, and acknowledges the apparent attractiveness of Trope Theory. It investigates
Trope Theory’s various answers to ‘the binding problem’ (second order relations
of compresence, location, substrata , nuclei) and finds them unsatisfactory, although
not conclusively so, judging Simons’ nuclear strategy the most persuasive.
Part 2, Section B analyses Trope Theory’s account of properties. It lists the problems
many find with Substance Theory and with earlier Nominalisms (Linguistic, Set and
Resemblance), and again acknowledges the attractions of Trope Theory. It finds Trope
Theory unsatisfactory however, as it inherits many of the older problems and is
unable to explain the nature of properties or resemblance. It also has problems
of its own, making predication symmetrical, and being contradictory and confused
over what tropes are.
The Conclusion is: Trope Theory is interesting and some versions are better than
others, but on balance, Substance theory is still preferable. It can deliver particularized
modes, it can fit as well with science, and only universals can explain things and