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The ontological status of universals
Posted: 18 December 2011 03:05 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I know this area of philosophical investigation is a mess, but I was curious about other people’s thoughts. What is the universal without any physical corresponding instantiation? I’m fairly ignorant about this topic (which may be apparent to many already by the question). It seems to me that the validation of the arguments about the metaphysical existence of something like numbers lies in our ability to look at how incredibly useful they can be in analyzing the world in certain ways. We can create self consistent systems that don’t have much use in the world and those just aren’t very important to us. We ascribe a special status to math/numbers because of its applicability to the world in some ways. But if it’s the case that the instantiations are what validate or give us reason to suppose the metaphysical status of universals, then it seems like that’s where they originate and not in some other-realm. I’m sure I’m missing something here. Any thoughts?

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Posted: 18 December 2011 05:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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With my example of numbers, I suppose the title would’ve been more appropriate to say abstract objects, but I think the post applies just as well for universals.

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Posted: 18 December 2011 07:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Kaizen - 18 December 2011 03:05 PM

It seems to me that the validation of the arguments about the metaphysical existence of something like numbers lies in our ability to look at how incredibly useful they can be in analyzing the world in certain ways.

Let’s distinguish two things. One is the ontological status of a thing, the other is how to “validate” that status epistemologically. You’re right that we validate these sorts of things epistemologically by finding out that theories that make use of such terms are more useful than those that don’t.

But the former is the question about ontological status (metaphysics) and the latter is a separate question about epistemology. Your question confused the two. (Well, the question itself didn’t, but your post did).

If there are universals, they exist without physical instantiation. Numbers must be that way, except insofar as a particular physical thing also instantiates a set which can be a set of a set and on to infinities. Because there are an uncountable infinity of numbers, and there are fewer physical things than there are numbers, the only way to get numbers from physical things is to talk about sets. But sets of things are, in their way, just as abstract as the numbers. Indeed, they (plus logic) are the numbers, if you follow set theory.

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Posted: 19 December 2011 09:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Kaizen - 18 December 2011 03:05 PM

I know this area of philosophical investigation is a mess, but I was curious about other people’s thoughts. What is the universal without any physical corresponding instantiation?

The problem of universals is firstly metaphysical….......what they are and whether they do exist (i.e. their ontological status). Whether they are knowable (if they do exist) is epistemological.

From the wiki on the problem of universals

The problem of universals is an ancient problem in metaphysics about whether universals exist. Universals are general or abstract qualities, characteristics, properties, kinds or relations, such as being male/female, solid/liquid/gas or a certain colour, that can be predicated of individuals or particulars or that individuals or particulars can be regarded as sharing or participating in.

The three main positions:

1. Realism

The realist school claims that universals are real — they exist and are distinct from the particulars that instantiate them.

2. Nominalism

Nominalists assert that only individuals or particulars exist and deny that universals are real (i.e. that they exist as entities or beings).

3. Idealism

This position argues that the nature of reality is based only in our minds or ideas. The external world is inseparable from the mind, consciousness or perceptions. Universals are real and exist independently of that on which they might be predicated.

For instance, in the case of numbers:

1. They are real and they do exist

2. They don’t, only particulars of numbers exist.

3. They do exist independently, but reality is only in our minds.

Problem of 1. If numbers are real and they do exist, where is the realm wherein they do exist?

Problem of 2. If numbers don’t exist, then in what sense can one do any arithmetic at all?

Problem of 3. If reality is only in our minds, does it not imply no knowledge of numbers as universals existing independently is possible?

The middle ground. From the wiki on conceptualism

Conceptualism is a philosophical theory that explains universality of particulars as conceptualized frameworks situated within the thinking mind. Intermediate between Nominalism and Realism, the conceptualist view approaches the metaphysical concept of universals from a perspective that denies their presence in particulars outside of the mind’s perception of them.

Whether one is a realist, nominalist , idealist or conceptualist depends on one’s philosophy of reality.

[ Edited: 19 December 2011 06:58 PM by kkwan ]
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Posted: 19 December 2011 10:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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dougsmith - 18 December 2011 07:57 PM

Let’s distinguish two things. One is the ontological status of a thing, the other is how to “validate” that status epistemologically. You’re right that we validate these sorts of things epistemologically by finding out that theories that make use of such terms are more useful than those that don’t.

But the former is the question about ontological status (metaphysics) and the latter is a separate question about epistemology. Your question confused the two. (Well, the question itself didn’t, but your post did).

I think I get that things do or don’t exist independent of our knowledge or ability to know of them (however poorly I worded my post). I didn’t mean to sound like I thought our knowledge of numbers is what constitutes their objectivity or lack thereof per se, putting aside the possibility of some aspects of some universal or abstract object being what Searle might call an “institutional fact.” That’s not to say I think Searle would classify universals or abstract objects as such; I don’t know about his view on this stuff.

I guess my point was that the instantiations that realists might use in their justifications to claim the existence of abstract objects might potentially lose some force (to the extent that they rely on the instantiations) if we focus on the importance of the instants/ tokens/ particulars, etc as opposed to the universals. I’m thinking that universals seem to be equal to nonexistent when there aren’t any physical instantiations somewhere in the chain of thought. They seem intelligible only when relative to some physical instantiation somewhere in the background knowledge. I’m probably reaching here. Am I even making sense?

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Posted: 19 December 2011 10:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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kkwan - 19 December 2011 09:52 AM
Kaizen - 18 December 2011 03:05 PM

I know this area of philosophical investigation is a mess, but I was curious about other people’s thoughts. What is the universal without any physical corresponding instantiation?

The problem of universals is firstly metaphysical….......what they are and whether they do exist (i.e. their ontological status). Whether they are knowable (if they do exist) is epistemological.

As Doug mentioned, I don’t think this particular quote is confusing epistemology and ontology.

From the wiki on the problem of universals

The problem of universals is an ancient problem in metaphysics about whether universals exist. Universals are general or abstract qualities, characteristics, properties, kinds or relations, such as being male/female, solid/liquid/gas or a certain colour, that can be predicated of individuals or particulars or that individuals or particulars can be regarded as sharing or participating in.

The three main positions:

1. Realism

The realist school claims that universals are real — they exist and are distinct from the particulars that instantiate them.

2. Nominalism

Nominalists assert that only individuals or particulars exist and deny that universals are real (i.e. that they exist as entities or beings).

3. Idealism

This position argues that the nature of reality is based only in our minds or ideas. The external world is inseparable from the mind, consciousness or perceptions. Universals are real and exist independently of that on which they might be predicated.

For instance, in the case of numbers:

1. They are real and they do exist

2. They don’t, only particulars of numbers exist.

3. They do exist independently, but reality is only in our minds.

Problem of 1. If numbers are real and they do exist, where is the realm wherein they do exist?

Problem of 2. If numbers don’t exist, then in what sense can one do any arithmetic at all?

Problem of 3. If reality is only in our minds, does it not imply no knowledge of numbers as universals existing independently is possible?

The middle ground. From the wiki on conceptualism

Conceptualism is a philosophical theory that explains universality of particulars as conceptualized frameworks situated within the thinking mind. Intermediate between Nominalism and Realism, the conceptualist view approaches the metaphysical concept of universals from a perspective that denies their presence in particulars outside of the mind’s perception of them.

Whether one is a realist, nominalist , idealist or conceptualist depends on one’s philosophy of reality.

While admittedly, my grasp of the arguments about metaphysical objects is probably lacking, I believe I’m familiar enough with these positions. I don’t see how they’re relevant to my post, however. Maybe you could elaborate on why you bring these quotes up. Thanks for your contribution in any case.

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Posted: 20 December 2011 01:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Kaizen - 19 December 2011 10:02 PM
dougsmith - 18 December 2011 07:57 PM

Let’s distinguish two things. One is the ontological status of a thing, the other is how to “validate” that status epistemologically. You’re right that we validate these sorts of things epistemologically by finding out that theories that make use of such terms are more useful than those that don’t.

But the former is the question about ontological status (metaphysics) and the latter is a separate question about epistemology. Your question confused the two. (Well, the question itself didn’t, but your post did).

I think I get that things do or don’t exist independent of our knowledge or ability to know of them (however poorly I worded my post). I didn’t mean to sound like I thought our knowledge of numbers is what constitutes their objectivity or lack thereof per se, putting aside the possibility of some aspects of some universal or abstract object being what Searle might call an “institutional fact.” That’s not to say I think Searle would classify universals or abstract objects as such; I don’t know about his view on this stuff.

I guess my point was that the instantiations that realists might use in their justifications to claim the existence of abstract objects might potentially lose some force (to the extent that they rely on the instantiations) if we focus on the importance of the instants/ tokens/ particulars, etc as opposed to the universals. I’m thinking that universals seem to be equal to nonexistent when there aren’t any physical instantiations somewhere in the chain of thought. They seem intelligible only when relative to some physical instantiation somewhere in the background knowledge. I’m probably reaching here. Am I even making sense?

First let me qualify my opinion as strictly lay. Therefore I’ll avoid using the words ontological and epistemic, but I do believe that there is a metaphysical aspect to the universe.
In your post you already used the word which encompasses my view of the metaphysical existence of universals. This word is Potential. I believe it is the single common denominator (condition) which must be present before any functions and instantiations in reality can take place. It determines the probability for an event to become manifest (real).

We know that numbers and mathematics could only be developed because the physical universe reveals itself and works in a mathematical way, i.e. deterministic. Determinism (2 + 2 = 4) is the result of the inherent mathematical function of the universe. But this mathematical function lies latent until an action or an event takes place, at which time we can recognize and quantify the mathematical function which was inherent in the potential of the condition before the event.

IMO, two fundamental interpretations and definitions of the noun Potential are “a latent excellence” and “that which may become reality”. There are many other definitions of the word potential in every situation or circumstance and we use it almost everyday in one context or another as you did in your post. But that only serves to reinforce the concept of the pervasiveness of “a metaphysical latency or inherent ability”.

When something is latent it has not yet been expressed as reality. But all reality springs from this latent ability to instantiate in a specific (mathematical) way and become observable reality.

This also holds for physics at the smallest level (including virtual particles), where even uncertainty is an expression of latent potential. Without (sufficient) potential an event simply cannot occur. Potential preceeds everything from before the beginning of the universe to the end of the universe and is the causality for the mathematical progression of the universe.

I believe this crude proposition can be defended on philosophical metaphysical grounds, if not also in physics. I know it sounds almost too simplistic, but IMO, fundamental universals must be simple in order to be functional in very complex systems.

[ Edited: 20 December 2011 01:12 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 20 December 2011 01:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Does Potential exist independent of people who think it exists?
Does Potential exist when there is nothing that develops according to it?
Does Potential behave in accordance with natural laws?

Just in case you don’t know what to do when you have days off at the end of the year…

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Posted: 20 December 2011 04:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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GdB - 20 December 2011 01:58 AM

Does Potential exist independent of people who think it exists?
Does Potential exist when there is nothing that develops according to it?
Does Potential behave in accordance with natural laws?

Just in case you don’t know what to do when you have days off at the end of the year…

a) yes, if anything exists or happens at all independent of an observer, it was preceeded by the potential for it to exist or happen, including the BB.

b) yes, potential is a latent ability which may or may not become reality. Driving a car at 30 mph does not negate its potential to travel at 80 mph. However driving the car at 80 mph, increases the potential for an accident to happen, even if that accident does not happen.

c) universal potential is the sum of all natural laws and determines the probability of any event at any scale. It is dualistic in that it forces an event to instantiate in a certain (mathematical) way when sufficient potential(s) is (are) available and restricts an event from occurring when insufficient potential is available, such as a non-mathematical function without a modifier, i.e 2 + 2 =/= 5 (does not equal).

IMO, all scientific equations such as E = Mc^2 are expressions of inherent potential, or universal constants.

For more applications of the potential function, check out,

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/potential
and
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potential

Potential - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In physics, a potential may refer to the scalar potential or to the vector potential. In either case, it is a field defined in space, from which many important physical ...

It seems to be the single fundamental common denominator of everything in the universe. Nothing can happen without potential.

[ Edited: 20 December 2011 07:57 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 20 December 2011 04:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Kaizen - 19 December 2011 10:02 PM
dougsmith - 18 December 2011 07:57 PM

Let’s distinguish two things. One is the ontological status of a thing, the other is how to “validate” that status epistemologically. You’re right that we validate these sorts of things epistemologically by finding out that theories that make use of such terms are more useful than those that don’t.

But the former is the question about ontological status (metaphysics) and the latter is a separate question about epistemology. Your question confused the two. (Well, the question itself didn’t, but your post did).

I think I get that things do or don’t exist independent of our knowledge or ability to know of them (however poorly I worded my post). I didn’t mean to sound like I thought our knowledge of numbers is what constitutes their objectivity or lack thereof per se, putting aside the possibility of some aspects of some universal or abstract object being what Searle might call an “institutional fact.” That’s not to say I think Searle would classify universals or abstract objects as such; I don’t know about his view on this stuff.

I guess my point was that the instantiations that realists might use in their justifications to claim the existence of abstract objects might potentially lose some force (to the extent that they rely on the instantiations) if we focus on the importance of the instants/ tokens/ particulars, etc as opposed to the universals. I’m thinking that universals seem to be equal to nonexistent when there aren’t any physical instantiations somewhere in the chain of thought. They seem intelligible only when relative to some physical instantiation somewhere in the background knowledge. I’m probably reaching here. Am I even making sense?

I’m not sure. If what you’re after is “intelligibility” and “chains of thought” then it sounds sort of like you’re after an epistemic criterion. But the thread’s title isn’t about epistemology, it’s about ‘ontological status’. The ontological status of universals is that if there are any, they exist independent of any potential instantiations. If there is the universal “gold”, it existed in the early universe before supernovae had cooked up actual atoms of the stuff.

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Posted: 20 December 2011 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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dougsmith - 20 December 2011 04:57 AM

I’m not sure. If what you’re after is “intelligibility” and “chains of thought” then it sounds sort of like you’re after an epistemic criterion. But the thread’s title isn’t about epistemology, it’s about ‘ontological status’. The ontological status of universals is that if there are any, they exist independent of any potential instantiations. If there is the universal “gold”, it existed in the early universe before supernovae had cooked up actual atoms of the stuff.

I suppose I should have titled it something like “Realist justifications for the metaphysical existence of universals and abstract objects.”

My understanding is that the ontological status of things aren’t so much the central issue with regard to metaphysical stuff because things will be whatever or however they will be independent of our epistemological stances (excluding certain things like the feeling of pain or our knowledge of them, which seems synonymous). Rather, the ontological commitments we seem to make with the positions we take is at least one of the key areas for investigation. I guess this is why I’m focusing more on epistemology.

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Posted: 20 December 2011 11:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Kaizen - 20 December 2011 11:49 AM

I suppose I should have titled it something like “Realist justifications for the metaphysical existence of universals and abstract objects.”

My understanding is that the ontological status of things aren’t so much the central issue with regard to metaphysical stuff because things will be whatever or however they will be independent of our epistemological stances (excluding certain things like the feeling of pain or our knowledge of them, which seems synonymous). Rather, the ontological commitments we seem to make with the positions we take is at least one of the key areas for investigation. I guess this is why I’m focusing more on epistemology.

OK, yes, that’s different. The general notion I subscribe to is one from Quine, called “epistemology naturalized”. That is to say that our metaphysics should come from our best scientific theory of the way the universe works.

(Actually I think I’m more receptive to Haack’s view than Quine’s, but they’re from the same branch).

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Posted: 20 December 2011 04:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Kaizen
What is the universal without any physical corresponding instantiation?

Is that still the question or has it been answered to your satisfaction by others (excluding myself)?

From what I have learned so far (from the links) is a discussion on how we should or could formulate (label) our thoughts in order to come to an understanding of the problem, rather than examining the known and generally accepted facts of how things work and reducing them to a fundamental concept of a non-physical universal common denominator which preceedes all physical instantiations and determines the probabilty for a physical instantiation to express itself and in what form.

I maintain that we already have such a concept (it’s not mine) implied in the term “potential” which by all accounts may be used as a metaphysical concept as well as a physical property (active or latent) of all known things and which must be present before (preceeds) any action (at any scale) can take place.

I don’t know, nor do I worry about how this train of thought may be labeled, but if anyone can find a logical flaw in this proposition, I would love to hear it.

The only worry I have is if I understood your specific question correctly.

[ Edited: 20 December 2011 05:23 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 20 December 2011 11:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Write4U - 20 December 2011 04:41 PM

Is that still the question or has it been answered to your satisfaction by others (excluding myself)?

I haven’t had much time to look into the thread. Doug posted a link that I’ll look into to see if it addresses my original concern. But as my posts in this thread so far have shown, I’ve had some difficulty even formulating a proper question. I asked the question you quoted in order to try to illustrate what I really meant to ask, which was an attempt to call into question the Realist account of particulars. Roughly, they claim that the best explanation is to posit the metaphysical existence of universals and abstract objects.

From what I have learned so far (from the links) is a discussion on how we should or could formulate (label) our thoughts in order to come to an understanding of the problem, rather than examining the known and generally accepted facts of how things work and reducing them to a fundamental concept of a non-physical universal common denominator which preceedes all physical instantiations and determines the probabilty for a physical instantiation to express itself and in what form.

What “problem” are you referring to? I ask because there are quite a few that come up the more you look into the arguments about universals and abstract objects.

I maintain that we already have such a concept (it’s not mine) implied in the term “potential” which by all accounts may be used as a metaphysical concept as well as a physical property (active or latent) of all known things and which must be present before (preceeds) any action (at any scale) can take place.

I don’t know, nor do I worry about how this train of thought may be labeled, but if anyone can find a logical flaw in this proposition, I would love to hear it.

The only worry I have is if I understood your specific question correctly.

I wonder how much of an explanation your use of “potential” is. It seems to be just asserted as a fact, but whether it ought to be considered one hasn’t been established. I’m curious if you might be begging the question about it’s role in your account. Also, you might want to be careful on how you use the term “concept.” Concepts as an account for universals (known as conceptualism) has had a good amount objections made to it because it seems to mean that universals and abstract objects are relative to anyone’s concepts. This would mean the number one could be “1” in one person’s account and “243” in another’s and “Dog” in another person’s mind and no one would be wrong.

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Posted: 20 December 2011 11:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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dougsmith - 20 December 2011 11:58 AM
Kaizen - 20 December 2011 11:49 AM

I suppose I should have titled it something like “Realist justifications for the metaphysical existence of universals and abstract objects.”

My understanding is that the ontological status of things aren’t so much the central issue with regard to metaphysical stuff because things will be whatever or however they will be independent of our epistemological stances (excluding certain things like the feeling of pain or our knowledge of them, which seems synonymous). Rather, the ontological commitments we seem to make with the positions we take is at least one of the key areas for investigation. I guess this is why I’m focusing more on epistemology.

OK, yes, that’s different. The general notion I subscribe to is one from Quine, called “epistemology naturalized”. That is to say that our metaphysics should come from our best scientific theory of the way the universe works.

(Actually I think I’m more receptive to Haack’s view than Quine’s, but they’re from the same branch).

I’ll check the link out. Thanks, Doug.

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Posted: 21 December 2011 04:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Kaizen - 20 December 2011 11:51 PM
Write4U - 20 December 2011 04:41 PM

Is that still the question or has it been answered to your satisfaction by others (excluding myself)?

I haven’t had much time to look into the thread. Doug posted a link that I’ll look into to see if it addresses my original concern. But as my posts in this thread so far have shown, I’ve had some difficulty even formulating a proper question. I asked the question you quoted in order to try to illustrate what I really meant to ask, which was an attempt to call into question the Realist account of particulars. Roughly, they claim that the best explanation is to posit the metaphysical existence of universals and abstract objects.

First, thank you for allowing me to try clarify my thought process and position on the question.

From Wiki,

Realism, Realist or Realistic are terms that describe any manifestation of philosophical realism, the belief that reality exists independently of observers, whether in philosophy itself or in the applied arts and sciences. In this broad sense it is frequently contrasted with Idealism.

and

Scientific realism is the view that the world described by science is the real world and mathematical realism a branch of philosophy of mathematics. Scientific realism is, at the most general level, the view that the world described by science (perhaps ideal science) is the real world, as it is, independent of what we might take it to be. Within philosophy of science, it is often framed as an answer to the question “how is the success of science to be explained?” The debate over what the success of science involves centers primarily on the status of unobservable entities apparently talked about by scientific theories. Generally, those who are scientific realists assert that one can make reliable claims about unobservables (viz., that they have the same ontological status) as observables, as opposed to instrumentalism.

and

Truth-value link realism is a metaphysical concept explaining how to understand parts of the world that are apparently cognitively inaccessible

From what I have learned so far (from the links) is a discussion on how we should or could formulate (label) our thoughts in order to come to an understanding of the problem, rather than examining the known and generally accepted facts of how things work and reducing them to a fundamental concept of a non-physical universal common denominator which preceedes all physical instantiations and determines the probabilty for a physical instantiation to express itself and in what form.

Kaizen
What “problem” are you referring to? I ask because there are quite a few that come up the more you look into the arguments about universals and abstract objects.

Sorry, I should have used the word “debate” as highlighted in the wiki quote.

I maintain that we already have such a concept (it’s not mine) implied in the term “potential” which by all accounts may be used as a metaphysical concept as well as a physical property (active or latent) of all known things and which must be present before (preceeds) any action (at any scale) can take place.

Kaizen
I wonder how much of an explanation your use of “potential” is. It seems to be just asserted as a fact, but whether it ought to be considered one hasn’t been established. I’m curious if you might be begging the question about it’s role in your account. Also, you might want to be careful on how you use the term “concept.” Concepts as an account for universals (known as conceptualism) has had a good amount objections made to it because it seems to mean that universals and abstract objects are relative to anyone’s concepts. This would mean the number one could be “1” in one person’s account and “243” in another’s and “Dog” in another person’s mind and no one would be wrong.

From Wiki

Philosophers generally agree that a concept is an idea formed from inference

I was using the word concept in context of a general idea.
Wiki

John Locke’s description of a general idea corresponds to a description of a concept. According to Locke, a general idea is created by abstracting, drawing away, or removing the uncommon characteristic or characteristics from several particular ideas. The remaining common characteristic is that which is similar to all of the different individuals. For example, the abstract general idea or concept that is designated by the word “red” is that characteristic which is common to apples, cherries, and blood. The abstract general idea or concept that is signified by the word “dog” is the collection of those characteristics which are common to Airedales, Collies, and Chihuahuas

I have only used the word potential as defined by major dictionaries as quoted in post #8

You may question the usefulness of potential at a metaphical level, but in thephysical world the function of potential has become an indispensable part in almost all of science as well as in many other areas in which probability plays a role. Probability is a calculation based on potentials. I see no contradiction in using these functions at a metaphysical level. IMO, the concept of potential is the least problematic in metaphysics.
It seems to me that a simple but elegant equation can be fashioned for the potential function at a metaphysical level. We are now dealing with reality at the levels of vectors, scalars, matrices, fields, harmonics, bosons, strings, etc. each having been preceeded by potential and each inherently possessing potential of one kind or another.

I believe what has been overlooked heretofore is the fact that potential indisputably preceeds every event in the universe, physical or metaphysical. Without the “presence” of potential no event can occur. It is the common denominator of everything.
Physical potential: a latent or energetic quality which may become reality through mathematics.
Metaphysical Potential: 1) a latent universal constant which may become reality when called upon, i.e. mathematical function.

Forgive me for introducing so many quotes, but I have read them and believe that they convey my philosophy much clearer than I could. After all, I cannot claim to be a philosopher. I have highlighted in red that which I felt was most pertinent to my presentation.

[ Edited: 21 December 2011 04:39 AM by Write4U ]
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Art is the creation of that which evokes an emotional response, leading to thoughts of the noblest kind.
W4U

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