"A magnetic field exists as long as the magnet (qua magnet) exists, but it is not a property of the magnet."

Sadly, this simple example can be attacked in myriad ways: What are magnetic fields? Is it something that really exists? It seems rather like a mental abstraction to describe electromagnetic interaction.

In general there is probably always some ontology, in which we can attack a sentence of the form:

"X exists as long as Y, but is not a property of Y."

Still, what would be a better example than X = magnetic-field, Y = magnet?

Could you give me an example, that is not so obviously flawed?

A few clarifications:

  • there is a lot of wiggle room how to understand "as long". For example, if something happens to the sun, we won't notice it for minutes. So "as long" doesn't have to mean exactly for the same time period.

  • the connection has to be strongly scientifically validated. There shouldn't be any conceivable (in the sense "not violating known laws of nature", not in the "metaphysically possible" sense) scenarios, where the connection doesn't hold.

  • admittedly "property" is a bit vague. But it definitely shouldn't be a case of supervenience, like the life a cat depends on its body.

  • the example doesn't have to accommodate every fringe ontology.

  • Just testing the boundaries and the rules, let me float an example: Gravity is present whenever energy is, but it is a consequence of the Higgs process creating spatial curvature, not a property of the energy per se? The ability to interact with the Higgs field is the 'property' of the energy. So would this be ruled out by the rule against 'supervenience'?
    – user9166
    Aug 6, 2016 at 17:19
  • @jobermark: I would say that it is a case of supervenience and so ruled out.
    – viuser
    Aug 7, 2016 at 22:38

1 Answer 1


(Maybe this whole answer is a case of ruling out a fringe ontology. But is my ontology, so I am going to lay it out so that it can be ruled out clearly and not implicitly.)

If you come at this from a direction of a 'process' or 'monadic' philosophy, the notion of 'property' is not just vague, it is a misleading epiphenomenon of language which is basically internally inconsistent.

Properties are something that individual things simply don't have. To really define a property, one would require knowing how everything that interacts with your object might be affected by it. Most of things are probably unaffected by most properties, and we can safely assume that is the case quite often. But we simply cannot know. So every property would have an infinite and open-ended definition. Which really just means no definition at all, if we want to be able to use definitions in any reasonable way.

All that can reasonably actually exist and be recorded are interactions and patterns of interaction. That removes your problem; because interactions are, in and of themselves, completely dependent upon all of the entities involved.

The right way of considering things is in terms of relations, and not properties of elements. The elements themselves are simply classifications of the effects under an equivalence relation. The properties are the things upon which the notion of equivalence is chosen.

This is the reason we can get better foundational arguments out of a perspective like Category Theory than out of Set Theory. If relationships are the more basic currency of existence, references are implicitly self-ordering, and our basic notion of equality or similarity is an abstraction with an internal flaw injected by overestimating the power of equivalence to provide clean contrast consistent with our intuitions of negation.

What you are explicitly asking for is a violation of the principles of equivalence in an equivalence relation, which, of course, won't happen. If one of the dependent things is the property and the other is simply a reciprocal effect, you could just shift the basis of your equivalence and the reverse would be true. So it is better to argue that neither of these would be properties. This notion spreads, and undercuts the notion of properties per se.

Quine lays this out really well, but the idea is already captured in Whitehead and Leibniz.

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