I'm reading about properties. I'm having a hard time distinguishing between individuals and particulars, as they relate to universals.

A precise definition of both would also be helpful.

2 Answers 2


Particular: a thing without properties. It has to instantiate universals(properties) in order to have a shape, a color, a taste etc.

Individual: the red apple. It does not instantiate anything. In the ontology of someone believing in individuals (nominalists), there are no abstract things as properties, just individuals, and there are red individuals, blue individuals etc. The predicate just describes an individual, but does not denote an object.

Trope: a trope is a particularized property. This apples redness for example. The tropes of this apple of course differ from the tropes of that apple.

Universal: Redness, Shape, Length, Weight, whatever. Particulars instantiate these in order to ~have~ properties.

  • Thank you Lucas. That's very helpful. While we're discussing this, could you tell me how the term 'aspect' fits into things?
    – Hal
    Jun 5, 2013 at 0:22
  • 1
    A short search in the SEP-article about properties on 'aspect' didnt bring up anything. Where do you came across the term?
    – Lukas
    Jun 5, 2013 at 13:17
  • Hm.It was in italics in an article on MP in either the Cambridge Dict' o Ph' or an encyclopedia of Ph'. I'll check my computer when I get back to it. I didn't find much online about it either. Too bad, more terms make thinking easier IMO
    – Hal
    Jun 6, 2013 at 2:48

Individuals aren't being used as a technical term; they are just what one would normally say they are - for example there are two individual apples on that table.

Now consider the statement: both of those apples are red.

We are ascribing the property red to two individual apples.

If the property red is universal this just means there is just a universal property red that we are ascribing to both apples.

Looking more closely at the apples we see they actually differ in shade, so now we declare the property red is particular, and when say both apples are red, each particular apple may differ in shade.

That is if a property is universal we apply it universally; and if its particular we apply it particularly.

  • "Looking more closely at the apples we see they actually differ in shade, so now we declare the property red is particular, and when say both apples are red, each particular apple may differ in shade." This is one of the parts I'm stuck on. Aren't the two shades 'tropes' of red? Also based on your comment, I'm wondering if Universal means 'the property is the same every where you find it' and Particular means 'the property differs everywhere you find it' (without getting into discussions about whether we can say there are two sorts of the same property)
    – Hal
    Jun 4, 2013 at 11:50
  • Going by the entry in the SEP for entries, yes thats right; universal means that it is the same everywhere you find despite differences in shade; particular means it differs everywhere you find it, even if they are all the exact shade of red. For the first, suppose you have a single pot of red paint which you paint apples from, and in the second each apple has its own pot of paint. Jun 4, 2013 at 12:05
  • Tropes are another name for particulars. Jun 4, 2013 at 12:09
  • Would it be useful to think of 'universal' and 'particular' as adjectives to 'property' (with property being elliptical), and trope as a noun related to properties, as tokens are to types. Eg.On the wall are two blotches of red paint from the same can. We can say that that red is a universal [property]. If one of them is on a part of the wall that receives more sunlight and fades faster than the other, then their reds become particular[properties]. we could say that either red is a trope of red (without debating whether it's accurate to say that - is that a use of the word as it was intended?)
    – Hal
    Jun 4, 2013 at 21:48
  • See my edited answer, tropes are not another name for particulars.
    – Lukas
    Jun 4, 2013 at 22:11

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