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Presumably, everything exists and is equal to itself. For purposes of this question, I call existence and equality-to-self logical properties, but this is intended as terminology not metaphysics. In fact, my whole question is intended to be metaphysics-free. We can ignore the objects of fiction, but other than that, I'm talking about any class X such that "There are some X's that ..." is a true English sentence. For example:

  • There are some thoughts that are more edifying than others
  • There are some numbers that are odd.
  • There are some minds that are more aware than others.
  • There are some moral principles that are not universally believed.
  • There are some cars that are faster than others.

Given that this is what I mean by "everything", are there any other sorts of properties or relations that can be coherently applied to everything? For example, it isn't coherent to say that a thought is pink or that a car is about something or that a number was yesterday.

I'm just curious whether anyone has identified a class of non-logical predicates (or even a single non-logical predicate) that can be coherently applied to everything.


In response to the comments and answers, let me add the following: I'm aware that there are formalistic solutions such as stipulating that if it doesn't make sense to apply a property to a certain individual, then you define the property as false for that individual; however, this move abstracts away the very notion of a property, so it's not an interesting solution.

Similarly, by "logical property" I mean a fully abstract or formal property, that applies just in virtue of thingness. I would include here mathematical properties and abstract relationships such as mereological relationships. For example, one might suggest that everything is such that it can be a part, but if this is true, it is only true abstractly, because "part" is being used for different relationships in different domains. A subset is not a part of its set in the same way that a wheel is part of a car.

Also, it is not the case that different categories of thing necessarily have different properties. For example, minds and bodies are two different categories, but they are both temporal entities. Thoughts and numbers are two different categories, but they are both present only to minds. It was considerations of this sort that made me wonder if there are any properties that are shared more widely by all or at least most categories of things.

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    See Aristotle’s Categories Aug 26 at 20:22
  • I depends on how you interpret "apply". On the one hand, it is our choice of how to set up language. We can make all predicates universally applicable, as in many formal languages, and assign false when it "does not make sense". Or we can build in contextual and type qualifications to reduce ambiguity and errors, as in natural and programming languages. On the other hand, one can reify properties and relations and then ask a metaphysical question about those with universal scope. The answer depends on one's metaphysics, but even part-whole relations of mereology are not entirely universal.
    – Conifold
    Aug 26 at 20:28
  • The question heavily depends on the notion of logicality in play. So what do you mean by that? Folklore has it that there are three candidate concepts for explicating logicality: 1. Logical notions apply to any domain of objects whatsoever (Generality) 2. Logical notions apply independently of the particular identity of things (Formality) 3. Logical notions do not incur ontological commitments (ontological innocence). Besides under any of these explications it is far from clear that existence is a logical notion, without making strong assumptions such as that existence is a quantifier.
    – sequitur
    Aug 26 at 23:03
  • @Conifold, I responded to your comments by adding to the question. Aug 27 at 19:34
  • @sequitur, I responded to your comment in an addendum Aug 27 at 19:35
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I think it's probably not possible for the answer to this question to be metaphysics-free: whether or not there are any non-logical properties that apply to everything is going to be a substantive question of ontology.

  • If everything that exists is material, then a predicate like "... are composed of matter" is a property that can be coherently and truly asserted of every X that "... exists" can be asserted of. If not everything that exists is material, then that means there are some at least some things that exist, of which "... are composed of matter" cannot be asserted. I take this to be the core issue at stake in the long historical debate over materialism in metaphysics.

    • If "... are composed of matter" is a property that's universally applicable, then there may be a whole bunch of other properties derived from the subject-matter of physics which are also universally applicable. (For example, if everything composed of matter has mass, then "... have mass" is in the same boat as "... are composed of matter," etc. -- If materialism is true then they are universally applicable; if it's not true, then they aren't.)

    • It should go similarly for properties that may be broader than "... are composed of matter" but still tied to the subject-matter of special sciences. For example, some Physicalists would hold that not everything is composed of matter, but everything is composed of physical stuff, or reducible to the facts of a completed physics, or.... Again, this would likely bring with it a set of other predicates derived from physics. If Physicalism is true, those predicates are universally applicable; if not, not.

    • A further complication here is of course the meaning of your key term "logical property." The relation "X is reducible to Y" used here seems like a good candidate for a two-term logical relation, as opposed to a non-logical relation. But I'm not sure whether or not this is also true of "X is composed of Y" -- is this a logical or a non-logical relation as you understand these terms? In either case, is it possible to speak of "... is composed of X" as a separate, non-logical property for non-logical Xes, as you're using these terms? (It seems like it should be -- This table is composed of wood is not a logical remark; it's something that you'd have to find out by investigating physical facts about the table.)

  • Broadly speaking, metaphysical pluralism might be usefully characterized as the doctrine that there are no non-logical properties that are universally predicable of everything that exists. If pluralism in this sense is true, then there must be no non-logical predicates that are universally applicable; if not, then there are some.

    • To acknowledge an oversimplification, of course, pluralism is often understood to be a doctrine about substances; if so, then the claim it makes would more narrowly be a claim about essential properties, not a claim about all properties. You could in theory be a pluralist about essential properties but hold that some non-logical, non-essential properties are universally applicable.

A lot of the question might turn on a prior question of ontological commitments -- on which, see, for example, W.V.O. Quine (1948), "On What There Is" (JSTOR).

Drawing a bit on Quine's method in that paper, any plausible answer to your original question seems like it needs to take a couple of complications into account:

  • What you intend to do in cases where a philosopher might want to take a statement with the surface grammar "There are some Xes that are/are not P" and analyze it into one or more statements with a deeper grammar that does not commit the speaker to talking about Xes. (Quine, for one, likes to do this a lot.)

    If, for example, a philosopher takes every statement about the properties of propositions and replaces it with an analysans about the properties of sentences or sets of sentences (so as to avoid an ontological commitment to non-linguistic, Fregean truth-bearers), then do universally-applicable properties still need to be applicable to the propositions in the analysandum? Or do they only need to be applicable to sentences or sets of sentences? Broadly, does successfully systematically reducing statements about Xes to statements about Yes remove the Xes from the "everything" that you're asking about, or does it leave them in the domain? (If that removes them from consideration, then it may be easier to find universally applicable properties, since any successful philosophical analysis could reduce the number of Xes in the universe that you need to match to any given property. If analysis does not remove the terms of the analysandum from consideration, then that will make it correspondingly more difficult for there to be an answer.)

  • What criteria you have in mind when you describe a property as "logical" as opposed to "non-logical." You give two examples here (existence and identity), and this might provide some obvious answers for properties and relations that are easily analyzed in terms of these properties and logical operators. But it's not obvious to me how to determine whether other relations (for example: "... is composed of ...", "... is composed of X" for some given X, "... is reducible to ...", "... is in the universe," etc.) Are you using "logical" here to indicate properties that are in some way directly connected with the formal features of logical inference? Or to indicate properties that are connected to questions of logical necessity or conceptual necessity (e.g., such that to deny that an object is self-identical would be conceptually incoherent, whereas to deny that it is made of wood would not)? Or is it to indicate properties that involve a certain sort of abstraction or generality?

    If you went through a big list of all the properties, and eventually you found one that applied to absolutely everything, would the very fact that it is general or abstract enough as to apply to everything be an eo ipso reason for you to count it as a "logical" rather than a "non-logical" property? If not, what other features would it have to have to count as logical in your sense?

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  • Thank you--a very nice and well-written answer. Unfortunately, it is mostly just suggesting alternatives to my anti-reductionist stance, and so it avoids rather than answers the question (as it happens, my definition of what kinds of objects I was talking about is roughly my ontological stance, inspired by Frege and Quine). I responded to others of your points in an addendum to the question. Aug 27 at 19:43

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