For those who believe that objects are concrete things and properties are abstract things, what do you make of sensory properties?

Our brains perceive sensory qualities first and build (concepts of) "objects" in our minds. In this sense, sensory properties are more concrete than objects in our minds.

This makes me question the distinction between actual objects and properties in the real world outside our minds. We have concrete sensory inputs vs abstract objects/properties in our minds. This suggests to me that there is no reason to believe there are discreetly divided individual objects out in the real world. Instead, we divide it up in our minds using properties.

Perhaps the notion of real objects goes back to the ideas of things having "substance," but that can be explained by modern notions of physical properties such as mass, volume, force, etc.

  • For suitable values of "abstract." Abstraction is a mental process. An abstract concept of a property is not the property. Of course, I said not to mention it but to use it.
    – Boba Fit
    May 21 at 17:42
  • @BobaFit Sure, but I'm not seeing your point in relation to my post.
    – csp
    May 21 at 17:47
  • 1
    @BobaFit I'm aware of the distinction. But what are you saying regarding my post?
    – csp
    May 21 at 17:50
  • 1
    Some of those are called abstract objects, and even Quine admitted existence of sets and numbers as such. Structural realism generally is a currently popular form of scientific realism. "Objects concrete, properties abstract" sounds like nominalism about universals, but only some strict forms of physicalism adopt it these days.
    – Conifold
    May 22 at 17:45

2 Answers 2


Has the dog Buddha-nature?

There is a famous Zen koan (mind-problem) where the student asks, "Has the dog Buddha-nature?" The master replies, "Mu!" In this context Mu means something like neither true nor false (not true and not false), No-Thing, or maybe even, "I reject the logical basis of your question in the context of Zen practice!"

In terms of set theory and relations there is the recognition of an item called "dog" and a distinct item called "Buddha-nature". Then there is a map of possible logical relations that would be expressed as follows:

R1 = {dog, Buddha-nature, true}

R2 = {dog, Buddha-nature, false}

R3 = Mu = {dog, Buddha-nature, not true and not false}

Even if we accept that objects such as dog or buddha-nature are concrete, and exist outside the mind as within the mind (on earth as in heaven or the human imagination), then it seems in the context of Zen contemplation that the effort to map properties to objects in terms of relations exists inside the mind and not outside the mind (metaphorically relations exist in heaven, the heart, the imagination, but not on earth).


According to current physics, everything we see around us on Earth is made of the same building blocks. If you are so inclined, you can consider the Earth and everything on it to be a single collection of fundamental particles in what is largely empty space. In that context, the differences between my laptop and the air around it is that the particles comprising the air are more widely spread and less regimented than the particles that comprise my laptop.

Why do you single out the collection of circa 1025 particles that comprise my lap-top from the much larger collection of similar particles that surrounds them? There are several reasons. They have a different look than the surrounding air. They feel heavier. You can pick them up as a set in your hand and move them independently from all the other particles. And so on.

In other words, the total set of all particles that comprise the Earth can be segregated into subsets we call objects. The 'properties' of an object vary in type and degree of abstraction. The mass of the object follows straightforwardly from the number and type of fundamental particles that comprise it. The size is a measure of the spatial extent of the collection of particles in the subset. The size and mass of the object are therefore quite well defined in terms of the physical characteristics of its constituent particles. The colour of an object is a different type of property, in that it is the mind's response to the frequencies of light reflected or emitted by the arrangement of the particles. The object can have properties that are entirely unrelated to the physical attributes of its constituent particles- properties such as value, beauty, and so on, which are entirely constructs of the mind.

In short, humans subdivide the matter within the Universe into 'objects' for a wide range of reasons. Some of what we call the properties of an object are inherent to the collection of particles that we have singled out as the object- others are attributed to it by our minds.

  • What about quantum fields, strings, etc., and what we'd call space-time, forces, energy, and other "structures?" Would you call these concrete objects? They seem to exist in reality outside our minds just as much as what people would call objects.
    – csp
    May 22 at 14:51

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