The Metaphysics of Privileged Properties

  • Aaron Wilson

Student thesis: Phd


Objects are characterised by their properties. If an object is a red postbox, then it has the property of being red, and the property of being a postbox. This thesis is an attack on a particular view of the metaphysics of properties, according to which some properties are privileged over others. The most well-known theories of privileged properties are Armstrong's theory of sparse immanent universals (1979b) and Lewis' natural properties (1983). According to their supporters, only privileged properties perform certain jobs, such as featuring in laws of nature, or grounding similarity between objects.Metaphysical posits are theoretically virtuous if they can account for a range of different phenomena in a relatively parsimonious manner. The ability of privileged properties to perform a range of worthwhile 'work', therefore, is what justifies a belief in them. The conclusion I reach is that a single group of properties is not capable of satisfying the key roles commonly attributed to the privileged properties. Without satisfying these roles in concert, a belief in mainstream versions of privileged properties is not justified.The first part of this thesis is devoted to an explication of privilege and the roles which privileged properties are taken to perform. I conclude that three roles in particular, Supervenience, Similarity and Magnetism are key roles for mainstream theories of privilege. In part two, I show that the properties which satisfy the Supervenience role are not the same as those which satisfy the Similarity and Magnetism roles. In the final chapter of this thesis I discuss the implications of my findings for support for theories of privilege.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Liggins (Supervisor) & Christopher Daly (Supervisor)


  • David Lewis
  • Analytic Philosophy
  • Metaphysics
  • Properties
  • DM Armstrong
  • Scientific Realism

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