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Entries in Properties (1)


The Problem with Properties

When we use a term like “property” in relation to things having them, we suppose we know what we mean. What we have in mind in these cases is just some feature (or features) of a thing which, along with other features, combine to make it what it is. That is, we suppose that a property is that element or aspect of a thing which possesses it – along with every other element or aspect of it which then, if all are specified in full, would convey to an interlocutor the complete picture of the object in question. The property of a thing, in this sense, is any of its parts or elements which are accessible to us via the senses, either directly or indirectly.

Synonyms for the word “property” in various contexts include words like “feature,” “quality,” “aspect,” “element,” “constituent,” “characteristic,” “part,” and so on. None of these may be precisely the same as what we mean by “property” in every case for some are more specific, or refer to physical elements of a thing only while others have a more abstract reality. The idea of a “feature,” for instance, suggests something that may belong to a thing but is not an intrinsic part of it, i.e., something temporarily connected to the thing in question. A “quality” of a thing seems to suggest an evaluative or evaluated fact about it. An “aspect” conjures the picture of a particular appearance of something, depending on the viewer’s perspective and to speak of a thing’s “characteristic” suggests something not quite physical, something more like an effect the thing has on its observer, i.e., something it’s prone to produce in observers. The word “element” suggests some basic constituent part of the thing while the term “constituents,” itself, suggests parts, albeit not necessarily basic ones (i.e., something that is non-reducible to anything more basic than itself). . . .

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