Particular Problems

I have lately been reading about thinkers who attempt to elevate the particular over the general. But I have trouble even wrapping my head around the idea.

Is it possible to speak of something being particular without implying a relationship to generality? “Particular” is a general term referring to the non-general.

A particular is an individual item in a class—so there can be no particular without classes. If there are classes that only have one item total, then can they meaningfully be spoken of as classes?

To think of the properties of a particular is to think in terms of properties that could apply to others—that is, properties are general concepts, intrinsically.

To say, as Wittgenstein does, that resemblances within a class are family resemblances, is to presuppose the general concept of “family resemblances.”

This is not intended as a critique of Wittgenstein. On the contrary: it is simply a confession that I do not understand the relationship between generals and particulars.

5 thoughts on “Particular Problems

  1. I’ll take up the mantle of the extreme position, based on my (mis?) understanding of Al-Ghazali.

    You say, “A particular is an individual item in a class—so there can be no particular without classes,” but I accept neither of these claims. The only “class” particulars unambiguously belong to is the class of distinguishable things: all groupings beyond that are putative. “Qualities” are a mental method which we use to productively speak and act, but they are not fundamental to the things themselves. Classes and properties are necessary for language, but not for reality, or even understanding.

    1. It’s hard to see how this can be true and modern physics also, for instance. How can we speak of atoms rather than “this very small thing in itself” and “that very small thing in itself” unless there is something generalizable about all atoms?

      1. Our ability to make a generalization does not make it real, only convenient.

        Speaking for myself, I agree that the people pushing particulars always privilege one type, one *scale* of particulars as more actual than others. Al-Ghazali and Wittgenstein, I think, choose the medium-sized objects of scripture and sub-linguistic awareness, and I think make good cases for that scale, but I could imagine a modern physicist who insists that only atoms are real, or that only fields are real, and atoms are only a word for our misunderstanding of the texture of fields.

      2. I just find it hard to understand this perspective, granting that that doesn’t make it incorrect. How can atoms be real if the general properties of them are not? How can generalizations be convenient, or useful, but not real or at least approximately real?

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