Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volume 11, number 33, December 1979
Ontología y universales en Gustav Bergmann
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Mauricio Beuchot
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Abstract: Gustav Bergmann is commited to an ontology of complexes, i.e., one which allows composition whitin entities. Its fundamental notions are two: entity and constituent. Two other notions are derived from them, because entities, according to their constituents, can be simple or complex. Entities are structured as an ontological foil. In this foils, all the complexes are facts. the simples are things. As it is shown by their names, the simples are constituents of the complexes; hence, things constitute facts. But things are not the unique constituents of facts; each fact has at least one constituent of the ontological class of the nexes which actually is a sub-class of the ontological class of the subsistents. Each one of these ontological classes is a category. Therefore, the three fundamental categories in the ontological foil are: things, facts and subsistents.
Things can also be individual or universal entities (universals, according to Bergmann, are things, no facts), e.g., an apple, and a property of being red and round; facts are entities constituted by things, e.g., the spot, say, that in the world constitutes the apple with its properties of being red and round. The subsistents are intermediate entities, as are the nexes, which correspond to what is designated by the logical connectives.
The prototype of the category of things is what we might call ordinary things or objects. Their constituents are their properties. As far as properties are concerned, many things can literally have the same property. Also, among the constituents of one thing there must be at least an entity such that, if it were not among them, the thing would not have that property. Such entity is the quality. Qualities are the constituents of a thing which serve as basis of its properties. Accordingly, there are universals: a character or universal is an individual entity which counts as a property; it is individuated by a bare particular. Both, property and bare particular, constitute an ordinary thing. The requirement of qualities being a basis of properties depends on the fact that properties need a mediator (the quality) in order to inhere in ordinary things. Ontologies which don’t accept such a fundament can be considered as the anti-foil.
Bergmann is a Realist concerning universals; nevertheless, his Realism is confronted with serious difficulties. I discuss some of them.
Bergmann tells us that a universal or character —absolute or relational— is a thing; i.e., its ontological status consists in being an entity which belongs to the category of thing. And thinghood, in its turn, consists in being something that is individual; a universal is an individual thing that counts as a property. This sounds like a contradiction; a better formula would be to say that a universal —instead of being an individual thing— is an entity that is individuated. (In this way it wouldn’t lose its universality that would be just exemplified.)
In order to avoid an extreme reification of universals, Bergmann must claim that they are not things —in the same sense as ordinary things— but constituents of these. Also, that simple and derived universals are not universals in the same sense. In view of so many distinctions, I find that Bergmann is perceptive to the possibility of there being different senses of the words “universal”, “thing”, and even “entity”. Therefore his own conception of being is not as univocal as he pretends. That seems to me a logical thing to say, for the other alternative to univocity is not merely equivocity, but analogy. This also shows in his distinction between a Platonistic Realism (separable universals) and another type of Realism —that would be rather Aristotelian (non- separable Universals). Similarly this also shows in his postulating a fundamental non-homogeneous nexus among entities, and even in his distinction between existence and subsistence, although, eventually, he reduces existence to being a subsistent, in which steps a contradiction.
Considering his fundamental notion, that of a constituent, we find that he distinguishes things from facts. Both of them exist, but in a different way. Facts are complexes and exist in an independent way: things are simples (and so, they are constituents of facts, which are complexes) and don’t exist independently. But this is hardly convincing, for things must have some independence (which Bergmann posits as a condition of “existing”); otherwise only atomic facts would, in a strict sense, exist, making imprecise the very same distinction which he is hard at work in maintaining. If he answers that atomic facts are independent because, with respect to them, things are dependent, we can insist: wouldn’t it be that atomic facts depend upon other more complex facts whose constituents they are? This may be only a question of degree. But, according to that, Bergmann’s atomic facts would have their assumed independence in virtue of the ontological independence of ordinary things. (Though it would be a different independence, of course.)
Applying to ordinary things the fundamental notion of constituent, we can see that they consist of bare particulars and universals (characters). In this point Bergmann seems to be close to Aristotelianism, for he declares that the rejection of bare particulars, by the New Nominalists, is in fact a kind of Anti-Aristotelianism in the level of ordinary particulars, closing themselves in this way to the possibility of explaining these particulars as compounds that have as their constituents bare particulars and universals. Furthermore, for Bergmann the bare particular plays the individuating function of the Thomistic materia signata quantitate, in close connection with the universal. However, how do these simples, which are bare particulars and characters, exist? Characters or universals, as we have said, exist as things, as do bare particulars. We have already seen that to assume that universals are things, brings forth the danger of reification. But a worse danger of reification is found in the case of bare particulars: they cannot be regarded but as things; otherwise, they would even cease being something; however, when they are seen as something, they cease being bare.
From this perspective I can understand his rejection of internal connections or relations, that he attributes to Nominalism as a peculiar trait. Certainly, the relation among individuals —that originates universality— cannot be reduced to an internal connection of equality or exact similarity —as the Nominalist pretends; but it doesn’t seem to be justified to exclude, on the basis, every internal relation or connection. Although individuals don’t connect among themselves by means of an internal connection of equality in order to establish the universal, however, among bare particulars and universals, we can speak of an internal connection of constitution. Bergmann dislikes the matter-form duality by this fear of internal connections, i.e., connections among things (and even among their constituents).
In brief, Bergmann has the undeniable merit of (i) having set up very strong objections to Nominalism and (ii) having systematized a moderate Realistic position. But, in despite of such an excellent position regarding the problem of universals, his position has some defects which have been overcome of long by the old Aristotelian tradition.
[M.B.]
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