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Atoms as universals

Tugby, Matthew (2020) 'Atoms as universals.', in Atomism in philosophy: A history from antiquity to the present. London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 387-399.


This chapter explores how atomism – the view that there are fundamental indivisible objects – can be combined with a realist ontology of universals. We propose and develop a new theory that views an atom as an instance of a simple universal (such as being an electron) rather than a bundle of multiple universals. According to this theory, which we shall call the Simple View, atoms are simple in the strongest sense because they lack inherent qualitative complexity as well as spatial complexity. This theory is motivated, in part, by what is known as the Axiom of Difference. After introducing the Simple View, we address what is arguably its most serious objection, which is that the theory faces difficulties in accommodating talk of ‘fine-grained’ attributes, such being unit negatively charged or having a certain mass. We conclude by exploring some possible solutions to this problem. Although the Simple View is not endorsed here, we hope to show that this previously unexplored theory is a live contender that is worthy of discussion in future debates about atomism, not least because it provides a very parsimonious ontology.

Item Type:Book chapter
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Publisher statement:(c)The Authors.
Date accepted:11 August 2020
Date deposited:08 January 2021
Date of first online publication:12 November 2020
Date first made open access:12 May 2021

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