Acta Analytica

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 115–133 | Cite as

Is There A Quasi-Mereological Account of Property Incompatibility?



Armstrong’s combinatorial theory of possibility faces the obvious difficulty that not all universals are compatible. In this paper I develop three objections against Armstrong’s attempt to account for property incompatibilities. First, Armstrong’s account cannot handle incompatibilities holding among properties that are either simple, or that are complex but stand to one another in the relation of overlap rather than in the part/ whole relation. Secondly, at the heart of Armstrong’s account lies a notion of structural universals which, building on an objection by David Lewis, is shown to be incoherent. I consider and reject two alternative ways of construing the composition of structural universals in an attempt to meet Lewis’ objection. An important consequence of this is that all putative structural properties are in fact simple. Finally, I argue that the quasi-mereological account presupposes modality in a way that undermines the reductionist aim of the combinatorialist theory of which it is a central part. I conclude that Armstrong’ quasi-mereological account of property incompatibility fails. Without that account, however, Armstrong’s combinatorial theory either fails to get off the ground, or else must give up its goal of reducing the notion of possibility to something non-modal.


David Armstrong David Lewis Property incompatibility Reduction of modality Mereology Structural universals 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Buenos AiresArgentina

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