In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Tropes

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • History
  • Causation
  • Semantics

Philosophy Tropes
Anna-Sofia Maurin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0234


Trope theory is the view that the world is (wholly or partly) constituted by so-called tropes, which are entities most often characterized as a kind of abstract particular or particular property. Very little is uncontroversial when it comes to tropes and the theory or theories in which tropes (not always so-called) figure. What attracts many to the theory is that it, in occupying a sort of middle position in between classical nominalism (according to which all there is, is particular) and classical realism (according to which there is a separate and fundamental category of properties), appears to avoid some of the troubles befalling either of those views. More precisely, by accepting the existence of entities that are, or that at least behave like, properties, the trope theorist avoids the charge, often made against classical nominalists, of positing entities that are somehow too unstructured to be able to fulfill all of our explanatory needs. And by not accepting the existence of universals, the trope theorist avoids having to accept the existence of a kind of entity many find mysterious, counterintuitive, and “unscientific.” Apart from this very thin core assumption—that there are tropes—different trope theories need not have very much in common. Most trope theorists (but not all) believe that there is nothing but tropes. Most of these one-category trope theorists (but, again, not all) hold that distinct concrete particulars (which are understood by most, but again not all, as bundles of tropes) are the same—for example, have the same color—when (some of) the tropes that characterize them are members of the same (exact) similarity class. And most (but not all) hold that resemblance between tropes is determined by the tropes’ individual, intrinsic nature, which is taken as a primitive.

General Overviews

Comprehensive introductions to contemporary debates in metaphysics (as well as in philosophy generally) can be found in various Internet encyclopedias, including The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Entries of relevance to the student of tropes and trope theory include (but are not limited to) Maurin 2018, which provides an updated introduction to the most important debates on tropes; McLeod and Rubenstein 2005; and Swoyer and Orilia 2016, which relate the debate on tropes to the more general debate on the nature of properties (that tropes are a kind of property is the received view, but see Property or Substance); and Rodriguez-Pereyra 2015, which explains the sense in which trope theory can be categorized as a kind of nominalism. A common view among critics of trope theory is that tropes are, or collapse into, states of affairs (see Simplicity). Mulligan and Correia 2017 and Textor 2016 provide relevant background information (on the nature of facts and of states of affairs) for anyone especially interested in that discussion.

  • Maurin, Anna-Sofia. “Tropes.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2018.

    A general introduction to most debates involving tropes. A good place to start for anyone interested in the theory.

  • McLeod, Mary C., and Eric M. Rubenstein. “Universals.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden, 2005.

    A short and very accessible introduction to the “problem of universals” as well as to the trope-theoretical solution to that problem. A useful entry for someone with no or very little knowledge of the field.

  • Mulligan, Kevin, and Fabrice Correia. “Facts.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2017.

    Among many other things, this entry introduces the idea of facts as truth-makers, and, most relevantly, discusses the question of whether facts must be complex or not.

  • Rodriguez-Pereyra, Gonzalo. “Nominalism in Metaphysics.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2015.

    Encyclopedia entry that nicely summarizes what reasons one might have not to accept the existence of either abstract universals or abstract objects. Explains where trope theory fits into the nominalist scheme (and how it differs from more traditional versions of that theory).

  • Swoyer, Chris, and Francesco Orilia. “Properties.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2016.

    A very good overview of the debates in analytic philosophy (and, in particular, in analytic metaphysics) concerning properties, including some of the debates concerning properties considered as tropes. Indispensable reading if one wants to understand the theoretical background against which tropes are introduced.

  • Textor, Mark. “States of Affairs.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2016.

    Most importantly for our present purposes, this text distinguishes what are called “states of affairs” from “facts” (confusingly enough also called states of affairs by some philosophers in metaphysics) and from what are called “thoughts.” Introduces the (quite common) idea that facts can function both as truth-makers and as regress-stoppers.

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