The Theory of Universals

The Theory of Universals

The Theory of Universals

The Theory of Universals

Excerpt

There have been periods when the problem of universals was the dominating theme of philosophical speculation. One such period was the medieval; another was that of Plato and Aristotle. A strong case might be made, too, for the view that the crux and testing-point of the empiricist argument in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lay in its theory of universals and that Locke and Berkeley were well aware of this. It is the contention of this book that the problem is of equal importance in our own speculations. It is not denied that the contemporary attitude towards universals is frequently one of suspicion, nor that there are genuine grounds for suspicion. Yet the tendency to turn away from the problem and to ignore it because of a feeling that some of its formulations are unreal cannot be defended. The problem of universals, rightly posed, is still fundamental and urgent; for to understand universals is to begin to understand thinking.

It is from this angle that I approach the theory of universals, regarding it as a necessary part of the theory of thinking. What we call conceptual thinking involves the use of general words and no explanation of the successful use of the general word is possible without facing and solving the problem of universals. The conclusion of this book is that we must look in two directions for a solution, first, to natural recurrences and, secondly, to principles of classification, and I attempt to relate the two in order to present one theory of universals. During the course of the argument it will be necessary to examine such questions as the nature of common qualities and relations, of resemblances, of dispositions and concepts. It will be necessary, too, to test traditional theories in terms of contemporary thought. The theory in which the argument ends is neither realist, conceptualist, nor nominalist, and the reasons why none of these theories is acceptable as it stands must be made clear. Throughout, issues of fundamental importance both to contemporary empiricism and to formalism will have to be faced.

Such are some of the problems of Part II of this book. Part I

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