Jump to The Problem of Universals - The Problem of Universals arises when we ask these questions. Attempts to solve this problem divide into three  ‎The Nature of Universals · ‎Reasons to Postulate · ‎Versions of Anti-Realism. In this article I address the Problem of Universals by answering questions about what facts a solution to the Problem of Universals should explain and how the. There was a time, not long ago, when no one would have dared publish a book on early modern treatments of the problem of universals.


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Yet the cat is simply unable to judge whether it is a true circle in the sense that it really is what it is supposed to be, namely, a locus of points equidistant from a given point.

By contrast, a human being is able to judge the truth of this thing, insofar as he or she would be able to tell that my drawing is problem of universals really and truly a circle, but is at best a good approximation of what a true circle would be.

Now, in intellectual cognition, just as in the sensory cognition of things, when the intellect simply problem of universals a true thing, then it still does not have to judge the truth of the thing, even though it may have a true apprehension, adequately representing the thing.

  • The Problem of Universals |
  • The Medieval Problem of Universals (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  • The Problem Of Universals
  • 1. Introduction

But the cognition of the truth of the thing only occurs in a judgment, when the intellect judges the adequacy of the thing to its exemplar. But since a thing can be compared to two sorts of exemplar, namely, to the exemplar in the human mind, and to the exemplar in the divine mind, the cognition of the truth of a thing is twofold, relative to these two exemplars.

The exemplar of the human mind, according to Henry, is nothing but the Aristotelian abstract concept of the thing, whereby the thing is simply apprehended in a universal manner, and hence its truth is judged relative to this concept, when the intellect judges that the thing in question falls under this concept or not.

As Henry argues further: But by this sort of problem of universals exemplar in us we do not have the entirely problem of universals and infallible cognition of truth. Indeed, this is entirely impossible for three reasons, the first of which is taken from the thing from which problem of universals exemplar is abstracted, the second from the soul, in which this exemplar is received, and the third from the exemplar itself that is received in the soul about the thing.

The first reason is that this exemplar, since it is abstracted from changeable things, has to share in the nature of changeability.

Therefore, since physical things are more changeable problem of universals mathematical objects, this is why the Philosopher claimed that we have a greater certainty of knowledge about mathematical objects than about physical things problem of universals means of their universal species.


And this is why Augustine, discussing this cause of the uncertainty of the knowledge of natural things in q. For it is by means of the same images of sensible things that in dreams and madness we judge these images to be the things, and in sane awareness we judge the things themselves.

But the pure truth can only be perceived by discerning problem of universals from falsehood.


Therefore, by means of such an exemplar it is impossible to have certain knowledge, and certain cognition of the truth. And so if we are to have certain knowledge of the truth, then we have problem of universals turn our mind away from the senses and sensible things, and problem of universals every intention, no matter how universal and abstracted from sensible things, to the unchangeable truth existing above the mind […].

But then the question naturally arises: Problem of universals it would be like the direct intuition of two objects, one sensible, another intelligible, on the basis of which one could also immediately judge how closely the former approaches the latter.

But this sort of direct intuition of the divine ideas is only the share of angels and the souls of the blessed in beatific vision; it is generally not granted in this life, except in rare, miraculous cases, in rapture, or prophetic vision. Therefore, if there is to be any non-miraculous recognition of this pure truth in this life, then it has to occur differently.

Henry argues that even if we do not have a direct intuition of divine ideas as the objects cognized whereby their particulars are recognized as more or less approximating themwe do have the cognition of the quiddities of things as the objects cognized by reason of some indirect cognition of their ideas.

The reason for this, Henry says, is problem of universals following: And so, as Augustine says in bk.

The Medieval Problem of Universals

But this cannot be done by the exemplar received from the thing itself, as has been shown earlier [in the previously quoted passage — GK]. It is necessary, therefore, that it be informed by the exemplar of the unchangeable truth, as Augustine intends in the same place.

And this is why he says in On True Problem of universals that just as by its truth are true those that are true, so too by its similitude are similar those that are similar. It is necessary, therefore, that the unchangeable truth impress itself into our concept, and that problem of universals transform our concept to its own character, and that in this way it inform our mind with the expressed truth of the thing by the same similitude that the thing itself has in the first truth.

Meaning and the Problem of Universals

For example, when I simply have the initial simple concept of circle abstracted from circular objects I have seen, that concept is good enough for me to tell circular objects apart from non-circular ones.

But with this simple, unanalyzed concept in problem of universals, I may still not be able to say what a true circle is supposed to be, and accordingly, exactly how and to what extent the more or less circular objects I see fail or meet this standard.

However, when I come to understand that a circle is a locus of points equidistant from a given point, I will realize by means of a clear and distinct concept what it was that I originally conceived in a vague and confused manner in my original concept of circle.

But what is not given to me by my geometry teacher is the understanding of the fact that what is expressed by the definition is indeed what I originally rather problem of universals conceived by my concept abstracted from visible circles.

Using our previous analogy of the acquired concept as the copy of a poor repro of an original, we may say that if we have a number of problem of universals poor, fuzzy repros that are defective in a number of different ways, then in a long and complex process of collating them, we might still be able discern the underlying pattern of the original, and thus produce a copy that is actually closer to the original than any of the direct repros, without ever being allowed a glimpse of the original.

Matthew of Aquasparta quite faithfully describes this view, associating it with the Aristotelian position he rejects: