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Analyse and Discuss Universals and Particulars

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Analyse and Discuss Universals and Particulars

The study of what exists is known as Ontology and this specific branch of metaphysics aims to clarify the sorts of things that everything is and what groups they belong to. Each individual object is a 'particular' and these can belong to other groups such as 'animals' or 'plants'. There are many different types of animals on Earth but all of them will have what's known as 'internal unity' whereby they can all be classified as 'animals'. Often we use predicates in our language to identify particular things as subjects and properties; for example 'x is a lion' and 'lions are animals'. Predicates signify both qualities and relations, but the key question is whether these properties 'exist' independently of particulars. Many philosophers argue that properties are what we call 'universals' and they are applied generally to more than one thing, whereas particulars refer to one particular thing/object.

Nominalism argues that universals exist as a concept but not in reality, independently from particulars. The thoughts and linguistic terms used to describe universals do not refer to anything in particular but simply identify objects as resembling each other. For example, we have various pink things such as a sunset, or a pen, but 'pink' doesn't exist in itself, instead we call them all 'pink' because the particulars resemble each other. Some of the main advocates for Nominalism are Hume, Berkeley and William of Ockham.

David Hume argues that our judgements are made from our experience, rather than by recognising the form or essence of being. We form our general judgements from the particulars we experience and we can get an insight into reality this way due to the facts of human psychology. He says that universals are represented by particular ideas, and we do not need any insight into the necessary universal properties of being an object in order to apply a universal idea. Hume goes n to say that all our ideas are ones of particulars, and we associate different properties by resemblance. When I see a 'soft' object I automatically associate this with all the other 'soft' objects I have experienced. The forms or essences of ideas cannot tell us anything about the world as it is in reality because it's possible to imagine something being the opposite. For example, whatever 'is' could potentially also be something else. In short, Hume's theory is that universals are functions of the way particular ideas can stand for general ideas.

Nominalism faces questions as to the meaning of general terms, what they refer to and how they get their meaning. The general claim that 'pink' means 'all pink things' is often objected to because we have examples of general terms, for example 'honesty' that doesn't refer to 'all honest people' because a phrase such as 'honesty is the best policy' isn't referring to people at all, but an attitude instead. Seeing as 'honesty' seems to be an ideal to aspire to, surely it seems sensible to say 'honesty' refers to the universal of Honesty. Another criticism is that things which are pink can change, for example whilst a sunset may be pink at one stage, later it can be orange or yellow, but the meaning of 'pink' doesn't change and so the meaning cannot just be the set of pink things. Lastly, we can have two predicates to describe the same thing, such as 'the ball is big' and 'the ball is round', but they both have different meanings.

To solve this issue, we can say that general terms actually mean the concept/abstract idea and by noticing resemblances between particulars via sense experience, we later form an abstract idea from our experience and this provides us with the meaning of the general term. However, what about a term such as 'dragon', which isn't true of anything, so therefore cannot be a general term that gets it's meaning by referring to a universal? It seems more plausible to say that 'dragon' is an idea rather than it means 'all those things that are dragons' or 'the property of being a dragon'. Essentially, Nominalism argues that universals are purely mind-independent classification systems that reflect our thinking processes.

Philosophers are left to ponder where this classification system comes from and what makes an object 'pink'. Perhaps we just choose to apply the term 'pink' to something, but then how can we explain the concept? There seems to be no evidence for our concept, especially if there is nothing in virtue of which pink things are pink. It can be argued that all pink things resemble each other and we recognise this pattern, which in turn explains the concept. Nominalism doesn't see the point in appealing to universals to explain the patterns of

resemblance between objects; rather we should say that their resembling each other is metaphysically fundamental.

In Bertrand Russell's 'Problems of Philosophy' he claims that Nominalism contradicts itself and focuses too much on qualities but forgets relations. He argues that the resemblance between

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