[William of Ockham]Universals

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Arjen
 
Reply Sat 26 Apr, 2008 03:24 am
William of Ockham's Summa Logicae contains a part which deals with universals. He is one of the pioneers of nominalism. Which holds that there are no universals, but only particulars. It contrasts itself with realism, which holds that some aspects of objects can be found in several objects and as such be universal. The black in the typed letters of this post for instance would be one black according to realists and many blacks according to nominalists.

Anyway, I found this text somewhere and I wanted to share it with you. This source text seems to be perfect as a basis for a discussion on universals, Ockhams position in the discussion and perhaps personal opinions on universals.

Summa Logicae wrote:


Summa Lugicae

Chapter 14: On the universal

It is not enough for the logician to have a merely general knowledge of terms; he needs a deep understanding of a term. Thereform, after discussing some general divisions among terms we should examine in detail the various headings under these divisions.
First, we should deal with terms of second intention and afterwards with terms of first intention. I have said that "universal", "genus", and "species" are examples of terms of second intention. We must discuss those terms of second intention which are called the five universals, but we should discuss the common term "universal". It is predicated of every universal and is opposed to the notion of a particular.
First, it should be noted that the term "particular" has two senses. In the first sense a particular is that which is one and not many. Those who hold that a universal is a certain quality residing in the mind which is predicable of many (not suppositing for itself, of course, but for the many of which it is predicated) must grant that, in this sense of the word, every universal is a particular. Just a word, even if convention makes it common, is a particular, the intention of the soul signifying many is numerically one thing a particular; for although it signifies many things nonetheless one thing and not many.
In another sense of the word we use "particular" to mean that which is one and not many and which cannot function as a sign of many. Taking "particular" in this sense no universal is a particular, since every universal is capable of signifying many and of being predicated of many. Thus, if we take the term "universal" to mean that which is not one in number, as many do, then, I want to say that nothing is a universal. One could, of course, abuse the expression and say that a population constitutes a single universal because it is not one but many. But that would be puerile.
Therefore, it ought to be said that every universal is one particular thing and that it is not a universal except in its signification, in its signifying many things. This is what Avicenna means to say in his commentary on the fifth book on metaphysics. He says, "One form in the intellect is related to many things, and in this respect it is a universal; for it is an intention of the intellect which has an invariant relationship to anything you choose." He then continues, "Although this form is a universal in its relationship to individuals, it is a particular in its relationship to the particular soul in which it resides; for it is just one form among many in the intellect." He means to say that a universal is an intention of a particular soul. Insofar as it can be predicated of many things not for itself but for these many, it is said to be a universal; but insofar as it is a particular from actually existing in the intellect, it is said to be a particular. Thus "particular" is predicated of a universal in the first sense but not in the second. In the same way we say that the sun is a universal cause and, nevertheless, that it is really and truly a particular and individual cause. For the sun is a universal cause and, nevertheless, that it is really and truly a particular and individual cause. For the sun is said to be a universal cause because it is the cause of many things (i.e., every object that is generable and corruptible). But it is said to be a particular cause because it is one cause and not many. In the same way the intention of the soul is said to be a universal because it is a sign predicable of many things, but it is said to be a particular because it is one thing and not many.
But it should be noted that there ae two kinds of universals. Some things are universal by nature; that is, by nature they are signs predicable of many in the same way that the smoke is by nature a sign of a fire; weeping, a sign of grief, and laughter, a sign of internal joy. The intention of the soul, of course, is a universal of this sort. It is of this kind of universal that I shall speak in the following chapters.
Other things are universal by convention. Thus, a spoken word, which is numerically one quality, is a universal; it is a sign conventionally appointed for the signification of many things. Thus, since the word is said to be common, it can be called a universal. But notice it is not by nature, but only by convention, that this label applies.

Chapter 15: That the universal is not a thing outside the mind

But it is not enough just to state one's position; must defend it by philosophical arguments. Therefore, I shall set forth some arguments for my view, and then corroborate it by an appeal to the authorities.
That no universal is a substance existing outside the mind can be proved in a number of ways,
No universal is a particular substance, numerically one; for if this were the case, then it would follow that Socrates is universal; for there is no good reason why one substance should be a universal rather than another. Therefore no particular substance is a universal; every substance is numerically one and particular. For every substance is either one thing and not many or it is many things. Now, if a substance is one thing and not many, then it is numerically one; for that is what we mean by "numerically one". But if, on the other hand, some substance is several things, it is either several particular things or several universal things. If the first alternative is chose, then it follows that some substance would be several particular substances; and consequently that some substance would be several men. But although the universal would be distinguished from a single particular, it would not be distinguished from several particulars. If, however, some substance were to be several universal entities, I take one of those universal entities and ask, "Is it many things or is it one and not many?" If the second is the case it follows that the thing is particular. If the first is the case then I ask, Is it several particular things or several universal things?" Thus either an infinite regress will follow or it will be granted that o substance is a universal in a way that would be incompatible with it also being a particular. From this it follows that no substance is a universal.
Again, if some universal were to be one substance existing in particular substances, yet disctinct from them. It would follow that it could exist without them; for everything that is naturally prior to something else can, by God's power, exist without that thing; but the consequence is absurd.
Again, if the view in question were true, no individual would be able to be created. Something of teh individual would pre-exist it, for the whole individual would not take its existance from nothing, if the universal which is in it were already in something else. For the same reason it would follow that God could not annihilate an individual substance without destroying other individuals of the same kind. If He were to annihilate some individual, he would destroy the whole which is essentially the individual and, consequently, He would destroy the universal which is in that thing and in others of the same essence. Consequently, other things of the same essnce would not remain, for they could not continue to exist without the universal which constitutes a part of them.
Again, such a universal could not be construed as something completely extrinsic to the essence of an individual; therefore, it would belong to the essence of the individual; and, consequently, an individual would be composed of universals, so that the individual would not be any more a particular then a universal.
Again, it follows that something of the essence of Christ would be miserable and damned, since that common nature really existing in Christ would be damned in the damned individual; for surely that essence is also in Judas. But this is absurd.
Many other arguments could be brought forth, but in the interests of brevity, I shall dispense with them. Instead, I shal corroborate my authorities by an appeeal to authorities.
First, in his seventh book of metaphysics, Aristotle is creating the question of whether a universal is a substance. He shows that no universal is a substance. Thus, he says, "It is impossible that substance be something that can be predicated universally."
Again, in the tenth book of Metaphysics, he says, "Thus, if, as we argued in the discussions on substance and being, no universal can be a substance, it is not possible that a universal be a substance in teh sense of one over and against the many.
From these remarks it is clear that, in Aristotle's view, although universals can supposit for substances, no universal is a substance.
Again, teh Commentator in his forty-fourth comment on the seventh book of the metaphysics says, "In the individual the only substance is the particular form and matter out of which the individual is composed."
Again, in the fourthy-fifth comment, he says, "Let us say, therefore, that it is impossible that one of those things we call universals be the substance of anything, although they do express the substances of thing."
And, again, in the fourty-seventh comment, "It is impossible that they (universals) be parts of substances existing of and by themselves.
Again, in the second comment on the eigth book of the metaphysics, he says, "No universal is either a substance of a genus".
Again, in the sixth comment on the tenth book, he says, "Since universals are not substances, it is clear that the common notion of being is not a substance existing outside the mind."
Using these and many other authorities, the general point emerges, no universal is a substance regardless of the viewpoint from which we consider the matter. Thus, the viewpoint from which we consider the matter is irrelevant to the quenstion of whether something is a substance. Nevertheless, the meaning of a term is relevant to the question of whether the expression "substance" can be predicated of the term. Thus, if the term "dog" in the proposition "The dog is an animal" is used to stand for the barking animal, the proposition is true; but if it is used for the celestial body which goes by that name, the proposition is false. But it is impossible that one and the same thing should be a substance from one viewpoint and not a substance from another.
Therefore, it ought to be granted that no universal is a substance regardless of how it is considered. On the contrary, every universal is an intention of the mind whcih, on the most probable account, is identical with the act of understanding. Thus, it is said that the act of understanding by which I grasp men is a natural sign of men in the same way that weeping is a natural sign of grief. It is a natural sign such that it can stand for men in propositions in teh same way that a spoken word can stand for things in spoken propositions.
That the universal is an intention of the soul is clearly expressed by Avicenna in the fifth book of metaphysics, in which he comments, "I say, therefore, that there are three senses of "universal". For we say that something is an universal if (like "man") it is actually predicated of many things; and we also call an intention a universal if it could be predicated of many." Then follows the remark, "An intention is also called a universal if there is nothing inconceivable in its being predicated of many."
From these remarks it is clear that the universal is an intention of the soul capable of being predicated of many. The claim can be corroborated by argument. For every one agrees that a universal is something predicable of many, but only an intention of the soul or a conventional sign is predicated. No substance is ever predicated of anything. Therefore, only an intention of the soul or a conventional sign is a universal; but I am not here using the term "universal" for conventional signs, but only for signs that there are universals by nature. That substance is not capable of functioning as predicate is clear; for if it were, it would follow that a proposition would be composed of particular substances; and subsequently, the subject would be in Rome and the predicate in England which is absurd.
Furthermore, propositions occur only in the mind, in speech, or in writing; therefore, their parts can exist only in the mind, in speech and in writing. Thus, no proposition can be composed of particular substances. Propositions are, however, composed of universals; therefore, universals cannot conceivably be substances.


William of Ockham
Summa Logicae

 
Arjen
 
Reply Sat 26 Apr, 2008 03:52 am
@Arjen,
In my opinion Ockham seperates empiricism from human thoughts quite nicely. He makes a great plea for the seperation of our tendency to look for simularities and the fact that objects are seperate entities. The difference between the thought concept "forest" and the fact that a forest is actually a bunch of trees is a very important one I think. There are also other theories concerning universals, such as Plato's logoi. He holds that universals exist in a more transcendental way. His philosophy boils down to the thought that there are universal logoi of for instance "black" or "man" which know seperate "quantifications" in the actuality.
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
Reply Thu 16 Oct, 2008 07:58 am
@Arjen,
This is the sort of philosophy that I really do not like.

Can you explain why it matters that we understand universals as a mental construct and not a substance?

I would consider myself a nominalist, but more because I don't find discussions of this matter to be important than anything.

Perhaps if a scenario were posited where this understanding had any utility or any practical effect on any other understanding, I could better form an opinion.
 
Arjen
 
Reply Thu 16 Oct, 2008 12:57 pm
@Arjen,
I think I am a nominalist too. Realism work out within different concepts of thought though. Most empiricists are nominalists think, but rationalists can easily create a transcendental idea of universals. In some contextx I agree with that as well.

The importance of the thoughts concerning universals versus singulars is that we learn to see that 'a forest' is not a singlar object, but consists of many treas and a bit shadily drawn line. In the mind, however, the thought is used as a singular: a forest, the Jew, the Terrorist, the sovereign, etc.

When we realise this difference most thoughts take on a different form.
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
Reply Thu 16 Oct, 2008 01:08 pm
@Arjen,
Arjen wrote:
I think I am a nominalist too. Realism work out within different concepts of thought though. Most empiricists are nominalists think, but rationalists can easily create a transcendental idea of universals. In some contextx I agree with that as well.

The importance of the thoughts concerning universals versus singulars is that we learn to see that 'a forest' is not a singlar object, but consists of many treas and a bit shadily drawn line. In the mind, however, the thought is used as a singular: a forest, the Jew, the Terrorist, the sovereign, etc.

When we realise this difference most thoughts take on a different form.


Who forgets that a forest is a group of particular trees? That is the definition of "forest".
 
Arjen
 
Reply Fri 17 Oct, 2008 04:12 am
@Mr Fight the Power,
Yes, but in speaking of how 'forests' respond to certain situations we often forget that it is really the individual trees that need to studied to see the effects of said situations. Just like when speaking of 'red' people often forget that there are many seperate 'reds', etc.
 
Anthrobus
 
Reply Sun 26 Oct, 2008 06:23 pm
@Arjen,
From these remarks it is clear that the universal is an intention of the soul capable of being predicated of many...dear auld OCKHAM considered the UNIVERSAL as predicated of many...the PARTICULAR as predicated of the one...the many would have to be in the ONE...the ONE would have to be in the many...here's the solution...the UNIVERSAL lies in the PARTICULAR...when the PARTICULAR is ONE...the PARTICULAR lies in the UNIVERSAL...when the UNIVERSAL is ONE...in other words they are both the same...OCKHAM is just choosing his specific meanings and they are wrongheaded...he doesn't understand what the PARTICULAR or the UNIVERSAL really mean...
 
Anthrobus
 
Reply Thu 30 Oct, 2008 12:03 pm
@Anthrobus,
[It is not enough for the logician to have a merely general knowledge of terms; he needs a deep understanding of a term] : WILLIAM throws concepts such as SUBSTANCE and GOD and PARTICULAR and UNIVERSAL swirls them around with his wooden palette and then declares them to be the exact colour that he chooses them to be. As an example he decides that the PARTICULAR is allied to the ONE, and that the UNIVERSAL is allied to the MANY, it follows therefore that the PARTICULARand the UNIVERSAL are separate. Nothing however could be further from the TRUTH when you reverse the argument. The ONE and the MANY are inextricably linked and are interdependent. Take away the ONE and the MANY disappears, take away the MANY and the ONE disappears. It follows that the PARTICULAR and the UNIVERSAL are also inextricably linked and interdependent, and if , in fact, they are thus associated with the ONE and the MANY. William is guilty of the same general knowledge of terms that he so quickly derides. If we were to announce a PARTICULAR ONE and a PARTICULAR MANY, or a UNIVERSAL ONE and a UNIVERSAL MANY, where then would William stand : nowhere except with a pot of false distinctions, souped up, declared to be whatever we hold them to be...he doesn't understand the use of his own terms, therefore this philosophy stands on sand...
 
 

 
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