Part of the SYNTHESE LIBRARY book series (SYLI, volume 334)

It is by no means beyond dispute what precisely the terms “realism” and “nominalism,” in the age-long controversy about the status of universals, have stood for. Without any regard to historical complexities and shifts of meaning, I shall, in this paper, define “realism” and “nominalism” as follows: According to realism, universals exist, to employ the scholastic phrase, in re, i.e., one and the same property (in the wide sense in which both qualities and relations are properties) is often simultaneously exemplified by several particulars. “Property” and “universal” are here used as synonyms. A property, in this usage, is the intension (or logical connotation) of any predicate, of whichever degree (relations are thus the intensions of predicates of degree 2 or any higher degree). According to the nominalists, on the other hand, there are no “ontological” universals. In the impressive language of metaphysicians, “only particulars have ontological status,” according to nominalism. There are, indeed, general words; but it is a mistake to suppose that, like proper names and definite descriptions, general words stand for, or refer to, an entity. Predicates (which are general words) are, indeed, applicable to several particulars that resemble each other in certain respects. But if the word has a unique referent, the latter is not a universal whose identical presence constitutes the resemblance, but at best a class of similar particulars.


General Word Atomic Sentence Semantic Examination Billiard Ball Grammatical Form 
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© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of GroningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Wesleyan UniversityMiddletownU.S.A.

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