Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Henrik Lagerlund


Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1151-5_510-2


Medieval discussions of universals are some of the most sophisticated and sustained discussions in the history of this topic. This article focuses on medieval discussions of the ontological status of universals. Speculations about the existence of universal things were prompted by what was said (and what was not said) in ancient Greek treatises on logic and metaphysics. Throughout the medieval period, philosophers divided roughly into those who believed that there was some mind-independent reality that was common to many particulars (i.e., realism) and those who believed that universality was a mind-dependent property (i.e., anti-realism or nominalism). Anti-realists critiqued contemporary versions of realism. Realists responded to the anti-realists with ever more sophisticated accounts of the real basis for predication and classification.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


Primary Sources

  1. Abelard, P. (1919). Logica ‘ingredientibus’, pt. 1: Glossae super Porphyrium. In B. Geyer (Ed.), Peter Abaelards Philosophische Schriften. I. Die Logica ‘Ingredientibus’. 1: die Glossen zu Porphyrius (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters 21, Pt. 1, pp. 1–109). Münster: Aschendorffshen Buchhandlung.Google Scholar
  2. Abelard, P. (1933). Logica ‘nostrorum petitioni sociorum’: glossula super Porphyrium. In: B. Geyer (Ed.), Peter Abaelards Philosophische Schriften. II. Die Logica ‘nostrorum petitioni sociorum’: die Glossen zu Porphyrius (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters 21, Pt. 4, pp. 505–580). Münster: Aschendorffshen Buchhandlung.Google Scholar
  3. Anonymous [Pseudo-Joscelin]. (2014). De generibus et speciebus. In P. King (Ed.), Pseudo-Joscelin: The treatise on genera and species. Oxford studies in medieval philosophy, Vol. 2, pp. 104–211.Google Scholar
  4. Aquinas, T. (1976). De ente et essentia. In Opera omnia. Iussa Leonis XIII P. M. (Vol. 43). Rome: Editori di San Tommaso.Google Scholar
  5. Boethius. (1906). In Isagogen Porphyrii commentorum. In S. Brandt (Ed.), Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (Vol. 48). Vienna: F. Tempsky.Google Scholar
  6. Burley, W. (1999). Tractatus de universalibus. In H.-U. Wöhler (Ed.), Abhandlungen der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig – Philologisch-historische Klasse bd. 75, 5. Leipzig/Stuttgart: Verlag der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig/S. Hirzel.Google Scholar
  7. Duns Scotus John. (1973). Ordinatio, II, distinctio 3, pars 1. In Opera omnia (Vol. 7). Vatican City: Vatican Polyglot Press.Google Scholar
  8. Ibn Sīnā [Avicenna]. (2005). The metaphysics of “The Healing” (ed & trans: Marmura, M. E.). Provo: Brigham Young University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Porphyry. (1887). Isagoge. In A. Busse (Ed.), Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca (Vol. 4, Part 1). Berlin: George Reimer.Google Scholar
  10. Spade, P. V. (trans.) (1994). Five texts on the mediaeval problem of universals. Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  11. William of Ockham. (1970). Scriptum in librum primum Sententiarum Ordinatio, distinctiones II–III. In S. Brown & G. Gál (Eds.), Opera theologica (Vol. 2). St. Bonaventure: Franciscan Institute.Google Scholar
  12. William of Ockham. (1974). Summa logicae. In P. Boehner, G. Gál, & S. Brown (Eds.), Opera philosophica (Vol. 1). St. Bonaventure: Franciscan Institute.Google Scholar
  13. Wyclif, J. (1985). In I. J. Mueller (Ed.), Tractatus de universalibus. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar

Secondary Sources

  1. Adams, M. M. (1982). Universals in the early fourteenth century. In N. Kretzmann, A. Kenny, & J. Pinborg (Eds.), The Cambridge history of later medieval philosophy (pp. 411–439). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adams, M. M. (1987). William Ockham (Vol. 2). Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  3. Conti, A. D. (2008). Categories and universals in the later Middle Ages. In L. A. Newton (Ed.), Medieval commentaries on Aristotle’s “Categories” (pp. 367–408). Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  4. de Libera, A. (1996). La querelle des universeaux: De Platon à la fin du Moyen Age. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.Google Scholar
  5. Dijs, J. (1990). Two anonymous twelfth-century tracts on universals. Vivarium, 28, 85–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Freddoso, A. (1978). Abailard on collective realism. Journal of Philosophy, 75, 527–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gracia, J. J. E. (Ed.). (1994). Individuation in scholasticism: The later Middle Ages and the counter-reformation (1150–1650). Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  8. Häring, N. M. (Ed.). (1966). The commentaries on Boethius by Gilbert of Poitiers. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.Google Scholar
  9. Henry, D. P. (1984). That most subtle question (Quaestio subtilissima): The metaphysical bearing of medieval and contemporary linguistic disciplines. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Jolivet, J. (1992). Trois variations médiévales sur l’universel et l’individu: Roscelin, Abélard, Gilbert de la Porrée. Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, 97, 111–155.Google Scholar
  11. King, P. (2004). Metaphysics. In J. Brower & K. Guilfoy (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Abelard (pp. 65–125). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. King, P. (2011). Boethius’s anti-realist argument. Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 40, 381–401.Google Scholar
  13. Klima, G. (2008). The medieval problem of universals. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Winter 2008 edition). http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2008/entries/universals-medieval/ (Originally published 2000).
  14. Kluge, E.-H. W. (1976). Roscelin and the medieval problem of universals. Journal of the History of Philosophy, 14, 405–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Marenbon, J. (2004). Life, milieu, and intellectual contexts. In J. E. Brower & K. Guilfoy (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Abelard (pp. 13–44). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Marmura, M. (1979). Avicenna’s chapter on universals in the Isagoge of his Shifâ. In T. Welch & P. Cachia (Eds.), Islam past and present challenge: Studies in honor of W. M. Watt (pp. 34–56). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. (repr. Marmura ME. Probing in Islamic philosophy: studies in the philosophies of Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali and other major Muslim thinkers. Global Academic, Binghamton, pp. 33–59).Google Scholar
  17. Martin, C. J. (1983). The compendium Logicae Porretanum: A survey of philosophical logic from the school of Gilbert of Poitiers. Cahiers de l’Institut du Moyen-age Grec et Latin, 46, xviii–xxivi.Google Scholar
  18. Owens, J. (1957). Common nature: A point of comparison between Thomistic and Scotistic metaphysics. Mediaeval Studies, 19, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Picavet, F. (1911). Roscelin: philosophe et théologien d’après la légende et d’après l’histoire. Paris: Alcan.Google Scholar
  20. Spade, P. V. (1996). Boethius against universals: The arguments in the second commentary on porphyry. Unpublished. Available as PDF file from http://www.pvspade.com/Logic/index.html.
  21. Tweedale, M. (1976). Abailard on universals. Amsterdam: North-Holland.Google Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBrooklyn College of The City University of New YorkBrooklynUSA