I've been studying the book Elementary Lessons in Logic by W. Stanley Jevons. Singular terms are described as such, "Singular term is one which can denote only a single object, so long at least as it is used in exactly the same meaning." General terms are described as such, "General terms, on the contrary, are applicable in the same sense equally to anyone of an indefinite number of objects which resemble each other in certain qualities."

So, is the name of an ideology, like progressivism, a singular or general term? To me, it feels like it could be both, but I think I'm wrong. Progressivism could be a singular term because it always denote the same thing -- a set of ideas to achieve "progress." But at the same time, it seems like a general term because progressivism is the umbrella of various ideas, that, taken all together, form progressivism. Or in other words, without all those ideas, there wouldn't be progressivism.

Anyone can help me out? What are your thoughts?


These are not really exclusive terms that either do or do not apply to a given word. 'Water' is a singular substance in chemistry, but a general noun in ordinary life. Singular vs general is useful only to clarify which of the meanings you intend in given logical context, not to classify vocabulary. (Almost every noun is both: There can be a Springfield in every state.)

As with other nouns, most ideological labels are both at once, often depending upon your distance from them.

Christianity can be seen as a singular thing, from the POV of an atheist opponent, or a member of an exclusive sect that claims to be the one true faith.

But from the POV of and ordinary moderate Christian, Christianity has multiple acceptable forms, making it a general noun.

Feminism and Marxism, in particular, are so often singular nouns for their opponents, and general nouns for their adherents that proponents purposely say 'feminisms' or 'Marxisms' to capture the latter perspective.

You are best off, in my personal opinion, always seeing them as general nouns so that you are not tricked into perceiving them as coherent targets. At both extremes, both atheists and rigid sectarians often ascribe to Christianity generally aspects that are true only of individual sects. This undercuts their understanding and leads them into misleading arguments.

  • I feel like your explanation would hold true also for whether terms are positive, negative or privative; connotative or non-connotative; relative or absolute. Is that right? If so, I feel like defining terms is very confusing! Jun 17 '17 at 22:13
  • @AllainMcCain No. Some terms are really about the nature of the actual concept, not its logical role. A positive or privative term still has a single test criterion which it either meets or directly fails, whereas a negative one requires infinitely many criteria to establish it, for instance. Something cannot be directly proved 'endless' or 'pointless' within finite time. This argument is just about this one classification.
    – user9166
    Jun 18 '17 at 1:18
  • At the same time, from a mathematician's perspective, yes, logic texts and logicians in general often invent distinctions that are either not important, not really there, or not consistently marked by the grammar that supposedly characterizes them. Don't get too caught up in definitions, particularly in things that are supposedly true of English grammar.
    – user9166
    Jun 18 '17 at 1:59

Names are always singular terms, regardless of what those names denote. For example, "The Beatles" is a singular term: it denotes a single group, even though the group is composed of four members.

The difference is simply grammatical: singular terms can only function as a subject in a sentence, while general terms function as predicates. For example, in "Progressivism is an ideology", "Progressivism" is a singular term, while "an ideology" is general.

Reference: you can find some info here and here.

  • In "An ideology is a set of ideas", would "ideology" become a singular term? Jun 17 '17 at 14:57
  • @AllainMcCain General terms can sometimes be the subject of a sentence, as in your example. But singular terms can never be predicates.
    – Eliran
    Jun 17 '17 at 15:12
  • So, even though "ideology" becomes the subject of the sentence, it remains a general term, right? Jun 17 '17 at 15:15
  • @Eliiran H The word Beatles can be used both singular and plural. The Beatles is my favorite. The Beatles are talented musicians. In English grammar, some nouns (specifically, names of sets) are called collective nouns. These nouns can refer to sets themselves or members of the sets. When they refer to sets, then the nouns are treated as singular nouns. When they refer to members of the sets (which is plural), then they are treated as plural nouns. Jun 17 '17 at 15:15
  • @AllainMcCain yes
    – Eliran
    Jun 17 '17 at 15:33

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