Over the course of it's history, western philosophy introduced all these distinctions between an object and it's class. But I'm a bit confused by this, because these all look very much alike. So what is the difference between them, besides their names and who named them?

For instance, are "tokens" thought to be inherently concrete, while philosophical species need not be so? I mean, an actual bird ("token") classed within a biological species ("type") is always concrete, whereas the class of primates ("species") within the class of mammals ("genus") is thought of as an abstract thing.

Or do universals have a larger extension than the other concepts? For instance, particular properties of different objects might be grouped into a universal, as I believe humorist pharmacology did when they grouped the different degrees of "coldness" of particular substances, which in salads causes people to feel refreshed but which in henbane causes death, into an universal "coldness" (unfortunately, I haven't thought of a less dated example). But the type–token distinction doesn't seem to be applied to properties and the classes of properties, but only to objects and the classes of objects.

So what is the difference between all of these?

  • 1
    Genus and species are both universals. Sep 3, 2017 at 19:26
  • 1
    Particulars are individuals, while universals are concepts. Sep 3, 2017 at 19:27

1 Answer 1


The type-token and universal-particular distinctions are probably isomorphic in meaning, but they are used in different domains. Type-token is used in linguistic problems like "They drive the same car". This statement is ambiguous because we are unsure if they drive the instance of a car (token) or model of car (type). I don't see any issues with calling the car instance a particular and it's model a universal, but its just not really the right domain-speak. Universal-particular is usually used to make metaphysical claims like these two dogs (particulars) share the property of being green (universal). Again, saying the dogs are tokens of the type 'green-things' is probably correct, but its awkward because that's not really how those terms are used in their domain. It's like using stop signs in a music score to indicate rests/stopping points. Semantically correct, but incorrect domain-wise.

  • So, would you say, nonparticulars is basically used in philosophy, for example in Strawson, while kinds (types) is used in linguistics, but in essence, they are equivalent ? Jul 17, 2023 at 0:57

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