I'm trying to understand the distinct difference between these terms, they seem very similar but there is a different pattern behind them. Could you tell me with example how do you differentiate between them?

  • What is the context? What were you reading when this question came to you? Dec 25, 2017 at 19:19
  • I was reading physiologie clinic with reference to michele Legrand " la démarche clinique" he is talking about the usage of universal and individual. At the same time he was criticized because mixed the notion of universal and general taken from the positivism in his work and the individual and singular.
    – Feras
    Dec 25, 2017 at 19:33
  • Thank you. I suggest editing the question so that it refers specifically to LeGrand and his use of these terms. Dec 25, 2017 at 19:39
  • See Universal and particulars: "universals are abstract (e.g. humanity), whereas particulars are concrete (e.g. the personhood of Socrates)." Thus, concepts are universals while objects (individuals) are particulars. Dec 25, 2017 at 19:45
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    It is only an issue of dictionary: particular: "a specific detail or piece of information". indivudual : "a single person, a particular person". singular: "a form of a word that is used to refer to one person or thing". Dec 25, 2017 at 19:58

1 Answer 1


Like all terms in philosophy, these have different senses in different contexts and between different philosophers. I think actually the common contrasts are between singular and general and between universal and individual or particular.

A singular term is one that refers to just one object : e.g. 'the Great Pyramid', 'the Eiffel Tower', 'the tallest person in the world'. A general term by contrast applies in principle to any number of objects : e.g. 'planet', 'star', 'dog'.

A universal is a property, attribute or feature that is possessed by all members of a collection or set. Thus redness is a property possessed by all red objects. A particular or individual is an example or instantiation of (to keep to the example) redness - this patch of red two inches to your left.

'Individual' is a particularly tricky word, however - not that any of them are quite straightforward. An individual can be a particular as above but it can also be something which is indivisible at some level or under some description.

Just ask if you need further clarification.

  • I can see the difference between universal and general in their spatial and temporal context. but I still can't see the difference between singular and individual. In the text I'm reading singular was the opposed to universal while individual was opposed for general. and here is my question in the bottom level between singular that comes with universal and individual that comes with general.
    – Feras
    Dec 26, 2017 at 10:34
  • @Feras. Hello, Feras. I was answering from within a particular tradition of philosophical language. Does the following help ? 'Singular' might be taken as applying only to a single object - a unique object. What is 'individual' need not be unique : each of an identical batch of factory produced cars is an individual, but it is not unique. It is like all the rest. What is 'singular' might be opposed to what is 'universal' in this way : the singular is unique, the universal applies to things by virtue of what they have in common. Redness is a universal and it does not apply to just one thing.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 26, 2017 at 11:34
  • @Feras.. Continued. That leaves the 'individual' and the 'general'. Well, we could try the following. 'General' could be taken to mean 'not specifically limited in application' . 'Planet', for instance, is not limited in application to Venus or Saturn but to a large number of objects. 'Venus', by contrast', refers to a specific planet : the individual planet, Venus. Does this help ?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 26, 2017 at 11:41
  • I think this is exactly what I was missing. I need just to rethink with myself to draw the full idea. Thanks again.
    – Feras
    Dec 26, 2017 at 18:19

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