The standard ontological classification distinguishes:

(1) particulars and universals

(2) concrete and abstract entities.

I'm wondering what place to attribute to " individuals" in this classification.

I also wonder whether entities such as " the French national football team" or " the city of Paris" , which probably can be considered as particulars, can also be considered as individual entities?

Are there " collective " individuals?

Are there particulars that are not individual beings?

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    The answer to all your questions is -- it depends on whose ontology you are working with. Some philosophers use the word 'particular' and 'individual' as synonyms. Others have reasons for distinguishing. Some philosophers hold that things like groups or cities can be particulars, others hold that they cannot. Just look into Brentano's ontology, for example, if you want to see the wildly differing understandings different philosophers have had of these notions. May 20, 2019 at 16:07
  • 1
    @transitionsynthesis raises a correct point. In addition, many times "particular" has a sub-systemic character (a system is a set of parts, particles being usually equivalents of parts), while "individual" has a holistic character (in-divisible, atomic, inseparable, one). So, dialectically, individual is conceived in contrast with a similar whole that can be divided in smaller parts, and particular in contrast to the larger whole that is divided, and of which it takes part of.
    – RodolfoAP
    Jan 16 at 10:00

3 Answers 3


It doesn't seem to be that such a thing exists: standard ontological classification:

Like there are a whole bunch of categorization systems:




The latter being more of an application of Ontology in the domain of computer science.

But it still seems as if "universal" and "abstracts" are sets (relations, properties, propositions) and particulars and concretes are elements of such a set (things, specifics, examples).

So concerning your questions individuals would likely fall in the more element side rather than the set side and at least some use them synonymously with particulars. Though you can make distinctions like as RudolfoAP has remarked, individual comes from indivisible and implies a distinct whole, while particular rather implies that it is just a part of a bigger whole.

With regards to those examples. Well it heavily depends on the context in which you use them. Like "the french national football team" could be:

  • The players on the field
  • the entire crew including substitutes (and staff)
  • The idea of a national football team
  • Both the male and female football team
  • One national team among many
  • ...

Like the french national football team as a concept won the world cup twice, but with a 20 year difference none of the players won it twice (except for maybe Zidane(trainer)). So if you pointed at the players of 1998 in 1998 and called them "the french national football team" you'd be correct 20 years later you'd be wrong. As a concept they are an abstract with particulars in space and time, while among other national teams they are an individual entity. They are distinguishable from others and unique.

Similar things can apply to the city of Paris which is both a concrete distinguishable entity and a concept that is changing in space and time that is more of a relation between people or a property of a place.

So yes and yes but you can still make it complicated.


Particulars and universals have been philosophised over the entire history of philosophy with each epoch having its own slant.

The main distinction between the classification you have noted is between ancient and modern characterisations:

The distinction between universals and particulars were first outlined in detail by Plato who held particulars were characterised as instances of universals. The reverse view was held by Aristotle. In medieval christendom this was called nominalism.

Concrete and abstract entities are in the modern form, at least as described by Quine, are nominalist with abstracta thought of genuses.

Individuals, at least in modern political thought, are subjects in a polity. Again one might think of this in nominalist terms as the individual rather than the polity is concrete. The polity is created by individuals pooling together some fraction of their sovereignty.


A specific individual being is a particular but a particular need not be an individual being. My left shoe, for example, is a particular but not an individual being.

Individual, as a noun in everyday speech, is typically used to mean a person, so you wouldn't consider the French football team to be an individual.

Individual as an adjective typically means single and separate, so you might talk about France being one of the individual teams in the quarter-finals of the world cup.

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