I've come across the philosophical debate about "universals" versus "particulars". On the one hand, some believe there are no universals, only particulars (nominalists). On the other hand, there are those who believe there are universals (realists). My question refers probably to the latter, but perhaps with implication to the former.

  • Example 1: markets.

    Markets are studied by economists (among others). Economics assume there is some fundamental property of markets, which allows them to use that word as a category, and study them abstractly.

    Now, markets didn't exist 1 million years ago (just to give a safe date). Yet, now they exist. What does this imply for the "universal" of markets? Did this universal come to being at some point in time? If so, can "universals" be created? (naturally, if there was void before the universe existed, then all universals are by definition created. This is particularly true in Christian versions of realism, e.g. Aquinas).

  • Example 2: cats.

    Universals here would refer to the "catness" present in cats. Yet, because of evolution (which, to avoid unnecessary controversies, let us assume to be true), at some points further back in time there were no cats. Thus, what we call "cats" is rather a frame in a long process of evolution. In that respect, can "universals" evolve?

Any help is appreciated (even better if provides references for further reading).

  • 1
    Classical authors (Plato, Aristotle) saw universals as eternally pre-existent and waiting to be grasped. However, even Husserl, who is closest to the classics, treats "essences", as he calls them, as dependent on emergence of a "cultural horizon" that makes them meaningful (as with cats and markets). They become available only once it is established, but still as ideal and non-temporal entities, see Zhok, The Ontological Status of Essences in Husserl’s Thought. – Conifold Jun 24 '19 at 16:45
  • You may want to look at John William Miller. See Wikipedia. In his dissertation and subsequent book The Definition of the Thing With Some Notes on Language (1980), Miller tied together epistemology and ontology via an examination of the process of definition. Here the possibility of “static definition” was attacked—i.e., a definition that has no connection to action and a defined thing that is fundamentally ahistorical. " – Gordon Jun 25 '19 at 3:03
  • Normally, I would attack example 1 as obviously fallacious (Markets supervene on human behavior, and human behavior is clearly particular, so economics has to be particular as well. Aliens might have a totally different theory of economics, or might not even have markets at all.). However, I'm not sure that actually helps answer your question. – Kevin Jun 26 '19 at 2:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.