Essay: Universals in Medieval Philosophy

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¶ … Universals in medieval philosophy

How do we know something is always, universally true and applicable to every single situation in an unerring and absolute manner? This is one of the oldest problems in philosophy, known as the problem of the 'universals.' In medieval philosophy, this formulation was specifically configured by Boethius to posit the apparent paradox that nothing can be 'universal' because it is never isolated from other parts of things that affect its nature. In other words, everything exists only 'in context.' According to Boethius, a universal has to conform to several particulars. It must exist "in its entirety, and not only in part," that is, as a self-contained substance, "simultaneously, and not in a temporal succession," in other words, it should not be reliant upon a certain and specific series of causes and "it should constitute the substance of its particulars" in other words, it should be unadulterated.

Universals are the primary propositions of deductive logic, for example: Socrates is a man, all men are mortal, and therefore Socrates is mortal. However, while this proposition is a universal validity within the construct created by the person writing the syllogism, and it is perfectly possible to create a deductive syllogism based upon a universal in abstract philosophy, whether universals exist in the 'real world' still remains an open and far-from decided question. After all, "If no perfect example of a member of a universal exists in the world of experience, how can people be able to judge what fits into a universal and what does not? In short, how do people learn about universals if not through experience? Plato said that universals have a real existence independent of human beings and that the individual soul 'experiences' these universals, of 'forms' in the special realm in which the soul resides before birth. The individual is then born with a 'memory' of these forms. In short, Plato argued that people are born with innate patterns of thought and what we were capable of apprehending through these categories constituted universal knowledge." The Medieval scholastics extended upon this line of thinking in what eventually became a debate between rationalists and nominalist theologians. The Realists said that certain Platonic universal truths and substances did exist, while the Nominalists said that the idea of a universal was merely a name or 'nomen' that people gave to a category of what was really subjective experience. In short, calling… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Universals in Medieval Philosophy."  November 27, 2008.  Accessed September 21, 2019.