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The Genuine Problem Of Universals

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"A “universal” is any property, quality, relation, characteristic, attribute, or combination of these—generally, any “feature of reality”—which may be identically present in diverse contexts. The “problem” of universals is—to put it in any of several ways—whether there are, or can be, strict identities between disparate contexts; whether two objects can literally have common attributes; whether universals (i.e., repeatable predicables, or qualities that can be “predicated” of more than one object) are really and genuinely present in their apparent “instances” or whether the mind merely behaves as though they are."

"There are precisely two basic solutions to the genuine problem of universals: realism and nominalism. The former holds that there are some real universals, the latter that there aren’t any. A general theory of universals may hold that some apparent universals exist only in the mind and that others are real in some other sense. But for any given universal, these two alternatives exhaust the possibilities, and an ontology that admits even a single real universal is a version of realism. Though there are subheadings under each type of solution, there is no genuine third alternative unless we are willing to dispense with the Law of the Excluded Middle.

And - importantly - both views are irreducibly ontological. There is simply no way to reduce the problem of universals to a pure matter of epistemology; that is why it has traditionally been regarded as a problem of metaphysics in the first place"

- Scott Ryan

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Electric charge is a property of entities of nature, some fundamental entities possess it and others do not, some possess it in the exact same quantities as others and in different quantities as compared to still others (quarks have 1/3 of an electron charge, and a proton and an electron have the same magnitude but opposite sign of charge).

Electric charge is a property of some entities, but it exists only as a property OF entities and is not a property of anything apart from entities.  We interact and identify this property of reality with use of perception and conception, and we know of it via our means of perception and conception.

Objectivity is neither realism, nor nominalism.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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The first sentence of the second paragraph in the opening post expresses a centuries old view about universals. Wikipedia's summary of the problem of universals is here. It refers to conceptualism, for which Wikipedia has a link to another summary. It arose later and now is generally considered a major alternative to realism and nominalism. 

The quote in the opening post is from Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality. On Amazon there are several reviews, most of which are 1-star or 5-stars. One of the 1-star reviews is by me. If you haven't already read the book, maybe the reviews will help you to decide whether or not the book is worth reading.

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13 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

What conceptuallly is the standard for judging and identifying the existence of a "problem"?

One dictionary definition is "a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution" (link).

Many times problem is used to mean something to be explained more than solved.

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As I understand Ayn Rand's approach to such questions, she makes a threefold distinction.  (I am solely responsible for the wording used in this post.)

This refers to the nature and status of abstractions, so it is an epistemological question rather than an ontological one.

Intrinsicists hold that abstractions have an existence or status independent of the human mind.  (E. g. Platonic forms, Aristotelian essences.)

Subjectivists hold that abstractions are arbitrary creations of human consciousness, and can't be evaluated by any criterion having to do with validity or truth, but only by criteria such as convenience.

Objectivists hold that abstractions are mental tools.  They are created by the human mind for use in dealing with reality.  Like any tools, they can be evaluated according to how well they serve their purpose (and how well they are made).  Considerations of validity and truth are an essential part of such an evaluation.  (Conceivably a person might be a lower-case objectivist in this sense but disagree with Ayn Rand enough in other respects not to be an upper-case Objectivist.)

I have stated this in a general way.  To make it more precise, we need to distinguish between the realm of epistemology and the realm of ethics.

A separate issue that can be referred to using two of the same words is primacy of existence (objectivism) versus primacy of consciousness (subjectivism). 

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.

I’ve had Scott Ryan’s 2003 book critiquing Rand’s epistemology about four years, though I’ve not gotten to work through it fully. His book displays considerable knowledge of Objectivism and some other philosophy as well. I have the impression that his is one of the two most substantive book-length critiques so far of the Objectivist philosophy itself (the other being Kathleen Touchstone's Then Athena Said). The material quality of his book, paperback, is excellent. The quotation from Intrinsicist is from page 41 of Ryan’s book.

Mr. Ryan died in Feb. 2016 at age 52. He had a degree in mathematics, and late in life, he earned a JD. He was an esteemed participant in a blog of Edward Feser, who is author of a very helpful book Scholastic Metaphysics – A Contemporary Introduction (2014).

Greg Salmieri observes in his 2008 Ph.D. dissertation Aristotle and the Problem of Concepts: "It may be that the dominant non-realist theories of concepts in the history of philosophy all render concepts subjective, but it does not follow from this that all non-realist theories must. There is room for theories that hold that concepts have an objective basis, without having univesals as their proper objects." 

The qualification “proper” in Greg's phrase “proper object” is meant as in Aristotle's speaking of a given sensory modality's proper object. So as an Aristotelian conceives of sound as the proper object (dedicated object, we would say in engineering) of hearing, the Platonist conceives of universals as if they were proper objects of concepts. Greg argues that Aristotle did not think of universals as “proper objects” of concepts. 

In his 1964 Ph.D. dissertation, Leonard Piekoff has a footnote on page 107 in which he cites an old jewel. That jewel is The Theory of Universals by R. I. Aaron (Oxford 1952). In this work, the author treats the varieties of realism, conceptualism, and nominalism across the history of theory of universals. He argues the sound points and bases of each and what each of them of itself leaves out of account. In the end, like Rand, but earlier, Aaron rejects all realism, conceptualism, and nominalism as inadequate. He then sketches what he takes to be the right theory, so far as it goes. I add that last clause because he had not got onto Rand’s idea of measurement-omission analysis of general concepts (and related analysis of similarity relations). This book, and of course Peikoff’s dissertation, is work to which Peikoff would have exposed Rand in those years leading to her publication in ’66-67 of her own theory of universals and concepts.

Aaron titles his sixth chapter “Is There a Real Problem?” He responds to various reasons for thinking there is no such problem. He proposes that it is not wise, given the history of the problem and reasons against there being any problem, to begin with the questions “Are there universals?” or “Is the universal a word?” He begins, rather, with the question “How do we use general words?” which engenders more narrow questions such as “What past experiences are necessary to successful use of general words?” and “What sort of objects and what sort of arrangement of objects in the experienced world enable us to use general words successfully?”

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Relatedly, there is an article "Conceptualism in Abelard and Rand" by Peter Saint-Andre in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies V4N1. It can be read online for free with free registration at www.jstor.org (link).  The abstract for it is:

The author provides textual evidence that calls into question Ayn Rand's characterization of conceptualism as simply a kind of nominalism, as well as her claim that her theory of knowledge is a sui generis "Objectivism" rather than a form of conceptualism.

Here is a webpage I found searching for Saint-Andre's article. I had not seen it and only scanned it, so I won't comment on it.

 

Edited by merjet

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