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A philosophical position on the nature of univer sals maintaining, against nominalism, that universal terms signify universal concepts and, against realism, that concepts, as such, signify nothing actually, potentially, or virtually universal outside the mind.

For william of ockham, who is generally called a conceptualist, universal concepts correspond to no ontological root of universality in things; they are intentionalities of the soul, predicable of individuals by reason of resemblances caused by God, but devoid of objective universality (In 1 sentences 2.9). In the conceptualism of John locke, agnosticism about the reality of essences is combined with the conviction that men do fashion universal, general ideas, abstracted from particular ones and idealized in a fixity of meaning; such mental constructs correspond to no objective universality, but they are the object of universal and certain knowledge (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 3.3.11). In the idealistic conceptualism of Immanuel kant, universality and necessity, required for all scientific propositions of mathematics and physics, are a priori categories of the mind that are imposed on contingent phenomena; this conceptual universality and necessity corresponds to nothing outside the mind. For Henri bergson, the constantly evolving reality of temporal duration cannot be represented in any universal concept, but such abstract concepts are useful to indicate practical attitudes of a knower toward objects known. Unlike traditional introspective conceptualism, the dispositional version of H. H. Price (1899) does not consider concepts to be entities, or occurrent ideas, but memory dispositions operating in minds without ever being present to minds (330358).

The moderate realist tradition of St. thomas aqui nas agrees with conceptualism that no universal nature exists as such outside some mind, divine or created. It disagrees, however, with the subjectivist position of conceptualism that universal concepts have no foundation in individual realities outside the mind. For the moderate realist, only individuals exist as such outside the mind. But each existent individual possesses a nature that is manifested through characteristic properties and activities. For the moderate realist, individuals manifesting the same characteristics, generic or specific, are the real foundation for forming universal concepts. This objective foundation justifies predicating a single intelligible term of many individuals. In moderate realism, analogical concepts as well presuppose an objective foundation in things outside the mind both for understanding and for predication.

See Also: knowledge, theories of.

Bibliography: r. i. aaron, The Theory of Universals (Oxford 1952). h. h. price, Thinking and Experience (Cambridge, Mass.1953). a. a. maurer, Medieval Philosophy, v.2 of A History of Philosophy, ed. É. h. gilson, 4 v. (New York 1962). É. h. gilson and t. langan, Modern Philosophy: Descartes to Kant, ibid., v.3.

[r. g. miller]


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conceptualism Philosophical theory in which the universal is found in the particular, a position between nominalism and realism. It asserts that the mind is the individual that universalizes by experiencing particulars, finding common factors in them, and conceptualizing these common factors as universals.