Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal.
Related to universals: Language universals


in philosophy, term applied to general or abstract objects such as concepts, qualities, relations, and numbers, as opposed to particular objects. The exact nature of a universal deeply concerned thinkers in the Middle Ages. The extreme realists, following Plato, maintained that universals exist independently of both the human mind and particular things. In nominalismnominalism,
in philosophy, a theory of the relation between universals and particulars. Nominalism gained its name in the Middle Ages, when it was contrasted with realism.
..... Click the link for more information.
 universals are considered arbitrary constructions of the human mind. In conceptualismconceptualism,
in philosophy, position taken on the problem of universals, initially by Peter Abelard in the 12th cent. Like nominalism it denied that universals exist independently of the mind, but it held that universals have an existence in the mind as concept.
..... Click the link for more information.
 universals exist only in the mind, as concepts, but they are not arbitrary, as they reflect similarities among particular things. Conceptualism led to the moderate realismrealism,
in philosophy. 1 In medieval philosophy realism represented a position taken on the problem of universals. There were two schools of realism. Extreme realism, represented by William of Champeaux, held that universals exist independently of both the human mind and
..... Click the link for more information.
 of St. Thomas Aquinas and John of Salisbury.


See R. I. Aaron, Theory of Universals (2d ed. 1967); D. M. Armstrong, Universals and Scientific Realism (2 vol., 1980).



a medieval philosophical term signifying general concepts or ideas. In the debate over universals, which from the tenth to 14th centuries tried to elucidate the ontological status of general concepts (that is, the question of their real, objective existence), three trends appeared: nominalism, which regarded universals as general names; conceptualism, which construed universals as generalizations based on resemblances of objects; and realism, which supposed that universals existed in reality and independently from consciousness (universalia sunt realia).

References in classic literature ?
This image is vague so long as the multiplicity of its prototypes is not recognized, but becomes universal when it exists alongside of the more specific images of its instances, and is knowingly contrasted with them.
And yet, if there are no universal ideas, what becomes of philosophy?
This condition is never observed by the universal historians, and so to explain the resultant forces they are obliged to admit, in addition to the insufficient components, another unexplained force affecting the resultant action.
But the universal historian Gervinus, refuting this opinion of the specialist historian, tries to prove that the campaign of 1813 and the restoration of the Bourbons were due to other things beside Alexander's will- such as the activity of Stein, Metternich, Madame de Stael, Talleyrand, Fichte Chateaubriand, and others.
He is as emphatic in his conclusion that some hybrids are perfectly fertile--as fertile as the pure parent-species--as are Kolreuter and Gartner that some degree of sterility between distinct species is a universal law of nature.
On this view of the origin of many of our domestic animals, we must either give up the belief of the almost universal sterility of distinct species of animals when crossed; or we must look at sterility, not as an indelible characteristic, but as one capable of being removed by domestication.
That in the two kingdoms above mentioned, where, during his residence, he had conversed very much, he observed long life to be the universal desire and wish of mankind.
I've seen death as often as most folk, but universal death--it's awful
But as to the horror with which universal death appears to inspire you, I would put it to you that it is somewhat exaggerated.
It is the universal nature which gives worth to particular men and things.
There was accordingly a universal restlessness and commotion throughout the plain; and the amorous herds gave utterance to their feelings in low bellowings that resounded like distant thunder.
In our condition of universal dependence it seems heroic to let the petitioner be the judge of his necessity, and to give all that is asked, though at great inconvenience.