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Related to conceptualism: minimalism, realism


in philosophy, position taken on the problem of universalsuniversals,
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.
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, initially by Peter AbelardAbelard, Peter
, Fr. Pierre Abélard , 1079–1142, French philosopher and teacher, b. Le Pallet, near Nantes. Life

Abelard went (c.1100) to Paris to study under William of Champeaux at the school of Notre Dame and soon attacked the ultrarealist
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 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. These concepts are not arbitrary inventions but are reflections of similarities among particular things themselves, e.g., the concept male reflects a similarity between Paul and John. This similarity shows that universals are also patterns in God's mind according to which he creates particular things. Slightly modified, this view becomes the position of 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
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, the classical medieval solution to the controversy. For a modern statement of conceptualism, see C. I. Lewis, Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation (1946, repr. 1962).



a term used to designate philosophical currents occupying an intermediate position between medieval realism and nominalism in solving the problem of universals.

Historically, conceptualism emerged in the 11th and 12th centuries as a tendency in early Scholasticism that endeavored to combine the basic postulates of the Neoplatonic realism prevailing at the time with the metaphysics of Aristotelianism, whose influence was growing among the exponents of theological orthodoxy. Two basic problems of universals dominated the philosophy of this period: the ontological problem, posed by Plato, concerning the real (objective) existence of the general (unitary) “before and apart from” particular objects, and the methodological problem, posed by Aristotle, concerning the general (unitary) as the basis of proof. P. Abelard’s theory of universals (which he basically took from Avicenna) is considered to be a classic example of the conceptualist solution to these problems. According to Abelard, universals exist prior to created nature in the divine mind as god’s “concepts” and as archetypes of particular objects. Universals exist in individual things as their real similarity or as their identity to the archetype (things identical to one archetype are identical to each other). Finally, universals exist after individual things in man’s mind as the result of abstracting similar properties in the form of concepts. In late Scholasticism the views of John Duns Scotus and, especially, Thomas Aquinas were close to this interpretation of universals.

Scholastic conceptualism is essentially theistic: the general is not self-existing, as in Plato, and it is not created in the “world of things,” as in Aristotle. The uniformity of nature and logos, on which proofs are based, presupposes the general in the divine mind, either as the source of this uniformity or as its form (predetermined harmony). In modern times, when interest in these problems had diminished and the psychological problem of the formation of general concepts had begun to occupy a significant place in philosophical systems, conceptualism gradually ceased to be a philosophical and theological doctrine and became one of the principles of the theory of cognition, according to which the general is viewed only as the result of abstraction.


Windelband, W. Vvedenie vfilosofiiu. Moscow, 1908. (Translated from German.)
Stöckl, A. Istoriia srednevekovoi filosofii. Moscow, 1912. (Translated from German.)
Jung, C. G. Psikhologicheskie tipy. Moscow, 1924. (Translated from German.)
Istoriia filosofii, vol. 1. Moscow, 1940.
Russell, B. Istoriia zapadnoi filosofii. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from English.)
Kotarbiński, T. “Spor ob universaliiakh v srednie veka.” Izbr. proizv. Moscow, 1963. Pages 410–415. (Translated from Polish.)


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