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1. Machinery designed or adapted for a range of sizes, fittings, or uses
2. Logic (of a statement or proposition) affirming or denying something about every member of a class, as in all men are wicked
3. Philosophy
a. a general term or concept or the type such a term signifies
b. a metaphysical entity taken to be the reference of a general term, as distinct from the class of individuals it describes
c. a Platonic Idea or Aristotelian form
4. Logic
a. a universal proposition, statement, or formula
b. a universal quantifier
5. short for universal joint



the form of existence of all particular and individual phenomena and the natural form of their interrelation-ship in a concrete whole. Abstract and concrete universals may be distinguished. The abstract universal is the reflection in contemplation and conception of the resemblance, the similarity, the identity of all sensorily perceived phenomena which, when taken separately, share a common “attribute,” that is, a defining quality in general. The concrete universal is the internally necessary connection reflected in conception—the mutual causality—of diverse and opposing phenomena. The concrete universal is also the law of the transition of phenomena and of their transformation into each other. The transition and transformation appear on the sur-face of phenomena not as their resemblance, similarity, and identity but, on the contrary, through their diversity, particularity, and opposition.

Polemics about diverse solutions to the problem of universal s permeate the whole history of philosophy. Originally, philosophy provided an immediate and objective interpretation of universals as water, fire, apeiron, and air, that is, as the particular matter of which all things are composed, as their substance. Opposed to this conception is the interpretation of universals as incorporeal prototypes of individual things, as “pure form.” In attempting to reconcile these two aspects, Aristotle’s ideas, as V. I. Lenin put it, “get into a muddle” and “grapple with each other” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 29, pp. 327, 316). The difficulties involved in relating the universal to the particular and individual lie at the heart of the controversy between the two philosophical schools of realism and nominalism in the Middle Ages. The presence of the universal in consciousness (thought and language) is accepted by philosophers of all schools. Controversy arises only over the objective reality of the universal outside of consciousness and outside of thought. The subjective and psychological interpretation of universals as “signal meaning”—as abstractions derived from all objective, empirically given differences—culminates in contemporary neopositivism, which conceives of universals as being purely linguistic categories, as facts of “language.” The objective meaning of the universal as a law governing the movement of individual things is defended from various positions, by exponents of both materialism (B. Spinoza, and L. Feuer-bach) and objective idealism (G. Leibniz and G. Hegel). The dialectical relation of the universal to the particular and the individual is set forth most fully in the logic of Hegel.

In the philosophy of dialectical materialism, the universal in thought is understood to be the reflection in human consciousness of the objective unity of diverse phenomena of nature and society. As such, the universal is not expressed in consciousness as an abstraction grasping the identity between all individual and particular phenomena to the exclusion of all their obvious differences. Rather, the universal is expressed in consciousness as a system of abstract definitions reflecting the identity of diversities and the identity of opposites, in whose movement alone lies the real (concrete) unity of all the diverse things (phenomena) comprising a whole.

The abstract universal, that is, the universal isolated by means of comparison and fixed by a term, plays an important, though limited, role in cognition as an element, or aspect, of the comprehension of the concrete universal. The abstract universal represents the principle for the formation of a general idea. The concrete universal, however, always acts as the logical (methodological) principle in the formation of a concept, and it expresses the “fixed indivisibility of elements in their diversity” and not in their abstract identity with one another. “ ’Not only an abstract universal but a universal that comprises the wealth of the particular, the individual, the single’ (all the wealth of the particular and the single!),” remarked Lenin (ibid., p. 90). “Comprises” means here that the universal expresses directly through its concrete definitions and furthermore in a dual sense. First, the universal is broken down within itself into particular elements. Second, a given form of reality, being fully “particular” within a group of other particular forms of the same concrete whole, is—precisely as a result of its particularity—the universal basis of all the others. Thus, in political economy the concept of value acts as a universal not in the capacity of an abstraction, which fixes the equality of all phenomena in a developing commodity economy, but as a concrete concept, which reflects the internal dialectic of a simple commodity form in its particularity and even individuality (X amount of commodity cloth = Y amount of commodity coat). It is precisely in this way that the universal expression of all other categories of phenomena and of their simplest form, historically and logically, is to be found.

In the dialectic the universal is not understood to be an abstract and general rule under which each particular and individual event can and must be placed without contradiction. Rather, the universal is understood to be the law of the transformation into each other (transition) of diverse and contrary phenomena, a tendency, and a general necessity, cutting its way through chance and through its own “negation” and “negation of negation.” In other words each single (particular and individual) event, considered separately, can formally “refute,” or negate, the abstract definitions of the universal. And only the whole mass of such single events, mutually correcting each other, may realize and prove (“assert”) its own universal. The universal understood in an abstract sense, therefore, can stand in an antinomic relation to the forms of its own appearance, to its own “particular” forms, for example, the law of value in its universal form and the fact of profit and of surplus value. Acting in “being” (in nature and social development) as a law and as the necessity of mutual support (transition, transformation) of diverse and contradictory forms of material development, the universal is revealed in cognition through the concrete analysis of the whole chain of such transitions and transformations. The universal is not revealed by abstracting from the concreteness or the particularity of these transitions and transformations and not by fixing upon their similarity or abstract identity. The form of universality, according to Engels, “is the union of many finite things in the infinite” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, pp. 548-49). Precisely for this reason universality constitutes the “internal completeness” of finite things (ibid.) and the internal (dialectical) opposition to their finiteness, their particularity, their individuality; it also constitutes their internal incompleteness, which is posed externally by other things, by other discrete elements in the continuous chain of development. Precisely for this reason human thought is capable of revealing the universal as an internally necessary element of the “particular,” that is, of the sphere of phenomena necessarily limited in time and space, without requiring the investigation of all phenomena in infinite space and time and all individual events without exception. For the universal to be revealed, it is sufficient to analyze exhaustively a typical “particular” event that has been verified by practice and experiment.


Marx, K. Vvedenie (Iz ekonomicheskikh rukopisei 1857-1858). In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 12.
Marx, K. “Zamechaniia na knigu Adol’fa Vagnera Uchebnik politicheskoi ekonomii ”. Ibid., vol. 19.
Engels, F. Dialektika prirody. Ibid., vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. Filosofskie tetradi. InPoln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 29.
Hegel, G. W. F. Nauka logiki. In Sobr. soch., vols. 5-6. Moscow, 1937-39.




in linguistics, a feature or tendency that is common to all or most languages of the world (absolute and statistical universals, respectively). Universals are formulated in statements about the existence of a certain feature (for example, “every language has vowels”) or about a dependence between two features (for example, “a language that has a dual also has a plural”).

Universals are common to all levels of language but have been least studied at the lexical and semantic levels. Universals are applicable to the structure of a language at a certain period (synchronic universals) and also to the historical development of a given linguistic system (diachronic universals). These two types are interrelated, and one can often be reformulated into the other. Research on universals reveals patterns common to the structure of different languages and is of great value in studies on typology.


Descriptive of a door lock, a door closer, or the like, which can be used on either a right-hand swing door or a left-hand swing door.