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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.
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 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.
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 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
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 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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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).

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
Peasants having no clear idea of the cause of rain, say, according to whether they want rain or fine weather: "The wind has blown the clouds away," or, "The wind has brought up the clouds." And in the same way the universal historians sometimes, when it pleases them and fits in with their theory, say that power is the result of events, and sometimes, when they want to prove something else, say that power produces events.
A third class of historians- the so-called historians of culture- following the path laid down by the universal historians who sometimes accept writers and ladies as forces producing events- again take that force to be something quite different.
The historians of culture are quite consistent in regard to their progenitors, the writers of universal histories, for if historical events may be explained by the fact that certain persons treated one another in such and such ways, why not explain them by the fact that such and such people wrote such and such books?
But even admitting as correct all the cunningly devised arguments with which these histories are filled- admitting that nations are governed by some undefined force called an idea- history's essential question still remains unanswered, and to the former power of monarchs and to the influence of advisers and other people introduced by the universal historians, another, newer force- the idea- is added, the connection of which with the masses needs explanation.
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.
Finally, looking to all the ascertained facts on the intercrossing of plants and animals, it may be concluded that some degree of sterility, both in first crosses and in hybrids, is an extremely general result; but that it cannot, under our present state of knowledge, be considered as absolutely universal.
He finds that the poet was no odd fellow who described strange and impossible situations, but that universal man wrote by his pen a confession true for one and true for all.
The beautiful fables of the Greeks, being proper creations of the imagination and not of the fancy, are universal verities.
The universal nature, too strong for the petty nature of the bard, sits on his neck and writes through his hand; so that when he seems to vent a mere caprice and wild romance, the issue is an exact allegory.
Wendel writes in Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, it would seem that "when Rumely of LaPorte took over Universal of Stillwater, the other builders lost their license to build Universal tractors." However, the agreement didn't appear to affect Union Iron Works, as that company continued to market Universals as late as December 1913, when Gas Review magazine ran a Union Iron Works ad selling the Universal farm tractor.