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Universals, Indian theories of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F066-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

Indian philosophers postulated universals for two principal reasons: to serve as the ‘eternal’ meanings of words, upon which the eternality of language – in particular, the Hindu scriptures, the Veda – is based, and to account for why we conceive of things as being of certain types. However, universals were seen as problematic in various ways. How can something exist simultaneously in numerous individuals without being divided into parts? How can a universal, which is supposed to be eternal, continue to exist if all its substrata are destroyed? In what sense can a universal be said to ‘exist’ at all? Is a universal distinct from or identical with the individuals in which it inheres? In light of such difficulties, it is not surprising that certain other Indian philosophers – specifically Buddhist philosophers, who did not accept the doctrine of the eternality of the Veda – rejected universals and took up a nominalist stance. They held that general terms refer to mentally constructed ‘exclusion classes’, apohas. The use of the term ‘cow’, for example, is grounded not on some positive entity common to all cows but on the idea of the class of things that are different from all things that are not cows. This proposal, which originated with Dignāga in the sixth century ad, was debated vigorously until the eleventh century.

Citing this article:
Taber, John A.. Universals, Indian theories of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F066-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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