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Universals

DOI
10.4324/9780415249126-N065-1
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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N065-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 23, 2024, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/universals/v-1

2. Samenesses and differences

When a property is shared by two individuals, there is something which is in or is had by both (see Properties). But it is in a quite distinctive sense that one universal can be ‘in’ two distinct individuals. An individual person may be ‘in’ two places at once if, for instance, their hand is in the cookie jar and their foot is in the bath. But a universal is ‘in’ distinct individuals in a way which does not mean that there is one part of the universal in one thing and a distinct part of it in another. Thus, a universal is said to be the sort of thing which can be wholly present in distinct individuals at the same time: a person cannot be wholly present in two places at once, but justice can.

Some draw a distinction between certain special properties and relations which qualify for the label ‘universals’, and other properties and relations which do not. It is suggested that, whenever something is true of an individual (whenever a description can truly be predicated of an individual), then there is always a ‘property’ which that individual may be said to have. On this view, a ‘property’ is just a shadow of a predicate, whereas a genuine universal is something more. A genuine universal has to be something which is literally identical in each of its instances. Alternatively, the sorts of ‘properties’ which are just shadows of predicates are sometimes construed as set-theoretical constructions of various sorts, as for instance if we say that the ‘property’ of redness is the set of actual red things, or of actual and possible red things. In this spirit it is now standard practice in mathematics to use the term ‘relations’ to refer just to any set of ordered pairs. Set-theoretical constructions are not, however, universals – or at least they are not to be confused with the universals which are the subject matter of traditional debates.

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Citing this article:
Bigelow, John C.. Samenesses and differences. Universals, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N065-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/universals/v-1/sections/samenesses-and-differences.
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