in metaphysics, repeatable or recurrent qualities that can be instantiated or exemplified by many particular things

In metaphysics, a universal is what particular things have in common, namely characteristics or qualities.


  • In one sense 'there are' both universals and material objects, in another sense there is no such thing as either: statements about each can usually be analysed, but not always, nor always without remainder.
  • Particulars are frequently fallible, but universals never. Occult philosophy lays bare Nature in her complete nakedness, and alone contemplates the wisdom of universals by the eyes of intelligence. Accustomed to partake of the rivers which flow from the Fountain of Life, it is unacquainted with grossness and with clouded waters.
    • Robert Fludd, cited in: Arthur Edward Waite (1887). The Real History of the Rosicrucians Founded on Their Own Manifestoes. p. 290
    • Waite commented: Like others of his school, Fludd insists on the uncertainty of a posteriori and experimental methods, to which he unhesitatingly attributes all the errors of the natural sciences..."
  • A child learning his [her] mother tongue is learning how to name; he [she] is building up a meaning potential in respect of a limited number of social functions. These functions [instrumental, regulatory, interactional, personal, heuristic, and imaginative] constitute the semiotic environment of a very small child, and may be thought of as universals of human culture
    • Michael Halliday (1978, p. 121) as cited in: Harry Daniels, Michael Cole, James V. Wertsch (2007) The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky. p. 148.
  • Plato held that the deceptions of sense justified scepticism of all sense-knowledge... Aristotle, more correctly, taught that error did not arise from the senses being false media, but from the wrong interpretations we put on their testimony. Manifold deceptions may thence arise; but each sense speaks truly so far as it speaks at all. It is from sense we gain the knowledge of particulars. It is from Induction we gain the knowledge of universals. Agreeing with Plato that Science is only concerned with universals, he affirmed that these could only be reached through Experience. This is the corner stone of the experience-philosophy or "Empiricism," so often urged as a reproach against Aristotle.

Footnote) De Anima, III., 3; Metaph. IV., 5; and elsewhere.

  • Plato's discovery went as follows.
It is possible for something to be a certain way and for something else to be the same way.
There are universals.
(Tumultuous applause, which lasts, despite occasional subsidences, 2,400 years.)[…]
'Universals' is simply the name philosophers give to the ways in which two or more things can be the same.
  • David Stove (1995). Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution, ISBN 185972 306 3

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