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Abelard and Aquinas on Universality - love like me ・ 日記
non solum memento mori, memento vivere sed etiam
Abelard and Aquinas on Universality
気持: apathetic
Though Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas both draw their ideas on universals from Aristotle, they interpret Aristotle’s ideas in different ways. For Abelard, universals are mental constructions that apply to real things by referring to their common properties through a process of mental abstraction, while Aquinas says that universals are real properties (“essences”) that exist only in our minds and in the mind of God.

Abelard says that “when [he] hear[s] man a certain figure arises in [his] mind which is so related to individual men that it is common to all but proper to none” (181). That is, universal conceptions do not indicate any particular individual, but apply to any individual belonging to the set (of objects/people/etc.) they refer to. The universal is a mental construction that does not exist of its own accord or outside our minds. The universality of these concepts, therefore, depends not on the fact that they objectively exist and can be perceived and known, but on the simple fact that many things in the real world can be predicated upon them, a predication which is justified by features held in common by things in the real world, which we can perceive and know. These mental constructions, abstractions pieced together from sensory (and other) information, have a certain type of relationship to reality, and contain properties of the real object that cannot be attributed to the construction itself. It is uncertain exactly what this relationship is, but it is easy to see that resemblance is too strong (since one universal conception can contain conflicting conditions of real things; humans can be male or female, lions can have a mane or not). Furthermore, a universal conception is not invalidated if it does not refer to anything in the real world, because the universal is a construction of the mind that can still be created and understood (180).

Aquinas’ view is that universals are the essences of things as they exist in the intellect. “Nature or essence taken thus can be regarded in two ways. One way is according to its own nature, and this is the absolute consideration of it. In this way, nothing is true to say of it except what pertains to it in just such a way; anything else is falsely attributed to it. … Considered in the other way, essence has being in this one or that, and thus something is predicated as an accident of it by reason of that in which it is” (512), meaning that nothing is true of this essence except what is included in its definition, that only those traits which are invariably present in all of a set of things can be said to be universal. Aquinas seems to reject this other way of looking at things saying that in it essence is reduced to a mere accidental circumstance. “It is obvious, then, that the nature of man absolutely considered abstracts from any being whatever, in a way that does not set aside any of them, and this nature so considered is what is predicated of all individuals” (512), thus agreeing with Abelard’s rough definition of a universal as that which can be predicated upon many things, and with his idea of the universal as a mental abstraction.

Aquinas and Abelard disagree, however, on what is sufficient to invalidate a universal. Abelard does not see contradicting traits of the real objects within the set the universal refers to as invalidating a universal (that is, the universal can and should account for the differences among individuals), while Aquinas thinks that only those things which are common to all individuals in a set can be rightly seen as universals, and anything that can differ from individual to individual is not rightly included in the universal concept. Aquinas also does not think that universal concepts that refer to things that do not exist can be said to exist, while Abelard takes non-referential universals to be perfectly valid.

so it's only 3 pages. technically the prompt only says "no more than 6 pages"...i'm safe there. ^_~

i think i'll do my linguistics homework now so i can come home and sleep later.
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fahran From: fahran Date: Wednesday 16th April 2003 02.12 (UTC) (Link)

I'll give that an 'A' or a 'DN' or whatever a top mark is in your neck of the woods. Nice little essay.
valamelmeo From: valamelmeo Date: Wednesday 16th April 2003 02.18 (UTC) (Link)

Heh, thanks. Here's hoping my professor agrees with you...
Would you believe that took me nearly 5 hours? Not 5 hours of actual work, mind you. I started at 11pm, at which time I put the header on the paper and wrote about half of the first sentence, and didn't write another word until about 1:30am, continuing thus with brief periods of activity followed by longer periods (though none quite so long as that first one) of doing sweet bugger all and wasting time in general. I'm gonna pay for that tomorrow...