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Universals: An Opinionated Introduction (Focus) Paperback – 26 Sep 1989
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In this short text, a distinguished philosopher turns his attention to one of the oldest and most fundamental philosophical problems of all: How it is that we are able to sort and classify different things as being of the same natural class? Professor Armstrong carefully sets out six major theoriesancient, modern, and contemporaryand assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each. Recognizing that there are no final victories or defeats in metaphysics, Armstrong nonetheless defends a traditional account of universals as the most satisfactory theory we have. This study is written for advanced students, but as Armstrong goes considerably beyond his earlier work on this topic, it will interest professional scholars as well. Carefully plotted and clearly written, Universals is both a paradigm of exposition and a case study on the value of careful analysis of fundamental issues in philosophy.
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In this short text, a distinguished philosopher turns his attention to one of the oldest and most fundamental philosophical problems of all: How it is that we are able to sort and classify different things as being of the same natural class.See all Product description
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Realists about universals answer that the very same thing is present in the cases of tokens of the same type; for example, the apple and the fire engine have an identical property of redness in common. Nominalists reject such a postulation as uneconomical and problematic; if the very same redness is present in the apple and the fire engine, then the same thing is at two possibly very distant places at once! In place of such universals, Nominalists introduce such things as primitive natural classes, primitive resemblances, and tropes in order to answer the problem.
David Armstrong is one of the most influential philosophers in the debate about universals, and in this book he introduces the problem of universals and covers at least six proposed solutions. Each solution is presented and evaluated carefully. As the subtitle suggests the introduction is opinionated, and Armstrong ultimately favours a moderate form of Realism. However, he also candidly presents the advantages of alternative solutions and the disadvantages of his own.
The related topic of the nature of particulars is also covered, and Armstrong introduces the proposal that particular things are mere bundles of properties and the rival proposal that they are substances instantiating properties. Crucial notions such as those of thin and thick particulars and states of affairs are also explained.
The book is well organized, and generally written clearly. It is not long, but is nevertheless comprehensive without sacrificing depth. Helpful references and recommended reading for each proposal are included.
Students unfamiliar with analytic philosophy might find it quite difficult because there is some terminology that is not explained, and the discussion is quick at some points. The book is intended primarily for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in philosophy, but may also interest professional philosophers. The book is recommended especially for advanced students interested in the problem of universals in particular. For a more general introduction to metaphysics, I recommend Jonathan Lowe's "A Survey of Metaphysics".
Armstrong has devoted a good deal of attention to this topic already (see his earlier work), but in this slim volume he makes some important additions and corrections to his previous views. It is a tribute to his clarity and organizational skills that he manages to do so _while_ he is providing a highly readable introduction to this subject.
For it _is_ highly readable; Armstrong has a gift for clear exposition, and his presentations of all the relevant positions are accurate and eminently fair. The reader may not agree with all of Armstrong's "opinionated" conclusions (I don't), but I don't know of a better introduction to the issues Armstrong is drawing those conclusions _about_.
Another nice volume to place alongside this one is the collection _Properties_, edited by D.H. Mellor (and also available through Amazon). The two together are the equivalent of a thorough undergraduate- or beginning-graduate-level course in the theory of universals.
For a more general introduction, try Michael Loux's _Metaphysics_. And, for a much-neglected attempted solution to the problem of universals, see Brand Blanshard's _Reason And Analysis_.