# William of Ockham and the Problem of Universals (Discussion)

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

It is not enough for a logician to have a general knowledge of the terms as described above; the logician needs a deep understanding of the term concept.

For this, William of Ockham divides the terms in general, then moves on to the sub-headings of this division and makes a distinction between terms in the first and second sense: terms in the first sense appear as subjects in propositions, while terms in the second sense are predicates in propositions. Universal, genus, species, etc. gives the terms as examples of terms in the second sense. William of Ockham first considers terms in the second sense (William: 1990, 32), called the five universals. The five universals are: genus, species, distinction, trait, accident. But before that, he dwells on the term ‘universal’. The universal term is loaded on every universal and is opposed to every singular term.

William of Ockham points out first that the term ‘singular’ has two meanings. In the first sense, a ‘singular’ word denotes every object that is one and not many. According to him, those who believe that a universal is a certain quality in the mind and that it is a term attributed to the multiplicity (not in terms of itself, of course, but in terms of the multiplicity to which it is a predicate) must accept that every universal is a singular in this sense of the word. Although convention makes it common, taken as a word it is true and genuinely singular, singular in number; as a matter of fact, although it refers to the multiplicity outside, it is one and not many as the concept of the soul; it is truly and truly singular and numerically unique because, although it signifies multiplicity, it is itself one thing, not many.

In another sense of the word, ‘singular’ is used to signify one thing, not many, and in this sense it cannot have a function as a sign of many things. When ‘singular’ is taken in this way, no universal is singular, because the function of every universal is to signify the multiplicity, it is ascribed to the multiplicity. Therefore, if we understand the term universal as non-numerical, as many people do, then it is fair to say that nothing is universal. Of course, anyone can deviate from this, saying that it only creates one universal because it is not one, but many. But that would be silly. It is necessary, then, to say that every universal is something singular, and it is not a universal except that its meaning implies many things. According to William of Ockham, this is what Avicenna meant in his commentary on book 5 of Metaphysics: “A single form in the mind relates to many things, and in this respect it becomes a universal.” Because it is a sign that can be attributed to many things; but it has been said to be singular because it is a singular thing, not plural.

But it should be noted that there are two kinds of universals. Some things are universal by their nature: just as smoke is the sign of fire by nature, crying is the sign of pain, laughing is the sign of joy, so are those that can be attributed to many things by nature. The concept of the soul is universal in nature. Therefore, no substance, no accident except the soul is such a universal. According to William of Ockham, these universals are “five tumors, that is, there are five kinds of universals. William of Ockham, before examining them, says that there is conventionally a universal in another sense: a spoken word, which is actually a numerical quality, is a universal in this sense; because it is a sign that has been conventionally accepted to signify many things.Therefore, in a common word, it can be called universal, but it does not carry it according to its nature, it is only used as such by convention.

Every universal, whether in anything or not, always expresses a multiplicity. If it is expressed in anything, then “what is it?” It can be used to answer a question. There are two cases here: in the first case, many things that the universal is ascribed to are similar, although one of them is from many other similar things, they are essentially congruent; here are now the lowest-level species. In the second case, not all of the things that the universal is attributed to are essentially compatible with each other as previously described, moreover, there are things between them that are not similar as a whole or in parts. The animal is an example of this. The animal is ascribed to both man and donkey, but the similarity in substance between two men is greater than between a man and an ass. The same is true for color. This term can be attributed to both whiteness and blackness, but neither this blackness nor any of its parts are incompatible with this whiteness or a small piece of whiteness as much as two pieces of whiteness agree with each other. Therefore, the attributable concept of whiteness and blackness is a genus, not a subordinate species. But whiteness is the lowest type of all whiteness. Sometimes it happens that a white is more compatible with a second white than a third. Because of this, whites of equal intensity seem to match more than two whites of different intensities. However, just as two such whites always agree with one another, one of the two whites thus given agrees equally with a part of the other.