Public event

Research seminar of philosophy: The Problems of Universals

Post-doctoral researcher Donnchadh O’Conaill (Université de Fribourg, Switzerland) talks


Different entities are alike in some respects and not alike in others; that is, they agree with respect to some attributes and not with respect to others. The problem of universals, in its most basic form, is the problem of providing a metaphysical account of attribute agreement. (Note that this problem is not specifically connected to universals; rather, it is a general request for a metaphysical account of something, which leaves open exactly what kind of metaphysical machinery can be used to provide this account.)

In this paper I shall distinguish two different ways in which the problem of universals has been framed: as providing an account of what it is for distinct entities x and y to agree in attribute, and as providing an account of that in virtue of or because of which x and y agree in attribute. I shall argue that these are better understood as stating different problems: the problem of explication (stating what it is for x and y to agree in attribute) and the problem of explanation (stating why x and y agree in attribute). I shall outline a schema for explicating attribute agreement, and point out some problems with approaches to attribute agreement which overlook the problem of explication.

I conclude by suggesting that while there are (at least) two problems of universals, the problem of explication is the more important: if anything deserves to be called the problem of universals, it is this.

For more information, please contact
university lecturer Jani Hakkarainen,