The Concrete Universal

In my previous post I introduced the idea of a concrete universal and asked if it wasn’t a contradiction in terms. The critic might argue that a concrete entity, like this computer in front of me has shape and size and heft, while universals like “computer-ness” is not located anywhere and has neither shape nor size or heft.

I disagree. In our lifeworld, our umwelt, entities appear as concreta and as universals. A person standing in front of me is both Anil (concrete) and a man (universal) and I have no problem perceiving him as both. The Naiyayikas had a point when they said that the universal (maleness) is located in the same location as the particular (Anil). But how do the universal and the particular come together? What is the nature of their conjunction? Isn’t putting universals and particulars together lead to the same sort of problem that Descartes faced when he tried to put the body and the soul together in the Pineal gland? We have to try to understand these issues, which are both philosophical and scientific.

One slight detour: Cognitive scientists have long studied the fact that we categorize entities in nested categories: dog → animal → living thing. We could argue that identifying Anil as a human or vice-versa is just an extension of the categorization problem; an individual such as Anil is just a special case of a category, namely, a category with one element — Anil. But an individual is not a category. You can point to individuals — they have location and shape and size — but not to categories. Unless you are a Naiyayika and believe that the category is colocated with the individual.

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