Universality (philosophy)

Universality (philosophy)

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In philosophy, universalism is a doctrine or school claiming universal facts can be discovered and is therefore understood as being in opposition to relativism
Relativism
Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration....

. In certain religions, universality is the quality ascribed to an entity whose existence is consistent throughout the universe. This article also discusses Kantian and Platonist notions of "universal", which are considered by many to be separate notions.

Universality in ethics


When used in the context of ethics, the meaning of universal refers to that which is true for "all similarly situated individuals." Rights
Rights
Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory...

, for example in natural rights
Natural rights
Natural and legal rights are two types of rights theoretically distinct according to philosophers and political scientists. Natural rights are rights not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable...

, or in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is a fundamental document of the French Revolution, defining the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. Influenced by the doctrine of "natural right", the rights of man are held to be universal: valid...

, for those heavily influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 and its conception of a human nature
Human nature
Human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling and acting, that humans tend to have naturally....

, could be considered as universal. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly . The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled...

 is inspired by such principles.

Universality in logic


In logic, or the consideration of valid arguments, a proposition
Proposition
In logic and philosophy, the term proposition refers to either the "content" or "meaning" of a meaningful declarative sentence or the pattern of symbols, marks, or sounds that make up a meaningful declarative sentence...

 is said to have universality if it can be conceived as being true in all possible contexts without creating a contradiction
Contradiction
In classical logic, a contradiction consists of a logical incompatibility between two or more propositions. It occurs when the propositions, taken together, yield two conclusions which form the logical, usually opposite inversions of each other...

. Some philosophers have referred to such propositions as universalizable
Universalizability
The concept of universalizability was set out by the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant as part of his work Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. It is part of the first formulation of his categorical imperative, which states that the only morally acceptable maxims of our actions are...

. Truth
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

 is considered to be universal if it is valid in all times and places. In this case, it is seen as eternal
Eternity
While in the popular mind, eternity often simply means existence for a limitless amount of time, many have used it to refer to a timeless existence altogether outside time. By contrast, infinite temporal existence is then called sempiternity. Something eternal exists outside time; by contrast,...

 or as absolute. The relativist conception
Relativism
Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration....

 denies the existence of some or all universal truths, particularly ethical ones (through moral relativism
Moral relativism
Moral relativism may be any of several descriptive, meta-ethical, or normative positions. Each of them is concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures:...

). Mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 is a field in which those truths discovered, in relation to the field of mathematics, are typically considered of universal scope. Usage of the word truth has various domains of application, relativism does not necessarily apply to all of them. This is not to say that universality is limited to mathematics for there exists a large number of people who apply the standard to philosophy, theology and beyond.

Universality in metaphysics


In metaphysics
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

, a universal is a type, a property, or a relation. The noun universal contrasts with individual
Individual
An individual is a person or any specific object or thing in a collection. Individuality is the state or quality of being an individual; a person separate from other persons and possessing his or her own needs, goals, and desires. Being self expressive...

, while the adjective universal contrasts with particular
Particular
In philosophy, particulars are concrete entities existing in space and time as opposed to abstractions. There are, however, theories of abstract particulars or tropes. For example, Socrates is a particular...

or sometimes with concrete. The latter meaning, however, may be confusing since Hegelian and neo-Hegelian (e.g. British idealist
British idealism
A species of absolute idealism, British idealism was a philosophical movement that was influential in Britain from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. The leading figures in the movement were T.H. Green , F. H. Bradley , and Bernard Bosanquet . They were succeeded by the...

) philosophies speak of concrete universals.

A universal may have instances, known as its particulars. For example, the type dog (or doghood) is a universal, as are the property red (or redness) and the relation betweenness (or being between). Any particular dog, red thing, or object that is between other things is not a universal, however, but is an instance of a universal. That is, a universal type (doghood), property (redness), or relation (betweenness) inheres a particular object (a specific dog, red thing, or object between other things).

Platonic realism
Platonic realism
Platonic realism is a philosophical term usually used to refer to the idea of realism regarding the existence of universals or abstract objects after the Greek philosopher Plato , a student of Socrates. As universals were considered by Plato to be ideal forms, this stance is confusingly also called...

 holds universals to be the referents of general terms, i.e. the abstract
Abstraction
Abstraction is a process by which higher concepts are derived from the usage and classification of literal concepts, first principles, or other methods....

, nonphysical entities to which words like "doghood", "redness", and "betweenness" refer. By contrast, particulars are the referents of proper names, like "Fido", or of definite descriptions that identify single objects, like the phrase, "that apple on the table". By contrast, other metaphysical theories merely use the terminology of universals to describe physical entities.

The problem of universals
Problem of universals
The problem of universals is an ancient problem in metaphysics about whether universals exist. Universals are general or abstract qualities, characteristics, properties, kinds or relations, such as being male/female, solid/liquid/gas or a certain colour, that can be predicated of individuals or...

is an ancient problem in metaphysics concerning the nature of universals, or whether they exist. Part of the problem involves the implications of language use and the complexity of relating language to ontological
Ontology
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

 theory.

Most ontological frameworks do not consider classes
Class (philosophy)
Philosophers sometimes distinguish classes from types and kinds. We can talk about the class of human beings, just as we can talk about the type , human being, or humanity...

to be universals, although some prominent philosophers, such as John Bigelow, do.

Quotes


"What is absolutely true is always correct, everywhere, all the time, under any condition. An entity's ability to discern these things is irrelevant to that state of truth." - Steven Robiner

External Links

  • http://www.unesco.org/opi2/philosophyandethics/intro.htm