Hobbes, Universal Names, and Nominalism

In Stefano Di Bella & Tad M. Schmaltz (eds.), The Problem of Universals in Early Modern Philosophy. Oxford University Press (2017)
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Abstract

Thomas Hobbes was, rather famously, a nominalist. The core of that nominalism is the belief that the only universal things are universal names: there are no universal objects, or universal ideas. This paper looks at what Hobbes's views about universal names were, how they evolved over time, and how Hobbes argued for them. The remainder of the paper considers two objections to Hobbes's view: a criticism made by several of Hobbes's contemporaries, that Hobbes's view could not account for people saying the same thing in different languages; and a more recently popular criticism of Hobbes, that his nominalism's reliance on similarity implicitly (and inconsistently) involves reliance on a universal.

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Stewart Duncan
University of Florida

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