Philosophy 65 (253):255 - 260 (1990)

Jonathan Westphal
Hampshire College
There are many problems of universals, at least the four distinguished by Jenny Teichmann. Consider her second one. ‘How can we form a general term when we are faced with easily distinguishable, widely differing examples?’ The term ‘blue’, for example, covers a wide range of—well, what does it cover a wide range of? A wide range of the colour blue? This is nonsense. What it covers is a wide range of blues —shades of blue. But we do not form a general term when faced with or referring to these items. We distinguish them: cerulean, ultramarine, cyan, cobalt, navy blue and so on. ‘Blue’ is not the name of any of these shades of blue. It does not ‘cover’ anything except the colour , of which it is the name. ‘Blue’ is the name of the colour blue. There are no widely differing, easily distinguishable examples of that . The colour blue cannot differ widely or easily be distinguished from the colour blue. Leibniz's law prevents it. It is shades of blue which differ and are easily distinguishable. The moment we try to say, ‘But this differs from that’, the question will be, ‘This and that what? ’ If the answer is, ‘This colour ’ and ‘That colour ’, then a mistake has been made. For there is no differing and distinguishing in this case. Teichmann's problem cannot even be stated. If we say that what differ are this blue and that blue, which is the right thing to say, then we have two count nouns which mean ‘shade of blue’. There is no general term for these different shades. There is no answer to the question, ‘What is the name of all these differing shades?’ Certainly they are all blues, but each has its own name, and it is not ‘blue’. Teichmann's question cannot arise here either. The question, ‘What do blues have in common in virtue of which they are blue?’ is either elliptical or bad logical grammar. Which it is depends on the construal, or misconstrual, of ‘are blue’. The question should be either, ‘…in virtue of which they are blues ’ in the plural— they are not identical with the colour blue—or ‘…in virtue of which they are shades of blue.’ The plural agreement must come somewhere
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DOI 10.1017/S0031819100057594
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