In Hallvard Lillehammer & D. H. Mellor (eds.), Ramsey's Legacy. Oxford University Press (2005)

Fraser MacBride
University of Manchester
According to philosophical folklore Ramsey maintained three propositions in his famous 1925 paper “Universals”: (i) there is no subject-predicate distinction; (ii) there is no particular-universal distinction; (iii) there is no particular-universal distinction because there is no subject-predicate distinction. The ‘first generation’ of Ramsey commentators dismissed “Universals” because they held that whereas predicates may be negated, names may not and so there is a subject-predicate distinction after all. The ‘second generation’ of commentators dismissed “Universals because they held that the absence of a merely linguistic distinction between subject and predicate does not provide any kind of reason for doubting that a truly ontological (i.e. non-linguistic) distinction obtains between particulars and universals. But both first and second-generation criticisms miss their marks because Ramsey did not maintain the three identified propositions. The failure of commentators to appreciate the point and purpose of the position Ramsey actually advanced in “Universals” results from (a) failing to consider the range of different arguments advanced there, (b) looking at “Universals” in isolation from Ramsey’s other papers and (c) failing to consider Ramsey’s writings in the context of the views that Russell and Wittgenstein held during the early 1920s. Seen from this wider perspective Ramsey arguments in “Universals” take on an altogether different significance. They not only anticipate important contemporary developments⎯the resurgence of Humeanism and the doctrine that the existence of universals can only be established a posteriori⎯but also point beyond them.
Keywords Ramsey  Russell  Wittgenstein  Universals  Particular-universal distinction
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