Late in the week of April 16, 2000, I solved the problem of universals. I have delayed publication for a number of reasons. Before publishing, I wanted to develop the perfect formulations, to have ready answers to all probable objections, and to have acquired a detailed knowledge of the history of the problem. I have never quite been able to find the time. Until yesterday, I figured I would just keep waiting. But then I found myself searching for a fitting way to celebrate a recent victory. It came to me: why not publish? And so I am. I would still especially like to have had time to have developed that detailed knowledge of the history of the problem, but eight idle years is more than long enough. If I am right in my solution, then it is, after all, a matter of some urgency.
Readers of philosophy of a certain bent of mind may wonder why I have been so concerned with the history of the problem, especially if they find themselves agreeing with my solution. It has been my experience that the majority of those who concern themselves with philosophy and its problems are, in fact, concerned not with philosophy itself, but with its history. In the case of the problem of universals, for example, attempts at solutions apparently fallen into one of two mutually exclusive traditions: nominalism and realism. These traditions loom so large in the minds of, it seems, most philosophers, that they cannot conceive of a solution that does not belong to one or the other. But the history of philosophy is their cave, and nominalism and realism shadows on the wall. The real solution comes from outside. My interest in a deeper knowledge of the history of the problem of universals has its origins where philosophy and rescue spelunking meet.
Since I have not had time for a full survey of the history of the problem, I will make do with something more modest.Instead of placing my solution to the problem of universals in the full context of the history of Western philosophy, I will place it in the context of Objectivist philosophy. One reason this appeals to me is that, while I am not an Objectivist, if I can be said to belong to any tradition or school of philosophy, Objectivism is it.
Many Objectivists reading this will now wonder how I might propose to place my own original solution to the problem of universals within the context of Objectivism, given that Ayn Rand claimed to have solved the problem of universals herself.The answer lies in that the problem of universals, while a real philosophical problem, is also a historical artifact. I am not sure exactly how or why Ayn Rand misapprehended the nature of this historical artifact, but, to a significant degree, she did.
Certain critics of Objectivism have claimed that Ayn Rand totally misapprehended the problem of universals, and was therefore totally unjustified in her claim to have solved it. These critics are quite wrong on this point, but their criticisms have been very useful to me, because they have provided an avenue for placing Ayn Rand’s solution to the problem of universals into the larger context of Western philosophy. By borrowing from these critics of Objectivism, I will be able to show that the critics are right on one point: Ayn Rand did not solve the historical problem of universals — and wrong on another, far more important point. Borrowing from these critics will also allow me to compensate somewhat for my own limited knowledge of the history of the problem since Plato.
Continue reading The Solution to the Problem of Universals