Predication and Universals

  • Michael J. Loux
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series in Philosophy book series (PSSP, volume 14)


The contention that the phenomenon of predication commits us to a realistic ontology has a long and distinguished history. Typically, the contention is expressed in the claim that predicate-expressions must be construed as standing in some referential relation to universals. While the view is suggested in Plato’s writings, it receives its first explicit formulation in Aristotle’s De Interpretatione where after telling us that a predicate-expression is “a sign of something said of something else,”1 Aristotle defines the universal as “that which is of such a nature as to be predicated of many objects.”2 Medieval Aristotelians generally accepted Aristotle’s contention that predicates are referentially linked with universals; and in more recent times, we find Frege endorsing the view as well. Frege tells us that concepts are the referents of predicate-expressions, and he identifies concepts with the properties of objects.3 Russell also echoes the traditional theme that predicates refer to universals when he tells us that “substantives, adjectives, prepositions, and verbs,” the expressions which serve as predicate-terms, “stand for universals;”4 and in the past few decades we find philosophers as different as Gustav Bergmann and P. F. Strawson following Russell here. Thus, Bergmann tells us that primitive predicates name universals, so that whoever “admits a single primitive predicate admits properties among the building-stones of his world;”5 and Strawson, invoking a rather different terminology, claims that the use of a predicate-expression within the context of a subject-predicate sentence has the effect of “introducing” a universal “into discourse.”6


Singular Term Infinite Regress Metaphysical Realism Realistic Ontology Abstract Noun 
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  1. 1.
    De Interpretation 3 (16b 10), translated by E. M. Edgehill, in Richard Mckeon,Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: Random House), 1946, p. 41.Google Scholar
  2. 17.
    Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe (London: MacMillan), 1953, p. 66.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Loux
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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