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The Problem of Universals.

SCHOEDINGER, Andrew B., ed. The Problem of Universals. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1992. x + 360 pp. Cloth, $60.00; paper, $19.95--This is a useful collection of readings for a senior undergraduate or junior-level graduate course on universals. The selections are short (twenty-eight or so pages), but generally self-contained, and thus accessible to readers unfamiliar with the literature. Most of the great contributors to the debate, from Plato to the early Russell, Husserl, and Heidegger, are well represented, with a good sampling of the medieval discussion in pieces from Abelard, St. Thomas, Duns Scotus, and Ockham. Postwar twentieth-century contributors include Quine, Carnap, Strawson, and David Pears; and the text ends with a helpful bibliography of books and articles for further inquiry.

These desirable features having been listed, however, it must also be said that this book has two very serious flaws. One is that for Schoedinger, the controversy over universals seems to have come to an abrupt end in 1973. The most recent essay in the text was published in that year in Mind, and the latest entry in the bibliography is a commentary on Locke put out in 1971. Surely there are later contributions which would be worthy of inclusion (for example, some of the work of Armstrong and Tooley on laws). Yet nothing appears. This will count as a major shortcoming for some potential users of the book.

The other major flaw is in the editor's introductory material, which is badly written, opaque, and often misleading. The mercifully brief general introduction (pp. ix-x) advances the claims that "it is indubitable that relations exist," that "qualities and relations are ontologically inescapable," and that "one cannot escape the existence of universals"; but it then asserts the ultimacy of the question whether there are universals. It divides the field of theories about universals into such inane categories as the "straightforward" versus the "more complex." It serves up such truisms as, "Without [universals] there could be no language as we understand it," and, "Thinking and language go hand in hand."

The introductions to the individual selections are not more helpful. In discussing St. Thomas, for example, Schoedinger says that "form acts on matter to give it recognition as types of things" (p. 35); in introducing Duns Scotus, that "the morning star and the evening star refer to the same thing--the planet Venus" (p. 42); and in opening for Strawson, that "a particular, to be a particular, requires more than the meanings [sic] of a singular substantival expression" (p. 212). It might be too much to demand that the editor of an anthology should display a clear understanding of the material he presents, but surely it is not too much to expect of both editor and publisher that introductions be presented in at least rough conformity with standard grammatical conventions.

On the other hand, perhaps these flaws are not fatal. I often encourage my students not to bother with introductory essays in anthologies, for better or worse preferring my own backgrounding to the editorial comments of others. Furthermore, I cannot imagine trying to do a truly comprehensive historical presentation of the problem of universals in a single term or semester. So I, and perhaps others, might be able to make good use of Shoedinger's book, just as a sampler of important ideas and arguments on its subject. In the absence of the packages of copied readings so many of us had learned to rely upon, this anthology might prove to be pedagogically valuable despite its shortcomings. It certainly provides ample material for fruitful study and discussion, and suggests more.
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Author:Appleby, Peter C.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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