Feedback From A User

  • In a world of atoms and void, there are no universal concepts


    If the same thought pattern shows up with only minor variation among the vast majority of members of a population, that should qualify as a universal.


    Here-again betraying my own lack of technical training, I want to repeat that I (and I bet I am far from the only one) find this topic very confusing and off-putting due to the common meaning the word "universal" seemingly in conflict with the way philosophers use it. For example from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    Quote

    Universals are a class of mind-independent entities, usually contrasted with individuals (or so-called "particulars"), postulated to ground and explain relations of qualitative identity and resemblance among individuals. Individuals are said to be similar in virtue of sharing universals. An apple and a ruby are both red, for example, and their common redness results from sharing a universal. If they are both red at the same time, the universal, red, must be in two places at once. This makes universals quite different from individuals; and it makes them controversial.



    MIND-INDEPENDENT ENTITIES ..POSTULATED TO GROUND AND EXPLAIN RELATIONS....?


    And in the quote it is considered acceptable to compare an apply and a ruby and to say both are red and on the strength of two instances of something similar call that similarity a "universal?"



    The reason I quote Godfrey is that that is how I tend to look at the question, although at present I would vary that and say:


    "In a universe in which atoms are the only eternally unchanging entities, there is no possibility of there existing eternally unchanging human concepts (which is what is IMPLIED, to a normal person, by the word "universal").


    On the other hand I agree that Martin is stating something obvious too:


    "If the same thought pattern shows up with only minor variation among the vast majority of members of a population, that should qualify as a universal."


    I personally just find it very confusing and potentially very misleading for philosophers to to try equate "same thought pattern"... among "members of a population" and call that a "universal" (which again to me implies that it is presumed to be found in ALL members of that population anywhere in the "universe" (meaning "cosmos").


    I just wanted to restate this because I find it maddening that philosophers want to insist on using that term "universal." I find it impossible to shake the idea from my mind that this is intentional deception on the part of people (Plato et al) who want to postulate and convince untrained people of something that does not really exist. Of course I have no idea who originated the term "universal" and presume it is more modern in origin.

  • Wikipedia - Problem of Universals:


    In metaphysics, the problem of universals refers to the question of whether properties exist, and if so, what they are.[1] Properties are qualities or relations that two or more entities have in common. The various kinds of properties, such as qualities and relations, are referred to as universals. For instance, one can imagine three cup holders on a table that have in common the quality of being circular or exemplifying circularity,[2] or two daughters that have in common being the female offsprings of Frank. There are many such properties, such as being human, red, male or female, liquid, big or small, taller than, father of, etc.[3] While philosophers agree that human beings talk and think about properties, they disagree on whether these universals exist in reality or merely in thought, speech and sight.


    The problem of universals relates to a number of questions in close relation to not only metaphysics but, to logic and epistemology, all in efforts to understand how the thought of universals has a connection to those of singular properties.[4]

  • Stated that way, we have very specific statements in Lucretius (and possibly Herodotus, I can't recall) on that topic. Well, I was going to quote specific sections, but really everything from line 420 to the end of book one is really on this topic. In fact, is not the entire structure of "atomism" not the rejection of the contention that "philosophic universals" exist?


    [The following is Bailey, and he uses the word "accidents" rather than "events" which is used in the 1743 edition, and I think "events" is far preferable, especially since the Latin is "eventum" (if I recall). But is this not a statement that something like "circularity" (from the wikipedia entry) is only a name which humans give to "qualities" (their observations of temporary and changing combinations of atoms), rather than a reference to "properties" (attributes of eternally-existing atoms")?


    I will state too that my own person interest in the "problem of universals" arose because I used to thinki it was necessary to address the issue of "meaninglessness of life" and "nihilism" - the perspective which I "know/feel" must be "wrong" (that if only atoms really "exist" then life is "meaningless.")


    I now think that the problem of nihilism has a much different answer than to theorize a (false) "theory of universals" such as Plato or Aristotle suggested. There are better and more accurate ways to see that life is intensely valuable to us despite its impermanency and it arising from atoms and void.



    BOOK ONE:


    [420] But now, to weave again at the web, which is the task of my discourse, all nature then, as it is of itself, is built of these two things: for there are bodies and the void, in which they are placed and where they move hither and thither. For that body exists is declared by the feeling which all share alike; and unless faith in this feeling be firmly grounded at once and prevail, there will be naught to which we can make appeal about things hidden, so as to prove aught by the reasoning of the mind. And next, were there not room and empty space, which we call void, nowhere could bodies be placed, nor could they wander at all hither and thither in any direction; and this I have above shown to you but a little while before.


    [431] Besides these there is nothing which you could say is parted from all body and sundered from void, which could be discovered, as it were a third nature in the list. For whatever shall exist, must needs be something in itself; and if it suffer touch, however small and light, it will increase the count of body by a bulk great or maybe small, if it exists at all, and be added to its sum. But if it is not to be touched, inasmuch as it cannot on any side check anything from wandering through it and passing on its way, in truth it will be that which we call empty void.


    [439] Or again, whatsoever exists by itself, will either do something or suffer itself while other things act upon it, or it will be such that things may exist and go on in it. But nothing can do or suffer without body, nor afford room again, unless it be void and empty space. And so besides void and bodies no third nature by itself can be left in the list of things, which might either at any time fall within the purview of our senses, or be grasped by any one through reasoning of the mind. For all things that have a name, you will find either properties linked to these two things or you will see them to be their accidents. That is a property which in no case can be sundered or separated without the fatal disunion of the thing, as is weight to rocks, heat to fire, moisture to water, touch to all bodies, intangibility to the void. On the other hand, slavery, poverty, riches, liberty, war, concord, and other things by whose coming and going the nature of things abides untouched, these we are used, as is natural, to call accidents.


    [460] Even so time exists not by itself, but from actual things comes a feeling, what was brought to a close in time past, then what is present now, and further what is going to be hereafter. And it must be avowed that no man feels time by itself apart from the motion or quiet rest of things.


    [465] Then again, when men say that ‘the rape of Tyndarus’s daughter’, or ‘the vanquishing of the Trojan tribes in war’ are things, beware that they do not perchance constrain us to avow that these things exist in themselves, just because the past ages have carried off beyond recall those races of men, of whom, in truth, these were the accidents. For firstly, we might well say that whatsoever has happened is an accident in one case of the countries, in another even of the regions of space.


    [472] Or again, if there had been no substance of things nor place and space, in which all things are carried on, never would the flame of love have been fired by the beauty of Tyndaris, nor swelling deep in the Phrygian heart of Alexander have kindled the burning battles of savage war, nor unknown of the Trojans would the timber horse have set Pergama aflame at dead of night, when the sons of the Greeks issued from its womb. So that you may see clearly that all events from first to last do not exist, and are not by themselves like body, nor can they be spoken of in the same way as the being of the void, but rather so that you might justly call them the accidents of body and place, in which they are carried on, one and all.


    [484] Bodies, moreover, are in part the first-beginnings of things, in part those which are created by the union of first-beginnings. Now the true first-beginnings of things, no force can quench; for they by their solid body prevail in the end. Albeit it seems hard to believe that there can be found among things anything of solid body. For the thunderbolt of heaven passes through walled houses, as do shouts and cries; iron grows white hot in the flame, and stones seethe in fierce fire and leap asunder; then too the hardness of gold is relaxed and softened by heat, and the ice of brass yields beneath the flame and melts; warmth and piercing cold ooze through silver, since when we have held cups duly in our hands we have felt both alike, when the dewy moisture of water was poured in from above. So true is it that in things there is seen to be nothing solid. But yet because true reasoning and the nature of things constrain us, give heed, until in a few verses we set forth that there are things which exist with solid and everlasting body, which we show to be the seeds of things and their first-beginnings, out of which the whole sum of things now stands created.


    [504] First, since we have found existing a twofold nature of things far differing, the nature of body and of space, in which all things take place, it must needs be that each exists alone by itself and unmixed. For wherever space lies empty, which we call the void, body is not there; moreover, wherever body has its station, there is by no means empty void. Therefore the first bodies are solid and free from void.

  • Because I see this issue as tied to nihilism, I therefore prefer the 1743 decision preference for EVENTS over "accidents":




    Especially since "Eventa" seems to be the Latin:




    Here is the Munro Latin edition to confirm "eventa":



  • There's clearly no innate specific word for cow-- but there is an innate recognition of the cow as distinct from the other matter in the field. The visual system, including the brain, has to perform work when presented with light reflections-- what is an object? Where are the boundaries of the object? Etc.


    I don't know that anyone has specifically studied cows-- but humans do appear to have innate recognition of snakes and spiders as dangerous. The fear of snake-shaped objects appears whether a baby has been bitten by one or not. https://www.google.com/amp/s/a…-science-snakes-video-spd


    This inborn pattern recognition doesn't include language and is not a symbolic concept-- it is an example of what I believe Epicurus meant by the prolepses. It's definitely what I would include in my own Canon-- it's like a species encoded memory of certain patterns.

  • To elaborate on another aspect of what I said above-- infants don't appear to "figure out" that a shape like a cow moving against a background represents an object separate from the background. That is part of their innate rudimentary physics. They act surprised when objects don't behave according to gravity, etc.

  • Elayne is going back to the "pattern recognition" observation and I agree that that is where the answer to this lies. A faculty of pattern recognition does not imply that there are "concepts" floating in space in ideal platonic form, or in emanations from god, which define a perfect cow, of which all real cows are mere reflections. But that is the direction that many advocates of "universals" want to take the discussion.


    I have two more passages that I personally consider important to my thoughts on this topic. The first is from "A Few Days In Athens" Chapter 15. Essentially all of Chapter 15 is devoted to unwinding this question of tracing effects back to causes and seeking to find some "ultimate cause," which we think is required to explain things to us, since we are told that we should not consider the properties of the elemental particles to be sufficient to explain the emergent qualities that arise from the combinations of those particles. I think these issues are closely related if not identical. I will quote here only the part that leads up to : "The error of conceiving a quality in the abstract often offended me in the Lyceum...”


  • Here is the second passage that I relate to this topic, which I believe expresses Thomas Jefferson's application of Epicurean philosophy to this problem: "On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need."


    Jefferson to John Adams, August 15, 1820:   (Full version at Founders.gov)


    …. But enough of criticism: let me turn to your puzzling letter of May 12. on matter, spirit, motion etc. It’s crowd of scepticisms kept me from sleep. I read it, and laid it down: read it, and laid it down, again and again: and to give rest to my mind, I was obliged to recur ultimately to my habitual anodyne, ‘I feel: therefore I exist.’ I feel bodies which are not myself: there are other existencies then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need. I can conceive thought to be an action of a particular organisation of matter, formed for that purpose by it’s creator, as well as that attraction in an action of matter, or magnetism of loadstone. When he who denies to the Creator the power of endowing matter with the mode of action called thinking shall shew how he could endow the Sun with the mode of action called attraction, which reins the planets in the tract of their orbits, or how an absence of matter can have a will, and, by that will, put matter into motion, then the materialist may be lawfully required to explain the process by which matter exercises the faculty of thinking. When once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind. To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart.

  • This is what I perceive to be the sequence of reasoning on this topic in the letter to Herodotus (clips from Bailey):


    First, the atoms, which are eternal, do not possess any of the qualities that we consider to be in the nature of "concepts" or "universals," so "concepts" and "universals" cannot have permanent unchanging existence:



    Next, even though the qualities of the combination of atoms (which includes all that we can experience directly in our universe) are not permanent and unchanging like the atoms themselves, we must not believe that they do NOT exist, OR that they have some kind of incorporeal existence. The things that we experience in our reality are real TO US (and this is the key to showing the insanity of nihilism):




    And this is how "events" as arising from the nature and movement of the atoms is the explanation to which Thomas Jefferson referred. And this understanding is hugely important -- none of this is an "accident" in the way that you fail to look both ways before crossing a street and get run over by a bus in an "accidental" way. The structure of our universe as a series of "events" arising from the movement of the atoms, and is largely "deterministic" and understandable and predictable, except for the limited instances of "free will" (including the life of higher animals) that arise from the swerve of atoms and which are able to break through under limited circumstances.


    But I fully understand why Bailey and others of his attitude would choose to use the word "accident" in these translations. They are essentially Platonic/idealist/theists themselves, they reject the views of Epicurus on this topic, they think that gods and ideal forms and universals are necessary to explain things, and so they prefer term which carries derogatory connotations ("accident" instead of "event" or even "conjuncts"). The 1743 edition has the preferred wording in my view.


  • The feedback to my question as been enlightening! Thanks to all who took the time to help clarify this difficult and fundamental question.


    There's clearly no innate specific word for cow-- but there is an innate recognition of the cow as distinct from the other matter in the field. The visual system, including the brain, has to perform work when presented with light reflections-- what is an object? Where are the boundaries of the object? Etc.


    I don't know that anyone has specifically studied cows-- but humans do appear to have innate recognition of snakes and spiders as dangerous. The fear of snake-shaped objects appears whether a baby has been bitten by one or not. https://www.google.com/amp/s/a…-science-snakes-video-spd


    This inborn pattern recognition doesn't include language and is not a symbolic concept-- it is an example of what I believe Epicurus meant by the prolepses. It's definitely what I would include in my own Canon-- it's like a species encoded memory of certain patterns.

    It seems possible to interpret everyone’s comments as being in agreement and simply emphasizing different aspects of the answer.


    Cassius has a good point that the terms “universal” and “accident” have a lot of historical meaning that is tied to immaterialism, essence and forms. Using the term “Events” does seem to shed some of the baggage that hangs with the other terms. He and Godfrey have emphasized the doctrine that all of reality resolves to the principles of matter and void. Cassius provided ample evidence for this with the helpful textual reference from the letter to Herodotus, Lucretius, Jefferson, Wright, etc. Thanks for sharing such a trove of useful material!:thumbsup:


    On the other hand, Martin seems correct in his point that it is possible to understand “universal” as a description for a cognitive activity we all utilize as a natural part of life. This can be true while still resolving to principles of matter and void.


    Elayne’s references to child behavior and description of prolepses as, “a species encoded memory of certain patterns” seems to round out the explanation based on the experience of scientific research.

    In my opinion, Adler is generally correct in his opinion that nominalism is wrong and that these “universals” or “events” exist in the intellect. However, we must understand “intellect” as a mechanism ultimately made up of atoms that has the function of recognizing patterns found in other material configurations.


    It seems similar to how DNA mechanically encodes the same configurations in separate individuals of the same species. Intellect is how the brain decodes and records the information in each of us.


    Adler may agree with this but his finally paragraph of the chapter hints that he believes there is more to the issue where he says the brain is a necessary but NOT sufficient cause of the intellect. He still believes there is an immaterial component.


    I, however, think the arguments raised here point out that the material brain could be sufficient to explain our experience. As the Occam's razor principle states, "Entities should not be multiplied without necessity." We do not need immaterial causes to explain similar (universal) events.


    I am very glad to have found this group of Epicurean Friends and am immensely appreciative that all of you take such pains to share your opinions.


    Best Regards,

    Lee

    Edited once, last by Lee ().

  • In my opinion, Adler is general correct in his opinion that nominalistic is wrong and that these “universals” or “events” exist in the intellect.

    My understanding of what the term "nominalistic" means is not sufficient for me to understand whether "nominalism" is accurate or inaccurate, or what that says about Adler and his opinion. I probably should not have added this note here but wanted to clarify for the record that i'm not able to contribute much to answer that question.



    I, however, think the arguments raised here point out that the material brain could be sufficient to explain our experience


    Yes I do think that that is the essential point - that the mechanisms of the brain do not contain any element or connection to anything "supernatural" that would give rise to ideal forms, divine communication/revelation, or the ability to spot "essences" such as the other Greeks were theorizing.

  • My understanding of what the term "nominalistic" means is not sufficient for me to understand whether "nominalism" is accurate or inaccurate, or what that says about Adler and his opinion.

    Your comment made me realize that I had assumed “nominalism” to mean the position that there are no universals, rather, there are only words that categorize particular things. I did a bit more reading and realized that “nominalism” has a more subtle definition and can mean at least a couple of things. I included a quote below from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy with a link. My position appears to be a denial of abstract objects but an acknowledgement that our words describing general things point to some real material combination of matter.


    In other words, “redness” and “circularity” are real concepts as manifested by a particular combination of atoms in each of our brains.
    ————-

    Nominalism in Metaphysics- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    ”Thus one kind of Nominalism asserts that there are particular objects and that everything is particular, and the other asserts that there are concrete objects and that everything is concrete.


    As noted above, the two forms of nominalism are independent. The possibility of being a nominalist in one sense but not in the other has been exemplified in the history of philosophy. For instance, David Armstrong (1978; 1997) is a believer in universals, and so he is not a nominalist in the sense of rejecting universals, but he believes that everything that exists is spatiotemporal, and so he is a nominalist in the sense of rejecting abstract objects. And there are those who, like Quine at a certain point of his philosophical development (1964; 1981), accept sets or classes and so are not nominalists in the sense of rejecting abstract objects and yet reject universals and so are nominalists in the sense of rejecting universals.


    Thus Nominalism, in both senses, is a kind of anti-realism. For one kind of Nominalism denies the existence, and therefore the reality, of universals and the other denies the existence, and therefore the reality, of abstract objects. But what does Nominalism claim with respect to the entities alleged by some to be universals or abstract objects, e.g. properties, numbers, propositions, possible worlds? Here there are two general options: (a) to deny the existence of the alleged entities in question, and (b) to accept the existence of these entities but to argue that they are particular or concrete.”