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SINGULAR AND UNIVERSAL: A FRANCISCAN PERSPECTIVE Poetic thinking, being mythical, does not distinguish or create antitheses: it goes on and on, linking analogy to analogy, identity to identity, and containing, without trying to refute, all opposition and objection. This means, not that it is merely facile or liquid thinking without form, but that it is the dialectic of love.... Northrop Frye, A Study of English Romanticism. TRADITIONAL discussions of the problem of universals, whether realist or nominalist, seem to rest on a common assumption. The assumption, roughly, that "universal" and "singular" are contraries or contradictories. The nominalist, for example, is convinced that if he ascribes ontological ultimacy to the singular, he must therefore consign universals to some secondary world, such as the realm of accident, or deny their reality outright. In the nature of the case the realist is more generous metaphysically than the nominalist; his world tends to be a jungle rather than a desert, and that is what makes him so hateful to the abstemious nominalist. But even the realist is inclined to look down his hierarchy at singulars, and to see them as mere illustrations of universals or convocations of generalities. To affirm the singular is in some form to deny the universal, and vice versa. So it seems. And indeed, superficially considered, the logic of the terms themselves suggests an adversary relation. They are, as it were, born enemies. So it seems. But there is in the Franciscan tradition an alternative suggestion. The suggestion, namely, that we regard universals and singulars not as contraries or contradictories, but as correlatives. So that their metaphysical fortunes rise and fall together. On this view the universal achieves full reality—concreteness—only in the singular; and the singular is only fully individuated—fully determinate —insofar as it is replete with universals. Universality and singularity vary directly, not inversely. To affirm the universal is to affirm the singular, and vice versa. Singular and Universal: A Franciscan Perspective131 Let me sharpen the contrast of these two views just a bit. In the most generous forms of the first and usual view, universality and singularity are only externally related to each other. For the most Platonic among the realists universals seem to resent individuation and the degradation that imports. For the more moderate realist the universal is simply indifferent to its own individuation; and the individual in turn puts on and takes off aU but its essential form and its propria without the slightest ontological flutter. On the other side the nominalists' singular incorporates no universals at all, and appears to be neutral as regards what we might caU its "universalization ." Which for a nominalist would mean that its being known or spoken of does not qualify the reaUty of the singular at all. On the alternative view, by contrast, universality and singularity are internally related. Universals need individuation, and the singular cannot suffer a subtraction from its texture of universals without undergoing a change in its determinate individuality. To be sure, universality and singularity may be distinguished by intellectual analysis. Indeed, each has its proper reality, else they were not so distinguishable. But for all that they can only exist together . I have called this alternative a Franciscan perspective. The Franciscans I have in mind are St. Bonaventure and Duns Scotus. In the following discussion I shall cite passages from their works, and develop certain of their teachings, which insinuate the view I have outlined but not yet explained. My procedure will not be that of exact historical scholarship: I shall not make a detailed survey of aU the relevant texts, nor attempt a complete reconstruction of Bonaventure's and Scotus' positions in the controversy over universals and individuation. But neither, I hope, will my essay be an irresponsible plunder of the ancients to serve my own purposes. I simply want to read selected passages of the Seraphic and the Subtle Doctors, faithfully but imaginatively, in order to elicit from them what I take to be an important if not unique contribution to the resolution of the persistent problem of universal and singular. I BEGIN WITH St. Bonaventure. In the following passage, from the Collationes in Hexaëmeron, Bonaventure is discussing the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 130-164
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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