Berkeley on Abstraction, Universals, and Universal Knowledge

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter includes three claims. The first is that while Berkeley treated the metaphysical problem of universals as unproblematically resolved in favor of nominalism (which he interpreted in an extreme form), he recognized the epistemic problem as a separate issue he needed to engage with and this is the primary positive contribution of his attack on abstraction. The second is that his solution to the epistemic problem is semiotic, but his semantics here is anthropocentric and pragmatic (in contrast to the semantics of visual language). The third is that this semantic theory, while it emphasizes the role of signs and thus has some affinities with formalism, has no special role for formal properties of signs and in fact makes formalism hard to achieve.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Problem of Universals in Early Modern Philosophy
EditorsTad Schmaltz, Stefano di Bella
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9780190608040
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

© 2017, Oxford University Press.This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details
This is a draft of a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in the forthcoming book 'The Problem of Universals in Modern Philosophy' edited by Tad Schmaltz and Stefano di Bella due for publication in 2016. [Self-archiving is subject to a 24 month embargo following publication].


  • Abstract ideas
  • Abstraction
  • Berkeley
  • Nominalism
  • Semantic
  • Semiotic
  • Sign
  • Universal knowledge

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