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SAAP Annual Meeting 2018

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John William Miller and the Problem of Universals

The point of departure for this panel is the contention, made by the American philosopher John William Miller (1895-1978), that standard understandings of universality are fundamentally mistaken—and that they are mistaken due to a misconstruction of how universals are formed and are by their very nature conditioned by historical circumstance. For Miller, the universal is in the discriminating procedure, not in what is thereupon distinguished. Universals arise in concrete human practices, along with the media bound up with them. Universals are not static metaphysical or logical entities, but are instead quotidian acts of reckoning that employ tools such clocks and yardsticks. Universals are the form that action takes. That universals emerge across a horizon of action and functioning symbolic objects means that universals are creative acts. This panel seeks to test Miller’s claim that characterizing universals as actualities in fact, as Miller claims, “solves the ‘problem of universals.’”

Katie Terezakis
Rochester Institute of Technology
United States

Gary Steiner
Bucknell University
United States

Peter Fosl
Transylvania University
United States


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