conceptualism, in philosophy, position taken on the problem of universals, initially by Peter Abelard in the 12th cent. Like nominalism it denied that universals exist independently of the mind, but it held that universals have an existence in the mind as concept. These concepts are not arbitrary inventions but are reflections of similarities among particular things themselves, e.g., the concept male reflects a similarity between Paul and John. This similarity shows that universals are also patterns in God's mind according to which he creates particular things. Slightly modified, this view becomes the position of moderate realism, the classical medieval solution to the controversy. For a modern statement of conceptualism, see C. I. Lewis, Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation (1946, repr. 1962).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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