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Russell on Knowledge of Universals by Acquaintance

  • M. Giaquinto (a1)

Russell's book The Problems of Philosophy was first published a hundred years ago.1 A remarkable feature of this enduring text is the glint of Platonism it presents on a dark empiricist sea: while our knowledge of physical objects is entirely mediated by direct awareness of sense data, we can also have direct awareness of certain universals, Russell claims.2 This is questionable, even if one has no empiricist inclination. Universals are abstract, hence causally inert. How, then, can we have any knowledge of them, direct or indirect? This paper is about Russell's answer to that question. I will argue that given some modification and elaboration of Russell's views, his claim that some universals are knowable by acquaintance is plausible.

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J. Franklin , ‘Aristotelian Realism’ in The Philosophy of Mathematics ed. A. Irvine (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2009), 103

F. Jackson , ‘What Mary Didn't Know’, Journal of Philosophy 83, (1986), 291295

E. Conee , ‘Phenomenal Knowledge’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 72, (1994), 136150

D. Rakison and Y. Yermolayeva , ‘Infant categorisation’, WIREs Cognitive Science (2010), 1, 894905

P. Quinn et al.Developmental change in form categorization in early infancy’, British Journal of Developmental Psychology 19 (2001), 207218

P. Quinn et al.Development of categorical representations for above and below spatial relations in 3- to 7-month-old infantsDevelopmental Psychology 32 (1996), 942950

P. Quinn C. ‘Spatial representation by young infants: Categorization of spatial relations or sensitivity to a crossing primitive?Memory & Cognition 32 (2004), 852861

P. Quinn et al.Evidence for representations of perceptually similar natural categories by 3-month-old and 4-month-old infantsPerception 22 (1993) 463475

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
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