Universals, Relations, and States of Affairs in the Austro-German and Medieval Traditions


The central goal of the SNF Research Project "Realisms. Universals, Relations, and States of Affairs in the Austro-German and Medieval Traditions" (2019-2023) is to clarify the category of metaphysical realism in a comparative perspective.

The term 'realism' is used with a broad variety of meanings in both philosophy and its history. The project focusses on metaphysical realism about three kinds of entities: universals, relations, and states of affairs. For a theory to be realist about entities of a certain kind, according to a now widespread characterisation, is for it to be committed to the existence of entities of that kind. However, corresponding to the different accounts of the nature of the entities to which a theory is committed, there are many importantly different varieties of realism. Different philosophers in different contexts and periods of the history of philosophy have provided examples of such varieties, and important continuities and interesting analogies can be found in many of the questions asked and the strategies employed to answer them. Two traditions stand out as particularly worthy of interest and exploration in this regard: that of 12th-to-14th-century medieval thinkers like Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, Albert the Great, Buridan, Burley, Wyclif, etc. and the Austro-German tradition of philosophers like Bolzano, Brentano, Meinong, Stumpf, Marty, Twardowski, Husserl, Ehrenfels, Reinach, Hartmann, Ingarden, and others.

The project, thus, explores medieval and Austro-German answers to such questions as: 'What is it for one and the same property - e.g. being human, red, square, just, good, ... - to be a universal?'; 'Is the distinction between particulars and universals a fundamental ontological distinction?'; 'Are all properties universals?'; 'What is it to exemplify a universal?'; 'Are there higher-order universals?'; 'What is it for two or more entities to stand in a relation (e.g. being taller than...; being seated between ... and __; being heavier than ...; being larger than ...)?'; 'Are relations (or at least some of them) universals?'; 'What kinds of entities are signified by declarative sentences?'; 'Are declarative sentences the primary bearers of truth and falsehood, or not?'; 'What are the primary bearers of de dicto modality?'; 'What are the contents and objects of our mental acts and states?'; 'Is it theoretically indispensable to postulate as distinct types of entities both propositions and states of affairs?'; 'Is realism about certain kinds of entities compatible with taking them to depend, at least in part, on someone's mental activities?'; and many others.

We expect to produce a comparative, historically accurate, and philosophically sound understanding and evaluation of realism in these two traditions, liable to serve contemporary developments of - indeed - realist approaches to metaphysics.

The project is hosted by the Genevan Inbegriff.



Principal Investigator
Laurent Cesalli

Scientific Collaborators
Romain Büchi
Guillaume Fréchette
Paolo Natali

Research Associates
Mauro Antonelli (Università di Milano-Bicocca)
Jeffrey Brower (Purdue University)
Damiano Costa (Università della Svizzera italiana)
Arnaud Dewalque (Université de Liège)
Gabriele Galluzzo (University of Exeter)
Charles Girard (Université de Genève)
Kevin Mulligan (Université de Genève & Università della Svizzera italiana)
Robert Pasnau (University of Colorado)
Giorgio Pini (Fordham University)
Hamid Taieb (Universität Berlin)
Caterina Tarlazzi (Université de Venise)




  • Autumn 2023 meetings of the research group Realisms.


  • May, 25-27, 2023: International Conference States of Affairs. Medieval and Austro-German Perspectives. Keynote Speakers: Alexandra Anisie (Babes-Bolyai), Johannes Brandl (Salzburg), Susan Brower-Toland (Saint Louis), Richard Gaskin (Liverpool), John Marenbon (Cambridge), Bo Meinertsen (Sheffield), Benjamin Schnieder (Wien), Ingrid Vendrell-Ferran (Marburg). Poster & Programme.
  • November, 10, 2022: Journée d'études on Austro-German realisms, Neuchâtel (Institut de Philosophie).
  • June, 2-4, 2022: International Conference Relations. Medieval and Austro-German Perspectives. Co-organised with GAP. Keynote Speakers: Guido Bonino (Torino), Jeffrey Brower (Purdue), Charles Girard (Genève), Uriah Kriegel (Rice), Kevin Mulligan (Lugano), Sonja Schierbaum (Würzburg), Peter Simons (Dublin), Hamid Taieb (Berlin). Poster & Programme.
  • May, 6-8, 2021: Online Workshop “Universals. Austrian and Medieval Perspectives”. Keynote speakers: Gabriele Galluzzo (Exeter) and Wolfgang Künne (Hamburg). Poster & Programme.
  • April 9, 2020: "The Universal-Particular Distinction: A Dogma of Metaphysics?": discussion of MacBride 2005;
  • February 19, 2020: "Universals in Albert the Great" (Programme);
  • January 16, 2020: "Universals in Anton Marty's Philosophy" (Programme);
  • December 12, 2019: "Universals in Husserl's Philosophy" (Programme);
  • November, 7, 2019: "Universals. From Contemporary to Austrian and Back Again" (Programme);
  • October 31, 2019: Lake Geneva Graduate Conference "Kinds - in Philosophy and Its History" (Organized with the CUSO, eidos, and dialectica): Programme.