Département de philosophie

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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 concept of realism.

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 specific kinds of entities: universals; relations; and states of affairs. For a theory to be realist about certain entities, according to a now widespread characterisation, is for it to be committed to the existence of those entities. 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. Moreover, different philosophers in different contexts and periods of the history of philosophy have provided alternative characterisations of what it is to be realists and of the meaning of 'realism' and etymologically connected terms in other languages ('Realismus', 'réalisme', etc.). In all of these respects, two traditions stand out as particularly worthy of interest and exploration: that of Austro-German philosophers like Bolzano, Brentano, Meinong, Stumpf, Marty, Twardowski, Husserl, Ehrenfels, Reinach, Hartmann, Ingarden, etc., and that of 12th-to-14th-century medieval thinkers like Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, Albert the Great, Buridan, Burley, Wyclif, and others.

The project, thus, explores Austro-German and medieval 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 (i.e., according to a common view, to be simultaneously exemplifiable by many distinct entities)?'; 'Are any, some, or all properties 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 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 or 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




Journées on Realism about Universals in Austro-German and Contemporary Philosophy:
June, 11-13, 2020: Conference on Realism about Universals in Austro-German and Medieval Philosophy. Keynote speakers: Gabriele Galluzzo (Exeter) and Wolfgang Künne (Hamburg). Programme TBA.


 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.