Abstract Ideas – Definition

abstract ideas

What is an abstract Idea ?

Abstract ideas is a concept the peculiar nature has been a long-standing concern with philosophers. If words are employed meaningfully then, surely, the user must have an idea of what they mean. Indeed perhaps thaht idea is the meaning ?

Granted this seductively obvious assumption, then a questions arises about such general words as “man”, “animal” or “triangle”. Since they cannot refer to anything individual and particular, maybe what is involded is abstract ideas as special kinds of mental images. Locke, for example, once suggested that such abstract general ideas must have all the diverse characteristics of all the individuals belonging to the class “yet all and none of these at once” (Essay).

Berkeley leapt upon this unhappy suggestion, excoriating it as contradictory and absurd. His own first proposal was later hailed by Hume as “one of the greatest and most valuable discoveries that has been made of late years in the republic of letters” (Treatise). Offered in the Principles,  it was what we employ a particular idea from the class, as representative of it. Later, Berkeley sketched but never developed an altogether different account, suggestive of the later Wittgenstein: significant expressions may have meaning simply because they have a use.

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