Soteriology of universals

Will Rasmussen will.rasmussen at KCL.AC.UK
Fri Oct 12 20:46:53 UTC 2007

The realist-nominalist debate over the epistemology and metaphysics  
of universals (sAmAnya) was/is as robust in the India as it was/is in  
the West. However, in a few places Plato defends real universals not  
only for their explanatory and even causative power, but also for  
their soteriological power, by which meditation upon them (e.g.,  
beauty, wisdom, goodness) is transformative of the mind/soul.  
Graphically portrayed are his myths of metempsychosis (Meno, Phaedrus  
and Republic), but only briefly does he ever identify meditation/ 
contemplation as the instrument/vehicle for determining the direction  
of the psyche's transmigration.

I am curious to inquire whether this use of universals as objects of  
meditation/contemplation was ever prescribed in any of the Indian  
schools of philosophy, where of course metempsychosis was so widely  
endorsed. In particular, I would be especially interested if India's  
staunch universal realists, nyAya and vaizeSika, ever did so. Can  
anyone suggest texts from nyAya or vaizeSika that address the  
soteriological use of universals, and not just their existence and  
explanatory power?

Failing that, might later mImAMsA address this anywhere, perhaps  
through their doctrine of the eternality of sound..., though I  
suspect this is rather a long shot.

And finally, I wonder whether the yoga darzana's meditation on the  
qualities of saguna brahman might in some text(s) be construed as  
reflection upon the universals (sAmAnya) of these qualities. I'm not  
thinking here so much of the Tantric theory of the transformative  
power of mantras purely by dint of their sound, but transformation by  
focus upon the meanings of the universals.

I should perhaps mention that in turning to traditions in India I am  
not seeking to put words in Plato's mouth, nor am I delving for  
directions in the diffusion of ideas. Instead, I am interested in  
seeing how different traditions (may have) developed the idea of the  
salvific effect of 'universals-contemplation' on the mind/soul.

Many thanks and best wishes to all,



Dr Will Rasmussen
Matilal Lecturer in Indian Philosophy
Department of Philosophy
King's College London
160 The Strand, London WC2R 2LS

Tel: 020 7848 2757
Email: will.rasmussen at

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list