Research Article

Russell on Knowledge of Universals by Acquaintance

M. Giaquinto 

University College London


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.

Marcus Giaquinto is a Professor of Philosophy at University College London. His primary research area is philosophy of mathematics. He is the author of The Search for Certainty: A Philosophical Account of Foundations of Mathematics (2002) and Visual Thinking in Mathematics: An Epistemological Study (2007). He is currently working on knowledge of abstracta.