Berkeley’s view of language underlies his attack on Locke’s ‘abstract general ideas’ [ibid. 6-18]. He supposes Locke to be saying that we can have ideas (that is, images) not only of equilateral triangles, right-angled triangles, and so on, but also an idea of a triangle which is both all and none of these at the same time — a claim that Berkeley rejects. We may use the phrase ‘abstract general idea’, but it has no reference or denotatum: it does not ‘signify’. However, he does not reject general ideas as such, only the view that any general name has “one precise and definite signification” [18]. General words like ‘material substance’, ‘triangle’ are not proper names (which signify particular things). So what are general ideas? According to Berkeley a general word “signifies indifferently a great number of particular ideas” [ibid.] By this he means that, say, ‘triangle’ may refer to this triangle or that triangle, but not to a ‘general triangle’ or triangularity. A particular idea “becomes general by being made to represent or stand for all other particular ideas of the same sort” 12]. Therein lies its universality [c].


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