[Cross-posted from philosophymodsquadwordpress.com.]
Hobbes was a nominalist, in that he believed that “there is nothing universal but names” (EL 5.6), so there are neither universal things nor universal ideas. But why did he believe this?
In chapter 5 of the Elements of Law, having introduced names, Hobbes distinguishes between universal and singular names: singular names name one thing, while universal names name more than one thing. As an example of a universal name he gives ‘man’, which is a name given “to every particular of mankind” (EL 5.5), that is, to every individual man.
Having distinguished the two sorts of name, Hobbes goes on to note that the universality of certain names has lead some to think that there are also universal things (EL 5.6). On this view
besides Peter and John, and all the rest of the men that are, have been, or shall be in the world, there is yet somewhat else that we call man, (viz.) man in general, deceiving themselves by taking the universal, or general appellation, for the thing it signifieth (EL 5.6).