nLab abstract general, concrete general and concrete particular




The category theoretic notions of

on the one hand and of

on the other have been suggested (Lawvere) to usefully formalize, respectively, the heuristic notions

  • “general” and “particular”

as well as

  • “abstract” and “concrete”, respectively.

We have:

That seems to be roughly what is suggested in Lawvere. Of course one could play with this further and consider further refinement such as

  • a (generating) object in TT is an abstract particular ;

  • an object of any TMod(E)T Mod(E) is a concrete particular.



The syntactic category T GrpT_{Grp} of the theory of groups is the “general abstract” of groups. Its essentially unique generating object is the abstract particular group.

The category T GrpMod(Set)=T_{Grp} Mod(Set) = Grp of all groups is the concrete general of groups.

An object in there is some group: a concrete particular.


The category-theoretic formalization of these notions as proposed by Bill Lawvere is disussed in print for instance in

See also an email comment recorded here.

For discussion of “particular” and related in philosophy see also

The terminology is inspired by

for instance

EL§61 If we are to believe the Critical philosophy, thought is subjective, and its ultimate and invincible mode is abstract universality or formal identity. Thought is thus set in opposition to Truth, which is no abstraction, but concrete universality. In this highest mode of thought, which is entitled Reason, the Categories are left out of account. The extreme theory on the opposite side holds thought to be an act of the particular only, and on that ground declares it incapable of apprehending the Truth. This is the Intuitional theory.

§71 It is only after profounder acquaintance with the other sciences that logic ceases to be for subjective spirit a merely abstract universal and reveals itself as the universal which embraces within itself the wealth of the particular

§1323 This universal Notion, which we have now to consider here, contains the three moments: universality, particularity and individuality.

§1337b When people talk of the determinate Notion, what is usually meant is merely such an abstract universal.

§1599 Such a universal which merely subsumes, is an abstraction which only becomes concrete in something else, in the particular. End, on the contrary, is the concrete universal, which possesses in its own self the moment of particularity

PS§456b This common element is either any one particular side of the object raised to the form of universality, such as, for example, in the rose, the red colour; or the concrete universal, the genus, for example, in the rose, the plant;

See also in and around the section The genus

Survey of these Hegelian ideas includes

  • John Grier Hibben, Eric v.d. Luft, Hegel’s Shorter Logic: An Introduction and Commentary

where on p. 143 it says about the Shorter Logic:

Particularity and individuality are related as “abstract” and “concrete”, respectively. The particular is the “abstract individual”. The individual is the “concrete particular”. The universal is their union, and may be either “abstract” or “concrete”. The so-called “concrete universal” is Hegel’s gold standard for conceptual thought [[]].

For a discussion of proponents of the concrete universal in British philosophy, and of their divergences from, and continuities with, Hegelian thought, see

  • Robert Stern, Hegel, British idealism, and the curious case of the concrete universal, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 15(1) 2007: 115 – 153 (pdf)

where he cites the philosopher Bernard Bosanquet

A world or cosmos is a system of members, such that every member, being ex hypothesi distinct, nevertheless contributes to the unity of the whole in virtue of the peculiarities which constitute its distinctness. And the important point for us at present is the difference of principle between a world and a class. It takes all sorts to make a world; a class is essentially of one sort only. In a word, the difference is that the ultimate principle of unity and community is fully exemplified in the former, but only superficially in the latter. The ultimate principle, we may say, is sameness in the other; generality is sameness in spite of the other; universality is sameness by means of the other. (Bosanquet, The Principle of Individuality and Value, 3)

and T. M. Knox

An abstract universal has no organic connexion with its particulars. Mind, or reason, as a concrete universal, particularizes itself into differences which are interconnected by its universality in the same way in which parts of the organism are held together by the single life which all things share. The parts depend on the whole for their life, but on the other hand the persistence of life necessitates the differentiation of the part. (Translator’s notes to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952))

For general related discussion see also

Last revised on May 30, 2020 at 08:52:20. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.