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Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
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GaryLouisSmith
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Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by GaryLouisSmith » June 27th, 2019, 1:45 am

Jorge Luis Borges is one of my favorite writers. He was an anti-realist, but he very well describes the strangeness of the Real.

From From Allegories to Novels -

In the arduous schools of the Middle Ages, everyone invokes Aristotle, master of human reason; but the nominalists are Aristotle, the realists, Plato. George Henry Lewes has opined that the only medieval debate of some philosophical value is between nominalism and realism; the opinion is somewhat rash, but it underscores the importance of this tenacious controversy, provoked, at the beginning of the ninth century, by a sentence from Porphyry, translated and commented upon by Boethius; sustained, toward the end of the eleventh, by Anselm and Roscelin; and revived by William of Occam in the fourteenth.

As one would suppose, the intermediate positions and nuances multiplied ad infinitum over those many years; yet it can be stated that, for realism, universals (Plato would call them ideas, forms; we would call them abstract concepts) were the essential; for nominalism, individuals. The history of philosophy is not a useless museum of distractions and wordplay; the two hypotheses correspond, in all likelihood, to two ways of intuiting reality. Maurice de Wulf writes: "Ultra-realism garnered the first adherents. The chronicler Heriman (eleventh century) gives the name 'antiqui doctores' to those who teach dialectics in re; Abelard speaks of it as an 'antique doctrine' , and until the end of the twelfth century; the name moderni is applied to its adversaries." A hypothesis that is now inconceivable seemed obvious in the ninth century, and lasted in some form into the fourteenth. Nominalism, once the novelty of a few, today encompasses everyone; its victory is so vast and fundamental that its name is useless, no one declares himself a nominalist because no one is anything else. Let us try to understand, nevertheless, that for the men of the Middle Ages the fundamental thing was not men but humanity, not individuals but the species, not the species but the genus, not the genera but God. From such concepts (whose clearest manifestation is perhaps the quadruple system of Erigena) allegorical literature, as I understand it, derived. Allegory is a fable of abstractions, as the novel is a fable of individuals. The abstractions are personified; there is something of the novel in every allegory. The individuals that novelists present aspire to be generic; there is an element of allegory in novel.

The passage from allegory to novel, from species to individual, from realism to nominalism, required several centuries, but I shall have the temerity to suggest an ideal date: the day in 1382 when Geoffrey Chaucer, who may not have believed himself to be a nominalist, set out to translate into English a line by Boccaccio – "E con gli occulti ferri Tradimenti" (And Betrayal with hidden weapons) – and repeated it as "The smyler with the knyf under the cloke." The original is in the seventh book of the Teseide; the English version, in "The night's Tale."

The last paragraph of The Total Library by Borges –

One of the habits of the mind is the invention of horrible imaginings. The mind has invented Hell, it has invented predestination to Hell, it has imagined the Platonic Ideas, the chimera, the sphinx, abnormal transfinite numbers (whose parts are no smaller than the whole), masks, mirrors. Operas, the teratological Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the unresolvable Ghost, articulated into a single organism … I have tried to rescue from oblivion a subaltern horror: the vast, contradictory Library, whose vertical wildernesses of books run the incessant risk of changing into others that affirm, deny, and confuse everything like a delirious god.

From A History of Eternity by Borges –

The ideal universe to which Plotinus summons us is less intent on variety than on plenitude; it is a select repertory, tolerating neither repetition nor pleonasm: the motionless and terrible museum of the Platonic archetypes. I do not know if mortal eyes ever saw it (outside of oracular vision or nightmare), or if the remote Greek who devised it ever made its acquaintance, but I sense something of the museum in it: still, monstrous, and classified …

And a footnote from the same –

I do not wish to bid farewell to Platonism (which seems icily remote) without making the following observation, in the hope that others may pursue and justify it: The generic can be more intense than the concrete. There is no lack of examples to illustrate this. During the boyhood summers I spent in the north of the province of Buenos Aires, I was intrigued by the rounded plain and the men who were butchering in the kitchen, but awful indeed was my delight when I learned that the circular space was the "pampa" and those men "gauchos". The same is true of the imaginative man who falls in love. The generic (the repeated name, the type, the fatherland, the tantalizing destiny invested in it) takes priority over individual features, which are tolerated only because of their prior genre. The extreme example – the person who falls in love by word of mouth – is very common in the literatures of Persia and Arabia.

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by Karpel Tunnel » June 28th, 2019, 3:55 pm

Some universals seem like a stretch to me. Like kindness and wisdom are virtues and the universal exists. IN minds, ok, but not in some other way.

But then dogs seems like a platonic surity.

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by SnarkyBuddha » June 28th, 2019, 6:09 pm

I wonder how one might map archetypes and complexity theory onto a realist/nominalist distinction.

Archetypes refer to the visionary substructure of mythology that gives rise to repeated themes, characters, motifs etc. seen in world mythology. Archetypes proceed from abstraction into particularity; thus the 'hero' archetype is broadly one who enters into the unknown, faces some trial, and returns to society with the rewards/knowledge gained. Orpheus enters the underworld to rescue his lost bride; this is a mythical variant of the archetype. My neighbor facing fears and switching careers and finding new purpose as a result is a particular instantiation. Participation in archetypal forms gives life its mythic feeling. Great literature is archetypal in nature; older stories as you said tend to be more general and abstract, more allegorical. The modern novel instead instantiates the archetype with more human characters, thus contextualizing it and bringing into relevance the troubles of the day.

A crucial element in the theory of archetypes is that these are original to substructures in the human psyche, and thus, while colored by culture in the particular images they may partake in, actually precede that culture. There is an evolved capacity; archetypes, the building blocks of narrative and myth, are psychophysiologically instantiated accounts of events that occur not just once, but again and again in the history of the human species. There seems to be a second mode of mind that is more imagistic and symbolic, that may partake more immediately in archetypal representations of reality. This is the realm of dreams, mystic experience, psychedelics, poetry, etc. I am not particularly well-versed in Plato, but perhaps he had visionary experiences where, like those emerging from the Cave, he 'saw' the 'reality' that lay behind the immediate visual consensus reality. These sorts of experience are enough to shake even the most hard headed among us into a confusion leading to some existential search; the primacy of the experience demands explanation, incorporation into one's world-view.

So there may be a case of there being 'two worlds' represented by separate but interacting representative sub-systems in the human psyche. One that goes about business as usual representing the world in a way conducive to daily goal-oriented tasks centered around the five-senses and well within the culturally-instantiated normative perceptions and values. The other that represents imagistically and symbolically and allows always for a sudden 'return' to an 'original' perception, that is, an archetypal conception of reality. Interesting, dream can be utilized to process the days events and awake fresh with new takes on tired problems. Those who do not sleep properly do not dream properly quickly go insane; a return to the source is necessary for mental well-being, though this is just my conjecture.

I think a good contemporary account that can give credence to this sort of dual polarity between general and particular is complexity theory and fractal self-similarity. In complexity theory very small differences in initial conditions over many iterations with simple dynamics can produce radically different results. Fractals are a define mathematical set with simple rules that produce wildly complex images with near infinite particularity in local phenomena, yet the entire image as you zoom in contains repeating themes and motifs of 'self-similarity'. Take a relatively simple context of human survival; humans must consume calories in the form of food in order to have energy to complete tasks. Yet small differences in the mode of food gathering and preparation lead to all the worlds cuisines, the cultures and traditions surrounding food. yet there are thematic similarities across these food traditions. Do you see the theme or the particular instantiation of that theme? A particular dish can never be reduced entirely to the theme, and the theme cannot exist without particular instantiations.

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by Felix » June 29th, 2019, 2:15 pm

"But then dogs seems like a platonic surity."

Why, did Plato have a dog?
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by Sculptor1 » June 29th, 2019, 2:45 pm

Gosh. You can practice nominalism and realism at the same time.
In fact only a true realist accepts the ideas of nominaliam.

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by Karpel Tunnel » June 29th, 2019, 5:01 pm

Felix wrote:
June 29th, 2019, 2:15 pm
"But then dogs seems like a platonic surity."

Why, did Plato have a dog?
baddum tish

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by Consul » June 30th, 2019, 12:03 am

GaryLouisSmith wrote:
June 27th, 2019, 1:45 am
Jorge Luis Borges is one of my favorite writers. He was an anti-realist, but he very well describes the strangeness of the Real.

From From Allegories to Novels -
In the arduous schools of the Middle Ages, everyone invokes Aristotle, master of human reason; but the nominalists are Aristotle, the realists, Plato.
No, Aristotle is not a nominalist (antirealist) about universals. There's Plato's realistic theory of transcendent universals (universalia ante rem), and there's Aristotle's realistic theory of immanent universals (universalia in re).
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by GaryLouisSmith » June 30th, 2019, 7:41 am

Consul wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 12:03 am
GaryLouisSmith wrote:
June 27th, 2019, 1:45 am
Jorge Luis Borges is one of my favorite writers. He was an anti-realist, but he very well describes the strangeness of the Real.

From From Allegories to Novels -
In the arduous schools of the Middle Ages, everyone invokes Aristotle, master of human reason; but the nominalists are Aristotle, the realists, Plato.
No, Aristotle is not a nominalist (antirealist) about universals. There's Plato's realistic theory of transcendent universals (universalia ante rem), and there's Aristotle's realistic theory of immanent universals (universalia in re).
Yes, you are right. Aristotle is often called a moderate realist. I think Borges called him a nominalist because he lowered the ontological status of universals. He gave individual substance primary existence and the forms secondary existence, and thus Aristotle did take the first step toward nominalism. I personally prefer Platonic extreme realism. What about you?

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by Belindi » June 30th, 2019, 11:55 am

GaryLouisSmith quoted:
The generic (the repeated name, the type, the fatherland, the tantalizing destiny invested in it) takes priority over individual features, which are tolerated only because of their prior genre. The extreme example – the person who falls in love by word of mouth – is very common in the literatures of Persia and Arabia
you soon arrive at idolatry by this road whether it's an unreal love or a political ideology.

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by Consul » June 30th, 2019, 7:16 pm

GaryLouisSmith wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 7:41 am
Yes, you are right. Aristotle is often called a moderate realist. I think Borges called him a nominalist because he lowered the ontological status of universals. He gave individual substance primary existence and the forms secondary existence, and thus Aristotle did take the first step toward nominalism. I personally prefer Platonic extreme realism. What about you?
First of all, there's a relevant distinction between two basic kinds of universals: substantial ones (kinds: species, genera, sorts, types) and non-substantial ones (attributes: properties [qualities/quantities] or relations).

(Kinds qua substantial universals are also called "secondary substances"—as opposed to individual objects as "primary substances"; and they have also been called "substantial forms".)

I'm a realist about attributes, but I'm not a realist about (substantial or non-substantial) universals, because I think all attributes (properties or relations) are particulars (called modes or tropes) rather than universals.
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by Consul » June 30th, 2019, 7:21 pm

+++By the way, this thread is in the wrong subforum!+++
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by GaryLouisSmith » June 30th, 2019, 9:04 pm

Consul wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 7:16 pm
GaryLouisSmith wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 7:41 am
Yes, you are right. Aristotle is often called a moderate realist. I think Borges called him a nominalist because he lowered the ontological status of universals. He gave individual substance primary existence and the forms secondary existence, and thus Aristotle did take the first step toward nominalism. I personally prefer Platonic extreme realism. What about you?
First of all, there's a relevant distinction between two basic kinds of universals: substantial ones (kinds: species, genera, sorts, types) and non-substantial ones (attributes: properties [qualities/quantities] or relations).

(Kinds qua substantial universals are also called "secondary substances"—as opposed to individual objects as "primary substances"; and they have also been called "substantial forms".)

I'm a realist about attributes, but I'm not a realist about (substantial or non-substantial) universals, because I think all attributes (properties or relations) are particulars (called modes or tropes) rather than universals.
First I want to say that it is a pleasure to find someone on this forum who knows something about these matters. You do seem to have a scholarly understanding of just what a universal is. I am currently trying to place your ideas within the vast field of ontology. I should say that I am trying to understand you. Perhaps I am trying to make a mental picture, a schema, of how your ideas fit together.

From where I stand you are not a realist, but a nominalist. As I understand a universal, it is what you call a substantial universal. You do have non-substantial universals, which you call attributes in the first paragraph. They are properties, qualities, quantities or relations. And those are individuals, tropes or modes.

You write, “I'm a realist about attributes, but I'm not a realist about (substantial or non-substantial) universals,” But in the first paragraph you say “ … and non-substantial ones (attributes: properties [qualities/quantities] or relations).”

Perhaps you are saying that attributes are not universals, but tropes, and you do believe that tropes are real things.

As I use words, a realist is someone who believes in universals, not tropes. I think you are saying that a realist might believe in tropes (attributes) and not universals. If that’s what you mean, then I suppose I could get used to your meaning. But you should remember that I have always associated tropes with nominalism. Many philosophers I read have also made that assumption.

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by GaryLouisSmith » June 30th, 2019, 9:06 pm

Consul wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 7:21 pm
+++By the way, this thread is in the wrong subforum!+++
Yes, I suppose it could be in the metaphysical subforum, but, in my opinion, if you are what I call a realist, you will eventually end up in religion.

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by Consul » June 30th, 2019, 9:59 pm

GaryLouisSmith wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 9:04 pm
First I want to say that it is a pleasure to find someone on this forum who knows something about these matters.
You're welcome!
GaryLouisSmith wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 9:04 pm
From where I stand you are not a realist, but a nominalist.
"Nominalism comes in at least two varieties. In one of them it is the rejection of abstract objects; in the other it is the rejection of universals."

Nominalism in Metaphysics: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nomi ... taphysics/

So, yes, I'm a nominalist about universals but a realist about attributes (monadic/one-place ones = properties & polyadic/many-place ones = relations).
GaryLouisSmith wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 9:04 pm
…Perhaps you are saying that attributes are not universals, but tropes, and you do believe that tropes are real things.
Exactly!
GaryLouisSmith wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 9:04 pm
As I use words, a realist is someone who believes in universals, not tropes. I think you are saying that a realist might believe in tropes (attributes) and not universals. If that’s what you mean, then I suppose I could get used to your meaning. But you should remember that I have always associated tropes with nominalism. Many philosophers I read have also made that assumption.
Right, but my point is that a nominalist/antirealist about universals needn't be a nominalist/antirealist about attributes. The view that attributes exist/are real but aren't universals can be called particularist(ic) realism (particularism), and the view that attributes (and kinds) exist/are real and are universals can be called universalist(ic) realism (universalism). (These aren't standard terms.)
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: Are you a Realist or a Nominalist?

Post by Consul » June 30th, 2019, 10:05 pm

Consul wrote:
June 30th, 2019, 9:59 pm
So, yes, I'm a nominalist about universals but a realist about attributes (monadic/one-place ones = properties & polyadic/many-place ones = relations).
To be honest, the more I think about them, the more I doubt that there really are relations. But that's a complicated ontological issue.

"But why, it may now be asked, should we have any compelling concern to eliminate all putatively ‘real’ relations? What is wrong with them? My basic answer is that they seem to be ontologically weird."

(Lowe, Jonathan E. "There Are (Probably) No Relations." In The Metaphysics of Relations, edited by Anna Marmodoro and David Yates, 100-112. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. p. 111)

Relations: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/relations/

Properties: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/properties/
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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