Proof For/Against Nominalism?

Hello, I’ve been struggling with the idea of nominalism, which is the “rejection of abstract objects or the rejection of universals.” Realism is used for “pragmatic, conceptual purposes, but it simply doesn’t hold up in nature.”

Aquinas’ essence and existence argument shows that: “everything supposedly has both essence and existence and they are two separate properties; only God has them together.

The essence of something is the ‘what’ of a thing – what it is. You can describe a lion and this would be its essence. That description, or that essence, though, does not make it exist…

God is the only entity whose essence and existence are indistinguishable…

On essence and existence, these things are ideas. To me, ideas are, as I have said so many times, concepts within our minds. I am a conceptual nominalist, so abstract ideas like essence and existence have no ontic reality. That is to say, if all sentient beings (humans) were to die, then all such abstract ideas would die with them. They don’t exist outside of conceiving minds…

Aquinas accepts that something can become F gradually. It starts out existing as potentially F and goes through a process of change and winds up actually F. So what was it in between? Say, one of his examples, someone changing from black to white or the reverse. Or someone becoming musical. If the change is by degrees, then in the beginning stages, the form is not yet actualized. Is there a tipping point at which Socrates ‘pale’ becomes Socrates ‘dark’? Or when a child who can play a few tunes is not yet in control of the art - where’s the tipping point when s/he becomes ‘musical’?.. We have to allow that acorns don’t produce maple trees. But Aquinas has to allow that the form of ‘oak’ is not fully instantiated in the sapling, and it’s not in the acorn in any actual way, since the acorn is not a tree. And there was an age when there were no oaks or maples…

[Micro & macro evolution] shows that species don’t have essences, and don’t have categorical boundaries set in abstract stone. We, technically, should treat all organisms as individuals, as particulars alone that happen to have similar properties but that are not identical. Aquinas treats them as analogical, each being similar but different, but those similarities are essences that really exist in the particular. There is the essence of a tiger and of a mouse. But, for me, which type of mouse – do we now have to break up this mousenesses into yet smaller or different essences? And what happens around the blurred evolutionary transition between non-mouse and mouse?” (emphasis mine)

“The simple fact of the matter is that we can invent and do invent any category we want. We categorise foetus through baby, infant, toddler, child, adolescent through to adult, pensioner and so on.”

So is there any proof for/against nominalism? How can we know essentialism or moderate realism is true? Any thoughts?

“Mankind” is an abstraction. “Men” are real. When all the men are gone, what remains of mankind?

I can show you a man, I cannot show you a mankind.

Can a rational being still know what a lion is even after they go extinct?

Can I know what a million side polygon is without one ever actually existing?

This topic is a good question though. I’ll try and return later.

I get the impression the rich should not get richer. Yet there are the people that drive the econ

You’ve misquoted me.

Also I tend to avoid the Philosophy forum.

Carry on.

Yes, that’s my point.

Reading the article, essences aren’t ontic entities, though. Ay ay ay. He speaks to a difference between the realism of Plato and Aristotle then speaks of Aristotlean essences as if they’re Platonic Forms.

What do you make of the article and/or nominalism? Can we know essentialism or moderate realism to be true? If yes, how so? How would we define something’s essence within the process of potential to actual: redness to purple shades, “blurred evolutionary transition between non-mouse and mouse?”

“To know is one thing, to exist is another.”

So why do some “knowable” things exist, and other “knowable” things don’t?

Is it just the luck of the draw?

Or is there some reason intrinsic to existence itself that causes some knowable things to exist, and other knowable things not to?

@Veritas6 @lelinator

The article is a hodge podge of different points. For example, common essences between anything isn’t necessary to make a distinction between essence and an existence. All that matters is whether it’s demonstrable that they are distinct principles in which one is not reducible to the other. If there was no such thing as complex essences such as dogs, humans, and roses but only fundamental essences such as electrons, up quarks, and down quarks that is enough. So would every individual electron being something else than every other electron, each having a particular essence. The whatness of a thing distinct from its thatness. Granted, that level of particularity would be incoherent, I’d argue, but it isn’t a refutation of an essence and existence distinction.

The question that matters for essences is whether it’s demonstrable that what a thing is is distinct and irreducible to that a thing is. What the essence of a dog is, whether a dog and a wolf have different essences, and so on, aren’t “gotchas” for the distinction. Neither is transition. What we know of any given essence is known from observation, not logical demonstration, and what is known by observation is subject to change as observation improves and continues.

There are different types of nominalism, too. There is nominalism towards universals which refers to universal commonality between things of the same “form.” However, not everyone that is a nominalism for universals are nominalists for all abstract objects. Other examples of abstract objects of this type may be propositions and mathematical objects. Granted, some people are nominalist for all types.

That does come with some unresolved baggage, too, though.

I’d like to comment later on the essence and existence distinction and more specifically on realism towards universals and abstraction.

Well, that question could be examined in any number of ways from accidental series of causes to God’s action, but at a fundamental level something that exists has an act of existence whereas something that doesn’t exist… doesn’t. Then there is existing in an intelligible way VS natural way, and that bears on philosophy of the mind.

That is not true. It is entirely possible that we may be mistaken about what a particular essence is substantially speaking, but it is impossible for there not to be what a thing actually is. There is always a whatness of a thing in that there are evidently natures that are substantially distinct; and that is to say there is always what a thing is in any given state. It is self evident that things have natures about them, and thus it is true that there is such a thing as essence. Now it may be the case with evolution that substantial differences might get blurred, but i don’t see it is as therefore being logically permissible to say that essences don’t objectively exist, because the only alternatives would be that everything is either essentially identical in nature or the whatness of a thing doesn’t exist at all, which would render it’s existence as being nothing at all; in which case it would be meaningless to say that it exists. Since the alternatives are incoherent in comparison to objective reality, then essences exist even if there is difficulty in identifying them because there has to be that which distinguishes a thing from other things. Even if we take it to the extreme and say that a biological organism is only one essential nature with the only differences being accidental, one still has to admit that a substantial essence exists.

Women? Children?

The general convention is, when the word “man” is used as I used it, it refers to all humans.

A quick and effective field test of the concept of absolutes:

Hit your thumb with a hammer.

Not a betting man, but I’ll bet that it hurts each and every time. Heck, there’s probably a government-funded study of that as we speak.

I’m going to try to do piecemeal contributions. I mentioned before that even if we didn’t accept that “complex” entities such as humans, dogs, or trees had universal, common essences, it would be incoherent to say that fundamental entities do not. By fundamental entities, I am referring to particles such as electrons, quarks, and gluons. If it’s eventually determined that these themselves have more fundamental building blocks, that’s fine. The point just transfers to those.

If one electron is not the same type of thing as another electron in the sense that “being an electron” was not really universally common between them, then it follows that any observations made of one cannot be applied to the other. If they are not the same type of thing, if there’s nothing universally common between them (or their hypothetical more fundamental parts), then there is no basis for assuming any type of commonality between them. You may get away with denying that humans are all particulars and not universals, but any type of commonality between them is reducible to the commonality of the fundamental parts and the relationships (chemical reactions) between them.

But if there are no essences at least at the fundamental level, there is no reason these things should be at all the same. We should expect no regularities in nature, no scientific epistemological methods to be coherent, no predictive sciences possible or the ability to apply observations of Sample A to Sample B. But that’s not the world we live in. The world we live in has regularities, epistemological methods of conducting science and making predictions, etc… That there are at least universal essences at the fundamental level is consistent with the reality of the world we live in and our epistemological methods. The proposal that there are not is not born out by any experience or observation of the world and is in fact grossly contrary to that experience.

This post was on universality of essences. The distinction between an essence and the act of existence of a thing is something else. As are discussions of universals and abstract objects in a more general sense.

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You concentrated on essences, but perhaps it would be easier to concentrate on abstract objects.

So, to start, hopefully you would agree that 2 + 2 = 4.

However, if nominalism was true, how could that be possible? In such case, when I say that 2 + 2 = 4, I refer to concepts “2”, “+”, “=”, “4” in my mind, while you refer to the concepts in your mind. Why would they be identical? Or even similar?

You can’t solve this problem by suggesting that it has something to do with common human essence, since, well, you also have to deny essences.

As you can see, the price for accepting nominalism is great: now Little Johnny learning arithmetic becomes an unsolvable mystery.

And do you have anything of value to show for it…?

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I suppose this would be a counter argument, but I think it misses your point about the fundamental parts of our universe (electrons, quarks, and gluons):

If you argue that objective ideas do exist, then it is also the case that the range of all possible entities must also exist objectively, even if they don’t exist materially. Without wanting to labour my previous point, a ‘forqwibllex’ is a fork with a bent handle and a button on the end (that has never been created and I have ‘made-up’). This did not exist before now, either objectively or subjectively. Now it does—have I created it objectively? This is what happens whenever humans make up a label for anything to which they assign function etc [i.e. how dictionaries work].

Also, things that other animals use that don’t even have names, but to which they have assigned ‘mental labels’, for want of better words, must also exist objectively under this logic. For example, the backrubby bit of bark on which a family of sloths scratch their backs on a particular tree exists materially. They have no language, so it has no label as such (it can be argued that abstracts are a function of language). Yet even though it only has properties to a sloth, and not to any other animal, objectivists should claim it must exist objectively.”

The idea that we need names for “forms” is absurd. We do as human beings use names, but the fact that some things aren’t yet named or known by man don’t mean anything.

And the objection kind of hits a point between Aristotle’s Realism and Thomist Realism. Like Aristotle, Thomists agree that there is no “realm of forms” where forms objectively just exist in themselves, which is what Plato proposed. Forms are real insofar as they belong to/inhere in actually existing entities. They do not have independent existence. This manner of existence is a “natural existence.” For Aristotle, forms are only real in that sense, when they inhere in a natural way in an actual thing as the formal cause of it.

But there’s a hole, there. Do these things cease to be truths if there is no currently existing thing that has the form and if no human knows the form? What about propositions and mathematical statements? The Thomist goes further than Aristotle by also saying that all forms and abstract objects have an intelligle existence “in” the Divine Intellect, insofar as God knows all forms and patterns eternally as his essence. And whatever we choose to name a form is irrelevant.

Sorry. This post of mine feels sloppy to me.

Edit: As a corollary, there’s an interesting distinction regarding all forms existing intelligibly in the Divine Intellect. These forms are not independent of God as something external to him which he knows. But neither are they arbitrarily determined by him to be what they are. God’ s choice isn’t in defining forms arbitrarily but in choosing which to bring into being. These forms are eternal and derivative of Being Itself. They are known by God because he knows himself as Subsistent Being. They are, in a sense, his essence, of what Subsistent Being is. I wouldn’t limit it at that, mind.

That is a good point. I think the objector assumes this or doesn’t understand because this is part of his argument against the Kalam (which incidentally I don’t accept, but it’s applicable):

“Now let’s take an animal – a cat. What is this ‘chair’ to it? I imagine a visual sensation of ‘sleep thing’. To an alien? It looks rather like a shmagflan because it has a planthoingj on its fdanygshan. Labels are conceptual and depend on the conceiving mind, subjectively. So, after all that, what has begun to exist? A causally inert abstract concept.

You see, once we strip away the labels and concepts, all we have left is matter and energy which is only ever involved in what has been called transformative creation, meaning it doesn’t begin to exist, but is being constantly being reformed throughout time. It only began to exist at the Big Bang or similar (in Craig’s model)…

the term ‘everything’ is actually synonymous with ‘the universe’, with the universe being a set of finite energy and matter that has remained, in accordance with the Law of the Conservation of Energy, constant over time. We have agreed, then, that abstract concepts might begin to exist, but these are causally inert and do not exist objectively – only in the minds of the conceiver. So that leaves matter and energy, which has always existed because it is, in effect, the universe itself. It is not that the universe is ‘made up’ of lots of matter and energy making it something, it simply is a quantity of matter and energy.” (Emphasis mine)

From what I’ve read, Aquinas’ Argument from Motion would work even in an eternal universe. How would that work?

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