Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Why Ockham isn't a Nominalist

He is a terminalist. I know a LOT of people fall into the error of seeing Ockham as a nominalist...but it is impossible when one looks at his writings.

A nominalist is someone who sees a lack of universals, that it is not objective forms that give things their nature, but the words that we give them. So, a nominalist would say that when they see what most of us know of as a book, the meaning of what a book is is up to what he decides to call it. It's the word that gives meaning, it has nothing to do with the reality of the thing itself.

So, in order to over this quickly, I will give a very quick crash course in Ockham's thought.

Ockham believes in the existence of terms and believes they correspond to reality. I will start from the lower and go up to the higher level, as he has a definite hierarchy of terms.

The lowest is written terms. Written terms signify (they point one towards) spoken terms. Spoken terms signify mental terms. Now this is where people think that Ockham stops. That it is mental terms that give meaning to everything. But in fact there is one more level of terms...the term itself, that is, the idea of what the thing is. This is what is not expressible in any sort of language, whether it be written, verbal, or mental, it is pure idea. It is this idea that corresponds to reality. Thus the term as such gets its meaning only from the thing to which it corresponds to. Thus the term of what a book is, the idea of what a book is to use a different word, is only meaningful because there are actual books out in the world to correspond to. Thus there is a meaning in his language.

And multiple objects can participate (to use a platonic word) in the common idea of book. There are objective universals out there in which one can get the idea of book as the particular idea of a specific book, for example, signifies the universal idea of book, it points towards that universal idea of the book. It, in a certain sense, corresponds to that objective reality.

Any comments on this? Am I clear?

-Harrison

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"This is what is not expressible in any sort of language, whether it be written, verbal, or mental, it is pure idea." Are you expressing it here (which you have stated cannopt be done)... or jare you ust referencing the exitance of the pure idea?

Also I hear Ockham didn't like to categorize things (like the Scholastics did?)... and didn't bother with much exploration of possible truths (using philosophical methods) since there is only one truth.

Geoff

Anonymous said...

jare you ust = are you just

Geoff

The Poodle said...

Ockham is a nominalist!