Sunday, January 13, 2008

Nominalism - The Source of Man's Degradation?

I remember talking about this with a friend one evening and I came to some interesting conclusions that had honestly never crossed my mind before.

Many people see the degradation of man with the philosophy of Descartes. Indeed, Descartes' dualistic leanings give rise to many problems about the state of knowledge, man's experience, and thus man's attaining of knowledge.

But at least universals still exist in Descartes mind.

I think the problem is in nominalism.

Nominalism states that there is no such thing as universals, but that there are only particulars which have similarities for which we construct universal concepts for the sake of simplifying the world. In reality, however, according to the nominalist, these universals are just constructs and do not actually exist.

Why is this a problem?

I see it as a problem because it denies that which individuates man from the rest of the animals.

Man is different because he can abstract things. When we see a cup, we see not only the cup, but we are able to grasp its essence in our mind. Animals, on the other hand, are never able to go past the particular. They may be able to have the experience of a cup, but they can never know cupness, that is, the essence of what makes a cup a cup.

With nominalism, we fall into the trap of denying the theory of abstraction in which hinges man's distinguishing factor.

We thus fall into a degradation that is contrary to our nature. Why do you think relativism has come about? It has come about because we no longer believe we are able to have abstract concepts when in reality they are at the center of our life, we experience abstraction at every moment of the day.

If we are to just give a name to a particular, then we have this notion of the inability to abstract. We thus become like the rest of the animals and see things for their purely physical nature and deny the metaphysical aspect of things, which we call materialism, which is the root of consumerism and all other isms that are destroying society today.

Some people say sometimes "what's the point of discussing theories of the past?" We see here, however, that Nominalism, which is a theory from about the 12th century onwards, has had drastic implications that has denied everything in which we experience. We must equip ourselves so we can engage others to bring them to the beauty, splendor, and wonder of truth.



Tim said...

I agree that nominalism is the source of most of the nastiness that underlies today's thought, both popular and intellectual. Among other things, it's what makes Darwin's theory--an otherwise harmless account of a natural occurrence--something potentially anti-Christian if taken to a metaphysical level.

But think of it in terms of community, too: if I am something unto myself (I don't share a nature with anything else), then I can never come into true communion with another person. I am something completely original, and all that's left is to impose my will on others or to have theirs imposed on me (kinda like with Nietzsche).

For me, that's huge--we lose all true personal contact and become distant from God, nature, and each other, and everything simply becomes utilitarian.


Harrison said...

That is a very interesting insight on the nature of man as a society as well and I think you're right. It destroys the social nature of man. Society as a reality can no longer exist with individuals who are complete unto themselves. Thus society becomes a Hobbesian affair, in which there is nothing but social contract in exchange for power rights.

Thanks so much for the comment, I will definitely reflect on it more because I think you are making a very VERY essential point that never crossed my mind, I completely forgot to think of it in terms of community.

I see you're a Seminarian...which Diocese?

Tim said...

Diocese of Peoria. If you want to talk more, I'm on facebook (Tim Hepner) and I have e-mail ( I'm studying in Winona, MN at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary.

God Bless brother.