It’s nearly a cliché to say that the modern condition is characterized by inescapable loneliness. Many people feel trapped inside themselves; and they see in others a fundamental separation and unknowability. Interaction with the outside world is ultimately prison-like, negotiated via telephone and glass partition. In the 20th century, this sense of alienation was expressed by numerous cultural movements, ranging from the Lost Generation to the punks. Self-destructive living and even suicide were not uncommon to these groups, and both inclinations continue to grow in the similar countercultures of today.
Yet, why is this the modern condition? Have we ever been different? Surprisingly, the answer is “yes”. In the pre-modern West, people felt connected to the natural world and to other humans. Identity was porous rather than buffered, in the words of philosopher and historian Charles Taylor. A blurry line—if that—separated the “inside” from the “outside”. Certain parts of the world still cling to this porous notion of self, particularly in those countries where Buddhistic, Taoic and Vedantic ideas remain embedded. So, what caused the West to change? Why was the lonely, isolated modernist born? The answer begins in the Middle Ages.
Notes on Berkeley's Empiricism: Nominalism & Immaterialism
Explain and analyze Berkeley’s arguments for the rejection of abstract ideas in the introduction to the Principles. What motivates this rejection and what role does it play in his rejection of materialism?
Abstract general ideas are arrived at through irresponsible use of language. Designating a word as a ‘sign’ for an assortment of similar objects, particular ideas of those objects, allegedly taxonomizes all particulars circumscribed by [the sign] as an abstract general idea. That is to say, all the particulars have a likeness in which they all partake.
Yet, each particular cannot be entirely abstracted from, and thus the idea that the word signifies might refer to a strong resemblance of particulars, viz. a general idea, but conceiving certain qualities as inseparable from any particular idea is always ineluctable.
Insofar as knowledge is about universal notions, the notions are general but not abstracted away from in the manner premised by Locke. This universal notion bears a relation to all the particulars it signifies insofar as they are sufficiently represented [by it].
Names or notions such as ‘man’, ‘horse’, ‘car’, are not abstract general ideas, for one always bears a particular idea in mind when reflecting on the universality. Thus the reflection on an idea is always of a particular idea, with particular qualities. You cannot, for instance, have a notion of ‘man’ with no nose in particular, no hair in particular, no body in particular, for then the idea is no longer of ‘man’ but of something else, an inconceivable blur.
It is imperative, however, that the particular notion of ‘man’ one reflects upon is, qua notion, accurately representative of ‘man’ in the universality of the signification for [the signification] to hold. So the word ‘man’ signifies the universality of all men you encounter in time and space, which partake in [it].
A definition does not signify a determinate abstraction from all its signified particulars. It is, on the contrary, an umbrella sign for all the varying particulars annexed by close notional relations. Hence names do not signify an exact, determinate idea. Rather, they operate as variables or place holders that grant access to the understanding for taxonomizing particulars. Names signify an indeterminate set of particulars.
In other words, names signify collections of ideas, particular ideas that designate an object. A book, for instance, has certain qualities we associate with the notion of ‘book’, but to abstract from all these particular ideas would be to divest the object of its notion; for ‘book’ is the compendium of all these particular ideas (which impress themselves onto our senses).
It thus follows that ideas exist insofar as a mind exists to perceive them. For the qualities of red, salty, rough, loud, do not exist but in the mind—as perceptions or ideas of objects; and abstracting them from the object would leave an inconceivable “extended” object of no particular notion, which as was aforesaid, is nonsensical. It cannot be, then, that ‘matter’ as is commonly understood exists. For it relies on an abstract general idea, in other words, on a contradictory notion of something that exists with no differentiating ideas and no qualities in particular.
Occam’s razor (See also lex parsimoniae)
The principle that recommends conciseness and succinctness in explaining something in a way that no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. In other words, fewer assumptions the better. The principle is often invoked in favor of or in juxtaposition with reductionism or nominalism.
“We have only to stop and consider a moment what was meant by the word real, when the whole issue soon becomes apparent. Objects are divided into figments, dreams, etc., on the one hand, and realities on the other. The former are those which exist only inasmuch as you or I or some man imagines them; the latter are those which have an existence independent of your mind or mine or that of any number of persons. The real is that which is not whatever we happen to think it, but is unaffected by what we may think of it. The question, therefore, is whether man, horse, and other names of natural classes, correspond with anything which all men, or all horses, really have in common, independent of our thought, or whether these classes are constituted simply by a likeness in the way in which our minds are affected by individual objects which have in themselves no resemblance or relationship whatsoever. Now that this is a real question which different minds will naturally answer in opposite ways, becomes clear when we think that there are two widely separated points of view, from which reality, as just defined, may be regarded. Where is the real, the thing independent of how we think of it, to be found? There must be such a thing, for we find our opinions constrained; there is something, therefore, which influences our thoughts, and is not created by them. We have, it is true, nothing immediately present to us but thoughts. Those thoughts, however, have been caused by sensations, and those sensations are constrained by something out of the mind. This thing out of the mind, which directly influences sensation, and through sensation thought, because it is out of the mind, is independent of how we think it, and is, in short, the real. Here is one view of reality, a very familiar one. And from this point of view it is clear that the nominalistic answer must be given to the question concerning universals. For, while from this standpoint it may be admitted to be true as a rough statement that one man is like another, the exact sense being that the realities external to the mind produce sensations which may be embraced under one conception, yet i can by no means be admitted that the two real men have really anything in common, for to say that they are both men is only to say that one mental term or thought-sign "man" stands indifferently for either of the sensible objects caused by the two external realities; so that not even the two sensations have in themselves anything in common, and far less is it to be inferred that the external realities have. This conception of reality is so familiar, that it is unnecessary to dwell upon it; but the other, or realist conception, if less familiar, is even more natural and obvious. All human thought and opinion contains an arbitrary, accidental element, dependent on the limitations in circumstances, power, and bent of the individual; an element of error, in short. But human opinion universally tends in the long run to a definite form, which is the truth. Let any human being have enough information and exert enough thought upon any question, and the result will be that he will arrive at a certain definite conclusion, which is the same that any other mind will reach under sufficiently favorable circumstances. Suppose two men, one deaf, the other blind. One hears a man declare he means to kill another, hears the report of the pistol, and hears the victim cry; the other sees the murder done. Their sensations are affected in the highest degree with their individual peculiarities. The first information that their sensations will give them, their first inferences, will be more nearly alike, but still different; the one having, for example, the idea of a man shouting, the other of a man with a threatening aspect; but their final conclusions, the thought of the remotest from sense, will be identical and free from the one-sidedness of their idiosyncrasies. There is, then, to every question a true answer, a final conclusion, to which the opinion of every man is constantly gravitating. He may for a time recede from it, but give him more experience and time for consideration, and he will finally approach it. The individual may not live to reach the truth; there is a residuum of error in every individual's opinions. No matter; it remains that there is a definite opinion to which the mind of man is, on the whole and in the long run, tending. On many questions the final agreement is already reached, on all it will be reached if time enough is given. The arbitrary will or other individual peculiarities of a sufficiently large number of minds may postpone the general agreement in that opinion indefinitely; but it cannot affect what the character of that opinion shall be when it is reached. This final opinion, then, is independent, not indeed of thought in general, but of all that is arbitrary and individual in thought; is quite independent of how you, or I, or any number of men think. Everything, therefore, which will be thought to exist in the final opinion is real, and nothing else.”—The Essential Peirce Volume I: Selected Philosophical Writings (1867-1893), p. 88-89
The Humility of Nominalism
…We cannot be nominalists alone, although the nominalist attitude, the attitude of humility toward reality, of not desiring to deduce reality, is something which we must maintain.
Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought, ed. Carl E. Braaten (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), 143.
i am (a) tiger
you name your child
so how do you expect him to act
you think of the adverbs
he had no choice
no say in the matter
(a name has substance)
worse than torture
for at least violence has an end
but a name
in death goes not to grave
but is engraved in stone
Nominalism and its limit
T. W. Adorno, translated from the lectures on philosophical terminology, vol. 1, pp. 106 — 107 and 112 — 115:
“Now this concept may predicate a perfect being, of which it is also claimed that it is real, but yet it always remains a concept, it must always remain something that is instituted in a certain way by thought, a formation that is only comes about by being produced by us. According to this argument, in order to assert something about whether [or not] this concept has reality it would need [first] to be confronted with intuition, with actually given experience, with the factual [überhaupt]. Only then could one test whether it is fulfilled or not. Now, this Kantian argument is in fact the consequence, pushed to is furthest extreme, of the philosophical viewpoint that began to crystallize in the late medieval philosophy—with William of Ockham to be more exact—namely nominalism. This viewpoint
“No one deserves thanks from another about something he has done for him or goodness he has done; he is either willing to get a reward from God, therefore he wanted to serve himself, or he wanted to get a reward from people, therefore, he has done that to get profit for himself, or to be mentioned and praised by people, therefore, to it is also for himself, or due to his mercy and tenderheartedness, so he has simply done that goodness to pacify these feelings and treat himself.”—Mohammed Ibn Al-Jahm Al-Barmaki, 9th century
Understanding that Popper thing
Ok, so he says there is a difference between realism and essentalism.
He uses essentialism whenever he means the opposite of nominalism,
essentialism vs nominalism
and realism only as opposed to idealism.
realism vs idealism
Popper himself is a realist as opposed to an idealist, but a methodological nominalist as opposed to an essentialist.
For example, statements like “a puppy is a young dog” should be read from right to left, as an answer to “What shall we call a young dog”; never from left to right as an answer to “What is a puppy?”
Yea, I have to think about this more.
“The world has no name, he said. The names of the cerros and the sierras and the deserts exist only on maps. We name them so that we do not lose our way. Yet it was because the way was lost to us already that we have made those names. The world cannot be lost. We are the ones. And it is because these names and these coordinates are our own naming that they cannot save us. That they cannot find for us the way again.”—Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing
I'm confused by certain parts of your "Modern Isolation" piece: "Basically, nominalism relocates meaning and logic to the human mind, which gives Ockham’s God the power to change reality at will". In particular, I don't understand what part of it, as opposed to the voluntaristic approach, is responsible for this effect. I'm also a little confused on what the will -is- and how it is defined in this context. What are some articles/readings I could do on these?
Thanks for your interest in our post.
With that comment about nominalism, our writer was referring to the differences between Ockhamist and Aristotelian understandings of universals. Aristotle is a “moderate realist”: he believes that universals are within nature, independent of any mind. Humans merely discover them. Even if there were no humans, universals and their logical connections would still exist. Scotus’s voluntarism alone was not enough to break these connections, because they were considered to be necessary: they were truths that could not be otherwise, even if God willed it. In order to make universals pliable, Ockham, as a nominalist, tells us that universals do not exist in nature. Rather, they are part of language—beginning with mental language. If humans and their languages went out of existence, then so too would universals.
In conclusion: Aristotle believes that universals begin in nature; Ockham believes that they begin in the human mind, which projects them on to nature. (It should be reiterated, though, that humans for Ockham must experience particular beings before their minds can fabricate universal concepts.) More information on Aristotle’s moderate realism may be found in our past articles “Notes on will” and “The why-how distinction”. The best contemporary technical text on the system and its rivals is David S. Oderberg’s Real Essentialism.
As for the will, it was also discussed in “Notes on will”. In brief, philosophers from Aristotle through Descartes considered it to be an immaterial force that exerted control over the body. However, even contemporary materialists and determinists hold views that were influenced by voluntarism. For more detailed looks at voluntarism and its importance, we recommend Michael Allen Gillespie’s Nihilism Before Nietzsche and The Theological Origins of Modernity. Both books analyze Ockham’s ideas and trace their movement in the centuries after his death.
We hope that this was helpful.