Realism, universals, and the decline of nominalism
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AbstractThe problem of universals is an extremely old one that has lost none of its original interest or importance. Essentially, the problem is in how to best understand the nature of properties. Realism asserts that properties are abstract entities which are capable of being possessed by several concrete objects found in the world. Moderate nominalism asserts that properties are concrete entities which are only capable of being possessed by single concrete objects. Extreme nominalism simply denies that there are properties. I begin the thesis by arguing that however we think of properties, we must regard the problem of universals as a metaphysical problem. Linguistic solutions offered by people like Frege are entirely inadequate. We cannot make metaphysical headway by considerations of how we speak. In chapter three, I argue that the problem consists in trying to decide how to explain the fact that objects can 'agree' in their attributes. How is it that two apples can both be red? The extreme nominalist denies that there literally are such facts. The moderate nominalist answers that each apple possesses a concrete property and these properties are similar to each other. The realist claims that each apple both possess a numerically identical property. That property cannot, by itself and in its entirety, be locatable in space and time, at least in any obvious sense. Therefore it is an abstract entity. There are no special metaphysical problems with this view. In chapter four I argue that the concept of existence is a primitive one, applicable just as much to abstract entities as to concrete ones. With the three positions understood, I go on to show that we are rationally bound to accept the realist's solution. The extreme nominalist's position is simply implausible and inadequate. Moderate nominalism is less economical and less simple than realism. Realism is simple, economical, coherent, and plausible. Therefore, in the absence of any better theory, we are rationally bound to adopt realism. I conclude the thesis by looking at two historically important and influential theories of universals. The first, from Plato's early dialogues, is an immanent theory of universals. The second, Plato's famous Theory of Forms, is a transcendent one. I do not decide which of these theories is better, but by looking at them we gain a greater understanding of the realist's solution to the problem of universals.
Bibliography: p. 175-183.
CitationGardiner, M. Q. (1987). Realism, universals, and the decline of nominalism (Unpublished master's thesis). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB. doi:10.11575/PRISM/21664
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