Nominalism, Empiricism and Universals - I
Pap (Arthur)
Source: Philosophical Quarterly (1950-), Vol. 9, No. 37 (Oct., 1959), pp. 330-340
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. It is a curious paradox that the empiricist principle that only what is, directly or indirectly, observable in some sense can meaningfully be said to exist, has been used in support of both nominalism and realism. Nominalists have repudiated universals1 as "fictions" or "abstractions", accusing realists who believed in the real existence of universals2 of a crude misinterpretation of the generality of language. Only particulars exist, said the British empiricists, and from the fact that several particulars resemble each other it does not follow that there exists a further entity which is somehow present in all of them. But what is a particular? The very same nominalist Berkeley who argued acutely against "abstract ideas ", i.e. ideas of universals3, rejected the notion of a substratum which somehow carries what we call the qualities "of" the thing as literally meaningless. Accordingly particulars turned for Berkeley into what Russell has metaphorically called "bundles of qualities ". Yet, is it not logically possible for any given complex of qualities to be repeated? If so, has not the particular been transformed into a universal through the very empiricist distrust of abstractions that led Berkeley to poke fun at the notion of an unobservable "support" of observable qualities ? Our problem may be stated as follows: how can we reconcile the dismissal of substrata with
    1. the very notion of unique, unrepeatable particulars,
    2. the nominalists' denial of the existence of universals4?
  2. This old problem, which I have deliberately formulated in more or less traditional terms in order to make it recognizable as a time-honoured (or time-dishonoured) problem of metaphysics, will forthwith be discussed in the far more precise terminology of analytic philosophy. Since analytic philosophy is widely reputed to aim at a dissolution of insoluble pseudoproblems of traditional metaphysics, it will be appropriate to begin by raising the logical positivist's question: is there a genuine question? Specifically, is there more than a verbal issue between the nominalists who deny that there are universals5 and the realists who affirm that there are?


See "Pap (Arthur) - Nominalism, Empiricism and Universals - II" for the second part of this paper.

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