So, there are some good brains on here. I'm wondering, then, where people stand on the 'Realism/Nominalism' arguments that are the two most distinguished positions in Western metaphysics. A recent difference of opinion I had with someone over appearance and reality has gotten me thinking about where I stand on these things.
Briefly, Realists (the most famous of whom are Plato and Aristotle) postulate the existence of two kinds of entities: particulars and universals. Particulars resemble each other because they share universals. So, for example, each particular elephant has four legs, two ears, a trunk and a tail. Universals can also resemble each other by sharing other universals. So, wisdom and kindness resemble each other because they are both virtues. Realism can also explain our uses of abstract concepts, such as qualities or conditions: death, poverty, colour, etc.
Nominalists, on the other hand, say that there is no such thing as a universal - no abstract concepts - but only particulars. The world is made up of particulars, and the universals are things of our own making, stemming from the way we think about the world, or from the language we use. Thus, if there are only particulars, there can be no such thing as death, ill-health, virtue, or gender. There are, instead, human conventions that tend to group objects or ideas into categories (something we, as autistics, all know about!) Kindness, for example, exists only because we say it does. And potatoes only exist as a particular type of vegetable because we have categorised a group of particular vegetables in a particular way.
F Scott Fitzgerald once said that the sign of a first-rate intelligence was the ability to hold two conflicting thoughts in the head at the same time, yet still be able to function. He was using it in another context, but it may well be applicable here. Whilst I'd certainly be the last to claim to have a first-rate intelligence, I am nevertheless prepared to accept that my thoughts on certain things may contradict what I perceive, or what I understand intuitively. Essentially, I'm a Realist. I believe in abstracts and universals. I believe that people suffer from ill-health, that poverty exists, that people have a propensity for kindness, and that people die. But then we come to things like gender - male and female - and sexuality. How fixed are these things? Someone may appear to be male in terms of physical characteristics. Yet they may identify as female. And are all heterosexuals heterosexual? Is sexuality actually a more fluid thing? Isn't 'pansexuality' a more accurate way to describe each of us? I identify as heterosexual, but I'm also aware that there are certain males I know and see in the media whom I feel a sexual attraction for. You could argue it's because they are more feminine in appearance - but that's not always the case. Maybe the first rule of attraction is that there are no rules of attraction!
So... as Walt Whitman said... 'Do I contradict myself? Very well, then. I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.' I'm not as large as Walt was in any sense - but I agree with this standpoint.
I'd be interested to see what everyone else thinks about these things. I'm dropping my previous guard (which may simply be a form of ego-protection, stemming from a lifetime of struggling to defend myself in all sorts of ways) and am open to all thoughts on the subject...
I can’t really understand what you’re talking about Tom, although I’m truly grateful for the conversation starter. When I try to understand what you’re saying, it’s like my brain starts scattering and I can’t grasp ideas long enough to make any sense of them. So I don’t know what I am, one or the other, or maybe neither ~ I think you’re talking about opposing views or philosophies on life or something. I do apologise, it’s not how you’ve written it, I just don’t understand a lot of the words and I therefore can’t make any understanding of it.
This is my understanding on life, if this is what you’re talking about. I know I have life, because I’m alive, and I know I have thoughts, so something within me has life and it has thoughts. A brain, disconnected from the rest of the body has neither life nor thoughts, so I know my life and my thoughts don’t come from my brain. I also know that other people have life and thoughts. I also know that for every effect, there has to be a cause. Like the law of gravity, we live in a world of cause and effect. An apple tree doesn’t suddenly appear in the meadow, somebody or something, planted a seed. The soil didn’t care what seed was planted in him, or her, she simply did her thing so the seed could mature into an apple tree. I know the tree has life, because it’s growing, but I know it doesn’t have conscious thought, he doesn’t have the ability to chose. He is what he is, he can’t suddenly decide or chose to be a tulip. The seed was the cause and the apple tree the effect. I know that animals too have life but they don’t have the same faculty of conscious thought, the way that humans have. Why do humans have thought? How do these thoughts operate? Where do they go after we have thought them and how do they come back? What power do they have? Why do only humans have them? Where does inspiration come from?
Only you can answer these questions and therefore know your mind but there are many great teachers, past and present, who can help along the journey of self discovery. But they can only point the way. You have to walk the path.
Many years ago, the Buddha used to point the way to the truth, through nightly talks. One day a man approached him at a talk his was giving in India. He said he had been coming to these talks for years now and still, he sees little improvement in his life, or at least, not the improvements he was hoping to see. He said he has seen many people come and go over the years, some of them with magnificent success’s and some with moderate, but him, who faithfully attended the talks every night, saw little improvement.
The Buddha asked him where he was from, knowing he was not from the present region. The man told him where he was from and described to the Buddha how he would travel to and from his home town, travelling many miles and days. He described the journey superbly. The Buddha asked if his friends knew how to get to his hometown, and the man answered, but certainly they know. So the Buddha said that they must have been there many times and the man said no, not ever. Yet, the Buddha pointed out, even though they knew the way, they understood it etc, they never experienced the benefit of his hometown because they never actually went there. Actually, I haven’t told the story correctly, but that was the gist. Nobody can teach you anything or give you anything, you have to walk the journey by yourself. The man used to listen to the great talks every night, great words of wisdom coming from this man, yet he didn’t experience the benefit because he didn’t walk the path, he merely listened and understood the journey, he had not walked it, therefore he didn’t receive the benefits.
But there are a number of universal laws that are at play, such as the law of electricity, gravity and the law of cause and effect. It has been shown to us that everything in the universe has a precise cause and a precise effect. Who would you be without your thoughts? We all have the answers to these questions inside of us, we all know the truth. If somebody is ‘poor’ why is he poor? Is it because of some external condition, if so, then all men or women of his age, living in the same area, subject to the same conditions, would be poor, and that’s not true. Why can one man make millions in America during the Great Depression when other men went hungry? Was it because of something outside of them or something inside? What makes one man keep his sanity and his inherent love of mankind or of life, during his time as a prisoner at the concentration camp, and another man lose his mind?
I don't think I'm awake enough to answer properly, and like many philosophical problems I'm not sure this has a very good answer. One is allowed to change one's point of view. I do recall accounts of Realism and Nominalism, including Meinong's extreme realism, in Ayer and maybe John Passmore's A Hundred Years of Philosophy.
I've described my ontology as 'moderately sceptical'. Not doubting physical reality, but still very sceptical of the reality of social constructs. I would have guessed Aspies were keen system-builders, but whether they really believe in the system is something else: I have trouble thinking things like 'money' or 'government' are more than convenient fictions. To me, a tree is real - that is not part of the controversy you describe. Is the class of trees, or the defining features that may or may not include elder bushes and decaying stumps, 'real'? It needs more than usefulness to be real. Most incompatible notions of God are useful.
A moderate scepticism would hold that a pattern like 'square' is only a concept, and 'concept' is itself only a concept, something that tells us something about functional reality, but is contingent on other instantiations. There are facts (including some invisible things, like temporal intervals); then there are patterns and speculative behavioural descriptions that may appear to influence the facts; then there is a third class of notions, false beliefs and fictions that only influence the facts through the second class (this includes laws and deities). However, I can't agree with those physicalists who think mental notions will disappear. Pragmatically the idea of 'idea' or 'thought' is useful so long as we don't have omniscient knowledge of past and future, and so is unlikely to change with culture. I personally think those three classes are fairly robust, although it's certainly possible for a word like 'coin' to imply more than one role simultaneously, which would have to be clarified for significant logical use of the word. I hope that makes sense - if not, may I invoke the notion of tiredness and Louis MacNeice's drunkenness of things being various, to maintain some appearance of having a 'good brain'?
Notions of sexuality that you mention have changed over time. Gore Vidal was right IMHO to be sceptical that people are either one or the other.
I’m sorry, I don’t understand any of what you said either. I’ve never read any philosophy books or really discussed or study it and when I read those things you say, my brain just gets scattered. I only look for truth within, although I do listen and read some books by people like Frederick Bailes or Eckhart Tolle or other metaphysicians, because they speak my language, I understand them. I’m really interested in the people you all mention, such as Plato etc, but I have never got round to studying them. I don’t know anything about theories and stuff, when I try to read about them, it’s like my mind doesn’t compute, it’s so hard for me to understand, I really need to be taught that stuff from people like you. But I’m having trouble working out what it is you’re talking about, that’s probably why I went off subject, I wasn’t quite sure what the post was about, but I chimed in anyway, with what I thought the post was talking about. I can only speak from my experience and not from books although I have read things in books where they say it better or more clearer than I had been able to up to that point. Books, teachers, guru’s etc, are only people or things that point to the truth, they aren’t the truth, that can only be experienced by each person individually.
Well, it is very abstract, whereas if you want to value particular experience, the question may have no value to you. I think Realism vs Nominalism is a problem on two levels. On one it is a problem about what is (that's all 'ontology' really means), and some philosophers presumably consider it would be meaningful even if there were no human experience or human beings. Do truth or hardness as abstracts exist, and so on?
On the other level it is really a problem in psychology and cognitive science - how do people classify and attribute qualities to experiences. As such, in my opinion that's open to experimentation and people can observe how thoughts of 'justice' and so on interact with particular cases of injustice, through behaviour or fMRI scans. Here's an article that I expect covers the topic well, but I haven't read it myself: plato.stanford.edu/.../
I think I get the Buddha story about importance of putting things into practice, and I've read Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now, but I would really call that a self-help book rather than anything to do with philosophy. On the other hand some analytical philosophers might say something similar about existentialism and Continental philosophy.
I don’t read books on philosophy, I can’t even understand those terms, realism and nominalism, they hurt my head just reading them. The truth is available to everyone, and doesn’t come out of a book or a philosophy. I don’t know what kind of books Eckhart Tolles books are, someone just recommended them to me, or at least they recommended the power of now. They said I might like him or I might enjoy reading his book because they said I thought like him. I kind of did, enjoy the book, it didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t know, but I did enjoy reading a book I could understand.