Reality and Appearance...

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 universalsParticulars 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...

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