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 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.
BlueRay said:I don’t read books on philosophy, I can’t even understand those terms, realism and nominalism, they hurt my head just reading them.
This surprises me, BlueRay, since in the earlier discussion you seemed to be adopting the nominalist position of basically saying that universals and abstracts (death, poverty, ill-health) don't exist. I thought this was the philosophical position you were coming from, as opposed to my realist position, which does acknowledge the existence of these things. I understand your reasoning (cause and effect, etc) as you state it here, and broadly agree. But I still don't understand your reasoning as regards the abstract concepts, as stated in the other thread. I started this thread as an attempt to help myself to understand where your reasoning might be coming from, because I like to keep an open mind if I can - and when I encounter something that seems to run against the lines of my own intuition and understanding, I like to try to get to grips with it rather than dismiss it out of hand - which is what I felt I'd done earlier.
Are you any clearer on how I see the world Tom? I don’t think I’m one of those nominalists that you mentioned because I come from a place where universal laws are in operation at all times, keeping this planet in perfect harmony as well as the stars and planets etc. I see universal laws at play and poverty comes into that. I’m that, if you think you’re poor you will be and your outer conditions will confirm it. They can’t not as you create your reality through the thoughts you think. Nobody is born ‘poor’. They might be born into a family whom we consider to be poor, but that doesn’t make the child poor. However, if his whole family and neighbourhood thinks he’s poor, chances are, he’ll grow up believing he’s poor and of course his outer circumstances will reflect that. If however, he somehow resists the his social conditioning, and does not accept that he’s poor, that it is merely his current circumstances that say he is poor, then he has as much chance as anybody to be not poor. I assume if you’re not poor your rich? So he if doesn’t believe he’s poor, he will therefore think he is rich and his outer circumstances will follow. There are many stories of men and women from humble backgrounds who became not only seriously wealthy but extremely powerful as welll. Look at what Henry Ford achieved, coming from a very poor family. If he had believed he was poor, he would never have got where he did in life.
I think I get it, yes. It doesn't really matter about the labels. When you come to look at some philosophy at some time, you'll see that you have a lot in common with nominalists.
You don't have to believe you're poor to be poor. There's nothing wrong with aspiring to be better off. I don't think being in, say, 'the poverty trap' means that you're consigned there for life. We all go through modes and phases in life. When I was growing up, my parents struggled to make it from one pay day to the next, even though my dad worked long hours. But he wasn't paid much, and he was doing the best job he could given his limited education. So it was hard to break out of that place. That doesn't mean we thought 'this is all we're ever going to be' by any means.
Life isn't so simplistic that people are consigned to categories for the duration - so that they accept their labels and keep them (though I'll always be autistic). This you know, of course. But if, for the present, someone has no money, no home, no income... then, until they can rise out of that, they're 'poor' and 'homeless' and 'unemployed'. That's how it is. At least, in my 'realist' view of things.
PS One of the founding fathers of 'nominalist' thinking was the C14th monk William of Ockham, after whom the problem-solving principle of 'Occam's (sic) Razor' was named. You might find this interesting...
Hi Tom, I looked that up (Occam’s Razor) and it looks interesting but I can’t understand it. When I start reading about theories and such and start reading sentences that have all these words that I’ve never heard of nor do I have a clue what they’re talking about I just can’t take any of what I’m reading in or make sense of it. I love talking about how I see life but to me, that’s just how I see life, I don’t see it as any kind of philosophy. Maybe if I could begin to understand what all these philosophies etc are saying, I would find them interesting and maybe the way I see life could be put into one. Maybe mine is called oneness, because as far as I can see, there is only one of us, that’s why words like selfish seem ridiculous to me, because how can we not be selfish when there is only one of us. I do understand the human/physical world much better than I did but when I tried to live by human understandings I simply wanted to die, so I’ve gone back to trusting myself and my own mind above anything and anyone else, that way I’m always happy and I know I couldn’t die even if I wanted to.