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.
A few further thoughts for Tom and maybe BlueRay, although probably unhelpful ones. Terms (including 'nominalism') only become comprehensible by stages and by use - at first they are placeholders, then they gather attributes, as you can see that we're using Nominalism to mean the opposite of Realism. There's obviously a lot of jargon in philosophy, and some of it is frequently explained in terms of other jargon. I'd agree you don't need to read philosophy books to do philosophy. There's something called P4C, philosophy for children, that brings up real philosophical ideas without using jargon.
Some of the things you have said have philosophical implications though. When I used the word 'physicalist' I meant those philosophers who think that thoughts and feelings are exactly equal to physical events in the brain like neurons firing. They would therefore probably disagree with your suggestion that an isolated brain without experience ('in a vat') doesn't have thoughts. All the same, I think it's right that thoughts only have significance by relation to the real world - that's what I think you're saying, and it what's called 'functionalism', a different school of philosophy of mind from physicalism.
You also said it has been shown that everything in the universe has a cause and an effect. The eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume cast doubt on that, and I think the way he did so is vital to the practice of science. You see someone press a button at a pedestrian crossing and the traffic light changes from green to red. You assume there is a cause-and-effect connection, but you have no direct perception of that. The button might not have any effect and it was going to change anyway. OK, you can make more and more observations and experiments but you can never be absolutely sure something isn't tricking you.
This is kind of related to what I thought Martian Tom was talking about. If we think that the Law of Gravitation is only a human invention (as some Nominalists might say), how can it have 'power' to 'tell' the Earth and the Sun to be attracted to each other? Every massive body attracts every other massive body according to distance - without the Law, couldn't the Earth decide to go its own merry way? Is the Law a 'cause' (and would that somehow mean it existed 'before' it has an effect), or is the Sun the cause? In fact physicists may say the 'Law of Gravitation' is a human invention and only an aspect of more fundamental behaviour of spacetime and most laws of physics work if you reversed past and future. So the Realist argument is at least sometimes flawed.
Is there any analogy here with social sciences? If we think 'homosexuality' is only a culturally-dependent category (as Gore Vidal might have said), how can it have power to tell Alfred and Bert to be attracted to each other? Couldn't they have the choice to go straight? That makes Universals sound a little more absurd to me. Wanting to work against poverty (eg by general policy, or supporting a charity) could just be from a generalisation (not a universal) that poverty makes people unhappy. Causal thinking is invoked here as it is embedded in most human discussion of ethics.
I doubt any of this helps Tom or me much personally or in terms of enjoyment. Someone once defined a philosopher as someone who gives advice to people happier than he/she is. Maybe I should go to the pub instead?
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.
I don’t know what ‘position’ I’m coming from other than my own experience. I don’t know how to put it in a box or a Philisophy, I’ve never read philosophy books or theories etc. If my understanding of death and poverty, make me a nominalist, then that’s what I am, but I’ve never heard that word in my life before and neither do I understand it. I have heard people use the word realist, but I don’t know what that means either and I don’t think I’ve ever asked anybody what it means.
I see that ‘things’ exist, or have meaning, only to the extend that we give them meaning. For example, we could look at somebody who hasn’t got any money as being poor and living in poverty. But what does that actually mean? If I look at somebody and they’re living without much money, I just see somebody living without much money. I would just assume that they either don’t want any, or they are operating under the belief that having no or little money means you’re poor and living in poverty and because that is what they have got in life, they must therefore think they’re poor. They might not go around consciously thinking that they’re poor, but at some point in their life, they have accepted the belief that ‘poverty’ exists, that it’s a real thing and that if you don’t have a lot of money it means you’re it, you’re poor. If a person had never heard that word, and they were living with only a small amount of money, they would simply think I’m living with a small amount of money. They would simply accept that. They wouldn’t put any meaning or value judgement on it, they would just think, oh, I’m living with only a little bit of money. They could change that if they wanted to but not because they thought they were poor and didn’t want to be poor any more, but just because they want more money. If they had a belief in poverty and that the amount of money or food you have makes you poor, any time the person has less money, they would think they were poor. Then they would set up a false limiting belief in them which states, I’m poor. This belief operates under the surface in the deeper aspect of mind and will out picture in the person’s physical life, in their conditions which will resemble their idea of being poor. It then becomes like a self fulfilling prophecy.
When a boy learns to play the piano, he first has to consciously think about every note he plays, where he places his hands etc and how he uses them. But after a while, that knowledge gets repeated so often that it gets stored in his subconscious or deeper aspect of mind and he can after a while, not only play the piano without so much conscious effort, but he can even read the music, sing a song or even hold a conversation while he’s playing it. He now knows how to play it without thinking and the result or the effect is music.
When we are younger, most people take on board the ideas etc that are around them. They accept and believe, this is your daddy and this is your mummy, this is where you live and this is who you are etc etc. We are poor or we are middle class or whatever. I didn’t take any of those things on board. I knew this man, this human being, wasn’t my father and neither was this woman my mother. Sure I knew that was their roles in my life but they were certainly taking it a bit to far to actually try and convince me that they were my parents, or rather my mother and father. I knew who my mother and father was and I knew nothing of poverty or middle class. These were concepts used for ease of communication but I knew these things weren’t what people were. For example, I have heard people say, I’m a post man. Really, you’re a postman?!?!?! To me, I think he’s playing a game, guess what I’m pretending to be, only he told me. I didn’t have to guess. I find that bizarre, that somebody actually thinks they’re a postman. And people do. They do certain things that they think people playing this role or that, should do. For example, a mother should love and look after her child? Really? And what if she doesn’t? Does that mean she’s not a mother anymore? I don’t understand all that or philosophies or different theories or whatever. I’m only talking from my experience, not any philosophy but if the way I think, matches one of these philosophies, then so be it. I’ll be one of those nominal people things but I haven’t got a clue what that really means. I find it hard to understand some things, many things and talking about realists etc is something I don’t understand. I can only speak from my experience, how I see life. But I know that how I see life is shared by people like Einstein, Henry Ford, Eckhart Tolle, Jesus, the Buddha and many more but I wouldn’t say I was a Buddhist or a Christian but I do go to church and to Buddhist temples etc and share many of the things they talk about.
To me, when Jesus said, love thy neighbour, that wasn’t a direction or a rule or a command or whatever, it’s the law. If you love then you will love your neighbour as much as you love yourself or your child or whatever. Love isn’t something we pick and chose about, if we love, we love everybody, otherwise we are operating under a shallow perception or glimpse of what love is and we make it conditional. I will love you, you and you, because you’re my children and my family, but then I will only love others on certain conditions. For example, if I get to know them and I like them and I feel some emotion stirring within me when I’m around them and if they be nice to me, then I’ll love them. But I won’t love the man who lives down the road because I don’t know him very well, and I have to know someone well before I can love them and he wears bright pink shoes so I’m not sure I will love him, even if I get to know him well.
Poverty is a state of mind. It doesn’t exist in and of itself. You can’t go to the shops and buy some poverty but if you have a belief in poverty and you think you meet the criteria, you will think you’re poor and act accordingly and each new thought, coming from the belief of poverty, will bring about conditions that further convince him that yes, I am poor, look at me, I am a poor person. He can change his mindset at anytime, and instantly he will no longer be poor and in time, his outer circumstances will reflect his new inner beliefs.
We don’t however, just decide we’re going to change our thinking and start making positive statements, such as, I’m rich, I have lots of money. That can work, depending on the person’s conviction and the sincerity in which they practice positive thoughts, but it’s hard work, and life isn’t about hard work and this approach generally doesn’t change anything anyway. If anything, it often leaves a person more frustrated than they were before. It’s like trying to put new software on a computer that already has a virus, it’s not going to work. You simply need to see the truth, or he does. Once he sees the truth that he’s not poor, that he simply has little money and that he was told that this means he’s poor, he begins to shine the light of truth on the false limiting belief, and what is left, is his naturally abundant mind. He doesn’t have to make himself think positive thoughts, he will naturally think positive thoughts if he no longer believes in poverty. And before long he will find his circumstances change, maybe he gets a better job or receives a mysterious inheritance, things will change. His whole outlook on life will change. Because he is no longer weighed down and hemmed in with the belief that he’s poor, he’s free to explore his mind, to come up with things he enjoys doing and sooner or later he will be in the category of people he once thought of as rich. Again, it’s not quite so straight forward, because although now he no longer has the belief in poverty, he might still harbour thoughts such as rich people are bad and if so, his deeper aspect of mind, would never allow him to get rich, because it doesn’t want to be a bad person. It’s easy to uncover these self limiting beliefs, which are being fed or force fed to people on a daily basis through tv, advertising, movies etc and once the light of truth shines on them, they simply disappear. If they were real, if poverty really existed, could it simply disappear like that out of a person’s life?
It all sounds very confusing but it’s helpful what you’ve written Cassandro, although I still have no idea which one I am! Lol!
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.