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Interpretation of Nominalism and Its Types

Nominalism is a metaphysical view in philosophy, the doctrine according to which abstract concepts, general terms or universals have no independent existence but exist only as names. Therefore, various objects labeled by the same term have nothing in common but their name. In other words, only actual physical particulars are real, and universals exist only subsequent to particular things, being just verbal abstractions.

Nominalism arose in reaction to the problem of universals and in particular to Plato's solution to it, known as Platonic Realism, which holds that abstract objects like universals and Forms exist in their own right and are wholly independent of the physical world, and that particular physical objects merely exemplify or instantiate the universal. Nominalists ask exactly where this universal realm might be, and find it unusual and unlikely that there could be a single thing that exists in multiple places simultaneously.

There have been attempts to bridge the gap between Realism and Nominalism including Moderate Realism (the view that there is no separate realm where universals or universal concepts exist, but that they are located in space and time wherever they happen to be manifest) and Conceptualism (the doctrine that universals exist only within the mind and have no external or substantial reality).

The Medieval French Scholastic philosopher and theologian Roscellinus of Compiegne (1050 – 1125), a teacher of Peter Abelard, is often regarded as the founder of modern Nominalism.

William of Ockham is also considered a pioneer of Nominalism, and he argued strongly that only individuals exist (rather than supra-individual universals, essences or forms), and that universals are the products of abstraction from individuals by the human mind and have no extra-mental existence. However, his view is perhaps more accurately described as Conceptualism rather than Nominalism, holding that universals are mental concepts (which do exist, even if only in the mind) rather than merely names (i.e. words rather than existing realities).

There are several types of Nominalism.

· Predicate Nominalism takes the linguistic line that, for example, two individual cats are both cats simply because the predicate "cat" applies to both of them (although to some extent this still begs the question of what the predicate actually applies to).

· Resemblance Nominalism holds that "cat" applies to both cats because they resemble an exemplar cat (an exemplar is a model or pattern to be copied or imitated) closely enough to be classed together with it as members of its kind, or that they differ less from each other (and other cats) than they differ from other things.

· Psychological Nominalism is the view in psychology that explains psychological concepts in terms of public language use.



Rationalism and Empiricism

Rationalism is a view emphasizing the role or importance of human reason. Rationalism starts from premises that cannot coherently be denied, then attempts by logical steps to deduce every possible object of knowledge.

The first rationalist is often held to be Parmenides, who argued that it is impossible to doubt that thinking actually occurs. But thinking must have an object; therefore something beyond thinking really exists. Parmenides deduced that what really exists must have certain properties. Zeno of Elea was a disciple of Parmenides, and argued against the reality of multiplicity and that motion is impossible. Plato was also influenced by Parmenides, but combined rationalism with a form of realism. The nature of a man, a triangle, a tree, applies to all men, all triangles, and all trees. Plato argued that these essences are mind-independent ‘forms’ that humans (but particularly philosophers) can come to know by reason, and by ignoring the distractions of sense-perception.

Modern rationalism begins with Descartes. Reflection on the nature of perceptual experience, as well as scientific discoveries in physiology and optics, led Descartes (and also Locke) to the view that we are directly aware of ideas, rather than objects. He began, echoing Parmenides, with a principle that he thought could not coherently be denied: I think, therefore I am (often given in his original Latin: Cogito ergo sum). From this principle, Descartes went on to construct a complete system of knowledge (which involves proving the existence of God, using, among other means, a version of the ontological argument). His view strongly influenced those philosophers usually considered modern rationalists such as Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and Christian Wolff.

Empiricism is the belief that all knowledge comes from experience. The "empirical world" is the world of the senses, i.e. the world we can see, feel, touch, hear and smell. Empiricism, in contrast to rationalism, downplays or dismisses the ability of reason alone to yield knowledge of the world, preferring to base any knowledge we have on our senses. John Locke propounded the classic empiricist view in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1689, developing a form of naturalism and empiricism on roughly scientific (and Newtonian) principles. John Locke thought that the human mind at birth was a tabula rasa on which experience writes the general principles and details of all knowledge. This is completely opposite to the rationalists. Whereas a rationalist would attempt to find knowledge by thought alone, an empiricist would use the methods of the experimental sciences.




Scepticism is the philosophical view which holds that it is impossible to know anything with absolute certainty, or to know the world as it 'really' is. Scepticism began in the 5th century BC in Greece where certain philosophers expressed doubts about how certain we could be about our knowledge. Protagoras of Abdera (480-411 BC), for instance, is reported to have said that "man is the measure of all things" (i.e. that we make the world in our own image) and Gorgias (485-380 BC) that "nothing exists; if anything does exist, it cannot be known; if anything exists and can be known, it cannot be communicated". Many such thinkers arose from the group known as the Sophists.

Next came the Pyrrhonists, so called after Pyrrho of Elis, it's founder, who argued that since we can never know true reality we should refrain from making judgements. His pupil, Timon of Philius, followed this by adding that equally good arguments could be made for either side of any argument. The New Academy of the 2nd century BC, founded by Carneades (214-129 BC), taught only that some arguments were more probable than others. Later sceptics include Aenesidemus (1st century BC), who put forward ten arguments in support of the sceptical position and the Greek physician Sextus Empiricus (3rd century AD), who argued the use of common sense over abstract theory.

Scepticism was revived in the early modern period by Michel de Montaigne and Blaise Pascal. Its most extreme exponent was the Scottish empiricist philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), who argued that certain assumptions - such as the link between cause and effect, natural laws, the existence of God and the soul - were far from certain. Hume argued that there are only two kinds of reasoning: what he called probable and demonstrative. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), influenced by Hume, set limits to human knowledge by arguing that certain things - such as if there was proof for God, or if the world had a beginning - did not make sense to be asked. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) argued that objective knowledge did not actually exist, and his scepticism influenced French Existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). The American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952), argued that all belief is irrational. Modern day philosophy still retains the influence of earlier sceptical thinkers.




The word idealism is derived from the Greek word ἰδέα, which simply means something seen, or the look of something. Idealism refers to any philosophy that argues that reality is somehow dependent upon the mind rather than independent of it.

Idealism includes the principles that:

· The everyday world of things and people is not the world as it really is but simply as it appears to be.

· The best reflection of the world is not found in physical and mathematical categories but in terms of self-aware thought.

· Thought is the relation of each experience to that which it expresses, rather than the imposition of ready-made answers.

The first prominent modern Western idealist in the metaphysical sense was George Berkeley. Berkeley argued that there is no deep distinction between mental states. Berkeley expressed this with the Latin formula esse est percipi: to be is to be perceived.

Forms of idealism were prevalent in philosophy from the 18th century to the early 20th century. Transcendental idealism, advocated by Immanuel Kant, is the view that there are limits on what can be understood. Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason (1781–1787) in an attempt to reconcile the conflicting approaches of rationalism and empiricism, and to establish a new groundwork for studying metaphysics. He maintained that things-in-themselves existed independently of our perceptions and judgments. Continuing his work, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schelling dispensed with belief in the independent existence of the world, and created a thoroughgoing idealist philosophy.

The most notable work was G.W.F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, of 1807. Hegel admitted his ideas weren't new, but that all the previous philosophies had been incomplete. His goal was to correctly finish their job. His program of acceptance and reconciliation of contradictions is known as the "Hegelian dialectic". Philosophers in the Hegelian tradition include Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, Karl Marx; Friedrich Engels; and the British idealists, notably T.H. Green, J.M.E. McTaggart, and F.H. Bradley. Few 20th century philosophers have embraced idealism. However, quite a few have embraced Hegelian dialectic. Immanuel Kant's "Copernican Turn" also remains an important philosophical concept today.

Idealism includes a few of the types:

· Metaphysical Idealism: asserts the ideality of reality.

· Epistemological Idealism: the mind can only hold that which it can perceive.

· Subjective Idealism: (Berkeley) nothing exists except minds and spirits and their perceptions and thoughts.

· Transcendental Idealism: (Kant) human self, or "transcendental ego," constructs knowledge out of sense impressions.

· Critical Idealism: The name that Kant preferred for his approach.

· Formalistic Idealism: another name for Transcendental Idealism.

· Objective Idealism: Opposition to Berkeley's Subjective Idealism.

· Aesthetic Idealism: (Schelling) variant of Objective Idealism.

· Moral Idealism: (Fichte) variant of Objective Idealism.

· Dialectical Idealism: (Hegel) variant of Objective Idealism.

· Absolute Idealism: (Hegel) the real world is a reflection of the mind.

· Kantian Idealism: Relatively recent view that seeks to go 'back to Kant'.

· Neo-Kantian Idealists: View that seeks to progress from Kant onwards.

· Theist Idealism: (Lotze) theory of the world ground, when all things find their unity.

· Theist Absolutism: (Tennant) accepts traditional theological monotheism.

Three key types of Idealism:

· Neo-Kantianism: We organize experience through mental constructs.

· Rational Choice Theory: People make rational decisions.

· Hermeneutics: Experience is internal. Positivism ignores this.

Idealism is opposed to many philosophies that stress material matter, including Empiricism, Positivism, Skepticism, Atheism and Materialism. It is closer to systems that emphasize meaning that is derived from thought, such as Rationalism. Overall, it is used as a container for other philosophies such as Phenomenology and Conventionalism that also oppose purely material viewpoints.



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