The New International Encyclopædia/Nominalism

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NOMINALISM (from nominal, from Lat. nominalis, relating to names, from nomen, name; connected with Gk. ὄνομα, onoma, Skt. nāman, OChurch Slav, ime, OIr. ainm, Goth. namō, OHG. namo, Ger. Name, AS. nama, Eng. name). The philosophical theory that only individual objects have real existence, and that so-called universals (see Judgment) are nothing but names given in common to actually different and incommunicable objects. These names were considered as nothing but so much breath (flatus vocis) , without indicating any real identity in the objects sharing in identical names. This view was an extreme development of the Aristotelian doctrine that all reality is individual, and that universals have existence only in individual objects; and it was called forth by the extreme Neo-Platonism of Erigena, who maintained that universals have an existence prior to particulars and individuals, and that the process of creation is only the progressive, logical differentiation of the universal. This Neo-Platonic view of the relation of the universal and the particular is called realism, and was advocated by Bernard of Chartres, Guillaume de Champeaux (q.v.), and Walter of Mortagne. Nominalism, on the contrary, was maintained by Roscelinus (q.v.). Abélard represented a modified nominalism in maintaining that the universal is not a real objective existence, nor, on the contrary, a mere word (vox), but the meaning of the word. This view, which is called sermonism (from sermo, which in scholastic Latin meant ‘predicate’), is a type of conceptualism (q.v.) peculiar to Abélard, and is to be distinguished from other forms of conceptualistic doctrine in that it did not point expressly to the fact that meanings are mental facts. With Abélard meanings seemed to reside in words, not as words but as predicates of propositions. The Arabian philosophers, and especially Avicenna (q.v.), succeeded in mediating between nominalism and realism by maintaining that universals are before individuals (realism) in the mind of God, in individuals (Aristotelianism) as their developed essence, and after individuals (nominalism) in human minds (conceptualism). This was the view adopted by Thomas Aquinas (q.v.) in his system and so incorporated in the received philosophy of the Roman Church. Nominalism received its last strong support in the teaching of William of Occam (q.v.) in the fourteenth century; but the influence of this revival was transitory, coming as it did upon the eve of the Renaissance and the general decline of interest in scholastic problems. See Löwe, Der Kampf zwischen Nominalismus und Realismus im Mittelalter: sein Ursprung und sein Verlauf (Prague, 1876); also the histories of philosophy by Ueberweg-Heinze, Windelband, Erdmann.