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nominalism

Nominalism, coming from the Latin word nominalis meaning "of or pertaining to names", is the ontological theory that reality is only made up of particular items. It denies the real existence of any general entities such as properties, species, universals, sets, or other categories. Only things that are concrete or individual (or perhaps both) exist. One example that is often used to motivate nominalism is the property of "being green." Many things are green such as the grass, my shirt, and Kermit the frog, but what do they have in common? A realist would say that the color green is a universal entity and that the aforementioned objects are all a part of green things in the world. The greenness is repeatable because it is one universal that shows itself wherever green things appear. A nominalist would deny this fact and even the existence of universals. She would ask, where is this universal? Can I see it? Would it exist even if all particular green things ceased to be? Another argument supporting nominalism is that if the universal is a single thing, how can it show up in multiple places at the same time?

Nominalism solves the problem of many things being green by giving a name to certain objects that resemble one another. An object such as a table, which can be seen in more than one place, is given the name "table" to represent a group of objects. The main concept to remember when dealing with nominalism is that there are no universal concepts outside the mind, as is assumed to be true for realism.

--Pam Knight

Sources:
"Nominalism." Concise Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Language. New York: Pergamon, 1997.

Nominalism. Weisheipl, James and Rausch, DA. URL = http://mb-soft.com/believe/txn/nominali.htm

"Nominalism." A Dictionary of Philisophical Terms and Names. URL = http://www.swif.uniba.it/lei/foldop/foldoc.cgi?nominalism

"Nominalism." Wikipedia. URL = http://www.fact-index.com/n/no/nominalism.html