Today I preach on an old text of long-time commenter and sparring partner, London Ed:
Nominalism is the doctrine that we should not multiply entities according to the multiplicity of terms. I.e., we shouldn't automatically assume that there is a thing corresponding to every term. Das Seiende is a term, so we shouldnât automatically assume there is a thing corresponding to it. Further arguments are needed to show that there is or there isnât. A classic nominalist strategy is to rewrite the sentence in such a way that the term disappears.
My first concern is whether this definition of 'nominalism' is perhaps too broad, so broad that it pulls in almost all of us. Does anyone think that every term has a referent? Don't we all hold that there can be no automatic assumption that every occurrence of a term in a stretch of discourse picks out an entity? For example, one would be hard pressed to find a philosopher who holds that 'nothing' in
1. Nothing is in the drawer
refers to something. (Carnapian slanders aside, Heidegger does not maintain this, but this is a separate topic about which I have written a long unpublished paper.) Following Ed's excellent advice, the
apparently referential 'nothing' can be paraphrased away:
2. It is not the case that there is something in the drawer.
This then goes into quasi-canonical notation as
2*. ~(Ex)(x is in the drawer).
In (2*) the tilde and the particular quantifier are syncategorematic elements. On the face of it, then, there is no call to be anything other than a nominalist about 'nothing,' using 'nominalism' as per the
Whether there is call to be a nominalist about 'being' is another matter. Before proceeding to it, consider the following example:
3. Peter and Paul are blond
which could be parsed as
3*. Peter is blond and Paul is blond.
Now I rather doubt that anyone maintains that every word in (3*) -- or rather every word in a tokening of this sentence-type whether via utterance or inscription or some other mode of encoding -- has an entity corresponding to it. This suggests a taxonomy of nominalisms:
Mad-Dog Nominalism: No word has an existing referent, not even 'Peter' and 'Paul.' (I write 'existing referent' to disallow Meinongian objects as referents. The waters are muddy enough without bringing Meinong into the picture -- please pardon the mixed metaphor.)
Extreme Nominalism: The only words that have existing referents are names like 'Peter' and Paul'; nothing in reality corresponds to such predicates as 'blond.' And a fortiori nothing corresponds to copulae and logically connective words like 'and' and 'or.'
Nominalism Proper: Particulars (unrepeatables) alone exist: there are no universals (repeatables). This view allows that something in reality corresponds to predicates such as 'blond.' It is just that what this predicate denotes is not a universal but a particular, a trope say, or an Aristotelian accident.
Methodological Nominalism: This is just Ed's suggestion that we not assume that for each word there is a corresponding entity.
I hope no one is crazy enough to be a mad-dog nominalist, and that everyone is sane enough to be a methodological nominalist. The two middle positions, however, are subject to reasonable controversy. What I am calling Extreme Nominalism has little to recommend it, but I think Nominalism Proper is quite a reasonable position. There has to be something extralinguistic (and extramenal) corresponding to the predicate in 'Peter is blond,' but it is not obvious that it must be a universal.
Now let's think about whether we should be nominalists with respect to words like das Seiende, that-which-is, the existent, beings, and the like. Heidegger has been known to say such things as Das Seiende ist, or
4. That-which-is is. (Beings are.)
Now is there anything in reality corrresponding to 'that-which-is' and 'beings'? Well of course: absolutely everything comes under 'that-which-is.' There is nothing that is named by 'Nothing.' And if I met nobody on the trail, that is not to say that I met someone named 'Nobody.' But absolutely everything falls under 'a being,' 'an existent,' ein Seiendes, das Seiende.
So I see no reason to have any nominalist scruples about the latter expressions. I don't see any problem with forming the substantive das Seiende from the present participle seiend. But you will be forgiven if you balk at the transformation of the infinitive sein into the the substantive das Sein and take the latter to refer to Majuscule Being.