This entry continues a discussion with Dan M. begun here.
Before we get to the main event, a terminological quibble. A view that denies some category of entity I would call eliminativist, not nominalist. I say this because one can be a nominalist about properties without denying their existence. Tom is a tomato of my acquaintance. Tom is red and ripe and juicy and other things besides. It is a Moorean fact, I would say, that Tom has properties, and that, in general, things have properties. After all, Tom is red and ripe, etc. It's a datum, a given, a starting point. A sensible question is not whether there are properties, but what they are. Of course there are properties. What is controversial is whether they are universals or particulars, mind-dependent or mind-independent, immanent or transcendent, constituents or not of the things that have them, etc.
Still, there are those parsimonious souls who deny that there are properties. They accept predicates such as 'red' and 'ripe' but deny that in extralinguistic reality there are properties corresponding to these or to any predicates. These people are called extreme nominalists. It's a lunatic position in my view valuable only as a foil for the development of a saner view. But moderate nominalism is not a lunatic view. This is the view that there are properties all right; it's just that properties are not universals, but particulars, trope theory being one way of cashing out this view. My Trope category goes into more detail on this.
The present point, however, is simply this: a moderate nominalist about properties does not deny the existence of properties. So my suggestion is that if you are out to deny some category K of entity (i.e., deny of a putative category that it has members) then you should label your position as eliminativist about Ks, not nominalist about Ks. Dan is an eliminativist about mental acts, not a nominalist about them.
But this is a merely terminological point. Having made it, I will now irenically acquiesce in Dan's terminology for the space of this post. Dan writes with admirable clarity:
As you explain my proposal (I'll call it "Mental Act Nominalism" or "MAN"), an ontological assay of propositional attitudes will only turn up two entities, the agent and the proposition. The agent's having the relevant attitude (e.g., belief, doubt) to the proposition is not itself construed as an additional entity. You say that this view is committed to "a denial of mental acts and thereby a denial of the act-content distinction."
[. . .]
Turning to your concern. You suggest that "such a parsimonious scheme cannot account for the differences among" various propositional attitudes (belief, doubt, etc.). And after discussing some examples, you say they provide "phenomenological evidence that we cannot eke by with just the subject and the object/content but also need to posit mental acts." And you add: "The differences among [various attitudes] will then be act-differences, differences in the type of mental acts."
The gist of my reply is that we can perhaps account for the differences you speak of without committing ourselves to the existence of the relevant mental acts/states.
Consider these two situations:
(A) Dan wonders whether Bill owns cats.
(B) Dan believes that Bill owns cats.
(We may suppose there was a time lapse between them.) What should the ontological assays of (A) and (B) include? As you described MAN, its ontological assays of propositional attitudes deliver just two entities, the relevant agent and proposition. So on this approach, we get these two assays:
(A Assay 1) Dan, the proposition Bill owns cats.
(B Assay 1) Dan, the proposition Bill owns cats.
These assays fail to differentiate situations A and B. However, it's not clear to me that MAN has to be implemented in this way. Consider these alternative assays:
(A Assay 2) Dan, the relation wondering whether, the proposition Bill owns cats.
(B Assay 2) Dan, the relation believing that, the proposition Bill owns cats.
These assays do differentiate A and B, by virtue of the different relations. I think MAN is prima facie compatible with these assays, since the main aim of MAN is not to deny the existence of propositional attitude relations per se, but to deny the existence of mental acts or states consisting in the agent's having the relevant attitude. So, MAN must reject, for example, these assays:
(A Assay 3) Dan, the proposition Bill owns cats, the state Dan's wondering whether Bill owns cats.
(B Assay 3) Dan, the proposition Bill owns cats, the state Dan's believing that Bill owns cats.
So perhaps we can be realists about propositional attitude relations, but nominalists about propositional attitude states (of affairs). The former would give us a robust basis to differentiate different kinds of propositional attitudes, while the latter would preserve MAN.
BV: The issue is now one of deciding which tripartite assay to accept, mine, or Dan's. Where I have mental acts or states, he has relations. Mental acts are datable particulars, where a particular is an unrepeatable item. Dan's relations are, I take it, universals, where a universal is a repeatable item.
Suppose that Dan, who has not seen his elderly neighbor Sam come out of his house in a week, fears that he is dead. What does the world have to contain for 'Dan fears that Sam is dead' to be true? Suppose that it contains Dan, the relation fears that, and the proposition Sam is dead, but not the mental act, state, or event of Dan's fearing that Sam is dead. Then I will point out that Dan, the relation fears that, and the proposition Sam is dead can all three exist without it being the case that Dan fears that Sam is dead. The collection of these three items does not suffice as truthmaker for the sentence in question.
This is the case even if the relation in question is an immanent universal, that is, one that cannot exist instantiated. It could be that Dan exists, the proposition Sam is dead exists, and the relation fears that exists in virtue of being instantiated by the pair (Pam, the proposition Hillary is sad.) It is possible that all three of these items exist and 'Dan fears that Sam is dead' is false.
We need something to tie together the three items in question. On my tripartite analysis it is the mental act that ties them together. So I am arguing that we cannot get by without positing something like the particular Dan's fearing that Sam is dead.
How can a simple God know contingent truths, such as Bill owns cats? On the version of MAN that accepts bona fide relations, we say: God bears the relation believing that to the proposition Bill owns cats. There are just three entities to which this situation commits us: God, the relation, and the proposition. There is no state (construed as a bona fide entity) of God's believing that Bill owns cats.
BV: But if S bears R to p, this implies that R is instantiated by the ordered pair (S, p), and that this relation-instantiation is a state or state of affairs or event. It is clearly something in addition to its constituents inasmuch as it is their truthmaking togetherness. And this bring us back to our original difficulty of explaining how a simple God can know contingent truths.