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Monday, March 08, 2021


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Dear Bill,
thanks for considering the question, much wisdom here - I had not seen this taxonomy of nominalism before. We can refer to abstract entities (let's say, a particular math formula) that are not necessarily concretised in the immanent sense, without difficulty. You say that such entities 'subsist' (this seems like a good distinction). So such universals are transcendant rather than immanent, but are still perfectly good universals, are they not? After all, we don't wait around until some particular partial differential equation is concretised in reality before we can talk about it.

A (probably secondary) question philosophically is the one I originally had in mind, which was: does the existence of genotypes, designs etc (acting as they do as ontic expressions of 'type' for phenotype instances) modify any standard nominalist view of the world, and/or our understanding of classes within formal ontologies? The latter question is about distinguishing a class in an ontology for entities that have a genotype (and thus for which we might claim that a 'universal' template is directly realised in the world) versus entities that are merely classified by a collection of properties we put together in our minds. Perhaps this is no more than the difference between natural kinds and fiat classifications.


Consider the proposition expressed by the sentence '7 + 5 = 12.' This proposition is an abstract object in that it is not in space, not in time, and is not causally active or passive. What do you mean by "concretised in the immanent sense"? The proposition is an abstract particular (an unrepeatable). It has various different expressions, e.g., in Roman numerals, base-2 notation, base-10, etc. But these expressions are not instances of the proposition.

Since the proposition is a particular, why do you refer to it as a universal? Universals are instantiable, particulars are not. Socrates has no instances. The property of being wise has instances, one of them being Socrates. The proposition *Socrates is wise,* is like Socrates in that it cannot be instantiated; it is like the property of being wise in that it is abstract.

By the way, I did not say that abstracta subsist; I imputed that view to you because of your distinction between being and existence.

What of words like "dog" and "cat"? They do not name particulars, either concrete or abstract. Moreover, the things they name are instantiated - "Fido is a dog" means that Fido is an instance of the class of dogs. If "dog" isn't a universal, what is it?


Would you characterise Derrida as a 'mad-dog nominalist' or do you think his conception of meaning as both endlessly deferred and lacking any ultimate authorising grounding outside the system of linguistic signs goes beyond even that? (What this 'beyond that' is or could be, I don't know - incoherent gibberish most likely).

'I hope no one is crazy enough to be a mad-dog nominalist'. As an English lit grad I can testify that that view is now practically dogma for many folks in literary studies.

Hi Hector,

What could be worse than a mad dog?

John Searle said of Derrida that he gave bullshit a bad name.

You may enjoy this post from my first blog: http://maverickphilosopher.blogspot.com/2004/10/from-mail-what-derrida-really-meant.html

'What could be worse than a mad dog?'

A mad frog!

Thanks, I enjoyed the post! Derrida seems to have proved for many the astonishing thesis that if you write obscurely your meaning is obscure and therefore language isn't always clear. For some reason he and his followers think that means that language is always opaque and non-referential and all writing is therefore obscure and self-contradictory. Bizarre.

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