Nominalism, not nerdy and coming at you whether you like it or not!

090214How have we gotten into this mess wherein we have set aside reality in favor of what we think reality is? No longer do we go out to meet reality and accept the obligation of conforming to reality; now we sit back and claim the right to posit our own reality, to project reality and define it on our own terms. How did we get here?

Look to the nominalists, my friends.

A rather informative, though challenging, book on this matter is Journey to Modernity by Louis Dupré. In it he traces the medieval synthesis and rise of nominalism in the late 15th century, which in turn gave way to the Cartesian Revolution in the 17th century.

The nominalist revolution introduced the concept by insisting that we do not go out and discover reality so much as we simply create it by categorizing it with “names” (nomina –> names –> nominalism). The names we assign are not a recognizing of reality; they are a “making” of it. We assign meaning rather than discover it.

Welcome to the modern dark ages—dark, and getting darker. Welcome to the age of nominalism, invented in the late 15th Century and now a weed that has been allowed to flourish and is more widespread than ever.

The old version of nominalism denies the existence of universals: qualities or characteristics that can be illustrated or exemplified  by many particular things. At least this version of nominalism was debatable. Is there a universal “chair-ness” that all chairs exemplify, or is this just a human abstraction? Here a legitimate debate can be had.

The modern and more lazy version of nominalism, which I will call here “neo-nominalism,” holds that words (nomen = word) are simply arbitrary sounds we assign to things that reflect us, more so than anything we call reality. In a more sweeping way, whole categories are also dismissed.

Thus, for example, words and categories such as male, female, marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc. are just words we assign; they are mere human “constructs” that do not exist in reality. So, many claim the right today to move beyond these human words and categories. They also claim the right to assign new words to describe these realties. Abortion becomes “choice,” “reproductive freedom,” or “women’s healthcare.” Unnatural sexual acts are called “gay” (a word that used to mean happy) and anal sex is celebrated as an “expression of love.” Same-sex “pseudo-gamy” is called “marriage.” Suicide or killing of the aged or imperfect is called “euthanasia” (a word that means “good death” in Greek). Sexual identity is now called “gender” (a grammatical classification of nouns found in nearly one-fourth of the world’s languages, not a word for human sexual differentiation).

Neo-nominalism claims the right to define new reality and scoffs at the more humble proposition that we ought to discover reality and conform to it. Neo-nominalism casts aside such humility and claims the right to define reality by inventing new words and thoughts and then imposing them on what really is. And thus we get endless absurdities such as LGBTQ (and Lord knows what letter will be added next). We have bizarre notions such as being “transgendered,” a concept that denies human distinctions that could not be more obvious and are literally inscribed in our bodies. But the neo-nominalists will not be troubled with reality.

The next and even more absurd “edge universe” for many of them is the so called “trans-human” movement in which even the reality of being human is dismissed as a mere “construct.” People will claim the right to start calling themselves other species and (presumably) the right to consort in all sorts of bizarre ways with animals, the “right” to develop cross-cloning, etc. For after all, who is to say what is “human” to these neo-nominalist iconoclasts?

For them, there is no reality, per se, just human constructs that are fungible. So-called “reality” is merely to be toyed with and defined according to the latest whim and need for self-justification through the re-describing of what is actually happening.

Neo-nominalism gets very dark and very absurd very quickly, as we are observing every day in our increasingly indecipherable “anti-culture.”

In effect, for them nothing is real; everything is just names, sounds, and abstractions. Reality is not something to go out and meet; it is not something to discover. There is no reality, just constructs that we invent and publish.

Welcome to the world of tyranny, where the powerful, the richly endowed, and those who have access get to say what reality is, rather then reality itself and those who have the intelligence and common sense to recognize it. Welcome to deep and gloomy darkness.

Rebel by insisting on reality, common sense, and the obvious. Refuse the lies and the rationalizations. Point unceasingly to reality.  And remember this: facts are stubborn things and in the end reality will befriend you and win the day. The nominalists currently have the power, but reality cannot be on holiday forever. People who live in this fantasy world will eventually either die in their sleep or awaken to the strange nightmare of reality. It will come; stay at your post. Do not forsake reality!

The singer in this song asks you to guess his name. Who do you think he is? Remember, regardless of what you’d like to call him, he is what he is. We don’t define him, and if we think we do, he defines us.

Here’s an answer from faith

21 Replies to “Nominalism, not nerdy and coming at you whether you like it or not!”

  1. I do not think it is a coincidence that the nominalism piercing the culture today is found at the tip of the spear of the sexual revolutionaries. Freud’s philosophy of human nature is deeply flawed, in that he places the sexual libido at the root of all human motivation. But Freud was correct in one aspect that we see so pointedly today, and it would be this: when sex does become the central drive of the human creature, to the point that it drives the spirit out of the person’s thinking altogether, then we witness the complete collapse of reason. The sexual revolution has created a form of mass delusion, which destroys the intellect and the ability to grasp the most basic truths, and nominalism is one of its most important tools.

    1. No, but some of his theology and philosophy certainly paved the way for thinkers like Occam, who was a nominalist. And nominalism is nothing new; spme of the ancient Greeks were nominalists. Scotus’ theology certain pushed towards the voluntarism that leads to nominalism.

      1. Ockham disagrees with Scotus on almost every page. So If Scotus paved the way for Ockham, then Aquinas paved the way for Scotus, and the resulting errors of modern times, if we must ascribe them to medieval debates at all, are rather the fault of Aquinas.

    2. No, Scotus believed in universal truths. He disagreed with Aquinas on the distinction between existence and essence, but this did not make him a nominalist. He believed that certain universals exist in objective reality, not just in the mind.

      Blessed John Paul II [a committed Thomist] beatified Scotus in 1993. It’s highly unlikely that he would have done so had Scotus been a nominalist.

  2. Reality will befriend us! So much better than soothing lies from people who don’t really care.

  3. Nominalism — in all of its insidious forms — is the assault vehicle of Cultural Marxism’s Long March Through the Institutions. It has systematically dismantled the West’s ability to discover and flourish in truth, goodness, and beauty. If we are to save what’s little is left of western civilization, nominalism must be challenged head-on with every ounce of strength we can muster. God help us!

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  4. Neo-nominalism is the oldest temptation in the book: “You will be like gods.”

    And what is God’s primal action? “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” He spoke, and they were made. He commanded, and they sprang into being.

    To speak reality into being is a Divine power — and a power our culture claims for itself.

  5. +I’ve also noticed an odd . . . and NOT particularly marvelous . . . rather disturbing reality . . . regarding “nominalism” that seems to have become a new . . . “habit of speech” . . . in Christian circles as well as outside of same . . .

    Where for centuries and in the only . . . somewhat . . . distant past . . . we used to . . . more-often-than-not . . . call those who haven’t embraced any form of belief in GOD simply as . . . “UNBELIEVERS” . . . (which is a very Scriptural term re the reality of a lack of belief). In what seems to have become rather like a conversational intellectual . . . “FAD” . . . today . . . this term has essentially been discarded . . . Nowadays it’s become the . . . “in thing” . . . to lump these persons . . . ALL . . . children and adults . . . into the confines of what today is a term deeply tainted with negativity, hostility and militancy . . . and to consider and force these souls to consider themselves as . . . “atheists” . . . which term immediately sets up a barrier of defense in any wise soul . . . because of the tainted past history of hostile actions in which some terming themselves “atheists” have indulged themselves . . .

    There is a very much alive, militant and hostile . . . “activist” . . . atheism movement alive in our culture today . . . and I really take exception to the incorporation of “all” souls who haven’t come to belief/faith into the category of . . . “atheist”. . . To my soul “unbeliever” is essentially a “benign” term containing no connotation . . . past or present . . . of harm in and of itself . . . However the term “atheist” has proven itself . . . in grim reality . . . to often contain a “malignant” evil of destructive hostility and hate for those who do not agree with “atheistic” philosophy . . .

    Below are two Catholic Bible internet links to the use of the Scriptural terms – “unbeliever” – and . . . “unbelievers” . . . and a few select verses using same . . .

    Link #1:
    Link #2:

    – 2 Corinthians 6:15
    And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath the faithful with the UNBELIEVER?

    – Judith 13:27
    And Achior being called for came, and Judith said to him: The GOD of Israel, to whom thou gavest testimony, that he revengeth himself of his enemies, he hath cut off the head of all the UNBELIEVERS this night by my hand.

    – Ezechiel (Ezeckiel) 2:6
    And thou, O son of man, fear not, neither be thou afraid of their words: for thou art among UNBELIEVERS and destroyers, and thou dwellest with scorpions. Fear not their words, neither be thou dismayed at their looks: for they are a provoking house.

    – Luke 12:46
    The lord of that servant will come in the day that he hopeth not, and at the hour that he knoweth not, and shall separate him, and shall appoint him his portion with UNBELIEVERS.

    – Romans 15:31
    That I may be delivered from the UNBELIEVERS that are in Judea, and that the oblation of my service may be acceptable in Jerusalem to the saints.

    – 1 Corinthians 6:6
    But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before UNBELIEVERS.

    . . . all for Jesus+

    1. I like what you’ve written here. As our Lord says to St. Thomas when he put his hand into His wounds, and to us, “do not be unbelieving, but believe” and “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”( Jn20:27;29) this is what I say, those who don’t believe. He is Truth, therein lies reality. Sadly, too many don’t seem willing to pay attention.
      God bless.

  6. Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for long serving as an exemplar of preaching truth with charity. You are a class act and a faithful priest of Christ.

      1. My heart breaks to conclude that someone did indeed place a call in cowardly retaliation to one of so few holy priests left to us willing to expose the black underbelly of evil. You are in my prayers, Monsignor Pope.

  7. Fr Louis Bouyer in his book, “The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism” says:
    “What, then, is the source of the element in Protestant theology of a God forbidden to communicate himself to his creature, of man unable, even by the divine omnipotence, to be torn from his own solitude, from the autonomy of his so arrogant humility, of a world and a God inexorably condemned to the most utter ‘extrinsicism’? To the historian, the reply is obvious. The Reformers no more invented this strange and despairing universe than they found it in Scripture. It is simply the universe of the philosophy they had been brought up in, scholasticism in its decadence. If the Reformers unintentionally became heretics, the fault does not consist in the radical nature of their reform, but in its hesitation, its timidity, its imperfect vision. The structure they raised on their own principles is inacceptable only because they used uncritically material drawn from that decaying Catholicism they desired to elude, but whose prisoners they remained to a degree they never suspected. No phrase reveals so clearly the hidden evil that was to spoil the fruit of the Reformation than Luther’s saying that Occam was the only scholastic who was any good. The truth is that Luther, brought up on his system, was never able to think outside the framework it imposed, while this, it is only too evident, makes the mystery that lies at the root of Christian teaching either inconceivable or absurd. What, in fact, is the essential characteristic of Occam’s thought, and of nominalism in general, but a Radical empiricism, reducing all being to what is perceived, which empties out, with the idea of substance, all possibility of real relations between beings, as well as the stable subsistence of any of them, and ends by denying to the real any intelligibility, conceiving God himself only as a Protean figure impossible to apprehend.”
    For Bouyer, the ultimate cause of Luther’s heresy was his adherence to nominalist philosophy.

  8. I like this article very much. It seems to me that the world is trying to construct itself another Babel Tower leading everybody to speak a different language and bringing profound confusion. We should not give in to such nonsence, not let ourselves to be intimidaded and we ought to speak the truth. There is such a thing as universal truth.
    Why do we accept to change the name ” homosexual” for “guay”? Who says we have to? And why do we stop using the word guay in it’s rightful significance? What’s the use of language if the meaning of words are interchangeable? Let us not be afraid to speak and behave in an affirmative and truthful way. In the book of genesis we read that God wanted man to start understanding the world by naming all that was around him. Thank you Monsignor, for your posts that we like so much. You are serving the truth in the best way possible!

  9. Your article on nominalism is a welcome contribution on a very ignored topic. I sincerely believe that Ockham, not Descartes, is the real father of modern philosophy. His ideas were the poison that infected almost all that came after him on the new foundations he had constructed. In short, for his followers, we do not know reality, we create a mental reality in reference to the real (unknowable) world.

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