Metaphysics shares a breadth of problems concerning ‘universals’. One view that addresses these problems is nominalism. Nominalism is the position that universals do not exist outside the mind. There are different sects of nominalism that expresses various stances about the problem at hand. Austere nominalism, metalinguistic nominalism, and trope theory are the various types of nominalism that refute the claim of realism.
Each of these types of nominalism contain their own respective views towards universals and have their own strengths and weaknesses. Austere nominalism, metalinguistic nominalism, and trope theory have many similarities and differences as well as strong points that support the nominalist perspective. Austere nominalism takes the stance that the only things that exist are concrete particulars. These concrete particulars are a category of individuals like individual persons, individual objects, individual animals, or various other individual materials.
“What the austere nominalist wants to claim is that an ontology of concrete particulars provides the resources for dealing with all the phenomena the metaphysical realist claims presuppose an ontology of multiply exemplifiable entities” (Loux 53). The austere nominalist refutes the realist claim that universals are necessary and serve as handling the phenomena of attribute agreement. Rather the austere nominalist’ claim is that the issue needn’t be explained at all. Nominalists believe that realism does not contain more explanatory power than nominalism. Thus, it is much wiser to adopt nominalism because it is much simpler without universals.
The leading issue with austere nominalism is that the proponent of universals and attribute agreement are to be ignored without much explanation. The notion that they are unnecessary complications may not seem like a sufficient enough explanation to combat the ideals of realists. However, the benefit to the austere nominalist theory offers a very simplistic approach towards the ideas of attributes and predication. Overall, austere nominalism offers an ontologically simpler metaphysical explantion, but realism may be explanatorily simpler.
Metalinguistic nominalism takes into consideration the usage of language when addressing the issue of universals. Metalinguistics nominalists see universals as references about language and not objects. They want universality to be understood linguistically using predicativity for example, when referencing ‘humanity’ the reference is towards human individuals. It is in this view that abstract referencing takes on a different form. It disguises itself as an object language sentence, but is actually a claim about a linguistic expression. This beholds the idea that abstract references like ‘triangular’ is a shape predicate. Metalinguistic nominalism presents a couple problems in its ideology.
The fact that the linguistic expressions are talked about in the terms of ‘types’, this notion would make them universals as well. This is unfortunate since the metalinguistic nominalist is trying to eliminate universals altogether. In addition to this problem, another issue arises with the subjectivity of language. The theory does not take into account the possibility of other languages. When an English speaker is talking, they are referring to an English word. Two words of equivalent meaning would not be referenced in the same way according to metalinguistic nominalism.
Rather they would both be considered two different words. However, in light of metalinguistic nominalism it does offer a workaround to address the issues of multiple languages. Sellars devised a punctuation that would focus on the equivalent meaning of the word to be addressed rather than the word itself. The punctuation came in the form of a single dot placed on both sides of the word being addressed. Metalinguistic nominalism also offers a bit of clarity in the issue of referring to multiple individuals through the use of distributive singular terms.
In the issue of addressing multiple concrete particulars it utilizes a singular term to take possession for all individuals being referenced. For example, ‘American citizen’ in “The American citizen has freedom of speech” is the distributive singular term. Trope theory is unlike austere and metalinguistic nominalism in the essence that trope theory allows for the use of attributes in its ontology. However, this is not like the belief realist hold which also possesses that attributes are multiply exemplifiable. Trope theorists believe in the opposite.
They believe that attributes are not only not multiply exemplifiable, but that they are also particulars. It is believed in trope theory that it is impossible for anything else to possess the same attribute as another. A concerning attribute of trope theory is the fact that it may not sufficiently address the similarity between two different attributes. Trope theorists will argue that two different tropes may be similar and may be the reason why two concrete particulars may appear similar. This doesn’t however, bridge a connection between commonalities between two similar objects.
However, tropes offer an elegant approach to the issue of properties. While lacking zero properties themselves, they help define an object without the ontology of particulars and universals. This makes tropes a possibly powerful tool for a nominalist. In contrast to each other, austere nominalism, metalinguistic nominalism, and trope theory are differing forms of nominalism that contain various differences. Whilst all combatting the problems and complexities of universals, they each have ways in which they combat it.
Austere nominalists are able to address the issue of universals by denying the existence of them and the notion that they have to be dealt with altogether. This is a very simplistic approach and avoids the need to addressing the phenomena of addressing attribute agreement. Metalinguistic nominalism is able to do the same by changing the phrase of universals into a linguistic reference. This viewpoint also avoids addressing the existence of universals and states that they are just disguised as linguistic expressions. Syntactical and grammatical tools allow for predicativity on several different objects to be used as universality.
Lastly, trope theory takes a unique position against universals. Tropes almost seem to take on the appearance of universals in their ability to describe and object, but stray away in the notion that they are particulars themselves. While still being able to provide the descriptive nature of universals, tropes are still very different and add to the nominalist box of tools. Most intriguing of the forms of nominalism is metalinguistic nominalism. While eliminating the problem with universals, it seems to combat the issue in the least aggressive way.
Terms that would be considered to be ‘universals’ still have their place in metalinguistic nominalism since they mostly come to be predicates. In addition to the problems that metalinguistic nominalism brings about with the issue of multiple languages, it combats it with a useful punctuation created by Sellars. Each of the forms of nominalism all focus around the problem of universals and realist theory. They combat them through the usage of very different means. Altogether they bring an alternate view aside from realism in three different perspectives. In address to the realist view Alan Watts stated, “The menu is not the meal”.