2007 Archive Edition - See the Archive Notice on the Project Homepage for more information.
A philosophical position that flourished in the late Middle Ages, nominalism holds that categories and characteristics have no independent existence. They are either names (that is, linguistic constructions) or abstractions (that is, mental constructions). The basic tenets derive from Boethius' commmentary on the Isogogue of Porphyry, in which Boethius asks if Porphyry's five universals, which are similar to Aristotle's categories, exist. Roscelin of Compiègne answers no and denies the existence of anything but the individual. His pupil, Peter Abelard, sometimes considered a nominalist, proposes that general terms, such as mankind or flower, are abstracted from instances of individuals and what is common to individuals in a class defines the class. This mental activity is the basis of the existence of categories. William of Ockham, another important nominalist, denies the existence of universals or abstractions as real objects and sees them much as Abelard does, as the fruit of mental activity, which belongs to a different category and requires a different sort of understanding. Later nominalists see faith and reason as differing in category and character, possibly being even mutually exclusive. Because nominalists seem so positivistic in their insistence on the particular and because some feel faith and reason are divided, Roman Catholic theologians sometimes see nominalism as inherently heretical.
Karen Rae Keck
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