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Subjectivity, Reality and Abstractions

It is common sense that if I make two marks on a sheet of paper I can say that those two marks exist outside my head, that they are not just my imagination. But I cannot say that on that sheet of paper is an abstract "two" disconnected from those two marks. Abstract has been defined as "existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence." In other words the idea of "two" is just imagination. Allow me to extend this: abstraction is imagination. Two-ness or the number 100 doesn't exist outside my head independent of my imagination.

Also, we can't say that outside our minds there is green-ness disconnected from those physical attributes that made it appear to us to be green. The idea "green" is an abstraction. It's a product of our imagination. The physical attributes in particular items that make us see green are real. I don't deny that there are things outside my head that have in common the physical properties that create an appearance of green to the human eye.

And we can't deny things outside our head being governed by the common force of gravity. We can think of gravity in the abstract, but this is different from saying there is such a thing as gravity in the abstract outside our heads and separate from the objects involved.

Those called nominalists have been described as denying the existence of universal entities. William of Ockham has been described as a nominalist, and I like his statement that there is no fatherhood (abstraction) without fathers. Ockham contributed to Western thought by focusing on particulars, or specifics, as scientists do. Plato and Aristotle opposed nominalism. But I'm not interested in the nominalist anti-nominalist debate. All I'm doing is denying that abstractions exist outside of our heads. I do not describe myself as a nominalist or an anti-nominalist. I'm not interested in more words than are necessary to describe the connections between things – the lines between the dots.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.