home | more philosophy

Subjectivity 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."

William of Ockham said there is no fatherhood (abstraction) without fathers. In other words, fathers as individuals are real; fatherhood is a mental construction. The generalizations we make are abstractions and mental constructions. Ockham contributed to philosophy and science by focusing on particulars and moving away from Plato, who believed that words (like fatherhood) were more than passing human inventions, that they had a permanent existence like things in the heavens.

Before Plato's confusion about words there was Pythagoras.


Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.