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§ 97. Realism and Nominalism.

The underlying philosophical problem of the Scholastic speculations was the real and independent existence of general or generic concepts, called universalia or universals. Do they necessarily involve substantial being? On this question the Schoolmen were divided into two camps, the Realists and the Nominalists.13221322    H. Doergens, Lehre von d. Universalien, Heidelb., 1867; J. H. Löwe, D. Kampf zwischen d. Realismus und Nominalismus im Mittelalter, Prag, 1876. Art."Universalien," in Wetzer-Welte, XII. 305 sqq. The Histt. of Philosophy.s.

Realism taught that the universals are not mere generalizations of the mind but have a real existence. Following Plato, as he is represented by Aristotle, one class of Realists held that the universals are creative types, exemplars in the divine mind. Their view was stated in the expression—universalia ante rem — that is, the universals exist before the individual, concrete object. The Aristotelian Realists held that the universals possess a real existence, but exist only in individual things. This was the doctrine of universalia in re. Humanity, for example, is a universal having a real existence. Socrates partakes of it, and he is an individual man, distinct from other men. Anselm, representing the Platonic school, treated the universal humanity as having independent existence by itself. Duns Scotus, representing the second theory, found in the universal the basis of all classification and gives to it only in this sense a real existence.

The Nominalists taught that universals or general conceptions have no antecedent existence. They are mere names—nomina, flatus vocis, voces — and are derived from a comparison of individual things and their qualities. Thus beauty is a conception of the mind gotten from the observation of objects which are beautiful. The individual things are first observed and the universal, or abstract conception, is derived from it. This doctrine found statement in the expression universalia post rem, the universal becomes known after the individual. A modification of this view went by the name of Conceptualism, or the doctrine that universals have existence as conceptions in the mind, but not in real being.13231323    According to John of Salisbury there were no less than thirteen different shades of opinion on the subject. See Prantl, Gesch. der Logik, II. 118.

The starting-point for this dialectical distinction may have been a passage in Porphyry’s Isagoge, as transmitted by Boethius. Declining to enter into a discussion of the question, Porphyry asks whether the universals are to be regarded as having distinct substantial existence apart from tangible things or whether they were only conceptions of the mind, having substantial existence only in tangible things.13241324    The passage from Porphyry runs—mox de generibus et speciebus illud quidem sive subsistant, sive in solis nudis intellectibus posita sint, sive subsistentia corporalia sint an incorporalia, et utrum separata a sensibilibus, an insensibilibus posita et circa haec consistentia, dicere recusabo. Altissimum enim negotium est hujusmodi et majoris egens inquisitionis. See Gieseler, Ch. Hist., Germ. ed., III. 384.

The theory of Realism was called in question in the eleventh century by Roscellinus, a contemporary of Anselm and the teacher of Abaelard, who, as it would seem, advocated Nominalism.13251325    Otto of Freising, de gest. Frid., I. 47, spoke of him as the originator of Nominalism in that age, qui primus nostris temporibus in logica sententiam vocum instituit. According to John of Salisbury, nominalism almost wholly vanished with Roscellinus, Metalog., II. 17.piegne in the diocese of Soissons, 1092, when he was obliged to recant his alleged tritheism, which he substituted for the doctrine of the Trinity.

The views of this theologian called forth Anselm’s treatise on the Trinity, and Abaelard despised him as a quack dialectician.13261326    Pseudo-Dialecticus. Ep., 21. De fide trin. 3. tres personae sunt tres res sicut tres angeli aut tres animae, ita tamen ut voluntas et potestas omnino sunt idem. Also Ep., II. substances, as Scotus Erigena had done before. These persons were three distinct beings equal in power and will, but each separate from the other and complete in himself, like three men or angels. These three could not be one God in the sense of being of the same essence, for then the Father and the Holy Spirit would have had to become incarnate as well as the Son.

Defending the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, Anselm proceeded on the basis of strict realism and declared that the three persons represented three relations and not three substances. Fountain, brook, and pond are three; yet the same water is in each one and we could not say the brook is the fountain or the fountain is the pond. The water of the brook may be carried through a pipe, but in that case it would not be the fountain which was carried through, nor the pond. So in the same way, the Godhead became incarnate without involving the incarnation of the Father and Holy Spirit.

The decision of the synod of Soissons and Anselm’s argument drove Nominalism from the field and it was not again publicly avowed till the fourteenth century when it was revived by the energetic and practical mind of Ockam, by Durandus and others. It was for a time fiercely combated by councils and King Louis XI., but was then adopted by many of the great teachers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

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