Nominalism and Realism (again 4/22/14)

After philosophical Nominalism took hold, says Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio Journal,

[t]he universe lost the intelligibility that Christians had long attributed to it. The voluntarist thinking that accompanied nominalist assumptions reimagined God as irrational Will, not loving Logos. As Michael Gillespie puts it (in The Theological Origins of Modernity), “The God that Aquinas and Dante described was infinite, but the glory of his works and the certainty of his goodness were manifest everywhere. The nominalist God, by contrast, was frighteningly omnipotent, utterly beyond human ken, and a continual threat to human well-being. Moreover, this God could never be captured in words and consequently could be experienced only as a titanic question that evoked awe and dread.”

“Nominalism sought to tear the rationalistic veil from the face of God in order to found a true Christianity, but in doing so it revealed a capricious God, fearsome in his power, unknowable, unpredictable, unconstrained by nature and reason, and indifferent to good and evil. This vision of God turned the order of nature into a chaos of individual beings.”

Likewise, Louis Dupré has written that: “The nominalist theologies which came to dominate the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries destroyed the intelligible continuity between Creator and creature. The idea of an absolute divine power unrelated to any known laws or principles definitively severed the order of nature from that of grace. A nature created by an unpredictable God loses its intrinsic intelligibility in favor of the mere observation of actual fact. Nor does creation itself teach us anything of God beyond what this divine omnipotence has revealed in Scripture. Grace itself became a matter of divine decree unmeasurable by human standards and randomly dispensed.

(Ken Myers via Rod Dreher)

As the comments to this at Dreher’s blog reflect, Nominalism has its defenders as well as it’s unwitting, reflexive and unreflective adherents, who say “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” and other such such prostrations before “a capricious God, fearsome in his power, unknowable, unpredictable, unconstrained by nature and reason, and indifferent to good and evil.”

The best defense of Nominalism, it seems to me, is that the arguments against it all seem to flow from its bad consequences. As argument, that’s not “valid,” they say, and my reflex is to agree. But that we can’t see universals doesn’t mean they’re not real, or are mere constructs. Most people in most places in history have believe in universals. We’re the WEIRD ones who take Nominalism as self-evident. That should give pause.

I have more work to do on this before I really think I have a handle on it. I suppose I should start here, then revisit the modern locus classicus.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.