Philosopher Responds to “Whatever!”
Nattering nominalists close the case on truth
What is the aim of our clicking and reading? It is not to say, “Whatever!” The aim is thinking. And when we think, we form judgments. We think, for example, that G. K. Chesterton was a journalist, that gin merits tonic, that the Babylon Bee has great satire. When we think we come to terms not with “whatever” but with what is the case.
Consider the nominalist, who is of the opinion that the objects of thought are so elusive that they really are, even in the best of times, so much in flux, so inchoate, that we can’t say what they really are. Sure, we can give them names (nomina). But they are bereft of any essence that we can know. So when thinking proves troublesome, the denizens of modernity chime, often in unison, “whatever.”
Nominalists, though, can be wily. My friend, Nate, likes to play the “modesty card.” He’s protests that none of us know everything about anything and that we all claim to know more about some things than we do. Well, Nate’s right. But realists can be as modest as nominalists! St. Thomas Aquinas, for one, thought that we can’t know everything there is to know about a grain of sand. But there’s a lot that we can know about a grain of sand. We can know that it is, that it is small, that it is made of sand, that sand is composed of atoms, that the atoms that compose the grain do not form a heap but rather a grain. Plus, if we think hard enough, we can know that the “stuff” of the grain of sand requires a structure or “form” if it is to be a grain, and this grain, rather than just “stuff.” We can know, too, that sand isn’t rain, although rain and sand together are receptive to tire treads.
But wait. About now someone might mutter, sotto voce, “So what?” Gentle reader, here’s what. Nothing follows from Nate’s argument. That is, nothing that supports nominalism. The quick response to Nate’s argument, in the language of saints and scholars, is “Ergo pluit!” That is, “Therefore, it rains.” Or, to be rude, “You’re all wet.” Epistemic modesty is surely in order. But “whatever” nominalism is out of order. It denies the order, the intelligibility, of what is real. Every thing is what it is and not another thing. Nor is anything just a “whatever.”
What’s the takeaway? We need to think, and think as hard as we can. We need to love God with our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole mind. The first object of the mind is what is true. Indeed, truth as a transcendental ranges over the whole of being; it is, we might say, one of the faces of Being. Nattering nominalists close the case on truth. Lovers of reality embrace it.