Abelard on Universals — страница 5

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by the understanding, although it would lack nomination; otherwise there would not be the proposition: there is no rose (187). Here we can note that Abelard’s answers are extremely sharp, flexible and inclusive. He concentrates on the different meanings in which the universals are applied and understood. He always keeps in mind the physical reality they refer to. He also states that they could be significative even without nomination. And this is, in my opinion, a very strong claim (among others mentioned above) against those who would like to call his solution a nominalistic one. Names, and universal names particularly, are not just mere “utterances”, because they signify being and not being of something in the physical world. It must be noted, however, that although the

definition of the universal or of the genus or the species includes only words, nevertheless these nouns are often transferred to their things, as when it is said that species is made up of genus and difference, that is, the thing of the species from the thing of the genus. For when the nature of words is examined with respect of signification, it is a question sometimes of words and sometimes of things, and frequently the names of the latter and the former are transferred reciprocally (188). It can be seen now that it is neither nominalism no realism, because the words sometimes signify words and sometimes things. In his rather realistic inclination Abelard, who does not like to talk nonsense as well as to hear one, warns us: For this reason most of all, the ambiguous treatment

of logic as well as grammar leads many, who do not distinguish clearly and properly of the imposition of nouns or the abuse of transference, into error by the transference of nouns (188). He wants us always to make sense or signify either things or words and understand what is that we are doing at the moment. Now, I think, it is clear that there was a problem of universals at the time, otherwise there would be no alternative questions and attempted solutions about them. It seems that Abelard’s solution was neither nominalistic, no realistic. He tried to give life of a meaningful concept to the universals, saying that they signify by nomination things truly existent, and some say he succeeded for another 300 years in his conceptualism. There is a reason why Abelard was not a

peripatetic (meaning the follower of Aristotle). He could not, being a Christian theologian and the observer of Plato, considering his position with qualification (together with Boethius), but like almost every medieval thinker he was indebted to The Philosopher, which did not prevent him from being a very original thinker with rather synthetic tendencies. V What consequences of Abelard’s writings on universals could be thought of? The doctrine that names for physical things and for their groups of certain kind, like genera and species, and universals in general, at least some times are real, i.e., constitute a valid knowledge about the physical world as well as at other times the knowledge about the operations of our mind, influenced the further development of natural

philosophy and logic in Western tradition. The subtle and multiple-level solution of the problem encouraged a more elaborated and keen approach to the other problems of philosophy as well. The philosophers, like for instance Tomas Aquinas, were greatly impressed by Peter Abelard’s work and they used his solution in their writings. I believe that later even Immanuel Kant was indebted to Abelard building his arguments about necessity intrinsic to science, which was, in my opinion, the strongest part in proving his Transcendental Aesthetic, namely how are synthetic a priori propositions possible. We can trace Abelard’s logical ideas in Kant’s writings on logic. Who knows how much F. Bacon was in his debt, when he so passionately believed in the new method for acquiring

knowledge of the physical world? It is easy to underestimate Abelard’s importance for the whole development of Western science, if we fail to consider that his doctrine was not a nominalistic one, which I hope I was able to demonstrate in this essay. VI There still remains a question: Why some scholars like Weinberg and Broadie called Abelard’s solution nominalistic? In order to answer this, let us first look at their definitions of the term nominalism and then on some of their explanation of what Abelard wrote on the universals. Nominalism traditionally understood is a doctrine, which denies the real existence of universals, conceived as supposed referents of general terms like “red” or “table”. . . . In more recent usage, ‘nominalism’ is often employed as a