TTM 4 – Nominalism

“What is ‘real’? How do you define ‘real’?”


After essentialism, your relationship with concepts is going to be completely different. You’re going to almost certainly have to stop being a nominalist now. 

A nominalist is very sure of exactly one thing – he knows what is real and what isn’t. These things over here, they are real, but these other things, not so much. Usually a nominalist points to empirically existing objects as the paradigm of the truly existent, and then declares concepts to be nothing whatsoever.

To this I say: bwuuuuuh. dur. wut. 

Cuz like, I just have absolutely no idea what is real or what is not. Not a goddamn clue! It seems a little presumptuous to assume that one can, must or should ever assume that anything is ‘real’ in the first place. 

Just like that, I have nullified the effects of nominalism on my mind.

And so can you! 

The fuck do you or anybody else know about what is real and what isn’t? The hell is ‘real’ supposed to mean anyways? How can you point to a phenomena like a concept, that is clearly like, there, and then say, ‘but it isn’t real’? 

Against the nominalist we can confidently assert – we have no idea what is real or what isn’t. Everything is ‘real’, everything is not ‘real’ – so what? It’s a meaningless distinction. And if we take a step back and refuse to automatically accept these reification parameters, then we don’t even have to use them in the first place. 

If ‘real/not-real’ isn’t a useful distinction to make about any phenomena, then the question immediately becomes – what does it do? By dodging the nominalist’s attempt to tell us what is ‘real’, now ‘realness’ is no longer ours to decide, and all phenomena must be accounted for. 

What does it do?

How does it relate to other phenomena?

How does it exist?

Why does it exist?

Where did it come from?

When does it exist?

What does ‘existing’ mean, anyways?

These are some of the ontological questions you have at your disposal once you have stopped playing the game of nominalism. And if you’ve made it this far through this series, you should already know that concepts not only have a reality all their own, but that they modulate and multiply the parameters of your subjective experience. They’re just as ‘real’ as anything else is, indeed – they must already exist in order for there to be any experience of anything ‘real’ in the first place. 

The nominalist banishes concepts to the realm of the phantasmic, and therefore is somebody who does not think, and also does not want you to think. He has accepted somebody else’s static (non/anti)-ontological categories unquestioningly, and now has a mind busily engaged in policing the definitions of those categories, making sure that you accept them too. 

After nominalism, we are in a position to pity the nominalist – he does not know what his own mind is capable of yet, and worse, he does not want to know. 

If everything ‘exists’ and must be accounted for, then that includes nominalism itself. It does something in the world, it has real causal effects, it has a social function. In this case, nominalism functions as an ideological guard rail, creating an in-group/out-group dynamic. In here, the wise nominalists, we know what is real – and you must accept this a priori ontological judgement in order to have a seat at the table. To a nominalist, outside of the nominalist a priori there is only madness. 

And if nominalism is sanity, then what price madness? 

After nominalism we can say: ‘reality’ is way too interesting and complicated to fit into a binary like ‘real/unreal’. You can tell the nominalist to fuck right off – you won’t be missing much – and as a bonus, this will give you full control over your own (de)-reification levers.

We now know something else too – the complexes and constructs we’re deconstructing may not be ‘you’, but they have an existence all their own, their own causal power. And by learning how to shape and build them ourselves instead of being determined by them behind our back, we are already solidly on the road to mental freedom. 

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