Nominalism

In metaphysics, nominalism is the view that universals and abstract objects do not actually exist other than being merely names or labels.[1][2] There are at least two main versions of nominalism. One version denies the existence of universals – things that can be instantiated or exemplified by many particular things (e.g., strength, humanity). The other version specifically denies the existence of abstract objects – objects that do not exist in space and time.[3]

William of Ockham

Most nominalists have held that only physical particulars in space and time are real, and that universals exist only post res, that is, subsequent to particular things.[4] However, some versions of nominalism hold that some particulars are abstract entities (e.g., numbers), while others are concrete entities – entities that do exist in space and time (e.g., pillars, snakes, bananas).

Nominalism is primarily a position on the problem of universals, which dates back at least to Plato, and is opposed to realist philosophies, such as Platonic realism, which assert that universals do exist over and above particulars. However, the name "nominalism" emerged from debates in medieval philosophy with Roscellinus.

The term 'nominalism' stems from the Latin nomen, "name". John Stuart Mill summarised nominalism in the apothegm "there is nothing general except names".[5]

In philosophy of law, nominalism finds its application in what is called constitutional nominalism.[6]