Vima Repa wrote: Whoa, that's a big change of subject. But I'm not convinced the scientific revolution has its roots in the rejection of realism about universals, which, let's face it, is as close as you can get to a purely intellectual topic with no practical consequence in the world.
I think it has more to do with "disenchantment," and a shift from viewing the world as colored by subjective affect, meaning, and symbolism, to viewing it as a place containing discrete, measurable objects in space. The modern worldview is basically Newtonian rather than nominalist, and it's taking a long time to catch up with Darwinism and recent physics.
It's not a change of subject. It is why I brought up the topic in the first place. I am trying to reconcile two aspects of my own worldview.
The point about universals is that they are associated with the Aristotelean (and more broadly, the Platonist, tradition). And that is why
it the rejection of traditional realism was part of the advent of modern materialism which conceives of the Universe in terms of 'matter in motion'. I have debated this topic for six years on Philosophy Forum, and I've come to see how thoroughly the nominalist attitude, which is one of the main sources of modern empiricism, conditions how our culture thinks about it. It conditions it so deeply that we literally can't see beyond it, it defines what we regard as real. It shapes our mind and language so deeply we (or at any rate a vast number of people) never see beyond it.
As for all this having 'no practical consequences', one of the books about this very topic is called Ideas have consequences
! It's by a US academic, published in 1948. I confess to not having read the whole book, and furthermore it is highly regarded amongst US conservatives, which is not a plus in my view.
Weaver attributes the beginning of the Western decline to the adoption of nominalism (or the rejection of the notion of absolute truth) in the late Scholastic period. The chief proponent of this philosophical revolution was William of Ockham.
The consequences of this revolution, Weaver contends, were the gradual erosion of the notions of distinction and hierarchy, and the subsequent enfeebling of the Western mind's capacity to reason. These effects in turn produced all manner of societal ills, decimating Western art, education and morality.
There's a more recent book, which I highly recommend, called The Theological Origins of Modernity
, M A Gillespie, which makes a very similar point in locating the origins of modern so-called 'scientific thinking' (as distinct from scientific method) in the debates between nominalism and realism.
Now I think the term 'absolute truth' in the first snippet, would be better expressed as 'the domain of values' - so nominalism, in effect, undermined the connection between reason
, which has extremely grave consequences. For the advent of modern materialism is the precise point which Hume articulated in the 'is/ought' problem. For Buddhists, the seeing of 'what truly is' (yathābhūtaṃ) is itself a factor of purification; insight into the truth of 'how things are' is the factor of enlightenment itself. Whereas, modern Western thought is grounded on what is measurable
, what is subject to quantitative analysis; and then values are basically subjectivized, that is, held to be a matter of individual conscience rather than what the West grants to be 'objective fact'. (You can also see how Lutheranism plays into that with the supremacy of the individual conscience.) And in the Western mind, 'what truly is', is essentially meaningless. We project meaning onto it, mainly as a consequence of our evolutionary history.
I admit, all this is tangential to Buddhism, proper. What I have now realised is that whilst nominalism in Western thinking is associated with philosophical materialism, Buddhism tends towards nominalism for very different reasons. As I said, Buddha represents higher truth (paramartha-satya), a notion which is completely rejected in modern Western philosophy. So Buddhists don't need to bother with the Platonist analysis. Perhaps I could say, the Buddha rejects metaphysics from a point beyond it, whereas the West has rejected it and fallen back into nihilism; the West has failed to surpass Platonic metaphysics, instead it has simply forgotten the truths it pointed to and relapsed into the 'cave', to use another Platonic analogy.