Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Nominalism Sucks: So What Do We Do About It?

Saw this post where Fr. Powell quoted Msgr. Pope's denunciation of nominalism.

And I simply want to add my voice to the chorus.

Nominalism sucks!

The question is: what do we do about it?

I often think about the philosophical errors of our culture, and how we could correct them.

And to me, the issue keeps coming back to the problem of the philosophical illiteracy of Catholics.

I'm not very educated when it comes to Catholic philosophy, I've noticed in discussions with other Catholics, I tend to know more than most.

That's not much of a brag.

I have a smattering of Thomism. I can navigate my way through the Summa.

Most people Catholics, even ones who can defend their faith against the most common objections, don't know squat.

I know a lot of us agree with Pope Benedict's denunciation of the dictatorship of relativism.

How do you suppose we got here?


Now, in fairness, nominalism doesn't have to be relativistic. Occam was no relativist, and neither were the nominalistic theologians of the late 15th century. Martin Luther did his doctorate in nominalist philosophy.

Nominalism doesn't have to be relativistic, but its nature is such that it inevitably becomes relativistic. If you don't believe in the ability of human reason to discern reality, both natural and supernatural, the rules you make up to navigate reality, including the rules to discern it, will necessarily be arbitrary.

But how do have the conversation to bring people back to faith in reason, as it were?

Catholics would be the natural promoters of the idea that reason can make generalizations about ontological realities. The problem is that most Catholics don't know squat.

And if they don't know squat about this stuff, how can this conversation take place?

We can't just rely on pointing to the consequences of nominalism as proof that it's a bad thing.

Because in the post-modernist world, "bad" is all a matter of perspective.

Divorce might be bad for the kids, but who says it's bad for adults?

It's all a matter of how you look at it!

Catholics aren't able to have the conversation because they're not conversant in philosophy. They can't challenge the ideas underpinning relativism. That would bring us in the realm of metaphysics.

Metaphysics is hard.

Myself, I find metaphysics intimidating, and I like metaphysics.

If we don't somehow bring these ideas into the public square and challenge relativism based on its philosophical foundations, we'll never make any inroads on evangelizing souls or advancing the culture of life. We can't just try to make arguments based ONLY on the philosophical consensus.

We have to MAKE the philosophical consensus.

I just don't see too many Catholics equipped to do that.

And besides the problem of knowledge, there's a problem with know-how.

Because you don't just start chatting people up with issues of nature, essence, accidents and substance.

There's a way of doing this that is culturally relevant and accessible, as opposed to pedantic and alienating.

I'm all for stamping out nominalism, but maybe us culture warriors should think about investing more in the intellectual aspects of our faith and politics.