Can nominalists believe in their own death? You often hear people talk about death as nothing-ness, which suggests a universal nothing. And nominalists say that universals do not exist.

Just trying to figure out why I often seem so averse to imagining my own death.

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    Nominalism in a nutshell is the rejection of abstract objects. Death is a real real concrete fact. Thus, I do not see the connecttion: why a nominalist must be "skeptic" about death ? Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 13:02
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    In any case, we do not "believe" in death: we experince it every day. Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 13:02
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    A lot of people are averse to imagining their death! So you are not alone. I think the Buddhists have some techniques for helping to imagine our impermanence, specifically addressed to this issue. Of course Heidegger in Being and Time had some things to say. Once you hit 40, the years seem to fly by thereafter. Make good use of time but also savor the good times.
    – Gordon
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 17:01
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    Isn't this entirely dependent on how we define death? Is there some requirements as to what is meant by death here that you should add, or would any definition of death at all be sufficient to show nominalists believe in this thing? Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 20:47

3 Answers 3


I don't think there is a problem for nominalists here. I take nominalism to be the view that there are only individuals or particulars - concrete things or signs of concrete things, particular objects, states and events in space/time. My own death is, or will be, an individual event in space/time. What it will not be is an instance of a universal, namely death, of which there are indefinitely many other particulars or instances. This is because a universal is an abstract object (or entity) as Mauro Allegranza says above, and the existence of all such is denied by nominalists.


All people, nominalist as well as realists, can believe in: One day, I will die. Or more general, they can believe in:

One day in his future, each living being will die.

That's the most simple hypothesis about our future. No case is known which contradicts the hypothesis. Instead billions of cases from experience support the hypothesis. In addition, there are many theoretical arguments which make the statement a plausible hypothesis.

"To die" means that a certain process ends. The noun "death" does not refer to a new entity. It is just the nominalisation of "to end living". Nominalisations of this type can be helpful ways of speaking. But one has to keep in mind that they do not refer to new entities.

The alternative, whether negative entities like death refer to an existing object or are just negations of positive statements, is the subject of lengthy discussion between nominalists and realists. IMO these types of discussions seem a bit far fetched. In any case, they do not decide whether the original hypothesis is true or false.


If you have the particular/universal distinction in mind, then it is likely that one who wishes only to proport the former will take individual events of death as particulars. So, either the process of dying, or the property of being non-living, depending on what you're interested in.

With regards to:

Just trying to figure out why I often seem so averse to imagining my own death.

One thought is that death is a lack of experience. In trying to experience non-experience, we destroy the lack of phenomenon so we cannot truly experience non-experience; that is, experiencing non-experience is impossible because to experience anything is immediately not non-experience. I know this section is less related to your original question about nominalism, but I feel it is relevant to the sentence quoted above. Hopefully it leads you down some new and interesting lines of thought.

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