As someone who appreciates William of Occam's eponymous legacy (as I hope most people should, whether they know it by name or not), I was reading more about his life and discovered that his other legacy, arguably lesser known, was a metaphysical theory knows as nominalism. I will say that I was far less impressed by it than by the Razor.

For those unfamiliar, nominalism argues that only particulars exist, essentially objects that can be situated somewhere on the scale of tangibility, while abstract objects AKA universals, such as properties, qualities, or qualifications that can be (I argue objectively) attributed to particulars, do not exist and are basically imagination. So terms like beauty, intelligence, or number three do not really exist because they are not concrete objects. I find this theory naive, simplistic and TBH laughable.

As I pondered more about this theory, a more recent doctrine came to my mind as reminiscent, which is eliminativism, one of whose main exponents is Daniel Dennett. The approach is to simply ontologically disqualify terms and concepts that are difficult to theorize. So, in a way, nominalism seems a lot like eliminativism. Is my reasoning on the right track?

  • 1
    If by eliminativism you mean eliminative materialism then no, Ockham surely believed in immaterial particulars, like God or souls. But , as SEP says, "anyone denying the existence of some type of thing is an eliminativist with regard to that type of thing". So he trivially was an eliminativist with regard to common natures/universals.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 6:38
  • I agree with Conifold
    – mick
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 19:18
  • I'm used to the title of PhD theses having absurdly long titles full of absurdly long words, and I must say I really appreciate how every word in the title of this question has at least four syllables.
    – Stef
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


Eliminationism is a general class of theories of which nominalism is a subclass. Take any ontological category such as mind, matter, or abstract entities like universals and numbers. For any such category, one can take either of two different positions: realism or anti-realism. Realism posits that the category exists as a fundamental part of realty; anti-realism denies this. Anti-realist approaches can be divided up into two broad categories: reductionism and eliminationism. Some philosophers claim these amount to the same thing, but there is an arguable distinction in that a reductionist claims the entities do exist in some sense, but they that they are grounded in, constructed of, or explained by entities of another category. An eliminationist would claim that the entities do not exist at all; that it is a mistake of some sort to think that they exist.

For example, take universals. A realist would say that universals are abstract entities that really exist and that are not reducible to anything else. A reductionist would say that universals do exist, but that they are not their own ontological category; rather, they are reducible to something else.

For example, we think of the color red as a universal. A reductionist might claim that all red things have a unity about them and that it is this unity that primarily exists rather than the universal, red. A red apple and a red flag, for example, are parts of a unity. They are said to be qualitatively one, though numerically two. What exists primarily are the apple and the flag, and the unity of apple and flag. The universal red is no more than the unity of all red things.

An eliminationist would instead say that the color red does not exist at all. There is just a name that we apply to all things that strike us as red, or it is just a psychological impression. Nominalism would be a kind of eliminationism.

The difference between reduction and elimination then is that the reductionist can identify a thing (such as the unity of all red things) which he says is what we mean by the universal red. The eliminationist says that there is nothing corresponding to the universal other than, perhaps a name or an idea.

  • so basically, i was right to notice the similarity between the two ?
    – amphibient
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 19:23
  • For red, this is such a good example, we know now that "red" is a wavelength we perceive that results on interactions between incident light and the atoms on the surface of the object that have that color. What does this kind of modern scientific account of "red" do for the question of universals, reductionism, nominalism or eliminationism?
    – Frank
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 19:42

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