If one holds a nominalist or conventionalist view of universals or kind, then do they believe that there are ordinary objects?

  • I don't think so, but maybe some could have drawn that conclusion.
    – user65994
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 11:34

1 Answer 1


According to the SEP's article Nominalism in Metaphysics:

Nominalism comes in at least two varieties. In one of them it is the rejection of abstract objects; in the other it is the rejection of universals. Philosophers have often found it necessary to postulate either abstract objects or universals. And so Nominalism in one form or another has played a significant role in the metaphysical debate since at least the Middle Ages, when versions of the second variety of Nominalism were introduced. The two varieties of Nominalism are independent from each other and either can be consistently held without the other. However, both varieties share some common motivations and arguments.

So the simple answer to your question is a nominalist believes in the existence of everday objects that are concrete, and not abstractions of them. For instance, if someone owns two dogs, Foo and Bar, then Foo and Bar exist, but 'dog' in the abstract does not. You can pet and feed Foo and Bar, but you can't pet and feed a 'dog', not in the abstract. On this view, when you say 'I CAN pet and feed a dog', what you are really saying is 'I can pet and feed a dog (where dog is a variable for any concrete members of the class dog such as Foo and Bar)'. Thus, in essence, one might treat universals and categories as variables that function anaphorically:

anaphora (/əˈnæfərə/) is the use of an expression whose interpretation depends upon another expression in context (its antecedent or postcedent).

It's not radical to suggest, for instance that the general 'you' doesn't exist, but is a pronoun, where 'you' refers to a specific person in a specific conversation. Thus, physical existence isn't determined by if a word to refer exists, but is determined through ontological indicators, such as having mass, having a social security card, being able to participate in a conversation in person, etc. Nominalists, therefore, might not stress over how unicorns don't exist despite the fact that someone can use the word unicorn in a sentence. Words aren't magical artifacts that summon matter and energy, after all.

So, if by ordinary objects, you mean concrete instances or particulars of a class, then yes, nominalists believe they exist. There is a term to describe the nihilism you ask after, and it's called mereological nihilism, where objects are merely viewed as structures or configurations of particles, as opposed to things in and of themselves. Thus, to a mereological nihilist, there are configurations of atoms as chairs, but chairs do not exist.

  • It looks like one could (but doesnt have to) be both nominalist and mereological nihilist. Something like "There are a bunch of configurations of atoms sharing a common set of properties that we call chairs"
    – armand
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 2:33
  • @armand Good question. No idea.
    – J D
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 3:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .