Tag Archives: nominalism

Hobbes’s arguments for nominalism in De Corpore

[Cross-posted from philosophymodsquad.wordpress.com.]

(Following up on my earlier post on an argument for nominalism in the Elements of Law.)

In chapter 2 of De Corpore Hobbes offers two further arguments for the view that names are the only universals.

(1) The first involves the way in which common names denote.

However a common name, as it is the name of several things taken one by one, but not however of all the things together at the same time (as ‘man’ is not the name of human kind but of Peter, John, and the other men separately) is called for that reason universal. So the name ‘universal’ is not the name of some thing existing in rerum natura, and not the name of an idea, or some phantasm formed in the soul, but is always the name of some vox or name (DeCo 2.9).

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Hobbes’s argument for nominalism in the Elements of Law

[Cross-posted from philosophymodsquadwordpress.com.]

Hobbes was a nominalist, in that he believed that “there is nothing universal but names” (EL 5.6), so there are neither universal things nor universal ideas. But why did he believe this?

In chapter 5 of the Elements of Law, having introduced names, Hobbes distinguishes between universal and singular names: singular names name one thing, while universal names name more than one thing. As an example of a universal name he gives ‘man’, which is a name given “to every particular of mankind” (EL 5.5), that is, to every individual man.

Having distinguished the two sorts of name, Hobbes goes on to note that the universality of certain names has lead some to think that there are also universal things (EL 5.6). On this view

besides Peter and John, and all the rest of the men that are, have been, or shall be in the world, there is yet somewhat else that we call man, (viz.) man in general, deceiving themselves by taking the universal, or general appellation, for the thing it signifieth (EL 5.6).

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