Towards a nominalist empiricism

The paper deals with our ability to classify objects as being of a certain kind on the basis of information provided by the senses (empirical classification) and to ascribe empirical predicates to objects on the basis of these classificatory verdicts (empirical predication). I consider, first, the project of construing the episodes in which this ability is exercised as involving universals. I argue that this construal faces epistemological problems concerning our access to the universals that it invokes. I present the empiricist strategy for dealing with these problems by appeal to sensory qualities, and argue that it rests on a mistake. Then I turn to sketching an account of our faculty of empirical classification and predication which doesn't invoke universals. The account takes as its starting point the nominalist construal of sense experience to be found in the work of C. I. Lewis and Nelson Goodman. I argue that this construal has the resources for explaining some of the central features of the practice of empirical predication. There are those who feel that our ability to understand general terms ... would be inexplicable unless there were universals as objects of apprehension. And there are those who fail to detect, in such appeal to a realm of entities over and above the concrete objects in space and time, any explanatory value. W. V. O. Quine, ‘Logic and the Reification of Universals’.
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DOI 10.1111/j.0066-7372.2003.00020.x
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