Nietzsche and nominalism
Prof. Denys Turner (Yale University)

March 23, 2018, 11:00am - 12:30pm
Department of Philosophy, Catholic Theological College, University of Divinity, Melbourne

Treacy Boardroom
278 Victoria Parade
East Melbourne 3002
Australia

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This paper sketches a brief history of reductionist ontologies in western philosophy, roughly from Ockham's nominalism through canonical early modern figures onward to Nietzsche, in order to show how a sort of reductionism coordinates with provisional and non-provisional scepticisms and the nominalist tradition. The key point of the nominalist programme is that in act of naming one does not describe the world but is rather engaging in a conventional declarative and arbitrarily-contingent act. A nominalist is also committed to an extensionalist view of meaning, that is, reducing the signification of terms to their extension, and reducing intensions to extensions. Nominalists also tend to be ‘atomist’ rather than holists about the sentence versus the word as the base source of significance. The nominalist tendency is then contrasted with a more moderate conceptualist position. But significantly for Nietzschian themes to be pursued later in the paper, both nominalists and conceptualists generally agree in in being anti-essentialist; the kep point is that there are no real-world essences to constrain the world's concept-formation.

The paper then argues that Nietzsche's radical constructivism actually is better viewed as following a long line of such nominalist-reductivist positions which take some or other selected concept thought to require an ontological entity as its correlate, and instead propose that the selected concept is really a construction or a projection, rather than being ontologically grounded and reflecting reality. Nietzsche’s positions on causality, and also on the soul and personal identity can also be read in this constructivist manner, a manner which can also be called a deconstruction of the ontological account of the selected concept. This deconstructionist tendency not only removes the traditional objects of metaphysics, God and soul, but it should also deconstruct the metaphysics of science.

The paper ends by considering Hobbes as the father of this deconstructivist nominalism, and then argues that Hobbes' political programme ties in with his nominalism. It finally argues that Nietzsche brings to fruition this Hobbesian deconstructivist pattern of thought, in dissolving the very individual that was the residue or the secure ontological foundation down to which nominalist reduced or deconstructed universals (and the soul, and causality etc). Nietzsche is thus the summation of the nominalist-deconstructivist tradition. There is a contrast between Nietzsche and Hobbes in that Hobbes collapses into a deeply conservative politics whereas Nietzsche's
"ontologico-politics" purports to ascend to an aesthetic that goes beyond anything in a Hobbesian form of individualism. Both are contrasting egoisms, a negative Hobbesian egoism and a positive Nietzschean egoism. The implications of the Nietzschian version for theisms in modernity are briefly discussed.

Public Transport: Trams: 109 (to Box Hill), 12 (to Victoria Gardens): Tram, stop 13 (Landsdowne St. ACU).

Buses: From City: 302, 303, 304, 305, 309, 318, 350, 905, 906, 907, 908. Stop: ACU.

Nearest Train Station: Parliament Station. Exit Macarthur St, go north until Victoria Parade, Turn right, 400 metres (CTC building corner of Victoria Parade and Eades St, - the Southern Side of Vic Parade, located across from what was until very recently - the Dallas Brooks Hall).

Parking along Vic Parade and at the ACU (on Young St).

Wheelchair accessible - all on ground/street level, with a disabled/wheelchairable toilet close to the boardroom.

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