Saturday, January 21, 2006


[This essay was first published in The Examined Life, Volume II, Issue 8, Winter 2001. For the record, as far as I remember, I was working on this essay when W. V. O. Quine died on Christmas Day 2000.]

Quine, in his classic essay "On What There Is", purports to deal with the nominalist-realist controversy about universals. In this essay I maintain that nominalists and realists alike, in speaking of the existence or non-existence of universals perpetrate and perpetuate the common modern error of ignoring reality.
I oppose reality to existence. I have been taken to task for that on the ground that the word reality is already overburdened with different meanings. My defence is that we very much need to draw a clear line between existence for all of the essentially transient content of the world, on the one hand, and reality, on the other hand, for the abiding principle that transcends the mutability and multiplicity of the existent. (For a fuller statement of this position, see my Let Us Philosophize (1998), passim, but particularly Book Two: Reality.)
The earliest Ionian thinkers sought that first principle in various substrata. Heraclitus stressed the transience of all existents and sought the abiding principle in the ever-living fire that consumes all and brings forth all anew. Parmenides emphasized the unity, the changelessness, the wholeness of the real, and left no room for the actual world which presses in on us from every side.
Socrates was not concerned with the world but only with the ideals and values by which alone we live our specifically human life. And those ideals and values we do not find in the world but are born in the mind: it is only in the mind and the ideas of the mind that we have that life of intelligence in virtue of which we are human beings and which constitutes our true worth. Hence Socrates drew a line between scientific investigation, concerned with the factual, the actual and the existent, on the one hand, and philosophical inquiry, concerned with ideals and values, on the other hand.
Plato identified the Socratic domain of ideals and values with the realm of reality. He uses the words alêtheia, ousia, to on interchangeably, and if not always meaning the same thing, at any rate pointing to one reality — reality as the perfection of being, the union of intelligence and goodness: alêtheia in Plato does not mean truth as correspondence with or conformity to any actuality, but as the perfection of reality. The quest of the philosopher is not for what there is but for what is real.
The gist of the theory of knowledge expounded in the Republic and graphically illustrated in the allegory of the cave is that the knowledge of the things of the world is imperfect knowledge, and that only the knowledge of pure ideas is knowledge of reality. The moderns think this is balderdash. We Platonists say this is the whole of philosophy.
All that Plato says about the Forms and the Form of the Good and its relation to intelligence and the intelligible world is metaphor and myth, and he never claimed it is anything but that. But Plato's metaphors and myths place us firmly in possession of the intelligible world in which we live in reality.
The doctrine of anamnesis and the doctrine of the separate existence of the Forms (whether either or both of these doctrines originated with Socrates or with Plato) were no more than a 'likely tale' turning the mind away from what becomes toward what is. To the end of his life Plato never suggested that he had a definitive theory of the Forms or of their relation to the things in the world. (See my Plato: An Interpretation, chapter 1, "The Intelligi9ble Forms" and chapter 5, "Thr Meaning of the Phaedo".)
Plato was the first to see that his conception of Forms gave rise to many theoretical problems. He grappled with those problems without ever claiming that he had a definitive answer or that anything of what he said was to be taken as literal truth. The only thing he held to firmly was that the life we have in that realm is the only true life, and in that sense, that realm is the only reality worth the name.
When, from around the seventeenth century onwards, science made its tremendous leaps in the field of knowledge of the world and mastery of the world, moderns directed all their attention to that domain of scientific knowledge, of existents, and forgot about the world of reality. As if that was not bad enough, the British Empiricists did not simply ignore the realm of reality, they positively denied it: the world of objective knowledge was all that could be known or need be known.
Aristotle was concerned to show the error of taking the separate existence of the Forms as literal truth, giving the impression – whether intentionally or inadvertently – that Plato so took it. In so doing Aristotle was responsible for giving rise to the problem that was to be known as the problem of universals and the controversy about the existence of the universals that continues to rage to the present day.
The problem of universals may be summarized as follows: We cannot make any meaningful statement without using some word or words of a general nature, standing for a quality, a class, a number: let us call these general kinds universals. In what sense and where can we say those universals are?
Quine argues against the position of logical realism which affirms the existence of universals. He champions the outright nominalist position which affirms that universals have no existence apart from particular things. Now this controversy could be treated as a linguistic dispute, and could then be easily resolved by agreeing on what we mean by such terms as 'existence', ‘reality’, 'entity', 'being', etc. But the controversy conceals a deeper problem which neither logical realists nor logical nominalists fathom.
Realists say there are universals. When nominalists say there are only concrete things they are not contradicting the nominalists but are defining and limiting their 'are'. Quine claims to advance "an explicit standard whereby to decide what the ontological commitments of a theory are" (p. 43). But in proposing a criterion he effectively defines his ontology, and it is not open to him to rule out alternative ontologies. [The page references I give are to the version of the essay reproduced in Contemporary Readings in the Foundations of Metaphysics, ed. Stephen Laurence and Cynthia Macdonald, Blackwell, 1998, pp.32-45.]
But if the dispute between realists and nominalists were resolved wholly as a matter of definition and terminology, we would perhaps at last have peace but no real gain. (Peace is a blessing devoutly to be sought in our actual lunacy-ridden world, but not in the intellectual world.) We have to probe the kernel hidden from view by the dust raised by the mighty contest.
At bottom the question is not really about what there is and what there is not, but about which world, the world of things or the world of ideas, is more worthy of our attention. While both parties to the controversy are at fault in turning their back to the realm of reality, what fuels the feud is perhaps that realists somehow, half-knowingly and half-heartedly, keep hankering after the realm of reality, while nominalists are quite content with throwing it overboard and living in the world of the this and the now.
Quine argues against two classes of (logical) realists, a more naïve class which he lumps together in the fictional McX, and a more sophisticated class which he represents by the fictional Wyman. I am not concerned to defend either McX or Wyman or any of the historical characters that stand behind them. In criticizing Quine my purpose is to criticize an approach and assumptions shared by nominalists and realists alike.
If there is not much explicit criticism of the realist side of the controversy in what follows, this is simply because I am here discussing Quine's essay. It is not my purpose to argue against Quine's argument against his opponents, real or fictitious.
Quine begins his essay by remarking on the simplicity of the ontological problem. He tells us that it can be put in three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables, 'What is there?' (p. 43.) But nothing in thought and nothing in language is simple: a thought comes to birth already itself heavy with child, and at the slightest touch procreates progeny that defy the parent. This follows from the creativity of all reality. Two of Quine's three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables – 'is' and 'there' – have bred and continue to breed volumes and volumes of learned disputation. (The remaining one of the trio, 'what', may look peaceful enough in the present context, but can outdo the other two in roguery when given the slightest provocation.) As Quine says in concluding his opening paragraph: "There remains room for disagreement over cases; and so the issue has stayed alive down the centuries" (p. 32).
One would expect the ontological problem of universals to be the central theme of the essay, but Quine gives priority and more space and attention to the problem of nonbeing which he considers to be the main source of the realist delusion. The realists are, according to Quine, entrapped in an indefensible position by their failure to see through the eristic problem of nonbeing: how can we say x is not, without implying that somehow it is? It is the pseudo-problem of nonbeing that lures realists "to impute being where they might otherwise be quite content to recognize that there is nothing" (p. 32). He somehow ties up the controversy with "the old Platonic riddle of nonbeing", which he irreverently nicknames 'Plato's beard' (p. 32). This is as unjust as it is irreverent. Plato did not originate the riddle of nonbeing; he found it rife and successfully unriddled it in the Sophist (St.236c-264b).
To say that a thing is not, if the statement is not to be self-contradictory, must mean that the thing in question does not belong to a certain context, a specific setting. Plato in the Sophist shows that in meaningful negation 'x is not' can always be construed as 'x is other than y'. So for the nominalist to say that abstract ideas are not can only have meaning if taken to mean that abstract ideas are not among the things of the physical world (however we formulate this there will be objections), which nobody ever asserted. I find fault with the nominalists not for their explicit denial that ideas exist but for then going on to talk and act as if ideas did not matter. Ideas do matter, if you will pardon the crudity of the idiom. I therefore concede all existence to Empiricists but insist that ideas are real: existents have no reality apart from ideas; ideas have no existence except when particularized (in the modern lingo, instantiated). But both this sheer existence bereft of reality and this pure reality devoid of existence are fictions of thought. Only meaningful actuality, existence infused with intelligible form, is a living reality.
When Quine says that his fictional McX (standing for the more naïve class of logical realists) "would sooner be deceived by the crudest and most flagrant counterfeit than grant the nonbeing of Pegasus" (p. 33), he is not only wronging McX who would never say that Pegasus was in the same class as the Parthenon, but is surreptitiously slipping in his own definition of being ('is'), according to which to be is to be physical, for only on this understanding can the affirmation of the being of Pegasus be ruled contradictory. Pegasus has a true existence in mythology, in the pages of philosophers disputing whether Pegasus is or is not, in the imagination of every child that has studied the classics, but it does not exist in any wood or prairie or zoo on good Mother Earth. When that is brought out in the open the whole controversy is seen as a contest over who has the right to impose her/his preferred linguistic usage. So Quine is not justified in saying, "The notion that Pegasus must be, because it would otherwise be nonsense to say even that Pegasus is not, has been seen to lead McX into an elementary confusion" (p. 33). All he may justly say is that the notion in question has led McX to contravene the Quinean rule for the use of 'is'.
Quine complains that for Wyman saying that Pegasus is not actual is on a par, logically, with saying that the Parthenon is not red (p. 33). If Wyman in fact expressed himself that way, Quine would have no ground for complaining: Pegasus is not actual = Pegasus is not a spatio-temporal object, and that – whether it does or does not share the same logical structure as 'the Parthenon is not red' – is unobjectionable. What Quine imputes to his fictional Wyman is the error of taking existence to be an attribute, an error which Kant taught us to be wary of. If any realist, real or fictitious, falls into that pitfall it is not my business to defend him, but the error is not a necessary ingredient of the realist position.
Quine says, "If spatio-temporal reference is lacking when we affirm the existence of the cube root of 27, this is simply because a cube root is not a spatio-temporal kind of thing ..." (p. 33). Actual instances of the cube root of 27 are certainly spatio-temporal. If Quine maintains that the cube root of 27 is not spatio-temporal, then he is not referring to instances of the cube root of 27. What else then can he be referring to as existing but the idea of 3? And if the idea of 3 exists, why not other ideas? (I would not say that the number 3 'exists', but here I am following Quine's usage.) Or are the denizens of the realm of ideas subject to a caste system? It appears then that we have need to be reminded of Parmenides' reprimand to Socrates in Plato's Parmenides: "… you are still young, Socrates, and philosophy has not yet taken hold of you so firmly as I believe it will some day. You will not despise any of these objects then; but at present your youth makes you still pay attention to what the world will think" (130e, tr. Cornford).
Quine's cruder McX might pass for a Platonist. The subtler Wyman is one of those sharp modern intellects that have fallen into the maze of Analytic philosophy. So, to draw a distinction between existence and subsistence without addressing the real problem — this, as Quine rightly says, is merely an obfuscation of the issues. Quine responds by giving away the term 'existence' and tightening his grip on 'is' (p. 33). Does this help? Not as long as we keep turning our back on what is real. I therefore pass lightly over Quine's arguments against Wyman as I am not concerned to defend Wyman's position. Moreover, I concede him 'existence' as well as 'is': all that exists is out there in the world and nothing is (if Quine will have it that way) but what is in the objective world. I am concerned with what is real, and what is real does not exist anywhere in the world but is a living moment in creative intelligence. (Again I have to refer the reader to Book Two of my Let Us Philosophize.)
Quine next opens fire on the doctrine of the meaninglessness of contradictions (pp. 34-35). He has no use for the concept of meaninglessness because in the first place he has no use for meaning. He concedes that a statement may be meaningful; but he empties the concession of all meaning by refusing to admit the meaning behind the meaningfulness. And why won't
he admit meanings? Because he is concerned to exclude the mind that is the matrix and fount of meanings. Let all our attention be directed to the objective, the existent, the given actuality. What about the mind? The mind is nothing but the neural happenings. The activity, the creativity that makes the neural happenings happen — that, in my Platonic version of the tale, is above and beyond existence and is what I call reality.
I fail to see how Quine's introduction of Russell's descriptions helps. We are told that by changing a 'name' into a 'description' we remove 'the burden of objective reference' from the 'name' to 'words'. But before Russell decreed that we should draw a distinction between 'names' and 'descriptions' did any sensible person ever think that Pegasus or a round square referred to anything but a jumble of forms?
What does all the fuss about descriptions come down to? Descriptions turn a common-language statement into a formula that logicians favour. But when we speak of 'the thing that is-Pegasus' or 'the thing that pegasizes' (p. 36) and when we move forward and say, 'there is a thing that pegasizes and that thing is not', are we not still speaking of a thing that is not? Descriptions, logical symbolism, and mathematical logic are all good techniques for facilitating complex operations of a certain kind, just as algebra is good for facilitating complex operations of a certain kind, but nothing beyond this.
Quine says, "Neither we nor Wyman nor McX have been contending, thus far, about the being or nonbeing of universals, but rather about that of Pegasus" (p. 36). Since neither Wyman nor McX could for a moment have thought of Pegasus as somehow physical, how could the contention have been about anything but the idea of Pegasus? The idea of Pegasus may not, technically, qualify for inclusion in the class of universals, but, however we define universals, I would say that the being or nonbeing of universals is included in the problem of the being or nonbeing of ideas. And in dealing with universals, the fruitful question is not whether roundness is or is not, but what we mean when we say that roundness is.
Quine says, "If in terms of pegasizing we can interpret the name 'Pegasus' as a description subject to Russell's theory of descriptions, then we have disposed of the old notion that Pegasus cannot be said not to be without presupposing that in some sense Pegasus is" (p. 36). But does Russell's theory truly do away with the inevitability of accepting that Pegasus somehow must be if we are to be able to say that it is not? How can we speak of any x without supposing that that x somehow is, has some kind of being, has a what? — and that is the real issue. Quine is concerned to deny the what because he is concerned to deny meaning, and he is concerned to deny meaning because he would not admit the reality of the mind that means the meaning.
Quine tells us that the supposition that "we could not meaningfully affirm a statement of the form 'so-and-so is not', with a simple or descriptive noun in place of 'so-and-so', unless so-and-so is, ... is now seen to be quite generally groundless, since the singular noun in question can always be expanded into a singular description, ... and then analyzed out à la Russell" (p. 36). But is this not a confusion of ontology with logic? A description gives us a counter that can be conveniently manipulated according to rule within its artificial universe. This is logic. But is not 'description' a relative term? Must not a description necessarily be a description of something? And the whole controversy is about the nature of that something and in what kind of world it has its being. This is ontology. But again I say that is not the problem I am concerned with. I am concerned with affirming the reality of the meaning behind the meaningfulness and of the living creative mind in which alone the meaning has its reality.
The difference between 'the present King of Sweden' and 'the present King of France' is not that the first is about a particular thing and the other (duly reformulated) is a general statement, but that the first is about a physical thing and the other (even after reformulation) about a fiction. And the fiction is an entity with a character, however blurred, hazy, or schematic that character may be. The translation of 'the present King of France' into a Russellian description does not solve the problem of nonbeing. The problem, if a problem it is, was adequately resolved by Plato in the Sophist.
Of course, the wizards of mathematical logic can so define and manipulate their symbols as to produce a formula which can be taken to state that description-x is not without entailing that noun-x is. This is perfect logic. But how can I speak of description-x without having the idea x? Of course the idea x is banned from the formula and banned from the perfectly sterilized world of symbolic logic. But can we – living human beings – breathe in that sterilized world? The equations and formulae of mathematical logicians behave themselves because they are drained of all life and all meaning. Meaningful propositions are always roguish because the creative energy of life and reality is in their heart.
Quine assures us that "there is a gulf between meaning and naming" (p. 37). He goes on to say, "... confusion of meaning with naming no doubt helped engender [McX's] absurd notion that Pegasus is an idea, a mental entity. ... But what sorts of things are meanings?" Here is the crux of the whole affair. Quine is prepared to acknowledge that there is a gulf between naming and meaning provided that meanings are nothing. So, there are no meanings. I have to reiterate that I am not siding with the fictional McX or the fictional Wyman or any of the non-fictional pundits they stand for. Clearly they share Quine's basic outlook: for anything to be is to be an object. Locke and his school taught us that: hence ideas (meanings) have to be objective or they are not. One party has to make room for idea-objects in the mind and the other party easily shows that this is nonsensical. That the mind, as mind, is all reality and no actuality does not occur to them. The theory of unactualized possibilities tries to eat its cake and have it: the possibilities are out there and yet are nothing. And none of the parties really cares about the reality of the mind or of all of the things Socrates died for and Plato lived for.
What does Frege's example of the Evening Star and the Morning Star show? A thing can be seen in different contexts. When I speak of the Evening Star I am speaking of a total situation, meaning and naming one thing; when I speak of the Morning Star I am speaking of another total situation, meaning and naming another one thing; when I speak of the planet that is seen now as the Evening Star and then as the Morning Star, I am speaking of yet another total situation (astronomical, physical, what you will), meaning and naming one thing. The distinction introduced by Frege is theoretically useful. But, like all distinctions, it is a fiction; in fragmenting the whole it falsifies; only the whole is real.
If we speak of a name as naming something or as the name of something, then that something is a something objectively given. Thus far I am in agreement with Quine. When realists say that the name names a meaning or is the name of a meaning, they make of the meaning an objectively given thing and betray their own cause. A word may be spoken of as an entity, a thought may be spoken of as an entity, but a meaning is a moment of the active, creative intelligence that is all the reality we know, and is not a separate or separable entity but is the dimension without which the objective has no reality and the experienced whole has no being.
"Now let us turn to the ontological problem of universals: the question whether there are such entities as attributes, relations, classes, numbers, functions" (p. 37). It is simply a matter of convention whether we should say such things are or are not. We are the creators of our language and our words mean what we make them mean, and, according to my way of thinking, that is all what philosophy is about: to create meanings and in creating meanings create meaningful worlds. Now I say that such meanings – we need not even license them as entities – do not exist but are real, are not existent but are realities. (If anyone should object to the 'are' here, my defence is that I did not create the English language!)
"One's ontology is basic to the conceptual scheme by which he interprets all experiences, even the most commonplace ones" (p. 37). This is as it should be and is inevitable. It only becomes damaging when one's fundamental concepts and principles remain unquestioned. Why, then, does Quine find fault with McX's view? "Judged within some particular conceptual scheme – and how else is judgment possible? – an ontological statement goes without saying, standing in need of no separate justification at all" (p. 37). So what was all the fuss about? As Heidegger says, "Die 'Lehre' eines Denkers ist das in seinem Sagen Ungesagte" (Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit). The gist of Quine's theory is not in what he says but in what he leaves unsaid. The whole drift of his argument is to leave out, to sweep under the carpet, that other world, the world of subjective reality.
Quine seems to allow that, from the point of view, anyway, of McX's conceptual scheme, 'There is an attribute' follows from 'There are red houses, red roses, red sunsets' (p. 37). It seems then that Quine does not find anything wrong with McX's logic, but only with his ontology. And here is what I find wrong with the whole modern outlook in philosophy. Quine thinks McX's ontology wrong, as if there were one and only one ontology that is true. What we need to end all fruitless controversy in philosophy is to acknowledge that all philosophical thinking is mythical, creating useful, meaningful myths that are none the less myths.
"One may admit that there are red houses, roses, and sunsets, but deny, except as a popular and misleading manner of speaking, that they have anything in common" (p. 38). What does this really amount to? That only particular things are. Again, as a matter of linguistic convention, have it whichever way you will. But what I think is necessary to emphasize is that the character of every particular thing, even of every unique single thing, as intelligible, is part of the intelligible world, which is the only reality we know — all the reality we know.
What Quine's position boils down to is a proposal that we limit the term 'is' to what is objective or physical or whatever. Well and good: for myself I say that the given exists while meaning is real but does not exist. We can agree to reverse these terms at will, as long as we are clear as to what convention we follow. I will have no quarrel with anyone on that count. My complaint is that Quine says that what is, is only what is objective, and stops there. Plato says, What is out there is visible and sensible and audible and divisible and changeable and has all the characteristics you want in your solid world but what is real is what cannot be seen or touched, and this invisible world is the more important of the two.
The 'occult entities' posited by McX are only 'occult' when 'entities' is taken as equivalent to 'existents', an error which some realists may have fallen into, but which does not justify the nominalists in banning the whole world of (Platonic) reality and usurping the words real and reality for their world of givenness and objective actuality.
Again when Quine speaks of McX trying "to impose his ontology of universals on us" (p. 38) we see what is wrong with all philosophical controversy: it assumes that one theory can be definitively true and others false. When we realize that all theory is fiction, we see that different theories give us different perspectival descriptions of the Truth which cannot be encompassed by any determinate formulation. "McX cannot argue that predicates ... must be regarded as names each of a single universal entity in order that they be meaningful at all" (p. 38). Quine insists that "being a name of something is a much more special feature than being meaningful" (p. 38). Well and good, but this is so only if we choose to understand naming as implying reference or attachment to objective actuality. But we are still left with meaning and being meaningful. Let us banish meaning from our ontology; do that in due form and nobody will be able to challenge you, but that leaves you with an anaemic ontology: we still have to find place for meaning in our world.
I would rather say that being a name of something is the corruption of being meaningful: to be meaningful is to be a reality; to name is to split the reality into a name and a thing named, and in splitting the reality to falsify it.
Quine feels "no reluctance toward refusing to admit meanings" without thereby denying "that words and sentences are meaningful" (p. 38). What he objects to is that McX "construes meaningfulness as the having ... of some abstract entity which he calls a meaning" (p. 38). For Quine the fact that a given linguistic utterance is meaningful (significant) means an ultimate and irreducible matter of fact (p. 38). So, while Quine's McX insists on splitting the reality into two entities, which thereby become existents, Quine himself sanctions the split but is content with keeping the this, jettisoning the what. Both rob us of the reality. McX, intending to champion subjectivity concentrates on its content, while for Quine nothing is there but the content. The active, creative subject – the mind – is negated in both stances.
"I remain free to maintain that the fact that a given linguistic utterance is meaningful (or significant, …) is an ultimate and irreducible matter of fact; or, I may undertake to analyze it in terms directly of what people do in the presence of the linguistic utterance in question and other utterances similar to it" (p. 38). If this is not reductionism, what is? Again "The problem of explaining these adjectives 'significant' and 'synonymous' with some degree of clarity and rigor – preferably, as I see it, in terms of behavior – is as difficult as it is important. But the explanatory value of special and irreducible intermediary entities called meanings is surely illusory" (p. 39). If we split the meaningful whole into meaningfulness and meaning, then take meaningfulness as all there is, that leaves the meaning empty. Quine is effectively abolishing the mind behind the meaning, that is his intent and purpose
Quine sums up: we can use singular terms significantly without presupposing that there are entities which those terms name; we can use general terms such as predicates without conceding them to be names of abstract entities; we can view utterances as significant without countenancing a realm of entities called meanings (p. 39). I have italicized the word ‘entities’ in these sentences because that, in my view, is the crux of the problem. Both nominalists and realists talk of entities: for nominalists only physical things are entities; for realists ideas are mental entities; both are oblivious of the realm of reality which is beyond all existents.
"At this point McX begins to wonder whether there is any limit at all to our ontological immunity. Does nothing we say commit us to the assumption of universals or other entities which we may find unwelcome?" (p. 39.) In McX's place I would be more generous than his creator makes him. I would say: You have all the immunity you want. Nothing commits you to the existence of anything beside existents. I do not maintain the existence of ideas but their reality. They are secure in the bosom of Berkeley's God, in Plato's heaven of Forms, in the mind of simple human beings: God, the world of Forms, the mind, are all equally myths but also all equally real. They are all the reality we know, all else is ephemeral shadow.
We can have a perfectly consistent ontology and a highly efficacious system of semantics, but we may still be faced by the question: Do our ontology and our semantics give us access to what is of importance to us as human beings?
"The variables of quantification, 'something', 'nothing', 'everything', range over our whole ontology" (p. 39). That's it: something, nothing, everything: so characteristic of our age! We live in a world of things, that have crowded out all ideals, values, and dreams. The real harm done by all the wranglings of realists and nominalists is not in the endless and futile rehearsal of riddles unriddled long ago, but in the consequent oblivion of the reality of what is real. The modern mind is gorged with the actual and the factual and the objective and is famished for want of anything that is real.
Quine says, "The issue is clearer now than of old, because we now have a more explicit standard whereby to decide what ontology a given theory or form of discourse is committed to: a theory is committed to those and only those entities to which the bound variables of the theory must be capable of referring in order that the affirmations made in the theory be true" (p. 40). The issue is indeed clear. Quine is only concerned with what entities there are in the objective world. I readily agree that the only entities there are in the world are such as are reducible to the particulars that make up the objective world. But that whole objective world has no reality but in the active intelligence that does the referring.
In Quine's own words, the nominalist-realist controversy could be translated "into a semantical controversy about words and what to do with them" (p. 41). Yet Quine insists this "is no indication that the question is linguistic." Surely it is not merely linguistic: one's language determines one's universe of discourse, and one's universe of discourse determines the world one lives in. But I insist, there is no factual question beyond the linguistic one: it is meaningless to ask, Are there or are there not universals? We can ask, Shall we or shall we not agree to say that there are universals? Beyond the linguistic issue the problem is not one of facts but of values: What kind of world shall we choose to live in?
"Our ontology is determined once we have fixed upon the over-all conceptual scheme which is to accommodate science in the broadest sense; and the considerations which determine a reasonable construction of any part of that conceptual scheme … are not different from the considerations which determine a reasonable construction of the whole (p. 42). This is sound methodology, but it lies without the sphere of metaphysics, completely leaving out the question of reality — what Plato meant by reality.
"Physical objects are postulated entities which round out and simplify our account of the flux of experience, just as the introduction of irrational numbers simplifies laws of arithmetic" (p. 42). Exactly; the concept of a physical object, no less than the concept of an irrational number, is a creation of the mind. We make use of such concepts and by their help the things in the natural world become meaningful. The meaning is not in the objective world but in the mind: it is engendered by the mind and conferred on the world by the mind.
Quine's essay teems with chimeras: Pegasus, the round square cupola on Berkeley College, the present King of France, not to speak of McX and Wyman. In a world so peopled, how can we hope to have a glimpse of reality? Why should we argue about the existence of Pegasus and centaurs and unicorns? Why not ask, as Plato did, "Does justice exists or not?" We can then quickly put the terminological question behind our backs, agreeing one way or another when and where to apply the terms 'existence', 'being', 'reality', etc., and attend to the more important question, whether all the galaxies and all the elements of nature are more meaningful and more valuable than our ideas and our ideals or the other way round. 'Pegasus exists', 'Pegasus does not exist': both statements are true depending on the linguistic protocol you choose to adopt. But the idea of justice, whether it is instantiated in the actual world or not, whether we legitimize the application of the term 'exist' to it or not, is what gives a human being her or his worth. This is the substance. All the theoretical controversies are a Gordian knot that can be severed at one blow: it is all a question of linguistic usage and of point of view. And no single statement is ever absolutely and definitively true, but this is another story.
Meanings are the stuff of the intelligible world just as phenomena are the stuff of the sensible world: meanings are the substance of experience, of the experiencing mind, just as phenomena are the substance of the experienced world. Or, to put it differently – for, following in the footsteps of the great Plato I have no scruple about presenting my thought in various garb, because, after all, no determinate formulation of thought is ever definitive –, on the plane of human being we live in a universe of discourse constituted by ideas creatively engendered by the mind. That is reality.


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