The Myth of the Given: Nominalism, Naturalism & Materialism (Ray Brassier)

Ray Brassier discusses the work of the philosopher Wilfrid Sellars regarding the myth of the Given, nominalism, naturalism, and materialism. Nominalism denies the real existence of any abstract entities or universals (e.g. properties, attributes, forms, natural kinds, numbers, essences, propositions, etc.). Traditional nominalism proceeded from an empiricist epistemology that challenges the very possibility of metaphysics, whether idealist or materialist. The critique of empiricism is taken to entail the refutation of nominalism. But nominalism contains a valuable insight for materialists: reality does not have propositional form. This is an insight that should be taken up by post-Darwinian materialists, who ought to deny that reality has a conceptual structure. For a consequent materialist, realism about abstract entities or universals is problematic because it re-iterates the theological presumption of a pre-established harmony between the conceptual order and the order of the real. The question is whether materialism can take up this nominalistic insight while still jettisoning the empiricist prejudices that tie it to skeptical relativism. For the claim that reality is devoid of propositional form need not r…

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