ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

143. The Anti-Realists. -- The realists soon encountered numerous opponents. It is to a negative thesis that all these rally, in the name of Aristotle and common sense: "the Universals are not things, realized in the universal state in nature (subsistentia), for the individual alone exists". And since the problem to be solved was stated in Porphyry's alternative, it was inferred that the Universals must, therefore, be mere constructions of the mind (nuda intellecta). But the import of this anti-realist declaration must be interpreted with cautious reserve. Affirming on the one hand the substantiality of individual beings alone, admitting on the other hand the existence of universal concepts in our minds, the anti-realists had to face inevitably, sooner or later, the real kernel of the Universals difficulty (136). But those of the earlier period with which we are dealing, were satisfied with stating the two great facts which really form only the starting-point of the debate, without espousing any of the characteristic theories which sprang from later attempts to effect a rapprochement or reconciliation of those facts. In holding that Universals are nuda intellecta (and by intellecta we must understand intellectual representations), or verbal forms (flatus vocis, voces), they did not mean to propound nominalism in the sense defined above (136, 2). For they also spoke of universal representations; but they did not analyze the genesis of mental processes sufficiently to be able to say whether these representative forms of the understanding have merely an ideal value and significance (conceptualism), or also at the same time a real value (moderate realism). It took four centuries to ripen philosophical speculation on the problem, before these more delicate shades of thought were clearly distinguished and their importance fully appreciated. We must, then, remember that in the mouth of the early anti-realist the statement that the Universals are nuda intellecta, has a distinctly negative and limited scope -- denying the existence of a universal reality in the sense of one of Porphyry's alternatives. The designation anti-realist is appropriate as marking this negative attitude. Against things, Porphyry set over the creations of the mind: it is because they would not admit the Universals to be things, realities, that the anti-realists described these Universals as abstractions.

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