The modern crisis all goes back to nominalism. The modern muddlings of clear definitions, confusions of really and essentially different things, and denials of essences or definitions in the first place are all outworkings of the nominalist turn. Once suppose that categories are merely conventional, that universals are merely nominal, that life is never simply black or white, but rather only shades of grey, and you find yourself on a steep and slippery slope to chaos.
We see this with marriage, lately. Once you budge from the idea that marriage is the permanently binding lifelong commitment of total loyalty between a man and a woman, you open the door to all sorts of insanity. Likewise with sex: once disagree that the only properly licit sex is the sort that married people can have with each other, and the whole social order begins to deliquesce.
Likewise also with abortion. The whole idea that abortion is not murder depends on the premise that the embryo is not a person. But this notion is wrong. Nature herself distinguishes quite clearly between a woman’s own cells and those of her children. Their chemistry, their proteins, are just different, and foreign to each other. The new and foreign person begins inside the mother when the new and foreign proteins of the child appear at conception, from the new and foreign combination of parental DNA. Immunologically, there is no confusion about this distinction on the part of nature. The cells of mother and child are cells of different animals. They apprehend each other quite clearly as foreigners, invaders, and potential threats, and elaborate mechanisms must be employed to stifle the immunological war that would otherwise pit them against each other, so that the pregnancy may proceed.
Once you decide that abortion is not murder, then other forms of murder become thinkable: infanticide, euthanasia, genocide (not so much, these days, of peoples inimical to one’s own, but certainly perhaps of the sort of “low men,” knuckle-walkers, and mouth breathers who love and honor her patrimony), eugenics, and so forth. It is but a step, then, to the thought that assassination is a proper tool of politics, business, or relations among families; to feud, vendetta, rapine, kidnapping, slavery.
Discriminations and discernments, limits and ordinations, laws and rules are the foundation and infrastructure, the skeleton and immune system of society. Without them, men have no way even to talk to each other. Society per se could be characterized as a set of agreements about what is what, and what is not. Muddle or vitiate the popular recognition of the real limits between things the least little bit, and lethal trouble must then soon follow. For, the limits are simple, clear, stark, and consequential. Depart from them, and all is muddied, and confused, and weakened. Nature abhors such weakness, and deletes it as quickly as may be; for nature herself is quite clear, and unconfused. It’s definitions, or death.
Life is complicated, to be sure, and it is often tricky to keep things sorted out properly. But they can be sorted out properly (if they couldn’t, then there would be no way that they could sort themselves into a coherent world). Things can be sorted out properly in fact, so they *must* be amenable to proper sorting in thought and deed. That being the case, it is our bounden duty to sort them out properly in our own thought and deed. This duty is not just to the truth, and to things as they truly are, but to the good of survival in this world, which if our definitions disagree with its own will tend inexorably to wipe us out.
That things can be sorted in the first place means that they must be really different from each other. You can’t sort what isn’t different. And for sorting to occur – not just in our thought, mind, but in the physical transactions of the world that proceed on their own mighty weighty paths, effecting their own gorgeous coordinations in sublime communion regardless of our interest – these differences must be not merely notional or conventional. Nominalism must be false, for if reality were nominalist, and the distinctions between things that we discover in nature were not real – if, that is, nature herself, in all her instances, had not first noticed and implemented them in fact – then we could never notice anything in the first place. Everything would look the same. It would all look grey, no matter how closely or carefully we looked.
But nature is not like that. Things do sometimes seem all grey from afar. But when we examine them closely and carefully – properly, and duly, so that our mensurations and evaluations are truly meet to their concrete quiddity – we can always discern (or, at least, see how we might in principle discern) here a bit of white, there a jot of black. How not? For, each thing must be at bottom only and peculiarly and distinctly itself, and not some mere indefinite mongrel mish mash that has no clear boundaries. In no other way could any particular thing even exist.
Each particular thing is in some relation to all others, to be sure; each atom a system of all things, no man an island, and so forth. And so, each thing is what it is in virtue of its account of all other things, so that it participates them all, and they it. All true. But relations can obtain only between real terms. An apple cannot contribute to me, cannot make a difference to me, unless it be really different from me. X can affect Y only if X and Y are disparate. So transactions of any sort – which is to say, motions of any sort, changes of any sort – are possible only if nominalism is false.
If the categories we employ in the organization of our behavior are only nominal, then they cannot be either accurate or inaccurate, correct or incorrect, right or wrong. Indeed, in that case, they must be strictly meaningless, so that they are all in fact empty, and all our thoughts, discourses and conversations just noise – not really about anything, when push comes to shove. And if none of our notions are even wrong, then clearly none of them – not one – can be really important or valuable. Human life, then – our own life, in each moment – is unimportant. It is inestimable; worthless.
If it is not murder to murder, then he who is murdered must not after all be real, or considerable.
And this is why the least little bit of befuddlement about the order of being – and so, of the proper order of human society, and of the human person – if uncorrected, leads so inexorably to social dissolution. The entropic tendency in culture is set by the nature of logic, which cannot operate except on terms. Vitiate the terms, and the algorithms – of reality, and so of its derivates in society and the human person – all either break down, or produce nonsense: garbage in, garbage out. Nature however does not ever lie, as we do, about terms. God is not mocked; cannot be mocked. When we contest with the Logos and his logic, we contest with our world, with our own nature, with our bodies and minds. We cannot but lose that contest.