James Chastek’s Just Thomism is one of the sites I read without fail. I like it because he teaches me lots of things. He closed comments a while ago because responding to them took up too much time. So here is what I would have commented at his blog if he still allowed comments, in response to this post:
Many of the books in the “decline of the West” genre – which was already old by the time Weaver published Ideas have Consequences in 1948 but which still sells (Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed) – tell a curious narrative of decline over very large time scales. If Nominalism or Hobbesianism were as harmful as claimed, why is the diseased host still alive a half-millennium later?
Now that’s a good question. I myself have contributed a fair bit to the literature wailing and bemoaning nominalism. How do I answer the question?
I answer in this wise:
- Unprincipled exceptions. It is impossible to live as if nominalism, Hobbesianism, skepticism, acosmism, positivism, etc., were true (because they are false). Those who try end up in trouble. So almost no one really tries. Instead, they give their principles lip service, and often try to make other people live by them; but they themselves make exceptions to their principles for practical reasons.
- Original Sin is pretty bad, too, but it hasn’t killed the host yet, either. Nominalism, e.g., is just one variety of one of the Seven Deadlies: Pride. The Seven Deadlies have been around since the beginning. Yet here we all are.
- Parasites that kill the host don’t do as well as those that form quasi-symbiotic relations with it. Parasites that kill the host are failures at parasitism. What do parasitical philosophical memes provide to their foolish human symbionts? Most intellectual foolishnesses make life a bit nicer in some way – cheap thrills. Most sins, likewise. Viz., “consciousness is a delusion,” or “morals are relative.” Easy!
- It isn’t the sin itself that kills the body of the sinner, but the consequences thereof. Likewise for foolishness. Foolishness doesn’t kill fools, but the consequences of foolish acts sure can.
- Foolishness is reproductively disadvantageous. The fools have been culling themselves and their offspring relentlessly for millennia.
- The surviving population of diseased hosts is awfully tough. The recent let up in selection pressure due to the economic and technical success of the preponderant tough-mindedness generated by its previous intensity has opened economic room for a florescence of silliness. But the base population is still pretty tough-minded, and the school of hard knocks reliably toughens up the soft-minded, or else wounds them and their reproductive prospects.
None of this should be taken to suggest that nominalism, etc., are nothing to worry about; that they are not serious problems. Problems can still be problematic even though they have not killed us yet; even though, not yet having killed us, they’ve made us stronger. Likewise, sin and death are forever and definitively conquered. That’s a done deal. That does not mean they cannot any more do us damage.