Ask Dr. Silverman 12 — Nominally Platonic, Platonically Nominal: Fictionalism, Neo-Meinongianism, and Paraphrase Nominalism

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Herb Silverman is the Founder of the Secular Coalition of America, the Founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and the Founder of the Atheist/Humanist Alliance student group at the College of Charleston. Here we talk about fictionalism, neo-Meinongianism, and paraphrase nominalism, and more.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: With mathematical Platonism as the assertion of mathematical objects unbound but working in and through the physical system, materials, and dynamics of the universe, and covered in some of the previous questions, and mathematical nominalism as the opposite of this, we can examine the versions of mathematical nominalism, too: fictionalism, neo-Meinongianism, and paraphrase nominalism. Without the specific terminology in these three aforementioned versions of mathematical nominalism, the educational series responses, from you, covered some of the facets of each. More formally, however, what defines general mathematical nominalism? What defines mathematical nominalism fictionalism? What defines mathematical nominalism neo-Meinongianism? What defines mathematical paraphrase nominalism? How do these apply to some of the other moral, social, and theological and atheological issues within the increasingly secular and scientifically rationalistic West?

Professor Herb Silverman: Mathematical nominalism, also known as mathematical nominalism factionalism, is the view that mathematical entities, such as, numbers, functions, and sets do not exist. The opposing view, mathematical realism or platonism, holds that at least some mathematical entities exist. Nominalists say that mathematical entities do not seem to be the kinds of things that have space-time locations or causal powers. So, if they exist, we can’t have knowledge of them. On the other hand, mathematical entities play crucial roles in any area of science. Nominalists see the benefits of and applicability of mathematics, but refuse to recognize abstract objects. I think these arguments are mostly semantical, and not particularly interesting to me.

Neo-Meinongianism, named after the Austrian philosopher Alexius Meinong, holds that there are non-existent objects, including mathematical and other abstract objects. For example, a round square is a non-existent object. Of course, there are things that could possibly exist, but don’t — like world peace. Everything is an object, even if unthinkable. It then has the property of being unthinkable. I’m not a philosopher, so these arguments don’t interest me either, because they also seem mostly semantical.

There are also objects known as fictional characters, like Donald Duck. Some people (fictional antirealists) believe that there are no fictional entities. They would say that fictional entities do not exist in the actual world but only in some other possible worlds. For instance, talking donkeys and Sherlock Holmes don’t exist in the actual world, although they might exist in a world in which the Holmes stories are factual.

This brings us to creationists, like William Shakespeare, who created wonderful fictional plays, like Hamlet. Of course, not everything in Hamlet is fictional. Countries mentioned in the play, Demark and Norway, are real. Fictional objects come into being once they are conceived by their authors. They are authorial creations. Not only do we say that a fictional object was created at a certain point of time, but we might also describe it as having a certain age. Hamlet is now more than 400 years old.

Creationist authors create fictional characters through the creation of fictional works in which they appear. These characters are not concrete creations. They are non-concrete, abstract creations.

Unknown creationists created the mythical God, Zeus, who was not created by gathering various properties and embedding them in a certain narrative. Which brings us to the Bible. We don’t know who most of the creationists of the Old and New Testaments are. The authors are largely unknown, though Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John get popular credit inaccurately. Most of the Bible’s characters are fictional, including Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. Some others have been shown through historical and archaeological research to have been real, including David, Paul, James, John the Baptist, and probably Jesus. But there are many fictional stories written about these real characters in the Bible.

Our modern culture refers to Creationists as those who believe the Bible is inerrantly true and that humans originated from supernatural acts of divine creation. I don’t like such terminology because, unlike Shakespeare, these so-called Creationists have created nothing, themselves. They just happen to believe created stories that were handed down to them. I prefer to call such people Fictionalists, those who believe that fiction is true. Unfortunately, I doubt that this more accurate term will catch on.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Professor Silverman.

Photo by Rene Böhmer on Unsplash

Question Time

A journal with educational content via subject matter expert interviews.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Written by

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights.

Question Time

A journal with educational content via subject matter expert interviews.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade