Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-17, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 2 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2017.


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core definition

Nominalism is the view that universals have no existence outside thought and are simply names representing nothing that really exists.

explanatory context


analytical review

Rodriguez-Pereyra (2011) explains:

Nominalism comes in at least two varieties. In one of them it is the rejection of abstract objects; in the other it is the rejection of universals. Philosophers have often found it necessary to postulate either abstract objects or universals. And so Nominalism in one form or another has played a significant role in the metaphysical debate since at least the Middle Ages, when versions of the second variety of Nominalism were introduced. The two varieties of Nominalism are independent from each other and either can be consistently held without the other....

Nominalism, in both senses, is a kind of anti-realism. For one kind of Nominalism denies the existence, and therefore the reality, of universals and the other denies the existence, and therefore the reality, of abstract objects.


Knight (undated) states:

Nominalism, coming from the Latin word nominalis meaning "of or pertaining to names", is the ontological theory that reality is only made up of particular items. It denies the real existence of any general entities such as properties, species, universals, sets, or other categories. Only things that are concrete or individual (or perhaps both) exist. One example that is often used to motivate nominalism is the property of "being green." Many things are green such as the grass, my shirt, and Kermit the frog, but what do they have in common? A realist would say that the color green is a universal entity and that the aforementioned objects are all a part of green things in the world. The greenness is repeatable because it is one universal that shows itself wherever green things appear. A nominalist would deny this fact and even the existence of universals. She would ask, where is this universal? Can I see it? Would it exist even if all particular green things ceased to be? Another argument supporting nominalism is that if the universal is a single thing, how can it show up in multiple places at the same time?

Nominalism solves the problem of many things being green by giving a name to certain objects that resemble one another. An object such as a table, which can be seen in more than one place, is given the name "table" to represent a group of objects. The main concept to remember when dealing with nominalism is that there are no universal concepts outside the mind, as is assumed to be true for realism.


associated issues


related areas

See also





Knight, P., undated, 'Quine terms in translation: nominalism', available at, accessed 16 March 2013, still available 24 December 2016.

Rodriguez-Pereyra, G., 2011, 'Nominalism in metaphysics', in Zalta, E.N. (Ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), first published 11 February 2008; substantive revision 20 July 2011, substantive revision 1 April 2015 (quoted sections unchanged), avalaible at, accessed 15 March 2013, still available 24 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2017

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