Nominalism, Subjectivism, and the U.S. Supreme Court

Post-modern society claims to be ‘blind to individual concepts of good.’ As such it must let the individual decide.

But what if one of these “individuals” is not part of creation, but the creator, and what’s more, goodness itself?  If there is an objective truth, then the whole thing is ridiculous.

We would certainly be called fools if we were each to walk into a forest and “decide for ourselves” if there are indeed trees here. But our problem is deeper than this. We now say, “I don’t know if there is a forest, because a forest is made of trees, which would be plural “trees.” But in nominalism, there are no two things that share a nature.  If no “two trees,” then no forest.

We not only cannot see the forest for the trees, but cannot see the trees for the forest.  We deny the existence of both, or rather, we see a group of individual things, and we cannot classify the group (forest/morality) or the particulars (trees/commands, prohibitions).  It seems to me, however, that there is no way to deny creation.  We simply transfer the creation story from God to ourselves.

If every individual enjoys a fundamental right to define “one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” then virtually every positive law not justified by compelling state interest could be trumped by the right spelled out in Casey. (Hittinger pg.147) This is merely quoting the words of Planned Parenthood vs Casey, 1992.  In order to uphold abortion as legal, it had to go so far as to define subjectivity as the objective truth (at least as far as society is concerned).

Hobbes states in his Leviathan that

To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues…It is consequent also to the same condition that there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man’s that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it.

And a little later

For where no covenant hath preceded, there hath no right been transferred, and every man has right to everything and consequently, no action can be unjust…

Therefore before the names of just and unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power to compel men equally to the performance of their covenants, by the terror of some punishment greater than the benefit they expect by the breach of their covenant, and to make good that propriety which by mutual contract men acquire in recompense of the universal right they abandon: and such power there is none before the erection of a Commonwealth.

We should reflect on how much this line of thinking has become the basis of our contemporary society.  A thing is just or unjust because the State makes it so.  According to Hobbes, there was no such thing as actual justice or injustice until a commonwealth is set up.  Right and wrong are completely due to the law of the State, and before it there is no objective right or wrong. Thus, today you will hear that “action A is moral, clearly, because it is legal.” Shouldn’t it rather be legal only if it is good morally?  We have it backwards, it seems.

It is no longer God, but I who defines my “own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of life.”

One of the biggest problems I can think of dealing with nominalism, on a reasonably informed faith aspect, is the Incarnation. How could Christian theologians like Occam believe that Christ “took on human nature” if no such thing as human nature exists? Obviously, we will be led from nominalism to occasionalism. If there is no human nature for Christ to take on, the fact that He “became man” (whatever that now means) is merely arbitrary. He could have come as a rock or a turtle or an atom of hydrogen; for what would it matter “what” He came as, since this has no true relation to those He came to save?

This topic deals with a theology issue, but the question is completely philosophical. The fact that this has led many to fideism is certainly responsible for the failure of those who reject reason to be able to defend, in any coherent way, the truths of natural law, and our country and it’s laws reflect this inadequacy.

Obviously, this is a brief reflection.  Much more will be said later on the several matters brought up here.


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