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Ostrich Nominalism and Peacock

Realism: A Hegelian Critique of
Paul Giladi
University of Sheffield, UK
Published online: 14 Oct 2014.

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To cite this article: Paul Giladi (2014) Ostrich Nominalism and Peacock Realism:
A Hegelian Critique of Quine, International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 22:5,
734-751, DOI: 10.1080/09672559.2014.923016

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International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 2014
Vol. 22, No. 5, 734–751, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09672559.2014.923016

Ostrich Nominalism and Peacock

Realism: A Hegelian Critique of Quine
Paul Giladi
My aim in this paper is to offer a Hegelian critique of Quine’s predicate nominal-
ism. I argue that at the core of Hegel’s idealism is not a supernaturalist spirit
monism, but a realism about universals, and that while this may contrast to the
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nominalist naturalism of Quine, Hegel’s position can still be defended over that
nominalism in naturalistic terms. I focus on the contrast between Hegel’s and
Quine’s respective views on universals, which Quine takes to be definitive of
philosophical naturalism. I argue that there is no good reason to think Quine is
right to make this nominalism definitive of naturalism in this way – where in fact
Hegel (along with Peirce) offers a reasonably compelling case that science itself
requires some commitment to realism about universals, kinds, etc. Furthermore,
even if Hegel is wrong about that, at least his case for realism is still a naturalis-
tic one, as it is based on his views on concrete universality, which is an innova-
tive form of in rebus realism about universals.
Keywords: Hegel; Quine; realism; nominalism; universals; concrete universal

Quine’s views on universals are intimately connected with his philosophical

naturalism. The connection lies in how Quine regards predicate nominalism1 to
be definitive of naturalism. In ‘On What There Is’, Quine famously criticises
Wyman, who is meant to be a representative of Meinongianism in that he pos-
its possible entities. According to Quine (1997, p. 76), Wyman’s ontology is
bloated, and in clear violation of Ockham’s Principle of Parsimony amongst
other things:

Wyman’s overpopulated universe is in many ways unlovely. It offends

the aesthetic sense of us who have a taste for desert landscapes, but this
is not the worst of it. Wyman’s slum of possibles is a breeding ground
for disorderly elements. Take, for instance, the possible fat man in that
doorway; and, again, the possible bald man in that doorway. Are they
the same possible man, or two possible men? How do we decide? How
many possible men are there in that doorway? Are there more possible
thin ones than fat ones? How many of them are alike? Or would their
being alike make them one?

© 2014 Taylor & Francis


Quine’s objections to Wyman can be crisply summarised in the following way:

(1) Meinongian ontology clutters the landscape with its commitments to
possibilae; (2) there are metaphysical difficulties with possible entities, ranging
from their determinacy to their identity; (3) there are logical difficulties with
the range of propositions which run the risk of embracing contradictions; and
(4) there are semantic difficulties with understanding the truth-makers of these
propositions. All these worries, for Quine, signify that ‘we’d do better simply
to clear Wyman’s slum and be done with it’, because there is little hope for
‘expanding our universe to include so-called possible entities’ (Quine, 1997,
p. 76). The question now is what exactly Quine means by claiming that we
would be better off dismissing Meinongianism: the answer, I think, is that
Quine suggests that a rejection of baroque ontology – by revising our
ontological commitments – in favour of philosophical naturalism will prevent
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one from being troubled by metaphysical, logical, and semantical problems.

Developing a taste for desert landscapes, then, is quasi-therapeutic insofar as it
removes aporias.
After dispatching Wyman, Quine moves on to McX, who is the representa-
tive of realism about universals: since McX is the prototypical realist, he offers
the standard argument for realism, the One-Over-Many-Argument:

‘There are red houses, red roses, red sunsets; this much is prephilosophi-
cal common sense in which we must all agree. These houses, roses, and
sunsets, then, have something in common; and this which they have in
common is all I mean by the attribute of redness.’ For McX, thus, there
being attributes is even more obvious and trivial than the obvious and
trivial fact of there being red houses, roses, and sunsets. (Quine, 1997,
p. 81)

What the basic argument of the realist turns on is what best provides the expla-
nation for why a concrete particular has a certain property: for the realist, ‘par-
ticipating’ in, say, squareness (following Platonic realism), or instantiating that
property (following Aristotelian realism) is the best explanation for why an
object has the property that it has. Quine, however, argues that:

One may admit that there are red houses, roses, and sunsets, but deny,
except as a popular and misleading manner of speaking, that they have
anything in common. The words ‘houses’, ‘roses’, and ‘sunsets’ are true
of sundry individual entities which are houses and roses and sunsets, and
the word ‘red’ or ‘red object’ is true of each of sundry individual entities
which are red houses, red roses, red sunsets; but there is not, in addition,
any entity whatever, individual or otherwise, which is named by the
word ‘redness’, nor, for that matter, by the word ‘househood’, ‘rose-
hood’, ‘sunsethood’. That the houses and roses and sunsets are all of
them red may be taken as ultimate and irreducible, and it may be held


that McX is no better off, in point of real explanatory power, for all the
occult entities which he posits under such names as ‘redness’. (Quine,
1997, p. 81)

For Quine, the explanation for why something is red lies simply in how the
term ‘redness’, or the predicate ‘is red’, is applicable to an object – the truth-
conditions of a proposition such as ‘The chair is brown’, then, according to
Quine are the following: x (some object) is f (some property), because there
exists a term which designates x and that ‘f’ applies to x (cf. Devitt, 1997,
p. 96). Under such a semantic theory, one does not need to be committed to
the existence of a universal to make the proposition true: all that is required is
correctly applying a term to a particular. Quine, after detailing his alternative
semantic theory, then plays his trump card: a commitment to realism is a com-
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mitment to supernaturalism, because universals are metaphysically queer enti-

ties that are not part of the natural order, given how terms such as ‘redness’ do
not refer to anything in the world. McX, as with Wyman before him, is guilty
of cluttering the desert landscape with a baroque and wanton ontology which
not only finds the supernatural agreeable, but also thinks that a semantic theory
can only do justice to predicate-ascriptions if such a theory takes predicates
with great ontological seriousness. He concludes by making the following

We may say, for example, that some dogs are white and not thereby
commit ourselves to recognizing either doghood or whiteness as entities.
‘Some dogs are white’ says that some things that are dogs are white;
and, in order that this statement be true, the things over which the bound
variable ‘something’ ranges must include some white dogs, but need not
include doghood or whiteness. On the other hand, when we say that
some zoological species are cross-fertile we are committing ourselves to
recognizing as entities the several species themselves, abstract though
they are. We remain so committed at least until we devise some way of
so paraphrasing the statement as to show that the seeming reference to
species on the part of our bound variable was an avoidable manner of
speaking. (Quine, 1997, p. 81)

As with the previous passages discussed, Quine maintains that we do not need
to have any metaphysical commitments to occult entities, in order to make
sense of our ontology, nor are we required to offer an explanation of why
things are thus-and-so that goes beyond the nominalist semantic theory that he
(and later Michael Devitt) proposed: if we wish to remain philosophical natu-
ralists, we ought to commit realism about universals to the flames, because it
contains nothing but sophistry and illusion. Quine has now laid down the
gauntlet to defenders of realism, and the question now is whether one can
genuinely be a realist and a philosophical naturalist.

One available answer to Quine’s challenge can be found in Hegel’s writings,

where he argues for realism about universals, specifically an in rebus concep-
tion of universals which does not regard universals to exist independently of
particulars in a non-spatio-temporal realm:2

Nature offers us an infinite mass of singular shapes and appearances. We

feel the need to bring unity to this manifold; therefore, we compare them
and seek to [re]cognize what is universal in each of them. Individuals
are born and pass away; in them their kind is what abides, what recurs
in all of them; and it is only present for us when we think about them.
This is where laws, e.g., the laws of the motion of the heavenly bodies,
belong too. We see the stars in one place today and in another tomorrow;
this disorder is for the spirit something incongruous, and not to be
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trusted, since the spirit believes in an order, a simple, constant, and uni-
versal determination [of things]. This is the faith in which the spirit has
directed its [reflective] thinking upon phenomena, and has come to know
their laws, establishing the motion of the heavenly bodies in a universal
manner, so that every change of position can be determined and [re]
cognised on the basis of this law… From all these examples we may
gather how, in thinking about things, we always seek what is fixed, per-
sisting, and inwardly determined, and what governs the particular. This
universal cannot be grasped by means of the senses, and it counts as
what is essential and true. (Hegel, 1991, §21Z, p. 53)

What Hegel seems to be suggesting in this passage is in essence his version of

the One-Over-Many argument: if we recall the basic starting-point of the argu-
ment, namely the fact that many particulars share the same properties, Hegel
can be read as illustrating how we shift our thinking from merely noticing sim-
ple resemblance (x resembles y and that y resembles x given how both x and
y have property f) to then seeking a deeper explanation for such metaphysical
relations if we are to genuinely understand the world. Ordinary consciousness,
conceived as a form of understanding the empirical world by appeal to what is
immediately given to us in perception and scientific verification, treats concrete
particulars as ‘ultimate’ or ‘absolute’ or ‘self-explanatory’, simply because the
epistemic framework of ordinary consciousness refuses to go beyond what is
immediately given to us in perception and scientific verification. However,
Hegel’s salient point here is that if we are to genuinely think philosophically
about the world of experience, we must be prepared to reject the metaphysical
supposition that concrete particulars are the only things which exist and the
epistemic supposition that explanation is restricted to the standards of ordinary
consciousness: the intellectual demand on rational agents, then, is one which
aims to accommodate the reality of concrete particulars and maintain their
dependence on more ‘real’ entities, such as universals, in order to do justice to


both the nature of the world and the standards of philosophical consciousness.
As he writes:

The proposition that the finite is ideal constitutes idealism. The idealism
of philosophy consists in nothing else than in recognizing that the finite
has no veritable being. Every philosophy is essentially an idealism, or at
least has idealism for its principle, and the question then is how far this
principle is actually carried out. This is as true of philosophy as of reli-
gion; for religion equally does not recognize finitude as a veritable being,
as something ultimate and absolute or as something underived, uncreated,
eternal. Consequently the opposition of idealistic and realistic philosophy
has no significance. A philosophy which ascribed veritable, ultimate,
absolute being to finite existences as such, would not deserve the name
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of philosophy; the principles of ancient or modern philosophies, water,

or matter, or atoms are thoughts, universals, ideal entities, not things as
they immediately present themselves to us, that is, in their sensuous indi-
viduality – not even the water of Thales. For although this is also empiri-
cal water, it is at the same time also the in-itself or essence of all other
things, too, and these other things are not self-subsistent or grounded in
themselves, but are posited by, are derived from, another, from water,
that is they are ideal entities. (Hegel, 1969, pp. 154–5)

Much in this passage would no doubt raise some eyebrows in contemporary

analytic circles, particularly the idea that all philosophy is ‘idealism’:3 how-
ever, what this means is not that reality is mental in a Berkeleyean sense,
rather it means that if someone hopes to present a philosophical view of real-
ity, then one must be prepared to regard ordinary objects (finite particulars) as
relying on more fundamental things that serve as their ‘ground’ (cf. Stern,
2008). This is why, for Hegel, a move from ordinary consciousness to philo-
sophical consciousness consists in recognising that ‘the finite lacks veritable
being’ – i.e., that finite objects are not absolute entities, but rather entities that
depend on the infinite. Understood in this way, Hegel’s realism can be read as
directly opposed to Devitt’s claim that the best terminus for explanation is ‘a
fundamental physical fact of our world’ (Devitt, 1997, p. 97).
Indeed, Quine’s and Devitt’s respective arguments for nominalism about uni-
versals, at least on the epistemic front, can be considered by Hegelians as fail-
ing to appreciate the philosophical problem of universals. The reason for this
lies in how Devitt and Quine maintain that nothing further needs to be
enquired into, in order to explain why x is thus-and-so: we have seen that both
Quine and Devitt have argued that it is not just that the predicate nominalist
standard of explanation is judged sufficient to explain why x is thus-and-so, it
is also that the realist’s demand for further explanation is unwarranted. The
lack of satisfaction with predicate nominalism is not a reason to question predi-
cate nominalism, for Quine and Devitt, because that lack of satisfaction merely

comes from worrying about something that does not need worrying about.
Their meta-objection to realism is that there is in fact no problem of universals,
just a pseudo-problem, which one can solve by realising that the quest for fur-
ther explanation is neither necessary nor desirable.
So, what we are left with now appears to be a philosophic stalemate, with
the additional worry that both the Hegelian realist and the Quinean nominalist
beg the question against one another: for Hegel, there is need to make recourse
to universals, in order to adequately explain predicate ascriptions. For Quine,
there is no need at all to resource to such commitments, in order to adequately
explain predicate ascriptions.
However, one way in which this stalemate could perhaps be broken, in Quine’s
favour, is by looking at Quine’s additional arguments against realism in his
‘Identity, Ostension, and Hypostasis’ (1950). In this work, Quine levels the
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same arguments against realism as he did in ‘On What There Is’. However, in
addition to the arguments against ante rem conceptions of universals, Quine
also presents arguments against in rebus conceptions of universals. He argues
that commitment to universals involves a two-step procedure: firstly, we learn
to pool certain objects together by resemblance relations – e.g., we notice that
there are several objects which share the same properties. We then group these
objects together, based on the resemblance relations, to form a set of objects.
Secondly, given that we pool objects together to form sets of certain things,
we then introduce abstract singular terms that hypostatise these properties. Ini-
tially, these universals are regarded as abstracta. However, we find that regard-
ing universals in such a manner entails several serious problems. As such, we
move to a conception of universals that claims that universals are concrete.
Concrete universals, understood as scattered spatio-temporal objects,4 appear to
be cost-free: we can explain an object’s having a certain property, understood
as a concrete universal, as the object being an instantiation of that specific con-
crete universal. However, Quine still thinks such universals are problematic,
and to see why he asks us to consider the example set out at Figure 1.

Suppose our subject-matter consists of the visibly outlined convex

regions, small and large, in this figure. There are 33 such regions. Sup-
pose further that we undertake a discourse relatively to which any geo-
metrically similar regions are interchangeable. Then our maxim of
identification of indiscernibles directs is for the purposes of this discourse
to speak not of similarity but of identity; to say not that x and y are simi-
lar but that x = y, thus reconstruing the objects x and y as no longer
regions but shapes. The subject matter then shrinks in multiplicity from
33 to 5: the isosceles right triangle, the square, the two-to-one rectangle,
and two forms of trapezoid. Each of these five is a universal. Now just
as we have re-construed the colour ‘red’ as the total spatio-temporal
thing made up of all red things, so suppose we construe the shape square
as the total region made up by pooling all the five square regions.


Suppose also we construe the shape isosceles right triangle as the total
region made up by pooling all the 16 triangular regions. Similarly sup-
pose we construe the shape two-to-one rectangle as the total region made
up by pooling the four two-to-one rectangular regions; and similarly for
the two trapezoid shapes. Clearly this leads to trouble, for our five shapes
then all reduce to one, the total region. Pooling all the triangular regions
gives simply the total square region; pooling all the square regions gives
the same; and similarly for the other three shapes. We should end up,
intolerably, by concluding identity among the five shapes. So the theory
of universals as concrete, which happened to work for red, breaks down
in general. (Quine, 1950, pp. 627–8)

For Quine, concrete universals, which he understands to be scattered spatio-

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temporal objects, are metaphysically puzzling, in that it is not clear what their
identity conditions are. However, his argument against in rebus conceptions of
universals is different to his argument against ante rem conceptions of univer-
sals. The latter argument against realism claims that the problem with positing
these kinds of entities is that they are not spatio-temporal and that we still have
to explain what it is for a particular that has a property to instantiate that prop-
erty. The argument against in rebus conceptions of universals claims that the
problem with positing these kinds of entities is that it overcomplicates

Figure 1. Quine, 1950, p. 627.


theorising about experience and that these kind of philosophical commitments

cause logical and semantical difficulties. Predicate nominalism is regarded as
better than Aristotelian/Hegelian realism, therefore, to the extent that predicate
nominalism simplifies theorising about experience and that the philosophical
commitments of predicate nominalism do not bring about any logical and
semantical difficulties.
To determine whether or not this Quinean critique of realism is fit for pur-
pose, it is therefore helpful to consider it in relation to Hegel’s views on con-
crete universality in the Science of Logic, where Hegel’s discussion of the
Concept is the forum for his distinction between the abstract and the concrete
universal. In Book III of the Logic, Hegel writes the following:

As negativity in general or in accordance with the first, immediate nega-

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tion, the universal contains determinateness generally as particularity; as

the second negation, that is, as negation of the negation, it is absolute
determinateness or individuality and concreteness. The universal is thus
the totality of the Notion; it is concrete, and far from being empty, it has
through its Notion a content, and a content in which it not only main-
tains itself but one which is its own and immanent in it. We can, indeed,
abstract from the content: but in that case we do not obtain a universal
of the Notion but only the abstract universal, which is an isolated,
imperfect moment of the Notion and has no truth. (Hegel, 1969,
pp. 603–604)

The concrete universal is understood to involve a dialectical relationship

between universality, individuality and particularity. Crucially, this is what dis-
tinguishes the concrete universal from the abstract universal; the abstract uni-
versal is not dialectically structured, hence why Hegel regards it as ‘isolated’
and ‘imperfect’. Its isolation and imperfection consist in how the abstract uni-
versal is the result of a poor way of relating the categories of universality, par-
ticularity, and individuality. Abstract universality is opposed to the particular
and the individual. Concrete universality is not opposed to the particular and
the individual. Furthermore, the concrete universal is the communion of univer-
sality, particularity and individuality. And, as such, is the proper conceptualisa-
tion of the relationship between these three categories. The significance of this
can be found by discussing Hegel’s analyses of certain judgements, which can
shed light on what exactly a concrete universal is for Hegel.

(A) ‘This rose is red’:5 The property ‘red’ is here understood as something
that belongs to the rose. The rose, of course, is not only red. For, the
rose has a scent, form, texture, all of which are not contained in the
property of being red. The rose being red does not entail that the only
property of the rose is its being red, nor does it entail that the rose
must have a particular scent, form, and texture based on its being red.

Furthermore, ‘is red’ is not exclusively a property that one rose or all
roses have. The universal is only accidentally related to the object.
Therefore, with these kinds of universals, ‘there is a clear distinction
we can draw between the universal and the individual that possess that
property, and that universal and the other properties it possesses, so
there is no dialectical unity here between these elements’ (Stern, 2007,
p. 128).
(B) ‘All men are mortal’: Judgements of this form, according to Hegel, are
a species of ‘judgements of reflection’, namely quantitative judge-
ments. The property ‘being a man’ is an essential property of all indi-
vidual members of the set of human beings. ‘Being a man’ is not an
accidental property of all individual members of the set of human
beings. ‘Having auburn hair’, for example, is a property which some
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but not all human beings possess. Furthermore, ‘having hands’ is a

property which all human beings may possess, but that quality is not
an essential property. ‘Being mortal’ is an essential property of all
human beings – though, of course, not every mortal being is human.
For Hegel, those quantitative judgements which are also necessary
judgements – such as ‘All men are mortal’ – constitute the last form
of the judgement of reflection, and as such, transition to the next
major judgement form, the ‘judgement of necessity’. In this instance
now, the universal judgement ‘All men are mortal’ becomes equivalent
to the judgement ‘Man as such is mortal’. This kind ed of as a ‘cate-
gorical judgement’, the first type of judgement of necessity.6
(C) ‘Caius is a man’: ‘Being human’ is an essential property of Caius.
‘The single human is what he is in particular, only insofar as he is,
first of all, human as such, and within the universal; and this universal
is not just something over and above the other abstract qualities or
mere determinations of reflection, but is rather what permeates and
includes within itself everything particular’. (Hegel, 1991, §175,
p. 253) Caius can only be a particular individual man if he is a man.
And Caius cannot be an indeterminate man, he must be a determinate
instantiation of man, ‘whose differences from other men nonetheless
do not prevent him exemplifying the same universal “man”’ (Stern,
2007, p. 129).

All three judgements are used by Hegel to express a specific stage of the
relationship between the categories of universality, particularity, and individual-
ity. However, (C) is the kind of judgement that arrives at the dialectical rela-
tionship between these three categories. The universal is now concrete,
principally because it is what an individual is, in that an individual is an
instantiation of that kind of universal: Caius is an instantiation of man. By
exemplifying the property of being a man, even though Caius is distinct from
other individual exemplifications of man, Caius is the individual that he is,

while his being a man is also required for and compatible with the particular
determinations that make him the specific man he is.
This account of Hegel’s position shows that he can respond to Quine in two
ways. First, he is entitled to claim that Quine’s understanding of concrete
universality, namely the idea of a scattered spatio-temporal object, is not an
accurate conception of concrete universality, especially because the Quinean
characterisation appears to make concrete universals to effectively be some
kind of particular.7 Pace Quine, the concrete universal is not a queer object
that is constituted by individual parts spread across space and time. Rather, the
property ‘human’ should be understood in the following way: all human beings
are part of the human species, by having the species ground the existence of
each individual human being.8 For, each individual human being emerges from
the relationships between other members of the species, namely each individ-
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ual’s genetic ancestors. Conceived in this way, universality seems to be funda-

mentally related to nomological relation: and this, in turn, construes Hegel’s
talk of concrete universals such as ‘man’ realistically à la David Armstrong.
Second, Hegel can claim that it is impossible to find a satisfactory para-
phrase of propositions involving property-ascriptions in which reference to uni-
versals is eliminated:9 for, the idea that one can establish the truth-conditions
of the proposition ‘x is f’ by claiming that ‘is f’ applies to x seems rather
implausible. Indeed, it could even be suggested that the notion of ‘applying a
term/predicate to a subject’ involves a commitment to some kind of universal,
namely a relation – and if that is the case, then it seems Quine’s nominalism
may well collapse into realism. As Armstrong (1997, p. 108) writes: ‘The
Realist may well argue, correctly I believe, that a convincing account of the
semantics of ‘applies’ cannot be given without appeal to the properties and/or
relations of the object [x].’In other words, while Quine is not committed to
monadic universals, his idea of ‘applying a predicate to a subject’ appears to
commit him to a polyadic universal, namely some kind of relation. Thus, in
resisting a non-nominalist semantic theory, Quinean nominalism appears to fol-
low the conduct of an ostrich thrusting its head into the sand, where such
ostrich nominalists10 leave us with an explanatory deficit, and an inadequate
understanding of the world of experience; so much so that there is good reason
to think that the desert landscapes which Quine favours do not offer a particu-
larly attractive understanding of the world, in a way that also may turn out to
conflict with the commitments of natural science.
Conceived in this way, this Hegelian rebuke of Quine and Devitt rests on
the plausibility of two claims: (i) that nominalism is inconsistent with the com-
mitments of natural science; and (ii) that realism is necessarily consistent with
the commitments of natural science. Hegel’s arguments for those two claims
are to be found in the Philosophy of Nature (Hegel, 1970), specifically in those
sections of the work which discuss the content and methodology of natural sci-
ence, what Hegel frequently calls ‘empirical physics’ (empirische Physik): for
Hegel, natural science is empirical, in that it begins with the observation of

phenomena in nature (see Hegel, 1970, 1: p. 193). However, science is not

simply an observational discipline in its entirety, as the observations of scien-
tists lead scientists to ‘identify and describe laws and universal kinds within
the multitude of observable natural events and entities’ (Stone, 2004, pp. 2–3).
As Hegel himself writes, ‘[s]cience is a theoretical and thinking consideration
of nature … [which] aims at comprehending that which is universal in nature
… forces, laws, genera’ (1970, 1: pp. 196–7). Therefore, according to Hegel,
if an enquiry into the natural world fails to establish commitments to universals
and laws of nature, which have genuine nomological properties, then that enquiry
cannot be a legitimately scientific enquiry. The essence of Hegel’s argument here
appears to be shared in C. S. Peirce’s argument that nominalism is inconsistent
with the practices of science:11 Peirce claims that the nominalist idea of there being
no nomological phenomena is incapable of explaining why events/things/processes
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occur in such a way that is formulated as following a law of nature – i.e., the
paraphrasing of propositions committed to non-Humean laws of nature is not
something that coheres with how science works.12
Therefore, the difference between Hegel and Quine goes deeper than a mere
disagreement over ontological taxonomy, about what exists and what does not
exist. The difference between the two philosophers indicates how radically
opposed are their respective views on the nature of philosophy and how phi-
losophy relates to natural and empirical science: for Hegel, philosophy must be
scientific yet it must go beyond empirical and natural science, and, for Quine,
philosophy must never pass beyond empirical and natural science.13 At first
sight, the possibility of there being some kind of reconciliation between philos-
ophy and natural science in Hegel’s approach may seem to be an idle fancy,
when one considers passages such as the following:

Ancient metaphysics had in this respect a higher conception of thinking

than is current today. For it based itself on the fact that the knowledge of
things obtained through thinking is alone what is really true in them, that
is, things not in their immediacy but as first raised into the form of
thought, as things thought. Thus this metaphysics believed that thinking
(and its determinations) is not anything alien to the object, but rather is
its essential nature, or that things and the thinking of them – our lan-
guage too expresses their kinship – are explicitly in full agreement,
thinking in its immanent determinations and the true nature of things
forming one and the same content. But reflective understanding took pos-
session of philosophy… Directed against reason, it behaves as ordinary
common sense and imposes its view that truth rests on sensuous reality,
that thoughts are only thoughts, meaning that it is sense perception
which first gives them filling and reality and that reason left to its own
resources engenders only figments of the brain. In this self-renunciation
on the part of reason, the Notion of truth is lost; it is limited to knowing
only subjective truth, phenomena, appearances, only something to which


the nature of the object itself does not correspond: knowing has lapsed
into opinion. (Hegel, 1969, pp. 45–6)

What Hegel means by claiming that ancient metaphysics had a ‘higher concep-
tion of thinking’ is unclear, and easily misinterpreted: rather than reading his
affection for ancient metaphysics to amount to a straightforward desire to res-
urrect every single aspect of pre-Kantian metaphysics, we should read Hegel
as making the following claim: ancient metaphysics, pace some kind of empiri-
cist positivism/scientism, understood the world as comprising ideal entities,
entities which provide unity and rational order to the content of our experience.
These entities, crucially, are not objects that can be immediately perceived or
empirically verified in the same way as one can immediately perceive or
empirically verify that a table or a chair exists. Rather, ‘ideal’ kinds, such as
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universals and laws of nature, are part and parcel components of reality that
require us to identify certain properties of the world that are more basic than
immediately observable sensible properties.
However, this does not mean that Hegel thinks that ideal entities require
some spooky cognitive faculty, such as intellectual intuition – it just means that
a discursive consciousness, which takes concepts to be the principal (and in
fact, only) means of cognising objects, must go beyond an epistemic frame-
work which has a narrow/thin conception of thought and experience: as Cinzia
Ferrini (2009a, p. 84) correctly writes in a way which supports my argument,
‘[t]he main target of Hegel’s criticism is not empirical science as such, but
rather any formal and external method of collecting data’. For Hegel, to prop-
erly develop a conception of nature, one must go beyond a particular kind of
empiricism, namely an empiricism which only

analyses objects by distinguishing and isolating their various features,

[where] these features [then] acquire the form of universality by being
separated. Yet this highlights the first inconvenience of description, the
superficiality of abstracting universals from particulars and then conse-
quent instability and arbitrariness of these general forms under which
things are merely subsumed. (Ferrini, 2009b, pp. 92–3)

The chapter ‘Observing Reason’ then is where Hegel presents his argument
against narrow empiricism.14 Furthermore, that argument of the Phenomenol-
ogy of Spirit, because it is concerned with the respective Weltanschauugen of
narrow empiricism and a more open empiricism, provides the conceptual
resources to enable consciousness to posit concrete universals and arrive at the
standpoint of Science. As Robert Stern (2002, p. 106) writes: ‘[i]n finding
itself drawn away from empiricism15 and [Quinean] nominalism, Observing
Reason gains an important insight into how the world incorporates structures
that can only be uncovered by thought.’ The ultimate advantage of this broader
empiricism is that it is a remarkable improvement over the emaciated
empiricism of Quinean nominalism. Conceived in this way, the game played
by Quine turns on himself: ostrich nominalism, rather than serve science, is in
fact anti-scientific.
Perhaps what is most interesting about the Hegelian critique of Quine is that
Hegel’s apparent taste for phenomenologically and metaphysically robust land-
scapes, what I have called ‘peacock realism’, can meet Quine’s challenge in
various ways: (i) Hegel’s views on the concrete universal seem to successfully
establish that universals are necessary;17 (ii) Hegel’s views on the concrete uni-
versal are naturalistic,18 where what is naturalistic about Hegel’s notion of the
concrete universal is not just that it is not conceived of in supernaturalist/
spooky terms, but also that it is defended as part of a properly scientific under-
standing of the world;19 (iii) Hegel’s critique of predicate nominalism appears
to offer a compelling case that Quinean nominalism is inconsistent with the
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commitments of natural science. More basically, the allure of the Hegelian cri-
tique of Quine, to use an expression from Adrian Moore (2012), is that pea-
cock realism is better able to make sense of things. As Hegel himself writes on
the necessity and importance of positing universals within a broadly naturalist

The empirical is not only mere observing, hearing, feeling, perceiving

particulars, but it also essentially consists in finding species, universals
and laws. (Hegel, 1995, p. 176 – emphasis added)

In most contemporary discussions in the Anglophone world about universals,

Armstrong is usually taken to be the principal interlocutor of Quine.20 How-
ever, if my Hegelian critique of Quine is particularly compelling, then there is
good reason to think that the analytic tradition would do well to turn to Hegel
as a philosophically important source of realism about universals.21

University of Sheffield, UK

I would like to thank Bob Stern and Ken Westphal for their kind assistance in reading
through an earlier draft of this paper. Above all, I would like to thank the anonymous
reviewer of this paper, who provided very helpful and detailed comments. Their
feedback was invaluable and I am immensely grateful to them.

1 The important point to always keep in mind when talking about Quine’s nominalism
about universals is that despite dismissing universals from his ontology, Quine
maintains a strict form of Platonism about mathematical entities and sets, and so is
anti-nominalist with regard to abstract objects. Given this, one should be careful
when calling Quine a nominalist. Throughout this paper, ‘nominalism’ and ‘realism’


will be used solely in relation to the debate between those who posit universals and
those who reject universals – i.e., the original, metaphysical uses of realism and
2 However, at least for Hegel, in rebus (or concrete) universals necessarily are essen-
tial properties of objects.
3 See Beiser (2005, pp. 68–71) for a discussion of spirit monism as well as issues
concerning the interpretation of Hegel’s absolute idealism. The spirit monist inter-
pretation has come under great criticism from Findlay (1958), Hartmann (1972),
Pinkard (1994, 2000), and Brandom (2002, 2009). All these philosophers agree that
there is ultimately nothing in the Hegelian text that genuinely supports the spirit
monist interpretation, and that the way one ought to understand Hegel is by regard-
ing him in a thoroughly non-metaphysical manner. J. N. Findlay suggests that
Hegel’s concerns are restricted to providing a criterion for explanation which
regards teleology as indispensable for our understanding of nature. Klaus Hartmann
interprets Hegel as a category theorist who is interested in developing a conceptual
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framework necessary for meaningful discourse about the objects of experience.

Terry Pinkard claims that Hegel should be viewed as a social epistemologist con-
cerned with the development of norms through social interaction. Robert Brandom
interprets Hegel as a normative inferentialist who aimed to ground an inferential
conception of meaning on the logical notions of mediation and determinate nega-
tion. As one has immediately noticed, I have not included Robert Pippin in this
school of thought, where if anything Pippin’s various works on Hegel have been
normally regarded as the flagship anti-metaphysical/non-metaphysical interpretations
of Hegelianism. The reason why I have not included Pippin in the same general
camp as Hartmann, Pinkard, and Brandom is because Pippin has recently explained
at the 2013 Hegel Society of Great Britain annual conference that he does in fact
regard Hegel as a metaphysician and that he is opposed to the non-metaphysical
school of thought. Interestingly, what Pippin said appears to clearly contrast with
his claim in his Hegel’s Idealism that he ‘also propose[s] to defend a nonmetaphysi-
cal interpretation of Hegel’ (Pippin, 1989, p. 6). Though there are important differ-
ences between these readings of Hegel, the most important point is that Findlay,
Hartmann, Pinkard, and Brandom reject any metaphysical understanding of Hegel.
However, Beiser (1993, 2005), Wartenburg (1993), Horstman (2006), Houlgate
(2005, 2006), Stern (2002, 2008, 2009), Westphal (2003), and Kreines (2006, 2008)
also reject the spirit monist interpretation. Though, these philosophers, pace Findlay
et al., do not reject spirit monism in favour of a non-metaphysical interpretation of
Hegel. Beiser et al. offer instead, to use Paul Redding’s terminology in his entry on
Hegel in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, a ‘revised metaphysical’ inter-
pretation of Hegel’s theoretical philosophy.
4 What is interesting to note here is that this is how Quine himself understands the
concept of concrete universality. Given this, it is not clear that he is using the term
in the way that Hegel and the British Idealists use ‘concrete universal’.
5 This example is discussed by Hegel in the following passage from the Encyclopae-
dia Logic: ‘When we say: “This rose is red”, the copula “is” implies that subject
and predicate agree with one another. But of course, the rose, being something con-
crete, is not merely red; on the contrary, it also has a scent, a definite form, and all
manner of other features, which are not contained within the predicate “red”. On
the other hand, the predicate, being something abstractly universal, does not belong
merely to this subject. For there are other flowers, too, and other objects altogether
that are also red’ (Hegel, 1991, §172, p. 250).
6 This idea is best expressed in the following passage from the Science of Logic:
‘[With the judgement of necessity] The subject has thus stripped off the form


determination of the judgement of reflection which passed from this through some
to allness; instead of all men we now have to say man...What belongs to all the
individuals of a genus belongs to the genus by its nature, is an immediate conse-
quence and the expression of what we have seen, that the subject, for example all
men, strips off its form determination, and man is to take its place. This intrinsic
and explicit connection constitutes the basis of a new judgement, the judgement of
necessity’ (Hegel, 1969, pp. 649–50).
7 It is worth noting that oddly sometimes the British Idealists make this mistake,
which may be the explanation for where Quine got his conception of the concrete
universal from. See Stern (2007) for further on the British Idealists and the concrete
8 One may well worry here that the Quinean is probably not committed to essential
9 The following passage from Armstrong is worth noting here: ‘In a statement of the
form “Fa”, [Quine] holds, the predicate “F” need not be taken with ontological seri-
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ousness. Quine gives the predicate what has been said to be the privilege of the har-
lot: power without responsibility. The predicate is informative, it makes a vital
contribution to telling us what is the case, the world is different if it is different, yet
ontologically it is supposed not to commit us. Nice work: if you can get it’
(Armstrong, 1997, p. 105).
10 The term ‘ostrich nominalism’ was initially coined by Armstrong (1978).
11 Peirce’s Hegelianism is in need of qualification: occasionally, Peirce appears to be
greatly indebted to Hegel, whereas he also sometimes appears extremely dismissive
of him. An example of Peirce’s fondness and contempt for absolute idealism is the
following: ‘The Hegelian philosophy is such an anancasticism [evolution by neces-
sity]. With its revelatory religion, with its synechism (however imperfectly set
forth), with its “reflection,” the whole idea of the theory is superb, almost sublime.
Yet, after all, living freedom is practically omitted from its method. The whole
movement is that of a vast engine, impelled by a vis a tergo, with a blind and mys-
terious fate of arriving at a lofty goal. I mean that such an engine it would be, if it
really worked; but in point of fact, it is a Keely motor. Grant that it really acts as it
professes to act, and there is nothing to do but accept the philosophy. But never
was there seen such an example of a long chain of reasoning, – shall I say with a
flaw in every link? – no, with every link a handful of sand, squeezed into shape in
a dream. Or say, it is a pasteboard model of a philosophy that in reality does not
exist. If we use the one precious thing it contains, the idea of it, introducing the ty-
chism [evolution by chance, Darwin] which the arbitrariness of its every step sug-
gests, and make that the support of a vital freedom which is the breadth of the
spirit of love, we may be able to produce that genuine agapasticism [evolution by
creativity, Lamarck], at which Hegel was aiming’ (Peirce, 1931–1958, vol. 6,
pp. 293–5).
12 Cf. Peirce, 1931–1958, vol. 5, p. 210. He also claims that nominalism’s rejection of
universals and laws of nature make it ‘anti-scientific in essence’ (vol. 2, p. 166).
Peirce’s many arguments that nominalism is anti-scientific are, in fact, Hegelian
arguments: however, Peirce’s claims to this effect have often been better received
and viewed more seriously than Hegel’s, perhaps because the former’s relation to
and understanding of empirical science has generally been taken to be more credible
than Hegel’s. See Stern (2009) for an excellent discussion of Hegel and Peirce’s cat-
egory of thirdness. See Forster (2011) for an excellent discussion of Peirce’s argu-
ments against nominalism.
13 One can note here that this claim can be made either by discussing Hegelian natu-
ralism or by discussing a Hegelian criticism of Quine.


14 Cf. ‘Observation, which kept [its biological categories] properly apart and believed
that in them it had something firm and settled, sees principles overlapping one
another, transitions and confusions developing; what it at first took to be absolutely
separate, it sees combined with something else, and what it reckoned to be in com-
bination, it sees apart and separate. So it is that observation which clings to passive,
unbroken selfsameness of being, inevitably sees itself tormented just in its most
general determinations – e.g. of what are the differentiae of an animal or a plant –
by instances which rob it of every determination, invalidate the universality to
which it has risen, and reduce it to an observation and description which is devoid
of thought’ (Hegel, 1977).
15 My only concern with what Stern has written is that he has not qualified the sense
of empiricism in his use of ‘empiricism’. As I have been arguing, Hegel is not
rejecting empiricism simpliciter, rather he is only rejecting a particular form of
16 Parallels can be drawn between this expression and Stanley Cavell’s critique of
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empiricism, cf. Cavell, 1979.

17 There is an interesting issue concerning how successful Hegel’s argument that uni-
versals are necessary for our ontology and for our understanding of the world is
against Lewis’s class nominalism. For, as I noted earlier, Lewis is a realist about
universals from only an explanatory perspective.
18 For further on what exactly Hegelian naturalism amounts to, see Stone, 2013.
19 It could be argued that while concrete universals like ‘man’ may be naturalistically
respectable, Hegel is often read as taking ‘Spirit’ to also be a concrete universal,
where this may then make it harder to view such universals in naturalistic terms.
However, I would argue that one can also offer a deflationary reading of Spirit,
which is itself also compatible with naturalism; however, this is a topic for another
20 Of course, this is not to say that Armstrong is the only authoritative exponent of
realism. See, for example, Lewis, 1983, and Jackson, 1997.
21 See, for example, Lewis (1983). However, what is crucial about David Lewis’s
position on the status of universals is that he is committed to a form of realism
about universals only on methodological grounds. In other words, for Lewis, univer-
sals have no ontological role but solely an explanatory role. He is a nominalist to
the extent that he rejects the idea that universals are a constitutive feature of the
structure of reality. He is a realist to the extent that universals must be posited in
order to adequately explain natural properties. Lewis’s class nominalism, then, is
not, to use an expression from Michael Loux, an austere nominalism, nor is Lewis’s
class nominalism an elaborate realism about universals.

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