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Difference between Realism and Nominalism

Difference between Realism and Nominalism

Realism vs. Nominalism

Difference between Realism and Nominalism: – When we speak of epistemology or the study of knowledge, we cannot fail to mention realism and nominalism.

These philosophies were exposed by thinkers such as Plato, Hume, Heraclitus, Aristotle, and Kant; among others, and still today remain a topic of philosophical debate.

As philosophical doctrines, these positions sought to explain how human beings perceive reality and if what we call reality can actually be perceived.

These questions are very relevant to understand issues associated with perception, language and the existence or otherwise of universals.

While it is true that realism, it was not by its proposal that most opposed to nominalism;

since it was universalism , it cannot be denied that these two doctrines stilled much and influenced great philosophers.

For this reason, it is important to understand their differences.

Difference between Realism and Nominalism

Here’s the difference between realism and nominalism.


For the nominalists, the names we give to things are just general words that do not represent existing objects; that is, that there are no universals

(concepts or general mental representations by which we represent the particular things of reality) and what we believe to be reality, is nothing more than a result of language.

There are two main versions of nominalism, one that denies the certainty of universal things that can be explained by examples of particular things

(eg, force, humanity) and another version denying the existence of abstract objects, which do not exist in space – time.

According to the nominalists, only the physical particulars in space – time are real and the universals are posterior to particular things.

Therefore, they deny the existence of universals and affirm that the things we perceive exist as particular forms.


They refer to the way in which we conceptualize and group things according to the qualities they share.

For example, if we say that candies, fruit juice and ice cream are sweet; is because these elements (which are different) share the sweet universal

For the nominalists, there are no concepts that underlie reality; there are simply phenomena in front of us.

In other versions or slopes of nominalism, certain terms are accepted as abstract entities

(for example, numbers) and others as concrete entities, because they exist in space-time (eg, tables, chairs).


Realists follow the tendency to see and represent things “as they really are.” Generally, they state that universals exist outside the mind, that is, they are not purely abstract.

The representatives of this philosophical doctrine state that all things sharing the same property are classified in the same universal form.

For example, the red of traffic lights, apples and roses would be a universal; since we are all supposed to have the red concept in our mind.

Also, the realists claim that human beings have the ability to generalize things; so that we have the idea of ​​a cow without imagining a cow and consider that there is an underlying concept for this.

They affirm that for there to be something in language there must be some universality in the phenomenon.

Ultimately, Nominalists focus on what is perceived to exist in reality; while the realists perceive objects perceived as the manifestation of a universal concept.

Major Differences between realism and Nominalism

  • For nominalists there are general and abstract terms and predicates, but there are no universals or abstract objects; while realism asserts that objects exist independently of how they are perceived.
  • The nominalists believe that the general and abstract terms are real, while the realists believe that the objects are real.
  • Realists accept the existence of universals, while nominalists deny it.
  • For nominalists, concrete and abstract entities exist in space-time; while for the realists the universal entities exist in space-time where they manifest themselves.
  • For the nominalists there is no concept of reality, while the realists do believe in an independent reality.

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