Nature, in itself, is neither particular or universal.

A fly lands on my window. “A fly” clearly has one meaning, but I can mean both this particular thing, as particular, or I can mean what sort of thing the individual is. The exact same meaning can be subject and predicate, particular or universal. This allows for four possible meanings: a universal subject “A fly is an insect” (where the subject applies to all); a particular subject “A fly landed on my window” (where the subject is taken as indicating this particular one); a universal predicate “The horsefly is a kind of fly”; particular predicate “I just killed a fly” (where we mean this particular one).

These are all examples of the old observation that nature, taken in itself, was neither particular or universal (our account of what “a fly” means cannot be explicitly tied to the particular or the universal). It was the denial of this idea (admittedly paradoxical when expressed abstractly and without examples) which was the first principle of nominalism. The nominalist would protest- reasonably enough- that the individual was all that exists. This led to an assertion of existence for the individual as opposed to the universal. Whereas before the very same thing was neither explaicitly a principle of the thing known, as known, (i.e. a universal) nor the thing known, as thing (which was understood to only exist as a particular) on the supposition of nominalism, the thing known as thing (the objective) was- or at least had to be- explicitly determined to the particular, as opposed to the thing known as known (the subjective). This constituted an irreducible dualism from which the philosophy that is distinctively modern has never been able to escape. Even the philosophy that calls itself “realist” is just another articulation of this fundamental nominalist principle, for realism means to be certain of the existence of an “external object” that is understood to stand opposed to the subject.

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