Ian Hacking, “Making Up People”

I am interested in Hacking’s use of the term ‘dynamic nominalism’: “…how names interact with the named” (2). Let us consider that only universals (names) can be instantiated whereas their particulars (the named) instantiate the universal. If autism is a universal, then every autistic individual represents an instance of autism. But individuals with autism cannot be instantiated in themselves. As Hacking states, once a name arises from certain anomalies there is now a possibility to be that name that did not exist before: “[autistic individuals] could not have existed until some time after autism itself had been diagnosed…” (6). Once a name is given to an anomaly, the particulars constituting the name may change, allowing for an expansion of the instances in which the name can be instantiated. For example, the first individuals diagnosed as autistic were able to develop social skills later in life. This expanded the group of people who could represent the concept of autism as ‘recovered’ adults could now identify with it too (6). The tradition from which one defines a name can also interact with the named: some see autism as a medical problem and others as a disability (8), increasing the range of people and identifying factors which can represent instances of autism. Here I see how Hacking’s nominalism is dynamic: if the universal name ‘autism’ exists only in its instances of autistic individuals, it follows that autism as a concept can be located in various places at various times as it is dependent on the range of particulars which constitute it. Thus, the fluid nature of nominalism appears true as names really can ‘make up people’.

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