Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Universal References Depend on Relations

Even if your argument is valid for unique things, it's not valid for universals. And your view of internal relations has to apply to both. On your view, not just things but terms are what they are because of the way they are related to things. And there's no reason to think that an abstract characteristic is so connected with other things that none of its relations to those things could be different without that characteristic itself being different. Many believe that to say fully what something is, you have to know everything about how it's related to other things.

But notice they don't demand this for universals. Having red hair may occur in many people with different temperaments, histories, and states of health. Therefore, having red hair is related to all those characteristics as well as all others. If having red hair was not having red hair unless it was related this way, then no one could know what having red hair was without first knowing all its relations to the mental and bodily traits of those who had red hair.

We do not know all these relations. But we do know what red-headedness is. We have knowledge which on this theory would be impossible. Hence the theory is wrong.

Yet this argument does not prove what it tries to prove. It proves that we can have some knowledge of red-headedness without knowing all the relations of redheadedness. What it ought to prove is that we can know red-headedness fully and as it really is without such knowledge.

And there's a big difference between these two statements. It would be absurd for the theory of internal relations require that we deny that we can have knowledge of red-headness without knowing all the relations of redheadedness. Because it's obvious that we do attach some meaning to red-headedness even though we do not know all its relations. No defense of internal relations has ever denied that, because it would imply that every bit of knowledge we have is illusion, since nothing ever comes before us whose relations we know exhaustively.

The fact that all knowledge is a matter of degree does not imply knowledge nihilism. We can and do have some knowledge without an exhaustive grasp of relations. When we use the term 'red-headedness', we use it with a meaning and we have some knowledge of the attribute it names, even though we don't know all the relations of that attribute.

But is that equivalent to saying that the red-headedness now explicitly in our thinking is all there is to that attribute as it exists in the nature of things?

Well that's what is implied in the criticism, because unless the criticism means that we can know the real nature of an attribute without knowing its relations, it is saying nothing we disagree with. But to assume that what is now presented in idea gives the whole nature of what is referred to us begs the question and adopts a position we've already shown is false. An idea always points beyond itself. It always means more than it is. It always refers to more than it includes within the circle of its explicit content. That's what makes it an idea. This difference comes under the head of immanent and transcendent meaning (See 1.2.18).

That there is such a difference is undeniable. It's the difference exemplified (though of course not perfectly, since transcendent meaning can never be captured completely) by the interval between what presents itself to the schoolboy when he thinks of Napoleon's loss of Waterloo and what presents itself to the historian. Both refer to the same thing, but by general admission the historian's explicit grasp is nearer to the fact than the school-boy's ( -

What makes the the second grasp better than the first?  It's the fuller grasp of context, that is, of the antecedents, methods, and bearings of the engagement. The schoolboy must understand these things to be able to understand the defeat as it really was, and as he apprehends the context more fully, his thought immediately remolds itself internally and approximates to the external fact.

Similarly of the more trivial thought we have used to illustrate. For everyday interaction on the level of common sense, the ordinary notion of it suffices. Therefore, does our notion at this level exhaust the nature of the object? There is no more reason for thinking that than there is for thinking that our ideas of anything else on this level are truly adequate to their objects.

As little as might be the point of reflecting on it ordinarily, it's still a fact that red-headedness is an integral part of an organism, and is so bound up, for example, with the structure of hair fibers and this in turn with all kinds of constitutional factors determining racial and individual differences that our common notion of it supplies scarcely more than a sign-post to its real or ultimate nature., that is, to what is as embedded in its own context.

As we grasp those further relations, our explicit thought o fthe attribute is modified while our reference remains the same. We see that we are advancing toward the character as it really is.

In such a series of ideas, our reference is the following: In such a series of ideas, our reference is the same throughout. Our comprehension of what we refer to changes throughout. The changes in comprehension arise from grasping our original content in a fuller context of relevant relations. Our Comprehension at the end of the series is a closer approach to the real character than our comprehension at the beginning. Further advance must be assumed to lie along the same line. And no limit can be set beforehand to the context that complete comprehension would demand. This is what can be verified as fact in any process of improving knowledge.


Unique Terms and Relations

By introducing these functions and relations into the essence, you're begging the question for internal relations in the same way the abstractionists do for external relations.
But it's impossible not to introduce these functions and relations if we are going to deal with the objects of actual thought. But even if we were to cut off from what is meant by 'the Capitol' all these entangling alliances, the conclusion would be the same.

Although it's strictly impossible, let's try to strip away from the object all of its associations and leave only the brick and mortar. Of course, this arrangement and bricks are what is in question.

Now this arrangement and location were not an accident, but part of the larger Washington-Jefferson plan for the city. And if this arrangement of the bricks and their rleations to their nearer surroundings are part of this larger design, selected with reference to its aesthetic qualities as a whole, the smaller arrangement could not either be or be perceived apart from its place in the larger one. Someone who saw a carburetor on the ground would not understand what it is if they had no idea that is was part of an engine. But at this point we're not going to raise the question of whether or not teleological properties belong to nature. So back to the bricks.

They are unique bricks, and we've already stated what we mean by that ( The bricks are related in certain ways to other things, and ultimately to all other things. We've already shown how in the case of a mountain, the question "What mountain?" was always and inevitably answered by such a specification.

What makes these stones these stones is an infinitey of relations, temporal, spatial, and so on. And the relations are not mere rationes cognoscendi. They are part of that which individuates. They are part of what goes into making the specific differences of the terms. Two stones that were exactly alike not only in quality, but in these relations as well would not be two stones, only one. The qualities of what we call a single stone, if they had two differing sets of relations, would not make one stone, but two. Either the relations are essential to a thing's being what it is, or else we must exclude from its nature what is indispensible if it is to be that thing. But excluding indispensible relations is impossible. Therefore, the relations are essential to its being what it is.

This view is consistent with common sense. Think about the way in which, for the common person, temporal and spatial relations are thought to be the essence of things. The Capitol is built partly of sandstone from Virginia, partly of marble from Massachusetts. The ordinary person would not say that the stones would be what they are apart from their relaitons to their past. The are stones, the stones, that came from Massachusetts and Virginia. And if they had come from somewhere else, they would not be the stones they are.

The common person would probably falter when pressed, since if they were asked whether they could not still have been the same if shipped by a different rounte or quarried somewhat later, they would say they could have been the same. And in the same way about spatial and other relations, part of what iffeentiates these stones from others is their being here rather than there. Yet the ordinary person would probably admit that they might have been elsewhere. But when that person vacillates between saying that the same thing might and might not have had different relations, they are vacillating between two notions of the same thing. The thing that might have had different relations is a pattern of qualities artifically abstracted already. Start by assuming that a stone is merely a certain shape, size, hardness, and weight, and there is nothing that requires it to be here rather than there.

But these qualities are not what makes this stone what it is. Qualities abstracted in this way have had their lines of attachment cut. It would theoretically be repeated anwhere, and therefore is the reverse of unique. This stone is unique. What makes it unique is a set of relations that fix its connection with everything else in the universe. Removing any or all of these relations removes part of what makes this stone what it is, and assumes that it is related internally to everything else.

This is prejudging the case. You secure the admission that existing things are unique, and then define uniqueness as involving internal relations.
But the uniqueness of the existing thing is not in question. And there is nothing arbitrary about the definition of uniqueness, which we've already shown. It is the only definition that is consistent with our actual meaning.


Relations and Concrete Terms

If the relations of a term were different, that term itself would be different. If the term were different, its relations would be different. Relations are grounded in the nature of their terms. Consequently the relation can be what it is only if the terms are what they are. The character of the terms appoints and limits the relations in which they stand. Hence, if a thing is spatial, it has spatial relations. But it would be absurd to say that justice is northwest of courage, since the natures of these two preclude that kind of connection.

Most if not all kinds of relations presuppose a common character, usually or always a determinable type, in the related terms, without which the assertion of the specific relation would not merely be false but absurd. If one picture is more beautiful than another, they cannot differ in nature absolutely. There must be something common in respect to which they can be compared. Things temporally related must both be in time. Things spatially related must both be in space. If one person is the uncle of another, both must at least be organisms. Such relations are grounded in the nature of their terms, since if the common nature shared by the terms were to disappear, the relations would disappear as well.

Still, the extent of this determination by a common nature is easily overstated. If we know only that a thing is spatial, we know that it will have spatial relations, but what relations in particular, whether it is north or west or to the left of some other thing, remains unknown. The influence of the common nature does not extend that far.

So are such relations determined not by some universal character possessed in common, but by the concrete and specific natures of the terms? The White House in Washington is a mile or so northwest of the Capitol. You could not infer that particular relation simply from the fact that the two buildings were spatial. You could derive it from something else in the nature of either. The argument is indirect, but is nonetheless worse for that, since it involves showing both that the terms depend on their relations and the relations on the terms. You proceed through denial of the consequent. If you can show first that unless the terms were related in this way, they could not be what they are, you can then argue that their being what they are requires their being related in this way.

Can you show that without standing in these relations the Capitol would not be the Capitol or the White House would not be the White House? The first impulse is to say that this is absurd. Of course the Capitol might have been elsewhere. It might have been placed in New York or St. Louis, or at the geographical center of the country. And as for the White House, it might have either been placed there too, or set up in another state. But this does not answer the question. It assumes that we mean by 'Capitol' simply the chief legislative building of the country, and by 'White House' the official home of the president. And it says there is nothing about a chief legislative seat as such or a president's house as such, to require that they be at one place rather than another. But as an answer to the question, this is irrelevant and question-begging.

It's irrelevant because we're not talking about as such's or abstractions, but about specific concrete things, this unique building, for example. It is question-begging because it assumes that what holds of these abstractions must hold also of the concrete things that embody them. And there is no reason to believe this. 'Chief legislative building' and 'president's house' are not actual parts of nature, they are mere abstract universals. They are arrived at by cutting the connections which their originals had with their context. They are disjecta membra of nature, withered now and mummified. Whether a character can be carved from the body of nature without being affected we will soon investigate. Meanwhile, it's not to be assumed. A human heart in a bottle of alcohol does not even appear to be the thing it was. And one cannot assume abstractions without further consideration for realities.

So the terms we are discussing are not abstractions, but concrete terms. So the question is whether these terms, as they exist in nature, dictate their relations or not.

Could this specific Capitol building, as distinct from mere 'capitolness', have different spatial relations and yet be what it is? Well, what is it? Again, how do we isolate the essence? Well, the differentia of an individual being infinite, any restriction of the essence must be arbitrary. But we've already discussed that point.

If by individual things we mean what the ordinary person means by them, then they do dictate their terms, since their having the relations they have is part of the meaning of their being what they are.

For common sense 'the Capitol' does not mean merely a building of a certain design. If you were to stumble upon a building of the same size and proportions in the jungles of Uganda, it would not be what we mean when we speak of the Capitol. It's being in Washington rather than somewhere else is one of those relational properties that fall within the nature of character of the thing we mean. But a lot of other relational properties do too. To those who know it best, the Capitol is inseparable from its functions, and anyone can see that these connect it to the most complex and intimate way with the treasury, the department of state, the armed forces headquarters, and all the other departments of government in Washington DC. It is a building that must be accessible to hundreds of legislators who live around it. It is run by a staff whose roots are similarly wide-spread. It is surrounded by certain parks and approachable by certain streets. It maintains the closest contacts with airports and postal service centers, through which is has further contacts, with the various parts of the country.

If these functions and relations were removed, what the ordinary person means by 'the Capitol' would no longer remain. They are part of what that person means by the term, and when this is seen, it is also seen that to call them external is absurd. Particular spatial distances, such as from the Capitol to the White House, or the functions subserved by these, may be unimportant. But they belong to that set of connections without which, in the mass, what we mean by the Capitol would not be itself. Hence they are internal, even though they are internal only in degree.