Relation is a very unstable concept for the human mind- at one time it threatens to vanish into nothing and at another time it threatens to appropriate all reality to itself. When Aristotle  treats of relation, for example, he first takes up a persuasive but erroneous notion of it (that which is said of or to another), and when taken in this way the whole universe dissolves into a multitude of relations. On the other hand, those who were called the Nominalists really did deny real relations in things (saying, quite reasonably, that to be is to be absolute) but this destroys any essential objectivity of concepts (for when concepts are have no real relation, they have no real being to another, which gives birth to the famous “critical problem” or “problem of noumena” that defined modern philosophy). Relations are so tricky that even the word relation threatens to throw us off course. If I talk about the “relation” between father and son, it seems that I have one thing between things- though to assume this falls into the famous Bradley paradox of relations standing to relations ad infinitum. In fact, to speak of “relation” in an unreflective way makes relation into its opposite, namely, an absolute.

Aristotle eventually posits a better account of relation, which replaces what is said of another with that whose whole being is to or of another.  The stand by example here is a Father, whose whole existence under this formality is to his offspring. A more important example to keep in mind is that of a government or a parade, the whole being of which is in an order, and order consists in the standing of one thing to another (one of the philosophical mistakes I regret the most is saying that a state reduces to a substance. This was simply false. States, governments, parades, companies, etc. are sorts of relations. The mistake, however, does illustrate the danger of how relation can masquerade as substance, and thus appropriate being per se to itself.)

Relations are accidents, and as such have a dependence on a substance. Interestingly, however, in their formality as relations they are not to their substance but to the term of their relation. This formality as accidents to another that is other than their substance as supporting is what distinguishes their unique kind of being.

Relations admit of several crucial distinctions. There is first the difference between categorical and transcendental relations, which are relations in the category of relation as opposed to those that are not limited to this category. The latter kind are not called “relations” simply. Science and knowledge, for example, are kinds of qualities of the soul that nevertheless depend in their being on existing to another.

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