The opposite of a real relation

Normally, saying that something is not real is a way of saying it is merely apparent, false, fictitious or phony. Nevertheless, the whole category of relation is an exception to this. Calling a relation not real – such relations are usually called “of reason” – does not mean we imagine a relation where none exists. It means that the terms of the relation do not depend on one another to exist.

Relations are first understood through the prepositions that signify them, that is, they are things that are of another or to or towards another. The grammar is purely instrumental here, our interest is in the reality spoken of.  Nevertheless, the definition is not formal enough: if we really want to specify a sort of being called “relation”, then relating must enter into its very being. For such a being, not-relating must mean not-being. This gives us a second account of relation: and though the second is more formal the first is more intelligible. So what do we do now? We can’t just call the first account of relation a phony account, as though it were merely a mistaken account to articulate what a relation is. The first account of relation isn’t like geocentrism, that is, something that was simply wrong and can be more or less be completely supplanted by another account; it simply wasn’t formal or precise enough, like when we say that tension is actually a tension gradient. To say that the first account captures nothing of the reality of relation cuts too far. Such relations allow for rigorous analysis, and not jsut because we understand them more easily.


  1. RP said,

    January 18, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Here’s what TA says somewhere on relations.

    Nevertheless it is necessary to know that since relation has two extremes, it happens in three ways that a relation is real or logical. Sometimes from both extremes it is an idea only, as when mutual order or habitude can only go between things in the apprehension of reason; as when we say a thing “the same as itself.” For reason apprehending one thing twice regards it as two; thus it apprehends a certain habitude of a thing to itself. And the same applies to relations between “being” and “non-being” formed by reason, apprehending “non-being” as an extreme. The same is true of relations that follow upon an act of reason, as genus and species, and the like.

    Now there are other relations which are realities as regards both extremes, as when for instance a habitude exists between two things according to some reality that belongs to both; as is clear of all relations, consequent upon quantity; as great and small, double and half, and the like; for quantity exists in both extremes: and the same applies to relations consequent upon action and passion, as motive power and the movable thing, father and son, and the like.

    Again, sometimes a relation in one extreme may be a reality, while in the other extreme it is an idea only; and this happens whenever two extremes are not of one order; as sense and science refer respectively to sensible things and to intellectual things; which, inasmuch as they are realities existing in nature, are outside the order of sensible and intellectual existence. Therefore in science and in sense a real relation exists, because they are ordered either to the knowledge or to the sensible perception of things; whereas the things looked at in themselves are outside this order, and hence in them there is no real relation to science and sense, but only in idea, inasmuch as the intellect apprehends them as terms of the relations of science and sense. Hence the Philosopher says (Metaph. v) that they are called relative, not forasmuch as they are related to other things, but as others are related to them. Likewise for instance, “on the right” is not applied to a column, unless it stands as regards an animal on the right side; which relation is not really in the column, but in the animal.

    Anyway, seems if someone starts with “ideas” the reason he can’t get to “things” is because there is no “real” relation between the ideas and the things.

  2. January 18, 2011 at 7:09 am

    This is not so much a feature of ideas as ideas as human and thus as imperfect: God can move infallibly from his own ideas to the reality of things. Human artists could do this too, if they were entirely responsible for the existence of the artifact. ST. q. 16 a. 1 co is instructive here.

%d bloggers like this: