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.