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Anglo-American Philosophers’ Debate on Relations at the Turn of the 20th Century

Author: LuoBoZhong
Tutor: LiuFangTong
School: Fudan University
Course: Foreign Philosophy
Keywords: relations internal relations external relations Anglo-American philosophy
CLC: B15
Type: PhD thesis
Year: 2006
Downloads: 180
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In the long history of philosophy, the issue of relations has been one of the key concerns of philosophers. Aristotle, the founder of relation theory, fit relations into his category system and thus fairly established its position in the whole system. In Aristotle’s category system, a relative can only function as a predicate but not as a subject in a statement of subject-predicate judgment. Morever, the accident expressed by a predicate can only exist in the substance expressed by the subject. Nevertheless, among other accidents, the distinct character of relations is that it is not an accident of any substance, but an accident between two or more than two substances. This character of relations makes it incompatible with Aristotle’s concept of a predicate depending on a subject.The statement of subject-predicate judgment established by Aristotle had been the form of statement adopted in all philosophical analysis before the appearance of relational logic. The conflict between relations and Aristotle’s concept of substance and accident lasted into all sorts of philosophies before modern age. Surrounding this conflict, philosophers from a variety of schools had had a long debate on the philosophical nature of relations, among which the debate in the medieval age was the most outstanding. Modern philosophers did not break through Aristotle’s concept of substance and accident based on subject-predicate judgment; the issue stayed unsettled.One key theme of Anglo-American philosophy at the turn of the 20th century was the issue of relations. Philosophy schools had broken through Aristotle’s concept of substance and accident based on subject-predicate judgment. They suggested that the object expressed by a statement should not be a substance, a statement should be integrity and the object expressed by the statement should also be a integrity. The major disagreement among these philosophers lay in their understandings of the integrity expressed by a statement. Neo-Hegelianists regarded it as ’absolute reality’; analytic philosophers treated it as ’fact’; and pragmatists, e.g., W. James, denied the existence of a integrity and held that the object expressed by a statement was only a mosaic integrity. Based on their varied understandings of the object expressed by a statement, different schools came up with a host of varied suggestions about relations. Neo-Hegelianists advocated absolutism of relations and rejected the doctrine of bothexternal relations and internal relations. The suggestions among analytic philosophers were more diverse: B.Russell taught a doctrine of external relations based on the theory of types; according to the theory of common sense, G.E. Moore suggested coexistence of external and internal relations; and L.Wittgenstein denied the universals of relations. Meanwhile, W. James, the pragmatist, suggested a mosaic theory of relations. It was A.C.Ewing’s detailed analysis of the doctrine of internal relations and external relations that worked out a compromise between these voices and brought a systematic summary of the debate on relations at the turn of the 20th century. However, the debate is not all over and still manifests itself as one hot issue of our time.The key to tackle the issue of relations is to discriminate between the integrity directly consisting of relations and the integrity referred to by relations and to differentiate between universal facts and empirical facts. There are merits to both the doctrine of external relations and the doctrine of internal relations in uncovering different types of relational facts.

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