Ontology

Chris M. Sciabarra sciabrrc at is2.NYU.EDU
Sat Jun 24 09:06:13 MDT 1995


 On Sat, 24 Jun 1995, Hans Despain wrote:

> Thus, if you are keeping an accounting list, of
> what exists on an island of three individuals, Stirner would say
> three enities.  Marx and Engels would suggest that not only do three
> individuals "exists" but a relation between individual 1 & 2, 2 & 3,
> 1 & 3, and 1, 2 & 3, or 7 enities.

	Hans, thanks for your patience in discussing the issues raised by
several participants on the list.  Just a quick comment on your above
formulation however.  Ollman makes the point that individuals are
constituted by a cluster of relations.  In essence, he is saying that the
entity itself is DEFINED by the context within which it exists, as well
as by its relations with other entities.  Actually, Ollman states, in
essence:  the relations relation with other relations.  In other words,
the implicit ontology here is that entities don't exist per se, if by
entity, we mean an "atomistic" entity.  The entity itself IS a relation.
This may provoke all sorts of metaphysical discussion, but it does
amplify why some non-dialectical thinkers are made rather uncomfortable
by such talk.

	For instance, does internal relations pose an insurmountable
problem of individuation?  The emphasis seems to be on wholes and
relations, and some where, individual entities get lost.  This is why
Ollman tries to concentrate on the individuation problem in his emphasis
on the process of abstraction.  But think about it--this book sitting on
the table next to me.  Is it a book?  Must it be defined as a book?  A
product of labor?  A by-product of the system of printing and
production?  A product of a specific writer?  Is it defined by the
writer's past?  Her parents' past?  Her grandparents' past?  Is it
related to the table it sits  on?  Would the table be the same table if
the book was on it or not?  Is it related to a steel worker in
Vladivostok?  How about to craters on Mars?

	You see, the reason why dialectics demands CONTEXT is because
different levels of generality will yield different relations.  The
entity is what it is independent of what human beings think or feel.  But
how we conceptualize the entity's relations very much depends on the
level of generality upon which we concentrate.  Without specifying
context, we fall victim to the fallacies of strict organicity, in which
the entity can NEVER be defined adequately because it must ultimately be
related to everything else in the universe, which, by the way, we will
never know.  Not that external relations is any better.  It ultimately
depends on a kind of strict atomism, in which all entities are
independent and self-sufficient.  Ironically, both internalism and
externalism deny the distinction between essence and accident.  The
externalists would say that a definition of something's "essence" is
arbitrary, since no characteristic of an entity is any more essential
than any other.  The internalists would say that a definition of
something's "essence" is also arbitrary, because EVERYTHING is essential
to the entity.  By the way, Ayn Rand worked on a solution to this problem
which very much mirrors the Marxian emphasis on contextuality.  Once we
specify context, we can define essential characteristics WITHIN that
context, thus avoiding pure subjectivism and detached objectivism (or, as
Rand would put it, "intrinsicism").
						- Chris
==================================================
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, NYU Department of Politics
INTERNET:  sciabrrc at is2.nyu.edu (NOTE NEW ADDRESS)
==================================================


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