Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Henry of Ghent on real relationships

According to Henry, all real relationships are ultimately based on the absolute features, parts, or constituents of the things that are related. For instance, the fact that Peter is taller than Paul is based on the fact that Peter and Paul have certain heights, and the fact that the chairs in my kitchen are similar in color is based on the fact that they are all white. The same goes for any relationship: there is always some absolute basis for it.

Nevertheless, Henry does not believe that a real relationship consists simply in some x and y having the right sorts of absolute features, parts, or constituents, for if that were the case, then the only connection between x and y would be something we draw in our minds. But as Henry sees it, real relationships are real, so there must be some sort of genuine ‘relatedness’ that exists outside the mind.

However, Henry does not think this relatedness can be a distinct thing in its own right. After all, if it were a distinct thing, then it would have to be related to its basis by some further relatedness, and if that relatedness were also a distinct thing, it too would have to be related by yet another relatedness, and so on ad infinitum. But that is absurd, so Henry concludes that the relatedness we are seeking cannot be a distinct thing in its own right.

Instead, says Henry, it is just a special ‘way of being’ for the absolute basis in question. In particular, it is a way of being which ‘looks outwards at’ (respicit), and so points towards, something else. And this outward-looking characteristic (respectus) transforms, as it were, the absolute basis into a ‘pointing thing’. Hence, on Henry’s view, some x is really related to some y because it really has something in it that points towards y.

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