Marriage as an Ontological Real

By training and habit, we moderns think of marriage as a mere and adventitious arrangement of pre-existent and utterly independent entities. We think of it therefore as merely conventional, and so as subsistent completely in the continued agreement of its constituent members, the husband and wife, and so by either of them ever and completely severable, this eliminable, without appreciable rupture or wound to the goodness inherent in the causal order. We think of it as a deal, and nothing more – as if deals were nothing. We think of marriage, that is to say, as not truly real. We think of it as a social and legal fiction.

In this, we err. It is not so. For, deals are real. And they really impose themselves upon us, so shaping our acts. They *oblige* us. Who has not felt this?

As wholes are ontologically prior to their parts, so is a marriage ontologically prior to the husband and wife who together constitute it. It is a thing, as concrete as any stone, aye moreso; for unlike a stone, it acts in ways that superordain, and so constrain, its members, whom those acts effect as such – for, the marriage makes a man a husband, a woman a wife, and not vice versa. A stone does nothing apart from the acts of its members. But marriages do. Viz., they can effect households, and children, and families, which their members taken as individuals cannot do. Insofar as they are solemnized – publicly pronounced and admitted, and by the circumambient community recognized and agreed – they are new beings, nowise beforehand present in their spousal members.

The spouses do not make the marriage then, but vice versa. The espousal is not a creation of a new thing ex nihilo, but a recognition of a reality, to which the spouses find themselves compelled to recognize and agree.

The spouses are minsters of the marriage, but not its creators. They are, rather, its servants, its heirs and vassals. Their loyalty then, their fealty, is not so much to each other (although it is at least that) as to a new being, greater than either of them, and so ennobling them both in some larger purpose to which neither of them alone could be adequate, or adequately undertake; to which either of them alone would in the end be alien, and strange.

So: never kill a marriage. It is to kill a being, with a mind, a heart, a spirit and a life. It is to murder.

27 thoughts on “Marriage as an Ontological Real

  1. Pingback: Marriage as an Ontological Real | @the_arv

  2. Very powerful.

    And yet, (M)arriage cannot, ultimately, be murdered by the individual betrayal.

    But divorce is certainly an act of self-annihilation.

    For the sin of de-part-ing is in the insane desire to destroy the (W)hole.

    So (P)erfection will never suffer its most willing impperfections.

    • By its participation of a marriage, an individual self is rendered more powerful, thus more actual; for in virtue of that participation, it partakes of acts (at a minimum, of the marital act) that it could not by any means essay independently. Thus is the self by marriage ontologically enlarged and ennobled.

      So the destruction of a marriage does indeed diminish both the spouses. It annihilates them, as you say, at least a bit, by vitiating the enlargement that their marriage engendered in them.

      This is not just airy fairy metaphysics. It is quite practical. Divorce impoverishes reproduction even of the children that have already been generated by the marriage it ruins. I know – o how concretely, I know – how the divorce of my parents has impoverished me as a person, and thus my own marriage, and thus my children as persons, and their marriages, and their children, on and on, at least to the seventh generation.

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  4. Good words Kristor, thanks.

    So: never kill a marriage. It is to kill a being, with a mind, a heart, a spirit and a life. It is to murder.

    As a fellow Catholic, your further thoughts I meekly solicit. Our understanding of a Christian marriage is that it cannot be killed, regardless of the violence one might do to it.

    Not merely jousting with you for fun, I doubt I am even nearly the only one reading your words here whose life is very immediately affected by a proper understanding of what has really happened behind all the thick smoke surrounding marriage in our day.

    • You are correct, of course. There is no way to undo the ordination to the spousal office and marital estate effected by the consummation of the wedding. Thus so long as both spouses live, the marriage does, too. Nevertheless when they separate or divorce, and live no longer together as man and wife, the marriage suffers something like what a human suffers at death, and prior to the resurrection of the body: the form of the marriage lives on, but incorporeally, and thus defectively actualized. It looms still over all its familiars, but rather as a shade than as a tower.

      • Hah! Good point. So, to truly murder a marriage, you must murder a spouse. Both ontological reals – the person and the marriage – are then really murdered.

      • And of course your point (Kristor) still stands above – that when a marriage is … dissolved and the spouses no longer live together, the very thing itself diminishes each of the spouses to the extent (or perhaps to a greater extent than) the marriage enlarged them and made them more actual. I tend to think the same can be said of “re-marriage” to a different person following divorce. What are your thoughts on that?

        Great post, and great discussion, btw!

      • An interesting question. My first take is that to the extent a man abuses himself of the false notion that he can end a valid marriage to one woman and begin another, he damages himself: weakens himself, by ruining his fit to reality, and with it the fitness of all his acts. When we conform ourselves to a falsehood, ipso facto we discomfit ourselves to things as they are, and so render ourselves a bit incongruous, a bit inapt. All our acts thereafter are thereby somewhat queered, a bit misguided, errant, costly, painful, so stymied. So are we rendered less efficacious than we might have been; diminished causally, ergo ontologically.

        So, who thinks falsely that he has succeeded in divorcing his wife vitiates his vim. It is as if he had added to the schedule of his beliefs, according to which he forms all his acts, the conviction that he can work magic. Who then thinks he marries another reiterates that fault, and in his psychic economy compounds it. He partakes a double falsehood.

        Not that there is anything particularly blameworthy in so doing. We all do the same sort of thing, all the time. Each of our false acts redounds to another, which then redounds to another, in an endless cycle; and there is no way out of the relentless, implacable subsequent gyre toward Hell that yawns then before us, a devouring maw, other than confession, repentance, absolution, penance, and a change of life.

  5. By training and habit, we moderns think of marriage as a mere and adventitious arrangement of pre-existent and utterly independent entities. We think of it therefore as merely conventional, and so as subsistent completely in the continued agreement of its constituent members, the husband and wife

    You are behind the curve. In fact the individuals are themselves “adventitious arrangements of entities” — biological and cultural. It doesn’t make them unreal, nor does it make a marriage unreal if it happens to be composed of parts.

    We think of it as a deal, and nothing more – as if deals were nothing.

    Well I don’t want to presume to speak for all of modernity or postmodernity, but since that seems to be my job here: it *is* a deal, but that doesn’t make it nothing.

    We think of it as a social and legal fiction.

    No more or less than anything else.

    By its participation of a marriage, an individual self is rendered more powerful, thus more actual;

    This is a very interesting idea, that beings can become more actual by virtue of being more powerful. Very close to a passage in Latour’s Irreductions,

    1.1.5 Whatever resists trials is real.
    1.1.5.1 The real is not one thing among others but rather gradients of resistance.
    1.1.5.2 There is no difference between the “real” and the “unreal”, the “real” and the “possible”, the “real” and the “imaginary.” Rather, there are all the differences experienced between those that resist for long and those that do not, those that resist courageously and those that do not, those that know how to ally or isolate themselves and those that do not.

    • A.morphous, thanks, honestly; this was a far more interesting and valuable challenge than most – a more *challenging* challenge.

      … the individuals are themselves “adventitious arrangements of entities” – biological and cultural. It doesn’t make them unreal, nor does it make a marriage unreal if it happens to be composed of parts.

      It’s adventition all the way down, eh? Just the orderless collisions of pointless dead stupid atoms? Don’t you see that this *does* make the marriage, and the individuals who constitute it, utterly void? They don’t actually exist, under atomism. All that exists under atomism is atoms. Period. Full stop. That’s it. Under atomism, there is nothing but atoms. There is then no such thing as atomism, or atomists. “Atomism” then is just noise, sound and fury, signifying nothing.

      It’s a philosophical dead end. You should abandon it, if you want to live.

      … [marriage] *is* a deal, but that doesn’t make it nothing.

      Exactly. That marriage is at least a deal makes it more than nothing. That was my point. Deals, too, are real; albeit, that they are not real in the same way that a person or a marriage is real, nor are they as much real as a person or a marriage. So, to break a deal is really to break something, something real. It is to do an injury to the good order of things, it is to degrade the beauty of what is.

      Likewise a band is real, or a baseball team, or a fraternity, or a corporation. But they are not as real as marriages, or families, or nations. It’s not an all or nothing thing. It’s an all and everything thing.

      [Marriage is no] more or less [a social and legal fiction] than anything else.

      Either it is a fiction, or it is real. If it is a fiction, then … to Hell with it. It’s an illusion, and *nothing more whatsoever.* In that case, we are better off without it.

      That’s what the Left wants for it – that it should be nothing to us – because that’s what the Left thinks it really is. So the Left is focused like a laser on destroying marriage, thus the family, thus society.

      But, if marriage is real, then it is something we must reckon with really. We must accept it as a fact, rather than a mere fiction. If it is real, then also can it have true legal and social standing; then only might it really matter, actually, socially or legally (as we find that it always, always does, along all three dimensions, and absolutely without exception). Otherwise, its legal and social standing are just lies, and no one is actually affected by it, or therefore socially or legally affected by it. Which no one ever says is true.

      I had not heard of Latour, but I am interested to have done so now, and thank you for the introduction. I notice that in the quotation you provide, he contradicts himself (ah, those Gauls!):

      There is no difference between the “real” and the “unreal,” the “real” and the “possible,” the “real” and the “imaginary.” Rather, there are all the differences experienced between those that resist for long and those that do not …

      There are no differences, except the differences … how adorable. So cute, the wee bairn!

      Is it not *rather obvious* that what is real will resist longer than what is unreal, and that what is real will resist longer than what is merely possible, and that what is real will resist longer than what is merely imaginary? The quote you provide is obviously excerpted from a much greater and more sapient context, and it would therefore be jejune of me, and unfair, to judge Latour on the basis of the words you have quoted. But, honestly: all he seems to be doing here is treating the real differences between the real, the possible, the unreal, and the imaginary in terms of their “resistance.” That’s fine; those categories do in fact differ along the dimension of resistance. But that does not make their differences irreal. It does not mean that there are no differences between them, as Latour says it does. On the contrary – as he says. So I am not sure what he is getting at, but he sure does seem to be getting at it in an odd and roundabout way.

      All that said, yes: it is a standard doctrine of classical metaphysics that to be actual is to be in act; is, i.e., to be effectual, which is to say, powerful, influential in the constitutions of other entities. The more influential an act, the more actual it is. This is only to notice that the more a thing acts, so the more it acts – for, to act *just is* to effect.

      Thanks, again, a.morphous. Always fun to spar with you.

      • It’s adventition all the way down, eh? Just the orderless collisions of pointless dead stupid atoms? Don’t you see that this *does* make the marriage, and the individuals who constitute it, utterly void? They don’t actually exist, under atomism. All that exists under atomism is atoms…

        You keep making this strawman argument. I՚m not sure how to respond, since I don՚t believe in what you are attacking. The whole point of this discussion is about what counts as real, and the position “atoms are the only thing that is real” is not held by anybody here.

        To repeat myself: atoms are real, people and marriages are also real, even though they are composed of parts.

        Deals, too, are real; albeit, that they are not real in the same way that a person or a marriage is real,

        I think we are in complete agreement for a change.

        So, to break a deal is really to break something, something real. It is to do an injury to the good order of things, it is to degrade the beauty of what is.

        But here I have to disagree at least with the intent of this thought. Things like deals (and people, and everything else) get broken all the time, it՚s the fate of composites to eventually decompose.

        In the case of a deal or of marriage, it is obviously better (all else being equal) that it continue – that՚s part of their nature. But it doesn’t mean that any individual marriage, which is embedded in all sorts of other phenomenon, deserves to last forever. It means that it was not strong enough to resist the forces that tear things apart. C’est la vie.

        Either it is a fiction, or it is real. If it is a fiction, then … to Hell with it. It’s an illusion, and *nothing more whatsoever.* In that case, we are better off without it.

        Now here I am in complete disagreement. There is no such hard and fast boundary, and social constructs like nations or marriages are precisely fictions that take on aspects of reality by virtue of many people taking them seriously.

        That’s what the Left wants for it – that it should be nothing to us – because that’s what the Left thinks it really is. So the Left is focused like a laser on destroying marriage, thus the family, thus society.

        This is just another reflection of a basic cognitive difference between us. You think that “the family” is something fixed, eternal, created and thus defined by the Absolute and hence absolute itself. I, a leftist, think it՚s more of a contingent thing, created in the process of the evolution of mankind (biological and cultural), different in different historical and social contexts, and thus changeable in our own. To change it is to breathe new life into it, not to kill it. And it changes constantly, each new actual family is a a new variation on a theme; and changes in the law are merely tracking these variations, not causing them.

        These are just vastly different ways of thinking. Obviously I prefer my own, but I don՚t see how to convince you of its superiority. Still, you might be able to understand that a leftist who supports gay marriage might not be motivated in his own mind by a desire to destroy the family and society, even if those are the consequences you predict.

        There is no difference between the “real” and the “unreal,” the “real” and the “possible,” the “real” and the “imaginary.” Rather, there are all the differences experienced between those that resist for long and those that do not …[Latour]

        There are no differences, except the differences … how adorable. So cute, the wee bairn!

        The clear intent here is the same as I said above: to say that there aren՚t hard boundaries between the real and unreal, but rather a continuous degree of variation in ability to resist.

        And Latour (whatever his merits) is 70 and one of the most prominent of French philosophers, so calling him a “wee bairn” sounds a bit off.

        Is it not *rather obvious* that what is real will resist longer than what is unreal, and that what is real will resist longer than what is merely possible, and that what is real will resist longer than what is merely imaginary?… So I am not sure what he is getting at, but he sure does seem to be getting at it in an odd and roundabout way.

        It՚s not obvious to me, at least, not that you can dispense with the categories of real and unreal and replace it with the idea of resistence.

        But it is a common criticism of Latour that all his fancy ideas boil down to commonplaces or tautologies. I don՚t agree, but you aren՚t alone.

        Always fun to spar with you.

        Same here! Thanks for letting me crash the party here.

      • It’s adventition all the way down, eh? Just the orderless collisions of pointless dead stupid atoms? Don’t you see that this *does* make the marriage, and the individuals who constitute it, utterly void? They don’t actually exist, under atomism. All that exists under atomism is atoms…

        You keep making this strawman argument. I’m not sure how to respond, since I don’t believe in what you are attacking. The whole point of this discussion is about what counts as real, and the position “atoms are the only thing that is real” is not held by anybody here.

        To repeat myself: atoms are real, people and marriages are also real, even though they are composed of parts.

        Well, I’m relieved to hear you say this. What led me to think that you credited atomism was your use of the word “adventitious” in saying that:

        … the individuals [who together make a marriage] are themselves “adventitious arrangements of entities” – biological and cultural. It doesn’t make them unreal, nor does it make a marriage unreal if it happens to be composed of parts.

        An arrangement that is adventitious is “of the nature of an addition from without, not from the essence of the subject.” It is an arrangement that, in other words, is not a thing in its own right, with an essence and nature all its own. And this is to say that it is a thing that it does not act; that it has therefore no actual existence, but is rather purely and only the product of its causal factors. And this is to say that it is only *apparently* a “thing,” whereas in reality it is *nothing but,* and nothing more than, the operations of other things – namely, its constituent parts. Those operations can be real, so the “thing” can still be a real occurrence. It’s just that it can’t be an entity, a being. If, as you say, the individuals are adventitious, then they don’t really exist. Their nonexistence is not due to the fact that they have parts. It is due to the fact that they are entirely products of their parts. Such is the doctrine of eliminative materialism.

        It is not unusual for reductionists of the stricter, more bloody minded, honest and thoroughgoing sort to insist that *none* of the composite wholes of our experience are real; that, on the contrary, only the basic Democritean atomic constituents are real. So: Rutherfordian atoms, protons, cells, molecules, organelles, organisms, and so forth – ergo, notably, human persons – none of them are real. There are no such things.

        I am extremely pleased, my dear friend, to hear that you do not subscribe to that nonsense. That you do not, tells me that there is at least one sort of insanity to which you are not subject.

        … to break a deal is really to break something, something real. It is to do an injury to the good order of things, it is to degrade the beauty of what is.

        But here I have to disagree at least with the intent of this thought. Things like deals (and people, and everything else) get broken all the time, it’s the fate of composites to eventually decompose.

        Notice that we are not disagreeing here. For, as you then say:

        In the case of a deal or of marriage, it is obviously better (all else being equal) that it continue – that’s part of their nature.

        We agree that it is better to keep a deal, or a marriage, than not. We agree also that deals and marriages are fragile things, and that they must end eventually. But that death is inevitable does not mean that it is good. No one celebrates the premature ruptions of marriages. On the contrary: everyone rejoices at a marriage that has lasted 50 or 60 years. And everyone who is honest and right in the head mourns a divorce – even a divorce of two spouses who hated and abused each other – just as everyone who is honest and sane mourns a death – even the death of a great and unrepentant sinner. The mourning is not restricted in scope to the fact of the death, either of a wicked man or a vicious marriage; rather, it apprehends and covers all the horrors that led up to it.

        … social constructs like nations or marriages are precisely fictions that take on aspects of reality by virtue of many people taking them seriously …

        Wait, what? But you had just written that marriages are real! Now, just a few sentences later, you are saying that they are fictions. Which is it?

        Fictions *are not real.* That’s what makes them fictions. You can’t get a real fiction. That would be like getting a square circle. It’s a contradiction in terms. Either things are real, or they are not. And if they are not, then they are nothing but hallucinations. They are then false; false to facts. So they cannot but mislead us; cannot but lead us toward ruin – as, say, socialism does, or feminism, or globalism. Errors about what is real are lethal. That is why humans spend almost all their waking hours on the problem of understanding what’s what.

        You think that “the family” is something fixed, eternal, created and thus defined by the Absolute and hence absolute itself. I, a leftist, think it’s more of a contingent thing, created in the process of the evolution of mankind (biological and cultural), different in different historical and social contexts, and thus changeable in our own. To change it is to breathe new life into it, not to kill it. And it changes constantly, each new actual family is a new variation on a theme; and changes in the law are merely tracking these variations, not causing them.

        No; that’s not what’s happening. The law of marriage is being changed by judicial fiat, in direct contravention to the expressed will of the people. It is not thereby effecting a change in the nature of marriage, which is a fact in its own right. It is rather only deranging public policy more and more, degrading its fit to reality, its rationality, its working.

        That marriage has sometimes been polygynous or (in one or two cases) polyandrous does not mean that it has ever been homosexual. It has never been homosexual; for, it *just isn’t* homosexual, nor can it be. In evolutionary terms, and in all its forms, marriage is an institution intended to ensure that men devote themselves and their resources to the care of their own children, and not to the children of other men. No children, no marriage.

        You are right: we think in diametrically opposed terms. I am an essentialist. I think that that things have real natures – that they are true things, and not adventitious appearances – and that insofar as our terms pick out those natures accurately, they have true meaning – i.e., that they are (or can possibly be) true. You think otherwise.

        Do you not see how the notion that things have no true natures dooms all knowledge, all thought, all reason; all language, all discourse, all science?

        … you might be able to understand that a leftist who supports gay marriage might not be motivated in his own mind by a desire to destroy the family and society, even if those are the consequences you predict.

        Take yourself. You don’t think marriage has a real nature, apart from whatever it is we happen to have been thinking about it lately, so there is nothing really out there in marriage to destroy. Why not change marriage, then? That would not be to destroy anything, after all. It would be only to change our thoughts, which, in the final analysis, are only our thoughts, and which do not therefore have any purchase on reality; which can’t therefore have real consequences, such as destruction; which do not therefore matter. It’s all just a shadow play; why not play the shadows the way that we like?

        You don’t see that you are destroying marriage with your “improvements” to it, because you don’t see it out there in the first place, independent of you and your feelings about things.

        Latour (whatever his merits) is 70 and one of the most prominent of French philosophers, so calling him a “wee bairn” sounds a bit off.

        The notion he proposes is puerile. No; it is infantile. Nuff said.

        It’s not obvious to me, at least, [that] you can dispense with the categories of real and unreal and replace it with the idea of resistance.

        It is obvious to me that you *can’t* dispense with the categories of real and unreal, and replace them with the notion of resistance. The real is obviously more resistant than the unreal – facts are stubborn – but that does not mean there is nothing to reality other than resistance.

      • Fictions *are not real.* That’s what makes them fictions. You can’t get a real fiction. That would be like getting a square circle. It’s a contradiction in terms. Either things are real, or they are not.

        Well, this is another point on which we differ at a very fundamental level. Although some of your language (eg when you asserted that some things are more real than others) indicates you might not treat this as such a binary property yourself.

        We swim in a sea of fictions that are sort-of real: like the United States, for instance, a fiction in some sense (it used to not exist, it was created through somewhat arbitrary human processes) which is now very real and can assert power and be treated as an agent. The Latourian viewpoint is precisely that this sort of thing is very common, even in the hard sciences, because scientists minds work like anybody elses.

        So they cannot but mislead us; cannot but lead us toward ruin – as, say, socialism does, or feminism, or globalism.

        Some people view capitalism as equally ruinous. But socialism certainly has been as “real” as capitalism, in certain times and places. Only history will determine which one is “more real”, that is, more enduring.

        The law of marriage is being changed by judicial fiat, in direct contravention to the expressed will of the people. It is not thereby effecting a change in the nature of marriage, which is a fact in its own right.

        You live in San Francisco so you can՚t be unaware that there were a great many gay marriages and families that existed prior to any change in the law.

        Do you not see how the notion that things have no true natures dooms all knowledge, all thought, all reason; all language, all discourse, all science?

        No. I think this notion of “true nature” blinds people to actual phenomena.

        In the case of marriage, I think both the institution and the concept are richer by virtue of all the variation and experiment found in the actual phenomenon of marriage. It՚s not an eternal unchanging abstract concept, but a plastic idea that expresses itself in many different ways.

        You see only two possibilities: a world of unchanging eternal essences or a completely chaotic world where nothing is true and nothing can be known. But those aren՚t the only choices. The actual state of the universe IMO: There is a true reality, which is not fictional or arbitrary or a human creation. But it is not made of essences and it is not directly knowable. Our knowledge and ideas and conceptualizations of the universe are always partial and context-dependent, hence we are in a position of building fictions (representations) that are more or less real, but never perfect reflections of the Real.

      • We do indeed differ at a fundamental level. You are a nominalist, while I am a realist.

        … [your assertion] that some things are more real than [others] indicates you might not treat [reality] as such a binary property yourself.

        Reality is perfectly binary. Either a thing is real, or it isn’t. A thing furthermore that is not real at all can’t be either more or less real. Only a thing that is definitely real can be more or less real than another. But, that being said, I don’t think that things are more or less real. I think they are either real, or not, with no grey area in between. I think rather, to be clear, that reals are more or less *actual.* Reals are actual to the degree that they influence other things (there are other criteria of actuality as such (lots of things are real but not actual – properties, e.g.), but *degree* of actuality depends upon actual influence).

        We swim in a sea of fictions that are sort of real: like the United States, for instance, a fiction in some sense (it used to not exist, it was created through somewhat arbitrary human processes) which is now very real and can assert power and be treated as an agent.

        To say that a thing is “sort of real” is to say precisely that it is not unreal. It is to say that the thing is real, period full stop. You (rightly) go much further: you say that the US is the sort of real that is “very real.” You very strongly assert, i.e., that the US *is not a fiction.*

        That a thing comes to be when before it was not does not mean that it is a fiction. On the contrary: it means that it is a fact, of the routine sort characteristic to all things that are not eternal – i.e., all things whatever, but One.

        Nor does the fact that a thing comes to be in virtue of the influence of its causal factors mean that it is a fiction. *All* contingencies come to be in virtue of the influence of their causal factors. That’s why we call them contingent.

        … in San Francisco … there were a great many gay marriages and families that existed prior to any change in the law.

        The relevant law was that of the state of California, whose people had recently voted to sustain it. The judges then overturned it, and repudiated the people. This pattern has been replicated all over the country. The people vote to retain traditional legal definitions of marriage, and the courts contravene their will.

        Some people think murder is OK. A few of them resort to murder. This, even though almost everyone thinks murder is evil, and ought to be illegal. But despite the presence in society of a few oddballs who disagree about murder with almost everyone else, the courts are not about to bend to “events” and declare murder legal.

        There were and are no gay marriages in San Francisco. “Gay marriage” is an oxymoron, like “square circle” or “just murder.”

        You can’t redefine terms that have traditionally terminated upon reals, or upon their properties, without running into all sorts of ridiculous foolish trouble. To wit, now that “marriage” has been redefined by the Judges, we are getting people marrying close familiars, animals, buildings, themselves, and so forth ad absurdum. Likewise transsexuality is the death of feminism *and* of its traditionalist adversary.

        Likewise also with “gender fluidity.” I know a young woman who is seriously thinking (tongue in cheek, but yet for real) of declaring herself legally male when this becomes possible in California in a few months, because that way she will be able to multiply her intersectionality points: she’ll be an Asian/Native American Appalachian Person of Color who presents as a beautiful woman (and is therefore subject to discrimination on account of her sex, and to harassment on account of her beauty) and – being also legally a man who is into men – is homosexual to boot. She’ll be able to play all those victim cards, at the same time that, as a man, she will thenceforth enjoy all the perquisites in pay and power that accrue to males solely (sic)(would it were so, alas!) on account of their sex.

        She has a good sense of humor.

        The actual state of the universe IMO: There is a true reality, which is not fictional or arbitrary or a human creation. But it is not made of essences and it is not directly knowable. Our knowledge and ideas and conceptualizations of the universe are always partial and context-dependent, hence we are in a position of building fictions (representations) that are more or less real, but never perfect reflections of the Real.

        To say that a thing has no essence is to say that it has no completely definite form. And this is to say that the thing is not definitely real. Things that are not definitely real are not real at all, period full stop. Either a thing is completely the way that it is, or it is not in any particular way – i.e., it is not in any way at all. In that case, there is nothing to it that another thing might apprehend, whether more or less truly. To say that something is real then *just is* to say that it has a definite form. And this is to say that it has an essence.

        Only if a thing is real, with a definite form, can we know it either directly or indirectly, or more or less truly. If a thing has no definite form, it is not real, is not therefore anywise available for us to apprehend; then we can’t form any thought of it, at all, because in thinking of it, we won’t be thinking of anything in particular. We’ll be apprehending and thinking of something that isn’t there at all to be apprehended or thought about.

        I grant of course that our understanding of reality is always partial. But we could not have even a partial understanding of something that was not completely definite. An understanding of something that is not definite, or therefore quite real, is an understanding of something fictional. That alone does not make such understandings vicious, necessarily; they become vicious only when we found or form our acts according to fictions, insofar as such confusions between what is real and what is not lead us into disagreement or incongruity with things as they are. Which of course is the very thing that confusing fictions with realities is liable to do to us.

      • We do indeed differ at a fundamental level. You are a nominalist, while I am a realist.

        You may be a realist in the technical philosophical sense (of believing in the reality of universals), but I am a realist in the colloquial sense of trying to describe reality as I see it. I wouldn՚t call myself a nominalist, in fact, I reject this distinction as hoary holdover from antiquated ways of thought.

        Reality is perfectly binary. Either a thing is real, or it isn’t. A thing furthermore that is not real at all can’t be either more or less real. Only a thing that is definitely real can be more or less real than another…I think rather, to be clear, that reals are more or less *actual.*

        If reality is binary then there can՚t be degrees of more or less real. Maybe you are trying to say that there are two things, “reality” which is binary and “actuality” which is continuous but applies only to the real. That at least makes formal sense, however I have no idea how to interpret it, because “real” and “actual” are basically synonyms, and “X and Y are both real but Y is more actual” sounds nonsensical.

        That a thing comes to be when before it was not does not mean that it is a fiction. On the contrary: it means that it is a fact, of the routine sort characteristic to all things that are not eternal – i.e., all things whatever, but One.

        The semi-fictional nature of the US (and many other things) is not rooted simply that it is finite and came into existence at a specific point in time – that applies to pretty much everything – but that it came into existence *as an idea* that was then fleshed out and became more real by virtue of people believing in it and acting to solidify it (allying themselves with it, in Latour՚s terms). It had to be described and envisioned before it actually existed (and the same is true of other human-constructed institutions, like corporations or individual marriages), hence has a certain inescapable fictional cast.

        Re gay marriage, see this. It՚s been becoming a popular idea for some time and the court rulings didn՚t cause that, for the most part they just reflect it (or are part of a larger change, to be more accurate).

        the courts are not about to bend to “events” and declare murder legal.

        Not sure what point you are trying to make with the above, it seems to support my POV. Murder is unpopular and the courts reflect that opinion, gay marriage has become popular and the courts are reflecting that too.

        To say that something is real then *just is* to say that it has a definite form.

        Can՚t imagine why I should accept that. The ocean is real, it has no definite form, unless you are using “definite form” in some technical sense. Anger is real but has no definite form. Games (Wittgenstein՚s well-known example) are real and have family resemblences between them but don՚t share any single property or definite form.

      • I wouldn’t call myself a nominalist, in fact, I reject this distinction as hoary holdover from antiquated ways of thought.

        That a way of thought is old does not make it obsolete, or a fortiori false. You may not regard yourself as a nominalist, but the notions you credit are nominalist. If the shoe fits, why not wear it?

        If reality is binary then there can’t be degrees of more or less real.

        Exactly.

        Maybe you are trying to say that there are two things, “reality” which is binary and “actuality” which is continuous but applies only to the real. That at least makes formal sense, however I have no idea how to interpret it, because “real” and “actual” are basically synonyms, and “X and Y are both real but Y is more actual” sounds nonsensical.

        Actuality seems continuous prima facie. But it may be stepwise. The actuality of corporeals is certainly stepwise (in our cosmos, anyway): the Planck length seems to be the measure of smallest causal effect – the quantum of action, as they call it.

        There are all sorts of things that are quite real, but that are not actual. Properties, relations, ideas, terms, feelings, phantasms, logical operators, propositions, arguments, algorithms, recipes, musical compositions, games, some assemblages (oceans, storms, clouds, e.g.), &c., can all be quite real, but are not themselves actual entities. They don’t subsist on their own, but only as aspects of actual entities. Put another way: they don’t do anything themselves, but only insofar as they inform some act. E.g., red is quite real, but you never encounter red all by itself. You can encounter it only as a property of the experience of light by some actual entity.

        A real merely is (in virtue of some act, which it characterizes); an actual is a real that does – that acts.

        [Gay marriage has] been becoming a popular idea for some time and the court rulings didn’t cause that, for the most part they just reflect it (or are part of a larger change, to be more accurate).

        No question that gay marriage is more popular than it used to be, especially among judges and the other clever sillies. How not? Hollywood has been propagating homosexuality for several decades, relentlessly, pervasively, methodically, and the propaganda has had an effect. But in one jurisdiction after another, gay marriage was legalized not by the legislature but by the courts – and, as legalized, permitted, and therefore promoted – in the teeth of a popular will (expressed at the polls) to retain the traditional legal definition of marriage.

        The ocean is real, it has no definite form, unless you are using “definite form” in some technical sense. Anger is real but has no definite form. Games (Wittgenstein’s well-known example) are real and have family resemblances between them but don’t share any single property or definite form.

        What do “game” and “anger” and “ocean” mean, then? If the terms terminate on indefinites, then they can have no definitions. But they do have definitions, ergo, etc.

      • That a way of thought is old does not make it obsolete, or a fortiori false.

        That՚s true of course. But I didn՚t say I reject the particular distinction *because* it is old.

        You may not regard yourself as a nominalist, but the notions you credit are nominalist. If the shoe fits, why not wear it?

        A nominalist is someone who doesn՚t believe in the “existence” of “universals”. I believe rather that “existence” is a somewhat meaningless and confusing predicate to apply to such things. Whatever a universal like “chairness” or “goodness” might be, it certainly doesn՚t exist in the same way as an actual chair or a particular action, and using the same term for both things is bound to lead to error.

        Much of philosophy seems to involve gyrating around this sort of obvious errors.

        The Latourian approach is that everything – people, material things, ideas – is fundamentally equally real (whatever that means) and need to be considered in terms of the ways in which they are connected. A universal is precisely as real or unreal as anything else in this fairly radical worldview – that is, its reality is determined by the strength of its connections.

        A real merely is (in virtue of some act, which it characterizes); an actual is a real that does – that acts

        This is replacing one obscurity with another. What do you mean by “act”? Presumably not in the everyday sense, in which only humans (and human-adjacent things like animals or corporations or robots) can act.

        What do “game” and “anger” and “ocean” mean, then? If the terms terminate on indefinites, then they can have no definitions.

        I hate to break it to you but indefinite definitions are the norm in human thought. Other than perhaps in mathematics, the mapping of a word or concept to the things they describe is always an interpretive process and hence not definite (that is, precise, fixed, unchangeable). Yet the concepts designate something – they are nonetheless *meaningful* despite being indefinite. I can understand not liking this, because it would be vastly simpler if words had fixed definitions, but it’s just the way things are.

      • Whatever a universal like “chairness” or “goodness” might be, it certainly doesn’t exist in the same way as an actual chair or a particular action, and using the same term for both things is bound to lead to error.

        Well, sure. That’s why we distinguish between different sorts of existence, or reality: virtual, actual, nominal, ideal, phantasmal, notional, phenomenal, formal, potential, and so forth. But if we say that goodness does not exist, period full stop, we say that there is simply no such thing. So to say anything about it whatever – including, “there is no such thing really as goodness” – we have to presuppose implicitly that it exists *somehow or other.* Realists think that it somehow really exists (perhaps only nominally). Nominalists think it exists *only* as a term useful to us in our thinking, but that it refers to nothing else; that it is purely, and only, a heuristic.

        Strict nominalism is strictly self-refuting – if there are no universals, then terms don’t really exist, and there is therefore no way that we can make meaningful statements about them, such as, “our terms are purely nominal heuristics, and refer to nothing real (not even to phenomena or phantasma).” So, in order to keep thinking and living, nominalists must smuggle some unprincipled exceptional realism into their thought. They are loose nominalists. I.e., when push comes to shove, they are not nominalists at all. That makes good sense; for, by its own account, nominalism itself has only a nominal existence, which renders it useless for dealing with actual reality.

        Nominal heuristics can work for us only insofar as they approximate accurate reference to reals – insofar, i.e., as strict nominalism is false.

        The Latourian approach is that everything – people, material things, ideas – is fundamentally equally real (whatever that means) and need to be considered in terms of the ways in which they are connected. A universal is precisely as real or unreal as anything else in this fairly radical worldview – that is, its reality is determined by the strength of its connections.

        Taking “connections” the right way, that’s pretty much the realist perspective. It isn’t radical, or new. On the contrary, it goes back to Plato and Aristotle – and common sense.

        The nice thing about realism is that admits ontological room for the merely nominal reality of the termini of some terms. Nominalism, on the other hand, forbids to the termini of all general terms any other than a nominal reality. Compared to realism, it’s a relatively impoverished ontology.

        What do you mean by “act”? Presumably not in the everyday sense, in which only humans (and human-adjacent things like animals or corporations or robots) can act.

        Yeah, not that. Every actual thing acts on its environment – has an effect on its environment. All changes are effects of acts; to act is to change what is. A thing that has no effect on other actual things is not itself actual.

        … indefinite definitions are the norm in human thought. Other than perhaps in mathematics, the mapping of a word or concept to the things they describe is always an interpretive process and hence not definite (that is, precise, fixed, unchangeable).

        Indefinite definitions, eh? Did you notice the oxymoron as you deployed it? See how it demolishes your argument?

        Definitions might not be exhaustively specified, of course, but they must be at least somewhat specific in order to pick out a particular sort of thing.

        You had written that oceans, anger and games have *no definite form.* No form whatever, i.e.; there is then nothing we can say about them, for, having no form, they have no properties, no character. So, then, there is simply *nothing* that all oceans have in common; the word “anger” never picks out anything like what it has ever picked out before; and we can have *no idea whatever* what games are like, because “game” refers to nothing definite at all.

        I’m sure you see the problem.

      • So to say anything about it whatever – including, “there is no such thing really as goodness” – we have to presuppose implicitly that it exists *somehow or other.*

        I agree with this, but it means that “existence” is a completely useless term – because anything which can be imagined exists in this expansive sense. Anything which can be imagined therefore exists in imagination-space, and the only things which don՚t exist are things that are completely unthinkable.

        Realists think that it somehow really exists (perhaps only nominally). Nominalists think it exists *only* as a term useful to us in our thinking, but that it refers to nothing else; that it is purely, and only, a heuristic.

        I don՚t know what the official position of nominalists is, but mine is different from the above. Terms obviously have to refer to something if they are to be useful heuristics. “Refer” in the sense that they have some relationship with non-linguistic reality, not that there is a universal form of Cat that “cat” directly points to. Referral is more complicated than that.

        Indefinite definitions, eh? Did you notice the oxymoron as you deployed it? See how it demolishes your argument?

        I did notice, and no, it does not demolish anything. Like I said, it՚s just the way things are.

        You had written that oceans, anger and games have *no definite form.* No form whatever, i.e.; there is then nothing we can say about them, for, having no form, they have no properties, no character.

        I said they had no definite form, which is very different from saying they have no form whatsoever or that we can՚t say anything about them.

        Nobody has a problem with the idea that “the Atlantic Ocean” and “the Indian Ocean” refer to different things, even though there is no bright line separating them. Their referents have no definite form, yet they are perfectly useful concepts.

      • … it means that “existence” is a completely useless term – because anything which can be imagined exists in this expansive sense. Anything which can be imagined therefore exists in imagination-space, and the only things which don’t exist are things that are completely unthinkable.

        Yes. And this is nowise a problem. There’s no way to get around the fact that the term denoting the most general character of the things we think about – their being – is the most general term of all. To refer to this First Thing, you need a term for it. So we have one. And no one objects to this state of affairs, or considers that term useless. Being is evidently quite a useful concept, and term; indeed, perhaps the most useful of all, for everyone uses it, in every predication.

        Terms obviously have to refer to something if they are to be useful heuristics. “Refer” in the sense that they have some relationship with non-linguistic reality, not that there is a universal form of Cat that “cat” directly points to. Referral is more complicated than that.

        If there is no real form of the cat, then there can be no instances of that form – not even one. But if there are then no such things in non-linguistic reality as what we mean by “cat” – if, that is to say, there is nothing real that we mean by “cat” – then there are no cats. There are just different things, in no way alike, to which we apply the name “cat.” The thing that keeps butting against my mouse hand right now, as I work, to try to get me to stop working and start petting him? Not in fact a cat; only nominally a cat.

        It might help to let go of the notion that realists think there is a Realm of Forms in which the Forms are all present the way that their concrete instantiations are present in this world. They don’t, most of them (very few Platonic realists are that naïve). Most of them think that the Forms in themselves are only formally real, and that they actually subsist, not in their own right, but rather only as the properties of actuals.

        Indefinite definitions, eh? Did you notice the oxymoron as you deployed it? See how it demolishes your argument?

        I did notice, and no, it does not demolish anything. Like I said, it’s just the way things are.

        You’ve dispensed with the Law of Noncontradiction, eh? Makes things easier, in some ways: you can be rationally irrational, and no intellectual work on your part is ever needed (or even possible, for that matter). Good luck with that.

        You had written that oceans, anger and games have *no definite form.* No form whatever, i.e.; there is then nothing we can say about them, for, having no form, they have no properties, no character.

        I said they had no definite form, which is very different from saying they have no form whatsoever or that we can’t say anything about them.

        To say that a thing has no definite form *just is* to say that there is nothing definite about it – nothing to distinguish it from any other thing. If a thing has any sort of form at all, so that it can be distinguished from other things, it is then definite.

        Nobody has a problem with the idea that “the Atlantic Ocean” and “the Indian Ocean” refer to different things, even though there is no bright line separating them. Their referents have no definite form, yet they are perfectly useful concepts.

        There is in fact a bright line separating the Indian and Atlantic oceans:

        From Cape Agulhas in 20° long. East, Southward along this meridian to the Antarctic Continent.

    • The courts have largely *effected* the popularity of gay marriage, just as they have largely effected the popularity of other revolutionary ideas such as specific kinds of murder. E.g., abortion.

      The Gloria Steinems of the world might well be their own sorts of lunatics and half-wits, but they’re not so foolish as to believe that revolutionary ideas such as abortion on demand, gay marriage, no fault divorce, open bordersism, matriarchy and so on could *ever* receive a critical mass of popularity on their own merits.

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  7. And no one objects to this state of affairs, or considers that term useless. Being is evidently quite a useful concept, and term; indeed, perhaps the most useful of all, for everyone uses it, in every predication.

    If it applies to everything, then it is not useful, since it draws no distinctions. The everyday usage of “exist” may be useful (eg, if I say that Santa Clause doesn՚t exist, presumably everyone can figure out that it means that while the concept exists, there is no physical referent), but that is not what we are talking about.

    It՚s the oldest trick in philosophy to confuse the everyday meaning of words with technical meanings.

    If there is no real form of the cat, then there can be no instances of that form – not even one. But if there are then no such things in non-linguistic reality as what we mean by “cat”

    You are presupposing the truth of the proposition you are trying to argue for, which gets tedious. I՚m proposing a different theory of meaning than yours. You don՚t have to accept it as valid, but maybe you can stretch enough to acknowledge that it exists, if only in my head.

    Indefinite definitions, eh? Did you notice the oxymoron as you deployed it? See how it demolishes your argument?

    I did notice, and no, it does not demolish anything. Like I said, it’s just the way things are.

    You’ve dispensed with the Law of Noncontradiction, eh?

    Please. I am saying nothing but pure common sense. The dictionary is full of definitions which (because almost all concepts are too complex or vague to be fully specified) are indefinite. That is not a violation of some primal law of thought, it՚s just the way things are.

    There is in fact a bright line separating the Indian and Atlantic oceans

    There is also this other boundary. I kind of like that one better, but the point is there is no one single definite boundary, there are a lot of competing theories of what the boundary should be. Which was my point.

    • If it applies to everything, then it is not useful, since it draws no distinctions. The everyday usage of “exist” may be useful (e.g., if I say that Santa Clause doesn’t exist, presumably everyone can figure out that it means that while the concept exists, there is no physical referent), but that is not what we are talking about.

      But it does draw a distinction. And it doesn’t apply in every case. Almost everything we talk about is real in one way or another, to be sure; that’s how they get to be things, rather than nothing. But some terms don’t terminate on reals. Square circles, for example, can have no sort of reality. What is logically impossible can’t be real in any way. “Square circle” is a term without possible referent. It is, i.e., a meaningless term.

      The term itself is of course quite real. But it does not denote anything. So we can talk about the term, but not what it denotes.

      One of the most important functions of philosophy – of thought – is to figure out when terms are meaningless in this way. It is all too easy to go on in life believing and acting as if meaningless terms had meaning. And some such meaningless terms are terrifically consequential. E.g., “nonexistent God.” Lots of people base life decisions on the meaningfulness of that term. It’s an infinitely bad mistake.

      If there is no real form of the cat, then there can be no instances of that form – not even one. But if there are then no such things in non-linguistic reality as what we mean by “cat” …

      You are presupposing the truth of the proposition you are trying to argue for, which gets tedious.

      No. But I can see how you got that impression, given the clunky way I wrote that paragraph. I should have written it as follows:

      If there is no real form of the cat, then there can be no instances of that form – not even one. But in that case there are no true cats. There are just different things, in no way really alike, but rather merely apparently alike, to which we apply the name “cat.” They are cats in name only: nominal cats.

      This is not circular reasoning buttressing realism. It is the way that nominalism characterizes its own theory regarding the categories of thought. Nominalism thinks that there are no such things really as cats; that, rather, there are at most things that we like to call cats.

      The dictionary is full of definitions which (because almost all concepts are too complex or vague to be fully specified) are indefinite. That is not a violation of some primal law of thought, it’s just the way things are.

      Dictionary definitions are obviously not exhaustive specifications. But that does not make them indefinite. It makes them incomplete. So far as they go, they are quite definite (this is why we call them “definitions” rather than “indefinitions”). If they were not, they would not pick out one sort of thing, and would therefore be utterly useless – would be meaningless. They wouldn’t be definitions in the first place.

      Part of the disagreement we are suffering is due to the fact that you are taking my talk of ontological definiteness as talk about terminological definiteness. It isn’t about that (although it has to do with that). When I say things are ontologically definite, I mean simply that they are exhaustively specified *in reality* by their complete schedule of properties. And every real thing has a complete schedule of properties, whether or not we are ever able to account for it exhaustively (which, NB, we need not (and therefore generally should not) do in order to talk about them). Each disparate thing is in just the way that it alone is (the disparity of things is obtained by the differences in their properties). And if there is some way that a thing is not quite definite – some way in which it is not just exactly the specific thing that it is – well, then, it isn’t anything at all.

      Terminological definiteness presupposes ontological definiteness, and is impossible without it. “Cat” can’t work for us at all terminologically unless cats really are feline ontologically.

      Nominalism presupposes and employs realism.

      I like your boundary between the Indian and Atlantic oceans better, too. It is more concrete, sensible, and seamanlike; more rooted in the experience of the practical difference between the two oceans, and thus of their concrete boundary.

      … there are a lot of competing theories of what the boundary should be.

      Sure. But if there were no real difference between the Atlantic and Indian oceans, no one would be trying to figure out how to nail that difference down. And that the project of nailing it down is difficult does not mean that the difference is not real. If it were strictly true that, as you say, “there is no one single definite boundary,” then *none of the competing theories about the boundary would be about reality.* They would all be about illusions, because, of course, in reality “there just is no one single definite boundary” that all the theories were about.

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