Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

At least since Russell, mainstream analytic philosophy has distinguished internal and external relations and acknowledged the existence of both. This seems in line with both the manifest and scientific images of the world. However, there is a recent deflationary trend about relations, which focuses on the truthmakers of relational statements in order to show that putative external relations are in fact internal, and that internal relations do not really exist. Lowe’s posthumous 2016 paper is a thorough presentation of this line of thought. This article critically analyzes Lowe’s arguments in that paper, and some related arguments in recent works. It finds them wanting and thus reaffirms the irreducible reality of relations.

Since the very beginning of his philosophical career, Russell famously gave center stage to external relations. In 1959, he thus recalls the origin of his long-standing battle in their favor:

It was towards the end of 1898 that Moore and I rebelled against both Kant and Hegel […] Moore was more concerned with the rejection of idealism, while I was most interested in the rejection of monism. The two were, however, closely connected […] through the doctrine as to relations, which Bradley had distilled out of the philosophy of Hegel. I called this ‘the doctrine of internal relations’, and I called my view ‘the doctrine of external relations’ (Russell 1959: Chpt. 5).

A crucial ingredient of Russell’s campaign for external relations was the apparently ineliminable role that they play in science:

I do not believe that […] those who disbelieve in the reality of relations can possibly interpret those numerous parts of science which employ asymmetrical [external] relations (Russell 1924: 176).

Indeed, as we may put it, the scientific image of the world features all sorts of external relations, from the force and elasticity of classical mechanics to…


  Click here to download full article