Philosophy against Misosophy


Ernest Nagel



Essays by Me

Essays by Others


Originally published in Freedom and Experience, edited by Sidney Hook and Milton R. Konvitz, Ithaca and New York, Cornell University Press, 1947. Reprinted in Ernest Nagel, Sovereign Reason and Other Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1954). Text taken from here. (Hat tip to David Marans.)

Regarding his reply to Nagel’s criticisms, Brand Blanshard wrote:

In his book Sovereign Reason (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1954 [in which the essay posted hereinunder was later reprinted]), Professor Ernest Nagel wrote an impor-tant criticism of my theory of internal relations. Since it is the policy of the Library of Living Philosophers not to publish what has already appeared in print, and Mr. Nagel, to my regret, was unable to contribute a further essay to this volume, I have made no attempt here to reply to his criticism. Readers who would like to have my lines of reply may find them, however, if they are willing to refer to the following somewhat scattered sources: Philosophical Investi-gations [sic: Blanshard meant Interroga-tions], eds. Sydney and Beatrice Rome (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964), 219-41; my Reason and Analysis, 459-65; 478 ff.; and a symposium on “Internal Relations and Their Importance to Philosophy,” Review of Metaphysics 21, no. 2 (Dec. 1967): 227-72. In this symposium I first state my view, am subjected to criticism by Professors W. H. Doney, Bruce Aune, W. F. Kennick, and Alice Lazerowtiz, and then offer my replies to each.

Brand Blanshard, “Reply to Lewis Edwin Hahn,” The Philosophy of Brand Blan-shard, The Library of Living Philosophers, XV, La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Co., 1980, 905.


Sovereign Reason

Ernest Nagel


It is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.” — Thucydides



The injunction to take Reason as one’s guide has fallen repeatedly on men’s ears at least since classical antiquity; and the place of Reason in nature and society has been an oft-recurring theme in the history of thought. Philosophers have been perennially occupied with analyzing Reason’s anatomy and function; poets and moralists have celebrated its worth and dignity; and even those engrossed in the conquest and cynical use of power have not seldom made formal obeisance to its authority. If men have so often been found wanting in adapting their conduct and beliefs to the precepts of Reason, it has surely not been for lack of frequent verbal encouragement to do so.

Men’s failure to live reasonably is in large measure a consequence of the fact that though man is by nature a rational animal, the proficient exercise of rational powers is not a natural blessing but a difficult achievement. For the full realization of those powers is the end-product of an arduous personal discipline, to which only a few of mankind have been able to subject themselves; and the exercise of those powers is also contingent upon favorable material and social circumstances, not easily called into existence, and not generally available in human epochs when a rigid tradition or brutal compulsion is the primary determinant of personal and social action. However, mankind’s alleged failure to take Reason for its guide cannot always be explained in such terms. For the allegation is often the consequence of the fact that human beliefs and actions are being judged on the basis of conflicting conceptions as to what it is to be rational. Though the name of Reason is frequently invoked to sanction or to condemn various practices and beliefs, Reason’s ostensible spokesmen do not always speak with a single voice. In short, men have been confronted with incompatible ideals of Reason, not all of which can be congruent with human powers and nature’s organization. Whatever else one may learn from the study of philosophy and its history, one cannot easily escape the fact that the canons which mankind has employed in evaluating the reasonableness of conduct and belief have varied with local tradition and historical circumstance.

Systems of philosophy can indeed be profitably studied as explicit and refined formulations of standards of rationality, proposed as ideals against which conduct and claims to genuine knowledge are to be measured. These standards, whatever may be the evidence on which their proponents formally accept them, have in general not been the exclusive creations of those who thus explicitly propose them: they have frequently been the symptoms and intellectual expressions of pervasive tensions and needs operating in various forms in the inclusive social matrix within which philosophical systems come to birth or find wide acceptance. It is thus undoubtedly illuminating to examine philosophical doctrines in terms of their origins and causes and to determine to what extent the perspectives from which philosophers view the world are formed by current customs, current beliefs, and current moral and intellectual problems.

However, philosophical ideas are not simply otiose by-products of cultural processes, exercising no reciprocal influence upon their matrix cultures. On the contrary, the standards of rationality explicitly or implicitly contained in philosophic systems have repeatedly served as guides in resolving practical and intellectual issues and in directing theoretical inquiry. The general acceptance of a system of philosophy thus frequently leads to consequences of far-reaching importance to both society and science. Accordingly, the analysis of the canons of rationality involved in philosophic doctrines, with a view to evaluating their adequacy and authority, as distinct from investigating their causes and their matter-of-fact consequences, is a contribution, however indirect, to serious social criticism. It is with such an examination of the canons of rationality implicit in one historically influential system of philosophy—that of philosophical idealism—that the present paper is concerned. Few would care to deny that the domination which this system of ideas once exercised over thinking minds in this country is now a thing of the past. Nevertheless, the conception of Reason proposed by it is still worth serious attention. It is a conception which satisfies the deep-seated need of sensitive minds for an ideal that is inclusive and worthy of human devotion. It is a view of the goal of thought and of the power of reason that appears to many as the sole alternative to accepting dogmatic preference and brute power as ultimate standards. And it is an interpretation of the office of Reason which still controls the minds of many men eminent in science and art, and which in various guises guides much recent discussion in social and moral philosophy. One is therefore not engaging in a gratuitous intellectual exercise in attempting a fresh evaluation of this ideal of Reason. Is it an ideal firmly rooted in the character of the world and implicit in the actual operations of human reflection? Or is it a conception of the goal of thought that is fundamentally irrelevant to the procedures and conclusions of controlled inquiry, inherently incapable of even partial attainment, the vain pursuit of which leads only to an enervating scepticism and eventual despair?

This ideal of Reason has been argued in recent years with great vigor and unusual clarity by Professor Brand Blanshard. His presentation of the case for it has in addition the merit of recognizing many of the deficiencies and obscurities of earlier formulations of the doctrine and of exhibiting considerable familiarity with relevant developments in modern logic and science. The task of evaluating the standard of rationality proposed by philosophic idealism has thus become a relatively easy one, for it is now possible to concentrate on Mr. Blanshard’s presentation of the evidence for this ideal, in the confident belief that no presentation of the case for it more cogent than his could be made. Accordingly, the present paper will be devoted exclusively to appraising some of the considerations advanced by Mr. Blanshard in favor of this ideal. It will be impossible, naturally, to deal with all the issues he raises in all their dimensions, and in particular it will be necessary to pass by in silence his own criticisms of alternative standards of rationality that have been proposed by contemporary pluralistic naturalists. But while much in his argument must be neglected, it is hoped that what will be discussed is at any rate near the center of his vision.

What, then, is the proper goal of Reason, as Mr. Blanshard envisages it, and what are the arguments upon which he rests his case? The very end and goal of Reason, he declares,

is to understand, and to understand is always to follow an objective pattern or order. What kind of order is this? If it is to satisfy reason, it must be an intelligible order, and what is that? It is an order that never meets our question Why? with a final rebuff, one in which there is always an answer to be found, whether in fact we find it or not. And what sort of answer would satisfy that question? Only an answer in terms of necessity, and ultimately of logical necessity, since of any answer that falls short of this the question Why? can be raised again. When we reach an answer that is necessary, we see that to repeat the question is idle. Of any statement of merely causal necessity, such as the law of gravitation, or Ohm’s law, or Boyle’s law, we can intelligibly ask why things should behave in this, manner. But when we see that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other, we cannot sensibly ask why, because we are at the end of the line to which such questioning can take us. We have already reached the logically necessary.1

And as he explains more fully elsewhere,

Fully coherent knowledge would be knowledge in which every judgment entailed, and was entailed by, the rest of the system. Probably we never find in fact a system where there is so much of interdependence. . . . It is in such systems, perhaps, as Euclidean geometry that we get the most perfect examples of coherence that have been constructed. If any proposition were lacking, it could be supplied from the rest; if any were altered, the repercussions would be felt through the length and breadth of the system. Yet even such a system as this falls short of ideal system. Its postulates are unproved; they are independent of each other, in the sense that none of them could be derived from any other or even from all the others together; its clear necessity is brought by an abstractness so extreme as to have left out nearly everything that belongs to the character of actual things. A completely satisfactory system would have none of these defects. No proposition would be arbitrary, every proposition would be entailed by the others jointly and even singly, no proposition would stand outside the system. . . .2

But this ideal of knowledge is a valid ideal, and something other than the expression of undisciplined self-indulgence, Mr. Blanshard believes, only if the world which thought seeks to apprehend is one “in which intelligence finds an answering intelligibility,”3 only if reality likewise is an “all-inclusive and perfectly integrated system”4 whose parts logically imply each other. It is upon this view of reality that he ultimately rests his case for the ideal of reason he professes, and it is to a defense of this theory of reality that he devotes his best efforts.

At this point, however, a reader not antecedently committed to Mr. Blanshard’s canons of intelligibility might enter a protest. Why should the goal of human reason, such a reader might ask, be dictated by this alleged character of reality, even if this all-inclusive reality does have the character Mr. Blanshard believes it to have? What logical compulsion is there that even if the world does possess such a perfectly integrated logical structure, human thought should seek to encompass it? Are not the actual tasks of human reason set by specific problems, involving only a sector of what exists, whose successful resolution does not, in point of fact, require a consideration of the rest of nature? And should not, therefore, the ideals of human reason, and the principles of criticism that men ought to employ in evaluating proposed solutions to their problems, be established by considering the ways in which specific problems do become resolved, rather than by trying to ground those ideals and principles in the character of an all-inclusive reality that is only vaguely present to men’s vision?

Mr. Blanshard is not entirely unmindful of such objections; nor does he conceal from himself that the ideal of knowledge he portrays is in conflict with the general positivistic tenor of modern science as well as with many current naturalistic interpretations of the function of thought. Nevertheless, he attempts to show that the ideal he invokes for human reason is implicit in the tasks human reason normally undertakes. He rejects the view, common since Hume, that all propositions about matters of fact are contingent; for he maintains and tries to prove that “in the end” no propositions are devoid of logical necessity, and that only on the supposition that no proposition is “altogether contingent”5 can responsible inquiry be distinguished from arbitrary postulation. Objections of the type briefly cited above do not therefore lead Mr. Blanshard to doubt his fundamental commitments, and a critic who wishes to come to grips with him must consider the positive arguments he employs to support his thesis. The foundation upon which Mr. Blanshard builds his case is the doctrine of internal relations, and it is with an examination of his arguments for this doctrine that the remainder of this paper will be concerned.



The issue raised by the doctrine of internal relations is “whether a term could be what it is apart from the relations it bears to others.” Mr. Blanshard explains this issue more fully as follows:

A relation is internal to a term when in its absence the term would be different; it is external when its addition or withdrawal would make no difference to the term. . . . Those who accept the theory of internal relations . . . hold that everything, if we knew enough, would turn out to be internally related to everything else. . . .6

But this formulation, he believes, is not free from ambiguity, and he therefore amplifies it into the following statement:

. . . Everything is so integral a part of a context that it can neither be nor be truly conceived apart from that context. Put more formally, the theory is this: (1) that every term, i.e., every possible object of thought, is what it is in virtue of relations to what is other than itself; (2) that its nature is affected thus not by some of its relations only, but in differing degrees by all of them, no matter how external they may seem; (3) that in consequence of (2) and of the further obvious fact that everything is related in some way to everything else, no knowledge will reveal completely the nature of any term until it has exhausted that term’s relations to everything else.7

Mr. Blanshard’s statement of the doctrine of internal relations has undoubted advantages of greater clarity over other formulations. Nevertheless, one crucial point in it seems to me essentially obscure, and something must be said about it before I turn to his detailed defense of his thesis. For in the statement of his doctrine as well as in the ensuing discussion of it Mr. Blanshard uses the phrase “the nature of a term,” though I have been unable to discover in his writings any explicit explanation of what he means by it; yet everything depends upon the sense that is to be assigned to it. What ought we to understand by the expression?

At least three uses of the word “nature” can be distinguished when the word occurs in such contexts as “the nature of x.”

(1) In the first place, it frequently occurs in questions and answers such as the following: “What is the nature of a circle?”—“The nature of a circle is to be a closed plane curve, all of whose points are equidistant from a fixed point”; “What is the nature of electricity?”—“The nature of electricity is to be a mode of physical behavior specified by Maxwell’s equations”; “What is the nature of man?”—“The nature of man is to be a rational animal.” It is clear that in this usage, the terms whose natures are being discussed are kinds, characters, or universals, are capable of repeated exemplification in concrete individuals and processes but are not themselves concrete individuals or processes. Successful inquiries into natures, in this sense of the word, terminate in what has traditionally been called definition, though the outcome of such research might more appropriately be designated as theory. The intellectual service that is rendered when the natures of universals are satisfactorily formulated is that other generic characters associated with the former can be exhibited as logical implicates of those universals.8 I shall call this use of the word “nature” its primary use.

An allied sense of the word “nature” is illustrated by such statements as “The nature of gold is to be malleable” and “It is the nature of cats to catch mice.” Here again natures are predicated of universals or characters, not of individuals. However, what is said in such statements to be the nature of a kind is not a definition or complete theory of the kind but is regarded as merely a logical implicate of some assumed complete theory. Thus, the dispositional predicate “being malleable” is generally not taken to constitute the definition of gold, though it is commonly supposed to follow logically from such a definition.

(2) A second important sense of the word “nature” is illustrated by such statements as: “It is the nature of this particular figure to have an angle-sum equal to two right-angles,” “To be rust-resisting is the nature of this knife,” or “The nature of Socrates is to be mortal.” In these contexts natures are being predicated of concrete things or individuals, rather than of universals or characters as in the previous examples. However, statements like the present ones must frequently be understood as elliptic formulations, in which something is predicated to be the nature, or to be of the nature, of an individual, only in the sense that the individual has the character designated as its nature as a consequence of his displaying some other character. Thus, the mortality which is asserted to be of the nature of Socrates belongs to him insofar as Socrates is human; for if Socrates is a man, and assuming an appropriate formulation of the nature of the generic character man (in the primary sense of the word “nature”), it follows that Socrates is mortal. In this usage of the word “nature,” therefore, to be snub-nosed is not part of the nature of Socrates, since though he is a man, it does not follow from his being one that he is snub-nosed. In this usage, also, though to be mortal is of the nature of Socrates insofar as he is human, mortality need not be part of his nature insofar as he may exhibit some other generic character, for example having a physical body of a determinate shape. Accordingly, when, in the present sense of the word “nature,” an individual is said to have a specified nature, what is being asserted is a connection between characters or universals. Since, however, an individual possesses an indefinite number of characters, not all of which logically entail one another, whether a given trait the individual exhibits does or does not belong to his nature is relative to what other character is selected for describing the individual.

(3) I come finally to a third and most puzzling use of the word “nature,” according to which individuals are said to have intrinsic natures, where the predication of such natures is supposed to be made without ellipsis. Thus, it is frequently said that the nature of a given individual (e.g., Socrates) is to be a man, or that the nature of the moon is to be a satellite, not insofar as those individuals exhibit some further character, but absolutely and without qualification. What are we to understand by the word “nature” when it is used in this manner?

There is one interpretation that seems obvious, though it may not carry us far. On this interpretation the character attributed to an individual as its nature is one which permits the systematic organization and logical derivation of a large number of other traits the individual exhibits. For example, in asserting that the nature of Socrates is to be a man, what we are asserting on the proposed interpretation is that many other characters possessed by Socrates, such as the ability to see and hear, to experience joy and sorrow, to resent injury, to remember and reflect, are logical consequences of his being a man. However, this interpretation of the word “nature” does not require us to say that every trait an individual thing possesses is a consequence of its nature. Thus, even if on some theory of man it would follow from the fact that Socrates is a man that he must be capable of sexual passion, it would not follow from his nature alone that he must be fond of music, or that he must be a lover of Alcibiades. In brief, on this interpretation of the term, in predicating a character of an individual as its nature we bring into systematic order only a selected group of traits and actions it exhibits.

It is at this point that our difficulties begin, for there apparently are some people, among whom Mr. Blanshard is perhaps to be included, who conceive the nature of an individual as something which logically determines all the thing’s attributes and relational properties and not merely some of them. But such a use of the word “nature” seems to me to lead to fatal consequences.

In the first place, it is quite clear that just what characters are included in an individual, and just where the boundaries of an individual are drawn, depend on decisions as to the use of language. These decisions, though motivated by considerations of practical utility, are logically arbitrary. Thus, the expression “the sun”‘ is generally understood to cover an object confined to a certain apparent volume possessing a certain shape, and exhibiting certain radiant properties; it is usually not employed so as to cover the innumerable spatial relations that object has to other things, nor the energies that had been radiated from the object but are now millions of miles away from it. Nevertheless, the phrase “the sun” could be used so that the individual thing to which it refers will include not only the items just mentioned but also all the physical events that stand to the thing (as initially specified) in relations of causal antecedents and consequences, and even all the images and ideas which men have had or ever will have of it. Accordingly, just what qualities and relations are to be included as parts or elements of an individual thing is not a question to be settled by empirical investigation of facts, but a question which calls for a practical delimitation.

However, if the word “individual” is so used that an individual will include all possible attributes, relations, and relational properties it may possess, two consequences immediately follow: there will be only one individual, which will coincide with the conjectural “totality” of all things, events, and relations; and secondly, every statement containing the name of an individual will express an analytical proposition. Both consequences are practically undesirable, for reasons too obvious to need mention. But these consequences can be avoided only by restricting the use of the word “individual,” as is normally done, so that individuals will include only a proper subset of their possible attributes and relational properties, however vaguely this subset might be delimited and however inexhaustible its membership may be.

But if this is so, and if, as is generally admitted, in the normal use of the word “individual” individuals are not logically definable (because they are taken to include an inexhaustible set of logically independent characters), what are we to understand by assertions concerning the nature of an individual thing, in the absolute, unqualified sense of the word “nature”? We must remind ourselves that, in this absolute sense, the nature of an individual is supposed to determine logically all the thing’s traits and behaviors, its enduring as well as its passing qualities. On the other hand, it is demonstrable that if the nature of a thing is something that is capable of formulation and definition, the nature of a thing cannot by itself determine all of its characteristics. For example, if to be a metal is taken to be the nature of a concrete thing, this nature may entail the fact that the thing is malleable; but this nature will not, by itself, determine the specific degree of malleability exhibited by the thing, nor will it determine the specific shapes the thing may assume at various times. Such further statements about the thing are derivable from a statement about its nature only if the latter is supplemented by other, logically independent statements, which are instantial in form and specify the contingent initial and boundary conditions under which the thing happens to exist. Accordingly, on the supposition that the natures of things are statable and definable, the nature of a thing cannot determine every character the thing may possess.

As far as I can see, however, this conclusion can be avoided in only one way—by equating the nature of a thing with the thing itself. But such an attempted escape from difficulties leads to consequences no less disastrous. In the first place, the nature of a thing, like the thing itself, would be something that is in principle indefinable and could not therefore be made the basis for bringing into systematic order any of the characters which the thing displays. In the second place, every statement which mentions the nature of an individual would express no more than a trivial analytical proposition. And in the third place, since discursive thought would be inherently inadequate to the task of discovering the natures of things, the goal of understanding the natures of things could not be a pertinent ideal for human reason.

Should these difficulties be brushed aside with the comment that they arise only for finite minds and not for an “infinite intelligence,” the appropriate rejoinder is close at hand. Why should finite minds adopt an ideal of reason that is suitable for an intelligence totally different from theirs? Moreover, would not even an all-encompassing mind fail to achieve the “fully coherent knowledge” that Mr. Blanshard envisages as the ultimate aim of thought? For the characters things possess fall into a large number of sub- classes which are demonstrably independent of each other logically. If, therefore, an infinite mind did ever come to know the nature of a thing, it would know it only as a miscellaneous collection of attributes and relational properties, some of which do logically entail others, and some of which are logically independent of others. Accordingly, even such a mind would be compelled to recognize an ineradicable contingency in the very heart of the nature of things.

I have spent much time on matters that are preliminary to a discussion of Mr. Blanshard’s arguments for the doctrine of internal relations. I hope the time has not been misspent. Mr. Blanshard nowhere states explicitly what he understands by the phrase “the nature of a term”; but his rejection of the false or abstract universal in favor of the true or concrete universal suggests that for him the nature of a thing simply is the total set of characters included in the thing. Indeed, he does say that

the nature of any term, unless the term is itself a relation, consists of attributes or properties (in the non-technical sense); by the nature of an apple we mean its roundness, its redness, its juiciness, and so on. Thus a change in any of the properties would be a change in the apple’s nature.9

And such a statement does provide some ground for the suspicion that this is the way he is using the expression “the nature of a thing.” But in any event, I shall try to show that only on such an interpretation of this expression do his arguments for the doctrine of internal relations fail to illustrate the fallacy of non sequitur.



I shall examine Mr. Blanshard’s arguments for the doctrine of internal relations under three divisions into which they can be conveniently placed: arguments concerned with the relations of concrete things to one another; those dealing with the relations of universals; and finally, those addressed to the nature of causal relations.

Although Mr. Blanshard offers several grounds for his theory under the first head, they seem to me to be homogeneous in type, and I shall therefore comment on only one, in the belief that it is representative of the others. According to this argument, “everything is related to everything else by the relation of difference at least,” so that if A and B are two concrete (and therefore distinct) individuals, A must be related to B by the relation of difference. However, were this relation altered, A would no longer be the thing it is, since it would then not differ from that which, by hypothesis, is distinct from itself. But “a, relation that could not be theoretically changed without changing the thing itself is precisely what we mean by an internal relation.”10 Hence the relation of difference is internal to A; indeed, everything is therefore internally related in this manner to everything else. And by a strictly parallel argument Mr. Blanshard also tries to show that “what holds in this respect of the relation of difference holds of other relations as well.”11

I fear, however, that though this argument has the impressive quality of great simplicity, its only merit is that it establishes a truism. To show that this is so, I shall restate it in terms of a special example. Suppose A and B are two individual plane figures, A having the shape of a circle, B that of a triangle. A and B are surely different, both numerically and with respect to the shapes they possess. Mr. Blanshard’s claim is that the relation of being different from B is internal to A, because if A did not stand in this relation to B, A would be different from what it in fact is. Does the argument establish what Mr. Blanshard believes it does?

(a) Notice, in the first place, that if the nature of a thing is distinguished from the thing, the admitted facts of the example do not yield the conclusion that the relation of difference is internal to the individual A. Undoubtedly, given that B is triangular in shape, A could not be circular unless A differed in shape from B. But to say that A would fail to have the shape it does in fact have, did it not differ in shape from B, is prima facie not equivalent to saying that A’s nature would be affected were A not different in shape from B. However, on Mr. Blanshard’s explicit formulation of the doctrine of internal relations, it is this latter claim that must be made good if the relation of difference is to be established as internal to A. But Mr. Blanshard offers no reasons why his readers should accept this claim, unless indeed he assumes, contrary to the hypothesis, that A and A’s nature are one and the same. If, however, he does assume this, the relation of difference is internal to A, but only because of some initial (though perhaps not explicit) practical decision as to what attributes and relational properties are to be included in the individual A. Accordingly, Mr. Blanshard has supplied adequate grounds for the statement that difference is a relation internal to A if, and only if, this statement is construed as a glaring tautology.

(b) Let us consider the matter in another light. Suppose that the individual figure B were to be destroyed so that A, though retaining its circular shape, would no longer be different from B—for the simple reason that there no longer would be the figure B from which it could differ. It seems, therefore, that A remains the thing it is in spite of the fact that one of its relations is altered.

I do not know what Mr. Blanshard would say to this objection to his argument, but his reply might conceivably take the following form: To be sure, he might say, the shape of A need not be affected by the destruction of the individual B, but its nature would be. For the nature of A is something such that the fact that A stands in some relation R to a thing follows logically from that nature. But since, on the hypothesis under discussion, A ceases to have a relation to a thing that it did have, A’s nature must be acknowledged to have undergone alteration, on pain of logical contradiction.

If this is Mr. Blanshard’s reply, he requires us to consider again the cryptic notion of the nature of an individual thing. Now it is certainly the case that the proposition, A is different in shape from B, follows logically from the two propositions that A is circular in shape and B is triangular, where A and B are two plane figures. But it is well to note that the conclusion of this inference is entailed by propositions about the shapes of the two individuals. If, then, the relational property of being different from B is alleged to be internal to A, it is internal to it only relative to the contingent facts that A is circular and B is triangular. Accordingly, to assert that A is necessarily related to B by the relation of difference, is simply an elliptic formulation of the fact that the characters A and B possess logically exclude one another. On the other hand, neither the proposition that A is circular in shape nor the proposition that B is triangular in shape is logically necessary; and we cannot therefore conclude that the relational property of being different from B is internal to A without further qualification. On the contrary, though the relation of difference may be internal to A relative to A’s possessing one character, it will not in general be internal to A relative to A’s possessing some other character. For example, if A and B are figures constructed out of white chalk, the relational property of being different from B is not internal to A relative to its being white in color.

Mr. Blanshard’s hypothetical reply to the objection does not therefore dispose of it, unless indeed he construes the nature of a thing to be identical with the total set of attributes and relational properties the thing possesses. In that case, however, he has been arguing strenuously for a truism that no one would care to dispute.

(c) It is pertinent to note, moreover, that even if one were to grant Mr. Blanshard’s claim that all the characters a thing possesses are internal to it, his major task would still be ahead of him. For he would still have to show that the necessary relations in which individuals stand to one another satisfy his requirements for a perfectly coherent rational system. In particular, there would remain the task of showing that the complex of characters which constitute an individual thing’s nature do indeed form such a system—so that if P and Q are any two characters that are elements in a thing’s nature, P and Q mutually entail one another. On the face of it, this seems like a hopeless undertaking, if modern mathematics and natural science do not deceive us in asserting that there are many characters which are logically independent of one another. And unless Mr. Blanshard can find an answer to what appear to be cogent demonstrations of such independence, he must surrender his conception of what is the ultimate ideal of reason.



This last observation leads directly to the second division of Mr. Blanshard’s arguments, which attempts to show that every universal is internally related to every other.

One approaches the discussion of this part of Mr. Blanshard’s thesis in the cheerful hope that the obscurities surrounding the claim that concrete things are internally related to one another will no longer plague us. For there is a fairly clear sense in which relations between universals may be said to be internal to their natures. Thus, the relational property of having an area greater than that of any other closed plane figure with the same perimeter may be said to be internal to a Euclidean circle, because this property is logically entailed by the nature of Euclidean circles. On the other hand, the character of having radii of four feet is not internal to Euclidean circles, because neither this character nor any of its contraries are logically implied by that universal. In this sense of the word “internal” it would appear therefore that some universals are internally related while others are not, so that in consequence the doctrine of internal relations ought to be judged as false.

However, Mr. Blanshard does not permit us to decide the merits of the doctrine so quickly. For he makes plain that he is affirming the validity of the doctrine for what he designates as “concrete universals,” not for the “false” or “abstract” universals of which examples have just been given. To be sure, this qualification carries with it at least the tacit acknowledgment that the doctrine is false when abstract universals are taken to fall within its scope, and so much at any rate may perhaps be regarded as settled. And since, as I believe, it is with the interrelations of abstract universals that discursive thought (in the sciences and elsewhere) is primarily concerned, an ideal of reason that is based on the presumed truth of the doctrine that concrete universals are internally related does not appear to be obviously relevant to the normal operations of reflective inquiry. But I must also confess that I am quite unclear as to what one is to understand by the phrase “concrete universals,” if the expression does not signify concrete individuals in all their manifold relations and dependencies; and if this is at least approximately the meaning of the phrase, all the obscurities which attend the doctrine of internal relations when applied to individuals make their unwelcome reappearance when the doctrine is applied to concrete universals.

However, this may be, Mr. Blanshard defends his claim that all universals are internally related, chiefly by trying to dispose of a number of standard objections to this thesis. His replies to these objections bring to a focus several crucial questions, and I shall therefore examine two series of representative comments he makes that bear upon them.

(1) A typical criticism of the doctrine, formulated by Mr. Blanshard runs as follows: “Certain abstractions in the field of quantity, for example the number three, remain the same and unaffected through every possible embodiment, and in every possible context.”12 But since the embodiment of such universals does not necessarily involve the embodiment of other abstract characters, the former are not internally related to the latter. Hence not all universals are internally related.

Mr. Blanshard counters this criticism with a threefold rejoinder.

(a) His first comment is that the alleged independence of the number three from context is not an independence in all respects, “for it is so intimately bound up with the other members of the number series that if its relations to any one of them were altered, if three were no longer greater than two, for example, or less than four, it would simply vanish.”13 I am afraid, however, that Mr. Blanshard is here scoring only against mythical opponents and against those who confuse the contradictory of a proposition with its contrary. His present remark carries no weight against those of his critics who, in denying that all relations of the number three are internal to its nature, do not deny that some of its relations are internal.

(b) The second part of Mr. Blanshard’s rejoinder asserts that “identity in difference” creeps into even purely arithmetical analysis. According to him, the equation “3 = 2 + 1” asserts that “in some respect or other the two sides are the same.” But if the two sides are “merely and abstractly the same, i.e., the same with no difference at all,” a distinction is asserted without difference; and if they are “merely different,” the equation asserts what is not, for the equation “expressly declares that they are not different wholly.”14

I have not been able to discover what direct bearing these remarks have on the question whether all the relations of the number three are internal to it. The remarks do reveal, however, a common mistake in analysis, the mistake of confusing a sign with what the sign expresses. The essential point to note is that the equation “3 = 2 + 1” is a complex linguistic sign, whose two members are different symbolic expressions. What the equation asserts (assuming that it is not being used to state the nominal definition of the numeral “3”), is that the number referred to by its left-hand member is identically the same as the number described by the right-hand member, where the descriptive phrase describes the number in terms of a certain operation upon two other numbers. The identity in difference which Mr. Blanshard finds in the equation thus reduces itself to the following: the same number is denoted by two different expressions. But surely this fact cannot be used to cast doubt on the claims of Mr. Blanshard’s critics that a universal may appear in two different contexts without undergoing any alteration in its nature.

(c) The remaining part of Mr. Blanshard’s rejoinder asserts that the alleged indifference of abstracted quantities to concrete contexts is simply the consequence of a definition and cannot therefore be taken as decisive evidence against his view. He thus declares that

when it is asked whether . . . purely numerical differences, or the assemblies of them of which the several numbers are composed, depend on the special differences of the terms, the answer presumably is No. But does this prove that there are purely numerical differences in nature? It is hard to see that it does. All that it shows is that if one defines one’s units as independent of special differences, then they will be independent of special differences. It does not show that one’s definition corresponds to anything in reality.15

This curious comment seems to me a child of desperation. Mr. Blanshard is apparently not denying that the number three is a universal. But if the number is a universal, and if its presumed logical independence from various other universals with which it may sometimes be conjoined is simply the consequence of its definition, just how, one would like to know, is the number to be conceived so that this logical independence is irrelevant for understanding the true nature of three? Moreover, what good reasons are there for doubting that the number three as defined corresponds, or may correspond, to something in reality? When we discover that two sets of elements in nature (say, the individuals gathered to play Beethoven’s Opus 70, No. 1, and the principal planets whose orbits are interior to the orbit of Mars) can be matched in a one-to-one fashion, do we not discover a genuine fact in the real—a fact which is expressed by saying that the two sets possess the common cardinal number three? The obvious truth seems to be that the cardinal numbers, like other universals, are properties of groups of elements that are invariants under certain transformations and conditions; and although they are properties which can be defined, the fact that they are invariants is not simply a matter of definition. Nor does the assumption that cardinal numbers are invariants entail the conclusion that “there are purely numerical differences in nature.” On the contrary, they could not very well be invariants unless the groups of things which they characterize were distinguishable in various respects. Accordingly, to say that the cardinals are invariants is simply another way of saying that they are not internally related to every other character with which they may jointly occur.

(2) Mr. Blanshard’s rejoinder to one criticism of the theory of internal relations thus seems to me to be somewhat less than conclusive. I now turn to his comments upon a second objection, which maintains that we can have adequate knowledge of a universal (say redheadedness) without knowing all its relations to every other universal that might be exemplified by the individuals possessing the first—for example, without knowing all the relations of redheadedness to the mental and bodily traits of redheaded people. The crux of Mr. Blanshard’s reply to this is that while we can, and do, have some knowledge of redheadedness without knowing all its relations, we cannot know “red-headedness fully and as it really is without such knowledge.”16

This reply is certainly conclusive if the phrase “to have full knowledge” simply means to know all the relations of a character; and perhaps at bottom Mr. Blanshard does rest his case on what is essentially a stipulation as to his use of language. Nevertheless, there are some indications that he is aiming at a less arbitrary disposition of a serious criticism of his views. For he declares that the “red-headedness now explicitly presented to thought” is not “all there is to that attribute as it exists in the nature of things,” since an idea “always points beyond itself; it always means more than it is; it always refers to more than it includes within the circle of its explicit content.”17 He continues:

Red-headedness is an integral part of an organism, and indeed is so bound up, for example, with the structure of hair-fibres, and this in turn with all manner of constitutional factors determining racial and individual differences that our common notion of it supplies scarcely more than a sign-post to its real or ultimate nature, i.e., to what it is as embedded in its own context.18

But do these explanations remove the force of the criticism? I think not, and for the following reasons:

(a) In the first place, the point of the criticism (namely, that one could have adequate knowledge of redheadedness without knowing all its relations) does not reside in the claim that the redheadedness explicitly presented to thought is “all there is” to this character; at any rate, there are many who raise that objection to Mr. Blanshard’s thesis and at the same time deny such a claim. The point of the criticism is that the adequacy of one’s knowledge of redheadedness is to be measured in terms of its relevance to the specific problems which may generate inquiry into that character. There are, however, many distinct problems which may generate such inquiry, and not just one all-encompassing difficulty; and there is no good reason to suppose that what may be an adequate resolution of one problem is either adequate or relevant to every other. The problem a readheaded woman faces who wishes to adorn herself attractively is not the problem which may agitate the physiologist or geneticist, and neither of these problems coincides with the question that a student of the physics of color may put to himself. Why should one imagine that these various problems are simply limited aspects of one inclusive problem, or that the several answers to them are necessarily relevant to one another? And why should one suppose, in advance of specific inquiry, that in the attempt to answer any one question about redheadedness one is inevitably and necessarily led to the consideration of every relation in which that character stands to others?

(b) I come to my second reason. A customary way of distinguishing between universals and concrete individuals is to say that the former, unlike the latter, are capable of repeated exemplification and are often definable. But according to Mr. Blanshard, redheadedness is no more repeatable and definable than are the individuals who may happen to illustrate it. For if I read him aright, the redheadedness embodied in Frederick Barbarossa is regarded by him to have a “real or ultimate nature” which is different from the nature of redheadedness embodied in one of Barbarossa’s ancestors. And if this is so, in what sense is the redheadedness Mr. Blanshard is discussing a universal, and in what way are his remarks relevant to the criticism he is nominally discussing?

(c) I have one final point in this connection. Mr. Blanshard is presumably considering the question whether all of the relations which redheadedness may have to other characters are internal to redheadedness. His aim must therefore be to determine whether, if an individual A is redheaded, it logically follows that A possesses every one of the traits it does in fact possess—for example, that A is blue-eyed, brachycephalic, right-handed, and so on. But what he is actually discussing is the question whether these other traits are causally related to A’s hair being reddish in color. Now while it may indeed be the case that the occurrence of redheadedness has causal conditions and consequences, it is a complete non sequitur to conclude from this fact that the characters causally connected with redheadedness are internally related to it—it is a conclusion which is warranted only if it can be shown, what thus far Mr. Blanshard has not shown, that logical entailment is an essential ingredient in all causal relations.

I must therefore conclude that Mr. Blanshard does not establish his claim that the relations of universals are all internal, whether the universals are taken to be concrete or abstract. In particular, he presents no plausible reasons for doubting that the demonstrations contained in the modern literature of logic and mathematics concerning the logical independence of various universals do prove what they say they do. The challenge that these demonstrations offer to the doctrine of internal relations is certainly not a negligible one; and one of the strange anomalies of his defense of the doctrine is that he addresses himself to it only incidentally.



I have now examined two of Mr. Blanshard’s three classes of arguments for the doctrine of internal relations. There remains for consideration his third group, which attempts to find support for the doctrine in the alleged nature of causal relations. Two important claims are made by him in this connection. The first is that “all things are causally related, directly or indirectly”; and the second is that “being causally related involves being logically related.”19 I shall, however, not stop to examine the evidence Mr. Blanshard offers for the first claim, chiefly because if, as I hope to show, his grounds for the second are insufficient to establish it, his first claim even if sound would not by itself suffice to prove the doctrine of internal relations. Certainly many thinkers have held that all things are causally related but have rejected the doctrine without demonstrated inconsistency.

Three lines of evidence are presented by Mr. Blanshard to show that causal connections involve logical necessity.

(1) In the first he maintains that whenever we engage in deductive inference, “the fact that the ground entails the consequent is one of the conditions determining the appearance of this consequent rather than something else in the thinker’s mind.”20 Accordingly, the answer to the question “Why does the conclusion of an argument appear in the mind of a reasoner?” is that the thought of the premise, which constitutes the cause (or part of the cause) for the occurrence of the thought of the conclusion, logically necessitates this latter thought. There is therefore an element of logical necessity relating the cause and the effect.

Mr. Blanshard appears to take much stock in this argument, for he has used it on more than one occasion to win assent for his views. Nevertheless, I find it singularly unimpressive.

(a) It is not an unfamiliar fact that at least in some cases when a man thinks of a premise he subsequently thinks of a proposition which, though he believes it to be the logical consequence of the premise, is in fact not a valid consequence at all. If we admit that in such cases the thought of the premise is a cause (or part of the cause) of the thought of the conclusion, we must also admit that thoughts may be causally related, though the propositions to which these thoughts are addressed do not stand to each other in the relation of logical entailment. There is therefore some ground for believing that the presence of the implicative relation between propositions is not a sine qua non for the alleged causal connection between thoughts about those propositions.

It is also well known that men often entertain propositions with a view to deducing conclusions from them but nevertheless fail to do so, even though various conclusions may in fact be entailed by the premises. Evidently the presence of the implicative relation between propositions, therefore, is not a sufficient condition for the causal determination of a thought about a conclusion by a thought about the premises.

It sometimes happens, moreover, that each of two men will think of a premise and also come to think of a conclusion implied by it, where one of the thinkers perceives the logical connection between the propositions while the other, luckily hitting upon the conclusion, does not obtain it by following the chain of logical implication. Such a situation is almost ideal for the application of the familiar canons of induction; and if we rely on the Method of Difference, we must conclude that though the thought of one proposition may be the cause (or part of the cause) of the thought of a second implied by the first, the relation of implication is not an element in the causal transaction. Contrary to Mr. Blanshard’s contention, his argument thus supplies no credible reasons for supposing that causal connections involve logical necessity.

(b) There is, however, an even more serious flaw in his argument. What is it, we must ask, which is properly characterized as “necessary” when what is called a “necessary inference” is drawn? When, for example, we draw the conclusion that Smith is younger than Brown from the premise that Brown is older than Smith, is it the inference which is necessary, or is it the proposition that if Brown is older than Smith then Smith is younger than Brown? The answer is clearly in favor of the second alternative. For it is of the proposition, not of the inference, that it is correct to say: it is necessary because it is impossible for its antecedent to be true and its consequent false; it is not at all impossible for an inference to occur whose antecedent is true and its consequent false. In characterizing an inference as necessary we are thus using an elliptic form of speech, and the phrase “necessary inference” must be construed as signifying the fact that the consequent of a necessary conditional proposition is being deduced from its antecedent.

Accordingly, to argue that the causal relation between the thought of a premise and the thought of the conclusion (when the premise entails the conclusion) involves logical necessity is to confuse the thought of a necessary relation with the necessity of a thought; it is to confound the nontemporal logical relation of entailment or implication with the temporal process of inference that recognizes or discovers such implicative relations.

Mr. Blanshard is not unaware of this apparently fatal objection to his argument. But his reply to it is regrettably not to the point and succeeds only in raising irrelevant issues. His rejoinder considers the objection as if the latter rested on the assumption that causal connections hold between “mere event[s], endowed with no sort of character”;21 and in opposition to this assumption he maintains, quite rightly, that the “contents or characters of events” enter into causal processes. He therefore concludes that the logical relations between these characters also enter into these processes and declares: “In explicit inference we have a process in which we can directly see not only that one event succeeds another, but in large measure why it succeeds.”22

But just what is the pertinence of these remarks to the matter at stake? For suppose we admit that the thoughts which are said to be causally related in inference are not naked events, stripped of all characters. It does not follow from this admission alone that the logical relations between the objects of those thoughts enter into the causal processes involving those thoughts; and it certainly does not follow from that admission that it is the thoughts as existents, rather than the propositions to which those thoughts may be addressed, which logically imply one another. Mr. Blanshard cannot be acquitted of the charge that he is confusing implication with inference.

Moreover, is it the case that we do directly see, as Mr. Blanshard maintains, why in an explicit inference one event follows another? Do we see why, when we think of Brown as older than Smith, we subsequently think that Smith is younger than Brown? It has already been noted that though the first proposition entails the second, the thought of the first is not invariably followed by the thought of the second; and it is not unreasonable to suppose therefore that the causal sequence of such thoughts involves the operation of a complicated physiological and psychological mechanism, whose detailed structure and conditions of effective performance are still only partly understood. Accordingly, there seems to be some basis for the suspicion that when Mr. Blanshard believes he sees why one event in inference is followed by another, and not merely that there is such a succession, he is being deceived by the happy working of his own body into identifying his apprehension of necessary relations with an alleged necessity of his apprehending those relations.

(c) There is one other aspect of Mr. Blanshard’s discussion that requires brief comment. For he believes that serious consequences for morals and the life of reason follow from the denial that logical necessity is involved in causal relations; and he declares that “unless necessity does play a part in the movement of inference, no argument will establish anything,”23 since on the hypothesis that no such necessity exists the distinction between being “moved by reasons” and being moved by causes is simply an illusion.

Now, no doubt, all who love the life of the intellect and hate brutal unreason will recoil in horror from any philosophy which would deny this distinction. But can one retain it only on Mr. Blanshard’s terms and only within the framework of his philosophy? Surely not. Why is it impossible to be moved by reasons if the temporal passage from premise to conclusion in a valid inference does not involve a relation of logical necessity? A man who first notes a premise A, and then perceives that A logically implies B, is moved by reasons when he accepts B on the evidence of the premise—even if the causal sequence, the thought of A, the perception of the connection between A and B, the assertion of B, is a logically contingent one. Such a thinker might not assert B did he not perceive the connection between A and B; and his perception of this connection is doubtless one of the factors which causally determine his thought and acceptance of B. But is there any reason for maintaining that if the connection between this factor and the effect attributed to it is a logically contingent one, its manifest operation is illusory?

(2) So much for Mr. Blanshard’s first argument for the presence of logical necessity in causal relations. He next comes to alleged cases of such necessity in mental activities other than inference. And he offers as an example of such necessity the proposition that all who think lightly of their own deserts are grateful, in which, according to himself, both a causal and a logical connection is asserted between low self-esteem and gratefulness for the esteem of others.24

As far as I can make out, Mr. Blanshard rests his case that this is so on the alleged fact that though “one cannot isolate in human nature the precise reciprocating conditions of gratitude, or formulate one’s law in anything better than a statement of tendency,” nevertheless “we do have some insight into why the man of low self-esteem should be grateful for the esteem of others.”25 He therefore cites with approval Ewing’s assertion:

It seems to me that we can see and to some extent really understand why an insult should tend to give rise to anger, why love should lead to grief if the object of one’s love die or prove thoroughly unworthy, why a success should give pleasure, why the anticipation of physical pain should arouse fear. It does seem more reasonable on other than inductive grounds to suppose that if A loves B that will tend to make him sorry when B dies than to suppose that it will make him intensely glad.

I will not venture to challenge Mr. Blanshard’s contention that in such matters as he mentions he does possess an “insight” into the presence of a necessary logical bond, especially since he specifies no general rules that might serve to define the character of that necessity. If he does have the insight, he must be congratulated on possessing what is surely a rare power. However, Mr. Blanshard himself admits that the alleged law connecting low self-esteem and gratitude states only a “tendency,” not an invariable connection, to which therefore exceptions may (and presumably do) occur. And I confess that the sense in which a law expressing only such a tendency also expresses a logical necessity is to me entirely obscure.

Moreover, it is surely no news that many men with a low self-esteem exhibit an attitude quite the reverse of gratitude for the esteem of others. Spinoza had suggested as much, and in the light of contemporary psychological investigations the absence of feelings of gratitude in such cases appears eminently plausible. The chief point to note, however, is that whether a certain type of human response to an indicated situation appears “reasonable” and “logically necessary” or not, is a function of what theory of human nature is explicitly or implicitly assumed. But one must not overlook the crucial fact that though many propositions about human action may be necessary consequences from the main principles of the theory, neither those principles nor those propositions are logically necessary truths. For example, Mr. Ewing’s example of love for a person leading to grief if that person dies is a theorem in Spinoza’s Ethics; but its “necessity” is relative to the postulates of this system, postulates which, if they are true, are clearly only contingently true.

Apropos of the suggestion that certain general propositions about human actions are “reasonable” inherently and “on other than inductive grounds,” I must add the obvious but unfortunately still needed reminder that the pages of the history of thought are strewn with exploded claims concerning the “necessary” character of various “truths” alleged to be revealed to immediate vision. The tendency to see something final and necessary in what subsequently turns out to be transitory and contingent has been no minor hindrance to the development of knowledge, especially in the social and moral disciplines. To be sure, Mr. Blanshard’s claim to have discovered such logically necessary propositions about human actions may meet a better fate than have similar claims by countless other men. It is nevertheless curious that such a claim should come from one who, in terms of his professed philosophy, might be expected to deny that necessity and self-evidence characterize propositions isolated from their relations to some system in which they are elements.

(3) I turn finally to Mr. Blanshard’s discussion of the question whether logical necessity is present even in the causal processes found in physical nature, which clearly constitutes what is perhaps the most crucial part of the defense of his general thesis. However, his discussion is predicated on the assumption that only two views as to the nature of causal connections are possible, one represented by what is known as the regularity view, the other by the conception which he himself favors. He therefore devotes his best efforts to a criticism of the regularity view, in the apparent belief that if he can exhibit its inadequacy he will thereby have established the validity of his own conception. Unfortunately for the argument, the two alternative analyses Mr. Blanshard considers do not exhaust the possibilities; in fact, a number of contemporary writers (for example, Cohen, Dewey, Parker, and at one time Broad), have offered accounts of causality which are incompatible both with the regularity and the entailment views. Accordingly, even if Mr. Blanshard’s reasons for rejecting the regularity view were entirely cogent, he would still not have produced compelling evidence for adopting his own analysis of causality.

In what follows I shall therefore not consider his criticisms of the regularity view, and shall restrict myself to examining the few grounds he presents for the entailment view. These grounds are, I think, just two in number.

(a) Mr. Blanshard requires of any analysis of causality that it be compatible with the fact that successful predictions concerning the future can often be made on the basis of past observations on the sequences of events. And he maintains that when we predict that b will follow a in the future as it has followed in the past, there must be a logical bond between a and b which warrants the prediction. “Unless a is connected with b by something more than mere conjunction,” he declares, “there is no ground . . . whatever” for the argument from past to future.26

It will be admitted, I think, that if all causes entail their effects, and if we knew not only this but also that a specific phenomenon a which is suspected of being the cause of b entails the latter, then a prediction concerning the future occurrence of b on the strength of observing a would be fully warranted. However, if we knew only that the entailment view is true but did not know that a logically implies b (though events of the type a may have been observed in the past to be followed by the events of type b), we would certainly not possess what Mr. Blanshard would regard as rationally satisfactory grounds for predicting the future occurrence of b as an effect of a. Evidently, therefore, the acceptance of the entailment view of causality is not sufficient for justifying any particular prediction.

But though some defenders of the entailment view claim to have an “insight” into the logical structures of specific causal processes in physical nature, Mr. Blanshard makes no such pretensions; he modestly limits his own claims to matters pertaining to mental actions. And there is little doubt that most men who venture to predict physical occurrences also lack such insight. What then can the entailment view of causality, assuming that it is the correct view, offer to Mr. Blanshard and the rest of mankind in the way of a “rational justification” of predictive inferences? Must not he, like everybody else, fall back upon the evidence provided by past conjunctions of characteristics to support the hypothesis that they may be causally related? Is he any better off in this respect than are those who subscribe to the regularity view of causality? Must we not conclude that the entailment view contributes nothing toward advancing the aims of specific inquiries into the causal dependencies of physical nature, that it provides no rational foundation for the successful predictions that are often made, and that therefore Mr. Blanshard’s present line of reasoning supplies no support for the entailment view?

(b) Mr. Blanshard’s remaining argument for the entailment view rests upon a consideration of general statements about causality (such as the maxim “Same cause, same effect”), rather than upon a study of specific causal propositions (such as that the earth’s rotation is the cause of day and night). He maintains that we can safely assert such general propositions about causality because we possess an “insight” that justifies our doing so. This insight consists in recognizing that “when a is said to produce x in virtue of its nature as a, the connection referred to is not only an intrinsic relation but a necessary relation.”27 And as he goes on to explain, “To say that a produces x in virtue of being a and yet that, given a, x might not follow, is inconsistent with the laws of identity and contradiction.” For a is not a mere “cluster of qualities abstracted from their relations”; on the contrary,

a’s behavior is the outgrowth or expression of a’s nature. And to assert that a’s behavior, so conceived, could be different while a was the same would be to assert that something both did and did not issue from the nature of a. And that is self-contradiction. The statement would also . . . conflict with the law of identity. It implies that a thing may remain itself when you have stripped from it everything which it is such as to be and do. To strip it of these things would be to strip it, so to speak, of the suchness that makes it what it is, i.e., to say that it is other than it is.28

Old acquaintances thus greet us once more, the puzzle as to what is to be included in a thing and the obscure notion of a thing’s nature. Let us make one final effort to penetrate into these mysteries, by applying Mr. Blanshard’s present argument to the proposition that Brutus caused the death of Caesar. On that argument, Brutus’ action was the outgrowth of Brutus’ special nature, and to suppose that Brutus had not acted as he in fact did would be to strip him of the “suchness” that made him what he was. The argument thus requires us to say that the compound proposition, Brutus did cause the death of Caesar but it is nevertheless logically possible for Brutus not to have done so, is logically impossible. More briefly and generally, Mr. Blanshard’s position as revealed by the present argument reduces to this: every true proposition which imputes a causal action to Brutus is logically necessary.

This is certainly an amazing conclusion. But is it true? It can be shown to be true if, and only if, the individual Brutus is conceived as including every possible attribute that may be truly predicated of him, while at the same time the nature of Brutus is equated with the total set of characters Brutus is thus made to include. In short, it can be shown to be true only by a violent redefinition of the expressions “individual” and “the nature of an individual.” But as I have tried to show earlier, by this device Mr. Blanshard’s entire thesis is reduced to a trivial tautology.

I therefore conclude that Mr. Blanshard’s heroic efforts in behalf of the doctrine of internal relations have failed of their intended objective. He has not succeeded in showing that contingency is not an irreducible feature of the world, and in urging upon men an ideal of reason which ignores this character of things he must be judged as an advocate of a false and irrelevant ideal. The vision he has called up of the scope and office of human reason is not without grandeur and inspiring power, and its insistence on system and rational order reveals its sources in human aspirations. But like all visions which feed on uncontrolled and exaggerated hopes and fancies, it is a vision that cannot permanently serve to guide the energies of sober men.



1. “Current Strictures on Reason,” Philosophical Review, LIV (July, 1945), 360-361.

2. The Nature of Thought (New York, 1940), II, 264-266.

3. “Current Strictures on Reason,” p. 361.

4. The Nature of Thought, II, 475.

5. “Current Strictures on Reason,” p. 368.

6. The Nature of Thought, II, 451.

7. Ibid., p. 451.

8. Although I am employing realistic language throughout this paper, and am thus assuming that there are such things as universals, this is done primarily for the sake of expediting the present discussion. Whether, and in what sense, one must make this assumption is another question, whose resolution does not, I think, affect the argument in this paper.

9. The Nature of Thought, II, 478.

10. Ibid., pp. 476-477.

11. Ibid., p. 478.

12. Ibid., p. 471.

13. Ibid., p. 472.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., p. 473.

16. Ibid., p. 488.

17. Ibid., p. 489.

18. Ibid., p. 490.

19. Ibid., p. 492.

20. Ibid., p. 496.

21. Ibid., p. 497.

22. Ibid., p.498.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid., p. 500.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid., p. 507.

27. Ibid., p. 512.

28. Ibid., pp. 513-514.


Posted July 25, 2011

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