Monday, 10 August 2015

Holisms (1)

We can find non-semantic holisms in various areas of philosophy. For example, here's Christopher Peacocke giving an account of what may be called thing holism:

Sometimes, perhaps always, a thing (property, relation) is individuated in part by its relations to other things, properties or relations.” (243)

Peacocke then goes into detail about what can also be called locational holism. He writes:

First, what it is to be a particular place cannot be explained without mentioning the network of spatial relations in which the place stands.” (243)

This is why many philosophical atomists have been suspicious of holism/s in that if all an object (or word’s) relations are constitutive of its identity (or meaning), then such relations will be indefinite - if not infinite - in number. Thus, in order to identify an object (or understand a word) we'd have to take into account the whole universe (or every single other word in the language) in order to do so. In that case, we're not too far from the 19th century idealist’s Absolute.

An individual speaker or thinker needn't understand or know every word that has a definitional relation to the word he's thinking or speaking about. Similarly with holism about objects. In order to successfully identify, locate or individuate an object, we simply don't to identify or know all its relations (or relational properties) - even if such things are indeed indefinite - or even infinite - in number.

In the first case of holism about language: we have a question about the individual speaker or thinker and then another question about the language itself. Similarly with the person who identifies an object. At first we have a question concerning the way in which he identifies the object (in a single act of identification) and then we have a further question as to the entire set of relations (or relational properties) which the identified object may or may not possess. In both the language and object cases, the situation of the subject and the language or object as they are in themselves are different matters which shouldn't be confused.


Peacocke, Christopher, 'Holism' (1999), in A Companion to the Philosophy of Language, edited by Bob Hale and Crispin Wright.


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