Chapter 8


Now a further analysis of understanding reveals that any relationship involves (a) the objects related, (b) the relationship itself, and (c) the aspect of the objects by which they are related with this relation.

Thus, in the grass and the emerald, those are the objects; the relationship is similarity; and the aspect is the existence by which they affect my eyes: the "greenness" of each of them. This aspect is merely the object as related to the other one; or it is the finiteness of the existence insofar as this finiteness is similar, different, cause of, effect of, beside, or whatever the other object.

One thing that must be stressed here is that the aspect is not a "part" of the object. As a matter of fact, the aspect is really no more real than the relationship itself is; greenness is no more a "separate" existence of grass than "sameness" is a characteristic of it. There is only one existence to the grass, really--we know it as one being--and it only "separates" itself into various aspects (green, small, shiny, soft, etc.) insofar as we see how it is related to other objects. The aspects are the "how."

That aspects are not realities can be seen from the aspect of uniqueness that all unique things have in common (making them all the same as unique). Now it is a fact that all unique things are unique; but what "unique" means is "having nothing in common with anything else." Obviously the aspect of having nothing in common with anything else cannot be "something" that these objects have in common.

No, the aspect, like the fact, is due to the indirect way we have of knowing existences, by being affected by them in various ways. When we compare the effects, we see that the (in themselves unknown) causes have to be related in the same way as the effects are; and since the relation needs a "hook," as it were, to attach itself to the object, this "hook" is the aspect.

Any concept includes both the relationship itself (the "connection," be it similarity, difference, causality, or whatever) and the aspect in each of the objects. Neither of these is known "first" and then the other "afterwards"; they are understood in each other. If you had to know the aspect first, how could you pick it out unless you knew what it was connecting to, and what kind of connection you were looking at; but how could you know the connection without knowing what was connected and what in each object was the way each was connected with the other? The objects, the aspects, and the relationship must all be understood together in order for the relationship to be understood at all.

We will examine this in considerably more detail later as we investigate the act of consciousness as an existence (in discussing the modes of life). I mention it now, however, because it does enter into epistemology, and it must be understood correctly (insofar as it can be) before in the next chapter we start talking about aspects of being.

Perhaps I can be a bit clearer if I try to relate this to Plato's epistemology. In my view, the aspect of greenness is not exactly "in" the grass; it is really the fact that the grass as existence is analogous to the existence which is the emerald; that is, it is the grass insofar as it is similar to emeralds.

And what that amounts to is that it is a mode of finiteness of the existence which I call "grass"; it is only one of the modes of the finiteness of this existence (that it is vegetable is another, that it is small a third); but there is only (in some sense), the one existence there.

What I am getting at here is that the "greenness" cannot be separated from the existence of the grass; and yet it is not exactly identical with the existence, because "greenness" is "in" other existences also--"in" emeralds and go lights, and so on. And it is discovered through the relation between these objects, and is known as independent of the objects it is "in"; because they can stop being green and other objects can become green.

Plato, however, misinterpreted this "hook" that the object has for the particular relationship as being a reality in its own right. And his notion that the aspect was the reality of the object (and not the other way round) was reinforced by the equation of "truth" with "reality" at the time; and of course it is true that the grass is (i.e. exists as) green.

That sounds as if you are saying that the existence of the grass is the aspect "greenness"; which is true, in a sense--in the sense that in the concrete, the essence is the existence, because it is the existence as finite.

But Plato stood this on its head. He assumed that the essence was the reality, and the existence "partook" of it. Because "greenness" as such wasn't tied down to any definite object (I can, after all, "reawaken" any number of green images), and because the aspect was understood and not perceived (and as understood it is precisely not changing and individual and so on), then he took this as the "real reality," and the individual object (which changed and did all sorts of vulgar things like that, even to going out of existence) was not "really real," and was "infected with" non-reality.

Now of course, individual objects are, as finite, "infected" with non-existence; and in this Plato was right. But what he did was mistake the finiteness for the existence and make it a more "noble" existence than the individual one, because it was understood by the mind, while the other one was just perceived by the (changing) senses.

Hence, he made the aspects into a kind of invisible, spiritual world of their own, and talked about the "participation" of individual bodies in them. Aristotle made a similar mistake with matter, when he considered the aspect an act of the matter, limiting the (otherwise unlimited) matter to being a "this." But what Aristotle was referring to by "matter" was just abstract limitation, which as such, of course is not limited to being any particular limitation; and the form of existence (the aspect) doesn't really limit it, it is the (quantitative) limitation of a given type of existence.

But that just goes to show how easy it is to fall into the trap Plato fell into; because Aristotle saw through the mistake Plato made, and said that instead of "seeing" the Aspects (with a capital A) by the mind, as if they were something distinct from the objects, we "abstracted" ("pulled out") the aspects from the objects by comparing them and finding out what they had in common--which was how their acts were similar. This is basically my position, although I think mine is a little more refined, and doesn't involve any real "pulling" of anything "out." It is just that the relationship is recognized as "hooking into" each object in a definite way, and so the object insofar as it is related becomes the aspect.

But more of this, as I say, when we look at understanding as an act. What I want to do now is notice that the truth-relation itself can be looked at another way.