On Philosophy

December 6, 2006


Filed under: Ontology — Peter @ 1:07 am

Region are an invention of Husserl, which he defines as a kind of ultimate abstraction. That is to say that when you abstract as much away as you possibly can you are left with the regions. Husserl doesn’t say how many regions there are but he refers to three of them: consciousness, nature, and culture. I think the idea of regions is an interesting one, but it needs some detail work. For example what stops us from abstracting away from both culture and nature with some new generality (like cultural-natural thing)? For that matter why can’t “thing” or “being” be an ultimate abstraction, leaving us with only one region?

To answer these concerns I think Husserl might lean on the content of our abstraction. Generally when we abstract we are taking away properties. For example we abstract from cat and dog to get animal (or mammal, ect) because animal-ness is a property both cats and dogs have. After removing some of the requirements from what it takes to be a cat, and some of the requirements from what it takes to be a dog, we are left with the requirements to be an animal (or a mammal, or any of the categories both cat and dog fall under). So Husserl might block the abstraction to “thing” because there are no requirements to be a thing, and he might block combining regions by arguing that we are doing to opposite of abstraction to combine them, we are adding properties (i.e. it must be A or B).

On the surface this doesn’t seem problematic, and it might be perfectly acceptable for a phenomenological ontology, but when dealing with the real world we have come to realize that sometimes what we thought were simple properties are actually rather complex, and are themselves defined by other properties. For example we might think that being a certain temperature was a simple property. But it turns out that in reality being a certain temperature is defined in terms of average molecular motion, meaning that our temperature property is really built out of properties of molecular motion. And this in turn means that we could abstract from heat, for example by abstracting only one kind of molecular motion. So to avoid mistakenly thinking that we are at the end of abstraction when we are not we need to add the extra requirement that the properties that are “ultimate” be simple, which is to say that they can’t de defined in terms of other properties.

And this creates a problem for some of Husserl’s regions, because we know that we can define the cultural and the mental in terms of the physical. And thus that they aren’t really as abstract as we can get, really everything would fall under the region of nature.

But even if Husserl’s regions were misguided I don’t think the idea was necessarily a bad one, we just might want to draw our divisions in a different place. For example I would think that we could legitimately define a region of sets (or some other ultimate mathematical entity). The justification here is that the property of being a certain number of things (which can ultimately be defined in terms of sets) is a property that can apply to objects that have nothing else in common. Of course we are also still left with the region of nature, which I think we should say includes the fundamental particles that make up all matter and energy. These regions I see as indisputable, but they clearly don’t cover everything, and in covering the rest things become a bit shaky.

Obviously we also want a region that covers the ability of two things to be related. The real question is if this region covers space-time as well. Certainly special relations are a kind of relation, but this leaves us wondering where the geometry of space-time should go. It is also a bit of a tricky question as to where a process should go. We might be able to describe it as a complicated relation, between objects at different times, but I don’t think that we can be completely sure that this isn’t missing something.

And given these regions (I assume with one or more regions covering the ground I have loosely sketched out as relation) we can see how Husserl’s regions can be fitted into them. Nature is still nature, although macroscopic objects are a combination of natural properties (fundamental particles) and the relations between them. Similarly the regions of culture and consciousness are abstracted into a kind of process (relation) that takes place with certain natural objects (people).

Final note for the easily confused: This is not to say that sets or relations have some kind of independent existence (although others, mathematical realists, would make this claim). All this talk of regions is simply ontological musings inspired by Husserl, it is hard to even see what practical import it could have. It is however interesting to occasionally abstractly think about abstraction, and this is all that it is.

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