Real is Social - Point 1

General Elaboration

This might seem jarring to many, but it gets right to the point of avoiding the game of pretending that the pea of reality is only under one pillow.  While it is often the case that facts can be sorted out uniquely, this is far from the rule and must be often forced with tricks such as "degree of error" and "within a reasonable doubt."  Existence is radically multiple; we are radically multiple; and the limits of the dream of chasing definitive gods must be faced squarely.

This claim flies in the face of the (Western) philosophical tradition that things can be simplified--to essences, to substances, to definitive things or facts.  Instead of picking up the meaning direction of the Preamble this statement makes it clear that there is no escape from the multiplicity of things and beings such as people. 

This Page, this Point:

General Elaboration



Statement of Point


Further Considerations

After a belief in gods, which did carry surprising multiplicity, the Greeks turned to more pure forms and substances.  By the Seventeenth Century the success of the European mappers of reality had managed to find unequivocal meaning across a homogeneous landscape drained of spirits that has resulted in what is often pejoratively called "flatland."  For this to happen the subjective had to be removed, and the result is often referred to as Cartesian dualism, where, illogically, two universes--the subjective and the objective--are completely separate but somehow, some-unknown-how, are connected.

The attempted solution here to the multiplicity/simplicity or dualism problem ties subjects and objects as alliances of behavior formed by knowledge.  As such the knower is a multiplicity of alliances, a society of ties to the known ones (See Point 6).  And similarly an object is tied in multiple connections to various subjects where it can be said to "allow" various uses or interpretations (See Point 5).  But these possibilities of the object are fundamental; thus the object is also a society of the alliances it finds itself in and of its possibilities.

Reality as societies of mutual and conflicting relationships is notably reminiscent of some interpretations of quantum mechanics, but no such avenue of argument will be pursued here.  If a better interpretation of reality results in an easier task of explaining quantum theory, so much the better.


"It is probably by seeking to understand the simple in terms of the complex rather than the complex in terms of the simple, that one can best understand the true nature of our relationship with the world of living things.  Whitehead intimated this when he suggested that the concept of organism should be extended downward to include the particle."  Goldsmith, Edward.  The Way: An Ecological World-View.  University of Georgia Press.  1998.  p. 25.

“Modern philosophy, in stressing the illusory nature of sensory appearances, has congratulated itself on having fulfilled its duty to be suspicious by distinguishing between primary and secondary qualities while accepting unquestioningly the deeper illusion: the notion of instantaneous bits of matter simply located in space.” Griffin, David Ray. Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem. University of California Press. 1998. p. 120.

"Though forming part of a single logical space, all facts are independent of each other: any one of them may hold or fail to hold, without any other being affected. They are not allowed to present themselves to us as parts of indivisible package deals. This was the old practice, but is so no longer. The republic of facts is Jacobin and centralist and tolerates no permanent or institutionalized factions within itself. This atomization in principle is not merely so to speak lateral - disconnecting each fact from its spatial neighbours - but also, and to an equal degree, qualitative: each trait conjoined in a fact can in thought be disconnected from its fellows, and their conjunction depends on factual confirmation alone. Nothing is necessarily connected with anything else. We must separate all separables in thought, and then consult the fact to see whether the separated elements are, contingently, joined together. That is one of the fundamental principles of the rational investigation of nature.

"This picture has been challenged of late, and indeed the Jacobin proscription of factions, of clustering for mutual protection, may not be fully implemented even in science. A certain amount of package dealing, of clannish cohesion amongst ideas and facts, does perhaps survive. But this is a furtive, surreptitious practice surviving only in a shamefaced and camouflaged form. When contrasting the rules and realities of our current intellectual world with that of pre-scientific humanity, what is striking is the degree to which the atomistic ideal of individual responsibility is implemented. If a factual claim is false and persists in being falsified, its favoured place in a kinship network of ideas will not in the end save it, even if it does secure for it a reprieve and stay of execution. It is not true that ideas face the bar of reality as corporate bodies: rather, in the past, they evaded reality as corporate bodies. They are no longer allowed to do so, or at any rate not for very long. Occasionally, they succeed in doing so for a while. In the traditional world, the factional gregariousness of ideas was allowed to become a stable structure, sacralized, and to inhibit cognitive growth. Even if a bit of informal temporary corporatism is still tolerated, it is no longer allowed to become overt, sacred, rigid, meshed in with the social role structure, and to thwart expansion.

"This is a single world, and the language which describes it also serves but a single purpose - accurate description, explanation and prediction. It is also notoriously a cold, morally indifferent world. Its icy indifference to values, its failure to console and reassure, its total inability either to validate norms and values or to offer any guarantee of their eventual success, is in no way a consequence of any specific findings within. It isn't that facts just happen to have turned out to be so deplorably unsupportive socially. It is a consequence of the overall basic and entrenched constitution of our thought, not of our accidental findings within it."  Gellner, Ernest.  Plough, Sword and Book; The Structure of Human History.  University of Chicago Press. 1988. pp. 63-5.

"According to the meta-physical framework of contextual realism, reality consists of seemingly inexhaustible levels of semi-autonomous (or 'real') contexts exhibiting a myriad of forms, properties, structures, and processes. Analogous to the innumerable cellular structures disclosed at successive levels by various staining techniques as seen under different optical resolutions through a microscope, the world resolves into endless matrices of relatively stable contexts exhibiting phenomena subject to varying descriptive predicates and explanatory principles. Although these multifarious contexts with their various structures are not entirely discontinuous (otherwise our knowledge of them would be much more difficult than it already is), neither are they merely successive dimensions of essentially the same complexes of elements, as was assumed in the past. Though manifesting some analogous relations and properties, still, the forms and processes of the macroscopic world are not qualitatively similar to those of the atomic-molecular domain, and the conjugate properties of the latter, according to quantum mechanics, are not repeated on the subatomic level. Moreover, as one moves outward to cosmic, as opposed to inner atomic dimensions, one finds that the structural relations between space and time, force fields and mass, or gravitational fields and the space-time continuum become radically altered, as described in the general theory of relativity. Schlagel, Richard H.  Contextual Realism; A Meta-physical Framework for Modern Science.  Paragon. 1986. pp. 274-5

"So long as we think of ourselves as discrete, atomistic, autonomous beings, we will be saddled with a politics of antagonism and clashing interests. This is so because when we think of ourselves as discrete substances, we will tend to think of our interests and tastes as fixed and exclusive. Instead of looking for ways that our interests intersect, we will focus on how they differ. Instead of seeing the polis–that is, our communities–as constitutive of our being, we will see them as separate sites of struggle.” McAfee, Noelle. Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship. Cornell University Press. 2000. p. 7.

“So long as humanism is constructed through contrast with the object that has been abandoned to epistemology, neither the human nor the nonhuman can be understood.” Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern. Harvard University Press. 1993. p. 136.

“It seems to me that only in the seventeenth century did both trends converge into one world picture: namely, the Nominalists’ passion for unequivocation with the Renaissance sense of the homogeneity of nature–one nature with forces to replace the many Aristotelian static natures.” Funkenstein, Amos. Theology and the Scientific Imagination From the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century. Princeton University Press. 1986. p. 72.

“Before long the problem of human action which is the concern of tragedy was to become a matter for intellectual cognition; Socrates insists on solving the problem through knowledge of the good. That is the ultimate abstraction of the real, its transformation into a teleological concept. Where a divine world had endowed the human world with meaning, we now find the universal determining the particular.” Snell, Bruno. The Discovery of the Mind in Greek Philosophy and Literature. Dover. 1982 (1953). p. 112.

There is no way to justify the assertion that anything posited is purely objective or purely subjective. The world of human experience consists of a fusion of both elements, or better said, a primordial nonduality of those elements. Similarly, the ‘fact that a truth is toward the ‘conventional’ end of the convention-fact continuum does not mean that it is absolutely conventional–a truth by stipulation, free of every element of fact.’ This assertion by no means implies that such dualistic notions as subject and object are useless. On the contrary, they point out a practical distinction that is of great importance; but this distinction is only functional, not ontological as understood by the traditional dualism of scientific materialism.”  Wallace, B. Alan. The Taboo of Subjectivity: Toward a New Science of Consciousness.  Oxford University Press. 2000. p. 64. [subquote is Hilary Putnam, Representation and Reality. MIT Press. 1988. p. 113]

“The effulgence of the divine, he [Pindar] feels, is reflected in the appearances of the world; his sensuous delight in the multiplicity of things is not yet obscured by the knowledge that the essence which really matters is located beyond the visible world, and that it can be known only by reason.” Snell, Bruno. The Discovery of the Mind in Greek Philosophy and Literature, Dover. 1982 (1953). p. 86.

"Kant's penetrating critique had effectively pulled the rug out from under the human mind's pretensions to certain knowledge of things in themselves, eliminating in principle any human cognition of the ground of the world....

"From Hume and Kant through Darwin, Marx, Freud and beyond, an unsettling conclusion was becoming inescapable: Human thought was determined, structured, and very probably distorted by a multitude of overlapping factors--innate but nonabsolute mental categories, habit, history, culture, social class, biology, language, imagination, emotion, the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious. In the end, the human mind could not be relied upon as an accurate judge of reality. The original Cartesian certainty, that which served as foundation for the modern confidence in human reason, was no longer defensible.

"Henceforth, philosophy concerned itself largely with the clarification of epistemological problems, with the analysis of language, with the philosophy of science, or with phenomenological and existentialist analyses of human experience. Despite the incongruence of aims and pre-dispositions among the various schools of twentieth-century philosophy, there was general agreement on one crucial point: the impossibility of apprehending an objective cosmic order with the human intelligence." The Passion of the Western Mind, Richard Tarnas, Harmony, New York, 1991, pp. 340-353.

“In Bellah’s account, ‘society’ is, for Durkheim, an immensely complicated, multilayered reality. Sometimes ‘society’ refers to specific social groups, but other times it is, in Durkheim’s words, ‘a composition of ideas, beliefs, and sentiments of all sorts which realize themselves through individuals. Foremost of these ideas is the moral ideal which is its principal raison d’etre.’ In Bellah’s words, ‘Not only is society not identical with an external ‘material entity,’ it is something deeply inner, since for Durkheim it is the source of morality, personality, and life itself at the human level.... Durkheim uses the word ‘society’ in ways closer to classical theology than empirical science.’

“Bellah uses the idea of society in a similarly wide and deep range of senses. He tends not to focus on specific social groups but, rather, seeks to explicate the moral sinews at the base of social relations. In Bellah’s work (and work deeply influenced by him)–unlike work more centrally influenced by Marxist and Weberian traditions–one seldom sees interest groups in zero-sum conflict. Instead, there are persons misunderstanding or failing to understand (in part, because they hold more or less wealth or power but also because they simply do not have a requisite conceptual vocabulary) their fundamental interdependence. Like Durkheim, Bellah’s aim is to deepen this common understanding of interdependence and to awaken the sense of mutual responsibility that this entails.” Madsen, Richard. “Comparative Cosmopolis: Discovering Different Paths to Moral Integration in the Modern Ecumene.” pp. 105-123. Madsen, Richard & William Sullivan, Ann Swidler, Steven Tipton. Meaning and Modernity: Religion Polity and Self. University of California Press. 2002. p. 107.


Of course, according to the Point itself everything even if appears as a singular and a unique is a multiplicity, a society.  Illustrative examples could list a conversation, the niche of a salmon, the internal chemistry of a cell, the words in this sentence, Scottish culture, the personality of Madonna, Wal-Mart shopping, the structures of a polypeptide and the meanings of “rock and roll” in my brain.  As examples, pick anything and examine how many possibilities it has for you, how many lines of advance it has in its own environment (if it is a living thing), how many uses or contingencies it was given by its designer (if it is a constructed thing), how many possibilities it has for other people, and you will have something as "society."

It is the problematical things in life that more profitably afford examples of objects as societies.  The Sinking of the Titanic and the Big Dig, a large construction project in Boston, will never end.  Their "nature" is impossibly spread through many clues and many interpretations. 

Statement of Point

Reality is better understood as a society composed of many societies including the society of subject and object. By “society” is meant not only the usual human societies but any thing, being or collection of these.



Further Considerations




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Page updated 3/5/03