Terms and Relations
THE pluralist world-view involves not just a multiplicity of separately existing subjects, individuated by their differing properties or arrangements of properties, but also a system of relations between them. They may be bigger or wiser than one another, they may be next to or after one another, they may cause or love one another, or stand to one another in any one of an infinity of other possible relations. Bradley was a no less savage critic of this picture than of its subject-predicate partner. His arguments against relations captured the attention of philosophers for many years, and are still today the most widely known part of his work.
Whatever its level of acceptance among his own philosophical generation, Bradley's whole doctrine of relations was severely criticized by that which followed. Since it was this generation that won the day, turning philosophy in a new direction, which assumed at its very basis the reality and coherence of relations, the net result was that few philosophers today consider the question of relations to be either very important or difficult. But, before we dismiss it, we should recall that his earliest critics, though far from agreeing with him, did not take this attitude. They never doubted that Bradley's challenge was both serious and difficult. For instance, Russell wrote, as late as 1924:
The subject of relations is difficult, and I am far from claiming to be now clear about it. . . . The question of relations is one of the most important that arise in philosophy, as most other issues turn on it; monism and pluralism; the question whether anything is wholly true except the whole of truth, or wholly real except the whole of reality; idealism and realism, in some of their forms; perhaps the very existence of philosophy as a subject distinct from science and possessing a method of its own.1
On the surface of things, Bradley's treatment of relations might appear to be divided into two apparently unconnected parts. First, there is a discussion of the subject in Appearance and Reality____________________