Moral Philosophy and the Ontology of Relations

Balazs, Zoltan
June 2004
Ethical Theory & Moral Practice;Jun2004, Vol. 7 Issue 3, p229
Academic Journal
The essay undertakes to explore the possibilities of mutually fruitful dialogue between moral philosophy and ontology, in particular, the ontology of relations. The latter copes with the question of how relations relate, whereas moral philosophy often ignores the ontological implications of such crucial relations as “love” and “interpersonality”. The paper proceeds as follows. First, the ontology of relations is discussed. Second, various examples are analysed. From this, a conception of relation instantiation emerges, according to which to determine which relation actually obtains, one has to take into account (a) the context, (b) the specific content or meaning of the relation, and (c) some “action” or “decision” or “mode of existence” of the relata. This conception suggests that relation instantiation cannot be explained by a single formula. By the help of this conception, Hume's thesis of the identity of “killing relations” between human and nonhuman beings is questioned. Then, the relation of love is analysed. It is shown that love as a moral relation is perfectly explicable in terms of ontology. Moreover, its essence is best captured by the interrelation of the particulars, the relation of love as a universal, and by the relating “action” of the particulars. Finally, the alleged relation of universal fraternity (“interpersonality” as such), linking up each human being to all other human beings, is discussed.


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