Just as “left” and “right” are relative to one’s position vis-à-vis up and down and forward and back, Sartre’s dictum that “existence precedes essence” is true only depending on the direction of a particular philosophical transit.

And I see no reason to privilege one trek over another.

More valuable is Santayana’s counter to ancient rationalism: “essences are promiscuous.” That is, essences are infinite and non-determinative of existant matter.

Existents have many essences. That is, for every existent there is an infinity of essences. And which one may or may not be relevant to any tale or problem or accounting depends on the exact nature of each tale, problem, or accounting.

This is a relativism of essences.

It is not a relativism of truth, however.

How so? Truth is a function of propositions . . . or, if you prefer, a function of maps, and maps are arrays of essences conceived as mirroring or directing us through the realm of the objects of our attention — one realm of which includes, not surprisingly, the (or some) set of existents.

Existents are one kind of object; essences another; and when the latter maps the former in a more or less serviceable way, we have truth.

So, which precedes the other is irrelevant — from the aforementioned Promiscuity Theory of Essence. Emphasizing existence as taking precedence over essences, or vice versa, cannot be bedrock, for it all depends on where we start the story of our intellectual transit.

Essentialism? Existentialism?

If we start the story from our embarrassingly humble origins as a gamete pair or a baby or the first grader on the bus to school’s first day, existentialism is obviously the better story. But if we begin intellectually, as every philosopher qua philosopher in fact does — in medias res, as it were — within a vast realm of signs and portents and rumors and concepts and memeplexes, then essentialism cannot help but capture our imaginations.

One might be tempted to call this viewpoint “relativism,” but that will not do, will it, seeing as how we must reject a relativism of truth for a relational set of essences mapping existence?

But “Relationalism” is ugly.

Philosophical promiscuity, with the tip of the hat back to Santayana?

Who himself called this perspective “critical realism.”

twv

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