What is reality?

Here, I do not refer to reality as such, but only to what we call “real things”, taking the term “thing” in its most unspecified and common sense. Hence, real things are systems of notes with substantive characteristics. I shall explain.

1. Real things are constituted by “notes”. I take this term in its widest extension: notes are all the properties, qualities, constitutive parts, etc. Each one of these notes is there together with the others in a very precise way, it is a note “of” the others. For example, glucose is a note “of” an animal organism. This “of” is not an extrinsic addition. Each note can exist, and in general exists independently without having to be a note of this real thing. But when hic et nunc it is a note of this real thing, it is then integrated to it. And to be integrated means that it is not something merely added to the rest of the notes, but that the new note acquires the characteristic of being that “of” that is constitutive of the real thing. Therefore, there is no “note+of”, but rather “note-of”. This is what I have called, inspired by the Semitic languages, the “construct state” of every note. In what is called in the Semitic languages the “construct state” the unity of both terms is prosodic, morphological and semantic, it is a true unity. Due to this, the “of” is a moment not conceptive, but real of the note. And in second place, it is not a real relational moment, but a physically constitutive moment of each note, as long as it is a note of that real thing. Putting aside the metabolic processes, when glucose “leaves” the animal organism, it loses nothing except that “of”. The “of” is a “physical” moment of the note in the philosophical, not scientific sense of that term.

2. Each note has this characteristic of “note-of”. Of what? Of all the others. By virtue of this, the unity of what we call a real thing is the unity of an “of”. Each real thing is a construct of “notes-of”. Therefore, this unity is physical and primary. Physical in the sense I have just explained. And is primary because here the diversity of notes does not compose the real thing by mere additions, but on the contrary, makes explicit the primary unity of all those “of” in which the thing consists. Things are not syntheses of notes, but those notes are an analysis of the primary unity in which the thing consists. This unity is what we call system, it is the unity of a construct of notes. System is not primarily a systematization of notes, but the unity of a construct. The “of” is the formal characteristic of the system as such. In the system its construct unity is constituted physically into the diversity of notes. As a consequence, this diversity is the explanation, so to speak, of the unity of the construct, it is precisely a structure. Structure is the actuality of the unity of a construct in the diversity of its notes. From this will follow, as we shall soon see, the possibility that a structure may retain its identity although its notes may even vary numerically. The “of” is the formal reason for the very sameness of a real thing.

3. The notes of a system have different characteristics. Some do presuppose an already constituted system and belong to it by the action of extrinsic factors to the system, these are adventitious notes. But there are others, that although they may have an exterior causal origin are formally by themselves the ones that constitute the system. Although this may sound tautological, we shall call them constitutional notes. These are the ones that confer to the real thing its primary physical structure. Since each note is a note “of” all the others of the system, it turns out that the notes constitute a cyclic system. Consequently, the system is a closed unity, in other words, it has constitutional sufficiency. Hence, the closed and cyclic system of constitutional notes is what constitutes substantivity. The formal reason for substantivity is the constitutional sufficiency. The structural unity of the real is a substantive constitution. The substantivity is not substantiality. A very and identical substantivity could have a great number of substances that despite being substances would be non-substantive substances. The formal reason for substantivity, let me repeat, is constitutional sufficiency.

Source: Man and His Body by Xavier Zubiri  (1953-1983), Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 2006, pp. 103-116
(Original article El hombre y su cuerpo, appeared in the journal Asclepio, No. 25, 1973, pp. 9-19)
Translated by Joaquín A. Redondo, M.E., M.A. (Phil.) 2008


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