Of Magnitudes, Metrization and Materiality of Abstracto-Concrete Objects.


The possibility of introducing magnitudes in a certain domain of concrete material objects is by no means immediate, granted or elementary. First of all, it is necessary to find a property of such objects that permits to compare them, so that a quasi-serial ordering be introduced in their set, that is a total linear ordering not excluding that more than one object may occupy the same position in the series. Such an ordering must then undergo a metrization, which depends on finding a fundamental measuring procedure permitting the determination of a standard sample to which the unit of measure can be bound. This also depends on the existence of an operation of physical composition, which behaves additively with respect to the quantity which we intend to measure. Only if all these conditions are satisfied will it be possible to introduce a magnitude in a proper sense, that is a function which assigns to each object of the material domain a real number. This real number represents the measure of the object with respect to the intended magnitude. This condition, by introducing an homomorphism between the domain of the material objects and that of the positive real numbers, transforms the language of analysis (that is of the concrete theory of real numbers) into a language capable of speaking faithfully and truly about those physical objects to which it is said that such a magnitude belongs.

Does the success of applying mathematics in the study of the physical world mean that this world has a mathematical structure in an ontological sense, or does it simply mean that we find in mathematics nothing but a convenient practical tool for putting order in our representations of the world? Neither of the answers to this question is right, and this is because the question itself is not correctly raised. Indeed it tacitly presupposes that the endeavour of our scientific investigations consists in facing the reality of “things” as it is, so to speak, in itself. But we know that any science is uniquely concerned with a limited “cut” operated in reality by adopting a particular point of view, that is concretely manifested by adopting a restricted number of predicates in the discourse on reality. Several skilful operational manipulations are needed in order to bring about a homomorphism with the structure of the positive real numbers. It is therefore clear that the objects that are studied by an empirical theory are by no means the rough things of everyday experience, but bundles of “attributes” (that is of properties, relations and functions), introduced through suitable operational procedures having often the explicit and declared goal of determining a concrete structure as isomorphic, or at least homomorphic, to the structure of real numbers or to some other mathematical structure. But now, if the objects of an empirical theory are entities of this kind, we are fully entitled to maintain that they are actually endowed with a mathematical structure: this is simply that structure which we have introduced through our operational procedures. However, this structure is objective and real and, with respect to it, the mathematized discourse is far from having a purely conventional and pragmatic function, with the goal of keeping our ideas in order: it is a faithful description of this structure. Of course, we could never pretend that such a discourse determines the structure of reality in a full and exhaustive way, and this for two distinct reasons: In the first place, reality (both in the sense of the totality of existing things, and of the ”whole” of any single thing), is much richer than the particular “slide” that it is possible to cut out by means of our operational manipulations. In the second place, we must be aware that a scientific object, defined as a structured set of attributes, is an abstract object, is a conceptual construction that is perfectly defined just because it is totally determined by a finite list of predicates. But concrete objects are by no means so: they are endowed with a great deal of attributes of an indefinite variety, so that they can at best exemplify with an acceptable approximation certain abstract objects that are totally encoding a given set of attributes through their corresponding predicates. The reason why such an exemplification can only be partial is that the different attributes that are simultaneously present in a concrete object are, in a way, mutually limiting themselves, so that this object does never fully exemplify anyone of them. This explains the correct sense of such common and obvious remarks as: “a rigid body, a perfect gas, an adiabatic transformation, a perfect elastic recoil, etc, do not exist in reality (or in Nature)”. Sometimes this remark is intended to vehiculate the thesis that these are nothing but intellectual fictions devoid of any correspondence with reality, but instrumentally used by scientists in order to organize their ideas. This interpretation is totally wrong, and is simply due to a confusion between encoding and exemplifying: no concrete thing encodes any finite and explicit number of characteristics that, on the contrary, can be appropriately encoded in a concept. Things can exemplify several concepts, while concepts (or abstract objects) do not exemplify the attributes they encode. Going back to the distinction between sense on the one hand, and reference or denotation on the other hand, we could also say that abstract objects belong to the level of sense, while their exemplifications belong to the level of reference, and constitute what is denoted by them. It is obvious that in the case of empirical sciences we try to construct conceptual structures (abstract objects) having empirical denotations (exemplified by concrete objects). If one has well understood this elementary but important distinction, one is in the position of correctly seeing how mathematics can concern physical objects. These objects are abstract objects, are structured sets of predicates, and there is absolutely nothing surprising in the fact that they could receive a mathematical structure (for example, a structure isomorphic to that of the positive real numbers, or to that of a given group, or of an abstract mathematical space, etc.). If it happens that these abstract objects are exemplified by concrete objects within a certain degree of approximation, we are entitled to say that the corresponding mathematical structure also holds true (with the same degree of approximation) for this domain of concrete objects. Now, in the case of physics, the abstract objects are constructed by isolating certain ontological attributes of things by means of concrete operations, so that they actually refer to things, and are exemplified by the concrete objects singled out by means of such operations up to a given degree of approximation or accuracy. In conclusion, one can maintain that mathematics constitutes at the same time the most exact language for speaking of the objects of the domain under consideration, and faithfully mirrors the concrete structure (in an ontological sense) of this domain of objects. Of course, it is very reasonable to recognize that other aspects of these things (or other attributes of them) might not be treatable by means of the particular mathematical language adopted, and this may imply either that these attributes could perhaps be handled through a different available mathematical language, or even that no mathematical language found as yet could be used for handling them.



Causation is a form of event generation. To present an explicit definition of causation requires introducing some ontological concepts to formally characterize what is understood by ‘event’.

The concept of individual is the basic primitive concept of any ontological theory. Individuals associate themselves with other individuals to yield new individuals. It follows that they satisfy a calculus, and that they are rigorously characterized only through the laws of such a calculus. These laws are set with the aim of reproducing the way real things associate. Specifically, it is postulated that every individual is an element of a set s in such a way that the structure S = ⟨s, ◦, ◻⟩ is a commutative monoid of idempotents. This is a simple additive semi-group with neutral element.

In the structure S, s is the set of all individuals, the element ◻ ∈ s is a fiction called the null individual, and the binary operation ◦ is the association of individuals. Although S is a mathematical entity, the elements of s are not, with the only exception of ◻, which is a fiction introduced to form a calculus. The association of any element of s with ◻ yields the same element. The following definitions characterize the composition of individuals.

1. x ∈ s is composed ⇔ (∃ y, z) s (x = y ◦ z)
2. x ∈ s is simple ⇔ ∼ (∃ y, z) s (x = y ◦ z)
3. x ⊂ y ⇔ x ◦ y = y (x is part of y ⇔ x ◦ y = y)
4. Comp(x) ≡ {y ∈ s|y ⊂ x} is the composition of x.

Real things are distinguished from abstract individuals because they have a number of properties in addition to their capability of association. These properties can be intrinsic (Pi) or relational (Pr). The intrinsic properties are inherent and they are represented by predicates or unary applications, whereas relational properties depend upon more than a single thing and are represented by n-ary predicates, with n ≥ 1. Examples of intrinsic properties are electric charge and rest mass, whereas velocity of macroscopic bodies and volume are relational properties.

An individual with its properties make up a thing X : X =< x, P(x) >

Here P(x) is the collection of properties of the individual x. A material thing is an individual with concrete properties, i.e. properties that can change in some respect.

The state of a thing X is a set of functions S(X) from a domain of reference M (a set that can be enumerable or nondenumerable) to the set of properties PX. Every function in S(X) represents a property in PX. The set of the physically accessible states of a thing X is the lawful state space of X : SL(X). The state of a thing is represented by a point in SL(X). A change of a thing is an ordered pair of states. Only changing things can be material. Abstract things cannot change since they have only one state (their properties are fixed by definition).

A legal statement is a restriction upon the state functions of a given class of things. A natural law is a property of a class of material things represented by an empirically corroborated legal statement.

The ontological history h(X) of a thing X is a subset of SL(X) defined by h(X) = {⟨t, F(t)⟩|t ∈ M}

where t is an element of some auxiliary set M, and F are the functions that represent the properties of X.

If a thing is affected by other things we can introduce the following definition:

h(Y/X ) : “history of the thing Y in presence of the thing X”.

Let h(X) and h(Y) be the histories of the things X and Y, respectively. Then

h(Y/X) = {⟨t,H(t)⟩|t ∈ M},

where H≠ F is the total state function of Y as affected by the existence of X, and F is the total state function of X in the absence of Y. The history of Y in presence of X is different from the history of Y without X .

We can now introduce the notion of action:

X ▷ Y : “X acts on Y”

X ▷ Y =def h(Y/X) ≠ h(Y)

An event is a change of a thing X, i.e. an ordered pair of states:

(s1, s2) ∈ EL(X) = SL(X) × SL(X)

The space EL(X) is called the event space of X.

Causality is a relation between events, i.e. a relation between changes of states of concrete things. It is not a relation between things. Only the related concept of ‘action’ is a relation between things. Specifically,

C'(x): “an event in a thing x is caused by some unspecified event exxi“.

C'(x) =def (∃ exxi) [exxi ∈ EL(X) ⇔ xi ▷ x.

C(x, y): “an event in a thing x is caused by an event in a thing y”.

C(x, y) =def (∃ exy) [exy ∈ EL(x) ⇔ y ▷ x

In the above definitions, the notation exy indicates in the superscript the thing x to whose event space belongs the event e, whereas the subscript denotes the thing that acted triggering the event. The implicit arguments of both C’ and C are events, not things. Causation is a form of event generation. The crucial point is that a given event in the lawful event space EL(x) is caused by an action of a thing y iff the event happens only conditionally to the action, i.e., it would not be the case of exy without an action of y upon x. Time does not appear in this definition, allowing causal relations in space-time without a global time orientability or even instantaneous and non-local causation. If causation is non-local under some circumstances, e.g. when a quantum system is prepared in a specific state of polarization or spin, quantum entanglement poses no problem to realism and determinism. The quantum theory describes an aspect of a reality that is ontologically determined and with non-local relations. Under any circumstances the postulates of Special Relativity are violated, since no physical system ever crosses the barrier of the speed of light.

Carnap’s Topological Properties and Choice of Metric. Note Quote.

Husserl’s system is ontologically, a traditional double hierarchy. There are regions or spheres of being, and perfectly traditional ones, except that (due to Kant’s “Copernican revolution”) the traditional order is reversed: after the new Urregion of pure consciousness come the region of nature, the psychological region, and finally a region (or perhaps many regions) of Geist. Each such region is based upon a single highest genus of concrete objects (“individua”), corresponding to the traditional highest genera of substances: in pure consciousness, for example, Erlebnisse; in nature, “things” (Dinge). But each region also contains a hierarchy of abstract genera – genera of singular abstracta and of what Husserl calls “categorial” or “syntactic” objects (classes and relations). This structure of “logical modifications,” found analogously in each region, is the concern of logic. In addition, however, to the “formal essence” which each object has by virtue of its position in the logical hierarchy, there are also truths of “material” (sachliche) essence, which apply to objects as members of some species or genus – ultimately, some region of being. Thus the special sciences, which are individuated (as in Aristotle) by the regions they study, are each broadly divided into two parts: a science of essence and a science of “matters of fact.” Finally, there are what might be called matters of metaphysical essence: necessary truths about objects which apply in virtue of their dependence on objects in prior regions, and ultimately within the Urregion of pure consciousness.

This ontological structure translates directly into an epistemological one, because all being in the posterior regions rests on positing Erlebnisse in the realm of pure consciousness, and in particular on originary (immediate) rational theoretical positings, i.e. “intuitions.” The various sciences are therefore based on various types of intuition. Sciences of matters of fact, on the one hand, correspond to the kinds of ordinary intuition, analogous to perception. Sciences of essence, on the other hand, and formal logic, correspond to (formal or material) “essential insight” (Wesensschau). Husserl equates formal- and material-essential insight, respectively, as sources of knowledge, to Kant’s analytic and synthetic a priori, whereas ordinary perceptual intuition, the source of knowledge about matters of fact, corresponds to the Kantian synthetic a posteriori. Phenomenology, finally, as the science of essence in the region of pure consciousness, has knowledge of the way beings in one region are dependent on those in another.

In Carnap’s doctoral thesis, Der Raum, he applies the above Husserlian apparatus to the problem of determining our sources of knowledge about space. Is our knowledge of space analytic, synthetic a priori, or empirical? Carnap answers, in effect: it depends on what you mean by “space.” His answer foreshadows much of his future thought, but is also based directly on Husserl’s remark about this question in Ideen I: that, whereas Euclidean manifold is a formal category (logical modification), our knowledge of geometry as it applies to physical objects is a knowledge of material essence within the region of nature. Der Raum is largely an expansion and explication of that one remark. Our knowledge of “formal space,” Carnap says, is analytic, i.e. derives from “formal ontology in Husserl’s sense,” but our knowledge of the “intuitive space” in which sensible objects are necessarily found is synthetic a priori, i.e. material-essential. There is one important innovation: Carnap claims that essential (a priori) knowledge of intuitive space extends only to its topological properties, whereas the full structure of physical space requires also a choice of metric. This latter choice is informed by the actual behavior of objects (e.g. measuring rods), and knowledge of physical space is thus in part a posteriori – as Carnap also says, a knowledge of “matters of fact.” But such considerations never force the choice of one metric or another: our knowledge of physical space also depends on “free positing”. This last point, which has no equivalent in Husserl, is important. Still more telling is that Carnap compares the choice involved here to a choice of language, although at this stage he sees this as a mere analogy. On the whole, however, the treatment of Der Raum is more or less orthodoxly Husserlian.