This paper argues that there is value in a systematic philosophical approach to relations and surveys some of the major issues in the philosophy of relations. Rather than siding withrelational ontology over substantivist ontology, however, the paper argues that the best philosophical approaches are causal theories of relation in which both relations and entities take their rise from an ontologically fundamental causal flux. The causal theories of relation and entities discussed here are Neoplatonist participation metaphysics, Buddhist pratītya-samutpāda metaphysics, Whitehead’s process metaphysics, Peirce’s semiotic metaphysics, and Bohm’s implicate-order metaphysics, all of which require an approach to causation that extends far beyond commonsense concepts of causation. The paper illustrates the explanatory virtues of causal theories of relation in relation to the realms of fundamental physics, ordinary life, and religious faith.
In a world where people and even the natural environment seem routinely disposed of as if they have no value, we would do well to understand that our relationships with the plants, animals, and people on the underside of our lifestyles or outside our
immediate focus of our attention are causal, value-conveying connections—grounded in the divine life itself.
Wesley Wildman is a professor of Theology at Boston University