Dewey and Buchler on the Being of Nature


            American philosophy is dominated by the theme of “Nature”; from Edwards to Emerson to Dewey to Dennett, American thought has variously invoked Nature. But to articulate a philosophy of Nature is not thereby to espouse a form of “Naturalism.” In fact, philosophies undertaken in the name of “Naturalism” seem to have a different temperament than those that begin with the thought of Nature as such. As a theme, “Nature” invites an expansive mood for reflection, while “naturalism” sounds constrictive and combative. “Nature” disposes the mind to musement, “pondering,” theoria, Denken. “Naturalism” has something of a doctrinal, even dogmatic, flavor, since every “-ism” draws a line in the sand. The initiating mood of philosophical thinking is important: to begin by being against something rather than wondering about something has pragmatic consequences. Anger and fear (for good Darwinian reasons) are modes of constricting attention and readying extreme “fight or flight” responses. Like most other “isms,” “naturalism” mainly designates what its adherents are against. The usual definition of “naturalism” gives it a negative formulation: “Naturalism is a rejection of the supernatural.” This begs the question since what counts as “supernatural” rather depends on what Nature is. The Greek gods were as much the children of φύσις, Nature, as human beings, and themselves represented important natural forces. Thus naturalism, as “anti-supernaturalism,” turns to “science” (always the hard sciences: physics, chemistry, neurology) to determine not so much “what there is,” but “what there isn’t.”[1] This sort of thinking, driven by a rejection of what it regards as “supernatural” and turning toward some idea of science, is usually pulled in the direction of materialism. Let us call this ideology “scientism.” Daniel Dennett is a good example.

There are those who valiantly try to pull the term “naturalism” away from the powerful gravitational field of scientism, such as the humanistic naturalists who appeared in Yervant Krikorian’s Naturalism and the Human Spirit, led by Dewey’s flagship article, “Antinaturalism in Extremis.” But even while Dewey himself (usually) escaped scientism, many of his readers, beginners, trained philosophers and not a few Dewey scholars, too, read him in a scientistic way. Quine acknowledges his debt to Dewey at the beginning of “Ontological Relativity” regarding the connection of meaning with behavior. Soon it becomes pretty clear that he thinks Dewey is a “behaviorist,” that “behavior” is “observable behavior” and that is all there is to meaning.[2] Thus, if “Nature philosophers” are to use the term “naturalism,”—and I think we must—we must strive to put as much distance as possible between it and its scientistic avatar.

The intermediary term “naturalist” may help, designating anyone who has an abiding, concrete interest in Nature. (It is actually rather strange how many exponents of naturalism really don’t care that much about Nature.) A naturalist is one who begins in wonder at the spectacle of cosmic process, with θεωρία of φύσις, and who is also interested in continuities between the various types of res naturae. Emerson’s profound response to the exhibit of the vast, organized spectrum of life in the Jardin des Plantes was the response of a naturalist.[3] It is hard to imagine such a story told of Rudolf Carnap. Thus, in philosophy, naturalistic thinking can be characterized as a balance between the theoretical vision of Nature as natura naturans and the irreducible complexity and inter-relatedness of nature as natura naturata. In the spirit of Spinoza’s understanding of the distinction, let us say that natura naturans designates Nature conceived in its most general way, the polymodal being of Nature,[4] and that natura naturata designates the specific “ways” or (as Spinoza called them “modes”) of Nature; together they constitute natura as φύσις.[5] More precisely: natura naturans is the object of ontological reflection, asking, “What is the being of Nature?” Natura naturata is the object of existential reflection, asking, “What are the orders of Nature? How did they evolve?” Thus, I suggest (with John Scottus Eriugena) we take Nature as a more inclusive subject than “being,” allowing us to speak of an “ecology of being” or “eco-ontology.”[6] The eco-ontological approach has special importance because in focusing on the intertwining of natura naturans and natura naturata, it offsets the pull of scientism and ideological naturalism. It philosophizes in the key of wonder and reflection, with a concern for continuities. In being ontological or “metaphysical,” it does not try to “go beyond” Nature, but to respond to it with “polyphonic thought,” that is, thought that is open to the various voices in which “Nature” may be invoked or through which it may be thought, such as: the scientific, humanistic, transcendental, and semiotic voices.

Two significant ontologies of Nature in the American tradition are John Dewey’s and Justus Buchler’s. Dewey’s thought is relatively well-known, while Buchler’s highly original work remains comparatively neglected, and so will be the focus here. The similarities of themes in their thought can be contrasted with their radically different approaches. Buchler was a precise, systematic thinker who explicitly formulated a categorial natural ontology, an “ordinal naturalism,” in his Metaphysics of Natural Complexes. Dewey was an exploratory thinker, like Heidegger, for whom thought was always unterwegs. Dewey’s “metaphysics” was an open-ended, experiential, description of the “generic traits of existence,” i.e., of “existence as existence,” as well as a descriptive “natural history” of the emergent continuities between Nature and culture (LW 1: 50, 52, 308; see MW 8:6-7). While defensibly coherent, Dewey’s work could not easily be called “systematic.” Dewey is much more comprehensive in vision than Buchler, whose books are compact in explanations and parsimonious with examples. Both thinkers endeavor to treat Nature as pluralistic, nonreductive, dynamic, relational, and polymodal, and so are supportive for those developing an ecological ontology. Specifically, both thinkers attempt to replace the substance-attribute, essence-accident metaphysics of Aristotelian-Scholastic traditions with fundamentally relational, functional categories. Both advocate process philosophies that reject “ultimate atomic substances” as well as atemporal first causes. Both are conducive to developing ecological habits of philosophical reflection, which the various traditional “metaphysics of identity” are not.

Thus, I think it would be instructive to examine the central ideas in both Dewey’s and Buchler’s ontologies insofar as they seem rather complimentary and yet operate with such different approaches. Dewey’s approach, to reiterate, was experiential and existential, stressing an interactionist, transactional, or ecological view of Nature as an “affair of affairs,” evolving new, “emergent” levels of interaction, as having an open-ended creative teleology. Metaphysics was to describe the “generic traits of existence” that turn up in all the specific modes of experience and discourse; that is, it is a tool of criticism, finding continuities where others found dualisms. This experiential approach acknowledges the transcognitive, one reason for its “vagueness.” Buchler’s approach was categorial and “ordinal.” It is concerned with developing general categorial concepts that would allow us to think of Nature rigorously but relationally, and it interprets relations primarily in terms of sets of orders, hence “ordinal naturalism.”[7] Buchler articulated categories that worked against tendencies toward atomism, essentialism, or monism. Dewey “discovered” his generic traits along the way in his endeavor to describe a world of creative continuities.[8] Their different approaches were reflected in their philosophical terminology. Dewey labored to invest ordinary words with his own philosophical meanings, a strategy that often backfired. Buchler developed a novel, if quirky, set of terms that has left his thought confined to a small circle of those fluent in the dialect.

Let us compare how Dewey and Buchler handle a couple of central topics, beginning with their alternatives to the classical idea of substance: Dewey’s “transaction or situation” and Buchler’s “natural complex.” Dewey’s “situation” defies simple definition—even description—since it is not wholly definite.[9] Situations are what “things,” or discriminated objects, are in and of. They are ways in which events, res, are mutually and dynamically embedded in the world with all the complexity of their histories and indeterminacy of their possibilities.[10] Objects only exist within situations, i.e., situations are ontological “environments.” Situations are integrated and organized by a pervasive quality or immediacy that is not cognized but which makes cognition possible; it is the tacit, organized, mutual involvement of conditions.[11] In human experience, it is our established, prereflective, qualitatively “had” world that gives sense to specific actions, including inquiry, speech, thought, affection. Because it is prereflective and not cognized, philosophers tend to ignore it, thereby committing the “intellectualist fallacy” of turning everything into an object of cognition: hence the ontologies of “substances.” Insofar as situations have an indefinite, but pervasive “horizon,” they also have a “focus,” a vortex of transformation which manifests itself in human experience as the “tensive” or “problematic.” This is the interface of past and future, of actual and possible, undergoing and doing, that constitutes each res as a center of creative individuation.[12] The inherently nebulous descriptions Dewey gives of situation have been a constant source of criticism, especially from “intellectualists.” But we can see that pragmatically this idea works against seeing the world as constituted by individual “things,” independent substances, inherently definite in logical as well as extensional space and time and only “externally related.” It reminds us of the “whence and whither” as well as the interconnectedness of events, their transitory belonging and “suchness.” Thus “being” (or “existence,” for Dewey) is not grounded in fixed identity but in continuity, which itself involves relation and temporality.

Buchler’s idea of “natural complex,” like Dewey’s idea of “situation,” was meant to supplant the traditional idea of substance with one conducive to a relational, process ontology.[13] Unlike Dewey, Buchler provides a clear definitional principle: “Whatever is, in whatever way, is a natural complex” (MNC 1). But he begins with a different concern. While Dewey begins with a vast horizon of “experience” (i.e., interaction), Buchler begins with the act of judgment. A natural complex is anything that is “discriminated,” a “discriminandum,” that is, “anything identified or discovered or imagined or discerned or sensed or posited or encountered or apprehended or made or acted upon…” (MNC 1). While Buchler acknowledges there may be natural complexes beyond the range of human discrimination, for us they are disclosed through what judgments are about. As such, a natural complex does not include the pervasive, tacit, penumbral “horizon” of the noncognitive aspects of Dewey’s situation. Buchler acknowledges “contexts” not as constitutive horizons but as potential objects of future judgments that can locate the natural complex at hand. While Buchler does not commit what Dewey called “the intellectualist fallacy” of equating the real with the known, he does seem to equate the real with the subject of judgment, however broadly judgment is conceived.[14] From a Deweyan perspective, a “natural complex” is simply a phase of a situation, the “focus” under reconstruction, and so not an ontological ultimate.

It is not clear how far any situation extends for Dewey—some critics believe he could be said to think of Nature as “one big situation,” a claim that usually precedes labeling him a closet absolute idealist.[15] I think this is manifestly wrong—Dewey always speaks of situations in the plural; there are at least as many situations as histories undergoing transformation. But there is no question he could have articulated this idea much more. Buchler tries to be more specific. By definition a natural complex can always be located in another, and so there can be no final or ultimate natural complex, for it would not be “in” anything. We cannot therefore speak of “Nature” as a whole, as a “complex of complexes” or even “an order of orders” (MNC 100).” Likewise there are no ultimate simples—a complex always “locates” or has further complexes within it and so on. Rather, “Nature in the barest sense is the presence and availability of complexes. It is the provision and determination of traits—of providingness… It provides man, for instance, with the possibilities, the circumstances and the substance of judgment” (MNC 3).[16] Nature, as this source or providingness, is what Buchler calls “natura naturans” or “the order of provision and determination” as it arises, as “alescent” (MNC 100).[17] Natura naturata, by contrast, denotes “what does prevail and what has arisen” (MNC 100). In different words, Nature as natura naturans is creative possibility and Nature as natura naturata signifies the actualized orders, “the world.” So Nature is not an “order of orders” but “the order which permeates them all… by which new orders are discriminable and explorable…” (MNC 100).[18]

While seemingly clearer than Dewey’s notion of “situation,” I will note what might be called “Buchler’s paradoxes of natural complexes”:

(1) In stating that whatever is a subject of judgment or discrimination is ipso facto a natural complex, then insofar as “Nature” itself is such a subject, therefore it is a natural complex. And Buchler makes a number of judgments about Nature.

(2) Insofar as everything is referred back to the concept of natural complex, this itself functions as an ontological “simple” or ultimate, even more than Aristotle’s category of substance does. A “natural complex” is an ultimate univocal categorial concept: whatever “is,” is a natural complex.[19]

One purpose of the idea of natural complex is to prevent transforming a terminus of judgment into an ultimate actuality, and in this respect is akin to Dewey’s situation encompassing objects of knowledge. Both Dewey and Buchler are trying to avoid an ontology of “things.” But, unlike Dewey (and somewhat like Kant), Buchler has tied his fundamental substitute for substance to the function of judgment, however broadly construed. Dewey’s situations are not objects of judgment but are conditions for inquiry; if a situation becomes denoted, it thereby becomes an object within another situation. Buchler uses “natura naturans” to indicate the possibility whereby natural complexes may be determined, the “source” of order that is not itself an order; it is, in Buchler’s words, “sheer putting forth or bringing forth, sheer geniture… , the providing, engendering condition” (MNC, Appendix IV, 276).[20] Thus, strictly speaking, natura naturans is not a natural complex (and so, oddly, “is not,” since “to be” means “to be a natural complex”). And yet it is a natural complex as a subject of judgment.

What Buchler seeks to articulate is the ontological modality of possibility (especially in terms of potentiality). The last chapter of The Metaphysics of Natural Complexes provides an intricate and powerful analysis of the modalities of actuality and possibility, which I think is the crowning achievement of the work. And it is from just such a modal ontological analysis that Dewey’s metaphysics of situations could benefit. On the other hand, in order to escape “Buchler’s paradox,” I think Dewey’s idea of “situation” and broader, if vaguer, experiential view of Nature is needed. “What is” cannot be restricted to the function of judgment, and the univocity of “being” must submit to a plurivocity of modes, “of being said in many ways.” In other words, we need to contextualize Buchler’s natural complexes within Dewey’s situations, treating Nature as a creative domain that may be described both as ontologicalically ploymodal and as existential, emergent, and evolutionary.  I think we are better off regarding Nature as the intertwining continuum of natura naturans and natura naturata, as φύσις, which is not itself a natural complex, a res, but as a condition, an ’αρχή or Grund, and so of a different categorial order. “To be,” consequently, is variously said, and not just univocally as “to be a natural complex.”[21] Nature would not necessarily be arrived at by “judgment,” but also via moods of wonder and mystery—by the full range of what Dewey’s “denotative empirical method” includes in the task of philosophical recollection of the experience of existence.[22]

We may briefly look at three more similar features in Dewey and Buchler: pluralism, relations, and Dewey’s “principle of continuity” and Buchler’s “principle of ontological parity.” Both Dewey and Buchler make pluralism and complexity fundamental. Dewey’s pluralism is experiential: because each situation is transformative, it is inherently unique. Individuality is understood existentially as creative process, the basis of time itself.[23] That is, for Dewey, pluralism is bound up with the idea of process as growth, as transformation. Buchler defends the irreducibility of plurality on categorial grounds. We have already seen his use of “natural complex” as a prevention against positing ultimate wholes or atomic elements. It is ordinality, the possibility of further judgments of “location,” that makes complexity irreducible. So here again we see the difference between an experiential-existential and an ordinal-categorial approach.

Let us consider relations. Dewey thinks of relations primarily in terms of temporality, as existential or experiential events of “interaction” with rhythmic phases of “doing and undergoing” (LW 1: 207). More precisely, he designates relations as structures (or “structurings”) that emerge in means-ends inquiry: through the world of human instrumentalities the interconnectedness of the world becomes coherently manifest. Relations are temporal functions within situations. Temporality—or, more precisely, “temporal quality”—is as fundamental for Dewey as for Heidegger.[24] Again, Buchler takes a categorial approach. The term “natural” implies “what is related” or “is capable of being related.” “All natural complexes are relational, though not only relational. … Whatever is, is in some relation…” (MNC, 24).[25] This determines the specific meaning Buchler gives to “supernatural” as “that which is unrelated.” If “natural” means “discriminated” or “discriminable”; the “nonnatural” or “supernatural,” conversely, would mean that incapable of being discriminated, that is, located in some order or locating other orders.[26] If the term “god,” for example, is to have any meaning, it would have to signify a “natural complex,” something related to other natural complexes (see MNC 7-10).[27] This argument applies also to Buchler’s critique of the idea of ultimate simples. If there are ultimates that are absolutely simple, then they cannot be related, actually or potentially.[28] Last, temporality is not pervasively fundamental for Buchler, who says “Some prevalences have a temporal aspect, others do not” (MNC, 68).

Dewey and Buchler are both antihierarchical as well as antireductionist thinkers. Dewey tends to see Nature from an emergent or evolutionary perspective, as an unfolding of processes that generate new forms of organization that are genuinely novel, new “plateaus of existence” (LW 1: 208). His “principle of continuity” basically asks us to understand what things are not only by what they do but in terms of their development, their “natural histories.”[29] This is what can be termed “emergentism”: while the world of human meaning cannot be reduced to preconditional biochemical events, it certainly emerges out of them and has its history in them, and so too with biological events emerging from physical ones.[30] But “more complex” does not mean “more real” in the sense of denying a degree of reality to the less complex. Nevertheless, Dewey is firm in saying that whatever Nature “is,” it is what it does. And if the event is making poetry or agonizing over a moral dilemma, then Nature is, in those ways, poetic and moral. In this sense, for Dewey, the more something manifests the creative potentiality of Nature, the more it reveals what Nature is. As I said, creativity is at the heart of Dewey’s concept of Nature. Dewey’s principle of continuity asks us to discover natural histories; it is an inherently evolutionary approach in which some events are more revealatory, more “epiphantic,” of Nature than others.[31]

Buchler also rejects any idea of reductionism or ontological hierarchy, but does so in a way that does not ask us actively to look for continuities and natural histories. Buchler is critical of how western metaphysics has tended to privilege some types of reality over others as “really real” which has led to the idea of “degrees of being” (MNC 4). In response to the confusing relationships between “being,” “existence” and “reality,” Buchler proposes what he calls “the principle of ontological parity.” Insofar as “whatever is discriminated in any way … is a natural complex,” and “to be” for Buchler means “to be a natural complex”: “no complex is more ‘real,’ more ‘natural,’ more ‘genuine,’ or more ‘ultimate’ than any other” (MNC 31). The corollary is that no discriminanda can be consigned to “non-being.” This does not mean all complexes are alike or that various kinds of degrees are not discriminable. “The principle of parity obliges us to receive and accept all discriminanda” (MNC 33). Thus the principle of ontological parity is meant to avoid feudal, hierarchical ontologies as well as reductionistic ones.

Yet, here, too, a paradox arises. The principle of ontological parity is perhaps the most commonly accepted feature of Buchler’s metaphysics in the work of his advocates. It has a nice democratic ring to it and—this is its real punch—it preserves metaphysics as something other than a “search for the eternal.”[32] It is, however, simply put forth as a postulate.[33] And there is a latent conceptual difficulty in the claim that there are no “degrees” of reality while also claiming that all natural complexes—the primary meaning of what it is “to be” by definition—are equally real.[34] If there are no degrees of reality nothing can be “equally” real to anything else. I think this problem arises from Buchler’s rather limited univocal sense of what is “real,” namely, “to be a natural complex.” Insofar as this means “to be a subject of judgment,” I worry that “reality” simply becomes empty of ontological articulation. Elsewhere, Buchler actually rejects the significance of the term “reality” altogether, leaving the whole matter of anything’s ontological status in limbo.[35] This was what the Kant sought to accomplish, handing the natural realm over to an ontologically neutral, purely phenomenal, realm where “existence” was denied to be a concept and so not a predicate.

In Buchler’s discussion of this principle, he approvingly quotes John Herman Randall, Jr, who said, “The significant question is not whether anything is ‘real’ or not, but how and in what sense it is real, and how it is related to and functions among other reals.”[36] Randall, as an Aristotelian, is concerned with “how many ways being is said,” not with making being said to be in one sense, namely as an object of discriminative judgment with an attitude of complete ontological neutrality. In keeping to Randall’s worthy goal, I think it would be far better to attend to the different ways we indicate ontological dimensions of Nature, that is, to articulate its polymodality as natura naturans and its ordinality as natura naturata. Peirce’s modal distinctions between Being, Existence and Reality are an example of the former. The variety of modalities articulated in human languages and cultures would be another. Indeed, Buchler’s own subtle analysis of the interrelationship of actuality and possibility is a better indication of the “prospect” of a polymodal natural ontology than his “principle of ontological parity.”[37] Polymodality is one of the primary aims of an ecological ontology—a discrimination of the nuanced ways of “inter-being.” Again, this would involve locating Buchler’s ordinal ontology within Dewey’s experiential-existential one. But it would also involve a detailed investigation into the relationship of Buchler’s analysis of actuality and possibility and Dewey’s principle of continuity—which must wait for another time.

To summarize: in order to avoid the dangers of “naturalism” as disposed toward scientism, I urge an ecologically motivated philosophy of “invocational thinking” with Nature at its center. To think of Nature ontologically is a counterweight to scientistic tendencies. Both Dewey and Buchler have provided intricate and polymodal ontologies of Nature, complimentary in form, but undertaken from very different philosophical approaches. While certain limitations, even paradoxes, seem to arise from Buchler’s categorial, “ordinal” approach, he does offer a more technical and potentially more rigorous terminology, something Deweyan metaphysics needs. Dewey’s experiential-existential approach, for all its vagueness, can contextualize Buchler’s categories, neutralizing the paradoxes they engender, and retain a strongly evolutionary, emergentist, ecological orientation.



[1] Thus Sidney Hook: “Naturalism is opposed to all known forms of supernaturalism, not because it rules out a priori what may or may not exist, but because no plausible evidence has been found to warrant belief in the entities and powers to which supernatural status has been attributed. The existence of God, immortality, disembodied spirits, cosmic purpose and design…are denied by naturalists for the same generic reasons that they deny the existence of fairies, elves, and leprechauns.” (“Naturalism and Democracy” in Yervant Krikorian, ed., Naturalism and the Human Spirit, Columbia University Press, 1944, p. 45). I have capitalized “Nature” here to retain the sense of invocation and wonder.

[2] “When with Dewey we turn thus toward a naturalistic view of language and behavioral meaning…we recognize that there are no meanings, nor likenesses nor distinctions of meaning, beyond what are implicit in people’s dispositions to overt behavior.” Ontological Relativity, pp. 28-29. Compare likewise Dewey’s meaning of “experience” with Quine’s “stimulation of the extremities of the nerves.”

[3] “Not a form so grotesque, so savage, nor so beautiful but is an expression of some property inherent in man the observer—an occult relation between the very scorpions and man. I feel the centipede in me—cayman, carp, eagle,& fox. I am moved by strange sympathies, I say continually, ‘I will be a naturalist.’ Journal, July 13 1833.

[4] If not quite Spinoza’s “that which is in itself and is conceived through itself” (Ethics. I. XXIX. Schol; see also the essay “God, Man and His Well-being,” Chs. viii and ix).

[5] The history of these two terms is complicated. Natura naturans is not even classical Latin (the participle of nascor being nascens; there is no verb naturare). It seems to appear in Averroist commentaries, whence it is picked up by Thomas Aquinas to distinguish God as creator (i.e., as pure act) from created being; that is not as the “activity” of natural events but as the act of being whereby other beings can be at all. Spinoza modifies this in lines with his rationalism, natura naturans being the one thought of infinite substance or God (sive natura) through which any of the modes must ultimately be thought and so “follow from the necessity of the nature of God.” See Olga Weijers’ “Contribution à l’histoire des termes ‘natura naturans’ et ‘natura naturata’ jusqu’à Spinoza,” Vivarium XVI, I (1978), pp. 71-80, for the origin of the terms.

[6] The idea of natura naturans as the “potency” of Nature, something beyond the act or actuality of being, reflects a Neo-Platonic heritage. The One for Plotinus is dunamis, the power whereby Being can be (Ennead VI.9). While Plotinus does not call the One “nature,” John Scottus Eriugena explicitly does, making Nature a more ultimate category than Being, including what is “not-Being,” i.e. God in His transcendent dimension, the Godhead (Per physeon I.1 f.). Elevated now to the principle of the Neo-Platonic One, Nature is the power whereby beings can be. Through Cusanus, this seems to have been appropriated by Bruno (De la Causa) and thence (with Spinoza’s twist also) by Schelling and from Shelling by Coleridge and thence by Emerson (“Nature” in Essays: Second Series). Buchler appropriates it along with natura naturata. Natura naturans means the “providingness” or “order of provision and determination,” the “prevailing and arising” or “fertility” of natural complexes; natura naturata means the “world” (The Metaphysics of Natural Complexes, 2nd. ed., Kathleen Wallace et al ed. SUNY Press, 1990, p. 100, hereafter cited as MNC).

[7] Beth Singer coined the term “ordinal naturalism” while working with Buchler, who accepted it. See her Ordinal Naturalism (1984), p. 21. “Every complex is an order and belongs to an order of complexes. Thus orders are inclusive and belong to more inclusive orders” (MNC, 92; see editors’ introduction, p. xvii f.).

[8] Dewey nowhere gives a list of these traits, but they would include: continuity, situation, stable-and-precarious, quality or immediacy, relation or means, interaction/ transaction, potentiality, existence, selectivity, emergence, end or closure, individuality, community, novelty, temporality, natural history, value. It is interesting how well these fit in with Plato’s megista gene of the Sophist (249 b f.).

[9] Which was Dewey’s point in his rejection of the identification of reality with the object of knowledge. The world of human transactions (“experience”) extends far beyond “knowing.”

[10] For Dewey’s use of res see Essays in Experimental Logic, Introduction (MW 10:322-23) and Experience and Nature (LW 1: 83-84). For “situation” see Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (LW 12: 72 f.).

[11] See “Qualitative Thought” (1930), LW 5: 243-63

[12] See “Time and Individuality” (1940, LW 14: 98-114)

[13]Substantia” (Latin for “what stands beneath”) was already a poor translation for Aristotle’s ousia (“being”), derived from the verb “to be” (einai) via the feminine participle (ousa). Ousiai display their whatness in their doing; the rabbit shows its rabbitness in rabbiting, rather than by “standing under” the “phenomena.” One might say that Kant’s noumena/phenomena dualism is the outcome of a lousy translation.

[14] Judgment has three main forms for Buchler: assertive, exhibitive and active (see Towards a General Theory of Judgment, p. 48) and Singer, p. 67 f.

[15] See Bertrand Russell’s “Dewey’s New Logic” and Dewey’s reply in The Philosophy of John Dewey, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp, revised ed. Tudor (1951).

[16] Complexity is irreducible for Buchler, any “simple” is just the terminus of current analysis: “…every discriminandum whatever offers a prospect for query. … A complex, if it is accessible at all, is analyzable and interpretable without end…” (MNC 5-6, see 11 ff.). Buchler connects this with the maxim of Anaxagoras: “Neither is there a least of what is small, but always there is a less … But there is always a greater of what is great” (MNC, 14).

[17] “Alescent” from Latin alescere, “to grow.”

[18] Even to call it an “order permeating all other orders” may be going too far. Natura naturans is the possibility of order rather than “an order” conceived of as actual, as Buchler may be thought to imply in the above quotation. In a late essay, “Probing the Idea of Nature,” Buchler says, “The conceptions of nature as providingness and as ordinality are continuous with one another and with the conception of nature as ‘orders.’ This continuity can be conveyed by utilizing both members of the twin natura naturans and natura naturata. Nature as ordinality is natura naturans;it is the providing, the engendering condition. Nature as ‘orders’ is natura naturata; it is the provided, the ordinal manifestation, the World’s complexes” (“Probing the Concept of Nature,” in MNC, Appendix IV, 276; see also “On the Concept of the World,” Appendix iii).

[19] A qualification here might be that Buchler says natural complexes are composed of “traits,” but traits are not “parts” since they also can be natural complexes just as natural complexes may be traits of other natural complexes. Buchler is insistent, however, on the univocity of “natural complex.” Call this a third paradox.

[20] This is fundamentally the basic sense of φύσις, derived from the verb φύω, to give birth, to put forth.

[21] And so surprisingly the dispute between the Scotists and Thomists on the univocity vs. analogy of being reappears in the context of American naturalism!

[22] See my “Dewey’s Denotative Empirical Method: A Thread Through the Labyrinth,” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy Vol 18, No. 3 (2004), pp. 248-56. A Buchlerian might respond that nature as encountered in moods of wonder and mystery are forms of judgment; the Deweyan would object. This may seem a trivial difference but it is one (as Carlyle said to Emerson) “goes as deep as Hell.” (See Gay Wilson Allen’s Waldo Emerson, p. 497, for the story.)

[23] Again, see Dewey’s “Time and Individuality.”

[24] For “temporal quality” see LW 1: 82 ff., 194 f., 210 f.

[25] “Nature is ordinality and relationality, prevalence and alescence, possibility and actuality” (MNC Appendix I, 200).

[26] Insofar as Buchler says that Nature as natura naturans as the possibility-of-actuality or condition of order itself cannot be “an order” or natural complex, then it would seem to be “supernatural” qua unrelated. This seems to me to be yet another reason why an ontology of judgment has limitations that an ontology of experience does not. Buchler rejects a “domain” of the possible as pure possibility—possibilities are always of—but in trying to discern “ordinality” or the fecund “providingness” of Nature, he seems to need something beyond specific possibilities-of.

[27] Thus Buchler denies that God would “transcend” the basic categories of ontological description: “Man, like God, is interpretable through the most fundamental categories that philosophy can devise” (MNC 10). Thus there could be no significance given to a “doctrine of analogy” like that of Thomas Aquinas.

[28] “Whatever can be discriminated…is related to that within which of from which it is discriminated. … [A] perfectly simple, homogeneous trait … would also have to be single, unrelated and inaccessible. … A simple would not only lack the possibility of being described; it would lack all possibilities” (MNC 17-18).

[29] See Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (LW 12:26-31).

[30] The closest Dewey gets to an explanation of this principle is in Logic: The Theory of Inquiry; LW 12: 26 ff.)

[31] See especially Ch. 7 of Experience and Nature; for example, “For it is reasonable to believe that the most adequate definition of the basic traits of natural existence can be had only when its properties are most fully displayed—a condition which is met in the degree of the scope and intimacy of interactions realized (LW 1: 201).

[32] For example, simply see the index in anthology Nature’s Perspectives: Prospects for Ordinal Metaphysics, ed Kathleen Wallace et al. (SUNY Press, 1991) under “Ontological Parity.” See also Beth Singer’s Ordinal Naturalism (Bucknell 1983), pp. 168-71, and Stephen David Ross’s Transition to an Ordinal Metaphysics (SUNT Press, 1980), p. 8, 108 f, who sums up the idea as “The principle of ontological parity takes metaphysics off its pedestal” (110).

[33] It is defended by an attack on “the principle of ontological priority” (MNC p. 33 f).

[34] It could be argued that to say “nothing is more or less real than anything else” is not logically equivalent to “everything is equally real.” But see, for example, Sidney Gelber: “Ontological parity…is a commitment to the equal reality of all beings” (Nature’s Perspectives, p. 52.).

[35] “The notion of ‘reality’ has never been helpful to theoretical understanding and has often impaired it” (“On the Concept of the World,” MNC, Appendix iii, 259)

[36] MNC 30, quote from Nature and Historical Judgment (Columbia, 1961), p. 131.

[37] The Buchlerian can respond: to discriminate various modalities is to discern various “natural complexes,” and what the principle of ontological parity does is to prevent us from asserting that any one of them is more or less “really real.” But what does “real” mean at all? In Buchler’s terminology it only means “discriminable.” In fact, Buchler privileges the meaning of being as “natural complex” so that it, functioning like “substance” in the older ontologies, has everything else (e.g., “traits,” “contours,” “prevalanece,” etc.) said with respect to it. Unlike Aristotle, Buchler allows “substances” to be composed of other substances (natural complexes of other natural complexes), so the whole matter of predication (or “location” in Buchlerese) is completely relative, a function of judgment in “query.”