174 BUDDHIST THEMES
space to be merely relative, as time is; that . . . it . . . be an order of coexistences, as time is an order of successions.
In other words, spatial and temporal locations have no intrinsic nature. Physical events bear temporal relations (befores and afters) to each other, and there is nothing more to occurring at a particular time than having certain of those relationships to other things. Similarly, physical objects have spatial relations to each other (norths and souths), and there is nothing more to being in a particular place than having certain of those relations to other things. So, to be 1066 is to be after Caesar’s invasion of Britain, in the same year as the Battle ofHastings, before the British colonization of Australia, and so on.19
Thus, for Newton, spatial and temporal locations are what they are in and of themselves: they have self-nature. By contrast, for Leibniz, they do not. To be a spatial/temporal position just is to be a locus in a field of spatial/temporal relations. That is, it has only a relational quiddity.
There are other examples from Western philosophy of things taken to have only relational quiddity. Mathematical structuralism, we have already noted. Let me give just one more.20 Words and sentences have meanings.What is the status of meanings? Many philosophers have held that there are meanings which exist over and above words and sentences, and have a nature independently of these things. A notable person who held this view was, of course, Frege. For him, the senses of words and sentences exist in just this way. By contrast, structuralist linguists, beginning with Saussure, have held that meanings do not have this kind self-nature. Words and sentences enter into various kinds of relationships with other words and sentences. For example, ‘blue’ contrasts with ‘red’ in a way that ‘scarlet’ does not. To have a certain meaning is simply to be related to other words/sentences in certain ways.That is, meanings have no intrinsic nature, merely a relational one.
Though the thought that some objects have a merely relational quiddity is, then, well known in Western philosophy, what we have arrived at is a much stronger view: that all things have a merely relational quiddity. They are what they are in relation to other things.21 This view is largely unknown in the history of Western philosophy.22 It is, however, well known in Buddhist philosophy.The
19 Does this mean that 1066 does not exist? In a sense, yes—the sense that Newton had in mind. In a sense, no: Leibniz is certainly not going to deny that there was a year 1066.
20 There are certainly others. One isMarx’s view of the commodity. A commodity is not a thing in itself, but just something that occupies a relational role (notably between producer and consumer) in certain capitalist practices. (See Capital Vol. 1, ch. 1, sec. 4.)
21 And maybe themselves as well, as we will see in a moment.
22 Perhaps some structuralists have come close to it. For example, ‘that the world is made up of relationships rather than things, constitutes the first principle of the way of thinking that can properly be called “structuralist”’. Hawkes (1977), pp. 17–18. The Ontic Structural Realism of Ladyman, Ross, Spurrett, and Collier (2007) also seems to be in the same ballpark, as, maybe, does Buchler’s metaphysics of complexes (1990). As I read the views of these writers, however, they take structure itself to be self-standing. This is obviously not compatible with emptiness. I will return to this matter in the next chapter.