Relation is one of the most important ideas in the world. It is a pity the word is not more simple sounding. It could be described as "withness." Relation is, in the largest sense, the universe aspect of a thing. I have said that a thing can be thought of as itself, and also as how it has to do with other things.
A clothespin may seem unimportant; but when we think that it has to do with the sun, or any planet, and the 17th century, and mighty Rome, it takes on Importance most interestingly.
How has a clothespin to do with the sun?
First it has a reality relation to the sun. That is, the clothespin is of reality and the sun is of reality. Wherever two things have something in common, they have relation. This means that all things, no matter what—strange or ordinary, unthought of or thought of—since they have reality in common, have to do with each other: reality is the great joiner. Of course, in ordinary terms, or in everyday, "homely" existence, we can see that a clothespin and the sun have a relation by thinking that the sun can make a clothespin warm by shining on it, and that the sun looks different when you look at It between a clothespin, or with a clothespin in the way. Yes, reality-sun and reality-clothespin have to do with each other conceptually; and quite evidently, say, on a farm in South Dakota.
Second, clothespin and sun exist at the same time, universally speaking. (The South Dakota woman of the farm may work with her clothespin with the help of what the sun is and does.) All things have time in common. A specific clothespin and the sun of now have 20th-century time and 1945 time in common. Time is a relation common to all things. Time, like reality itself, is a metaphysical subject, because metaphysics is the study of the things common to all things; and all things have reality and time in common.
Third, clothespin and sun have a cause and effect relation. It can be said quite sensibly that if the sun, as thing, wasn't, and if its shining-and-heating, as happening, wasn't, clothespins would not be around. And clothespins can be used to interfere with sunlight; arid they, in absorbing the heat of the sun, do something, really, to the sun. For a thing in being able to be affected by another, brings out a possibility of the other: that is, affects the other, too.
Fourth, the head of the clothespin is circular and the sun can be seen as circular, too. There is, then, a relation of shape.
Fifth the sun weighs something and the clothespin weighs something. There is, then, a relation of weight.
Sixth, the sun can be thought about and the clothespin can be thought about, and both can be thought of at the same time, too; in fact, this is what I'm doing right now. So they have a relation of both being able to be thought about.
Seventh the sun and clothespin are different. But when two things are different, they have difference in common. (The importance of the idea of difference in common can be felt in thinking of key and lock: their difference is the thing that brings them together and makes them useful.) Difference, as such, is a reIation; and clothespin and sun have this relation.
Eighth, the sun and clothespin both have meaning: that is, they have to do with all other things. But since both sun and clothespin have to do with all other things, considered as two things, they have a dual relation of having to do with all other things at the same time.
Ninth, the sun has quantity and clothespin has quantity. There is a quantity relation, then.
Tenth, the sun is in space and the clothespin is in space. There is, then, a spatial relation.
Eleventh, the sun is useful and a clothespin is useful. There is a relation, then, as to usefulness.
Twelfth, the sun moves and the clothespin moves. There is, then, a motion relation, the basis of a change relation. I've listed twelve of the ways the sun and clothespin can be seen as in relation.
There are other ways, or ways which can be seen as other: these will come up later.
© 1945 by Eli Siegel