Probing the Idea of Nature
by Justus Buchler
Justus Buchler is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy in the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 157-168, Vol. 8, Number 8, Fall, 1978. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Both in colloquial and in methodic discourse the idea of nature has functioned in a large number of ways, and the variety of these ways makes it seem impossible to find significant relatedness among them. Nature has been distinguished from man, from art, from mind, from chance, from purpose, from history, from eternity, from irregularity, from society, from civilization, from God, from evil, from good -- to name some of the best known historical contrasts. Yet with respect to every one of these same ideas, nature also has been made inclusive of it or synonymous with it or continuous with it. I have no intention of trying to explain how all this has come about. But it will not be irrelevant to remark that the very fact of the concept "nature" lending itself to so many and conflicting uses can be seen as a cue, a hint to metaphysical thinking rather than as a ground for despair. My subject will take the form of considering two broad philosophic tendencies which have determined specific conceptions of nature. One of the tendencies is to regard nature as limited, and the other is to regard nature as unlimited. After asking what the difference comes to, and after persuading you to think exactly as I do, I shall propose a possible way of defining nature. But first, some observations that are more or less historical.
According to Collingwood’s book The Idea of Nature, the two most frequently used broad senses that have been given to the word "nature" are: first, the collective sense of a "sum total or aggregate," and second, the sense of a "principle" or arché, a source which defines or informs whatever is called "natural" and which justifies our speaking also in the plural, of "natures" or "essences." This second sense is held to be the original and so-called proper sense of physis. I think it would be better to identify these two ways of conceiving nature as "orientations" rather than senses or direct meanings. The first of them I would call the domain-orientation; the second, the trait-orientation. Thus reframed, each can be seen in a way that permits certain distinctions to emerge. For example, with regard to the first orientation, nature conceived as a domain may be, but need not be, conceived as a collection or sum or aggregate; instead, it may be conceived as a certain kind of domain. And with regard to the second orientation, nature as the principle or source of traits that are called "natural" can be thought of as just that -- a principle of traits -- and not a principle only of those traits that are called "essential." Thus it is at least possible to omit the notion of inherent essences without violating this second orientation. We may observe, in general, that it is a trait orientation which has given rise to concern about the natural vs. the unnatural, or the natural vs. the artificial, and that it is a domain-orientation which has given rise to concern about the natural vs. the supernatural. In the present discussion such concerns are reduced to the general issue of the natural vs. the non-natural, which is one way of rendering our question of nature unlimited vs. nature limited.
It is within what we are calling the domain-orientation that Collingwood believes the difference is to be found between nature conceived as unlimited and nature conceived as a limited or restricted domain. A restricted domain in Collingwood’s version is one that is not independent but dependent on some other. He believes that in the basic tradition of European thought the dominant view by far is this view of nature as limited: it implies that nature has "a derivative or dependent status in the general scheme of things," that "the world of nature forms only one part or aspect of all being." It is dependent "on something prior to itself." Historically, the reasons underlying the restricted view, the one called dominant, are extremely diverse. But the view as such is held or presupposed by scientists as well as philosophers, and it goes back to the time when the entire general issue of the scope of nature was debated in early Greek thought.
It is very hard to assess a contention about what is the dominant view. My interest here is mainly theoretical rather than historical. But even historically, we cannot gauge the issue solely by trying to figure out a numerical majority of opinions. For among them there are implicit emphases which have been as influential as those which are visible on the surface. We could also cite powerful counter-examples like Erigena, Aquinas, and Spinoza, who in their different ways conceive of a divine nature and in effect make nature the inclusive, or an equivalent of the inclusive, category. Probably many others were likewise convinced that, since whatever is has a nature, the notion of a nonnature is absurd. Collingwood, as we might suspect, pays small attention to that particular medieval tendency which dwells on natura naturans and natura naturata. When, however, he alters his angle and calls the dominant view the "modern" view, he is on securer ground. Then we recognize the so-called world of nature as the spatiotemporal world, and we begin to understand why science, for so long called "natural philosophy," still wishes to be called "natural" science.
I still have a bone to pick on the historical level. It is surprising for an historical account (especially a serious account like Collingwood’s) to interpret a restrictive conception of nature as one in which nature has "a derivative or dependent status." In the modern restrictive tendency what is called the world of nature, far from being considered necessarily dependent, is as often assigned the reverse status, namely that upon which any other "world" is "dependent" (e.g., the "world of number" or the "moral world") or that of which any other world is an appearance or that which is "more real" than any other world.
The notion of "the world of nature" usually involves the cognate notion of "the order of nature" or "the natural order." It is interesting to reflect that philosophers like Peirce and Whitehead, esteemed for their intensive concern with science as well as for their independent spirit, tend to think of nature in the limiting or restrictive way. They deal at considerable length with "the order of nature," a phrase the components of which seem to receive from them a certain type of explicit consideration, but which as a phrase remains dim in both of them. I suppose that the order-of-nature habit of thought is an oblique commitment to the idea of "laws of nature," which would be a much more difficult idea to defend if the domain-orientation were of the unlimited kind. Whitehead says in The Concept of Nature, "Nature is that which we observe in perception through the senses." In Process and Reality he says that when "we speak of the ‘order of nature’" we mean "the order reigning in that limited portion of the universe . . . which has come under our observation." And as late as Modes of Thought he says, "Nature, in these chapters, means the world as interpreted by reliance on clear and distinct sensory experiences, visual, auditory, and tactile." Whether these statements of the same theme are perfectly harmonious in themselves or with one another, I am not sure. But they surely accentuate the restrictive position. In The Concept of Nature Whitehead had said also, "Natural science is the science of nature." And again, "[N]ature can be thought of as a closed system whose mutual relations do not require the expression of the fact that they are thought about." In Process and Reality the term "nature" serves the purpose of defining subject-matter basic to science. Treating philosophically of nature thus apparently boils down to focusing the more general metaphysical categories on such concepts as space and time. In contrast to what is sought by science, there is said by Whitehead to be "an essence to the universe" which is sought by metaphysics or speculative philosophy. Metaphysics, he believes, seeks to understand "the system of the universe." I refrain from comment for the time being, except to note that Whitehead also occasionally uses phrases like "the womb of nature" and "the divine nature," which may or may not suggest a tacit alternative usage of nature in a wider sense.
Let us return to the idea of "the order of nature," which often seems to function less as an idea than as a name or slogan conventionally identifying a roughly associated group of problems. In contexts where it is presumably under discussion, specifically those of Peirce and Whitehead, it is hard to find out whether the phrase presupposes order in nature or nature as an order. If there is any difficulty in taking "the order of nature" to mean "that order which is called nature," then the difficulty should attach also to the expression "the world of nature," which has the same type of import. But leaving aside the question of what sense we should accept, the distinction between order as belonging to nature and the order called nature is of utmost importance. It reflects the difference between "order" as a definite familiar kind of trait and "an order" as a complex of traits, a location of traits, regardless of what kind. Order in the former sense is contrasted with "disorder," whereas an order, construed as a complex of traits, can be contrasted only with other orders: as we will find, there is no meaning to a nonorder. "Order" contrasted with "disorder" is not a distinction at the most general ontological level. But "an order" in the sense I am suggesting has little to do with order in the sense of arrangement or pattern, such as a pattern of regularity or of chance. It is to be understood as a complex with an integrity. In other words, the concept of an order or complex is universally applicable.
We pursue this now in more detail. Let us suspend temporarily the entire issue of the scope of nature, of whether we can maintain a distinction between natural and non-natural. And in our metaphysical stance, let us think of anything at all, whether it be classified as an individual, a sensation, an event, a relation, a structure, a grouping, a change, a process, an eternal form, an hallucination, or whatnot. It has traits. It is a complex of traits. It is a plurality of traits. The plurality will follow if only from each trait’s being itself ramified, from each trait’s standing in relations; from each trait’s, in other words, being itself a complex. No trait is at some point cut off relationally from every other. If there is such a point of absolute disconnectedness, we have yet to identify it or certify it in the history of man. The traits of a given complex will differ in some respect from those constituting any other and will resemble them in some respect. This is another way of saying that each complex limits and relates its traits in the way that it does. By "the way that it does" or "the respect in which it does" we imply an order. We have already posed the reciprocal idea of an order as a complex of traits. And we have just now been speaking in ordinal terms.
To improve the cohesiveness of this truncated account, we must lay fuller emphasis on two concepts which are interwoven with the others in the reciprocal way just employed. These are the concepts of integrity and ordinal location. Insofar as each complex both differs from and resembles others, it has a trait makeup. Yet if our description went no farther than this, we could not say that a complex has an integrity but only certain constituents thereof, including plurality. The other and indispensable factor is the location of the complex in an order, that is, in an order other than itself, a more inclusive order. By its location the complex is delimited and hence distinguished in a given way from other complexes. As ordinally located it may be thought of as playing a role in a setting -- a spatial setting or a moral setting or an occupational setting or any environing complex -- even if the role at bottom is that of excluding other traits and being in a specific relation. But a complex may be located in many orders and may therefore have many integrities. If not located in a given order, it does not have an integrity relevant to that order. It is not defined or delimited in that respect. But ordinally located it must be. To omit this consideration is to inject contradiction into the concept of a complex. It follows directly that every complex of traits is not only located or included in various orders, but locates and includes other complexes, sub-complexes, and is an indispensable determinant of their integrity. Orders, being complexes of traits, thus derive their integrities from their status in more inclusive orders, and no order is an order if it is not inclusive and included, locative and located. But the "no order if" phrase is, of course, a merely rhetorical addition, for on the approach I am describing, what is not an order is not.
Returning to the problem of nature and the natural: the issue as formally stated was put in terms of the domain-orientation, i.e., is nature a limited or an all-inclusive domain? But the issue also can be put (as we have implied) in terms of the trait-orientation, i.e., is nature a source or principle of traits limited to the so-called essential traits of any being, or is it a principle universally applicable to any trait whatever? We stated a miniature argument for the unrestricted conception, attaching it to the outlook of such as Erigena, Aquinas, and Spinoza. It went: since whatever is has a nature, we cannot give meaning to the notion of a nonnature. To this it might be objected, first, that the use of the expression "a nature" to apply to whatever is, decides the issue by definition and settles it in advance; and second, that the use of the expression a nature" confounds the domain-orientation with the trait-orientation, for we are talking about the scope of nature and not about this or that nature.
But in fact, as we now can see, we do not need the expression "a nature" at all. We are able to say that whatever is has an integrity; it is the integrity of a complex. We are able to say that a complex, necessarily being located in some order, cannot have a non-integrity. And in general we are now able to see that a trait-orientation and a domain-orientation are merely two sides of one and the same effort of interpretation. For a domain is an order, and there is no order without traits, just as there are no traits, no complexes, unlocated in any order.
The view of nature as restricted amounts to the view that there is a widespread order of complexes called nature, which is either located in another or other orders or includes other orders but not every other. In the now popular but actually more customary language of "worlds," nature restricted is a world that is seen as somehow related to other worlds. Of course, once we see each of these worlds as an order the pressure to specify the order and to clarify its relatedness, to get rid of the "somehow," becomes greater.
As for the unrestricted view, it too now can be stated without interference by old associations of the term "nature." We seem required to say that nature unrestricted must include all worlds, indeed all orders whether they are to be called worlds or not. But a careful statement of the unrestricted view cannot be achieved all at once. There are problems that have to be solved.
I introduced the common term "domain" to help clarify an historical distinction and to help launch the present discussion. At this point we are in a position to see that although we can speak of a domain as an order, and perhaps vice versa, we cannot speak of a domain or order of nature in the unrestricted sense. The reason is emphatically not the Kantian view that nature or the world as a whole cannot be "given in experience," cannot be "objects of possible experience." To begin with, on the basis of such a reason we could argue that nothing as a whole can be an object of possible experience or be given, since we must take into account the indefinite spread of its relations and its potentialities. Actually we are aiming at an affirmative metaphysical conception instead of a conception based on a supposedly necessary structure of knowing and experiencing. Yet even if we approach the matter in epistemological terms, we certainly need not accept Kant’s sense-appearance paradigm of the content of "experience," or what is meant by "given in experience" or "object of experience." And we certainly need not accept Kant’s view of nature as "an aggregate of appearances." We shall have to say, instead, that though nothing at all is present as a "whole" in experience, yet nature is present in every instance of experience and every process of experiencing.
The reason that nature unlimited is not a domain may be put in the following way. A domain is an order, an order of traits. There is no order without delimitation, trait-delimitation. If nature were an order, it would be an order of all orders. But if it is unlimited, not delimited, it cannot be an order at all. For it would have to include every order without being included in any. It would have to locate every order without being located. If it is not ordinally located, it has no integrity. If it has no integrity, it cannot itself be the location of any other order and determine that order’s integrity. An order cannot be defined by another which has no constitution of its own traits. And an order which does not locate and is not located does not constitute and is not constituted. The conclusion, then, must be that if nature is an order it is limited in scope and that if it is unlimited it is not an order. In familiar terms we would say that nature is not analogous to a nature. But of course it is the metaphysical explanation for the unsoundness of the analogy that is important.
A consequence of all this is that a conception merely of nature unrestricted is not enough. It needs to be augmented and clarified. If, as we have seen, it is so formulated that it can both utilize and abandon the concepts of a complex and an order, the idea of unrestrictedness is jeopardized. The way Kant, for instance, identifies the meaning of the terms "world" and "nature" jeopardizes the idea, by our standard. "World," he says, "signifies the mathematical sum-total of all appearances and the totality of their synthesis"; and [t]his same world is entitled nature when it is viewed as a dynamical whole." Actually Kant cannot be speaking of nature in an unrestricted sense as that is here understood, if only because he associates nature intrinsically with a principle of causality, which is itself a restrictive condition. But what is relevant to our problem is the kind of formulation that we find in Kant. "Syntheses" and "wholes" are complexes of traits. They are integrities determined by ordinal location. Thus World and nature as identified by Kant would have to be ordinally located. But their location would mean inclusion in another order. And this contradicts the requirement in terms of which they are identified, namely, being inclusive and not being included.
The position that nature unlimited cannot be an order of all orders will remain puzzling to those for whom the latter idea has an emotional no less than an analytical aspect. They are inclined to think that nature unembraced is nevertheless all-embracing in some sense. The sentiment as such is not only understandable but acceptable -- when we say what sense and say it more satisfactorily. But if it entails bald commitment to a superorder, then the burden falls on its exponents to develop another conception of what an order is or to discriminate two conceptions, one of which is uniquely applicable to nature. Pending that development, there is no good reason to exempt the idea of nature from the criteria of the ordinal conception we have found basic. After all, we are not faced with an impasse or a hopeless paradox. I shall define nature-unlimited otherwise than as an order, even if the result is not conveyed in the form of a conventional package. I think that behind the insistence on an order that is to be uniquely distinguished from all others there are no doubt various convictions mirroring conscious or unconscious models. But whatever models are adopted, the issue of integrity and demarcation must be explained or explained away. An order differentiated only by the all-inclusiveness ascribed to it, and itself without a principle of integrity, is as self-contradictory as an infinitely extended enclosure, a territory without boundaries, a habitation without environment, a definition without limits.
From the viewpoint at which we have arrived thus far, two general observations are pertinent. The first is that there is no longer any need to speak nor any meaning in speaking of "the unity of nature." This idea, which is another of the venerated metaphysical slogans, seems most at home in a restricted view of nature and in particular the historical view defending the universal applicability of scientific law and explanation to all that is measurable in the world. Another and even older version of the unity of nature is the idea of the inherent purpose or purposes of nature, "what nature intended." It too is familiar, morally and metaphysically -- and remarkably obscure in meaning.
The second general observation is that no reason can be assigned for speaking of what Whitehead (among many others) calls "the system of the universe." "The universe" appears to be Whitehead’s term for the most comprehensive order, and "nature," as we saw, is called by him a "portion" of the universe. We will recall also that intimately related to this assumption of a system is his view of "an essence to the universe," an essence allegedly sought by metaphysics. But, once again, the universe, deemed all-inclusive, cannot be itself an order and, therefore, cannot be called a system. A system is differentiable not only from its own subaltern systems but from alternative systems. If it is inclusive of all others, it is left without an integrity and is therefore not a system at all. Hence there is also no meaning in saying that it has an essence.
On the basis of the unrestricted view as stated thus far, science would be said to be concerned not with nature in an unqualified sense but with a given world or worlds -- the physical world, the social world, the psychological world. These worlds are pervasive orders of nature, for we no longer can make sense of "the" order of nature. The diverse problems of science emerge in suborders or levels and, when resolved, provide integrities expressed in formulae. Included among the complexes of these orders are the methods and processes of scientific activity itself. And just as we no longer need struggle to make intelligible "the" order of nature, we no longer need to dignify the so-called rationality of nature. Aside from the metaphysical ineptitude of this particular attribution, the notion as such was framed to fit applied mathematical thinking. A tenable conception of nature recognizes many orders occupied by man among the innumerable orders not occupied by man and many orders devised by man. Among the latter are the orders of query, of which science or inquiry is one and art or contrivance is another, both, of course, indefinitely subdivisible. It is orders of query which yield different possible forms and manifestations of rationality.
We are obliged now to translate the foregoing considerations into terms which convey an idea of nature more directly. If nature is undelimited and therefore to be identified as coextensive with whatever is, we can say that by nature we mean "orders, of whatever variety and number." This is safe from the difficulties mentioned, if not altogether congenial psychologically. Nothing is implied about a totality or whole or collectivity, no embarrassing commitment made to an ultimate integration which lacks an integrity. But needless to say, it is a somewhat clumsy way of expressing an equivalent meaning. In calling it clumsy I do not want to be saying that every adequate metaphysical conception must be rendered in a grammatically facile way. If I had the time, I would argue that philosophic and in particular metaphysical judgment is not always best articulated or even best understood in the form of assertions. Not less fundamental is the force of mutually enhancing ideas which recur in different contexts. These form a conceptual array. The array is what communicates metaphysical query in the firmest sense and preserves a structure over and above specific weaknesses. A structure of metaphysical query has an assertive dimension, but it also is one type of exhibitive judgment. In the exhibitive mode of metaphysical judgment we discriminate traits that are not only comprehensive (at the level chosen) but meant to be satisfying in virtue of that comprehensiveness as portrayed. The degree of satisfactoriness (and I do not mean acceptance) will reflect itself in continuing query compelled by the original portrayal, by the conceptual array. But let us resume the effort to define nature.
Now the term "the World" is what we may well think of as the most highly generalized notion that can serve to express the human sense of encompassment. In a parallel and correlative way, the term "nature" may be thought of as the most highly generalized notion that can serve to express the human sense of characterization and traithood. Elsewhere I have defined the term "the World" partly through the following statements: "By ‘the World’ we must mean: Innumerable natural complexes (each located, each locating) which distributively include any given complex and which have no collective integrity . . . ‘Innumerable’ is intended both in the sense of being indefinitely numerous and in the sense of being not in all respects numerable." In accord with this, and complementary to it, "nature" may be defined as the ordinality of any complex -- any of the innumerable complexes. We define more fully by adding that nature is the complexity of any order -- any of the innumerable orders. And more fully yet by adding that nature is indeed the complexity of any complex, the ordinality of any order; it is the ordinality that limits each complex, the complexity that pluralizes each order.
I can imagine someone questioning whether ordinality is not itself an order, whether complexity is not itself a complex, and whether therefore we do not lapse back into the idea of nature as the superorder. But I have already said that nature can be defined as "orders, of whatever variety and number" and that we are introducing only a more fluent, equivalent version. This leaves no implication of a superorder. In speaking of nature as the ordinality of any order we are affirming distributively that complexes named at random (say, a political community or the order of traits known as an apple) are first and last ordinal, whatever their specific traits may be. But it is not ordinality that includes and locates, it is one or another order. It is not ordinality as such that will provide an integrity. It is not nature that locates but an order of nature. It is not the World that locates but one or more of the innumerable complexes. The integrity of a complex is determined at a given level. A carpenter is defined by the order of activity to which he belongs. The integrity of an hereditary trait is determined by the genetic order in which it is located.
When nature is defined baldly as "orders, of whatever variety and number," too little is suggested of a difference in emphasis between the concepts of nature and the World. The focus is on natura naturata: we are given the crop, but not the seeding, not the productive principle. The definition in terms of ordinality corrects this. Some years ago I defined nature as providingness, the provision of traits. The intent was to abstract from the partly eulogistic common suggestion of purposive or planned accumulation, as well as of agency, and to amplify the suggestion of sheer putting forth or bringing forth, sheer geniture, for better and for worse. 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.
The foregoing conception of nature means that no complex can be regarded as, so to speak, transcendently free-floating, as non-ordinal, as superseding all orders. It means, for example, that what are labeled as fictions, illusions, and contradictions also have an ordinal environment and an integrity or integrities, whether these be verbal or logical or emotional. It means that nothing is "contrary to nature," nothing distinctively "in accordance with nature." But one important way to see what the proposed conception implies is to understand its impact on the concepts of possibility and actuality. In denying "free-floating" status to any natural complex, we are, first, identifying any possibility as a complex and hence a subcomplex; and second, denying that any is a so-called pure possibility, one undetermined, unaffected by conditions both of actuality and related possibility. If ordinality is ubiquitous, then possibilities must be ordinally located. What is possible is possible only under given conditions. The conditions may be broad or narrow, constant and perpetual, or fleeting. They may be temporal or nontemporal, contingent or mathematical. When allegedly pure possibilities are thought of, they are in fact thought of ordinally, but the relevant conditions which are latently implied are unwittingly suppressed or overlooked. If a possibility were wholly independent of all other complexes, we surely could not conceive or envisage it, nor could we describe or formulate it. For whatever we could be talking about would relate to some complex that we bring to bear. It would relate to what we know or envision or can think of. We certainly can think of new possibilities, but not in complete discontinuity and isolation from all else. The complexes which we choose to talk and think about are partly but necessarily determining factors of the way we talk about them. A nonlocated possibility could not be identified. An integrity could not be framed for it. By contrast, to acknowledge that possibilities are traits and have subaltern traits is to acknowledge that each is bounded, limited. Perforce we ask: possibility of what, possibility in what respect, what direction?
The case is precisely the same with actuality. Every actuality is native to an order or orders. A complex is determined ordinally to have the actuality and kind of actuality it has. Some philosophers who would not wish to speak of pure actuality in the way they speak of pure possibility nevertheless think that way and presuppose a notion of what is inherently and distinctively actual. Their model is the spatiotemporal, publicly measurable world, and even then, most often only the individuals of that world. Shakespeare they would consider actual -- actual at one time, at least -- but not the man Hamlet. If they became aware of the ordinal levels and locations that are relevant to the validation of all our judgments and modes of judgment, they might come to say (with the appropriate qualifications) that Shakespeare no longer is actual and that Hamlet still is or that since Shakespeare is indeed actual in an order of history his present efficacy is the efficacy of all the persons and relations he has actualized. It is not unusual to hear that art poses possibilities. It is less readily perceived that art produces actualities and that such actualities can be and have been more influential in the life of man than many actualities of the familiar public historical world. A genuinely ordinal conception of nature recognizes products of art to be orders in the same sense as other products, like technological orders and legal orders. Orders may, of course, interpenetrate one another. Having identified the relevant order, the order we are interested in, we accept what we find. We accept the actualities and possibilities of that order. Gertrude actually is the mother of Hamlet. Ophelia cannot possibly be that.
Hamlet actually sees the ghost of his father. Those who would deny that Shakespeare’s persons actually have eyes would hesitate to deny that Donatello’s angels actually have wings. It must be that a bias toward certain kinds of art goes along with a bias toward certain kinds of actuality.
But we do not have to depart from everyday situations to grasp the ordinality that is nature. The first note of ordinal metaphysics was struck in 1951, when I suggested that a house may fluctuate in its actual size, just as it may fluctuate in its monetary worth. Many philosophers who would agree that when we stand before a house it is the house that we see, not an image or sense-datum or appearance of the house, would balk at the ordinal consequences. As we move away from the house, it becomes smaller. I am not saying, in the manner of certain epistemologies earlier in this century, that the house appears smaller, each appearance being just as much a reality as the house itself. I am saying that if what is called the "house itself" appears smaller, it is because it gets smaller. It is in the order of vision that it gets smaller. That is one of its ordinal locations, as much an ordinal location as its geometrical or financial location. As we move away from the house, it actually occupies a progressively smaller space in the visual order. This can be predicted and measured. The house is the same house, but in a different order. The different order yields a different integrity, another integrity of the same complex. What we should call the "nature" of the house is its network of integrities, its contour of ordinal locations.
There is, finally, a broad danger of ambiguity and confusion that needs to be guarded against. A persistent view of actuality is that it is an order, the order called "the world of actuality" or "the actual world." And there is a corresponding description of possibility as well, often associated with the idea of pure possibility, namely, that there is indeed an order called the realm of possibility. Now, we know that it has been chronically difficult to give a plausible account of how a realm of possibility and a realm of actuality are related or get related. But my main concern here is that this pseudo-ordinal stance not be confounded with an ordinal conception of nature. For all actualities to be massed together in one realm and all possibilities in another is to remove them all from the various orders in which they belong or in which they arise. It is to remove them from their spheres of relevance and thereby to reject if not to destroy the conception of ordinality. Orders may not only prevail but eventuate or cease to prevail. The reason that a special realm of possibility or of actuality must be denied is that every order is a realm of possibility and of actuality. Every order or complex of traits has its traits of possibility and its traits of actuality. Even what we might abstractly call an order of possibilities arising in reflection or confronting social action has its aspects of actuality; for example, there is an actual succession of one possibility by another in the course of thinking or in the course of social occurrences.
In these remarks I have said nothing at all about how possibility may be defined or how actuality may be defined. I have tried only to argue the status of possibilities and actualities as natural complexes. The further explicit definition of these concepts adds support to the ordinal approach in general. But it requires further theoretical apparatus that cannot be adequately introduced here. The same must be said of other concepts I have scarcely mentioned, specifically those which I name prevalence and alescence. These are required for the fullest conception of nature along the lines indicated. They are designed, as a team, to do work which other philosophers may prefer to assign to the concept of Being.
Yet, notwithstanding these omissions, should it be hard to see that every natural complex has its mode of actuality and has possibilities that represent its limits? Or that whatever we produce, whatever we discriminate, whether a technological trend or a unicorn, a teapot or the bush that was not consumed, cannot be dismissed, ruled out, or declared null, but calls for ordinal definition? Should it be hard to see that an order of poetry, like an order of poets, is an order of nature?