25 Feb 2019

Dupréel (CBS) La consistance et la probabilité constructive, collected brief summaries


by Corry Shores


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[The following collects the brief summaries for this text. Bracketed commentary is my own, as is any boldface. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos. And please consult the original text to be sure about the contents (see bibliography below).]




Collected brief summaries for


Eugène Dupréel


La consistance et la probabilité constructive

Part 1

“La consistance”





Les contraires



[Contraries in the PreSocratics]


[Philosophy as Still Depending on Contraries]


[The Seeming Inevitability of Parmenides’ Contrary, Being and Non-Being]


[Finding a Substitute Concept]


[The Practicality of Contraries]


[Dichotomy and Deliberation]


[Conceptuality and Contrariety]


[Philosophy as Wrong to Rely So Fundamentally on Oppositional Contraries]


[Consistency vs. Contrarity]


(1.1.1) The Pre-Socratic philosophers endowed their thinking with contraries, like the hot and the cold, movement and rest, the continuous and the discontinuous, the even and the odd, the good and the bad, and being and non-being. (1.1.2) The natural sciences moved beyond these contraries by dealing more with degrees of variation, and the biological sciences by means of systematic classifications. However, philosophy, especially metaphysics and ethics, to this very day still holds on to universal contraries that it ultimately grounds all its positions in, which amount primarily to the following: one-many, good-bad, subject-object, and above all, Being–Non-Being. (1.1.3) Even when philosophy hopes to escape Parmenides’ fundamental contrary of Being and Non-Being, it still becomes central in philosophy’s attempts to {1} arrive at the real behind appearances, to {2} arrive at the thing in itself underneath our practical engagements with the thing, and to {3} touch the absolute, fundamental value underlying all practical, illusory, or conventional values. (1.1.4) Philosophy should find a better conception to substitute for this contrary of Being and Not-Being. (1.1.5) Such radical oppositions found in philosophical contraries are not entirely useless; for, we often make sharp dichotomous distinctions when needing to make practical decisions. For example, when buying a car, we must make a strong distinction between the one chosen and the others we did not select. (1.1.6) So in order to act deliberately in an effective way, we need to impose on given data the form of a system of two contraries (1.1.7) Oppositional contraries are conceptually inevitable for two reasons. Anything that we might assert or affirm can be opposed contrarily by its negation. And many concepts have built-in implicationally their opposites. For example, to the fullness of matter is opposed the void, whose very definition is based on its opposite, namely, it is the absence of fullness. (1.1.8) But despite the practical usefulness of oppositional contraries, philosophy still should not use them in metaphysics under the faulty assumption that they express the fundamental nature of things or as being needed to comprehend that nature in order to effectively choose appropriate actions. (1.1.9) Instead of philosophy using oppositional contraries, foremost of which being Being and Non-Being, we substitute a notion more capable of dealing with diversity and relativity, namely, consistency.





Les consistance des êtres



[Sensible Beings and Other Beings]


[Consistency as the Maintenance of Identity Throughout Variations Resulting from Interactions]


[The Thing’s Constitution as Excluding Anything Not Involved with Its Consistency]


[The Non-Isolation of Things. Their Developing Immunities Through Modificatory Interactions]


[Changes in the Things]


[The Increase and Decrease of the Thing’s Degree of Consistency on Account of Interactions]


[Assessing the Causes of the Variations in Consistency]


[Relative Consistency Illustrated: The Oar Bent Underwater]


[Subjectivity, Objectivity, and Consistency]


[Knowledge as Information About Consistency and About Its Factors of Variability]


[Being as Multiple, Reciprocally Consistency-Modifying Encountering]


(1.2.1) We will first think about sensible beings in space and time, and then we will turn next to an examination of all things that, although being neither spatial nor temporal, can nonetheless still be considered as beings of some sort. (1.2.2) The consistency of a being is its capacity to maintain its identity throughout the variations that result from its relations with other beings. All beings possess some degree of consistency. (1.2.3) A unified object cannot be oppositionally divided against itself; for, then it is no longer a unified, self-same object but is rather a pairing of separate things. This means that everything in a thing’s constitution must somehow be part of its consistency. It therefore cannot be something that would have preexisted its consistency; for, suppose there was such a part that existed in the thing before it had consistency. That means the thing would not have been able to endure and thus that element would not have endured as part of that thing. Also, a thing can have nothing in its constitution that is foreign to its consistency. For, any such component would have to have its own consistency and thus its own separate identity and therefore be a haphazard companion to the thing rather than an actual component of it. (1.2.4) We should not regard a thing as being isolated from everything that lies outside it. For, the thing has undergone numerous alterations that rather than having destroyed it instead have contributed to its capacity to resist other potential variations. (1.2.5) These “vicissitudes” or “alterations” result from the influence of the other beings that it happens to encounter in the universal torrent of accidents, causing alterations from prior states no matter how small. (1.2.6) Another fundamental property of a thing, in addition to it having consistency, is that its consistency itself varies in degree within certain limits. All encounters with other beings will cause some variation of degree in its consistency, increasing or diminishing it. (1.2.7) A body comes to know and evaluate its own consistency, and it tries to more or less know (often through guesswork) what it is that is causing its consistency to vary, in order to better grasp its possible or probable challenges. (1.2.8) Our common sense is right that consistency is the mark of a being, but it misleads us into thinking that to be a real being this consistency must be absolute. Rather, whenever common sense would have us regard something as a “real” being as absolutely distinct from its appearances is really a matter of noticing that there are conditions under which the thing is more consistent compared to other conditions when it is under greater variance. For example, we are rowing a boat, and when the oar is out of water it looks straight and when it is in the water it looks bent. We come to regard the oar as straight as the “real” oar and the oar as bent as the “false appearance” of the oar. But in fact, even the oar as straight varies somewhat depending on the observer’s perspective. It is just that out of the water it has a greater degree of consistency than when going into the water. (1.2.9) The subject-object distinction is also really a matter of relative difference between more and less consistent. Even the subject herself undergoes great variation. (1.2.10) Knowing things is a matter of having information about their degrees of consistency and of the factors that vary this degree. (1.2.11) So we should not begin by observing things under a mode that considers them somehow in their self-isolation, frozen at some specific time and place. Rather, we should use a mode of observation that sees primarily the indefinite multiplicity of intermixing and interacting beings that reciprocally alter one another through their encounters and combinations. What is most primary here are the multiple and unannounced encounters that combine the variable consistencies themselves, which constitute the interacting beings.





La similitude



[Studying the Role of Similarity and Difference in Beings’ Vicissitudes]


[Similarity and Increased Consistency]


[The Results of Common Influence on Similars]


[The Increased Interactivity of Individuals in a Consistent Grouping]


[Internal Elementary Antagonisms from External Influences and Their Dissipation through Consistency]


(1.3.1) Beings’ vicissitudes can be analogously affected by shared influences, like wind blowing all the different things on a plain. We notice here that beings with analogous vicissitudes have features in common but also distinct ones too. We wonder, do differences in their fates result from differences in their features? To perform our analysis on this matter, we will begin with beings that share more common traits than differences, and we call such beings: similars. (1.3.2) When a variety of things are haphazardly mixed together, that mass can be easily disassembled by one common influence, like wind blowing on a mass of sand, gravel, and large stones. The sand will blow far away but in the same direction and probably all deposit in the same place, while the gravel will move only slightly and the large stones not at all. There groupings were sorted on account of shared powers of affection (of affecting and being affected), and elements with different powers were filtered out from one another. So while they were still their haphazard mixture (sand-gravel-stones), they had little consistency, because their various powers of affection made it such that the identity of the mass was easily disrupted. But after that sorting influence, the parts held together more readily, because they were not contaminated by other elements that would split-off from the group and thereby break the collection apart when a common influence affects the whole conglomerate. (1.3.3) We can thus observe the following. Outside influences affecting a plurality of similars probably result in {1} the similarity of the similars maintaining throughout the affective influences, and {2} the elements coming closer together on account of the separation of the different things and the increase of the consistency of the collective being that constitutes their whole, or otherwise to give rise to this collective being on account of their increased capacity to conserve under the altering factors. (1.3.4) We turn now to the effects on the interrelations between members of a sorted group of similars. External influences will cause the individuals of the group to interact more with each other. And as the group becomes more consistent, the relations between the individuals become more intimate and constant, and exterior influences tend to translate into a proliferation of mutual relations. (1.3.5) Exterior influences transfer collisional energy internally to the members, which disruptively collide into one another, now continually transferring that once external energy among each other internally as they jostle each other about. Thus the internal effect of external influences on collections is an elementary antagonism among the collection’s members. (In collections with a low degree of consistency, like the stones-gravel-sand collection being struck by wind, the members affect one another differently, causing the collection to eventually break apart. But) in collections with high degrees of consistency, like the sorted sand collection, the members affect each other similarly, and for that reason their movements come to mutually accommodate one another. Thereby, the elementary antagonism in collections with high degrees of similarity and consistency gradually decreases and eventually dissipates often without breaking the collection apart. (1.3.6) The exterior influences imposed upon collections of similars thus tend to bring about an increase in the individuals’ compatibilities, and their mutual accommodations will make them more immune to disruptive external and internal influences. This increased compatibility of the elements is a main factor in what allows the collection to endure and maintain consistency. Consider for example stones that have fallen from a seaside cliff. At first they were jagged and malformed. But by being  constantly “tumbled” around by the tides, they take on a rounded form that, on account of its increased hydrodynamic shape, is less influenced by the water currents.








[The Amalgamation of Agglomerations of Similars]


[Beings Whose Whole Increases in Consistency While the Parts Do Too, Despite Increasing Heterogeneity]


[Living Beings as Heterogeneously Consistent Wholes]



(1.4.1) As similars come more to group and mutually accommodate to one another, they may advance to becoming a single “solid” where the consistency of the parts gives way to the consistency of the whole agglomerated unit. (1.4.2) Many groupings continue this process toward solidification where the parts fuse and thereby lose their individuality and thus their consistency all while the whole they form, which is solidifying, increases its consistency. But while many of the things around us follow this path of development, there are other things which follow a different developmental trajectory. In their case, the whole they form increases in consistency as the parts mutually affect one another, but the parts in that process likewise increase in consistency, as they increase their individuality and ability to maintain their identity. But even though there is an increase of consistency both on the level of the whole and on the level of the parts, the process of consistency-increase itself may not be a concordant one (as the parts are still further individualizing even as the whole they form increases its consistency.) (1.4.3) Living creatures like plants and animals are the sorts of beings whose parts may increase in heterogeneity and individuality, and thus in their own consistency, all while the whole benefits from this and increases in its consistency too. It is also possible in such advanced beings that the parts will resist the whole’s totalizing tendencies, which can place restrictions on the liberties and consistencies of the parts; these acts of resistance thereby place caps on the grouping’s ability to increase the consistency of the whole.





Hiérarchie des êtres selon la consistance



[Inter-Affectivity as Type-Limited]


[The Three Types of Beings: Sensible Things, Notions, and Values]

(1.5.1) Regarding the fate of something, we must remember that a thing can only influence and be influenced by things of the same sort. So sensible, material things can only touch and be touched by other spatial objects. The same goes for abstract entities. Numbers can only interrelate with other numbers, pure ideas with other pure ideas, propositions with other propositions, and judgments with other judgments. (1.5.2) There are three main types of beings: {1} sensible or perceptible beings (which are also spatial and material), {2} notions, which are those things that depend on a subject to know or express them, like sensations, feelings, thoughts, reveries, and so on, and {3} values, which are dynamic beings, because they lead one to commit deliberative actions.





Hiérarchie des êtres spatio-temporels





[Inconsistent (Not Very Self-Holding) Spatio-Temporal Beings]


[Living Beings at the Highest Level of Consistency]


[Humans and Non-Human Animals as Obvious Cases for Consistency-Building Self-Repair]


[The Importance of Consistent,  Heterogeneous Groupings]


(1.6.1) At the middle stage of consistency of spatio-temporal objects is the solid stage. Solids are things that are directly perceivable and that are capable of enduring for some time all while undergoing slow degradations, for example: stones, tools, jewels, and even whole planets. (1.6.2) At the lower stage of consistency of spatio-temporal beings are inconsistent objects. They are inconsistent in that they lack consistency in Dupréel’s sense of being self-holding and independent (and not in the sense of having contradictory properties). Inconsistent objects have properties that vary in relation to the consistencies of other objects they relate to physically. For example, the shape that liquids and gasses take on is determined by the shapes of the more solid objects that contain them. (1.6.3) The highest beings are those that not only can resist and endure detrimental external influences but as well are able to repair themselves after undergoing such alterations, with the outcome of that self-repair often increasing their consistency to a higher degree than before the attack. Examples of the highest kind of beings (those with the greatest consistency) are living beings, with thinking beings as the highest among them. (1.6.4) While this consistency-building repair process may happen for simple solids, it would not be something we could easily observe; however, it is very easy for us to see it in humans and non-human animals. (1.6.5) When we examine and discuss the degrees of consistency of beings, we must give special attention to collective beings in general, which include assemblages of differents and also mixtures of similars and differents. Too often such collective beings or groups – especially with regard to how they can be distinguished from the mere sums of their parts – are ignored and neglected.





Hiérarchie des notions



[The Two Types of Notions: Sensible and Intelligible/Rational Ideas]


[Perceptual Notions]


[Refinements of Sensible Notions]


[Intelligible Ideas as Having Less Consistency, Given Their Contextual Variances, and as Thus Being Confused Ideas]


[Intelligible Notions as Keeping the Social Fabric but Varying Inconsistently on Account of Individual Needs]


[Arbitrary and Unstable Definitional Fixations for Intelligible Notions]



(1.7.1) We turn now to an examination of degrees of consistency in the second class of beings, namely, notions, which we divide into two categories: {1} sensible ideas, which are based more or less directly on perceptions, and {2} intelligible or rational ideas, which are applied to knowledge and conduct and which include fundamental notions of right, morality, economic relations, aesthetics, philosophy, and science in general. (1.7.2) Perceptual notions are grounded in sensory experience. They are assigned names, and given that we have and use our perceptual faculties in common, we can trust that when we refer to perceptual notions that they will be correctly understood by others. (1.7.3) Sensible notions can always be refined and divided when broadening applications lead one to distinguish species among a genus. (1.7.4) Intelligible or rational ideas are formulated (élaborées) notions, but in fact they have less consistency than perceptual notions; for, they undergo variations of their meanings depending on the context and circumstances under which they are formulated, and thus they can be considered confused ideas. (1.7.5) These intelligible notions, although being confused ideas, still make-up the fabric of human society; for, they include such notions as justice, right, morality, and so forth. Given their important role in keeping society together, we feel the need for our actions to accord with these mutually agreed upon notions. However, whenever we wish to act in a way that does not accord with the conventional meaning of the notion, we will insist on changing its meaning to suit our desired actions. So it is because each individual will insist on a different meaning for a commonly held notion that these notions will inevitably lack consistency. (1.7.6) These social-fabric forming but sense-varying notions can be fixed when particular groups settle upon just one definition for the notion. But that does not assure the continued fixity of that definition, because by the same process other definitions can be assigned instead.





Théorie des idées confuses



[Confused Ideas as the Fundamental Ones]


[Confused Ideas as Being Bound-Up in Discourses]


[The Interests of the Discoursers]


[Contextual Meaning]


[Notion Consistency as Context Independence]


[Sensible Notions as Highly Consistent]


[The Inconsistency of Formulated Notions]


[The Cartesian Understanding of Confused Ideas]


[Certain Important Confused Moral Notions that Cannot be Decomposed into Clear Notions]


[Social Conventions as Real]


[The Obtained Consistency of Confused but Tried-and-True Conventional Social Notions]


[The Non-Coherence of Most Useful Notions]


[Respect for the Truth in Appreciation for Socially-Consistencized Confused Ideas]


[The Need for Variations of Consistency to Build the Affirmation Systems Used in Life]


[The Broader, More Social Rationalism of Accepting the Social Reality and Value of Socially Useful Confused Ideas]


(1.8.1) Confused ideas are not bundles of knotted clear ideas but are instead the fundamental and exemplary type of all ideas regarding the real, meaning all those having to do with space, time, and action. (1.8.2) (Confused ideas should be seen as being bound into discourses whose developments across their series of words are expressive of concepts.) (1.8.3) The words of these discourses that express confused ideas will be crafted in accordance with the claims the speakers wish to make and the conclusions they want to draw. (1.8.4) A notion only obtains its meaning within the discourse expressing it. (1.8.5) Even though notions will vary in meaning depending on context, some will vary less than others despite the diversity of their contextualizations in different discourses. Such notions are less apt to vary on account of any meaning-modificatory influence the other words may exert on them. Such notions are consistent, and inconsistent ones would be those that have different meanings depending on the sentence or discourse they are found in. (1.8.6) The notions of sensible things are highly consistent. (1.8.7) Formulated notions are highly variable. But their meaning can be restricted and made more consistent by giving them a strict definition. Yet, even this strategy can fail, because the words in the definition are also susceptible to inconsistency in meaning. (1.8.8) Confused ideas can be (artificially at least) reduced to a limited set of clear ideas. But this is not the best way to understand them. (1.8.9) There are many important ideas, like those regarding the moral value of a subject’s action, that cannot be decomposed into clear, morally straightforward and universally agreeable ideas. (1.8.10) Some might argue that any idea that cannot be decomposed into pure, straightforward, universally and objectively knowable and agreeable components is not a valid notion and that rather it would be a useful fiction, a mere social convention. But any socially instituted convention, once created and upheld, becomes a real entity at least in the social reality and in the flux of human experience. (1.8.11) There are certain concepts, like merit and responsibility, that on their fundamental conceptual level are not composed of perfectly unadulterated, unambiguous, and unvarying notions. Yet, they can obtain a sort of consistency when many people consistently find throughout a variety of experiences and circumstances that they prove highly valuable as basic moral notions for society. (1.8.12) It is silly to expect the only notions worthy of usage be completely consistent ones. In fact, probably most ideas that find useful application in real life benefit from having a little bit of logical non-coherence. (1.8.13) Although this granting consistency to confused ideas seems to neglect truth itself in favor of useful fictions, in fact it is only out of the utmost respect for the truth that we would conduct such an inquiry into confused and consistent ideas. (1.8.14) Absolute truth would simply be the formal unity of a judgment in general. But in life, we have systems of affirmations about reality that are irreducible to this abstract form. It is rather the variations in consistency of ideas that allow for these affirmations in the first place. (1.8.15) Descartes’ rationalism assumed clear and simple, perfectly consistent ideas. We have seen however that we cannot reduce all knowledge of the real to such clear ideas. That might lead some to think that we are rejecting rationalism. However, we in fact are appealing to a broader sort of rationalism that is more intersubjective and socially aware.












Dupréel, Eugène. (1961). La consistance et la probabilité constructive. (Classe des lettres et des sciences morales et politiques 55, no.2). Brussels: Académie Royale de Belgique.

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