1: Introduction [and Summary]
Poverty has, in large cities, very different appearances: it is often concealed in splendor, and often in extravagance |
----Samuel Johnson, Rasselas XXV
Bounded potentialities, determinables as dispositions, powers, and manifestations define the world of objects, properties, attributes, things, whether purely indefinite as potential, or specific as manifestation. There is, however, a correlative aspect to reality that is concerned with patterns, relationships, forms, and dimensions. We imply this distinction, for example, in saying that the potential lines on a sheet of paper are bounded by its two dimensions. Clearly these dimensions themselves are something other than these potentialities. As another example, a variety of dispositions manifested in different views of a table may form patterns sufficiently invariant for us to identify them with the table itself. The pattern is not a particular perspective nor is it a particular disposition, manifestation, or power. I will call such patterns and dimensions latents. These structure our perspectives, potentialities, and actualities.
The term latent has been used in the natural, social, and psychological sciences for decades. Things are said to have latent properties, or we determine their latent observables. Attitudes have a latent structure, as do abilities. Quantum phenomena consist, in part, of latent functions, and in higher algebra we have latent vectors. However, the idea of latency is, in essence, very old wine mixed with some new stock and poured into a modern bottle.
Correlative with the use of latent is the view that reality as it is manifest to us--its immediate actuality--is ephemeral, confused, and incidental. Our sensory awareness of these manifestations is unique and fleeting. Were our engagement with reality of only these fleeting sensations, our minds would be overloaded and confused by this manifest bedlam and chaos, orderly perception would be impossible, and the everyday predictability upon which survival depends would be unattainable.
Fortunately, underlying this churning welter of sensory manifestations are latents--constancies, invariances, patterns, clusters, dimensions--which order these manifold experiences. Four examples will illustrate this distinction. First, consider the particular configuration of perceptibles undergoing continuous change called "dog." Now, there are certain latent dispositions, certain invariances, not reducible to any particular perceptibles, but underlying this manifest cluster and enabling us to identify a dog, regardless of alterations in perceptibles. We may see the dog from the top, bottom, or back; we may hear it whimpering, barking, or growling. Moreover, these changing manifestations may be radically altered by division into two or more configurations, as when a leg is amputated, only one cluster of which we continue to label as a dog. However, if a dog produces a litter, we have many separate configurations of manifestations, each called a dog. Clearly we associate some latents, some sensory invariant pattern of dispositions, with these unique manifestations and intuit them as "dog" whenever perceived.
As a second example, consider the artist painting a mountain landscape. The mountain barrages the artist with innumerable specific details, with manifest interlocking lines, forms, lighting, and hues. Yet, we ignore all but a few manifestations which we will alter to bring this unique mountain more in line with the character of mountains. But this character is no specific manifestation, nor any specific reoccurring manifestation. Rather, that which constitutes mountainness, that which the good artist intuits and is often capable of rendering with a few strokes of his brush, is in some way latent in the ever changing manifestations of mountains.
Third, what about love? Here is something existing in interpersonal behavior and attitudes which defies explicit sensory definition. Love is clearly an underlying bundle of dispositions--a latent--in human relationships, known to perception to be present or absent from a relationship, but yet carried by no specific manifestation.
Love is all in fire, and yet is ever freezing; |
Love is much in winning, yet is more in leesing [sic];
Love is ever sick, and yet is never dying;
Love is ever true, and yet is ever lying;
Love does doat in liking, and is mad in loathing;
Love indeed is anything, yet indeed is nothing.
----Thomas Middleton, Blurt, 11, 21
Finally, give thought to political power, the core concept of politics and international relations. That there is something residing in the manifest relationships between people called political power is indisputable. It manifests itself in limitless ways. We see it in the control of a minister over his aides, the response to a king's commands, the deference shown a dictator's son, the effect of a powerful nation on its weaker neighbor, the influence of the wealthy on political policy. Yet, while we know that such power exists--that our knowledge of political behavior would be impoverished without it--attempts to identify the specific manifestations of such power (such as through military might, population, and national income for nations) have never seemed adequate. We know political power when we experience it, we intuit it, but we cannot tell someone else what to look for in general to observe it. Political power is a latent property--a cluster of dispositions and associated powers--of interpersonal and intergroup relationships.
Aristotle2 differed from Plato in arguing that forms do not exist apart from things. Rather, forms determine from within a thing's characteristics, as a sculptor gives form to substance in making a bust. In dwelling form plus substance equals matter. Our conceptions of things, however, our universal ideas such as horse, white, or house are forms abstracted from matter by the mind. In contrast to Plato, for Aristotle these ideas exist alone as universals in the mind.
Kant gave form a more psychologically active role than either Plato or Aristotle.3 Form is not an external something that things copy, nor that which produces from within a thing. Rather, forms are the mind's a priori organization of our sensory experience. Such forms as space, time, cause, and effect are presupposed in our experience and make that experience intelligible. Without forms, there could be no understanding.
Finally, the phenomenology of Husserl4 has been especially concerned about the essence of things, that without which a thing would not be what it is. Essences are phenomena that are the necessary and invariant aspects of things. They are not empirical manifestations and therefore not abstractions (as forms were for Aristotle) but are intuited from experience with a particular thing. One can come to know essence by bracketing (or suspending the belief in) the existence of a thing and by phenomenological reduction. This involves varying counterexamples and imagining whether a thing would still be itself without certain aspects. Would a human be a human without arms and legs? Without eyes or nose? Without the ability to judge?
The brief discussion of forms and phenomenology hardly touches upon the extent to which some kind of latent versus manifest distinction enters into philosophical thought; however, what has been presented should provide some feeling for the idea and of the fact that henceforth in making this distinction basic to further discussion, I am playing a very old game.
- The bounded, indefinite realm of possibilities capable of transformation into a determinable actuality of dispositions and powers; potentiality is opposed to actuality as what may be is opposed to what, is.
- An actual tendency or inclination to become manifest, exemplified by words ending in able such as lovable, perishable, readable, reliable.
- An actual, indistinct (blurred, hazy, fuzzy) object capable of becoming a manifestation.
- The actual, active ability or capacity to produce some manifestation.
- An actual, determinate (specific, precise, explicit) datum, event, object, or property.
- A hidden, concealed, or underlying pattern, cluster, or configuration of potentials, dispositions, determinables, or powers; latent is to manifest, as potential is to actual.
It might help to nail down these distinctions by illustrating them as in Figure 9.1. The plane of reality shown by the double line runs from pure indefiniteness at the left to manifestations at the right. This reality is divisible into two kinds of opposites: potentiality versus actuality, with no distinct boundary between them; and latents versus manifestations. As shown, latents may thus be bundles of potentialities or hidden patterns in actuality. Latents may be concealed patterns of dispositions of powers. In any event, latents underlie manifestations as potentials, dispositions, determinables, and powers, and are not the manifestations themselves.
As part of the perceptual process, we also invest perceptibles with latent meaning, value, and reality. As part of our perspective, we give our sensations context, pattern, order, and dimension. We transform the multitude of separate vectors of power bearing upon us into an integrated dynamic balance that gives each perceptible an active role in a larger play. Thus, perceptibles conveying two people in physical contact become the percept of a white policeman manhandling a defenseless black on Sunday, and conceptually invoke the concept of black suppression (a latent); perceptibles carrying the image of a shiny object become the percept of a beer can floating on water and the concept of pollution (a latent); perceptibles reflecting a moving expanse of black, white, and pink become the percept of a child's smiling face framed in black hair and the concept of happiness (a latent).
In emphasizing that latents are the patterns underlying manifestations, I should make it clear that these patterns can be of different kinds. They may be of a cultural meaning, such as the latent father, underlying many different manifest behaviors; the latent nation, underlying a diverse configuration of manifest activities, values, and norms; and the latent status, underlying many manifestations associated with wealth, power, and prestige. These invariant meanings provide a unity to phenomena and make intelligible otherwise widely separate activities, as does another kind of pattern, that of latent properties underlying manifestations. This kind of latent is close to what Aristotle meant by form: the essential characteristic without which a thing would not be. These latent properties define the essence that remains constant regardless of a thing's sensory changes. Hence, they define the universals such as dog, cat, women, iron, or water, of which manifestations are particular examples. These kinds of latents define the invariant dispositional properties enabling prediction and control of the external environment. Finally, there are the latents that underlie manifestations as relationships of power, as cause to effect, condition to occurrence, or dependent variable to independent variable. Gravity is a latent power underlying the falling of material objects; magnetism the latent power underlying the alignment of iron filings around a magnet; the drive for national security, a latent power underlying the balance of power system; and disrupted expectations, a latent power underlying social conflict.
In sum, then, simultaneously underlying any manifestation, we can have latents which are meanings-values, invariant dispositions, or relations of power (cause, condition, or dependency). It is these latents that give pattern, organization, unity to perceptibles, either separately or in combination, and reduce the haze of reality. It is a knowledge of these latents that enables us to live in a perceptually, cognitively, and behaviorally orderly world.
* Scanned from Chapter 9 in R.J. Rummel, The Dynamic Psychological Field, 1975. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.
1. See especially Phaedo and The Republic. Plato summarizes and criticizes his theory of forms in his dialogue Parmenides.
2. Prior and Posterior Analytics, and Metaphysics.
3. Critique of Pure Reason.
4. The Phenomenology of Husserl, ed. R. 0. Elveton (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970).