F.H. Bradley’s Regress


This is how Graham Stevens summarizes F.H. Bradley’s regress:


“Bradley’s regress can be put very simply. If aRb is a complex whose constituents are the things a and b and the relation R, how does R succeed in actually relating a and b? R can relate a and b only if it is itself related to them. If it is not related to them, then there is nothing to distinguish the complex entity aRb from the mere aggregate of a, R and b. But if it is related to them, is there something that relates it to them? If there is something that relates it (let us call this hypothetical something ‘Q’, then we now have a new complex Q(R, a, b). But this just leaves us with the question of what relates Q to R, a and b. Thus we launch the regress. Yet, if we conclude from this that no new entity is required to relate R, a and b, the nature of relations is left wholly mysterious – we have no explanation of how relations relate. Bradley’s response to the regress was to conclude that relations are illusory.”



Stevens, G. 2008. Russell and the Unity of the Proposition. Philosophy Compass 3: 491-506.