Reduction (and Pseudo-Reduction)



The English word ‘reduction’ is etymologically rooted in the Latin ‘reductiō’. ‘Reductiō’ is a compound word and consists of the noun ‘ductiō’ and the prefix ‘re’. ‘Ductiō’ denotes an act or means of conveying or pulling,1 and ‘re’ denotes among other things a movement back, a withdrawal or a repetition of that to which this prefix is related.2 Thus does ‘reductiō’ refer to an act of taking or bringing back.3 This is a meaning which is still unsullied present in the ordinary meaning of the English ‘reduction’.4

Now an event where something is brought back implies the existence of a primary given from which a secondary given has deviated, but which in a reduction is brought back to where it departed from. So the concept of reduction contains the thought of a primal given and a secondary given which relate to each other. The primary relates to the secondary in the way of being primary, and the secondary relates to the primary in the way of being secondary. The primary is even so primary and the secondary is even so secondary that the latter can be fully reduced to the first. The secondary given has no existence or ontological value in itself. It thanks its being fully to the primary given, which within itself is full of being. Thus it can be stated that reduction deals with reality and appearance. Reduction explicates reality and appearance. It makes the statement that the one is real and that the other is only apparent. And by explicating both as such, appearance becomes known as appearance and reality becomes known as reality. When a reality and an appearance are given without any explication of the nature of the two they will stay undistinguished. After all; appearance does appear to be real, even when it is not. So reduction may be formulated as; ‘the explication of reality as reality and appearance as appearance’. This formulation should not be taken as exclusive, because other formulations may be found also. However taking in account the line of contemplation that has been followed so far, the present formulation can be seen as giving a pithy clarification on the nature of reduction.


‘Reduction explicates reality as reality and appearance as appearance’. This is a formulation with two self-relational expressions. ‘Reality as reality’ and ‘appearance as appearance’ are self-relational. Basically there can be distinguished between non-relational, relational and self-relational expressions. ‘Reality’ is a non-relational expression because in its explication it obviously does not relate to anything. ‘Apparent reality’ or ‘reality as appearance’ is a relational expression. Reality is here related to an appearance. ‘Reality as reality’ is a self-relational expression. Here reality is related to itself. Self-relational expressions have the advantage over non-relational expressions that they, within their explication, exclude other relations. A non-relational expression like ‘reality’ leaves it implicit if this reality concerns a reality as reality or a reality as appearance. And a self-relational expression like ‘reality as reality’ excludes the possibility that the regarded reality concerns a reality as appearance. So this is what reduction basically does with regards to reality and appearance. It explicates reality as reality and appearance as appearance. Reduction excludes reality as appearance and appearance as reality. If such an exclusion does not take place, if reduction does not take place, reality and appearance will stay undistinguished. Then appearance may be taken as reality and reality as appearance.

Reality and Appearance

Here it will be appropriate to give a short elucidation on the distinction between reality and appearance. That this elucidation cannot be extensive must be obvious, given the vastness of the subject.

The English word ‘reality’ is obviously related to the word ‘real’ and can be traced back to the Latin word ‘rēs’.5 ‘Rēs’ in Latin has many meanings in different contexts. Some of the, for this contemplation, more important meanings are ‘fact’, ‘that which actually exists or occurs’ and ‘thing’.6 Let us proceed from the last meaning. That which is most essential about any thing is that it has being. When a thing, purely hypothetically, would not have any being, then it would be nothing and with that no thing. So reality is inextricably entwined with being. Only that which is, is real.

The English word ‘appearance’ can be traced back to the Latin noun ‘appāreō’ (just as ‘appear’ can be traced back to the verb ‘appārēre’).7 ‘Appāreō’ is a compound word, consisting of the prefix ‘ad’ and the word ‘pāreō’.8 ‘Ad’ as a prefix is often used to denote a movement (towards oneself), an anticipation or an intensification.9 Often such meanings are also combined in the use of this prefix. ‘Pāreō’ carries meanings related to obedience, compliance and visibility.10 This Latin word is probably rooted in the Greek word ‘peparein’, meaning ‘display’ and ‘manifest’.11 Thus the term ‘appearance’ is carrying meanings that pertain to an anticipation by means of an obedience and compliance to the visible, the displayed and the manifest that comes to oneself. A shorter formulation may be; ‘appearance is compliance to the manifest’.

So we found a short formulation of appearance. But what does it mean to be compliant to the manifest? ‘Manifest’ is rooted in the compound Latin word ‘manifestus’, which consists of the words ‘manus’ (meaning ‘hand’) and ‘festus’ (meaning ‘gripped’).12 So that which is manifest can be gripped or grasped. Now gripping or grasping does not only take place by the hand. Besides by means of the sense of touch the manifest may also be grasped by the other senses, such as tasting, smelling, hearing and seeing. It is not for nothing that the meaning of visibility is also present in ‘pāreō’ (and thus in ‘appearance’). So the manifest may be grasped by either one of the senses. But the manifest is not exclusively grasped by the senses. It may also be grasped by the mind. By means of reasoning for instance one may also come to grasp a certain subject. And also in grasping a subject with the mind becomes this subject manifest to the one who grasps. So with appearance being formulated as ‘compliance to the manifest’, it may also be formulated as ‘compliance to the graspable’, or ‘compliance to what is grasped’.

Now with reality and appearance being separately etymologically contemplated it is possible to explicate their difference. For this we may start out by having a look at the term ‘compliance’. ‘Compliance’ stems from the Latin ‘complēre’, meaning ‘to fill up’.13 Thus in appearance one is filled up with that which is grasped. But only what is, can fill up. What has no being leaves a vacuum, but what fills up the vacuum necessarily has being. Thus when one complies to the grasped of which one is filled up, one complies to the grasped as having being. In appearance that which appears is taken as having being, and thus that which appears is taken as reality. This is different from reality itself. Reality is independent from any compliance, whereas appearance is fully dependent on compliance. Reality is being itself, and appearance is the taking of something grasped as being. For now these few words on reality and appearance shall suffice.

Mediums and Agents

Reduction explicates reality as reality and appearance as appearance. It concerns a process in which appearance is reduced to reality. With this is reduction a kind of relation. And it is that kind of relation in which reality and appearance relate to each other. In reduction does reality relate to appearance by means of reducing it to itself, and does appearance relate to reality by means of being reduced to the latter. So primarily is reduction a relation. Now any relation between two givens implies the presence of a medium. The lack of a medium between two givens would leave these two either fully isolated of each other or would leave them as being identical, thus not being two. However since reality and appearance are not identical but two, and since they do relate to each other, a medium between the two is implied. Reduction implies a medium reducing appearance to reality. For instance a forest may be reduced to ashes by fire. A snowman may be reduced to a puddle of water by the sun. Now it may be presumed that fire and the sun do not have deliberate intentions in their mediating work of reduction. Fire is not out to reduce trees to ashes, it simply burns and in the burning the forest turns into ashes. The sun is not out to reduce the snowman to a puddle of water, it simply shines and in the shining the snowman turns into a puddle of water. Some mediums of reduction however do intentionally reduce. In such cases the medium may be indicated by the term ‘agent’. ‘Medium’ brought back to the word ‘mid’ originates from the Indo-Germanic ‘medhyo’, simply meaning ‘middle’.14 ‘Agent’ however may be traced back to the Greek ‘agein’,15 or ‘age’, meaning ‘drive’, ‘move’ and ‘lead’.16 Thus an agent can be considered as a teleological medium. An agent in reduction intentionally and deliberately leads the movement (back) from appearance to reality. Humans may be such agents.


The agent in reduction intentionally and deliberate leads the movement (back) from appearance to reality. This thought may also be expressed by saying that the agent performs this act by choice. A medium of reduction reduces by nature and an agent of reduction reduces by choice. This given of choice brings about a whole new dimension in the entire idea of reduction. Thus a short exploration of the concept of choice will be in place here. ‘Choice’ itself as an English word is probably eventually rooted in the Germanic ‘kaus’ or ‘keus’.17 Denoting the very same thing this etymology does not bring us much further. So let us proceed from the words with which we associated choice in this contemplation, namely ‘deliberation’ and ‘intentionality’. ‘Deliberation’ is rooted in the Latin ‘dēlīberāre’ which in turn is derived from the Latin ‘lībra’.18 Now ‘lībra’ means ‘scales’,19 and ‘dēlīberāre’ then carries the meaning of weighing pros and cons.20 ‘Intentionally’ is derived from the verb ‘intend’, which is rooted in the Latin ‘intendere’.21 This is a compound verb consisting of the prefix ‘in’, meaning ‘towards’, and the word ‘tendere’, meaning ‘stretch’. So when one has an intention one stretches oneself towards something. Many more words are connected with the concept of choice, but for the present contemplation this short exploration will suffice. And on base of that, choice can be considered as a weighed stretch towards something.

This stretching towards some thing means that one does not stretch towards all the other things to which one could have stretched as well. Choice is thus a selection. In it one thing is selected and at the same time all other things are excluded. But choice is not just any random selection; it is a well weighed selection. In a choice all the things towards which one is able to stretch are weighed. Now weighing takes place on a scale. And the nature of the scale is crucial to the outcome of the weighing. If the scale is not correctly calibrated a false outcome of the weighing will be the result. An unbalanced scale may weigh an iron coin as being heavier than a golden coin of the same size, while in reality gold is heavier than iron.

The above thoughts are of importance for our present contemplation on reduction. Reduction explicates reality as reality and appearance as appearance. It is the movement from appearance (back) to reality. This explication and movement takes place by a medium. And if it is undertaken intentionally and deliberately, if it is undertaken by choice, then this medium is an agent. Choice can be considered to be a weighed stretch towards something. So an agent in the act of reducing stretches towards what is weighed by him as reality. However in such an act it is obviously necessary that the used scale is calibrated correctly. If the scale is not well calibrated the agent may weigh appearance as reality and reality as appearance. The agent then stretches towards the appearance which he has falsely weighed as reality. Then the use of the term ‘reduction’ may be considered to be improper. Such an act may appear to be reduction, but in reality it is not. It is more of an induction than a reduction, even though it is taken as the latter. For such an act the word ‘pseudo-reduction’ is more in place. Pseudo-reduction is a falsely weighed reduction. Pseudo-reduction is an induction which appears to be a reduction.

The Human Scale

An agent in the act of reducing stretches towards that which is weighed by him as reality, and in such an act it is necessary that the concerned scale is calibrated correctly. Now an excellent example of such an agent is a human. What is considered to be characteristic for a human is that he has the ability to choose. Humans have the ability to weigh and to stretch towards some thing, excluding all other things. Where reduction by choice is concerned, humans are the reducing agents par excellence. Thus it is of worth for the present contemplation to shortly explore the human scale on which the weighing takes place.

So what is it that characterizes the human scale? To ask this question is basically to ask what characterizes the ground on which humans make their choice. And the ground on which a choice is made may be considered the level or realm on which the scale is calibrated. For in human being diverse levels of such calibration may be distinguished.

As the first of these levels instinct may be mentioned. Instinct is what humans have in common with animals. At this level no real choice takes place. Instinct is more of a natural response to sense perception. Basically it takes everything that appears to be real. A ball of yarn may trigger the cat’s instinct to play with it as if it were a mouse, and an innocent scarecrow may scare crows away as if they were under real thread. There is an appearance, and at the perception of the appearance immediately an instinctual response follows as if the appearance were real. It is clear that when the human scale is calibrated on the level of instinct a true reduction will not likely be the result. For instinct may take any appearance for reality. Such instinctual reactions are part of human being, but it is obvious that they are not the whole of human being. Otherwise human being would not be different from animalistic being.

So there are more levels than just the instinctual level in human being, and as a next level on which the human scale may be calibrated emotion may be mentioned. Where at the level of instinct no real discrimination is made between appearance and reality, there does a clear distinction take place at the level of emotion. However the distinction that emotion makes seems to be a rather random distinction. Any appearance may be taken for the one and only reality when emotions are involved. A person who is inflamed with anger and rage may see an innocent fellow being as the devil and as his greatest enemy. A deeply depressed person may see in spoiled milk a huge personal drama. When a person is inflicted with such emotions it is futile trying to bring him to reason. That one appearance, be it real or unreal, has become his sole reality. And all other things, be they unreal or real, have fallen away in full oblivion. Thus when primarily calibrated on the emotional level of the human scale chances are also low that a true reduction shall take place.

As the third level on which the human scale may be calibrated the rational level may be mentioned. The choice which is made on base of the ratio takes reality less randomly than the choice which is made on base of emotion. At the level of the ratio a much more true weighing takes place. And what the ratio weighs are the separate elements that are at its disposal, which are the elements that appear to it. The rational human weighs the elements that appear to him, and on base of that does he come to a distinction between reality and appearance. One problem of this type of weighing is that the number of elements that are at disposal of the ratio are limited. It is never possible for the ratio to take all the relevant elements in account. Another problem, which is related to the first mentioned problem, is that the ratio takes the elements separately. It does not take the elements in their interconnected whole. Thus a choice made on base of the ratio will always have its flaws, and the chance that an appearance is taken as reality is very well present.

The last level that will be mentioned here is the level of intuition. This is probably the most controversial level. That a human being is endowed with instinct, emotion and ratio will not find much opposition. However that there is also an intuition to which a human can appeal will probably not be univocally accepted. This controversy however cannot be decided upon in this contemplation. So when continuing with a general description we shall keep the controversy in mind without explicitly deciding upon it. Now intuition is commonly related to a metaphysical and holistic realm. This realm may be considered as the realm of reality. For the metaphysical is beyond the physical. The physical is always made up of particulars, and thus the metaphysical which is beyond that particularity must also be holistic. And because the particularities of the physical regard appearances, the metaphysical must also be beyond appearances. Thus being beyond the particular physical appearances the metaphysical is also the holistic and also the real. And to this realm the human faculty of intuition is commonly related. Considering this it will seem obvious that when a weighing takes place at the level of intuition a direct and true judgment of what is real and what is appearance must result. This contrary to weighings which take place at the levels of instinct, emotion and ratio. When calibrated on instinct, emotion and ratio the weighed stretch is in danger of stretching towards appearance. Only when the human scale is calibrated on intuition can one be sure to stretch towards reality.

Now since among humans there is a controversy about the possibility of intuitional knowledge it must be clear that a being centered at an innate intuition is not an obvious thing for a human. In contrary. Most of us will probably be centered at the instinctual, emotional and rational levels. At which of these levels we are predominantly centered will depend on our personal constitution. However the conclusion that most humans are not centered at an intuitional level is an important one. Because this means that most of the weighed stretches that are made by humans are very likely to be stretches towards appearance instead of stretches towards reality. Reductions undertaken by humans should then be considered as being very likely pseudo-reductions. Thus the message is not to take all reductions to be true reductions. Many of them will be pseudo-reductions. It is with this thought that we shall leave this contemplation.

  1. Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, London, 1968, p. 577.
  2. Ibidem, p. 1578.
  3. Ibidem, p. 1592.
  4. Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0), Oxford University Press, 2009, under ‘reduction’.
  5. John Ayto, Word Origins, The Hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z, A & C Black, London, 2005, p. 414.
  6. Oxford Latin Dictionary, p. 1625.
  7. Word Origins, p. 30.
  8. Oxford Latin Dictionary, p. 149.
  9. Ibidem, p. 34-35.
  10. Ibidem, p. 1296.
  11. Henry George Liddell, and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996, p. 1363.
  12. Word Origins, p. 322.
  13. Ibidem, p. 124.
  14. Oxford English Dictionary, under ‘medium, n. and a.’ and ‘mid, a., n.1, and adv.’.
  15. Word Origins, p. 12.
  16. G.W.H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Oxford University Press, London, 1961, p. 25.
  17. Word Origins, p. 108-109.
  18. Ibidem, p. 156, under ‘deliver’.
  19. Oxford Latin Dictionary, p. 1026.
  20. Ibidem, p. 508, under ‘dēlīberō’.
  21. Word Origins, p. 290.
  • John Ayto, Word Origins, The Hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z, A & C Black, London, 2005.
  • G.W.H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Oxford University Press, London, 1961.
  • Henry George Liddell, and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996.
  • Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0), Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Oxford Latin Dictionary, Oxford University Press, London, 1968.