The Hierarchy of Reflection

The Hierarchy of Reflection

Matter, reflection and substance are the three complementary facets of the same world. However, following the 3U principle of integrity, we can unfold each of the three into a hierarchy of special features, an inner universe. These hierarchies will be the representations of the same, and one can equally develop a consistent philosophy with either approach. Thus, for science, it is important to picture the world as a hierarchy of material forms that could be studied by individual sciences; the mutual dependencies of sciences will then reflect the real organization of that hierarchy. On the other hand, from the very beginning, the human thought has always been trying to comprehend the place of the conscious being in the world, and hence the problems of the origin and development of subjectivity form the core of any philosophy up to now. Since human consciousness is akin to reflection in general, considering the hierarchy of reflection is of primary importance for us to comprehend ourselves. Since the world is unique, speaking of reflection, we always mean the world’s self-reflection, its reflexive connectedness to itself:

One could express it in an inline manner as WW. Already in this immediate reflection, the world reveals the two possible positions: first, it is something to be reflected (the source position), and second, it is something that reflects (the target position). In the graphical scheme, in addition to the linear representation, there is also the idea of circularity, reproduction, the possibility of recursion. The simplest chain of self-reflection, WWW, indicates that the world can also mediate its self-reflection, thus revealing its mediator position, the unity of the source and the target. Still, this basic mediation reproduces the same (unique) world, which can be expressed as WW, with the mediation (→ W →) folded into inner reflection (⇒) , as opposed to the primary, outer reflection.

In inner reflection, the world will reproduce itself through something within it, and this is what we call a thing, in the most general sense. Thus we come to the special form of universal mediation:


with the world reproducing itself through an individual thing. Taking into consideration the cyclic nature of any reflection

... → WTWTWT → ...,

we obtain the complementary form of the same scheme:


with any individual thing reflecting itself through the world as a whole. This fundamental level of individual reflection is referred to as the thing’s existence. In particular, the whole world can be considered as a universal thing, and the existence of the world is thus understood as the unity of inner and outer reflection.

Of course, this outline of a formal derivation omits the details of underlying diathetical logic. Still, for the time being, it is enough to accept that existence is the most general and fundamental level of reflection, which can be attributed to anything in the world, to all kinds of things. Something must exist, to have any specific features and be reflected in other things (including the human mind). Even when we talk about non-existing things they still exist as abstract ideas, that is, a kind of cultural phenomena.

Iteratively unfolding the hierarchy of existence, the world manifests itself as infinity of individual things reflected in each other, and reflecting themselves through each other. Each thing is, in its turn, a hierarchy of other things. The existence of a thing determines its place in the world (or within a higher level thing), and hence the inner organization of the thing reflects the hierarchy of the world, while the outer world (the thing’s environment) is defined as such only in respect to this particular thing, thus reflecting it. Things and their environment exist through each other. However, in general, their mutual reflection is syncretic, remaining mere identity.

The category of existence, referring to a fundamental level of reflection, can be unfolded, in its turn, into a special hierarchy. Thus we come to the triplicate idea of existence as being, motion and development. This is the most general paradigm of human cognition too, since, for every individual formation, we are first interested in what it is, than in how it behaves, and finally, in its origin and destiny. Ontologically, being, motion and development are the universal forms of syncretic reflection. On each level, a thing is compared to itself. Thus, in the aspect of being, the identity of the thing is stressed, its hierarchical organization; in its motion, the same thing presents itself in different positions in respect to its environment (conversion of hierarchies); a developing thing changes, while remaining the same thing all the time, and it is its inner organization and the modes of its motion that vary.

The existence of a thing is always mediated by its environment. The syncretic nature of this mediation makes it essentially random, so that every part of the thing’s environment can equally mediate its existence, and there are no preferable or stable mediations. However, development can (and is bound to) eventually transcend the limits of syncretic reflection producing a new kind of things that reflect the world in a very special way, influencing it in the same limited manner. This makes reflection analytical, selective. On this level, reflection is primarily self-reflection too, but it can only proceed in some favorable conditions providing the necessary outer mediators. This realm of reflective necessity is called life.

Life is a special kind of existence characterized by the distinction and opposition of an organism and its environment. All the laws of non-organic motion and development apply to living beings as well, but, in addition, there are new regularities characteristic of this particular level. Thus, we find that an individual organism is essentially a part of the genus, and its relation to the world is mediated by other creatures of the same, or a different kind. For higher organisms, there is a well-developed hierarchy of such intermediaries. While similar indirect relations may be occasionally found in inanimate nature as random and optional, they constitute the basis of existence for a living organism, which cannot live without going through the same pre-defined chain of interactions with other organisms (the metabolic chain).

There are different levels of life; some of them are almost indistinguishable from inanimate matter, while some others can develop rather versatile behavior, partially removing the restrictions of analytical reflection. When an organism is able to actively transform (produce) its environment to ensure the presence of the necessary mediators, the latter become associated with the certain dedicated states of the organism, thus obtaining an inner representation. The living being becomes aware of the world.

Drawn to the degree of a universal feature, the ability of production brings us to the next level in the hierarchy of reflection, that of conscious activity. The random nature of inanimate motion, mediated by life as the realm of necessity, is apparently restored on this new level in the synthetic form of freedom, intentional diversity of action, subjectivity, controlled arbitrariness. Reason makes one identical to the whole world, but in a manner different from mere representation typical of the inanimate things. The primary task of the conscious thing, the subject, is to produce the world, rebuilding it in order to make it reasonable. That is, the world makes things, the subject re-makes the world. Conscious activity restores the unity of the living thing and its environment through the formation of an “artificial” environment, culture; this synthetic unity differs from the syncretism of existence in that the identity of the individual and its environment needs to be repeatedly broken and reproduced in a cyclic way.

The fundamental difference of life from “coarse” matter (including physical and chemical objects), as well as the opposition of conscious and non-conscious life, however contested by some philosophers, is an old philosophical tradition supported by the millennia of practical experience. But, traditionally, the two dyads have generally been considered as unrelated to each other, in different contexts. In unism, they become the levels of the same hierarchy, formally expressed by the triad of reflection:


Additionally, this triad suggests the opposition (and mutual transformation) of activity and existence, as well as the numerous hierarchical mediations in existence, life and activity; such mediations provide the mechanisms of the coordinated development of reflexivity.

Of course, one is free to unfold the hierarchy of reflection in a different direction, thus obtaining some other triads (or even more complex schemes) representing the multiple facets of the same. The distinction of existence, life and activity is important in the context of millennia-old struggle of philosophical materialism and idealism, as it answers to the traditional philosophical question about people’s place in the world. In other contexts, this problem may be of lighter relevance, and one has to develop more appropriate approaches; neither of them can pretend to be the only truth, though either can show absolute truth in one of its turns.

On the level of activity one finds such phenomena as the mind, reason, consciousness, sociality etc. However, in any categorical scheme, its elements are mutually reflected and interdependent. Activity is a kind of existence, and a form of life as well. But there is no absolute distinction of life and activity, and one could find a continuum of intermediate levels both between the “physical” existence and life, as well as between conscious and non-conscious life. Still, the level of consciousness is qualitatively different from life and inanimate existence, and it can be represented in any particular biological system only to a certain degree, so that both the form of implementation would restrict the possible manifestations of consciousness, and the participation in conscious acts would influence biological development, leading to the forms that could never be stable without social support.

Consciousness and subjectivity as a level of reflection are not material; however, they cannot exist without a material implementation, and they need some higher forms of life to establish and support the forms of conscious activity. However, in the hierarchical world, any higher-level formation can be implemented in different combinations of lower level elements; in particular, conscious activity can develop on one or another material basis, in the appropriate forms. The type of conscious life that we find on the planet Earth is in no way the only possibility, and the humanity is certainly not unique as a carrier of reason. Besides the diverse extraterrestrial forms, the present level of human development might give birth to more advanced forms in the future, incorporating both natural and artificial components. No finite existence can ensure complete universality, and therefore any local manifestations of consciousness are mere prototypes, intermediate phases, the tiles of mosaic to show up in the all-embracing spiritual development.

[Philosophy] [Unism]