Everything is Four

Is everything four? Some try to prove it with a numerological trick. Take a word. Count its letters. Convert the number to words. Count letters. Repeat. Every English word seems to end up on four or 4, with nowhere else to go! Voila!

Since I’ve searched for this topic, a musician has released an album with this title. Cool!

But what do I mean by it? Everything can be divided into four parts, or has four aspects, or four sides, or what? I’m not sure, exactly.

But let’s test it against Alfred Whitehead’s Criteria for Metaphysical Theories!

  • Is it consistent? Yes! That is, nothing in the theory contradicts other parts of the theory, because there are no other parts. And if something is part of a foursome, that something can also be a foursome (even if an arbitrary one).
  • Is it coherent? Yes! That is, the theory is logically whole, such as it is. A bit boring? Perhaps…
  • Is it applicable? Yes! That is, we can apply our method to reduce something to four parts to everything, as long as we don’t care what the parts are. Plus we can combine anything with three other things, ad nauseum!
  • Is it adequate? No, not really. It does little to explain itself or the rest of the world.

So, we must continue our search for our ultimate metaphysical theory. It must be everything is four, plus something else… plus two more somethings…

Further Reading:




Whitehead’s Criteria for Metaphysical Theories

The Collatz Conjecture






10 thoughts on “Everything is Four”

  1. You have probably commented at some point on Aristotle’s four questions for inquiry, posed at the beginning of the second book of Posterior Analytics.

    If so, could you direct me to that post?


      1. I know you are familiar with Richard McKeon. The four columns in his philosophical semantics (selection, interpretation, method, principle) are based on these questions. I have no reference for that, but it is something he indicated in classes I attended in the 1960s.

    1. Thank you! I believe I have been avoiding these due to the confusing phrases associated with them. After some study, I see some regularity of meaning by different translations and authors. Even McKeon, when he mentions them in “Aristotle in the West”, agrees. But then, in his “Philosophic Semantics”, I cannot follow the association to Selections, Interpretations, Methods, and Principles. Can you help?


      (O. F. Owen)

      That a thing is – “to hoti”
      Why it is – “to dioti”
      If it is – “ei esti”
      What it is – “ti esti”

      Patrick Hugh Byrne: Analysis and Science in Aristotle

      The whether (the fact) – “to hoti”
      The why (the reasoned fact) – “to dioti”
      If it is – “ei esti”
      The what it is – “ti esti”

      McKeon: Aristotle in the West

      Click to access McK-Hellenistic&RomanFdnsOfAristotleInWest.pdf

      “In the first chapter of the second book of the Posterior Analytics Aristotle distinguishes four kinds of things we search for (zetoumena) because there are four kinds of things we know (epistametha). The four questions – of fact (to hoti), of cause (to dioti), if it is (ei esti), what it is (ti esti)…”

      of fact – “to hoti”
      of cause – “to dioti”
      if it is – “ei esti”
      what it is – “ti esti”

      McKeon: Philosophic Semantics and Philosophic Inquiry

      Click to access McK-PhilosophicSemantics&Inquiry.pdf

      “The four modes of inquiry, thus, take particular form in the four scientific questions raised by Aristotle at the beginning of the second book of the Posterior Analytics – experience is the concern of the question, whether it is; existence is the concern of, what it is; that which is answers the question, of what sort it is; and being is the source of answers to, why it is.”

      Whether it is: Experience (Simplicity) – Selections – “to hoti”?
      What it is: Existence (Fact) – Interpretations – “ei esti”?
      What sort it is: That which is (Thought) – Methods “ti esti”?
      Why it is: Being – Principles – “to dioti”?

      1. Combining McKeon’s philosophical semantics with his paraphrase of Posterior Analytics 2.1 in the essay you cite, “The Hellenistic and Roman Foundations of the Tradition of Aristotle in the West,” I’d suggest this lineup:

        Selection = does S exist? = if it is (ei esti)
        Interpretation = what is S? = what it is (ti esti)
        Method = is SP? = of fact (to hoti)
        Principle = why is SP? = of cause (to dioti)

        This is similar to your lineup, differing mainly in that it does not equate “what sort” to “that which is.” “What sort” covers predicating attributes of a subject (is SP?). Method involves finding ways to access attributes, to determine which are essential, which are not, etc.

    2. I believe you are absolutely correct. I also have a document of McKeon’s lectures on the “Topics” of Aristotle (given in 1972) which shows the following alignments:

      Existence, Selection, Simples, “Words”
      Experience, Interpretation, Individuals, “Thoughts”
      That which is, Method, Particulars, “Actions”
      Being, Organization, Wholes, “Things”

      and later when discussing the four scientific questions, paraphrases them as:

      Is it?
      What is it?
      How is it qualified?

      and mapping to the earlier sequence. But then why is Experience paired with Selection, and Existence with Interpretation, in “Philosophic Semantics and Philosophic Inquiry”? Well, I do understand that his semantics was a work in progress, but it makes it complicated!

      1. Complicated, yes, but McKeon also changes his mind at times. One clear-cut example consists of changes he made in the application of his philosophical semantics. On Knowing: The Social Sciences (U Chicago P, 2016), p. 363, lists the thinkers about whom he changed his mind. But McKeon typically does not call attention to such changes.

        I think I’m familiar with the 1972 lecture you mention. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been published. Do you know otherwise?

        In any case, in the copy I have, the charts are unusually elaborate. McKeon was a very visual thinker. Some of his essays invite diagramming. He liked to put charts together on the blackboard in classes. But in this lecture, McKeon gets carried away with his charts, bordering on brainstorming in my opinion. He puts “thought” in some places, for example, that seem inconsistent with where he usually places it. I have more questions than answers about these charts.

        In the copy I have “Selection” and “Existence” are in one column, and “Interpretation” and “Experience” are in another column. By “experience,” I suspect he means “culture”–see Selected Writings of Richard McKeon, vol 1 (U Chicago P, 1998), p. 46.

        Answers to “Is it?” and “What is it?” often go together, but they can be separate: You hear a loud sound (is it?), but is it a firecracker or a gunshot (what is it?).

      2. No, as far as I know those lectures have not been published. I wish they were, because I feel a bit leery in even mentioning them. I’m sure the transcription on the “Topics” was a tremendous amount of work, as were the two published “On Knowing” books. Perhaps there is an issue of rights, or something. I read just now in the forward to “On Knowing: the Social Sciences” that it is a three-volume project, so maybe there is hope that some version of those lectures will be published (like, On Knowing: The Humanities?). But I hope it’s Crosby’s!

        I have utmost respect for you and other students of McKeon that survived his difficult lectures. I doubt if I could have done so, but exposure while young in the crucible of instruction by McKeon himself might have made a huge difference. McKeon’s diagrams are one of the reasons that his philosophical system is so intriguing to me. I know that I am a poor student of these materials, but I can still appreciate a portion of the beauty and reasoning of his systematizations.

        I was thinking during the course of this discussion that my errors in alignment between the four questions of inquiry and McKeon’s semantic schemes might just be due to my own “semantic profile”, whatever that is (I’ve never tried to discover it). But they are more likely due to poor thinking on my part. Perhaps subtle changes in McKeon’s philosophical semantics or reclassifications of profiles for philosophers by McKeon might be due to shifts in his own “semantic profile”.

        I also miss those old net-prophet.net pages about McKeon’s semantics. I guess they weren’t needed anymore after richardmckeon.org got created, but still. I don’t even know who created that website. Do you?

  2. From the day we are borneverything is one and the same. as we get older we are learned one from the other in order to think and,.. wel “order”.
    This can be called the first division. To make a division between one, extremes are needed. So we learn “yes” because there is “no”.
    we learn “good” because this is “bad”.
    “up” and “down”,
    “long” and “short”.
    From hereon, the division becomes more complex, until one-ness and the extremes get completely lost. Our brains are not fit for chaos, they like returning patterns for decision making. Knowing nothing in the universe is actually ordened, we would be completely lost.
    Dao says: “there’s only one thing certain in the cosmos; and that is change..if you know the biggest and the smallest, you can relate to the tenthousant things.”
    So all life turns to the greatest extremes to focus on. All of life turns to the day and night, wich is the largest. And all life follows where the nutrients are, wich are the smallest. from there, all life thrives.
    In Daoism we search the return to original nature, find our way back to the two extremes, and abandon all patterns.

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