Thinking from a fundamental or foundational ontology perspective ... I want to read what philosophers have written about a concept which in my own mind I have been calling "variation".

I am thinking about physical Reality, that is, at the most irreducible level that I can conceive of Reality. So, I start with one particular existent thing (aka "particle," "atom," or "monad" maybe) and think about concepts that are an outflow of the existence of one particular thing.

After that I move on to consider the possibility of two particular physically existent things. As soon as I think about two particular physical things, some other concepts come to mind ... like quantity, relations, finiteness/limits, and "variation". Reasoning about this physical "variation" might be framed by some proposition like "Thing1 is different from Thing2," or restated a little more precisely, "Thing1 has at least one different physical property from Thing2."

It seems that whether or not variation would exist in Reality is fundamental, and how we understand this "variation". Here I am NOT talking about trying to delineate what specific variation may or may not exist between Thing1 and Thing2, so that we would ascribe a specific physical property, but just trying to think about physical variation itself and trying to precisely define it. I also am not talking about the knowledge of variation by comparing two things, but am talking about the fact of physical variation between things in Reality. Smart people must have written about this already.

Please (1) tell me the current philosophy jargon for what I have been calling "variation", (2) point me toward important documents where philosophers have written coherently on this subject, (3) tell me if those philosophers used words other than what you identified as current jargon to talk about this subject, (4) give me any advice you have about reasoning on this subject.

Thank you for your time.

  • 2
    I haven't read your question too carefully (it's quite long and not organized into multiple paragraphs) but my first inclination is to call this "difference" and to suggest you look at Leibniz's differentiations related to identity and indiscernables.
    – virmaior
    Feb 29, 2016 at 22:34
  • 1
    To add to Virmaiors suggestion Serres Birth of Phyics, posits a close connection between 'indiscernible variations' and antique/contemporary atomism. Mar 1, 2016 at 1:30
  • The term is used elsewhere as the 'clinamen' or 'swerve'. Mar 1, 2016 at 1:31
  • Thanks virmaior for "differentiations" and readability suggestion. Made changes. Thanks Mozibur Ullah. Your comments led me to Difference and Repetition by Deleuze, which I have not read yet, but appears to attack the precise subject in which I am interested. Mar 1, 2016 at 15:49

1 Answer 1


Aristotle was the first to distinguish between matter (hyle) and form (morphe). For Aristotle, matter is the undifferentiated primal element: it is rather that from which things develop than a thing in itself. The material in combination with the universal form, founds the private of things. The particularity of one thing with a certain universal shape relative to any other thing with the same universal form is then situated in the fact that one thing exists a different piece of material than any of the other things.

In an other way, contrary to Aristotle, the atomists theorized that nature consists of two fundamental principles: atom and void, without any form. Nothing the atoms compose really exists: the only things that really exist are atoms ricocheting off each other mechanistically in an otherwise empty void. Atomism stands in contrast to a substance theory wherein a prime material continuum remains qualitatively invariant under division. Things only vary from each other by the way the atoms are put together. Clusters of different shapes, arrangements, and positions give rise to the various macroscopic substances in the world.

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