Even if one agrees on the relational character of relevancy and on the
general connections between its diverse forms, there is a number of
conceptual issues about which there still may be some uncertainty.
The questions we will discuss in this division are:
- isn't relevancy redundant?
- if not, is it a formal or substantive concept?
- is it an objective or subjective concept?
- is it of a
- is it a wholly consequentialistic concept?
Whenever possible, we shall compare a conceptual question about
relevancy with an analogous question about truth. This is not to
suggest that the answer must be the same or analogous, but that
one should have good reasons for an answer which is fundamentally
different. We are not the only ones to thus compare relevancy
with truth. It has been said before, for example, that 'relatedness,
like truth, is a primitive notion'.
Looking at it the other way around, it may be interesting to ask some
basic questions about relevancy which traditionally have only been posed
The question whether relevancy might be redundant is of this sort,
and will be considered here first.
Just as some philosophers (but no human in the street) regard
true as redundant, so it might indeed theoretically be
possible to dispose of relevant.
In the same way as a
(truth-)redundancy theorist maintains that
true and false can be eliminated from all contexts without
semantic loss, a 'redundancy theorist of relevancy' might argue that,
instead of "relevantly similar" and "relevantly different", one could as
well read "similar" and "different". After all, similar, and also
equal, have another meaning than identical: it is always
equal in one or more particular respects (and the meaning of
different varies with it). In the strict sense relevant is
redundant in relevant reason as well, because a reason is only
a reason if it is relevant. And the other way around: a reason
is a relevant fact or other condition, or a relevant
consideration. The only meaning appropriately given to all these
phrases would have to fulfil the criterion of relevance anyhow,
one might say. (Similarly, <it is raining> is true is no
different from it is raining, if uttered at the right time and
Altho the whole idea of
redundancy may seem farfetched, it is not a coincidence that it has been
pointed out that 'is relevant to behaves very much like is
It is not a coincidence either that many ordinary language users do indeed
mean by similar and different, relevantly
similar and different, by reason, a relevant
reason and by making a distinction or discriminating in
a meliorative sense making a relevant distinction.
But now, a redundancy theorist, too, must admit that making
distinctions in a condemnatory sense means making irrelevant
This existence of deviations from the norm proves that relevancy
(and also truth) might be superfluous in a perfect world in which
everyone makes relevant distinctions only (and tells the truth only), but
that it is a useful notion in the 'substandard' real world in which people
actually live, and so long as irrelevant distinctions can be made (and
propositions falsely uttered ).
Making relevancy formally redundant would merely shift the problem
from the denotational sphere — what is relevancy?
— to the connotational sphere — is the word
distinction used in a meliorative or condemnatory sense, and why?
By formally declaring relevancy redundant the whole issue would be
enveloped in an even denser mist, and this opinion seems to be explicitly
or implicitly shared by all those who have reflected upon relevancy
itself, or who take it that their employment of relevant and
irrelevant is meaningful.