There’s a very interesting passage in Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature where he talks about the difficulty of deciding what counts as a war (pp 242-243). He quotes Lewis Richardson “The concept of war as a discrete thing does not fit the facts.” or “thinginess fails”. It reminds me of what Stephen Jay Gould said about reification.
The depth records the link of biological determinism to some of the oldest issues and errors of our philosophical traditions—including reductionism, or the desire to explain partly random, large-scale, and irreducibly complex phenomena by deterministic behavior of smallest constituent parts (physical objects by atoms in motion, mental functioning by inherited amount of a central stuff); reification, or the propensity to convert an abstract concept (like intelligence) into a hard entity (like an amount of quantifiable brain stuff); dichotomization, or our desire to parse complex and continuous reality into divisions by two (smart and stupid, black and white); and hierarchy, or our inclination to order items by ranking them in a linear series of increasing worth.
From “The Mismeasure of Man (Revised & Expanded)” by Stephen Jay Gould
It’s such a good quote.