Continuity and Discontinuity

Continuity and Discontinuity

 

philosophical categories that characterize both the structure of matter and its process of development. Discontinuity refers to the “granularity” and discreteness of the spatiotemporal structure and state of matter, as well as the elements of which matter is composed, the aspects and forms of its existence, and the process of its motion and development. Discontinuity is grounded in the divisibility of matter and in the specific degree to which matter is internally differentiated in its development. It is also grounded in the relatively independent existence of the stable elements that compose matter—qualitatively determinate structures, such as elementary particles, nuclei, atoms, molecules, crystals, organisms, planets, and socioeconomic formations.

Continuity, on the other hand, expresses the unity, interconnection, and mutual dependence of the elements constituting one or another system having a specific degree of complexity. Continuity is grounded in the relative stability and indivisibility of an object as a qualitatively determined whole. It is precisely the unity of the parts of a whole that permits the existence and development of an object as a whole. Thus, the structure of any object or process is revealed as the unity of discontinuity and continuity. Discontinuity makes the complex, internally differentiated, and heterogeneous structure of things and phenomena possible. The granularity, or separateness, of an object is a necessary condition for each element of the structure to perform its specific function within the whole. At the same time, discontinuity makes it possible for the separate elements within a system to be supplemented, replaced, or interchanged.

The unity of the discontinuity and the continuity also characterizes the developmental process. Continuity in the development of a system expresses its relative stability and its constancy within the framework of a given measure. Discontinuity, on the other hand, expresses the transition of the system to a new quality. One-sided emphasis on discontinuity in development implies a total break between the moments and hence a loss of any connection. Recognizing only continuity in development leads to a denial of any qualitative shifts and in fact renders the very concept of development meaningless. It is typical of the metaphysical way of thinking that it isolates continuity from discontinuity. Dialectical materialism stresses not only the opposition between the two but also the connection—the unity of continuity and discontinuity, which is confirmed by the whole history of science and by social practice.

REFERENCE

Osnovy marksistsko-leninskoi filosofii, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1973.

A. G. SPIRKIN

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