Categories vs properties

When it comes to considering change, there’s a difference between categories and properties.

Given the underlying ontology of change and process, categorization is not based on inherent qualities or essences but on typical ways of acting and reacting—does it tend to expand or contract, work gradually or swiftly, manifest itself obviously or subtly? Since these traits are relational, the same “thing” may not always be in the same category (it might act like wood in one context but metal in another), and because they are dynamic, the categories give immediate information on how things can be controlled, influenced, or disrupted. The application of the categories depends on context and the context depends on our particular purposes, but they are meant to express real properties of things.

Consider the use of the most general categories, yin and yang. Yang labels the tendency to expand and dominate; yin labels the tendency to draw things in by yielding. Anything can be put in one of these two categories, but yin and yang are not inherent properties. The same thing that might be active and dominating in one relationship might be softer and yielding in another (as is commonly the case in Chinese medicine). The function of the labels can be compared to the way we label cause and effect. We can designate a cause and an effect in any change, but being a cause is not an essential property. Everything is simultaneously the cause of many effects and the effect of many causes.