I have been reading about "relational" theories of science, and could not think of an appropriate word to describe "non-relational" concepts. From my perspective, "relational" refers to "relationships" (between different objects), and anything that is non-relational should refer to things that are internal to any given object, and independent of any relationship to other objects.

Does anyone know of a good word that stands in contrast to "relational"?


It looks like I need to be more specific. Let's say I have a set of objects. Given any two objects, I can describe their relationship (e.g., "the axis of A is 10deg below the axis of B") in way that cannot be done when I consider a single object. I would call such properties "relational". Given a single object, it has properties that are completely independent of the other objects in the set (e.g., "object A is red"). I am looking for a word to describe such properties.

Edit 2:

Here is another way to think about the question, that pushes the problem elsewhere. "Atomic" properties are properties of the individual objects (in the literal sense of "atom" as originally introduced: "indivisible"). "Holistic" properties are properties of the entire set. What do we call properties of pairs of objects?

  • The word you suggested is a good description: independent.
    – ScotM
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:10
  • Would you like to share more context? For example, where you have been reading about relational theories. Are you trying to pin down which other theories apart from the relational ones there might be? Etc. (By the way, I don't think there's a word that functions as a valid opposite to "relational" in all its different roles.)
    – anemone
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:19
  • I only know this use of "relational" in the context of "theories about the nature of reality", where my understanding is it refers to theories underpinned by the idea that nothing has "meaning" except by virtue of its relationships with other aspects of the universe. So arguably the opposite of a "relational" theory (Einstein's Theory of Relativity, or Quantum Mechanics, say), is a Newtonian or Classical theory. Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:20
  • I am reading about "relational" interpretations of quantum mechanics (see, e.g., Carlo Rovelli's "Relational Quantum Mechanics" paper or the corresponding entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Although I agree that relativity is universally thought of as "relational", I don't think the same applies to quantum mechanics (although clearly some argue as much, e.g., Rovelli). Would that suffice for context? Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:39
  • Are you perhaps talking about the relative/absolute dichotomy?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:43

3 Answers 3


The opposite of the word is solitary because the definition of relational (according to Google.com) is "concerning the way in which two or more people or things are connected." and the definition of solitary is "done or existing alone"

Therefore, since relational involves two or more people and solitary quite literally means alone, they are opposites.

  • I think "solitary" contrasts "relational" best, even if it does not appear to be used in the literature. Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 16:12

In the scientific realm of Relational theory the opposite of relational would be absolute:

The relational view proposes that space is contained in objects and that an object represents within itself relationships to other objects. Space can be defined through the relations among the objects that it contains considering their variations through time. The alternative spatial theory is an absolute theory in which the space exists independently of any objects that can be immersed in it.

The terms relational and absolute are applied to individual concepts as well as the overarching theory.


Relational quantum mechanics and a relational approach to quantum physics have been independently developed, in analogy with Einstein's special relativity of space and time. Relationist physicists such as John Baez and Carlo Rovelli have criticised the leading unified theory of gravity and quantum mechanics, string theory, as retaining absolute space.


System parameters and measurement instrument parameters are not separately observable: Relational mass is observable while absolute mass is not.


Since the time of Newton and Leibniz, philosophers' struggles to comprehend these concepts have often appeared to take the form of a dispute between absolute conceptions of space, time and motion, and relational conceptions.

In science (and mathematics in a specialized sense), entities that do not have intrinsic relationship to one another are referred to as discrete:


Individually separate and distinct:

Speech sounds are produced as a continuous sound signal rather than discrete units.

Philosophically, discrete concepts would be quite rare, but they seem like a perfectly acceptable abstract notion.




Emphasis mine

  • 2
    I think non-continuous would come closer than non-intrinsic, for "discrete" mathematics, for instance.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 22:07

Relational in grammar, following Postal and Perlmutter (in their theory Relational Grammar), refers to the sententially local status of sentence parts, such as subject or object, which are understood with respect to the predicate/verb phrase of a given clause. I guess the antonym would be global, meaning some property not local to a clause (or, in Relational Grammar, not local to a stratum).

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