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Lecture I: The Furnishings of the Cave

The design of these lectures is to sketch the essential pattern of what has been called the human ‘predicament’, the plight in which we, as rational, concerned beings find ourselves, the sorts of thing that come before us at varying removes and distances, and in varied guises of reality and unreality, as well as all the varied styles of recognition, appraisal, practical manipulation, etc. in which we show our concern for them and are busy about them, together with our own central essence as what holds the picture together, and gives it its equivocal, ever shifting sense and interest. To deal thus with the plight of men is to cover all the main themes of philosophy, for however much we may affect interest in the architecture of nature or its various departments, or in the various detached systems of ideas which proliferate abundantly in their glassed-in compartments, it is plain that we cannot achieve clarity in regard to any of them without achieving clarity as to our own empirical, conceptual and linguistic approaches to them. Without due study of these we are more than likely to see our own thought-and speech-habits and problems merely written large on the cosmos, and there is, in fact, no easier way to fall victim to what is arbitrary and personal than to set out uncritically to be objective and impersonal. If a certain deep criticism is of the essence of philosophy, and if such deep criticism necessarily involves seeing matters in their full context and setting, then it is as much such contexts and settings which give unity to philosophy as the deep criticism in question. If it is a mark of the feebly bitten philosopher to hurry from personal human approaches, to some majestic body of correct dicta or data which he derives from science, authority or some similar source, it is a mark of the deeply bitten philosopher to be as much concerned with what we take to be correct dicta or data as with what really are so, and as much concerned with the tests involved in the use of the label ‘correct’ as with the situations to which we attach it. The interest of philosophy is not in the objects of our primary interest but in such objects only as they interest or concern us: if the world and reality figure largely in philosophy it is because they are for us such objects of omnipresent and necessary concern. In studying the structure of our plight we do not therefore neglect anything that is of philosophical importance: but we deal with whatever we deal with in the only manner in which its full significance can be clarified and appraised.

The design of these lectures is, secondarily, to explore whatever may be intended in judging and feeling our everyday existence to be a predicament, a strange lot into which we have been, by some inexplicable accident, cast, rather than as the familiar home territory to which our powers are adjusted and in which our speech and thought should work at ease. Possibly the queerest of all the queer things in this life is that we should find this life so very queer, and that we should even speak of it as this life, contrasting it by implication with some more normal state of which we none the less have no lucid view at all. That we do in fact find this life full of perplexities, absurdities, odd and arbitrary restrictions, things all pervasive that might none the less have been quite otherwise, does not admit of question. If we find even children capable of being thrown into a mood of wonder by the strange passing of time, shall we credit them with familiarity with the ways of eternity? If we wonder why, of all marvellous chances, we happen to be the individuals we actually are, does this argue acquaintance with the queer mechanics of becoming somebody else? If we find our knowledge of other people's minds hopelessly external and peripheral, does this point to knowledge of some more intimate way of penetrating their privacy? Possibly all these perplexities are no more than a proof that man is a philosophical animal, one who will not rest till, like children with their toys, he has taken his notions apart, and has seen how they really fit together. And possibly the lesson that we, like children, must learn, is that it only pays to prise things apart if one can again put them together, and that there is no better or even no feasible way of putting them together than the one indicated by their various carefully punched holes, pegs, tongues, catches, screws and other attachments (or by what corresponds to these in language). Possibly the only way out of the quandaries in which we, as thinking, acting, feeling beings find ourselves, is to realize that they are not really quandaries at all. Perhaps, however, the fact that we do thus find our present situation full of queer discomforts, and that it does seem to involve cramps, pressures, irruptions, strangenesses that are far from hiding a simple message or harbouring a discoverable sense, does point to some reversing, complementary, compensating situation of which we cannot but have some vague knowledge, and on which the precise character of our cramps and other difficulties can throw valuable light. This at least is a suggestion that these lectures will seek to explore, and it remains a suggestion rooted in the character of our experience whether it turns out to have a meaningful and valid content or not.

I have given these lectures a somewhat misleading title: it might be thought that I was about to add to the vast body of interpretation of Plato's cave-myth as set forth in the seventh book of the Republic. Plato, as you know, placed the human race in a dark cave, where their movements were so restricted by chains that their gaze could not stray beyond a cave-wall in front of them. A fire at their backs threw shadows on this wall, and the objects which cast these shadows also lay behind them but between them and the fire: these objects were being moved along a roadway near the mouth of the cave, but were half concealed by a low parapet, so that their shadows were quite fragmentary and unrepresentative. The voices of men walking along the roadway and carrying these objects were echoed from the cave-wall, so that to the men chained in this strange underworld the whole environment was one of speaking and silent shadows. There was, however, in the story, a difficult possibility of freeing the prisoners from their chains, and of turning their heads round to face the objects behind the parapet and the fire whose beams played on them: this presumably would cure many of the discrepancies and inadequacies of representation that were found among the shadows. And there was also a further possibility of leading the prisoners quite out of the cave into the upper daylight. There all would at first be sheer bedazzlement, until reflections in water allowed the gaze to rest on them and to take stock of them. Later the gaze would be sufficiently tutored to look on the objects which cast such reflections, and these objects would in their turn lead the gaze to the luminous bodies that lent visibility to the objects in the upper world, until at last it became possible to look on the sun, the supreme source of all earthly light. These accounts of an ‘upper world’ and of glorious visions that occur in it are, of course, not unconnected with accounts that occur elsewhere in the Republic, in the Meno, in the Phaedrus, in the Timaeus, and in the particularly wonderful upper-world descriptions of the Phaedo, accounts now generally disregarded as stemming from Plato's lamentable ‘middle period’, a period he fortunately outlived when he came to write his ‘great critical dialogues’. But the cave-legend continues by depicting the sufferings of the liberated prisoners when at first compulsorily brought back into the cave, and their subsequent ability to use their upper-world experience in interpreting and predicting and (if one makes a few small adjustments in the story) controlling the behaviour of the shadows. Certainly for Plato upper-world visions and visits had a profound relevance to understanding and action down here, even though he did not go so far as to see their whole significance in such relevance. One's science and one's mathematics and one's political arrangements and decisions would be better if one had enjoyed certain otherworldly visions, which goes far towards making them not otherworldly at all. Whereas, if modern philosophers have dealings with the transcendent and the other-worldly, they seldom expect this to improve their calculations or their routine theorizing or their practical decisions.

Plato's story of the cave has, as everyone knows, been the subject of almost infinite controversy: people have tried to make it accord with the somewhat thinner details of his account of the Line, and with nearly everything said by Plato in the Republic and elsewhere, or with everything that others have been inspired to say by reading him. This remarkable exegesis was, of course, for many years a specifically British preoccupation, ever since Benjamin Jowett made Plato in general, and the Republic in particular, the core and centre of Oxford education. These days are now very remote—they so hackneyed Plato that one does not regret them—and I must assure you that I do not intend to discuss the Platonic cave in the manner of Adam, Prichard, Ferguson, Nettleship, Bosanquet, and other gifted exponents. I do not myself believe in this sort of semi-scriptural interpretation, exciting as it may at times be to pursue it. For the cave to me is one of the greatest, the most telling images of philosophy—a study in which, it may be held, one always operates with images and diagrams, though one does not usually have the frankness to draw them clearly—and this great image was probably not meant to illustrate every winding of some complicated doctrine. One suspects that the Pythagoreans, or their Orphic predecessors, may have used it in some detailed doctrinal way—like the various rocks and areas of pebbles in some Zen stone-garden—but it would not be right to attribute such a use to Plato. And precisely because it is a great image, it can be used on reflective backgrounds quite different from that of Plato—as Bacon in fact did use it, and as I propose to use it in this course of lectures. For we do all feel that it describes ‘the human condition’ in a true and poignant manner, even if it raises the most serious problems that the latter should be thus describable. We do all somehow feel, whether with justification or not, that we are fixed in a situation involving many strange restrictions: there are features in our life as immovable, as fixedly presented, and also as deeply astonishing and absurd as are the wall, the parapet, the fire, the chains, the social games and the speaking shadows of Plato. In one respect indeed we enjoy greater liberty than Plato's prisoners, for we are not mere passive observers of cave-phenomena: we may be tethered elaborately, and not able to turn our heads round completely, but we have at least the ability to move about in our prison, to touch and handle some of its nearer fittings including our fellow-prisoners and their bodies, to manufacture at least some carvings and figures of our own and to project their shadows and those of our own limbs and bodies on the walls of the cave. We are not, fortunately, in the position of David Hume, that perfect specimen of the pure observer, who in the neurotic seclusion of his bedroom in France, passively waited for metaphysical visits from his own Ego, the efficacy of causes etc. etc., visits which to an observer so minded never did or could happen. But though we may have this limited liberty to move about, it does not at all suffice to throw the major masses and fixtures of our surroundings into marked parallax, nor to unmask the mystery and mechanism of the speaking shadows. We do not feel, despite our protracted stay in our present habitat, and our lack of experience or memory of any other, that we quite know our way about it: it involves cramps, tetherings and detached, lofty shows that are far from conveying a simple and coherent message. And we are persistently haunted by the notion of some other posture, some freer condition, some higher point of vantage from which the phenomena and the restrictions of cave-life will be comprehensively understandable, in which the walls will be breached, the cramps assuaged, and things generally seen in a less fuliginous and flickering light. It is, as we have said, supremely remarkable that we who have been born and bred in a certain condition, and who know no other, should think of this condition as one of bondage: possibly the only way out of such bondage is to realize that there is no other condition with which it can be contrasted, and that it is just as sensible, or as void of sense, to regard it as a condition of freedom as one of unfreedom. We should not, however, be describing our state truly if we omitted to say that it seems, in nearly all moods of deep reflexion, to be just that state of being tethered and obscurely imposed upon which Plato so well describes. If the arrangements of this life, and our responses to them, are truly in order as they are, then it is part of these arrangements that they have a persistent tendency not to seem in order, and we should not be describing them truly if we ignored their intermittent appearance of oddity or misfit.

It is not, however, enough, to speak in these general terms: we must make plain what we imagine to be the main parts and furnishings of the human cave, and where in particular we find its main rigidities, obscurities and painful stresses. Here, without going into the detailed principles of cave-exploration, which will concern us in our next lectures, we may emphasize one principle that will guide us in our researches: to preserve the phenomena, to be loyal to the appearances, to allow no robust sense whether of immediate or ultimate reality to prejudice our account of the way things look to the human observer or agent. A cave ceases to be a cave if one pours harsh external light into it, if one strips it of its glooms, echoes and reflections, of its various queer lighting devices, if one explains it all atomistically or neuro-physiologically or psycho-analytically or behaviouristically or linguistically or in some other external-and I may here add quite questionable—manner. To be a cave-delineator, a transcendental speleologist, one must be a phenomenologist in Husserl's sense of the word, one who thinks nothing more solid, more factual than the way things look or feel to the human observer or experient, the peculiar way in which they impress or express him, and who is never willing to sacrifice the oddest, most irrational flicker of an appearance for the most conclusive experimental demonstration of what is actually there, or for the most irrefragable logical argument as to what can or cannot be there. The speleologist must practise a wholesale suspension of all such misplaced experimentalism or logicality: he must practise that sweeping εποχη of transcendent conviction which Husserl recommended, though in his case it seems to have become frozen into a permanent paralysis.

To the student of cave-life words, for instance, are as potent and pervasive and dynamic a factor as things; they ooze in fact like a perpetual commentary from everything in the cave, or are firmly attached, built-in labels of phenomena. It is not remarkable, as Wittgenstein shows, that their tangles and abuses should project a character of ‘depth’ on the matters seen in their light, nor that we can study all issues in connection with them, as Austin proposed in his ‘linguistic phenomenology’. Imaginary, ideal, even visionary factors have likewise nearly as much power and importance in the cave as have supposedly or authentically real ones, even though these last may have a prerogative which extends even to the field of appearance. The wholly neutral, factual visions which appear in the dry light of scientific reporting or in certain types of aesthetic realism, have only the importance of the very special cave-corners to which such phenomena are confined. The scientific ones never entered the cave till the sixteenth or seventeenth century, and the aesthetic ones hardly before the nineteenth century. The transcendental speleologist must likewise be willing to acknowledge the presence in the cave of gaps and emptinesses, of fragments of things not capable of existence nor even of making complete sense as they stand, of things poised on the verge of being but not as yet actually there, of things incapable of enumeration and utterance and definite only in their essential indefmiteness, of things without a precise local habitation and incapable of having any, and so on and so forth. Even logical contradictions, shocking as this may seem, have an indefeasible speleological status, for while their inward discrepancy renders them ultimately unstable, and while they plainly have to be banished from all well-lit, well-swept corners of the cave, we can often only do so after we have first given them unsuspecting hospitality and have then been revolted by their disorderly ways. We are not, be it noted, asserting the existence of unbracketed contradictions, nor the desirability of freeing them from the brackets of oblique reference: we are only asserting the impossibility of dealing with the phenomena of bracketing without sometimes bringing them in and the difficulty of being sure, in many contexts, whether what we have before us should be bracketed or not. For the central power and supreme privilege of mind is to be able to intend, not only what is, but also what is not the case, and not only what can, but also what cannot be so. It is not, however, our present task to explore and expose all the idols of the cave, but to dwell rather on its unchanging furnishings. I mention its queer illusions only to scotch realism, logical deductivism and reductive science from the start: wherever their rightful place may be, it is certainly not in the construction of cave-pictures. Whatever we do, we must not, like Hume, say that what cannot, on some special view of logic, exist in reality, is likewise incapable of coming before us ‘in idea’.

What shall I now say are the basic furnishings or basic types of furnishing of the human cave? In enumerating and distinguishing these, and dwelling on their relations and the problems they raise, I shall be giving you the whole pattern of my ensuing lectures, so that you will know how far and where they will be of interest to you. I shall not go far wrong if I make bodies, and whatever goes with bodies, the basic feature of cave-landscape. We may, if we like, put them in the foreground of the picture, between the prisoners and the cave-wall. Bodies have two features which make them utterly unlike the speaking shadows of Plato's cave: they are extraordinary in their persistence, their regularity of behaviour, their almost exact recurrence, all traits that attracted the notice of Hume, but they are also extraordinary in their impressiveness, their power to enlist imagination, conviction and expectation, even in the moments when they are not palpably present. The reality of bodies, and of the space in which bodies are, is in fact nine-tenths blind conviction, something felt in our bones, and only one-tenth palpable presence. Persistence and impressiveness are of course not characteristic of all that we call bodily: there are in the bodily world, such things as winds, waves, eddies, shadows, and so forth, all conscientiously noted by Moore. But it seems only in the interstices of persistent bodily phenomena that such elusive things can nestle, and Kant seems to have been right in holding, as others have done after him, that the basic element of permanence in human experience, what gives it ballast and content and identifiable constancy of theme, is contributed by bodily substances intuitively set before us in space. Their curious aloofness from us and from our wants and expectations is part of their regularity: they are the paradigm of the believable and the knowable since our relationship to them is always a deferential waiting upon their own self-communication and an unquestioning acceptance of them as they give themselves out to be. And they are of course pre-eminently public: though aloof to us all, they are also common to us all, and are in fact the channel through which we communicate with one another.

In quite an opposed ‘direction’ to this foreground of immovable solid presences lies the dimension, if we may metaphorically so call it, of our own personal inwardness, of those insubstantial interior acts and states which are as hard to keep before us for examination as their existence is indubitable. The precise contents of our dimension of interiority may be a matter of somewhat difficult, purblind experience, but the dimension itself is no matter of contingent experience, it is part of the very framework of experience itself, of cave life. For our cave is not merely a cave where there are bodies, but also appearances of bodies with many properties of variability, perspectival one-sidedness, inauthenticity and so forth which are quite antithetical to those of bodies, and these appearances are moreover the necessary and inevitable foil to the being of bodies, in contrast with which it is alone possible to know the latter, and these appearances, which we may now frankly dignify with the well-established title ‘acts of consciousness’ are further capable of being of a great number of other things besides bodies, and they are capable, moreover, of being appearances of other appearances, as in all those situations where delusion, error or one-sided conscious emphasis is made plain and exposed. Some philosophers have curiously questioned whether there are any such thing as ‘acts of consciousness’: I can only think that their inability to find them must He in some total misapprehension of what they might be. The inner dimension of consciousness reveals its presence in the constantly exposed inauthenticity of bodily phenomena, solid and real as they may at first seem to be, it reveals itself in the constantly changing stress upon different features of bodies, it reveals itself in a constant variation of interpretative slant, it is shown in the contrast of a great number of different senses and degrees of ‘presence’, it is shown lastly in a variety of changes which are utterly alien to bodily change, changes where, as we say, there is at one time free spontaneity and, at another time, a sense of being driven, drawn or compulsively gripped, where ‘one’ is at one time variable and capricious and at another time deeply rapt in a continuous theme, where ‘one’ at one time glides forward with ease and pleasure and at another time grinds on with difficulty and pain, is at one time active and at another time passive, but at all times deeply involved in ‘one's’ posturing body and the varied stances it takes up towards the world. Hume, that unwilling phenomenologist, whom deference to certain logical arguments forced to give a largely discrete, ‘chunky’ account of mental life, constantly restores fluid continuity by accounts of the way in which ‘the mind’, or ‘the imagination’, or simple ‘we’, glide smoothly or not so smoothly from one idea to the next, or are determined to move in one direction rather than another by various gentle forces. Kant was right in seeing a vanishing character in the phenomena of this inner dimension: in so far as they have unity and coherence this is a unity of reference and theme, which ultimately presupposes objects in the other dimension. But it would be wrong to think that one could completely ignore the vanishing phenomena in question: they enter by contrast, or as a foil, into the very structure of bodily being as experienced by us, and may be said to be present in form, or as a category, even when their detailed contents pass unnoticed. They are not part of the contingencies of experience but are necessary conditions of the latter. All of which of course requires immense elucidation, for which our present perfunctory introduction is not the place.

If the cave thus exhibits a foreground of solid believable bodies and an opposing foil of bodiless capricious subjective play, it also exhibits a most interesting line where the two dimensions come together. This is the line which has been variously called the line of sensation, of sense-contents, of sense-data, or of the deliverances of the senses. This line is, as I have said, a line of meeting, of confluence, and attempts to turn it into a broad region necessarily involve a shift in the direction of persistent spatial corporeality, on the one hand, or of fleeting subjective incorporeality, on the other. One tends either to think in terms of sense-data, which makes the line of confluence too corporeal, too objective, or one tends to think in terms of sensation, which makes it all too insubstantial, too close to the flux of interior feeling. Really one has to do with something not unfitly described in terms of a contrast like the Aristotelian contrast between the convex and the concave, where two utterly antithetical characters coexist harmoniously in a single line, and where an unextended fleeting subjective impression somehow ‘presents’ or brings home to us a character which is its appropriate ‘correlate’ or opposite number, being thereby ‘used’ in a manner which cannot profitably be compared to any other case or kind of ‘use’, and certainly not to the kind which occurs in an interpretation or a causal inference. I am not, however, going to try to frame the right concept to deal with a particularly slippery, tricky, transitional point in cave-life: its elusiveness is part and parcel of cave-life, which we should misrepresent if we made it too hard and clear.

Our life in the cave is not, however, a solitary life. There are not only bodily realities before us, irrupting on us sensuously, and inner activities which encounter them: there are also, as Plato made plain, fellow bondsmen beside us, bondsmen who survey and manipulate the same range of bodily realities as we do, and who also have, like ourselves, an interior dimension in which things bodily and non-bodily ‘inexist’ with peculiar subjective emphases and contexts, a dimension whose existence is, in general terms, certain, but whose detailed content is a matter for divination or careful construction. There is a necessary apartness of people's inner lives, as there is a necessary commonness in most of the things they recognize and deal with practically, and we are as sure of the one as we are sure of the other. The world for us, we may say, is an assemblage of contrasting privacies converging upon a common zone of publicity. The apartness of people's interior states does not, however, preclude basic similarity and analogy, but in fact demands it, every phase or passage in anyone's experience being potentially a phase or passage in anyone else's, a possibility we perfectly understand though it neither requires nor is capable of direct illustration. A plurality of persons, with private interiors as well as public façades, are a primary datum of cave-life: they are in no sense anything that we infer, arrive at, construct, project, come to conceive or believe, or even can, with any sure meaning, doubt or explain. It is not for us an empirical accident that there are other experients besides ourselves: their possibility is part of the general possibility of experience. There are situations in which there are no other persons beside ourselves, but in such situations there are, as it were, places left open for them, places that we cannot eliminate from the make-up of the experienced world, and of which we are made poignantly aware in experiences such as that of loneliness, bereavement, etc. One may, if one likes, try to go outside the phenomena altogether-and perhaps, for some purposes, it is right to try to do so-and to construct theories in which, out of random stimuli, organisms develop mechanisms of interpretation corresponding to the various fundamental features of cave-life, but such theories cannot alter the phenomenological facts, that human intercourse is as much with persons as with things, and that we cannot readily conceive that it ever was or could be different.

Cave-contents are not, however, exhausted by these somewhat obvious types of furnishing. They also comprise furnishings, or perhaps I should say ‘hangings’, really analogous to the insubstantial, echoing shadows which Plato said were projected on the wall before the prisoners (though to Plato they would not have seemed thus insubstantial). It seems plain that our human world is a world in which innumerable ideas, meanings, facts, principles, constructions, hypotheses, laws, images and ideals are as essential a part of the landscape as are the concrete bodies and thinking persons around which they cluster, and above which they float. They constitute a universal world of rational mind in which all thinking persons share, whatever the limitations of their immediate, sensuous viewpoint. Some of these ideal abstracts are so inwrought with the concrete objects before us as not to be readily distinguishable from them: such are all the ticketed or unticketed kinds and sorts into which objects fall, their predicative and relational slants, the modalized perspectives in which they come before us as certain, likely or possible. Our world is a world into which things fall into recognized classes, and generally bear distinctive class-names: they are dogs, horses, clouds, water, etc., and only rarely fail to fall under some known rubric. Our world is also a world where things have varied alignments and ‘sides’, where gaps make themselves felt, where there are many dangers and uncertainties and indefinitenesses, where much certainly has been and much probably will be, etc. I say all this not to be banal, but to make clear that all this is out there in the phenomena, in the facts of experience, that we are not talking poetically but quite soberly in recognizing all this. The austere world of certain empiricists in which all this is referred merely to people's reactions, or to their use of words, is an artificial shadow-world which exists only for a small segment of the cave-population.

Much of the ideal significance which pervades the experienced world is not, however, tied up with bodies and bodily situations but floats freely above them and around them in quite as many detached clouds as one sees about some Madonna of Correggio or Mantegna. The experienced world contains, whether bracketed as someone's idea or left unbracketed, all the characters, objects and situations of myth, fantasy and fiction, all the objects of scientific speculation, whether confirmed up to the hilt by contemporary experiments or fallen into the discard as discredited and baseless: it contains likewise all the objects, circumstances and principles set before us by theology, speculative mysticism and metaphysical philosophy. In the beginning of the century the great realist philosopher, Alexius Meinong, taught a doctrine of Aussersein, of an infinite realm of objects quite indifferent to the distinction between being and non-being, between reality and unreality, between what is and what is not the case. In the democracy of that world the golden mountain stood on a level with the Pennines, the round square on a level with the Red Square at Moscow, the equality of 2 and 2 to 10 to the equality of 2 and 2 to 4. Bertrand Russell, at first charmed by this doctrine, devoted vast energy to its demolition, constructing that famous Theory of Descriptions on which most of modern British philosophy is founded. I am far from denying that Russell was right in refusing to admit the boundless wealth of Aussersein into the world beyond the cave or even into that purified portion of the cave where right reason fully prevails. But people have thereby been led to forget that the unreal, the abstract, the illogical, the imaginary, the hypothetical and the ideal are an essential foil in human experience to the real, the concrete, the logical and the scientifically acceptable, and that it is not always possible to sift the one from the other till reflection is far advanced.

This leads me on to maintain that the detached indices of approval and disapproval that we call ‘values’ and ‘disvalues’, as well as positive and negative requirements of varying type and level, play continuously over all the objects in the cave-foreground, and are also entwined among the abstracta on the cave-walls. They have, of course, the most intimate and necessary relation to our own interior throbs of feeling and our overt reactions, as well as to our use of various commendatory and prescriptive expressions, and arguably a careful student of the real will try to tie them up closely to such subjective and linguistic tethering-posts and not study them separately. To do so will, however, show dubious loyalty to the appearances, where the rounded goodness of a ripe apple, the melancholy horror of a sum tenement, the persistent way in which things call for this or that modification or amendment, seem to enjoy a detached existence from ourselves and our own interior reactions as much as do the spotted wings of a butterfly or a moth's constant movements towards the light. And such values and requirements are, further, of varying degrees of indefeasibility and apparent inner reasonableness. Some give themselves out to be merely our own values and requirements, our own private troupe of nixies and hobgoblins which we do not expect to make themselves felt to others, others again as being there for a wide body of persons specially trained or belonging to certain special social groups, while yet others are given as being there for everybody or for nobody, as transcending all personal recognition and interest, and yet as being such that they must, in some sense of ‘must’, make their presence recognizable to all who will steep themselves, with sufficient personal detachment, in the imaginative understanding of certain sorts of situation. Whether the ‘claims’ obscurely involved in such appearances are valid or absurd, they are certainly part of the appearances in question. And we should be misdescribing the phenomena if we did not concede the presence of a whole realm of impersonal or impartial values and requirements, hardly more, in fact, than the divergent specifications of the impersonal and the impartial itself, as constituting the vague background of all that we have before us, and as being, at least in appearance or in what they ‘claim’, the true, the authentic, the authoritative, the compelling, the not-to-be-gainsaid values and requirements.

It is here that we must acknowledge what is in some sense the crown of all phenomena, the apical point, whether occupied or unoccupied, in which lie gathered together every kind and style of positive, impersonal value and requirement, the point well indicated by Anselm in the phrase id quo mains (though perhaps he should have said melius) cogitari nequit. The apical point is a point reserved for the objects of religion, by which we mean no more than the objects of unmeasured, rightful, positive appraisal, of unreserved self-abasement and self-dedication, an idea as clear as its detailed expression would be turgid and tedious, and which remains the important reference-point that it is, whether we think it is or could be occupied or not, and whether we make its occupant concrete or abstract, material or spiritual, and whether we locate it in the category of things or attributes, or truths, or manners, or methods, or mere voids and vacancies. The human cave, we may say, is such as to involve a distinction of high and low, and in the dimension of height it is such as to involve a zenith or apex where all grounds of positive appraisal are conjoined, and are all present in superlative form. It makes no difference if this is no more than a haunting idea, and is acknowledged to be such, or if it involves, and is seen to involve, internal conflicts and contradictions, it makes no difference if it is combined with irrelevant and discrepant material: it remains a point of orientation, a limit in terms of which other things are seen or assessed, an indefeasible ‘phenomenon’ in the sense in which we choose to use this expression in our account of the human cave. Even if it is seen as self-contradictory, it will not necessarily function as such, or be used as such, in all contexts where we introduce it: it may behave with great limited propriety. As a phenomenon it may further admit of psychological, anthropological, sociological or linguistic explanation, though it may equally well be regarded as a transcendental idea of reason or a Cartesian ultimate: Husserl, who never had a developed theology, none the less saw it in the latter light. God, the Divine, can at least be set beside such a thing as the unending series of natural numbers, or the infinite extent of space, as a phenomenon with roots so profound and so various that it may practically be said to be ‘always there’ in the human cave, and a part of its essential furnishings. Its vanishings and odd projections are best regarded as human cloudings and distortions than as parts of the phenomenon itself. And whatever its obscurity and dubiety, many of the means used to explain or analyse it are quite as doubtful and obscure.

I wish now to dwell on an extraordinarily important and central circumstance of cave-life: that the various contents of the cave are all interconnected, and that they are moreover not casually interconnected, but with necessity or an approach to necessity. Outside the cave we may be free to suppose, if we like, that things are largely independent of one another, but within the cave of human experience this is not and cannot be so. Thus the bodily realities which fill the cave-foreground seem adjusted to the subjective glances which glide over them and that now emphasize one circumstance concerning them, now another. They are likewise bound up with the deliverances of sense which alone give them manifestness in our personal experience and concrete illustration in it. And the glancing, shifting shafts of consciousness would be impossible without abiding foreground realities to play over, and it is only by their entanglement with such realities that we are able to characterize or identify them. Our awareness of fellow-intelligences is likewise obviously wrought up with our awareness of their bodies, as our awareness of bodies in general likewise depends on the confirmation of fellow-intelligences. Our awareness of our own interior activities presupposes and is presupposed by our awareness of the interior activities of others, and it is absurd to treat either as essentially prior or derivative: everything we experience, however tinged with the anguish of isolation, is given as something which anyone might experience. I need not go further and stress the dependence of the floating idealities and wall-shadows on the more solid furniture of the cave-foreground and floor, nor need I stress the converse dependence of the solid furniture on the idealities. Whichever may come first in some outside view, they are mutually dependent in the life of the cave: solid things are as much dependent on the one-sided descriptions in terms of which we know them as the latter are on the former. Words likewise obviously depend on everything else, while everything else has its cave-status set forth in words. Values and prescriptions also have the most intimate connection with the natural, personal and interpersonal situations to which they apply, and the latter are constantly seen in the light of the former. Impersonal values, though seemingly nebulous and non-resistant, are, in the end, the most inescapable of cave-furnishings, and no sphere really lies beyond their relevance. It is not necessary for me, finally, to stress the relation of all things to religious objects or of religious objects to all things: the main function of religious objects is simply to be the putative sources of whatever there may be of power, reality, permanence, self-sufficiency, excellence and accomplished good form in the world.

The profound mutual dependence of the various factors in cave-life explains both the existence and the difficulty of philosophy. For, on account of this interconnection, each factor and feature in cave-life encourages us to see all the other features and factors entirely in relation to itself. It is always possible to see the life of the cave in terms of one of its furnishings: in each type of furnishing the whole structure of the cave will in a particular fashion be embodied. Thus we can see everything in the cave in its dependence on the bodily realities of the cave-foreground: matter may even become ‘dialectical’ and fulfil any and every purposive, referential, social and even religious function. We can with equal ease see everything in its dependence on the interior acts which are our personal response to material and other realities: all things can become glassily inexistent in the shifting acts of the individual, momentary mind. We can likewise see everything in its connection with sense-contents or with Platonically conceived meanings or with abstracted values and requirements, or in terms of intersubjective relations or the all-pervasive power of words. We can also, if we like, practise nimbleness and conceive of things in highly mobile fashion, so that our emphasis constantly shifts from one aspect of cave-life to another. We can also, like Hegel, build these nimble dartings into an incomparably rich teleological or other synthesis. Philosophy may be said to be in part merely the changeover from a confused combination of many ill-developed ways of regarding the cave and its contents, to a single clearly focused and pregnant way, or to a sequence of such clearly focused ways, which may in their turn bring on a new deliberately blurred kind of vision, and so on. Philosophy is seeing the world under the hegemony of one or more of its constitutive furnishings. This statement could no doubt have been given a more modern sound by speaking of language-games and one-sided linguistic diet, the need to assuage linguistic cramps, and the like. These utterances I myself avoid since, whatever the legitimacy of seeing all things in the fight of words, I myself find it a cramping emphasis.

Philosophizing, however, brings out quite another fundamental feature of cave-life: that, while its factors fit together in the intimate manner I have described, there are none the less always relations of deep strain and discrepancy among them. These may not necessarily involve us in formal contradiction, which is a relatively trivial disorder, and one not hard to avoid: they involve rather a rivalry of interpretation which impedes any natural and easy accommodation. We seem, if we like, to be always dealing with cases of soi-disant independence which none the less reveal, on closer examination, a deep vein of collusion and mutual adjustment, yet, wherever we presume factors to have deep underlying interconnections, they suddenly play traitor to such presumptions, and face us with mere irrelevance. No two things seem more disparate, more deeply independent than the self-transcendent, spontaneous, variable, capricious yet order-loving life of intelligent, purposive mind, on the one hand, and the mute, inert, resistant, aloof, spread out being of mere bodies, on the other, yet, on reflection, each seems designed to be the mere foil of the other, bodies having precisely that degree of aloofness, inertia and other bodily properties which makes them fit stuff for comprehension and manipulation. Nothing is likewise more incredible and repugnant to the mutual independence of bodies in space than the far-flung, repetitive stereotypy of natural kinds, a stereotypy moreover incomprehensibly but nicely adjusted to the comprehension of the embodied minds among them. And embodiment itself, despite all attempts to dismiss it as a sham mystery, still presents itself as an odd marriage of congruous disparates, paradoxically struggling, in a strange transvestism, to take on each other's properties, a union made as absurd by the plain character of its members as it, in its turn, makes their several natures absurd. Our difficulties, moreover, are no mere difficulties of empirical fact, but have their roots in our very notions and in what they require. Similar difficulties confront us in the relation of bodies to space, and of space to time, and so on: it is barely possible to mark out a new territory which is not at once beset with its characteristic antinomies. The discrepancies we are here considering can be kept at bay by ordinary or sophisticated vagueness or confusion, as well as by resolute onesidedness and determined ignoring of difficulties. They can also be kept at bay by sophisticated complementarities, or doctrines of two truths or of identity in difference, or by an Hegelian image like that of a Bacchanalian riot in which the reefing participants totter away in transparent repose. They may have all their contradictions patched up, but they remain real absurdities, absurdities far worse than the simply self-abolishing absurdities of formal contradiction. Whatever we may do or say, we are not finally at peace: we are not even clear how we could be so. There is, in short, no simple, no straightforward way out of our difficulties, and it is their all-pervasiveness and their inescapability which constitutes the element of sheer bondage, of blind, uncomprehending subjection, which makes the human cave be a cave.

It is here that we feel the full force of the Platonic suggestion that the various deep conflicts in our experience may be ελκτικα προς ουσιαν, such as to drag us towards being, that they may enable us to sketch a form of life, experience and language, or a series of forms of life, experience and language, which will be precisely characterized by their growing freedom from the conflicts that plague us ‘here’. Difficult and paradoxical they may be, in terms of everyday standards of obviousness and clearness, but we may in the end decide that there is more lucidity in their paradox than in the tortured schisms of ordinary thought and diction. There may be forms of life and experience, describable perhaps only through difficult, analogical distortions, which lie beyond the phenomenal round of the human cave, and it may be that a secret contrast with these other forms of life and experience both enables us to recognize the human predicament as a predicament, and also to bring in shafts of explanatory light from beyond its confines. It may be, in short, because we are always in some obscure fashion beyond the cave, and may hope ‘one day’ to be completely outside of it-possibly in touch with some supreme source of lucidity—that we are able to find cave-life puzzling and to philosophize about it. It may be a philosophical mistake to try to ‘make sense’ of the world in which we find ourselves by analysing it internally: the only way to make sense of it may be to go entirely outside of it.

The suggestions I am here making are of course utterly preposterous from the standpoint of much contemporary thinking, for which the problems of philosophy are all pathological muddles, due to a gross misunderstanding of the delicate rules and mechanisms of ordinary language, and for which the only way ‘to show the flies the way out of the fly-bottle’ is to expose the confused verbal sources of the various ‘deep’ puzzles that obsess us. Is it sensible to ascribe absurdities and confusions to the world, and to seek to flee from it to some other, when the absurdities in question are all begotten by a use of words out of context, and a determined disregard of the niceties of living language? The enterprise we are bent upon would also be held to involve a mistaken, outmoded conception of what philosophical argumentation and analysis can effect: that it can introduce us to new areas of fact, that it can anticipate that encounter with individual realities which is generally referred to as ‘experience’, that it can do more than elucidate the content and working of our actual notions. None the less, despite the scandal of what I propose, I shall not abandon my endeavours. For I see no way to separate language from the phenomena that suggest its use, nor attribute to the latter an unspoiled virgin simplicity around which language, or the abuse of language, then weaves confusing phantoms. I know no original field of pure sense-contents nor any realm of uncomplicated, public, natural objects. The phenomena I encounter seem to me to contain all the confusing suggestions that can be brought out in my language, and it is the world, or my sense of it, which suggests differing and discrepant readings, rather than my words. And I am sure, in the second place, that I have what may be called general or eidetic experience as well as individual experience, experience which intimates what may come before me in individual encounter, and that it is only in a framework of such general, such a priori experience, that experience in the sense of an encounter with individuals is possible at all. The difficulty of my enterprise remains, however, extraordinarily great. For if the history of philosophy has shown anything it is that one does not remove puzzles and absurdities by fleeing somewhere else, to some other level of being or experience, where they will cease to torment us. If mutilated, discrepant phenomena exist anywhere, it avails nothing that they vanish at some higher stage. The final elucidatory stage must, in short, require and pervade the prior discrepancies and they it, and we must be able to say with Plotinus that all that is yonder is also here, to which we ourselves may have to add that all that is here is also yonder.

I shall conclude this introductory lecture by mentioning some of the main philosophical inspirations that lie behind the whole course. Here I hope you will not mind if I talk a little more personally, and in terms of my own likes and dislikes. My lectures are of course throughout inspired by certain strands in Plato, by some condemned as mythical or mystical, strands which are prominent in the Phaedo, the Republic, the Symposium, the Timaeus, the Phaedrus, and, on my interpretation, also in the second part of the Parmenides. I do not myself believe that Plato was ever weaned away from the ideas that these works represent into a pure passion for logical analysis: I think that logical analysis in the middle ranges flanked by mystical ultimates are at all times characteristic of his work and thought. I have also been greatly inspired by the writings of Plotinus, and shall make some use of his famous treatise on intelligible beauty in talking problematically of experiences beyond the cave. Other writers who have helped me towards speculative extensions of cave-life are Aquinas, Cusanus, Spinoza, Bradley and McTaggart. Aquinas has won my admiration by the inspired manner in which, on my interpretation, he breaks the strait-jacket of Aristotelian categories, and dares to say things about God and spiritual existences which could not significantly be said of me or you. I have also derived much light from the highly suggestive treatments of Cusanus with their notion of limiting situations where the oddest things become significant and true. Spinoza, McTaggart and Bradley have all influenced me deeply, though in the case of Bradley this influence is reduced by distaste. Bradley was an enthusiastic and angry philosopher as I am too, but the style and direction of his enthusiasm and anger are so different from mine that I cannot readily stomach him. I must here confess my immense debt to Indian cosmological ideas, both Hindu and Buddhist. Despite the many deficiencies of the Indian mind, it has undoubtedly been the recipient of an inspired spiritual geography and an inspired spiritual methodology of which no one else has possessed even the rudiments. We must, I think, be like Isis who wandered all over the world collecting and assembling the dispersed limbs of her husband, if we desire to reconstitute the rounded body of ecumenical truth.

In the study of the actual human cave I have, however, been supremely inspired by the phenomenological writings of Edmund Husserl, in my view the greatest philosopher of our age. My methods of examining the cave of human experience are all influenced by his reine Wesensschau or pure examination of essences, though I have not necessarily agreed with him in my results. To the methods of Husserl, adapted as I have adapted them, I have added the methods of Hegel, also adapted as I have found it necessary to adapt them. These methods, I believe, are capable of a thoroughly respectable and illuminating use, though one has to be very familiar with Hegel before one knows how to borrow from him or adapt him. It will also be found that, though I shall often speak of them angrily, I value the philosophers of our own tradition. The philosophy of abstraction and caution, which is so afraid of a confusion that it prefers to ignore a vital relation, and which is so afraid of being wrong that it would rather say nothing that is not trivial, certainly has its own austere merits. It is, moreover, the indispensable propaedeutic to anything truly speculative, and it is in this sense that I admire the thought of Hume, of Moore and in recent times of Austin. I also greatly admire the work of one who was for a short time my teacher, Wittgenstein. Though I do not think he showed the flies the way out of the fly-bottle, but rather kept them buzzing inside it, his views, I think, often provide the stimulus that makes escape possible.

My immediate programme is to give two lectures on the methods of these researches and their relation to the phenomenological method of Husserl and the dialectical method of Hegel. I shall then go on to treat of the problems which surround bodies (four lectures), and the problems which surround minds and their inner experiences (three lectures). This will complete my lectures for the present session. In the following session I shall first be dealing with the structure and problems of an abstract world of reason and values in which all men share, and which culminates in the ideas and values of religion. I shall then at the end take full speculative flight, and deal with themes roughly equivalent to the traditional God, Freedom and Immortality. These you will have to wait for till 1966, and I can only whet your appetite for them now. I may say, finally, that the task I am undertaking far exceeds my powers, but that I prefer attempting it to doing something well within my range. For I take it to be of the essence of Gifford Lectures that in them one attempts the impossible.