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Lecture Fourteenth: The Final Results of the Aristotelian Philosophy

IN the last lecture I sought to illustrate the doctrine of Aristotle that contemplation is higher than action, and that it is through the former alone that we enter into conscious relation with the divine, by contrasting it with the opposite doctrine of Kant and his disciples, that it is only the postulates of practical reason, the beliefs which are bound up with the consciousness of duty, which free us from the narrow limits of scientific knowledge and cast some light upon the higher destinies of man. And I endeavoured to show that both these doctrines have to be set aside as involving a false abstraction, an attempt to separate elements which are necessarily connected, similar to that which brought condemnation upon the so-called ‘faculty psychology.’ For the severance of the will from the reason, in whatever sense it may be interpreted, involves a disruption of the organic unity of man's life, and ultimately deprives the factor which is thus disjoined of all its meaning and content.

While, however, this criticism obliges us to condemn equally both the extreme views, it at the same time shows that there is a certain ambiguity in the doctrine that contemplation is higher than action. If we take that doctrine in the sense criticised, namely, in the sense in which the contemplative life excludes the practical, we are obliged to regard it as one-sided and abstract; but it might be taken to mean something very different from this. It might be taken to mean that there is a contemplative consciousness, which may take either a philosophical or a religious form, and in which we are lifted above all the oppositions that affect our natural life, and, in particular, above the opposition of theory and practice. That opposition, indeed, is one that rests on an imperfect view both of the theoretical and the practical consciousness. On the one hand, knowledge cannot be regarded simply as the revelation of an object which is independent of our subjectivity. The bond of object to subject is one that cannot be severed; and if in science we break through the veil of appearances, and so bring to light the reality beneath them, we are at the same time freeing the self from the imperfections of the first form of its consciousness. In penetrating to the reality of things, the subject is also discovering his own true nature. And the converse holds good of the practical life. The process by which the subject seeks to realise his will in the objective world, cannot be regarded as a mere imposition of that will upon something which is extraneous and indifferent to it. On the contrary, the subject can do nothing and attain nothing except in conformity with the nature of the object on which he acts; and his realisation of himself in it must be a manifestation of that nature as well as of his own. Hence the moral world which is built up by the action of men is no mere product of their particular subjectivity, but must be regarded as a further realisation of the same principle which reveals itself in the natural world. Thus both the theoretical and the practical consciousness point back to a unity which manifests itself in all the relations of the subject to the objective world, in its action upon him and in his action upon it. And both theory and practice find their completion in a higher consciousness which is primarily directed to this unity.

Now, it is the essential characteristic of religion that it awakes and develops this consciousness, and makes it the dominating factor both in our theoretical and in our practical life. In other words, religion teaches us to recognise that the ultimate reality, which knowledge seeks beyond the veil of phenomena, lies in a Being who speaks not only to us but in us; and, on the other hand, that the realisation of the highest end of our will is possible only as that will becomes the organ and vehicle of a divine purpose which is realising itself in the world. Thus to the religious spirit it is no longer the last word of truth that the world acts upon us or that we react upon the world; but rather that God, the ultimate principle of the whole in which both are included, acts in and through both, to make all their agency, whether in conflict or co-operation, the means of realising himself. This, it should be remarked, does not involve any denial of the reality either of the subject or of the object, or the reduction of them to mere appearances. On the contrary, it is only through the relative independence and even conflict of the two terms that the original principle of unity can reveal itself, and without them it would be empty and meaningless. Still, the whole conception of our finite life and of all the discords and antagonisms it displays—especially of this highest antagonism between object and subject—becomes changed and even transformed by the new light thrown upon it, when we realise that in their utmost separation and warfare they cannot break away from the divine principle which holds them together and manifests itself in both. Thus the central thought of religion is of a peace that is beyond the unrest of life, of a harmony that transcends all its discords, of a unity of purpose which works through all the conflict of the forces of nature and the still more intense conflict of the wills of men.

If we take it in this way, we can find a meaning for the assertion that the contemplative is higher than the practical life which will not imply a false exaltation of thought, as such, above action. For what, on this construction of it, the assertion means, is that we can rise above the one-sidedness of practical endeavour, above the endeavour to “work out our own salvation,” to the consciousness of a Power which, in Scripture language, is “working in us to will and to do of his good pleasure.” We may thus, as I have indicated, rise above ourselves, and return on a higher level to a contemplative attitude, even in relation to our own interests and actions. Such an attitude does not, indeed, exclude practice any more than it excludes theory; but it raises them both into a higher form and gives them both a new meaning, making the idea of God, as the one principle that manifests itself in the whole system of things, predominant over all sense of division and conflict within that system. Thus religion is not adverse to practical activity any more than to scientific enquiry; but it brings to the latter a consciousness that ‘the real is the rational,’ which is the anticipative solution of all theoretical difficulties; and it lifts the former above all its doubts and fears by the faith that the battle which it fights with evil is already won. It is, indeed, the great paradox of the religious consciousness, that, as theory, it can foresee the unity of the world with the demands of the intelligence, even when it is most fully conscious of the defects of our actual knowledge; and that, as practice, it can combine the utmost energy in the struggle against evil with the conviction that evil cannot but be overcome, and even that it exists only to be overcome, or made subservient to greater good. In short, religion in its ultimate meaning is just that consciousness of the whole in the parts, of the end in the beginning, which makes the spirit of man strong to face all the apparent materialism of nature and all the deeper materialism of human life, and to detect a spiritual meaning even in natural necessity, and a soul of goodness even in things evil. And what religion thus anticipates or intuitively apprehends, it is the business of philosophy, which is only religion brought to self-consciousness, to work out theoretically, not by withdrawing its eyes from that which is apparently irrational or imperfect, but by reinterpreting all such appearances in view of its highest principle. Hence if we call philosophy contemplation, we must mean by this not that it is merely theoretic, but that it belongs or ought to belong, like religion, to a region of consciousness which is beyond the opposition of theory and practice.

Such an interpretation of the doctrine that contemplation is higher than action is a possible one: but can we ascribe it in any sense to Aristotle? If we could, it would be possible to agree with those who maintain that the one-sidedness of his philosophy is only apparent, and that, at least in the ultimate results of his speculations, he rises above all dualism. Now I shall not assert that the ambiguity of the doctrine in question is without influence upon Aristotle, or that the higher interpretation of it is always excluded by his words. So long as two senses of a proposition have not been clearly distinguished and set in opposition to each other, it is possible that they may alternate, or even be confused together, in the mind of a philosopher who asserts it. It is, therefore, possible to take the statements of Aristotle in the sense just explained, in spite of all the arguments to the contrary which have been already adduced. Our final decision as to his meaning, however, must be derived from a consideration of his direct statements as to the idea of God, as a pure self-contemplative intelligence. These are to be found mainly in that great theological tractate which is the culminating result of Aristotle's metaphysic,1 a tractate which unfortunately is very succinct and difficult to interpret, but which has had more influence upon the subsequent history of theology than any other philosophical writing.

The central thought of this tractate is, as I have indicated, that God must be conceived as living a life of pure contemplation. To him, as a being beyond all the limitations of finitude, we can ascribe only an activity, which is free from all unrest, because it is conditioned by no matter, and has no object but itself. Thus God's life is not like man's, a process of development from potentiality to actuality; it is the out-going of an unimpeded energy, which yet rests for ever in the joy of its own completeness. Such an activity must be purely ideal. It must be υόησις υοήσεως, a pure self-consciousness, which has no need to go out of itself for an object, or, like our intelligence, to come to itself through the consciousness of an external world; but which is ever self-contained, ever one with itself,—an ἐυέργεια ἀκιυησίας, an activity which is without movement or change, a peace which is not death but an infinite self-centred life.

“The life of God,” says Aristotle, “is like the highest kind of activity with us: but while we can maintain it but for a short time, with him it is eternal; for it is an activity which is at the same time the joy of attainment. What other reason can be given for the fact that the modes of our waking consciousness, sensation and thought, are the keenest of pleasures, from which also the secondary pleasures of hope and memory are derived? Now, pure thought is thinking of that which is essentially good, and the highest thought has the highest object. And if we ask what that object is, the answer must be that the intelligence thinks itself when it lays hold of that which is intelligible: in other words, the intelligence itself becomes intelligible when it comes into immediate contact with the intelligible object and thinks it, so that subject and object are identified. For the faculty which can receive into itself the intelligible, which is also the real, is the intelligence, and its activity implies that it has its object in itself. Hence it is in this activity rather than in the mere capacity for it that the intelligence shows its divine nature. Contemplation is thus the best and happiest of activities, and if all we could say were that God's life is like our life in the highest moments of contemplative thought, it would be worthy of our admiration: but if it be better with him than with us, it must be still more worthy of it. And so it is indeed. In him is life: for the activity of intelligence is life, and He is that activity. Thus his essential activity constitutes a perfect and a blessed life. We speak of God, therefore, as a living being, perfect and eternal: for to him is ascribed a life which is continuous and eternal: or, we might rather say, He is life eternal.”2

In this conception of God as an eternal activity complete in itself, He is put in direct antithesis to the finite world, which is essentially a world of time and change, of birth and death. For in that world every substance that exists is developed out of a matter, which has the potentiality of it, by the agency of a previously existing substance, as the efficient cause of its development; and, again, every substance finds the end of its own existence in becoming the efficient cause of another substance of the same species. Thus in the process of the universe the same form is reproduced again and again in a succession of individuals, which are connected with each other as causes and effects; and the whole creation moves through a series of changes that continually repeat themselves. We have to observe further that, according to Aristotle, this cycle of changes goes on, not only in the succession of the generations of living things which continually have the same form reproduced in them, but also in the whole movement of the universe up to the circular motions of the heavens. The ebb and flow of human existence, the rise and fall of nations and civilisations, is but one of the phases of the great secular process of ‘becoming,’ which, after a long period, brings back to the same point the cyclical revolution of things: a revolution which has often repeated itself before, and will again and again repeat itself in the future. Thus time, in the language of Plato, becomes the ‘moving image of eternity,’ and the endless circular movement of the universe exhibits sub specie temporis the nearest analogon to the immediate return upon itself or rest in itself of the Absolute Mind, whose ideal activity is above all movement or change. Or perhaps we should rather say that the finite world, in the limitless self-externality of space and the endless succession of time, is the opposite counterpart of the pure self-contained unity and unchanging self-identity of the Eternal Spirit.

But this immediately suggests a problem, which in one form or another has caused much difficulty in the history of philosophy: How can these opposites be connected with each other? How can a spiritual being who is ever one with himself, be conceived as in any way relating himself to the divided and changeful existence of the world in space and time? How can an activity which, ex hypothesi, must be represented as a pure activity of thought, be at the same time a cause of motion in extended and material substance? And how, on the other hand, can such substances be supposed to react upon him or to put themselves in any relation to him? Aristotle in one place seems distinctly to tell us that God can think nothing but himself. To suppose him to think anything lower than himself is to degrade him, and to suppose him to think anything other than himself is to make him dependent. But if God be thus “of purer eyes than to behold” not only ‘iniquity,’ but even contingency and finitude, and if his whole activity is pure contemplation, how can He have anything to do with the changing finite world? Zeller, the historian of Greek philosophy, maintains that Aristotle has no real answer to this question, that his God, as a purely contemplative Being, is necessarily shut up within himself, so that he can neither act upon the universe nor even take cognisance of it. Zeller further supports this view by pointing out that, though Aristotle speaks of God as the first mover, the original cause of all existence, yet when he tries to explain the manner of this movement he is able only to say that God κιυεῖ ὡς ἐρώμευου, moves the world by being the object after which the whole creation strives, and not as if it were in any way determined by his action. In other words, it is not that God loves the world, but that the world loves and longs for God. He is the ideal to which all other things are more or less remote approximations; He is the end to which they move; but we are not to conceive of him as acting on or in them.

Now it must be admitted that Aristotle gives considerable grounds for such a view of his doctrine. In the first place, in his account of the relation of the world to God, he seems always to move upward and not downwards. In other words, he seems always to be showing that the finite world cannot be conceived to be complete and independent, and that its existence must therefore be referred back to God; but not that in the nature of God, as he describes it, there is any necessity or reason for the existence of the world. Thus he frequently argues that an endless series of movements is impossible without a first mover, and that this first mover must be himself unmoved. For movement is always of one thing by another, and a self-mover, as Aristotle urged against Plato, is ex vi termini impossible. But the idea of an ‘unmoved mover’ seems not less liable to objection, unless we can admit the conception of a kind of action which, without being motion, yet produces it in other things. God, then, must be conceived to move the world by a kind of action which is not movement. But what can this mean? The only other kind of action we know is the ideal action of desire and will, in beings that are capable of such motives. Now desire is that appetency, directed to particular objects, which belongs to all sensitive beings; while will is that love and longing for the universal good, which is peculiar to beings who are rational and self-conscious. It is only in this way that intelligent beings can be moved or acted upon, namely, in so far as their will is determined by the object of their thought.3 But as God thinks only himself, he can will and love nothing but himself, and, if we try to conceive of any influence of the divine Being which goes beyond himself, it can only be in so far as there is something divine in the world which loves and seeks itself in God.

It is easy to see that Aristotle has here come to a kind of dead-lock. The moving and changing world must be referred back to an unmoving and unchanging Being as the source of its movement; the series of causes and effects to a Being who is a cause without being an effect. But when we come to this point, we find that the principle which we have used to reach it is broken in our hands: for a mover who is not moved has an activity which cannot be conceived as of the nature of motion at all; a cause that is not an effect cannot be introduced as a member, even as the first member, of the series of conditioned causes. We may hide this from ourselves by speaking of a self-mover with Plato, or an unmoved mover with Aristotle, or a causa sui with Spinoza; but this is only a disguise for the fact that we have made what Aristotle calls a μετάβασιςεἰς ἄλλο γένος, a change to a quite different category or way of explanation. For in this unmoved mover, we are obliged to assume a kind of action which cannot be described as movement nor as causation, at least in the sense in which we have hitherto been using these words. Instead of a first link in the chain of temporal events—which, if we hold to the idea of movement or cause, is an impossibility—what we have now suggested to us is a kind of cause or mover which is not in the chain at all, either as the beginning or as any part of it, but one which is equally related to all its links. Hence Aristotle is obliged to think of the unmoved mover, not as beginning the whole circular movement of the heavens,—indeed, for him it has no beginning—but as continually producing and maintaining it. In other words, He is not a first in time, but a principle which is logically prior to, or presupposed in, all time.

But how are we to represent this new kind of action, this self-determination which is above movement or change? It can only be conceived, as Aristotle admits, as a purely ideal or spiritual movement, such as that by which we set before us an end, and make it the object of our endeavour. Now such self-determination of a spiritual being is easily conceivable, and in imperfect beings, who yet can think of a perfection which they have not attained, it may be conceived as a transeunt activity, that is, as an activity which carries them beyond themselves to the Being in whom is the perfection which they seek. In God, however, as a perfect being, it cannot be so represented; for there can be no external final cause of his activity. Hence Aristotle seems forced to think of the ideal activity, which connects God with the world, as one which is in the world and not in God. And he only partly disguises this discrepancy when he speaks of there being ‘something divine’ in all creatures which makes them seek the highest good; or, again, when he personifies nature, and endows it with a will for the best which is partly thwarted by the conditions of its realisation. In this way of conceiving the relation of God to the world there is a twofold failure; in so far as the action spoken of is not in God at all, and in so far as it is a kind of action that can be attributed only to rational beings; for to speak of a will of nature is to speak of nature as if it were a rational being. If, indeed, we could apply to God's presence in the world what Aristotle says of organisms in general, namely, that the whole, or the principle of the whole, is in every part, we might give a more definite meaning to the assertion of a ‘divine something’ in the world which loves and seeks for God; but this would be to attach too much importance to isolated expressions. And, apart from this, all that Aristotle has proved is that the world, as a finite existence in space and time, cannot be conceived as having the principle of its movement and change in itself; but he has not shown how a spiritual being can be conceived as originating such movement and change, or indeed, as relating himself in any way to it.

This conclusion, however, has to be modified by two considerations: first, that, in spite of these difficulties in conceiving God as the active principle in all being, as both its first and its final cause, Aristotle does undoubtedly so conceive Him. His special objection to the Platonic and Pythagorean theories is that they supply no such principle, and even set the world of change in such opposition to the eternal that no connexion can be discerned between them. While, therefore, he declares on the one hand, that there must be something higher than the objects of sense, otherwise there will be no principle of order in the world of sense itself—seeing that every principle that can be set up will have to be referred to a higher principle ad infinitum; on the other hand, he asserts equally that what is wanted cannot be found in the ideas of Plato or the numbers of the Pythagoreans, which are indeed higher than the things of sense, but utterly unconnected with them, and therefore incapable of determining them. His own theory, therefore, he regards as alone supplying a self-determining principle, which can be a determining principle for the world of sense. Further, he thinks that by this conception he has also explained the unity of the world, and bound all that is finite together into one whole by connecting it with one divine cause; and he quotes as against all theories that admit separate and independent spheres of being, Homer's vindication of monarchy: “The rule of many is not good; let one be ruler of all.” Aristotle is, therefore, satisfied that his own view, by referring all change and movement of the universe to a spiritual Being—who, as such, is a self-determining activity that is beyond movement and change—has solved the difficulty of explaining the origin of the world. He has thus, he thinks, set up a principle which, as spiritual, is beyond the world, and yet able to act upon it. And he sums up his conception of God, as at once immanent in the universe and transcending it, in what is one of the most striking passages in all the literature of theology.

“If it be asked,” he says,4 “in which of two possible ways the nature of the universe contains the good and the best, whether as something separate, existing independently in itself, or as the order of its parts, the answer is that, as in the case of an army, it must be in both ways at once. For the excellence of an army lies in its order, and it is separately embodied in the general. It lies, however, more in the latter than in the former; for the general does not exist because of the order, but the order because of him. Now all things in the universe are somehow ordered together, whatever swims in the sea, or flies in the air, or grows on the earth, but not all in like fashion Nothing exists apart and without some kind of relation to the rest; for all things are ordered in relation to one end. But it is as in a household, the free members of which are least of all left to their own devices, but have all or most of their actions determined beforehand with reference to the general wellbeing, while the slaves and animals have a few things prescribed to them with relation to that end, and for the rest are left to themselves. Thus in each member of the whole, its own nature manifests itself as the principle of its actions: and by this I mean that each has a special sphere allotted to it, while there are certain other things in which they all contribute to the good of the whole.”

Whatever, therefore, may be the defects of Aristotle's way of realising his own conception, there can be no doubt that he means, by referring the whole order of the natural world to a spiritual and therefore a self-determining principle, to escape from the dilemma on one or other horn of which he supposes all his predecessors to have been impaled. This dilemma is that either the world of time and sense has no cause beyond itself (which is self-contradictory, as such a world cannot be conceived as complete in itself); or that, if it be referred to a cause beyond itself, such a cause is altogether cut off from it, and therefore cannot explain it. But Aristotle's own view does not seem to do what he claims for it: for it does not explain how the conception of the purely ideal self-determination of that divine Being, who lives a life of pure contemplation, can escape from the same censure which he applies to the Platonic theory; in other words, how such pure thought, directed only upon itself, can become a determination of anything else than itself. And his doctrine that it moves the world ‘as loved by it,’ seems to show at once that he feels the difficulty, and that he can only solve it by an ignoratio elenchi. Like many subsequent writers, he seeks to bind the world to God without binding God to the world; nor does he make any use even of the pregnant hint of Plato, that God is good, and that goodness must seek to communicate itself.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that the metaphor of the army and the general contains a suggestion which gives us some help in dealing with the difficulty raised by Aristotle himself, when he says that God cannot think anything lower than or different from himself, and therefore, it would seem to follow, cannot think the finite world, which is full of change and contingency. He can think it, Aristotle seems to answer, in its order, in the forms or types that are realised in it. The divine intelligence, therefore, must be conceived, not as an abstract self-consciousness, but as gathering all the ideal forms that are realised in the world into the unity of one thought. This also seems to be the meaning of another passage,5 in which Aristotle asks whether the object of the divine reason is simple, or complex and composite. He answers that it must be simple; for, if the parts of that object were externally put together, reason would be subject to change in passing from one of them to another; and this would imply that it was not altogether immaterial. Aristotle, then, goes on to illustrate this thought by a comparison of the divine to the human intelligence. “As the human mind, though it has a complex object, yet at times apprehends it as a unity; not attaining to the good it seeks in each part severally, but finding the summum bonum in the whole, and that, in spite of the fact, that the subject here is different from the object it contemplates; so it is with the divine intelligence, whose object is itself, through all eternity.”6

Thus, according to Aristotle, even the human intelligence, in spite of the complexity in itself and in its object, which is due to the presence of a material element in both, can rise to the perception of the good, not as an attribute of particular things but as a principle of unity that transcends all their difference. It cannot, however, identify its consciousness of the object with its consciousness of itself as this individual. But the divine intelligence does not need any such process. To it the forms of things are at once present in their ideal nature, free from all matter, and the object is therefore ever in transparent unity with the subject. Thus God must be conceived as having a self-consciousness which is at the same time a consciousness of the ideal order of the world.

From these considerations it seems clear, that the simplicity which Aristotle attributes to the divine intelligence is not the absence of all multiplicity, but a transparent unity in which all difference is taken up and resolved. God's thought is thus represented as embracing all the elements of the whole in one indivisible intuition, just as a great artist sees at one glance the whole work of art in the inter-dependence of all its parts, or as a great scientific man grasps his whole science in one complete thought.7 In such an intuition there is no possibility of separating the object from the subject, the consciousness of the world from the consciousness of the self. Yet this must not be taken to mean that they are simply merged in one, but only that there is an identity which is above their difference and maintains itself through it. It is true that this view is not as fully and distinctly expressed by Aristotle as we might desire, and that, as has been said, the use of the word ‘simple’ is apt to produce a misconception, even if we could be sure that it did not imply one. And when we find him maintaining that reason in its perception of the highest truth is beyond judgment, and therefore incapable of error, because it grasps the object in an immediate way that is parallel to the direct perceptions of sense, θιγγάυωυ καί υοῶυ, ‘touching it and in the touch having an intellectual intuition of it’; we are obliged to acknowledge that he is haunted by a false ideal of absolute unity and unmingled simplicity, of a unity of the object with the intelligence which is only a bare identity, and of an intuition in which all the discourse of reason is extinguished.

But a still greater difficulty remains. Even if we put aside such objections and give Aristotle all the benefit of the above interpretation, it does not explain how the ideal forms of things can be realised in matter at all, nor how, as a consequence of this, the universe can admit contingency and imperfection, movement and change. The whole process of the finite—with all its division and fluctuation, the continual conflict of its parts, and the marred and distorted existences which the conflict produces—seems to lie beyond the sphere of the contemplative reason, which cannot see anything but an ideally complete whole in which every element is in perfect unity and harmony with every other. The rift which goes through Aristotle's conception of the life of man, which reappears in his view of science, and again in his separation of theory from practice—this rift is seen finally to take the form of an opposition between the world in space and time as it is presented in sense-perception, and the world of ideal forms which is alone capable of being grasped and understood by reason, and which, therefore, is the only world that can exist for the divine intelligence. Nor does Aristotle allow us to take refuge in the idea that the world of sense and opinion is only the world as imperfectly apprehended by the developing intelligence, which knows neither the world nor itself as they really are. This may seem a plausible way out of the difficulty, but to introduce it into Aristotle would be to reconstruct his whole philosophy. Nor, indeed, would it solve the difficulty; for the problem is just this: to understand how a world conditioned by space and time, and an imperfect though developing intelligence which apprehends it under such conditions, should exist at all, or rather how any ground for their existence can be found in the divine nature. And we are obliged to acknowledge that in Aristotle's idea of God no such ground can be discovered, unless we interpret contemplation in a way for which we can find no sufficient warrant in his writings.

The subject may be made clearer by raising another question. The object of thought must be distinguished from the thought that apprehends it, else it could not be present to that thought as an object; yet in another aspect it must be one with the thought that apprehends it, else it could not be present to it at all. Now, how are we to discriminate between these two aspects? In what sense is the object of thought only thought itself, and in what sense is it other than thought? Aristotle seems to answer that there is an element in the object which is ideal and therefore can be grasped by reason, and that there is another element in the object which is alien to reason, and which is present to us only through the faculty of sense. Such splitting of the difference, however, will not solve the difficulty; for, if we follow it out logically, it leads us to the result that the ideal element by itself is not objective, and the element which makes it objective is not ideal. But what we want to explain is just how that which is objective should be apprehended by reason, how the ideal world should be also real. Now, from the point of view of Aristotle, the divine or perfect reason cannot apprehend anything but itself, and the objective, as such, must be altogether beyond its reach. It appears, therefore, that the admission into the objective world of any element which, in Aristotle's sense, is not rational and therefore not explicable by the intelligence, must end in a complete denial of the rationality of the objective world, and in a recoil of the mind upon itself and its own inner consciousness, as that in which alone it can have any real apprehension of truth. The subjective movement of later Greek philosophy, with its concentration upon self-consciousness and its indifference to all knowledge of the world as well as to all the practical bonds of society, is therefore already prefigured in Aristotle.

Now a thorough-going idealism must recognise that thought and reason cannot be confined to itself, that, indeed, it can be conscious of itself only in relation to that which is not itself. For such an idealism there can be no self-consciousness which is not also the consciousness of an objective world. Yet the objective, which is other than itself, must be its other, its counterpart; it must be an object in which reason can find itself again, else it could not be presented at all. In other words, thought is possible only as it recognises the distinction between itself and its object, and at the same time transcends this distinction. The neglect of the former of these points leads to a one-sided or merely subjective idealism, while the neglect of the latter gives rise to an irreconcilable dualism; and very often we find philosophical speculation swaying from one of these extremes to the other. Thus a dualistic view of the relation between subject and object is almost certain to lead to a retreat upon the subjective, as that which alone is within the compass of the intelligence; and a Berkeleian reduction of all objects to ideas is very apt to raise the thought of another kind of objects which are not relative to the subject, and which therefore are altogether beyond the reach of knowledge. On the other hand, a thoroughgoing idealism will not fear to admit the reality of that which is other than mind, and even, in a sense, diametrically opposed to it; for it rests on a perception that these opposites are yet necessarily related, and that both are different and correlated aspects of one whole.

Now Aristotle never attains to such a view of the question, but, so far as we can see, maintains the existence of a material, and therefore unintelligible, element8 in the universe, corresponding to our sense-apprehension of the particular. Yet this insight was not very far from him: for it is not difficult to see that his conception of the finite world makes it the necessary correlate of his conception of pure self-consciousness, and, therefore, not really independent of it or separable from it. The objective world in its endless difference is not the negation of the unity of pure self-consciousness, but its contrary, not merely other than it, but its other. The pure inwardness of the mind is the opposite counterpart of the self-externality of things in space; as also its constant return upon itself is the opposite counterpart of the continual passing away of things in time. And if we apply the Aristotelian principle that the knowledge of opposites is one, we must admit that thought transcends this difference of itself and its object, and that for it the ultimate reality must be found in the unity of its terms. Unfortunately Aristotle seems to deny that this principle holds good for the pure or absolute intelligence,9 and to assert not that that intelligence transcends all opposition, but that for it the opposition does not exist at all.

I may put this in a still clearer way by connecting it with another aspect of the doctrine of Aristotle to which I have referred above. Aristotle declares that the only practical activity which we can ascribe to a rational being is the activity produced by the love of a good which is the object of his thought. But he is embarrassed by the difficulty that the divine intelligence can find no such good in anything but itself: and in this sense he seems to agree with the saying of Spinoza, that “he who loves God cannot desire that God should love him in return.” He, therefore, ascribes the movement of the universe to the love of the imperfect creation for God as its perfection. This is the ‘something divine’ which, in nature, anticipates and points to the perfection it wants, and which, in man, rises into a consciousness of God, and even a participation in his life of contemplation. Thus Aristotle seems to anticipate the doctrine of St. Paul that “the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God”; and that we also, who “have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves, waiting” for the fuller realisation of the divine nature in us. In other words, he anticipates the explanation of the world-process as a process of development towards a higher good, which is implied in its existence from the beginning. This doctrine, however, is a general expression which he does not attempt to work out to its consequences; and the correlative doctrine that the divine love embraces the finite world, and that it is in that world that God is manifested and realised, has no place in his philosophy, unless we are to find some trace of it in the metaphor of the army and its general.

It appears, then, that the question which was raised at the beginning of this lecture as to the meaning of Aristotle's doctrine of the primacy of the intelligence cannot be definitely answered in either way. The general trend and purport of his philosophy is toward dualism, and towards that abstract opposition of contemplation to action which is the result of dualism. But, in the first place, we have to admit that the pure self-contemplation of God is conceived as being at the same time the contemplation of the intelligible world, that is, of all the ideal forms realised in the universe. And, in the second place, we have to recognise that there are passages in which contemplation seems to be taken not in an exclusive but in an inclusive sense, not as meaning a rest of the intelligence in itself which is the negation of all practical activity, but as the consciousness of a unity which transcends all oppositions, even the opposition of the theoretical and the practical life. These passages, however, seem to be little more than the intuitive glimpses of a truth beyond the range of his explicit system, which we may find in every great thinker. Indeed, if we were allowed to take such glimpses of truth as if they were equivalent to a clear vision of all that is involved in them, it would be difficult to prove that there has been any progress in philosophy or even in human thought; or that the latest philosopher has gone beyond the thoughts which presented themselves to the first men who reflected upon their own nature and upon the nature of the universe.

  • 1. Met., XII, 6–10.
  • 2. Met., 1072b, 15.
  • 3. The above is a paraphrase of the beginning of the seventh chapter of the twelfth book of the Metaphysic.
  • 4. Met., XII, 10.
  • 5. Met., XII, 9.
  • 6. Met., 1075a, 8.
  • 7. See Vol. I, p. 340.
  • 8. Met., 1036a, 9, ἡ δ' ὕλη ἄγυωστος καθ' αὑτήν. Cf.Met., 1039b, 27: Phys., 207a, 25.
  • 9. See Vol. I, p. 344.