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Lecture Eighth. Creative Evolution, Body and Mind, and Personal Relation

IN the last lecture we have examined the two main forms of the mechanical theory of evolution under the guidance of M. Bergson; and we have seen reason to believe that neither the hypothesis of insensible variations nor that of sudden variations occurring accidentally explains the facts of life; nor again can they be accounted for by the direct action of the environment as resulting in the gradual transformation of the organism. The inadequacy of the mechanical theory has been partly recognized by eminent biologists, who have been led to adopt the Lamarckian principle in a modified form, supplemented by the principles of correlated variations and of sexual selection. It is held that there is in the living being a tendency toward development in a definite direction, together with the tendency to the concomitant variation of the parts. Thus both in their selective power and in the essential unity of their elements living beings exhibit an inherent impulse toward a definite end. They are not the passive victims of chance factors, but, diverse as the external conditions may be, they develop in harmony with their own inherent tendencies. Thus we seem compelled to substitute for the older idea of the special creation of a number of species, the deeper idea of an immanent principle involved in the very nature of living beings, and realizing itself in forms which, by their increasing complexity and power of adaptation, display more and more fully the essential unity of the whole. We have seen, however, that this explanation of life by the idea of internal purposiveness is rejected by M. Bergson, who maintains that it does not do justice to the essential nature of life, which consists in the inexhaustible power of creating new forms of being. To suppose that evolution is the process of releasing a predetermined end, he regards as an imperfect way of conceiving reality, due to our invincible tendency to apply the intellect, which has been itself evolved from the necessities of action, in the interpretation of the theoretical problem of the ultimate nature of things. Even the idea that the various members of the organism all conspire to constitute its individuality he regards as an untenable hypothesis, since no living being can be found which is individual, while the tissues and cells of which a living being is composed are themselves relative individuals; and therefore, he contends, we have in the end to fall back upon that external finality from which the hypothesis of immanent finality was supposed to provide a way of escape. Finalism, M. Bergson argues, is at bottom open to the same objection as mechanism; it allows of no real evolution at all, since the course of evolution is assumed to be unalterably predetermined. In truth, the process of life consists in the ceaseless creation of new forms; a process which cannot be anticipated, because it does not advance towards a predetermined end. We must discard the analogy of human art, which differs fundamentally from the creative activity of nature, inasmuch as it makes use of pre-existent materials, and in its products preserves unchanged the materials to which it gives form. In contrast to this mere accumulation of unchangeable elements, life is really a process of dissociationism or differentiation, which always involves choice of some kind, and is never the mere realization of a predetermined end.

Now, it will hardly be denied that in his conception of the infinite richness and prodigality of the principle of life, M. Bergson emphasizes a truth, the importance of which cannot be overestimated. The universe is certainly very inadequately conceived when it is contemplated as the monotonous movement of unchanging elements. Life, by its very nature, is always the evolution of that which is essentially new; and therefore all attempts to resolve it into unchanging elements miss what is distinctive of it. Nor, again, can an organism be adequately conceived as but the co-ordination of parts, which are externally brought together, and which remain unaffected by the form that is given to them. But the question is, whether M. Bergson is justified in his reduction of immanent teleology to the formal and external arrangement of pre-existent elements that remain unchanged in the product.

It is argued by M. Bergson that life cannot be explained on the principle of internal finality, because no organism can be found that is really individual, and therefore he claims that we have in the end to fall back upon the external adaptation of elements. Now, it is certainly true that no living being in its isolation can be called individual, and equally true that immanent finality as applied to any given organism is an inadequate conception. But M. Bergson has himself pointed out, in another connection, that a living being is an individual only in the sense that it is in process of realizing individuality, not in the sense that it has actually realized it. If this is true, how can it be denied that the living being is working or tending toward an end? No doubt the end cannot be identified with that which is actually realized in any single organism; but the reason is not that life is a blind process which evolves in any direction whatever, but that it is a process which is always working or tending toward the end of complete individuality. It is quite true, that in no organism but that, as such can perfect individuality be realized; as I hope to show, is because life is not the ultimate principle what we must say, then, is that no single living has any independent or separate individuality whatever, but is essentially a member of the total sphere of life. On the other hand, each living being contains within itself the one single principle of life, without which it could not exist. And this universal principle is, as M. Bergson says, no abstraction, but an actual principle which is continually realizing itself in the creation of living beings. We can therefore say that every organism contains within itself the principle of life, since the whole process of evolution is the self-differentiation of a principle which by its very nature is an organic whole. This organic whole, it is true, is never completely realized, just because it is creative; but, on the other hand, it has no reality apart from the definite organisms in which it is in process of realization. Each organism is at once universal and particular, expressing as it does the one eternal principle as embodied in a specific and limited being.

M. Bergson objects to the doctrine of immanent teleology that it limits the development of life to a determinate end, and therefore does not allow for the spontaneity or choice which in some more or less definite form every living being displays. But, surely it cannot be meant that all free activity is destroyed unless it is conceived to be devoid of any definite end whatever. M. Bergson admits that freedom is not to be confused with caprice; and it is not easy to understand how caprice can be avoided except by the admission that choice must be, not between an infinity of ends, but between various specific ends, all of which are compatible with the one supreme end of complete individuality. No doubt there are many ways of reaching the same end, as M. Bergson has shown in the case of the evolution of the eye in the vertebrates and the molluscs; but an infinity of routes leading nowhere seems to me a thoroughly irrational conception. What appears to underlie the objection to immanent teleology is the assumption that freedom is incompatible with all law—a thoroughly false assumption, which, notwithstanding M. Bergson's disclaimer, makes freedom the same thing as caprice. Every living being has undoubtedly a measure of freedom or self-determination; but this freedom it possesses, not because it may follow any one of an infinity of paths, but because it has the power in some sense of selecting different paths, all of which lead towards the final end of complete individuality. No doubt, when any given path is entered upon, the choice of other paths is thereby limited; but this in no way conflicts with the principle that, by the very nature of the universe, the number of paths cannot be infinite. An infinity of paths is at bottom the same thing as no path at all. In a rational universe no being can possibly enter upon a course of action which leads nowhere, and therefore action, by its very nature, involves an end.

M. Bergson might perhaps answer that the whole conception of an end to be realized is due to the character of our intellect, which cannot grasp the idea of creation at all, and therefore converts it into the idea of realizing a preconceived plan. It would take us too far to attempt a criticism of this theory of the intellect. I may say, however, that it seems to me to rest upon the false assumption that the highest conception of which the intellect is capable is that of mechanism. Now, while it is perfectly true that the special sciences never get beyond the category of mechanism, I can see no reason why the intellect should be limited to a conception which, as M. Bergson has himself shown, is entirely inadequate to express the real nature of things. What M. Bergson calls Intuition seems to me but Intelligence or Reason in its final form—with this difference, that the latter is reached only by a process in which all less adequate modes of conception are transcended. Intuition, as he describes it, is simply immediate concrete experience, and to set forth the principles involved in that experience involves the exercise of Intellect or Reason. Unless those principles are clearly grasped, we are left with vague and indefinite ideas, which, just because they are vague and indefinite, are necessarily ambiguous. It is true that the principles grasped by thought, when they are isolated from concrete experience, become mere abstractions; but it is equally true that concrete experience which is not subjected to a process of analysis and synthesis is abstract in another way. What philosophy has to do is to set forth in articulate form the system of principles presupposed in the totality of experience, always recognizing that these get their meaning from their embodiment in experience. To assume, with M. Bergson, that the intellect cannot transcend the mechanical conception of the universe is virtually to affirm that reason is by its very nature self-contradictory; for nothing is more certain than that a universe of pure mechanism is one that contradicts the presupposition of all knowledge and reality—the presupposition that it must be a self-consistent and complete whole.

The conclusion to which we have been led, that the world cannot be adequately determined as a purely mechanical system, will receive additional confirmation from a consideration of the relations of body and mind—perhaps one of the most pressing problems of the present day.

The most consistent form which the mechanical explanation of mind assumes is the doctrine which, since the days of Huxley, has been generally known as Epiphenomenalism. Accepting the general principle that all changes in the world consist of the transposition of mass-points, it is maintained that the movements which go on in the organism of any living being, including those which occur in the human brain, are strictly subject to the laws of mechanism. What is characteristic of Epiphenomenalism, however, is the contention that all the changes which occur in consciousness are collateral products of the corresponding movements in the brain. There is therefore, it is maintained, no real activity except that of the processes which go on in the brain, consciousness being simply the feelings which successively appear and disappear, without influencing one another or reacting upon the brain-processes by which they are produced. Our mental conditions, as Huxley puts it, “are simply the symbols in consciousness of the changes that take place automatically in the organism.” In the evolution of the material universe, living organisms are held to have emerged because of the increased complexity of the atomic structure of certain molecules, and these organisms, it is said, have gone on increasing in complexity until, with the origination of brains of a certain degree of complexity, consciousness has appeared, and has finally reached the greatest degree of complexity in the evolution of the human brain. It of course follows that with the extinction of living beings with brains consciousness will simultaneously disappear from the universe.

It will be found, I think, that this view of the relation of consciousness to the brain is based upon an ambiguity which involves a fallacy. Conscious states are said to be a “collateral effect” or “epiphenomenon” of the organism. What is here obscurely implied is that consciousness is an effect which arises without any expenditure of physical energy. But this is the same as saying that it is an effect which arises without a cause. A cause is the totality of conditions without which an effect cannot take place; and therefore, if the conscious state is part of the effect of which the expenditure of physical energy is the cause, it must involve an expenditure of such energy. On the other hand, if the physical event may give rise to the mental without any expenditure of energy, there can be no reason why the mental should not equally give rise to the physical. Either, therefore, the conscious state is not in any sense a product of the physical, or it must be admitted that there is an influence of each upon the other. In the former case, the whole idea of mind as epiphenomenal must be abandoned; in the latter, we must surrender the principle of causality as employed in scientific investigation. In truth, as I hope we shall immediately see, both conclusions must in a sense be accepted. Mind may be shown not to be a collateral product of body, and natural causation is certainly not an ultimate explanation of anything. Meantime, it may be pointed out that the doctrine of animal automatism is inconsistent with the principles of mechanics adopted by naturalism and regarded as absolute. For, the combination of parts required to form an organism, even assuming that the organism is merely a machine, cannot be explained without going beyond the laws of matter and energy which ignore all forms of combination; and even if we assume the existence of the organism, consciousness is on the theory of automatism held to be entirely destitute of activity. Let us, then, see if the doctrine that psychical activity is an illusion is consistent with the facts of our experience.

When any process of thought takes place, we are to suppose that in spite of appearances to the contrary it is not due to any activity on the part of the conscious subject, but is merely a collateral product of certain molecular changes that simultaneously go on in the brain. Similarly, volitions are supposed to arise somehow from bodily movements. Now all physical movements, including the molecular movements in the brain, are for naturalism absolutely determined, and therefore anything like spontaneity in the correspondent psychical process is for it logically impossible. Our mental conditions are therefore said to be simply “the symbols in consciousness of the changes that take place automatically in the organism.” Thus, the whole contents of consciousness are as inevitably determined as the corresponding physical counterpart, of which they are the symbols. We must, therefore, if we are consistent, deny that mind in any of its modes is self-active. We have already seen, however, that by the principles of naturalism the physical series likewise excludes self-activity. No body can receive any energy but that which is imparted to it by another body, or impart energy to another body without itself losing an equivalent amount. Hence for naturalism all self-activity, whether mental or physical, is banished from the world. But this conclusion brings the naturalistic view of body and mind into contradiction with itself. Starting with the doctrine that consciousness is an “epiphenomenon” of the organism, it is finally forced to the conclusion that, as there is no activity in either body or mind, the latter can in no sense be a product, not even a collateral product, of the former. Each is left confronting the other in abrupt antagonism. This is the view adopted by what is called Psycho-physical Parallelism; which is, therefore, a more self-consistent form of Epiphenomenalism.

Psycho-physical parallelism, in the strict sense of the term, conceives of physical and psychical processes as entirely independent of each other, but yet as simultaneous and corresponding point by point. There is no causal connection on this view between the two processes, but in each the successive steps are causally related. This doctrine is held in one of two forms: either the parallelism is only between the changes in the brain and the corresponding changes in consciousness, or all physical Processes whether inorganic or organic, are maintained to have their psychical concomitants.

The first form of the doctrine is beset with obvious difficulties. It is supposed that there is a parallelism between changes in consciousness and the correspondent changes in the brain, but not between the former and those physical processes which precede the brain processes. Now, if all physical processes, as a consistent naturalism must hold, are of the same essential nature, why should it be supposed that only certain brain-processes are accompanied by conscious concomitants? On this hypothesis, consciousness corresponds to a very small fraction of the changes which go on in the world. Are we to suppose, then, that no other changes are in any way represented in consciousness? But this would seem to reduce our knowledge of reality to very small compass. Moreover, it is supposed that for each subject all that exists are the ideas corresponding to changes in his own brain; and it would therefore seem that the knowledge of each subject must be limited absolutely to those changes, so that he can have no knowledge of any brain but his own, and much less of any world of objects distinct from the changes in his own brain. But the culminating absurdity of the whole theory is that only by a miracle can the knowledge of his own brain be explained. For, on any theory whatever, it is certain that a man's own brain is precisely that of which he can have no direct knowledge. We must, therefore, suppose that it is only by a complex series of inferences that the subject comes to the conclusion that the ideas in his consciousness correspond to changes in his brain. Thus for him those changes are known only as ideas in his consciousness, and it is these ideas that we must suppose to correspond to his immediate sensations. But the thoughts of his brain-processes are not temporal concomitants of sensations. Thus the whole theory of parallelism breaks down, and we are left with nothing but more or less complex modes of mind.

The second or universal form of parallelism will be found to be equally untenable. It is now held that every physical process, and not simply the process in the brain, has its concomitant psychical representative. The physical sequences, consisting of stimulus, excitation of the sense-organs, processes of conduction along the sensory nerves and lower nervous centres, are therefore entirely independent of the psychical changes which correspond to each of these movements.

This form of the parallelistic hypothesis involves the difficulty that, while it consistently maintains that physical and psychical changes are parallel in their whole range and extent, it seems to be out of harmony with the facts of our experience. Sensations only appear in consciousness in connection with brain-processes, and it is therefore only by an elaborate process of inference that we can conclude to the presence of psychical elements, corresponding to the successive steps which precede the excitation in the brain, itself the final result of the whole physical sequence. Whether or not we are entitled to affirm that there is a psychical as well as a physical change at each stage of the total process is a distinct question; but in any case it is a special difficulty in this form of parallelism that it at least seems to extend psychical phenomena beyond what the facts warrant. Waiving this objection, it is enough to say that the doctrine is incompatible with a tenable theory of knowledge. Physical and psychical processes are alike facts of experience, and therefore any consistent theory of their relation must enable us to see how they can both belong to the same universe. But the doctrine of parallelism affirms that they confront each other as two diverse and irreducible modes of being. The only plausible mode of escape from this contradiction between what are claimed to be opposite facts of our experience is to fall back upon the doctrine that our experience is not of reality, but only of appearance. Since neither the physical nor the psychical series can be reduced to the other, while yet they must belong to a single universe, we may suppose that mind and body are appearances of an underlying reality which is beyond the reach of our experience. This is the doctrine that has been called Phenomenalistic Parallelism.1

The doctrine that physical and mental processes are two “aspects” of a reality which is itself unknown is open to grave objections. What gives plausibility to the doctrine is the assimilation of the two processes, physical and mental, to two different points of view from which sensible objects may be regarded, as, e.g. when we “see the strokes of a hammer upon a gong, or hear them.”2 But when the process in the brain and the sensation as it appears in consciousness are spoken of as different “aspects” of the same reality, the term is misleading, in so far as it suggests the apprehension of the same process from two different points of view. The movements in the brain and the changes in consciousness are held to be utterly different from each other, being separated by the whole diameter of being, and to speak of them as if they were in any sense identical is a mere confusion of thought. It is indeed just for this reason that the two processes are referred to a reality different from both. But the whole conception of a reality different from the two discrepant processes, and yet somehow unifying them, is self-contradictory. Matter and mind, we must suppose, are merely appearances, having no doubt some analogy to the reality which underlies them, but yet differing from that reality in ways that we are unable to define. This assertion of our invincible ignorance of the nature of reality seems indeed to provide a separate sphere for the religious consciousness, which naturalism threatened with extinction. For, while any specific knowledge of absolute reality is denied, it is positively affirmed that it exists beyond the sphere of our experience, just because we are conscious that what falls within experience is not reality. Thus, strangely enough, the attempt to carry out naturalism to its logical conclusion results in its complete reversal. The unalterable system of nature is found to be merely the construction, out of the inadequate elements supplied to us in experience, of a working conception, which enables us to calculate and measure phenomena and to observe the behaviour of our own minds, but which in no way enables us to comprehend the reality of which these two irreducible forms of our experience are but the symbol and adumbration. This is a virtual confession that the whole theory of parallelism has broken down. A reality that lies beyond knowledge, and yet unites two mutually exclusive streams of phenomena without possessing anything identical with either, is a conception so utterly self-contradictory that it can only secure adhesion so long as we think loosely and vaguely. It is assumed that our knowledge, phenomenal as it is, must somehow, we know not how, correspond to reality; but when we ask how we can possibly tell that a reality, of which nothing can be predicated but that we can predicate nothing of it, can have anything in common with the specific objects of our experience, we see that at the most this self-contradictory idea obtains its plausibility only from our conviction that all modes of reality must somehow be combined in the unity of a single universe. This instinct of reason is no doubt sound, but it can only be justified by a doctrine which, unlike phenomenalistic parallelism, shows that the physical and mental are not discrepant and mutually exclusive, but are truly different phases of a single reality.

It will prepare the way for such a solution if we ask ourselves for whom the supposed independence and correlativity of bodily and mental states exists. Any one who asserts that the two series correspond must have a knowledge of both. Now, the theory claims that there is no relation whatever between the physical and the conscious process. It therefore follows that anyone limited entirely to the apprehension of conscious states will know nothing of bodily states. Nor is it any answer to say that the former are a symbol of the latter, since any ground for making such an assertion must be based upon a knowledge of both. We are thus left in the curious position, that we are asserted to have a direct knowledge of a psychical series of events, but no knowledge of the physical series maintained to correspond to it. Here in fact we come upon the main line of thought which leads to Subjective Idealism. Now Subjective Idealism, as we have already seen, is fatally defective, in so far as it reduces reality to the experience of the individual subject. But, if we reject this doctrine, it seems as if we were forced to admit that in some sense the parallelism of mind and body must be accepted. We return then to our original question; for whom do the two series exist? Certainly not for a being who is shut up within the psychical series. For whom, then? To answer this question we must consider that nothing can possibly be known to us that falls beyond our conscious experience. When therefore it is said that body and mind are separate and distinct, it must be observed that, however separate and distinct, they may be, they must both be contained within the same conscious experience. But conscious experience is the same thing as mind; and therefore we have the result that body and mind are both contained within mind; in other words, that mind embraces both itself and body. If this is so, we can understand how the two series, at first viewed as separate and distinct, are related to each other. They are related, not in themselves, but in the mind which is conscious of both, apart from which they have no reality whatever. Hence body and mind can be distinguished from each other only in so far as both are brought together or related by the one identical mind. But if body and mind as known are distinguished from each other, the mind which is related to body must be distinguished from the mind which comprehends both. What then do we mean by the mind which is known as distinct from the body? We mean, not a separately existing being, but one aspect of the total object comprehended by the mind, the other aspect being body. Thus body and mind are aspects of the same thing.

At this point we must be careful not to confuse the view that body and mind as known are distinctions within a whole, with the phenomenalist doctrine that they are separate aspects of a single unity distinct from both. Phenomenalism, starting from the independence and correlativity of the physical and the psychical aspects, is led to hold that from the point of view of noumenal reality each is identical with the other. Thus the distinction of body and mind is regarded as an insoluble enigma, since for us the two aspects are irreducible, while yet they are held to be at bottom identical, if only we could be freed from the limits of our experience. Our view, on the other hand, is that body and mind are known as distinguishable aspects which cannot possibly be reduced to identity, but yet are essentially correlative and are therefore different phases of a single known unity.

What do we mean by body? From the ordinary dualistic point of view body is supposed to be an independent being the parts of which are material and extended, while mind is said to be immaterial and inextended. We have seen, however, that what we distinguish as the material world is reducible to mass and energy, and that these are only elements of reality fixed upon and formulated by the natural sciences, but by no means exhaustive of the full nature of reality. Body, therefore, is not a collection of material particles, nor, on the other hand, has it any independent existence; it is but a certain aspect of reality, abstracted from other aspects and considered by itself. When it is contrasted with mind, body must not be conceived as a mere collection of mass-points, but as an organism, the characteristic feature of which is that it continually secures the end of its own self-maintenance. As an organism, therefore, body is not simply a complex series of motions—though, of course, it is also that—but it is a self-directed, though unconscious, series of motions, the result of which is the continuance and development of the living being. What we must now contrast with mind, therefore, is not a purely physical series of movements, but a connected and purposive series of movements. But even yet we have not explained the relation of mind and body. Another element must be added. Mind involves, not merely purposive activity, but purposive activity which is at the same time conscious. But this consciousness is not something added to the organism and having an independent reality apart from it; it is the organism which no longer simply displays purposive activity, but has come to the consciousness that it does so. Thus consciousness is not something parallel to the organism, but it comprehends while it transcends the organism. There is no consciousness apart from the organism—not because the latter is independent of the former, but because consciousness expresses what is already implicit in the organism. Mind is thus the synthesis of matter, life and consciousness. The logical distinction of body, soul and mind—if we use the term “soul” to express the character of a self-directed unity—remains, but it is a distinction, not a separation. The conscious being is not made up of three separate constituents, though in order to comprehend what it involves we have to distinguish these three aspects of its reality.

Now, if mind comprehends body, it is natural to ask why the separation of the two seems so manifest, and why we continually fall back into the way of conceiving them as independent. There are no doubt many other reasons, partly practical and partly religious, for the separation; but the main theoretical reason is that we are directly conscious of the operations of our own minds, while we are only indirectly aware of the changes in the organism. As a matter of fact, the earliest form in which the individual subject has any experience is that of immediate feeling as distinct from and yet related to something afterwards explicitly discriminated as a bodily change. And even when this primitive experience has developed into the consciousness of a complex world of objects apparently opposed to the subject, we have still a direct experience which suggests the contrast of mind and body. The operations of the body are not directly and immediately apprehended, and therefore we not unnaturally contrast the body with our own immediate state. If therefore a true view of the world could be based upon immediate apprehension, the opposition of mind and body would seem to be amply confirmed. But before such a contrast can possibly be made, we must obviously have in some way learned of the reality of bodily movements, for we cannot contrast two objects if we know only one. Now this knowledge is bound up with that developed experience of the world which is mediated by thought. The changes of body are known to us, not in immediate feeling, but through that interpretation of feeling which is essential to what we call experience. It is in this way that the whole complex wealth of our world has arisen for us, and only because we are able to live in this larger world can we contrast mind and body at all. It is therefore a short-sighted and inadequate view of experience to identify it with immediate feeling. When that is done, it is not surprising that mind and body should be contrasted as utterly disparate. From the larger point of view, as we have seen, mind is the unity which comprehends the living body within itself; it is not contrasted with body as a series of feelings with a series of movements. There is therefore nothing but mind, and the real problem is to determine what mind in its completeness is. For, though mind is the organism that has come to comprehend itself, it must be observed that no finite individual is mind in its perfection. Mind in its perfection is found only in God, who must be conceived as the fully developed or absolute Mind. As we have already found that God is not merely the unchangeable system of the world, but its life; so now we are led to the conclusion that he is Mind or Spirit in its completeness.

From the point of view we have now reached there can be no difficulty in seeing the inadequacy of Agnosticism. The reality and yet unknowability of the ultimate principle of the universe is the inevitable result of the false contrast of mind and matter. Two parallel series, which correspond but have no connection, is a challenge to that instinct for unity which is inseparable from intelligence. Since the opposition is incompatible with the demand for unity, refuge is taken in the idea of a reality transcending the distinctions of our divisive intelligence. It can hardly be necessary to dwell upon the self-contradictory character of this doctrine, which at once affirms that we have knowledge of the Absolute and yet have no knowledge of what it is. Reduced, as it logically is, to the pure abstraction of Being, the most that can be said for Agnosticism is that it clings desperately to the idea of a unity, which it is unable to reconcile with its theory of knowledge. To this strait it is brought, because it has never got beyond the untenable opposition of mind and matter, soul and body. When it is seen that reality must comprehend all the distinctions involved in our experience by uniting them in a higher unity, and that this unity is Mind, there is no longer any reason for falling back upon a Great Reality of which we can say nothing but that it is. God is Spirit, and Spirit or Mind is in its perfection infinitely differentiating, not infinitely abstract. A God who is not manifested in every part of the universe is manifested in none; for, unless as the principle of unity the idea of God becomes a mere hypothesis. Agnosticism is at least right in maintaining that God is the Being who resolves all the contradictions of life, and therefore is necessarily one—though, no doubt, even unity is for this doctrine merely an unprovable assumption.

Discarding the opposition of mind and matter, which leads to parallelism and agnosticism, we are forced to conclude that the only reality is mind. This may be regarded as the common attitude of all idealistic systems. But a marked difference emerges when we ask in what sense it is affirmed that mind is the principle of existence. Is the mind which constitutes the unity of the world individual or universal? Are we to say that nothing exists except for this or that individual mind? Is there an infinite mind in which all reality is contained, or must we say that all mind is individual? If the last view is the one adopted, we shall be led to hold that the only forms of being are individual minds, matter being a fiction of abstraction. This is the doctrine known as Personal Idealism.

The theory that consciousness is a collateral effect or by-product of material processes is by the personal idealist rightly declared to be untenable. We have no knowledge of an independent matter, but only of concrete objects which are essentially relative to mind. The world of our experience is said to be constituted for us by the application of conceptions to the sensations which we immediately experience. For each individual the world consists of his experiences. Can we then affirm that the world is nothing but the experiences of finite minds? No, but that the world, while it has no existence except in the mind of God, is known by us only in so far as we have experience of the same kind as that of God, though less comprehensive in its extent. At the same time the human mind, though it has been created by God and is dependent upon him for its continued existence, is yet independent and individual, since it lives its own self-active life, and is absolutely impervious even to God. It is therefore admitted that God, as a separate individual, is limited in so far as he is not immanent in man, though it may be added that this is not a defect, since the limitation is self-limitation. In this Way, it is thought, the freedom and moral responsibility of man may be preserved, while yet a place is found for the reality of God. The universe, it is said, must be conceived to be composed of finite minds and the omniscient mind of God.

Idealism in all its forms denies the independent reality of a world which can be resolved into the correlated movements of masses, maintaining that in its separation from mind such a world is a mere abstraction. But there is a certain ambiguity in the interpretation of the principle that without mind there can be no world of nature. Does it mean that nature is constructed by the human mind in its endeavour to interpret its immediate experiences in a self-consistent and comprehensive way? or, on the other hand, that it is the partial formulation of the rational system of the universe? And again, assuming the world of nature to be a system of abstract conceptions formed by the human mind, are we to regard this system as the product of the individual mind, or as somehow the result of a universal intelligence operating in and through the individual mind? The answer to these questions will determine whether our idealism is of a subjective or an objective type.

Personal Idealism starts from the point of view with which Kant has made us familiar, that the nature of the real world can only be truly apprehended when we ask how our experience is possible. Now within our experience, as it goes on to say, we find objects that we see, feel and handle; with which is contrasted the invisible and intangible world that for its own purposes science has been impelled to construct. The transition from a world of sensible things to a world that exists only for abstract thought must, it is argued, admit of explanation, since it must have been experienced by the man of science. In any case, it is plain that both worlds exist only for the mind, and therefore that we have no more reason for affirming the independent reality of the world as conceived by the man of science, than for maintaining the separate existence of sensible objects. The hypothetical world of science is just as much an experience of the conscious subject as the immediate world of sensible perception. Since space, time, mass and energy are simply conceptions by which we explain the changes that take place within the sensible world, it is plain that they cannot be legitimately supposed to exist apart from the mind that has formed them.

In seeking to explain the transition from immediate experience to the conceptual world of science, we must be careful to take the former as it presents itself. Our earliest experience does not consist of atomic feelings or a disconnected multiplicity of sensations, which are simply given to the subject and afterwards combined into a whole. The very simplest experience involves the distinction and unity in one consciousness of subject and object, and the sensations with which that experience begins are already differentiated in quality, intensity and extensity. What the subject originally experiences is not “pure sensation,” but “primary or perceptual presentation.” From the first a definite object is apprehended by a conscious subject. The object so apprehended is certainly not the cause of which the experience of the subject is the effect, for to say so would be to make one element of experience the cause of experience as a whole; nor is the subject the creator of its own experience, for this would isolate each individual from all others. Experience, in short, cannot be explained by anything but itself. We must therefore start from this solid fact, that “experience is a whole, or more precisely a continuity, and that it consists in the correlation of subject and object as its universal factors.”3

In the process of transition from immediate to conceptual experience, nothing, we are told, enters into the experience of the subject apart from the self-activity by which objects that interest us are selected. What gives objects their place in experience are those features in them which minister to the end of self-conservation. It is with this purpose in view that the living experience of the individual is supplemented by the experience of the race, as systematized and formulated by means of abstract conceptions. As to the former, nothing is retained or enters into experience except that in which the subject is actively interested. Each individual gives its peculiar character to his experience by his selective activity. It is in this way that we come to regard an object as one and individual, its unity being constituted by the subjective interest which leads us to select certain features and combine them into a whole. As experience develops, objects are more and more differentiated, because ends become more specific.

Even the simplest experience, it is contended, involves synthesis; but it is synthesis in an immediate or unreflective form. As experience progresses, this synthesis becomes explicit. A comparison is made of objects with one another and the similarity of things and events that are partly different is recognized. No two objects are precisely the same for two individual subjects. The sun that I see is not precisely the same as yours. A, B, C cannot exchange objects, and if they could, the experience of each would cease to be his own. For, the object is essentially relative to the individual subject, being a product of his separate experience, as determined by the selective activity which he has exercised. Hence the object of A exists only for A, the object of B for B, the object of C for C. What then is meant by saying that A, B and C all have the same object? We cannot mean that the object is numerically or determinately the same; what we really mean is that in the different experiences of A, B, and C there is something common, and it is this common element that is embodied in language, and forms the basis of what we may call the “trans-subjective” object. Now, there can be no object without a subject, and therefore there must be a subject corresponding to the “transsubjective” object. Ordinary thought misinterprets the fact. Finding that my object is mine only, and another's object is his only, it infers that the real object is independent of both. This is the fallacy of “introjection.” In truth, there is no object in addition to the concrete object of individual experience. The “transsubjective” object is general, abstract or conceptual, and gets its meaning from its relation to individual experience. Hence, “the subject of universal experience is one and continuous with the subject of individual experience.” By universal experience we must understand that which is common to all intelligent subjects, and peculiar to none. Thus there is no object apart from the experience of individual subjects, the “transsubjective” object being simply that which is “common” to all individual subjects. In this sense we may say that “intersubjective intercourse does not carry us beyond the wider solipsism of consciousness in general.”4 The “transsubjective” object or world, in short, turns out to be a world that exists only in the minds of individual subjects each of whom recognizes the element common to their varying experiences.

Now the conception of “natural law,” the personal idealist goes on to say, has been framed as a means of furthering human ends, and therefore it is teleological. Nature is conceived as a system, the parts of which are determined by universal laws, and the knowledge of these laws is an essential condition of human welfare. Thus the activity of the subject is primarily practical. (1) The unity of nature is the result of selective synthesis. The intellect organizes experience, and indeed experience consists in the process of unification. (2) The special ways in which this unification is accomplished are by means of the categories, the chief of which is causality. The ideas of cause and effect are in the first instance derived from our subjective activity, and then transferred to the relation between changes in the objective world. In reality, there is no causal activity in objects, but merely uniformity of sequence; the only causal activity of which we have experience is that of subjects. We “postulate” regularity in nature, and find our postulate fulfilled. Thus nature conforms to the conditions of our intelligence, and is therefore amenable to human ends. As experience develops, the subject displays an ever-increasing activity, in which the world is more and more found to be intelligible. A consistent Naturalism reduces “laws of nature” to uniformities of co-existence and succession. But such uniformities, it is urged, do not exclude causal agents; on the contrary, the very fact that causality is excluded from nature implies that it must be found beyond nature. Being a cosmos the world implies a Supreme Intelligence as its only sufficient reason and efficient cause. Nor can we admit that God stands outside of the world, but we must regard the world as inseparable from God. It is no real objection to say that nature is a fixed and unchangeable system; for how should there be any breaks in the order of nature, if it is an expression of the mind of God?

We conclude then, argues the personal idealist, that we have no knowledge of anything but minds, as acting and reacting on one another, and so constituting the ideal world of science as a means of self-development. The world is found to be comprehensible by our intelligence and to be the means of realizing our rational ends. It is true that we can never completely formulate the infinite wealth of the world, for only in God is there perfect identity of the ideal and the real; but all experience is a progressive confirmation of the hypothesis with which we start, that the world is one, unchangeable and rational.

From what has been said it follows that reality for each individual consists of experience. Does this mean, it is asked, that the world is nothing but the experience of finite minds? No, but that the world, while it has no existence except in the mind of God, is known by us only in so far as we have experience of the same kind as that of God, though less comprehensive in extent. At the same time, the human mind, though it has been created by God and owes to him its continued existence, is yet independent and individual, living as it does a single self-active life, which is impervious even to God himself. Freedom and moral responsibility are, therefore, it is contended, shown to be inseparable from the self-consciousness of man, while yet no violence is done to the reality of God. The universe, in a word, is composed of finite minds and the omniscient mind of God.

  • 1.

    This is Dr. M῾Dougall's term. I may add that his classification and discussion of the various theories of body and mind I have found very suggestive, though I am unable to accept his final dualistic solution.

  • 2.

    W. M῾Dougall, Body and Mind, p. 156.

  • 3.

    Ward's Naturalism and Agnosticism, ii. 130.

  • 4.

    Ward's Naturalism and Agnosticism, ii. 197.