WE have seen reason to conclude that sensible apprehension is not, as it at first seems to be, the immediate apprehension of that which is here and now; for to apprehend anything at all we must know it to be something that does not pass away, but is in some sense permanent. When this fact is tacitly recognized, an effort is naturally made to discover the group of sensible properties, believed to constitute the finite individuality of a thing and mark it off from other things. The elements combined into an individual whole, and called by a particular name, are no doubt sensible elements, being relative to the several senses, but they are now regarded as permanent elements or properties, not transitory elements supposed to be given in single evanescent sensations. Apparently, therefore, truth consists in correctly copying or representing an object which exists independently of the subject, and is known through its influence on the several senses. No theory, indeed, could be more plausible than that which holds that truth is attained when we have before our minds such a complex idea or combination of ideas as corresponds to, or is a copy of, a thing as it actually exists. We cannot make or unmake things for ourselves. When we pass judgments upon things we naturally think that we should each be dealing with an entirely different object, were there not some fact to which the idea in the mind of each of us corresponds. If a man is going to act he must have before him a correct notion of the main features of the situation, and this seems to mean that his idea must, at least generally, correspond point by point to the object. A judgment seems to be true, then, when I am conscious that the idea in my mind is such that its elements correspond to, though they are not identical with, the elements in the object.
One thing that gives apparent force to this view is the element of truth which we have found in our first view of the world as endorsed by realism. That element is the undoubted fact that a thing is not made true or false by our so thinking of it. Truth is certainly “objective,” in the sense that it has a nature of its own to which the judgment of the individual must conform. This, however, does not mean that truth is independent, in the sense that it exists apart from every mind: what it properly means is that it is opposed to a false conjunction of ideas in any mind. To think truly is to think in accordance with the actual nature of reality. Therefore truth implies, firstly, a mind in which it resides, and, secondly, an objective operation of that mind. If all mind were annihilated, there could be no truth, and equally the mind for which truth exists must comprehend the actual nature of things. When I judge, I judge that reality is as I judge it to be; that is, I believe that reality is as I judge it to be. It does not follow, however, that I am right in my belief; and therefore we cannot say that truth consists in my belief; what we can say is that truth involves belief, though belief does not necessarily involve truth. The fact that belief is inseparable from truth indicates that truth has no existence except in a mind. A true judgment, then, is one the content of which is identical with that which a mind that had a complete grasp of reality would make. In this sense—the sense that the individual subject, in order to form a true judgment, must in his judgments agree with the judgments of a mind which comprehends the real—it may be said that truth consists in correspondence. But the correspondence, it must be observed, is not between reality and mind, but, on the contrary, correspondence with a reality which exists only for a mind that has eliminated all the sources of error and grasped the reality as it actually is. There is no opposition of an idea in the mind to a reality complete in itself beyond the mind, but only of an inadequate idea of reality as compared with an adequate idea of it. We cannot contrast an idea in the mind with a reality beyond the mind: the only intelligible contrast is between reality as imperfectly conceived, and reality as it is present in the mind that has penetrated to its actual nature. In the ordinary view of correspondence, however, a dualism is assumed between the idea in the mind and the object of which it is supposed to be a copy. Now, our account of sensible experience has made it evident that an idea of the kind supposed is a pure fiction. The simplest form of experience involves the indissoluble identity of consciousness with its object. There are not two things—an idea of sensation, as Locke calls it, and a sensible object—but what is called an idea of sensation is simply the consciousness of a sensible object, and the sensible object is inseparable from that consciousness. And when conscious ness recognizes that a thing consists of permanent properties in their combination with one another, it is implied that we have, and can have, no experience of an object in addition to that which emerges in the process by which the object is formed. Hence to speak of an idea as copying an object involves the absurdity of an idea copying itself. There is no object separate from the idea, and therefore there can be no correspondence between them. It is only because we contrast an object as observed with the same object as it is vaguely conceived to exist for a perfect intelligence, and then hypostatize the latter, that we come to speak of our idea as copying, or corresponding to, the real object. The real object has no existence except for a mind, and our idea of an object can only be true in so far as it corresponds to or copies this ideal object. Thus the human mind can only frame a true judgment by interpreting the elements of its experience in an objective way. We are only capable of attaining to truth, in so far as we are able to set aside the accidental relations of elements of experience; but, on the other hand, there is no truth apart from the activity of the mind in interpreting those elements in a self-consistent and comprehensive way. Such self-consistency and comprehensiveness imply the rational constitution of the universe and the fundamental identity of all intelligences. Both are essential: a judgment would not be proved true even if it were held by all intelligences, unless they all comprehended reality as it is; and reality could not be comprehended, if in intelligence there were some limit which prevented it from grasping reality as it is.
We may conclude, then, that the correspondence-theory of truth has the fatal defect of virtually assuming that the real object has an independent nature of its own which must be reproduced in the mind of the subject, and that truth consists in the accuracy with which the former is reproduced in the latter. There is no such separation of idea and reality, since a reality that does not exist for a mind is an unintelligible abstraction. It may thus seem that the only valid doctrine is that which affirms that what is called reality is in fact a certain aspect of mind as misunderstood and falsely hypostatized. Therefore, it may be contended, we can only escape from dualism by reducing all reality to products of the individual mind.
In this way of looking at things, we begin with the conception of a mind, unique and individual, which exists in successive moments in changing states, and we ask whether there is anything in the character of these states to explain the perception of things. As things are denied to have any existence apart from an individual mind, human or other, we must obviously seek to account for the world of objects as the result of the normal action of that mind in its operation on the content of its own states. If I wish to explain the perception of a house, I must do so, not by saying that the house exists beyond my mind, and somehow acts upon it—for there is no experience of such an independent house—but by showing how the “object,” namely, the experienced house, is the inevitable result of the operation of my mind, which distinguishes and relates the content of immediate feelings, and thus forms a world of objects, which present the appearance of lying outside of one another and out from my body. We start, then, it may be said, with certain sensations of sight, hearing, touch, taste or smell; and, by the operation of certain laws of the mind, we come to have the consciousness of things, which have the appearance of independence and self-existence, though in reality they exist only for individual minds. Why different minds agree in framing the same or a similar world, may be explained as due to the fact that the relations by which sensations are connected in an orderly way are the fixed or universal modes in which all individual minds operate. The sensations are the same or similar in all; the understanding works in the same or a similar way in all; and, on the whole, the world which emerges from the combining activity of thought, as operating upon immediate sensations, is an identical or similar world.
Now, this theory undoubtedly provides a valuable corrective for the false doctrine of the realists, that reality is objective in the sense that it may, and indeed does, exist independently of mind; but this result it secures at the expense of reducing all real existence to modes of individual minds. It affirms that so-called external objects are not external in the sense that they are beyond the mind, but only in the sense that they are presented as related to one another in a spatial order, while this spatial order is itself the product of the relating activity of thought as determining sensations in that way. This mode of conceiving the matter, it is said, does away with the valid objection which has been repeatedly urged against the Berkeleyan form of Idealism—the objection, namely, that it reduces the world to evanescent states of the individual consciousness, and, if carried out consistently, leaves us, as Hume rightly contended, with nothing but a series of feelings, both matter and mind having disappeared in the process. From this fatal result, it is argued, we are saved, when it is recognized that objects are not separate and momentary feelings, but feelings as distinguished and related by thought.
Now, it is undoubtedly of great importance to recognize that not even the appearance of a stable world is possible, unless we admit that the constitution of that world involves the activity of thought. But the question is, whether this activity can be correctly characterized as consisting in relations instituted by the mind, or recognized by the mind as subsisting between immediate feelings. Is it true that nothing exists except individual minds with their feelings, volitions and thoughts? More particularly, is the external world reducible to feelings related by thought?
The inadequacy of this view may be shown, if we consider how it must attempt to explain the consciousness of objects as existing in space. If we start originally with simple and immediate sensations, the attempt must be made to derive from these the appearance of independent objects as occupying different positions in space. One method of making the transition is by attributing a certain qualitative character to sensation. Every sensation, it may be said, while it is inextended, has yet the quality of “extensity,” and out of this the individual mind derives the extension which we attribute to objects, while things are regarded as external by the projection of self.
Now, the fundamental defect in this explanation is that it begins with a fiction—the fiction of purely immediate states of mind, which have only a qualitative character—and attempts to make the transition from these to extended and external objects, which by their very nature involve quantity. (1) If “extensity” is purely qualitative, as it must be if the external object is to be derived from feelings, it is impossible to explain how we come to experience extension, which is a whole of parts, and therefore quantitative. By no legitimate process can the consciousness of parts outside of one another be derived from a feeling which is assumed to be simple and therefore devoid of external parts. The attempt at such a derivation cannot succeed, any more than Mill's, Bain's or Spencer's attempt to explain extension by the rapid succession or the fusion of sensations. It is therefore only by a confusion of thought that extension can be supposed to be derived from what may be deceptively called “extensity.” If one begins with immediate feelings as inextended, there is no possible way of making the transition to extended things. Nor will it help in the least to suppose that each sensation has a “local sign”; for, if this so-called “local sign” is purely qualitative, it cannot yield the consciousness of extension: and if it already involves extension, the derivation of extension from it is obviously superfluous.
(2) A similar defect attaches to the explanation of externality. How do we come to judge that there are things beyond the individual mind? We begin, it may be said, with the consciousness of sensations as changes in our own state. When I move my hand, I am conscious of a series of visual sensations which I have myself initiated, and these I therefore refer to myself; when, again, I move to the window, I experience a series of visual sensations not initiated by me. Hence by analogy I attribute the latter to a not-self, just as I have been directly conscious of the former as due to myself.
The more closely we examine this explanation of the transition from subjective sensations to the consciousness of external objects, the less satisfactory does it appear. It must be remembered that what the subject is supposed to have originally before him is not a world in which objects are extended and stand apart from one another, his own body being one of them, but merely a number of sensations, which he knows only as changes in his own state of mind. When therefore the subject moves his hand, and is conscious of a series of visual sensations, he cannot in consistency with the original assumption be conscious of the movement of his hand as an actual movement; for this would anticipate the consciousness of externality, which the theory is seeking to explain; all that he can be supposed to be aware of is a series of muscular sensations, as accompanied by a series of visual sensations. Hence so far obviously he will have no idea of any reality distinct from his own sensations. Is it any different when he moves to the window and experiences a series of visual sensations? He has on the theory no knowledge of the movement of his body as implying the transition from one place to another of an extended thing, his only knowledge being of certain motor sensations; nor has he any knowledge of a window, or of the objects seen through it as extended, since his knowledge is supposed to be exhausted in the series of motor sensations, as followed by the series of visual sensations. There is, therefore, nothing in this second case to account for his projection of self; he is, as before, shut up within his own individual consciousness, and would never for a moment, under the conditions imagined, suppose that there was any not-self. It is thus evident that the derivation of the consciousness of external things from an original datum of subjective states is an impossible feat. Neither the knowledge of objects in space, nor the knowledge of external beings, conscious or unconscious, can be explained in that way. The only legitimate conclusion, in truth, from the premises is that the individual subject is alone with himself and his immediate states. Such a result may well make us pause, and ask ourselves whether the attempt to derive our perception of the world from immediate sensations, even when these are held to be combined by thought, is not based upon a fundamental misconception of the manner in which our knowledge arises and develops.
A confusion is sometimes made between the proposition that the world exists only for mind, and the assertion that the individual subject is aware of this truth. It is supposed that, if we could trace back the history of the individual to a stage when he had no knowledge of an external world, we should have in some way proved that no such world exists. In truth this is an absolute ignoratio elenchi. Even if it could be shown that the individual mind was at first nothing but a series of unrelated or individual feelings, it would not follow that all reality is resolvable into such feelings. There is therefore nothing to be gained by denying that the individual at first is aware only of a series of immediate feelings, and that from these the world is gradually built up. When therefore I deny that there is any warrant for the assumption that the individual mind is originally nothing but a succession of immediate feelings, I do so because there is no proof of the contention, not because it is incompatible with the theory of the universe for which I contend. It is simply a question of fact.
Now, I have no wish to deny that the mind of the individual may be described as originally that of pure feeling, in which there is no explicit operation of thought; what I deny is that it is originally simply a series of discrete feelings, having no relation to one another, and with no suggestion in them of anything but themselves. In the history of the individual there seems to be at first simply a nucleus of feeling which yet has differences within it, though these are not definitely distinguished from one another. Relatively undifferentiated as this primitive mind is, it seems to me to be a fundamental error, the fruitful mother of all subsequent errors, to say that its content is purely subjective, and therefore excludes all trace of objectivity, It is certainly true that there is no explicit contrast of subject and object, such as is found at a later stage, but it by no means follows that the mind is originally aware only of its own states. The contrast of subject and object is strictly correlative; and where there is no explicit consciousness of the object, there is no explicit consciousness of the subject. What we must say, therefore, is that in the feeling soul there is an implicit or vague consciousness of both subject and object, an explicit or clearly differentiated consciousness of neither. The distinction between subject and object works and is felt, but it is only at a more developed stage that the subject is distinctly aware of the contrast. Thus there is at once a feeling of difference and a feeling of unity. We cannot indeed say that, at this rudimentary stage, there is a distinct consciousness of externality, much less of definite spatial relations, which imply the contrast of various objects from one another, and a perception of their differences; but we may say that there is a feeling of externality, which develops later into the consciousness of sensible objects, as occupying different regions of space; and it is no doubt this vague feeling of externality which has been called “extensity.” While, therefore, we cannot derive extension from “extensity,” when “extensity” is conceived as a quality attaching to purely subjective states, it may be admitted that the feeling of “extensity,” interpreted as outness, is the germ of the later explicit discrimination of extension. No analysis can possibly find extension in “extensity,” when the latter is conceived as merely a quality of feelings; but this does not preclude the legitimate derivation of extension from “extensity,” when the latter is conceived as the implicit object of sensation. Similarly we cannot possibly account for the consciousness of the externality or independence of things by saying that it arises from “self-projection.” We do not first have in our minds a series of sensations recognized as belonging to ourselves, and then, finding another series not initiated by us, refer them to a not-self. This account involves a hysteron proteron: for we cannot be conscious of self without a correlative consciousness of other selves, and, more generally, of a not-self. The supposed “projection” of self is based upon the false assumption that we are primarily conscious only of our own states, and afterwards infer the existence of objects corresponding to them; and that we first have a consciousness of ourselves, and then infer the existence of other selves. In truth, if we are to speak of priority at all, it would be more correct to say that, in the order of explicit knowledge, we are first aware of the not-self, including other selves, and afterwards come to the explicit consciousness of self. It is, however, less misleading to say that subject and object, self and not-self, are strictly correlative. The subject becomes aware of himself in contrast to the object, and there is no consciousness of self except as one among a community of selves.
In the feeling soul, then, what we have is a more or less vague and undifferentiated mass of feeling, which contains the germ, but only the germ of that world of objects which subsequently emerges into explicit consciousness. It is therefore misleading to speak of this stage of psychical life as a unity—the type of that complete unity of idea and reality, after which we are always striving. For the feeling soul is as far as possible from being a unity. There can be no unity where there are no differences, and indeed the most perfect form of unity must be that in which the most apparently uncombinable differences have been overcome. Discrimination and unification are inseparable from each other, and in the feeling life there is explicitly neither the one nor the other. It is in fact only by anticipation that we can call it a unity at all. The associationist doctrine, that the feeling soul is nothing but a series of disconnected feelings, is no more false than the doctrine that it is a perfect unity. Hence, we cannot say that there is for the feeling being a variety of pleasures and pains, but only that there is sometimes a vague sense of satisfaction and at other times a vague sense of unrest. For the feeling being what is afterwards discriminated as a quality of the thing, is merely the feeling that this differs from that—how is not perceived; that which becomes the consciousness of the spatial order of things is felt only as an indefinite but objective extensity; and that which develops into distinct pleasures and pains is felt only as a vague rest or unrest. We must avoid speaking of the feeling soul as if it contained in itself, in a confused and indefinite mass, all the distinctions by which we characterize the world. The scholastic adage, Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit in sensu, was formed in a pre-evolutional age, and must now be discarded. Just as the protoplasmic germ of the living being is not an ill-defined miniature of the developed plant or animal, so the feeling soul is not a “blurred whole,” containing in itself preformed all the distinctions that emerge into clearness at a more developed stage. No increase in the fineness of our perceptions would enable us to discover in it the distinctions of extension, externality and tone that we experience in our conscious life. These we cannot find in the feeling soul, for the simple reason that they are not there; just as no analysis can find in the cell the preformed animal or plant. The transition from the feeling soul to consciousness, and much more to self-consciousness, is the evolution of the higher from the lower. No doubt the lower contains the higher potentially, but it does not contain the higher merely in a less definite form. The development is real; there is identity, but it is an identity that undergoes a process at once of differentiation and integration, so that the later contains what in the earlier has no existence.
If this is at all a correct account of the manner in which a transition is made from the feeling soul to mind proper, it is manifest that the subjective idealist has made a fundamental error the basis of his philosophy. He argues that there can be no reality but that of individual minds, and that the world is constructed by these minds out of their own states, as determined by relations of thought. This explanation cannot possibly be sound, because there are no merely subjective states, relations are not determinations imposed by the individual mind, and there are no merely individual minds. (1) The assumption that we start with mere sensations, as excluding all reference to anything but themselves, we have seen to have no basis in fact. All sensations, even as they exist in the merely feeling soul, involve a tacit distinction between the feeling or apprehension and that which is apprehended. Here in fact is the germ of what is afterwards developed into the consciousness of a world of objects, recognized by the subject as occupying different regions of space and independent of his will. (2) As there are no purely subjective sensations to form the material for thought to operate upon, so the relations introduced by thought are not forms belonging to the individual mind, but determinations to which the mind is led in its effort to account for the facts of experience. The relations of thought are not abstracted from what is presented in sensation; for, as we have seen, sensation, prior to thinking experience, does not contain the relations which thought finds in the world. But, just as sensation is the feeling of something not-itself, something having extensity and externality; so thought gradually discerns that extensity contains the germ of spatial order, while externality must be interpreted as the first faint apprehension of objective reality; while sensation, the subjective side of the feeling soul, develops into the consciousness of extended reality, a consciousness which involves as its correlative factor the unity of the conscious subject. It follows that in the conscious life sensation no longer exists, in the sense in which it existed in the feeling soul, having been transformed into the thinking consciousness of extended objects existing in space and time, these objects being strictly relative to that consciousness of self which is involved in all consciousness of objects. Thought, then, does not relate sensations to one another; what it does is to relate the objects, which have emerged for the thinking consciousness out of the vague something not-sensation of the feeling soul, in accordance with the development of conscious experience, Hence, it is obviously false to say that nothing exists except that which is present in the consciousness of the individual. For, there can be noconsciousness of self except in relation to that which is recognized as not-self; and to deny the reality of the object is therefore equivalent to a denial of the reality of the subject. (3) Lastly, the subjective idealist is wrong in saying that there are any individual minds, in the sense of minds that are independent of all except the divine mind. There is no consciousness of self apart from the consciousness of other selves; and it is absolutely certain that a single being, if he were alone in the universe, would never become conscious of himself. The consciousness of oneself involves the distinction of oneself from other selves, and we cannot make such a distinction without having a knowledge of those other selves. Moreover, granting that the self has no existence apart from God, it follows that the self cannot know itself apart from God. The consciousness of myself is no doubt the consciousness of a unity to which all that I know is relative; but it is not the consciousness of a unity which comprehends all existence. In other words, it is the consciousness of a being that in its isolation is essentially finite. Now, there can be no consciousness of the finite, as Descartes well said, except as the correlate of the consciousness of the infinite. Hence, what are called by the subjective idealist “individual minds” are not “individual,” if this means that they are self-complete and self-dependent. In a word, it is not true that the world can be resolved into ideas of the individual mind; that thought operates only with those ideas, thus constructing what seems to be an independent world; and that the totality of reality is composed of a number of individual minds or selves, somehow dependent upon an infinite individual mind. This fairy-tale of speculation we have seen to be false in all its particulars. The real world cannot be resolved into states of mind; thought does not relate sensations to one another in the process by which it builds up that world; and there are no individual minds in the subjective idealist's sense, because every finite mind “lives and moves and has its being” in the infinite Mind.
The course of our discussion has led us to see how the feeling soul develops into the consciousness of a world of objects, which present the appearance of extended things related to one another in space and time. We have now to ask what are the defects of this form of experience, which compel us to advance to deeper and more comprehensive views of the world, of ourselves, and of God.
We have seen that neither Realism nor Subjective Idealism expresses the real nature of the world. The former errs by assuming that things have a nature of their own in isolation from one another and from mind; while the latter falls into the mistake of dissolving things into particular states of consciousness, connected at the most only by relations of thought imposed by the individual mind. Objects are therefore neither isolated beings nor combinations of ideas, but involve at once relations to one another and to the subject capable of knowing them. In other words, object and subject imply each other, and therefore they are distinctions within a whole, which manifests itself in both, though not in both equally. If by object we mean whatever is determined as spatial and temporal, and by subject whatever is conscious, the object is a less determinate form of reality than the subject, because the former involves abstraction from the subject, while the latter by its very nature includes the object, while at the same time distinguishing it from itself.
Now, perception differs from sensitive apprehension in this way, that it is not content to take what immediately presents itself as real, but seeks to characterize and define the real. From moment to moment our sensations change upon us, and thus the real seems to be simply that which is present to each sensible experience in turn. It is for this reason that anyone who remains on the plane of sensible experience, thinks of the real merely as that which is, that which presents itself in each sensible experience, or that which constitutes the being of all immediate objects. In perception, again, we are aware no doubt of what is immediate and sensible, but we arc also aware that this is not the true reality. Perception, therefore, regards the real as that which is permanent and universal in the immediate sensible. When I perceive a mountain or a river, I am aware that the impressions of sense that at the moment I have from either is not the real mountain or river, which, unlike the impressions, does not pass away but persists. Hence it is not unnatural to say that the mountain or river, as it really is, is something merely indicated by my impressions, something to which I refer my impressions. Perception, then, does not deal with particulars, but with universals of sense. An object appears as the unity of various sensible qualities. This is what we call a “thing,” and a “thing” is viewed as a complete or individual whole, of which the qualities are phases or aspects. A “quality” is not a particular, but a universal; but, being a sensible universal, each quality seems to be independent of the others and of the central unity. Because a piece of wax is hard, why should it be red, or have a certain shape? As a matter of fact we find all three qualities co-existing and belonging to the wax, but we see no reason why they should co-exist. Then, again, we cannot tell why the wax should have these and no other qualities. No doubt, as a matter of fact, we find that it does have them; but we should have been equally satisfied, had we found that the thing had entirely different qualities. Just as the qualities have no connection, so the thing merely happens to have these qualities; but, for aught that perception tells us, it might have had any other group of qualities. All that we can say is, that the qualities belong to the object as its properties, or are externally attached to it, or inhere in it. So much is this the case, that we are not in the least astonished, when the thing changes and gets a new set of qualities; as e.g., when a piece of wax is melted, thereby changing its shape and becoming soft instead of hard; or when water is transformed into vapour or ice. Nevertheless, we do attribute unity to the thing. And the reason is, that we regard it as individual or exclusive of all other things. The wax changes when melted, but it changes in a certain way; water becomes vapour or ice, but we do not find it transformed into gold or silver. The sensible qualities therefore are not indifferent to the thing, but belong to it as an individual thing, which is exclusive of all other things. Thus the thing exhibits a stability and persistence of nature that are not found in immediate sense-experience—though no doubt it is the stability of that which is sensible—and presents itself as outside of, or side by side with, other things.
It must be observed that, at the stage of perception, there is no consciousness of the inner contradiction which is involved in the idea of a unity that is independent of the properties by which it is characterized, and the similar contradiction of properties each of which is independent of the others while all belong to the same thing. We accept the contradiction without hesitation just because we are unaware of it. Locke, attempting to rationalize perception, thought of the “thing” as a “substrate” which was unaffected by its properties, and therefore remained at unity with itself, however the properties might change; not seeing that, by his explanation, he had destroyed another fundamental characteristic of the perceived object, namely, its individuality; for, obviously, if the thing is real apart from the properties, it is impossible to distinguish one “substrate” from another, and indeed impossible to state what the “substrate” is. Hence Locke inevitably issued in Berkeley, who denied that there was any “substrate,” and therefore made it impossible any longer to speak of “things” at all. Both Locke and Berkeley thus take us beyond perception; for in perception what we seem to experience are individual sensible things, lying side by side and mutually exclusive. From the subjective side, perception, as we have seen above, does not consist in the consciousness of subjective states, which are then referred to an object, or projected in space and time; for from the first the subject comprehends the object, at first indeterminately, and, by the gradual development of experience, more and more concretely. We may either say that the subject gradually gains a knowledge of the object, or that the object comes to consciousness in the subject. Any difficulty that may be felt in accepting this second mode of statement is due to the fallacy, already exposed, that the object exists in itself as full-formed and is then apprehended passively by the subject—a view which overlooks the fact, that the known object gradually arises from the subject in the process by which it is constituted. This does not mean that the object, as it presents itself in perception, is a final determination of reality; for, as we shall see, it is no more a final determination of reality, than the idea of reality involved in immediate sensible experience. The process of perception consists in the experiences connected with the various senses, none of these experiences being derivable from the other, just as the properties relative to the various senses seem to be merely found, not made. Thus in perception we have the same combination of unity and diversity as in the object perceived. The process by which the thing is constituted as a unity of various properties, is the same process as that in which the various functions of sense are combined in the unity of a single self. “I perceive this thing as one,” and “this thing is one,” are but different ways of expressing the unity of experience.
We have now to see what are the defects of this stage of experience when it is supposed to be ultimate. It is obvious that, if perception were the last word, we should have to admit that the world is not an organic whole, but merely a collection of objects, lying side by side and connected by no necessary bond. We should also have to admit that the only knowable reality is that which involves direct relations to our senses; and therefore that we must deny the possibility of any knowledge of the supersensible. This, indeed, is the conclusion to which Kant was driven because of his initial assumption that perception is different in kind from conception, and therefore that what cannot be perceived necessarily falls beyond knowledge, “conceptions without perceptions” being “empty.” One important result for him of this virtual limitation of knowledge to perception, is that God, even by the aid of the moral consciousness, cannot be brought within the circle of knowledge, but remains to the end an object of “faith.” It is therefore of great importance that we should clearly realize, that perception is essentially self-contradictory, when it is put forward as an ultimate explanation of reality.
For perception reality seems to consist of numberless objects in space, which pass through changes in time, these objects being absolutely exclusive of one another. Can this way of regarding reality be regarded as final? Its defects as an ultimate determination of the world are not far to seek. In the first place, the objects of perception are arbitrary or contingent. The mind, in its search for unity, bewildered by the confused mass of sensible particulars ever crowding upon it, selects what seem to it permanent elements, and in the very process of selection, as guided by its interests, theoretical and practical, it abstracts from all elements that seem to it unessential. Thus, by its fundamental character, perception is debarred from the attainment of a complete unity. What it regards as a unity is the result of isolating one thing from another, and treating each as having a reality of its own, which is unaffected by the reality of other things. Obviously, the result is not a unity, but a number of unities, all exclusive of one another. In the second place, the unity it has thus gained by arbitrary selection, is not itself even a relative unity; for, with the lapse of time, the qualities, which at first seemed to be permanent, pass away and give place to others, which in their turn also pass away. Nor is this all; for, in the third place, no finite thing whatever can be found that is not ultimately destroyed, though no doubt it is replaced by other things. The mountain that seems so stable is really in process of dissolution, and the heavens which we call “eternal” contain in themselves the seeds of their own decay. Thus finitude is not an accident, but is inseparable from the very nature of all visible objects. It cannot be otherwise, because these objects are not real in themselves, but only indicate a reality which they do not explicitly reveal. Not that we must condemn perception on the ground that it only gives us objects that enable us to organize our life. This is the mistake of Pragmatism, which overlooks the element of truth involved in perception, Things as they exist for the perceptive consciousness are not reality, but neither are they mere fictions of the perceptive subject. There is something in the nature of reality which justifies the instinct of perception to affirm that things, transitory as they are, are somehow real. Nevertheless the object of perception, as it stands, is essentially self-contradictory. The affirmation that each thing is real in its isolation, that its qualities are permanent, and that it is itself eternal, is contradicted by the obvious truth, that nothing can exist which is not affected by other things, that the qualities of all things are transient, and that things are themselves doomed to destruction. All sensible objects come into being and cease to be. This is their unchangeable nature; and therefore their very existence is the process through which they accomplish their destiny. It is this fact of the internal contradiction involved in the very being of visible things that has led to the familiar lament over the transitoriness of all earthly things, and in more speculative minds like Spinoza's to the denial that they have any positive reality whatever. The finitude of all things is therefore the inevitable conclusion from the perceptual view of the world. Each thing is held to be real in itself, and yet its reality is inseparable from that of other things; for it is impossible to separate one thing from another without presupposing their original connection. Similarly, the qualities of a thing seem to be isolated from one another, and yet isolation means relation, because that which is completely isolated, since it has then no character, is really a nonentity.
The defects of the perceptual consciousness therefore compel us to seek for a more adequate way of conceiving the world. The mind cannot be satisfied with anything short of a reality which is all comprehensive and perfectly coherent. Contradiction and multiplicity are signs of an imperfect grasp of reality; for, as I have already argued, a perfectly rational and intelligible whole is the indispensable condition of reality and truth. The perceptual conception of things violates this principle; for it virtually denies all connection, and therefore all rational connection. The true lesson to be learned from the failure of perception to attain its end of rationalizing the world, is not that knowledge is an impossibility, but that it is impossible when it is sought in this manner. If we assume the absoluteness of the perceptual consciousness, no doubt we must surrender the attempt to know reality as it is. But the inherent contradiction implied in this conception of things shows that it cannot be final. In truth the consciousness of the imperfection and incoherence of the perceptual view of things arises from the inability of the mind to be satisfied with anything less than a perfectly articulated and unified reality.