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Lecture Third. Realistic View of the World

IT is of supreme importance that we should not confuse our first inadequate view of things with a really comprehensive and self-consistent appreciation of them. There are three main ways in which existence or reality may be conceived. The first and most natural way is to look upon the world as made up of particular things, each of which is real or has an existence of its own that is quite independent of all other things. No doubt, when we reflect that things are in the same space and time, and exhibit resemblances, differences and orderly sequences, we do as a matter of fact connect them in our minds; but the relations thus introduced are not at this stage regarded as in any way affecting the solid reality of the things so compared, and indeed are regarded merely as a convenient method of finding our way amidst a confusing mass of ever-changing particulars. Nor is any doubt thrown upon the truth of this first conception of the world by the fact that things are obviously divisible into parts; for it is assumed that these parts must themselves be real, self-complete and independent; so that, while it is admitted that the things we at first sight regard as real are not so, no fundamental change in our point of view is thereby effected, each thing being now conceived as an aggregate of smaller reals, and as presupposing the separate reality of the parts composing it. Pressed to its logical consequences, this doctrine dissolves the world into an infinity of disconnected particulars, each of which, though it is actually found to exist along with other particulars, need not so exist, since it has a positive being of its own, which nothing can in any way affect. The logic of this first view of the world is the law of contradiction, as interpreted to mean that a thing is absolutely unique or individual. And the same mode of thought, when applied to the mind, results in the doctrine that each self is, and must be, unique or individual, in the sense that it is absolutely impervious to all other beings; the logical consequence of which would seem to be, that the world is not truly a whole, but merely an aggregate of independent units, which for our own purposes we choose to regard as a whole.

When by further reflection it becomes apparent that this first view of things is untenable, since no object can be found that does not in some way depend upon other objects, the doctrine now formulated is, that there are no independent and self-complete things, such as we had at first supposed, and that relations are by no means due to external comparison, but are absolutely essential to the reality of anything whatever. This doctrine is implicit, for example, in the Newtonian law of gravitation, which insists upon the essential relativity or interdependence of things; and indeed it is the natural view of those who are engaged in scientific pursuits, though they very rarely get rid of the imperfection of the first view of things, and usually hold both side by side without any clear consciousness of their discrepancy. This phase of thought, when pressed to its consequences, virtually denies, not only that there are any independent or individual things, in the sense of separate or unrelated objects—which it has a perfect right to do—but that there are individual things in any sense whatever. If A depends upon B, B upon C, C upon D, and so on ad infinitum, we shall in vain search for a principle which is the absolute source of anything. This mode of thought, therefore, is the basis of all phenomenalism, and if applied to mind it results either in reducing it to a series of modes or states, discrete or continuous—the former being the view of the older empiricists, the latter of the new—or in hypostatizing it as something lying behind these modes or states which cannot be further defined. Seeing clearly that there are no separate and independent things, phenomenalism not unnaturally infers that no real things can be known, because nothing can be found which is not a passing phase in a perpetually changing world. No doubt it grants that, as a matter of fact, changes occur in a regular way, but it denies that we are entitled to say that they are subject to any absolute law.

What is the mistake of the first view of things, which affirms that all reality consists of separate, and therefore virtually of self-existent, things? Its mistake lies in overlooking the universal process which is involved in each thing, a process without which nothing could exist or be known. This universal process is not due merely to the external comparison of one thing with another, but implies a vital objective activity which is essential to the reality of the thing. This is the fundamental point. A physical or chemical law is not merely a “working conception,” but an actual principle or cause, without which there would be no fact requiring explanation. Nor will it help us to say that each thing resembles another; for no valid universal law can be based upon resemblance, but only upon identity. If it is said that a “law” is merely an abstract idea or conception, and that no conception can be adequate to reality, it must be answered that in that case knowledge is simply an impossibility. No doubt, if a conception were merely a “bloodless category,” it would want the concreteness of reality; but a conception, properly understood, is the grasp by thought of a living principle which is the very soul of reality. To frame the image of an oak is no doubt to form an abstraction, but the conception of an oak comprehends all possible individual oaks, which, however much they may differ from one another, must agree in being dependent upon the energy by which they are produced. A conception therefore corresponds, not to the particular oak, but to the energy by which this and all other oaks are generated. Thus thought, and thought alone, comprehends the real nature of things, for only thought can grasp the living energy without which nothing whatever could exist. There can be in fact no conception of reality at all without the activity of thought in the formation of conceptions. Not that this activity is necessarily made a direct object of attention, but it must be operative in the experience of the real world, and, when formulated, it must set forth the necessary conditions under which that world is possible or knowable.

Though this second or reflective stage of thought is a distinct advance upon the first or perceptual stage, it is not ultimate. “All relational modes of thought,” as Mr. Bradley says, “are self-contradictory,” or, as I should prefer to say, are self-contradictory when taken as the true or ultimate character of thought. It is a mistake to assume that all thinkable reality must be relational or dependent. For, when reality is so conceived, the mind is inevitably forced upon an infinite series in the attempt to characterize it, and obviously an infinite series can never be summed up or completed in any way. If we could come to an end of the series, it is assumed, we should have exhausted the infinity of particulars and no reality would lie beyond the: whole thus reached; but as the series of dependent particulars is endless, the attempt is foredoomed to failure. This method of conceiving reality, however, when it is closely examined, may be seen to have refuted itself. If it is true that nothing comes within our experience except dependent beings, we can never reach a true cause at all, but only one that is a link in an endless chain, the first link of which it is therefore impossible to discover. Evidently, the reason why the mind cannot be satisfied with this view of things is that such a series does not take us beyond a reality that is dependent, and we therefore affirm it not to be true reality but only appearance. Thus we tacitly assume that only that which is self-dependent can be real. Dependent being, in other words, presupposes self-dependent being. But there can be only one absolutely self-dependent being; and therefore man, like other forms of being, can only be self-dependent in so far as within him there is operative the same principle as that which manifests itself in all other modes of being, though in beings lower than man it never comes to self-consciousness. Thus there is no division in principle between knowledge and reality, and therefore no absolute separation between any mode of existence whatever and any other. There is no nature which is not capable of being known by the human intelligence, no human intelligence which is capable of existing apart from nature, and neither nature nor the human intelligence can have any existence in separation from God. We must therefore deny altogether the doctrine that there are real things having each an independent reality of its own, and just as decidedly the doctrine that there exist only individual minds with their flux of ideas, so that God can be truly conceived as a separate and independent Being, who is complete in himself apart from all relation to nature and human intelligences. At the same time, while we recognize the relative truth of the second or scientific stage of thought, which interprets reality as a system of dependent beings, and therefore refuses to admit that any independent beings can be found in the world, we must deny that this method of thought is ultimately satisfactory. What really underlies and gives it force is its tacit presupposition that true reality must be self-dependent, and therefore self-causing and self-differentiating. Thus we reaffirm the individuality of finite things and finite minds in the whole, while denying their separate reality; and the whole we view, not as a mere aggregate, but as an organic and spiritual unity. All forms of being, from the material particle to the most developed human intelligence, we regard as unreal and impossible apart from that absolute unity, but as real and necessary in relation to it. And we further maintain that the one and only perfectly self-dependent, self-active, and self-differentiating unity must be self-conscious, not because it is isolated or independent either in existence or in knowledge, but because it manifests its nature in all modes of being, and most fully in and to man. This unity may therefore be called the Absolute or God, according as we are viewing it from the reflective or the religious point of view; but it is rightly called the Absolute or God only because it is infinite, in the sense of involving all possible reality as its manifestation.

The development from the first to the third stage of thought through the second rests upon the presupposition that nothing can give permanent satisfaction to our minds that is not seen to be an intelligible or rational whole. On this principle, and only on this principle, I believe, can a satisfactory philosophy of religion be based. Nor can we find satisfaction in anything less than the assurance that, whatever difficulties we may encounter in the attempt to establish the truth of this principle by an interpretation of the facts of our experience, it is a truly objective principle, and no mere ideal set up by us in contrast to the actual world that we know. If the ideal is not the real, it becomes a mere fiction with which we may vainly seek to comfort our hearts, and thus the real becomes an insoluble enigma. If heaven is not with us now, there is no heaven; and a God who is but the embodiment of what we are ourselves blindly striving after, is but a mirage in which we have no right to believe, and which can never be a rock upon which our life can be built. If the world is not intelligible, it is impossible for us to construct a theology which is free from the imperfections of the first and second stages of thought; for, whatever else it may involve, a theology which denies or is doubtful of the rational unity of all things cannot be more than a make-shift. An irrational universe is one that even an absolutely perfect intelligence could not comprehend. This conclusion I shall now attempt to justify by a detailed consideration of the three stages of knowledge indicated.

The conception of the world which in our ordinary everyday consciousness we all possess is, as I have said, that of numberless things lying side by side in space and undergoing changes in time, the reality of any one of these things being, as we imagine, in no way affected by the reality of the others. These things vary in shape, and each has its peculiar qualities of weight, colour, taste, smell and touch—qualities which belong to them individually and enable us to distinguish them from one another and to identify each. We all suppose, moreover, that the human forms with which we are familiar are animated by minds and directed by wills, and that, like the sensible objects known to us, they have a definite and specific character which constitutes their claim to individual reality. I am myself and no one else, it is thought, and nothing can possibly destroy my self-centred individuality, so long as I exist and think and act. And though it is a thought which usually remains in the background of our minds, we are all disposed to think of all these objects in space, along with the human beings which we distinguish from them, as somehow dependent upon God, whom we ordinarily imagine as a Being existing beyond the world, and so far like the things and minds of which we have experience that he is an independent individual, in no way to be confused or identified with any single object or subject. How God can be, as we believe he is, the source of all reality, while yet all modes of being have an independent existence; or how God can be infinite, and yet stand opposed to the world as a separate Being; these questions, as a rule, we pass by, usually with some vague idea that ultimate questions of that kind are insoluble. As Spinoza says, at one time we affirm the reality of the finite, and at another time the reality of the infinite, but we rarely bring the two together and face the problem, how there can be a finite which is independent of the infinite, or an infinite which is independent of the finite.

Now, whatever solution of this problem we shall be led to adopt, it seems obvious that we shall be compelled to surrender our first uncritical view, that the world is made up of a number of independent beings, each of which is real apart from all others. If we can satisfy ourselves that no object and no mind can be found which is real, so to speak, in its own right, we shall have made at least one step towards the reconciliation of the finite with the infinite. For, if neither object nor subject has any absolutely singular reality, we shall naturally be led to ask ourselves whether the conception of God as a Being complete in himself apart from the world may not have to be revised. It is therefore no mere matter of idle curiosity which leads us to ask, whether our first conception of real beings, material or spiritual, finite or infinite, can be consistently maintained.

Our first view of the world seems to be confirmed by the character of our sensible experience. When we have advanced beyond the first entangled and relatively un-differentiated stage of feeling, we become aware of objects which we sharply distinguish from one another and from ourselves. Here and now there lies before us an object that we see or touch or handle, and this object seems to be simply “given” to us. Why it should exist, or why it should be what it presents itself as being, we are quite unable to tell; but we are quite certain that we do not make it, and that if we are to apprehend it as it really is, we must resolutely exclude all our fancies of what it might have been or what we should like it to be, and take it just as it is. What an object will look like, no one can possibly tell beforehand; what its character actually is we can only learn from experience. Thus the knowing subject and its objects seem to be so unlike and opposed, that no explanation of why a thing should exist or be what it is seems to be possible. Every sensible object is alike in this respect, that it is external to every other. This is here, that is there; what is now follows that which was then, and precedes what comes after. And these distinctions are involved in the very nature of sensible experience; so that, without distinguishing that which is here from that which is there, what is now from what was then and will be hereafter, there can be no such experience. The separateness of things thus seems to be undeniable, unless we are to fall back upon the idea that there is no external reality whatever; that, as Berkeley suggested, “the whole choir of heaven and furniture of earth” have no existence except as perceived by this or that subject. The independence of the objects of sense being apparently so absolute and undeniable, subject and object are regarded as necessarily external to each other. It thus seems to be of the very essence of sensible experience, that each object should be outside of every other, and all objects external to the subject that apprehends them. The tree or the river or the mountain that I see is for my sensible experience this that is here and now before me. With every movement of my eyes or turn of my head a new object is before me, and each object I am aware of as this that is now here. Thus what at one moment is this, the next moment becomes that; what is here becomes there; what is now becomes then. And there is nothing in the objects to determine why, because I see a tree at this moment, I should the next moment see a mountain or a river; it is so, but sensible experience must simply accept the fact, without being able to explain it. Sensible experience, in other words, seems to be absolutely passive or receptive.

The world, then, as it exists for the ordinary unreflective consciousness, appears to be directly given or presented in an immediate apprehension that excludes all additions made by the thought of the apprehending subject. It is a world of separate things and events in space and time; these things, as it is assumed, depending in no way for their reality upon one another or upon the mind that apprehends them. The truth of this view therefore depends upon the possibility of preserving the separateness of things without destroying their reality. At first sight indeed nothing seems more reasonable. In sensation, as common-sense supposes, we come directly into the presence of real things; and whether we recognize it or not, we can never get rid of the conviction, that what is thus presented is indubitably real. Sensible experience has two inseparable aspects: firstly, something of which we are aware, and secondly, our awareness of this something. And though we may not say, with Locke, that in sentient experience we are entirely passive, at any rate we assume that the activity of the mind in no way constitutes or modifies the reality or character of that which is apprehended. Anything that I apprehend involves three distinguishable but inseparable elements: (1) the simple, unchangeable quality, (2) the apprehension of this quality, (3) the relation between the apprehension and the quality. Now the apprehension does not seem to affect the quality of the thing apprehended, but leaves it just as it was prior to the apprehension: the experiencing makes no difference to the fact; and the quality, as it is usually put, would remain what it is apprehended as being even if there were no human mind to apprehend it. Thus the relation between subject and object is such that the factors related seem to be in no way affected by the relation. Sentient experience, we may say, is “pure and unmixed” in the sense that it is a perfectly transparent medium, which does not refract or distort the immediate object. No doubt no one can know that the tree is green without experience, but the fact that it is green is not affected by experience. It is absurd to suppose that the tree becomes green when I see it, or the chord harmonious when I hear it; the tree is green, and the chord is harmonious, whether or not I see the one or hear the other.

That there is an element of truth in this view of the world is obvious. The object of sensible experience cannot be reduced to ideas in the individual mind, even if those ideas are said not to be evanescent states of feeling, but feelings reduced to order and coherence by conceptions. The former view is the fallacy of the older associationists, such as Mill and Bain, who held that momentary sensations were associated with one another in the way of resemblance and difference, or contiguity in time and place, and thus came to suggest to the subject a world of objects that had no real existence. The latter view again was advanced by Kant, who, starting from impressions of sense, endeavoured to explain our experience of objects by the hypothesis that the mind has certain unchangeable forms of perception and thought under which the impressions are brought, with the result that we experience an orderly world of objects. But this world, on Kant's view, is after all “subjective” in this sense, that, though it is in its fundamental features the same for all human intelligences, it cannot coincide with reality as it is in itself, inasmuch as by its very nature it can never be a complete whole, no such whole being possible in the case of objects in space and time. In contrast to both of these doctrines, it is maintained by our new realists that the objects of our experience have a reality of their own distinct and separate from all ideas—whether, with the associationists, these are conceived as momentary and particular states of this or that individual subject, or, after the manner of Kant, as sensations objectified by universal and unchangeable forms of perception and thought. Even the familiar distinction of primary and secondary qualities, it is contended, must be rejected, if it means to affirm that the secondary qualities are merely sensations with nothing corresponding to them. The sensation of green is not merely a state of the subject, but the experience by the subject of something belonging to the objective world. My feeling of hunger is only one aspect of the complex fact; which is a feeling of hunger in relation to an actual state of the organism. In all cases there is an irreducible difference between an idea and its object. The tree that I see is an extended thing, but my idea of its extension is not extended. I feel an object to be heavy, but my feeling cannot be measured in ounces or pounds. Green is a colour, but my idea of green is not itself green. Pleasure is always pleasant, but not so my idea of pleasure.

What gives its most convincing force to this argument is its contention that real things cannot be reduced to states of the individual consciousness, nor even to those states as interpreted in the light of categories peculiar to the human mind. Neither Associational Sensationalism nor Critical Phenomenalism, it is contended, and to my mind rightly contended, gives a true account of sensible experience. But the question is, whether the denial of these doctrines leaves as the only tenable theory the belief that real things have each an indissoluble core of reality, when they are separated from one another and from the mind that apprehends them. We may admit that a tree is not a cluster of feelings actual and possible, nor even a complex of sensations universalized by the forms of our mind; and yet we may be just as certain that the world is not made up of two independent factors, subject and object, or that every single object is real in its absolute isolation.

When I perceive a tree, it is said, I have on the one hand a consciousness or awareness of the tree, and, on the other hand, I am conscious or aware that the tree has a reality of its own, which is not made by my apprehension of it. That my apprehension does not make the tree is absolutely certain; but the important question is what this admission involves. Does it establish the contention of the realist? It is admitted that there is before the subject an object that he is aware of, an object which does not come into existence with his becoming aware of it, but exists when he is not aware of it. Evidently, therefore, the subject must be capable of going beyond the apprehension of a given moment and predicating of the object before him an existence that began before it was apprehended and will continue after the apprehension is over. Now, it is manifest that the consciousness of an object as existing outside of the particular apprehension in which it is said to be revealed, cannot be identified with a particular state of the individual conscious subject. Thus, the consciousness of the tree as real means at least that it is real, not merely in the apprehension of a particular conscious subject at a given moment of time, but in the apprehension of it by any conscious subject at any moment of time. If the particular conscious subject can only say that at this moment there is presented to him a tree, he cannot tell what may happen the next moment. Hence the consciousness that the tree is real implies that the subject has the capacity of going beyond the immediate sensation which he now experiences and affirming that, whenever he, or any other subject, is placed under the same conditions again, they will all have the identical experience of a tree. But, if this universal point of view is indispensable to the experience of the reality of the object, how can it be held that the subject's experience is exhausted in the immediate and direct apprehension of this thing now before him? If the subject were actually limited to the sensation of the moment, he would not be able to say that the object is real independently of his sensation. He must, therefore, in having the sensation, be able to interpret it in this way: that whenever he or anyone else experiences a given object, that experience is made possible by the universalizing power of the mind. Sensible experience, in short, is not the mere apprehension of this thing as here and now, but it is implicitly the comprehension of this thing as capable of existing in any here and now.

The view we have been considering therefore misinterprets the facts. It is true that experiencing makes no difference to the facts, in the sense that the facts are not dependent upon the changing ideas of the individual subject; but it is not true that facts are independent of the individual subject so far as he is a rational intelligence. It is just because it is the nature of such an intelligence to act in accordance with the universal nature of all intelligences, that there is any fact at all. To distinguish an object from himself, the subject must comprehend within his embrace both himself and the object. Granting, then, that in sensible experience there is on the one side an idea, and on the other side an object, we have still to explain how the subject can possibly know that the idea represents the object. An idea, it is said, is immaterial and unextended, while the object is material and extended; and therefore, it is argued, the reality of the object must be independent of the idea. Nevertheless, it is assumed that the idea is a perfectly correct counterpart of the object, and that on this ground we are entitled to say that we actually apprehend the object. But, if we are aware, not only of the idea, but of the object represented by it, we must have both before our consciousness; and therefore, besides the idea which is assumed to represent the object, the mind must have the power of comparing the one with the other, and pronouncing them to agree. In point of fact, they do not agree. The object is relatively permanent, sensation is momentary; the one is extended, the other not; and, if the only means of knowing the object is through particular sensations, the reality of the object will vanish with each change in the sensitive subject. Plainly, therefore, the contention of the realist, that in immediate sensitive experience real objects are “given,” and “given” as independent, must logically lead to the denial of all objectivity, and the reduction of what we call reality to a flux of feelings. From separate sensations no consciousness of a real object is possible, but only from a recognition of identity in successive perceptions.

And if we look at the nature of the object, we shall find that the doctrine of the realist involves us in similar difficulties. It is strongly insisted that the object is real; but what is meant by the object? If I have before me a tree which appears green, is it meant that the tree is green whether any eye sees it or not? If so, one would like to know what is the nature of “green” when it is not perceived by anybody. The only “green” that we can immediately experience is the green which involves relation to an eye; and if there is besides this a green which is real apart from our vision, it must be for us purely hypothetical. If it were actually the case that “green” exists in itself, independently of any organism, we should have to deny that the man who is colour-blind apprehends the real colour of the tree. Thus, apparently, the reality of green means its reality as it is apprehended by one with normal vision. But what again is normal vision? If every sentient subject apprehends the object just as it is, how does it come that the painter sees many shades of “green” which to the ordinary eye are invisible? Considering all the degrees of distinction with which colours are apprehended—from the colour-blind at one end of the scale to the highly trained vision of the artist at the other end—how can it be held that a colour has an absolutely fixed and determinate character, which is in no way dependent upon the eye that sees it? Must we not rather hold that no eye is fine enough to detect all the shades of colour, and therefore that the supposition of an absolutely fixed quality called colour is a pure abstraction?

In truth there is no real reason for the attempt to save the reality of qualified things by any such fiction as that of separately existent and unchangeable qualities. Certainly, colour is real and objective; but why it should be assumed that it can only be real and objective, if it is a separate and independent being? A colour or a sound has no reality apart from a living being with definite organs of vision and hearing; but this in no way destroys its objectivity, or proves that it is only a state of the individual subject. It is objective, because it is actually experienced under certain definite conditions, and under those conditions is identical for all. When two men look at a tree, the sensations of each are different, and yet the object may be identical, because by the object is properly meant the fixed character of the experience. But, it by no means follows that besides the object as thus experienced there is another object, having a nature of its own in isolation from the sensitive subject. In truth such an object is a mere fiction of abstraction, which has no more reality than an inside without an outside. Colours, sounds, tastes, are real and objective; they are not mere states of this or that subject; but their reality or objectivity means that they are discerned by the conscious subject to be constant relations which are always the same under the same totality of conditions. The first view of the world as made up of an infinity of isolated particulars thus proves to be untenable. There are no separate and independent things, but each thing is what it is only because it is a certain aspect of a reality, which is no mere assemblage of particulars, but a veritable unity.

The importance of the subject for a true philosophy of religion, which can find no basis for itself unless it can be shown that we live in a universe that is an indissoluble whole, may excuse a further attempt to show the inadequacy of our first view of things. If things were really so isolated that their nature was in no way dependent upon their relations to one another and to the whole, every true judgment in regard to objects must be of an absolutely simple and affirmative character. If I say, “this is green,” it seems evident that I am at least tacitly predicating within a whole, and not only affirming “this” to be “green,” but denying that it is any other of the colours of the spectrum but “green.” An affirmative judgment therefore involves a corresponding negative judgment. Eliminate the latter, and we have merely the tautology, “This green object is this green object,” which is not a judgment at all. Now, if we cannot express the nature of our experience without at once affirming and denying within an identical whole, it would seem that the simplest object of our experience exists only in relation to other objects, while both are included in the whole, of which the object immediately before us, along with other objects not immediately before us, is a differentiation.

It may be said, however, that the distinction of the “green” object from other objects “not-green,” while it is an essential step in the formation of a judgment, does not show that in the object itself there is involved negation as well as affirmation. The tree that I apprehend, it may be argued, has a positive quality “green,” and to say that it excludes other qualities only means that in apprehending it as “green” we of course do not apprehend it as “not-green.” Negation, in other words, is not a quality of objects at all, but belongs entirely to us, as beings who gradually learn through experience what the qualities of things are. To exclude a thing from the class of “green” things does not show that it has any real relation to that class.

It is undoubtedly plausible to say that the reality of a thing cannot be determined by heaping up any number of negations. To say that a tree is not blue, not red, not white, etc., does not tell us what it really is: ultimately, it may be said, we must reach a positive quality, or we cannot characterize the thing at all. And this is perfectly true; but it does not touch the question, whether, when we have reached a positive quality, that quality is purely positive. What would a purely positive quality be? It would be one which existed even if all other qualities were annihilated. But where is such a quality to be found? “Green” has no existence apart from wave-lengths of ether in contact with the ocular nerve, and it only seems to belong to “this” object because its conditions are not at first known. But, unless we are to take every immediate judgment as expressing the real nature of things, the absence of our knowledge of the conditions of sensible experience cannot be supposed to prove that there are no such conditions. There is no possible apprehension of a thing as green, unless under presupposition of the conditions under which objects are experienced as coloured; and these conditions are essentially relations between objects, not positive qualities attaching to objects in their isolation.

It is not merely in our judgment, therefore, that positive and negative determinations are inseparable, but our judgment expresses the actual nature of things. The judgment, “this is green,” means that we have before us an object which is determinate in colour just because it is limited and partial; and were it not so—were it not conceived as a partial and limited determination of a whole—it would not be a definite object of experience. What is true in this case is true in all other cases: no determinate object can be experienced, that is not experienced as a partial determination of a whole; and thus the negation is as essential as the affirmation. On any other supposition we might concurrently experience something absolutely indeterminate—something of which we could only say that it is, without being able to tell what it is. But nothing is more manifest than that to predicate nothing but pure being is to predicate pure nothing; for the fundamental condition of all thought is distinction. This is evident even in such elementary judgments as “this is here”; for, even in a judgment so indeterminate, in speaking of “this,” we tacitly distinguish “this” from “that,” and without this minimum of discrimination the judgment would vanish altogether. And when we go on to more concrete judgments, such as “this is green,” the same principle holds good; for we cannot predicate green without negating all other colours, and thereby determining the object as a being that only partially determines reality. Every judgment of perception is therefore an affirmation which involves a negation, and the negation as well as the affirmation are alike essential. A judgment which predicates pure being is meaningless; we can only predicate determinate or limited being on the one hand, or a total reality which is differentiated in determinate or limited beings, that is, is self-differentiated.

When we see that no object can be experienced which is not at once positive and negative, the opposition between the law of thought and the law of things disappears. As we cannot think without determining, so nothing but the determinate can be experienced. It is not true that things have a nature of their own in their isolation, for of such things we have no experience. We must therefore revise our first uncritical view of the world, and admit that things are not absolutely unrelated to one another. Each gets its character from its relations to other things; and as these relations are negative as well as positive, all objects of experience in virtue of their determinate character are limited or finite, and therefore stand in reciprocal relation to one another.