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10: The Unity of Reality

THE attempt at a division of reality has brought out everywhere underlying connexions. The distinct things, of which, at a first view, physical reality seems to be made up, were found to be without definite lines of separation from one another. They form parts within a whole. Without the relations which connect them with one another and with the whole, there would be no things. The relations themselves are within the whole; in this sense they are internal relations. And if they appear external to particular things, that is because, owing to our practical interests and to the limits of our imagination, we credit the things with a separateness which they do not possess. In like manner, the relations imply things as their terms; here also there is no complete separation; and the sciences which deal with relations are occupied with one factor of reality abstracted from other factors for the purpose of scientific enquiry. Persons, indeed, have an individuality which things do not possess. But their individuality also is imperfect; it never amounts to independence, or complete separation, of one person from others or from things and relations. For its individuality the self stands in need of objects and their relations and of other selves. It is a growth, never a complete or finished entity; and its growth is determined and furthered by ideals or values which the self recognises as its own and yet as transcending its achievement. These values, therefore, also belong to reality, but not as something unconnected with the persons by whom they are to be brought into actual existence.

We are thus driven to the conclusion that the independence which the special sciences ascribe or seem to ascribe to things, to relations, and to persons also, is a methodical convention which does not correspond exactly with reality. We cannot know a thing as it is if we know it only by itself. What do they know of anything who only that thing know? The particular object—whether individual existent or relation—is but part of the whole; and there is a radical vice in any apparent knowledge of it which does not allow for its connectedness with the whole. Yet, it may be urged, how can we know the whole, or even approach a knowledge of it, except by the obvious process of piecing on to one another, bit by bit, our cognitions of the parts? If, on the one hand, knowledge of the parts seems to require knowledge of the whole, is it not equally or still more obvious, on the other hand, that knowledge of the whole must be made up of knowledge of the parts? To this question attention should be given here, because its solution bears upon everything that follows.

Scientific investigation proceeds by the dual process of analysis and synthesis. Since the days of Galileo this has been the established and recognised method. And of the two processes analysis is the more fundamental. We first analyse an object into its elements, and then re-construct it synthetically, or show how it could be re-constructed, out of those elements. There is no doubt that this double process is essential, and that in many cases it is adequate for science and for the practical purposes which science serves. But the elusiveness of the search for ultimate elements points to the conclusion that there are certain limits to its adequacy for a full understanding of what takes place.

In the first place, the object which we set out by analysing is only an arbitrary whole. As a part of the universe it is determined by its position relatively to other things, and it is in a process of constant change owing to its own action and that of the environment. Science, however, proceeds by limiting its enquiries, and scientific manipulation is largely occupied in attempting to isolate the object of enquiry from the disturbing influence of surrounding forces, and in preserving constant the influences from which it cannot be isolated. But time and again it is found that, for a satisfactory explanation of the object, a wider view than before must be taken of its connexion with other things. Scientific advance is often made by concentrating attention on minute features of a situation which had been previously discussed at large. But it is also sometimes due to taking a step in the opposite direction and widening the survey. The latter method, for instance, was characteristic of the Darwinian revolution; it arose out of an enquiry in which the changes in the organism were investigated not simply by themselves but systematically in their relation to all the conditions, and to the changes in the conditions, of the environment. New knowledge of the part, namely, organic development, resulted from this knowledge of the wider whole—the environment and the organisms it contains. This new knowledge about the organism could not have been obtained except by means of knowledge of the environment. It may be suggested, perhaps, that in this whole process, all that happens is that knowledge of one part is added to knowledge of another part. But the two are investigated together, and the new part introduced—the environment—is something that contains the first part—the organism. It is by means of the wider whole that we come to understand the more limited object. And there is no point at which we can draw a line and say, “Beyond this, knowledge of a wider whole will be of no use in helping us to understand the part.” The truer our knowledge of the whole—even of Reality as a whole—the more adequate, ceteris paribus, will be our understanding of any of its parts.

In the second place, owing to the complexity of nature, our analysis of any existing object is always incomplete, and this incompleteness must affect the process of synthesis. An analysis is complete when we have discriminated all the parts which enter into the composition of the object, when these parts are ultimate units incapable of further analysis, and when we have discovered the relations in which these unanalysable parts singly and in their various combinations stand to one another. The inverse process of synthesis shows how the parts thus distinguished may be recombined in the same relations as before so as to re-constitute the whole. An analysis is incomplete if any factors have been overlooked in the process, or if the units in which it terminates are not ultimate. But an analysis may be adequate for particular purposes, scientific or practical, although we have to stop short of the discovery of the ultimate units constituting the object and of their ultimate relations. Incompleteness does not mean falsity. If we were on any grounds to discard analysis as giving a false account of reality, we should have to discard the natural sciences. There are, it is true, metaphysical theories which are sometimes understood as having that tendency; but we are not concerned here with these theories nor with the question whether they have been correctly interpreted as destructive of science. Analysis is assumed as an essential instrument in the sciences and in the process of knowledge generally, and that is why some enquiry is necessary as to its scope and limits.

An analysis may be adequate for all apparent purposes, although it is not safe to found speculations upon it as if it were complete. The discovery of radium, for instance, showed the incompleteness of previous analyses of the constituents of matter, and had the incidental effect of invalidating an earlier calculation of the age of the earth founded on the conduction of heat. The calculation assumed the completeness of the current analyses of matter, so that the power possessed by radium of generating heat internally was overlooked. A generation ago it might have appeared hyper-critical to have attacked the argument on the ground that there might be substances to be reckoned with having properties so startlingly new as those of radium. But the advance of experimental analysis refuted the underlying assumption. In this case one analysis was discredited by a more complete analysis. And we are never able to say with certainty that an analysis of actual existents is absolutely complete and can be carried no further. Even if we are confident that nothing of importance has been overlooked, we cannot be sure that the elements reached are incapable of further analysis. In physical science we pass from masses to particles, from particles to molecules, from molecules to atoms, from atoms to electrons. There we may be content to rest for the present—but only for the present. Atoms served for many centuries as the ultimate units to which scientific research, though only in a conjectural way, pointed. After only twenty years' familiarity with electrons, it is too soon to say that they are ultimate units. Indeed, there is no criterion by which we can determine that the units we have reached are ultimate units. And we must take into account the possibility that there are no ultimate units and that matter is infinitely divisible. In this case analysis never can be complete; in the opposite case, it never is complete, for we have never any sufficient ground for saying that our present units are ultimate.

Further, analysis discloses not only the parts or elements in a whole but also the relations in which these parts stand to one another and in virtue of which the whole is constituted as it is. Can we say that knowledge of these relations added to knowledge of the parts provides knowledge of the whole? The question has been answered in the affirmative. “The whole,” it has been said1, “is different from the terms and relations taken individually, but it is these parts related.” But this assumption, though obvious enough at first sight, needs examination. Let us suppose a whole, X, which can be analysed exhaustively into three parts, elements, or terms—a, b, c—each of which will have various relations to the others. These relations may be symbolised by R. Is the whole exactly equal to aRb + aRc + bRc? The answer will depend on the kind of whole with which we are dealing. If we are dealing with a machine or other artificial whole—a clock, for example—we can separate it into various pieces of metal which are placed in certain spatial relations to one another. The mechanic can reconstruct it out of these pieces by putting them together in their proper relations. There is nothing in the clock but the pieces of metal thus related in space. It is true that the clock as a whole has certain properties which do not belong to the separate parts; but these properties can be predicted by any one who knows the parts and their relations and who has sufficient mathematics. But nature is not limited to mechanical sequences which the mathematician can predict. Whatever his mathematical skill and however great his knowledge of the two separate gases oxygen and hydrogen might be, no chemist could have predicted that their composition in certain proportions would result in a substance with the specific qualities of water. In vital and mental processes it is still clearer that knowledge of the parts and of their relations does not give knowledge of the nature of the whole. Here we are in presence of what Wundt calls the ‘principle of creative resultants2,’ and we have to wait upon experience for our knowledge. The properties of the whole can be known only from observation of the behaviour of the whole as a whole; analysis does not disclose them. Thus the writer already quoted gives a more comprehensive definition of the whole: it “is the parts and their properties and the relations relating the parts and the possibly specific properties of the whole3.” Now, it is by its properties that we know the thing, and, in so far as analysis fails to reveal the specific properties of the thing, it fails to give us adequate knowledge of it. As he says later on analysis must allow “for a whole which is not merely the sum of its parts4.” He seems to think that in this way we must “recognise a non-rational element in nature5.” But it is needless to lay blame on nature. Reason is our instrument for understanding nature; and nature is not less rational because, in our examination of any thing, we must have regard to the whole, and may receive light from it as well as from its parts.

These specific properties of the whole are most conspicuous when we turn our analysis upon living or conscious beings6. Whether in living cell or in conscious mind, the specific properties—what we mean by ‘life’ in the one case, by ‘consciousness’ in the other—belong to the whole only and not to the parts or to the relations into which we analyse the whole. The parts and their relations belong to the whole; but it is more than they; it possesses properties which belong to it not in virtue of these parts but in virtue of the unity in which they are found. It is difficult to name this principle of unity, for in naming it we tend to treat it as if it were one of the parts of the whole. It is apt to be lost in the analytic process, and it is for this reason that Goethe criticised the method of the analyst:

Wer will was Lebendig's erkennen und beschreiben,

Sucht erst den Geist herauszutreiben;

Dann hat er die Theile in seiner Hand,

Fehlt leider nur das geistige Band7.

The “spiritual bond” is just that which makes all the difference between a collection of parts and a living whole. But neither in biology nor in psychology has it been found possible to isolate it, or to “catch it,” as Hume puts it, without the parts or “perceptions” which it possesses. It disappears in analysis. And the consequent synthesis must share the defects of the analysis: for synthesis can deal only with the elements which analysis has disclosed.

It would appear then that, if knowledge is restricted to these two complementary processes of analysis and synthesis, it has certain limitations which tend to mislead, and thus to thwart the purpose of knowledge. But is it thus restricted? In our ordinary traffic with things we are not limited in this way. We are not always engaged either in taking a thing to bits or else in putting it together again out of the bits. We have or possess the thing first, and may even use it, as a whole. And the case of knowledge is similar. Before we can analyse an object of knowledge, we must have an object of knowledge to analyse. Nor does our knowledge begin (as Locke and Hume thought) with isolated elements, which we proceed to put together. It begins (as Professor Ward has shown8), with what may be better described as a continuum or indefinite whole within which we draw distinctions and note similarities and other relations. The necessary antecedent both of analysis and of synthesis is an immediate consciousness of an object which awaits distinction and definition, but which—seeing that analysis reveals it as a connected manifold—may be described as a whole, however vague and indefinite our perception of its structure. The same order may be traced in scientific work. The chemist, for example, receives his compound as a whole, and has some knowledge of it as a whole, before he proceeds to test and analyse it by his exact methods. Here, therefore, in the region of ordinary experience, we have an instance of the knowledge of things as wholes; and this knowledge is a condition antecedent both to analysis and to synthesis. It may also have a still more important function as their supplement.

Attention has been recently drawn by Dr Merz9 to the importance of this view of the ‘together’ or ensemble of things. He has pointed out that it was anticipated by Goethe and Comte, and he has connected its prominence in later thought with the widening of biological ideas due to Darwin. To describe this attitude, and at the same time to bring out its contrast with the attitudes of analysis and synthesis, he has adopted the Platonic term synopsis. Analysis sunders a thing into its elements; synthesis puts these elements together again; synopsis views the thing as a whole. Synopsis is something more as well as something less than synthesis. Synthesis gives us a whole—or perhaps only a collection—each part of which is distinguishable and has been distinguished; synopsis contemplates a whole of which the parts may not be distinct. Only analysis can render them distinct; and, as we have seen, analysis is in danger of losing something in the process—not merely by incomplete enumeration of the elements, but by oversight of the principle of unity, which itself is not one element among others. Now synthesis is the making of a whole out of the elements which analysis yields; consequently, any defect in the analysis is carried over into the synthesis, so that the so-called synthesis is often a mere collection and not truly a whole, because the unity has been lost sight of in the analysis10. This defect synopsis does not lie under, because it is not dependent upon an antecedent analysis.

At the same time there is no necessary opposition between synopsis and analysis. The view of the whole may be retained, although the parts within that whole are given distinctness and their relation to one another is noted. Analysis is hostile to the synoptic view only when we regard the parts, which analysis discovers and renders prominent, as making up the whole and equivalent to it, that is, when we forget the limitations of analysis. If we keep these limitations in mind, then by “holding the parts in our hand,” that is, by analysis, we shall yet not lose sight of the “spiritual bond” which unites them, and our view of the whole—our synopsis—will become clearer and more adequate.

This union of a view of the whole with command of the details within it is perhaps most conspicuous in the realm of creative art. Artists do not often reveal the secrets of their mental processes. But there is a letter ascribed to Mozart which gives a remarkable account of the manner of his musical composition. The striking passage in the letter is as follows: “The question is how my art proceeds in writing and working out great and important matters. I can say no more than this, for I know no more and can come upon nothing further. When I am in good form and have good surroundings, as in travelling in a carriage, or after a good meal or a walk, and at night when I cannot sleep, then thoughts come to me best and in torrents. Whence and how I know not, and of this can say nothing. Those which please me I keep in my head and hum them aloud, as others have told me. Holding this fast, one follows another (as if a fresh ingredient were needed to make a pasty), then counterpoint, then the sound of different instruments, etc. That fires the mind, provided I am not disturbed; then it increases, and I enlarge it with greater and greater clearness, and the thing becomes almost complete in my head, even when it is a long piece, so that afterwards I can comprehend it in my mind at a glance (as one does a beautiful picture or a beautiful person), and not bit after bit, as it is heard later on in imagination, but as simultaneous. That is now a treat! All the finding and making now pass before me only as in a beautiful strong dream. But the over-hearing, thus all together, is still the best. What has thus come about I do not easily forget, and perhaps this is the best gift our God has given me. When it afterwards comes to writing, I take out of the bag of my brain what had previously been gathered into it. Then it gets pretty quickly put down on paper, being strictly, as was said, already perfect, and generally in much the same way as it was in my head before11.”

The process as here presented is from particulars to the whole and from the whole back again to particulars. It begins with details, coming how or whence the artist knows not, and it ends with the finished composition written out note by note on paper. But the best of the artist's experience is neither in the first suggestions nor in the writing out, but between these two stages, when all seems heard together and the whole is comprehended at a glance; and, by his composition, he helps others to share his experience. Perhaps the method of other artists is similar. They express themselves through the details of line or colour or word; but their expression is controlled by an idea of the whole in which the many are seen as one. Theirs is the higher vision described in the metaphysical poet's address to the soul:

When wilt thou shake off this Pedantery,

Of being taught by sense, and Fantasie?

Thou look'st through spectacles; small things seeme great

Below; But up unto the watch-towre get,

And see all things despoyl'd of fallacies:

Thou shalt not peepe through lattices of eyes,

Nor heare through Labyrinths of eares, nor learne

By circuit, or collections to discerne.

Philosophers are divided on the question whether this synoptic view is to be recognised as a valid attitude of thought. It is often ignored and sometimes definitely rejected. Descartes, for example, formulated a postulate concerning knowledge which seems to exclude its validity. “All knowledge,” he said12, “is of the same nature throughout and consists solely in combining what is self-evident.” His idea of philosophical system seemed to be that it consisted of a long series of propositions of which the first was self-evident and the logical connexion of each of the others with the immediately preceding proposition equally evident. Mathematical demonstration was his standard and exemplar of every kind of proof. Now mathematical method depends upon a preliminary abstraction by which concepts are formed which are taken as the objects upon which its reasonings are directed; its legitimate application to reality will therefore depend on the degree in which its abstract concepts express the nature of reality. In carrying out his method Descartes started from an immediate concrete experience—his clear consciousness of himself as a thinking being. He decided that his conviction of his own existence depended on this clear consciousness, and he then proceeded to the generalisation that whatever could be (thus) clearly thought was true. Along with this general principle (and other general principles which it was supposed to vindicate) went an abstract view of the experience from which he started. The essence of the self was identified with thought, and similarly the essence of matter was identified with extension. Upon these definitions all his reasonings depend; and only if the definitions are adequate can a true account of reality be reached by his method. Even if his general principles and his seasonings are valid, it remains to be shown that the definitions adequately express the nature of what really exists and not merely some one quality of it selected more or less arbitrarily; and if, this can be shown it will not be by the same kind of reasoning as he uses to link up his concepts once they have been formed. It will require an insight into the nature of the concrete experience from which the start was made; as already shown, this insight will be imperfect if it depends solely on analysis; and the final synthesis of experience as a whole will share this imperfection.

It is in justifying their view of experience, or of reality, as a whole that many other thinkers have recognised the validity of the attitude of thought here called synoptic. The term is derived from Plato, and it describes the view of reality reached by υου̑ς or reason as contrasted with that taken by διάνοια or understanding. The same conception is to be found in Spinoza's distinction of scientia intuitiva from ratio, and in the distinction between Reason and Understanding which was drawn by Kant and his successors, especially Schelling and Hegel, and which was popularised in this country by Coleridge; at the present day it reappears in M. Bergson's doctrine of Intuition which, as a mode of knowledge, he opposes to analysis and in general to intellect. The synoptic attitude has been in some respects differently conceived by these thinkers; and their greatest divergence from one another lies in their views concerning the relation of Reason or Intuition to Understanding or the process of reasoning. For the most part it is regarded as complementary to the understanding; and this is the classical view, from Plato onwards. M. Bergson, however, takes a different view.

In the theory of M. Bergson the contrast between intelligence and intuition is made fundamental. And this contrast, as he draws it, has two characteristics: the doctrine of the practical nature of intelligence, and the assimilation of intuition to instinct. With regard to the former doctrine it may be allowed that the understanding of nature has for its original purpose the control of nature, and that intelligence is strengthened and sharpened by the constant pressure of practical needs and by experience of the advantages got from understanding them. But this relation between theory and practice does not necessitate the pragmatic explanation that the truth of the theory simply consists in its practical utility. The correspondence between theory and practice can also be explained on the view that the knowledge proves itself useful in its applications because it is true: the utility does not make it true; its truth is the ground of its utility. The former explanation is open to the fatal objection that it tends to discredit itself; for, according to it, the truth of the view that truth consists in utility must consist in the utility of this view. It would be difficult to show any practical utility which the explanation possesses; but if we did succeed in showing such utility, it would be formulated in yet another proposition, whose truth again would have to consist in some practical end supposed to be served by it, and so on indefinitely. But if the truth of the proposition does not consist in or depend upon its utility, then we may hold that its utility depends upon its truth: it is useful because it expresses reality or real relations in the form of knowledge, and this brings them within the range, and possibly within the power, of the human mind. Hence the practical uses of knowledge do not, as the pragmatists hold, constitute its truth; nor do they, as M. Bergson has it, interfere with its claim to truth. Our interest in practical issues may and often does limit the extent and scope of our knowledge; but, so far from being an indication of error, their utility in practice is in some degree a verification and guarantee of the truth of intellectual propositions, for it shows that, so far as these practical issues go, they hold for the actual nature of the world with which we are in contact.

It is because he holds the intellect to be subservient to practice in contact with the physical world that M. Bergson regards it as untrustworthy as a guide to truth. Insight into reality is attained, he thinks, only by the process of intuition which he contrasts with intellect and assimilates to instinct13. Now, instinct is not less but more practical than intellect, not less but more under the thrall of the material environment. Intellect may emancipate itself from this thraldom; but instinct never does. It always manifests itself in movement. The motor tendency is not all that there is in instinct; but its characteristic is that the movement follows directly upon the perception, without being preceded by any idea either of the movement itself or of its end. It is this idea of the end which distinguishes intellectual activity, and thus opens the way for comparison of ends and control of movements, and ultimately for the emancipation of the intellect from its bondage to matter—an emancipation which instinct could not achieve without ceasing to be instinct and taking on the nature of intellect.

The way in which we form an idea of reality as a whole cannot be assimilated to the working of instinct. Even to describe it as intuitive may be misleading, for the term has awkward associations. For a whole school of thinkers intuition implies an opposition to experience; and this opposition must be avoided, for our view of ultimate reality will not be independent of experience, any more than it is of reasoning, in its construction. With the same philosophers and with others, the term indicates a spontaneity of thought which can be admitted only with two qualifications—that given factors are always required upon which this spontaneous activity may operate, and that thought is never in any case entirely passive. Yet an indication of the nature of that which we seek may be found in the immediate knowledge which we have in sense-perception and in the consciousness of our own life. Immediate knowledge is indeed never knowledge of a complete whole, but neither is it knowledge of an exactly defined and isolated part. Its object is always a continuum, which is not absolutely marked off from everything else, which defies exhaustive analysis into its elements, and which is not adequately reconstructed by a synthesis of these elements. At the outset of knowledge, therefore, we have acquaintance with something more than the distinguishable parts into which we afterwards analyse the thing known. This knowledge resembles vision, not discourse; and in this respect our final metaphysical idea will be like it. It will be a view of the world mediated indeed by reasons, but itself more comprehensive than those reasons; and it will possess the wholeness of the immediate intuition.

What is it that chiefly interests us in a philosopher? asked William James; and he answered that it is not his arguments but his vision, what he sees in the world or what he sees the world as being, not the logical steps by which he professes to have reached that vision. “A philosophy is the expression of a man's intimate character, and all definitions of the universe are but the deliberately adopted reactions of human characters upon it14.” To much the same effect is the definition which Mr Bradley has casually thrown out, “Metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe upon instinct15.” These are obiter dicta, and their precise terms should not be scrutinised too curiously. But they do not stand alone. In one of his latest writings, if not his very latest, Lotze gave expression to a similar view in describing the motives which had determined his own life-work. “Philosophy is always a piece of life,” he said, and “except in rare cases, a prolonged philosophical labour is nothing else but the attempt to justify scientifically a fundamental view of things which has been adopted in early life16.” The vision is deeper and more permanent than the scientific apparatus by which it is described or defended. Hence a philosopher like Berkeley may spend his life in the service of a vision which has been shown to him in boyhood. But the essential point is not the time of life at which a theory was first adopted. What is of chief importance is the distinction between the concrete view of a whole, which must resemble vision or imagination, and the connexions which we seek to discover by reasoning between the parts or elements in a whole. And I think that it is this distinction that is mainly in view when a philosopher contrasts reason with understanding or intuition with analysis. The philosophical synopsis is a process in which imagination is called in to construct a new intuition, based on the facts and connexions laid bare by analysis, but imitating the togetherness or wholeness of perception.

In knowledge of self we have the leading example of that view of an object as a whole which has been distinguished from the complementary processes of analysis and synthesis. “There is one reality, at least,” says M. Bergson, “which we all seize from within, by intuition and not by simple analysis. It is our own personality in its flowing through time—our self which endures. We may sympathise intellectually with nothing else, but we certainly sympathise with our own selves17.” Only, it is hardly correct to call this process sympathy, for it is an experience which is deeper than sympathy, seeing that it is not dependent on any reference to another. It is an apprehension which is immediate—which is lived in the moment that it is known, although it is preserved in memory and clarified by reflexion. In this immediate knowledge of the self we find the two marks of wholeness which are absent from analysis and its results. The psychologist may distinguish and enumerate the factors present at any moment in consciousness. The special sensations which form the medium for our connexion with the external world, the organic sensations due to bodily conditions, the impulses and desires which prompt to action, the feelings of pleasure or pain which give tone to each changing state, the succession of images, the connexion of ideas, the mode of thought—these may be described; but we are aware that the whole is not told. All such descriptions are general; they are not minute enough to render the concrete individuality of our life; in every account, however complete, some elements of the real state are lacking; the analysis is never quite exhaustive. Even if it is his own mental state that the psychologist is analysing he is aware that his analytical knowledge falls short of his immediate experience; there is more in his life than there is in his analysis of it.

In this respect, therefore, the immediate consciousness or intuition of self has a better claim to be regarded as a whole than all the elements taken together which analysis has discovered in it. And there is something else, of far greater moment, which the analysis must always fail to give. This is more difficult to name: for in naming it we are apt to speak of it as if it were one element amongst the others. But it may be described as the sense of life or the sense of self. It is not one factor amongst others—such as sensation or impulse or feeling. For it is something through which all these are—through which they have being. And it is through it that each person has his own individual being and no other, so that my perception of this sound, say, is entirely distinct from yours, even although the most perfect analysis can find no dissimilarity between their respective contents. Thus all the parts which the analysis distinguishes are really in a whole, and the whole is in. all the parts. The “spiritual bond,” as Goethe calls it, is there, but the analyst does not notice it.

At the same time the method of analysis is not necessarily hostile to the attitude which looks at the whole. Analysis brings out into relief elements which are in the whole and are important for understanding the whole. There is a danger, of course, of seeing only the elements, of regarding them as separate or independent, and of thinking that they make up the whole. But, if we avoid this danger and never lose sight of the spiritual bond through which the elements are real and one, then our view of the whole is elucidated and its detailed content is recognised without its unity or reality being lost sight of. Even self-knowledge gains in fulness and adequacy by this analysis, that is, by the analysis of the psychologist. This is particularly the case with regard to those factors in the mental life which bring it into contact with its environment. For they lie on the circumference of the self, as it were, where self meets other; and analysis always deals most easily with the region which lies nearest to the surface or circumference; its difficulties increase in penetrating into the inner life; in the centre it is always at a loss; for when centre or subject is reached there is nothing further to analyse, and the mere analyst is tempted to say that there is nothing there at all. Now the self is in continual process of growth; its content expands and is modified, and its powers develop in this process. The growth of the self comes with experience, and its occasioning cause is contact and traffic with the world of things and other selves. Here, therefore, in the changes which arise at the periphery or circumference of the self, analysis is most effective in displaying the new content, and we are most dependent upon it for forming an adequate idea of self. Analysis may thus contribute new elements to the idea of the whole, though these elements are nothing apart from the “spiritual bond” that unifies them.

The idea of self is founded upon immediate experience of self as a unity or whole of conscious life. We do not approach it from the outside: we have inside acquaintance, because we are it. But our knowledge of anything else—even of other selves—has a different starting-point. It too is founded upon immediate experience; but this immediate experience of an other can only be of the aspect or side of that other which comes into contact with our own life. “No one,” said Fechner18, “can stand at once at the outside and at the inside of the same thing. Therefore can no mind directly perceive another.” Our knowledge of other men starts from the same point as knowledge of inanimate things, that is to say, it is mediated and conditioned by sense-perception. Hence the difficulty of interpretation. The primitive intelligence, both of the race and of the individual, tends to look upon every other thing as if it were a self; it is animistic, and interprets the other in the likeness of its own self. Even the mature intelligence may for a moment take the cunningly devised image of a man for a human being, though the mistake is easily remedied by observing the way in which the object reacts to a stimulus. But the possibility of making a mistake, and of correcting the mistake by observing details, shows that our knowledge of the inner life of another starts from and depends upon the expressions of that life as they come before us in perception.

Hence, if we compare our idea of an other self with the idea of our own self, differences are apparent. Both are founded upon immediate experience; but in the one case the immediate experience is of our inner life itself; in the other case it is only of the outward expressions of an inner life. In both cases, however, we are trying to arrive at an idea of an inner life, so that immediate data help us much further in the one case than in the other. In the case of the alien self, we have to depend upon data of sense-perception, as we have not to depend upon them in self-knowledge. These data of sense-perception, indeed, are not apprehended as isolated or distinct units; their distinctness is due to our own processes of abstraction and analysis; and there is, of course, always a danger that some important elements may be overlooked in our analysis. But the other and greater danger in analysis—the danger of overlooking the principle of wholeness or unity—does not arise here. And it does not emerge as a danger simply because the principle of unity or spiritual bond does not reside there at all among the external phenomena open to our observation. The unity of the other self was not present in the immediate experience from which we started, which was of the nature of sense-perception; it is an inner principle hid from the immediate observation of any other mind.

How then can we pass from these immediate external data, which we call the expressions of another self or mind, to an idea of that self or mind? To do so an interpretative conception is needed, such as our own self-experience supplies us with. By its means we make the attempt, by a kind of imaginative insight, to view the process from the inside as it is for the self expressed in it. And to this method we may, with Bergson, apply the term intuition, and say that it requires sympathy. “By intuition,” he says, “is meant the kind of intellectual sympathy by which one places oneself within an object in order to coincide with what is unique in it and consequently inexpressible19.”

In passing from the data of perception to an interpretation of the other self, one or other of two methods may be followed. We may start from the various data in which it is expressed and which our analysis has discriminated, and taking each distinguishable part in turn try to find for it its subjective correspondent—idea, motive, desire, emotion, or the like—and out of these put together synthetically some sort of idea of the other self as a whole. This way is common enough, but it seldom leads to anything like adequate understanding. And yet it does not avoid the use of interpretative conceptions, although it keeps so closely to the elements of the analysis. For each of these elements it has to seek an interpretation in other terms than those first presented—a mental meaning for the external expression. And these mental meanings—whether ideas or desires or feelings—cannot be rendered clearly intelligible unless we can pierce to the inner principle that determined them. For each factor in the expression a fresh reference is made to the mental side; and the resultant idea of the other man's mind or character is a composite product of these various interpretations of particulars.

But it is not thus that the man of sympathetic genius understands others. He places himself imaginatively within the other's self; he seems to take the other's place, to see everything from his point of view, to think his thoughts and share his feelings and desires. The former and more conventional attitude starts with each external expression in turn, and keeping to it tries to look inward towards what is happening below the surface. The latter attitude also takes its start from the external expression; but the genius of sympathy consists in a swift change of point of view: the observer ceases to be a mere observer, and becomes in thought what he observes: takes his bearings afresh to suit the new position and looks at things from the other man's angle. In doing so he obtains an understanding of the character and conduct of another which is impossible to the observer who restricts himself to noting each separate act and speculating about its motive. At the same time the man of sympathetic genius cannot dispense with evidence. His most brilliant insight is always of the nature of hypothesis: it has not behind it the immediate experience of what he seeks to understand, which everyone has in the case of self-knowledge. Consequently, it must submit to constant testing by empirical data—by the facts, old and new, which constitute the external manifestation of the inner life which he studies.

The further an object is removed in character from the nature of the observer himself, the greater are his difficulties in interpreting its inner life by this process of intellectual sympathy. Hence the risk of failure when we try to catch the elusive ‘spirit of the time,’ to put ourselves at the mental point of view of children or, of prehistoric man, or to understand the inner life of animals or plants. Here—especially in dealing with primitive man and with sub-human life—there is call for imagination, not only to appreciate the different conditions of the environment but also to enter into the different modes of subjective or organic re-action. When the attempt to understand from the inside was extended to the realm of inorganic things, thinking easily degenerated into the empty scholasticism of attributing potencies to things, although these potencies were only abstract terms for describing the physical process. I question altogether the right to attribute an inner side to inorganic things, and I do so on the grounds that there is no direct evidence for it and that they have no permanent individuality of their own. The case of plant life is different: here there is obviously an individual with an inner aspect. But the attempt sympathetically to understand a life which is without consciousness or any kind of feeling is so difficult, that we are often forced to describe this life in terms which have a clear meaning for us only when they imply consciousness, and then to admit that nevertheless there is no evidence of the presence of consciousness. Even for the higher regions of animal life, our interpretation is based upon the human consciousness, and we are probably unable to determine exactly the kind of modification of our own consciousness which would be required in order to make it a trustworthy guide for understanding any given type of sub-human life.

These considerations all point to the conclusion that the synoptic view of reality or of any portion of it cannot be allowed to work alone without danger to the truth of its conceptions. It must show that its interpretation is accurate by submitting to empirical tests—by its ability to give a coherent account of those facts which it is the business of the analytic understanding to exhibit in detail. This is necessary when we seek to understand any particular object. It is also necessary if our purpose is to form some idea of reality as a whole.

So far, in illustrating and defending the synoptic view, I have been dealing chiefly with certain finite objects. The objects selected have been those to which a being-for-self, and thus an inner life may be ascribed; and it has been contended that, to understand them as wholes, we must seek to penetrate to that inner life so that we may reach the unity which makes into elements of a whole what, judged from the outside only, would be taken as merely parts among which certain regularities may be discovered. But it has also to be pointed out that these finite centres of being are not self-sufficient. Their nature is not simply unrolled from within; it grows and is formed by means of experience and in interaction with the environment. No view of the finite individual can be adequate which does not follow out its connexions with its environment; no view can be trusted at all which neglects them entirely. As was previously remarked, the greatest advance in the general theory of biology which has been made since the time of Aristotle, was connected with laying increased stress on the importance of studying the environment of organic life in order to understand the organism. We must not restrict attention to the finite individual as if it were an independent unit; we must also have a view of the wider whole to which it belongs.

We start with the self. But the content of the self is due to its experience. Paradoxical as it may seem, it is only the external observer who could think of regarding this content as mere ‘mental modifications.’ To the subject it has a meaning which points beyond himself and, as it increases, brings him more and more into relation with other things. As Spinoza says, “the mind understands itself better the more things it understands in nature20.” It is characteristic of Spinoza to regard this connexion of mind with its environment as understanding simply, and to lay exclusive stress upon the natural objects which it knows. But it is unnecessary to follow him in these restrictions. The self finds itself in presence of surrounding reality, and has to make its own way in it as well as to form ideas about it. It is confronted with something that is both an obstacle to its activity and also the medium in and through which its purposes can be realised. It comes also to recognise an objective order—or laws of nature—to which it must conform and upon which it can depend. Further it is conscious of itself as one amongst others of the same kind, all living in the same objective world of matter and law. There is no moment in its career at which it is independent of these other selves any more than a time at which it is independent of the external world; and there is no part of its mental content which is intelligible altogether apart from them. And finally the self is conscious of an objective order of values, which determine what ought to be sought and avoided and thus give direction to the reactions upon external nature and other selves in which life consists.

All these are features in the environment of the self; and a comprehensive view of man must take account of him as a factor in this larger whole. Is it possible to gain any view of this whole which shall be not a mere addition of bit to bit of experienced fact, but an understanding of it as a whole—a synopsis? This is our question. It has been answered in many different ways, and the answers often diverge according to the portion of experience on which the emphasis is laid. The mechanical theory gives an answer which, perhaps without injustice, may be described as external, assuming the sense-object, or something of the nature of matter behind it, as the sole ultimate reality. Intellectualist systems look upon the understanding which reveals the secrets of things as being at the same time their essential nature. But ethical values also belong to the system of reality; and a comprehensive view must include them and show their place in the whole.

  • 1.

    Spaulding, The New Realism, p. 203.

  • 2.

    Naturwissenschaft und Psychologie (concluding section of the 5th edition of his Physiologische Psychologie), pp. 108 f.

  • 3.

    Spaulding, The New Realism, p. 161.

  • 4.

    Spaulding, The New Realism, p. 239.

  • 5.

    Spaulding, The New Realism, p. 241.

  • 6.

    Even in the analysis of conceptual objects we are apt on reaching the elements to lose the way back to the whole and to re-gain it only by putting into each element the nature of the whole. The common analysis of (conceptual) space is an instance. Prof. Spaulding analyses it into the concept point and certain relations, among which betweenness is fundamental. Betweenness is thus defined: “A term y is between two terms x and z with reference to a transitive asymmetrical relation R when xRy and yRz.” This relation of betweenness, however, holds not only of points in a line but of successive instants in time and of successive notes on the scale. Clearly, therefore, as of course Prof. Spaulding is aware, it does nothing to distinguish space from time or even from the succession of musical notes. The differentia must therefore be got from the concept point. But “point is, perhaps, indefinable,” he says (The New Realism, p. 182). Looking forward to his analysis of time, one sees that “instant is, perhaps, indefinable” (p. 190). Now, if both are indefinable, and if (as is the fact) we have no immediate acquaintance with either, how are we to distinguish point from instant, space from time? Only if point has already in it something that determines it spatially rather than temporarily or otherwise. And this is indeed admitted. Of point he says, “it has a peculiar quale which can be best defined only in terms of that of which it is an element, namely space” (p. 182). That is to say, space is analysed into elements which can only be defined through itself, through the whole. This is seen by the writer who continues, “but that may be to define the term in a circle and to admit it to be indefinable logically.” But refusal to define the term is not really a way out of the difficulty. For unless the spatial quale of point is recognised, and the temporal quale of instant, there is nothing to distinguish point from instant, and space might have been analysed into the one as readily as into the other.

  • 7.
    To understand the living whole

    They start by driving out the soul;

    They count the parts, and when all's done,

    Alas ! the spirit-bond is gone.

  • 8.

    Art. ‘Psychology,’ Ency. Brit., 9th ed. (1886), p. 42 b.

  • 9.

    A History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century, vol. III, pp. 192 ff., vo1. IV, pp. 431 ff.

  • 10.

    Cp. F. H. Bradley, Essays on Truth and Reality, p. 176: “At any moment my actual experience, however relational its contents, is in the end non-relational. No analysis into relations and terms can ever exhaust its nature or fail in the end to belie its essence. What analysis leaves for ever outstanding is no mere residue, but is a vital condition of the analysis itself. Everything which is got into the form of an object implies still the felt background against which the object comes, and, further, the whole experience of both feeling and object is a non-relational immediate felt unity. The entire relational consciousness, in short, is experienced as falling within a direct awareness. This direct awareness is itself non-relational.”

  • 11.

    Mozarts Briefe, ed. L. Nohl, 2nd ed., pp. 443–4. (I am indebted to Prof. J. A. Smith for the reference.) The editor explains that the letter as a whole is not genuine, but he has admitted it to his book because it contains “certain valuable expressions of Mozart on his art” (p. 441 n.).

  • 12.

    Regulæ ad directionem ingenii, xii; Philosophical Works, transl. Haldane and Ross, vol. I, p. 47. Cp. above, p. 10.

  • 13.

    L'Évolution créatrice, p. 192.

  • 14.

    W. James, A Pluralistic Universe, p. 20.

  • 15.

    Appearance and Reality, p. xiv.

  • 16.

    ‘Philosophy in the last forty years,’ Contemporary Review, January 1880, p. 137.

  • 17.

    Introduction to Metaphysics, Engl. tr., p. 8.

  • 18.

    Elemente der Psychophysik, vol. I, p. 4; cp. G. H. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, vol. II, p. 481.

  • 19.

    Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 6.

  • 20.

    De intellectus emendatione; Opera, ed. Van Vloten and Land, vol. I (1882), p. 13.