HITHERTO we have been occupied with certain points in the theory of value; and these points were selected for discussion owing to their bearing on the special problem that lies before us. That problem concerns the contribution which ideas of value, and in particular ethical ideas, have to make to the view of the world as a whole which we are justified in forming. In its mere statement the problem inverts a traditional and customary order of thought. It is the more usual, as it seems the more obvious course, to explain ethical ideas by reference to the nature of things than to take them as a clue for the interpretation of reality. But we have seen the difficulties of the former method. In it the characteristic notion of ethical valuation is never deduced; it is only introduced surreptitiously. From ‘is’ to ‘ought,’ from existence to goodness, there is no way that logic has not blocked. The other method, however, remains open to us.
The contrast of the two methods may be compared with the biological controversy concerning the priority of structure or of function. Do we see because we have eyes? or is it because we need to see, and have kept on seeing, that there are eyes to see with? Here, again, the most obvious answer is that it is the structure that determines the function; but the obvious answer is not necessarily the true one. Our question, indeed, is on a different level from the biological. It has a wider range, and its special reference is not to function merely but to the ethical idea, present in consciousness only, which transforms function into duty. Given the structure of an organ and its environment at any time, it may be possible to determine the organ's function. It is when we ask how the structure came to be what it is that the question of the priority of function arises. But existence and goodness are not related just in this way. Given the structure, as it may be called, of the existing universe as a whole, we should be able to infer certain animal and human functions; but we should not be able to reach the conception of a good which has objective validity and which the conscious person is under obligation to realise.
Now, as we cannot pass logically from existence to goodness, or from structure to duty, we have to ask whether any way is open from goodness to existence. It is possible for an obstacle that blocks one's path in one direction to be crossed in the opposite direction at a step. Only, as the saying is, we must mind the step. Thus, if I ought to do something and do it, then it now is; if I see that something would be good and realise it, then I have brought this much goodness into existence. The transition has been made. But the step which we are required to take is a longer step than this. In this case it is only when duty has been done or goodness realised that we have compassed the unity of the two. When, however, I am merely conscious that I ought to do something, then that something is not yet done, does not yet exist, and may never exist. We apply the term ‘good’ to many things that we only imagine; and calling them good makes them no nearer existence than they were before. It is clear, therefore, that there are obstacles on the way from ‘ought’ to ‘is,’ from good to existence, just as there are in the opposite direction.
Ethical ideas form a system of a different order from that of real existence. The ethical system—the ideas of goodness and the relations of these ideas—can be worked out on the mere hypothesis of existence. For its validity it is not necessary that there should be existing objects which manifest the goodness described. Neither here nor elsewhere can we argue directly from idea to existence. Kant's refutation of the ontological argument is fatal to any such naïve method of arriving at a doctrine of ethical idealism. At the same time the ethical idea is never without existential connexions; and such connexions have been already discovered to be of two kinds. In the first place, ethical ideas are facts of the personal consciousness, and they are realised through the will and in the character of persons. They have therefore a place in existent reality; they belong to that portion of the universe which we call persons; and a theory of the universe cannot be complete which ignores their existence as facts and forces. In the second place, they claim objective validity; and this claim is not invalidated by their being conscious ideas, any more than the objective validity of any other kind of knowledge is affected by the fact that the process of knowing is a process in some one's mind. Further consideration of these two aspects of ethical ideas may bring out the general character of the relation of value to reality.
“The one fundamental quarrel,” said William James, “empiricism has with absolutism is over [the] repudiation by absolutism of the personal and æsthetic factor in the construction of philosophy1.” The repudiation is certainly good ground for a philosophical quarrel, but perhaps empiricism itself has not seldom been guilty of the same fault as that for which absolutism is blamed. At any rate it is a fault; and no philosophy can be complete or true which neglects the fact of personality and the ideas of worth which personality involves. These must be recognised as part of the data which philosophy has to interpret. At the same time, we may not assume (as James was sometimes apt to do) that the presence of ideals or desires justifies an assertion as to their fulfilment or realisation. To do so is to make the subjective interests of the individual into a standard of objective reality. And perhaps it is owing to the fear of falling under this perturbing influence that all forms of monism—intellectualist as well as naturalist—have been inclined to give too scanty recognition to the fact of human personality in the construction of their systems.
But a recognition of the facts of personal life does not necessitate any departure from an impartial and objective attitude. The facts investigated may be subjective facts in the sense that they belong to conscious life and that our knowledge of them depends ultimately upon self-consciousness or introspection. But every kind of fact is known only through the subject's power of knowing—conscious facts no more than physical facts. And, whether the facts be of mind or of nature, there need be no difference in the impartial attitude of the thinker towards them. When he makes his own mind or his own ideals his object, his treatment of this object need not be modified by any desire to come to some particular conclusion, for example, to the conclusion that his ideals have or will have objective realisation. What is required of him is that he should take note of their existence as facts in consciousness and recognise their operation as forces which determine character and help to modify the environment.
The other respect in which ethical ideas have a contribution to offer to the formation of an adequate view of reality is not so obvious, and it is more contentious. It concerns not merely the facts which we call moral and which, as facts of the personal life, have as good a claim to recognition as any other facts, but the principles, ruling ideas, or moral laws which ethical reflexion formulates. In their case the mere fact of their presence in consciousness is a small matter compared with their meaning or objective reference. In respect of this meaning have they any legitimate function in the determination of our view concerning the nature of reality?
The most obvious answer to this question seems to be that moral laws or moral principles are conceptions in accordance with which reality ought to be regulated, but in accordance with which it is not regulated, or with which it agrees in only a very partial manner at best. Goodness, it is said, is one thing and reality another; we must not confuse the two. Reality may be good, and in parts it is good; but it may also be evil, and in parts it is evil. Consequently, as it is of mixed quality ethically, goodness does not belong to it as a whole any more than evil does. Principles or laws of goodness, therefore, can be of no avail in interpreting the nature of things as an actual or real system. This would seem to be the most obvious, as it is the usual, answer to our question. Its positive statements as to the difference between goodness and the actual are also correct, so far as they go. And yet it would be misleading and incorrect to take it as a complete solution of the problem. And this for two reasons.
In the first place, as we have seen, ethical ideas enter into the history of actual existence as efficient factors. The world is a time-process which is in constant evolution; persons are amongst the agents in this process; and their activity is governed to a greater or less extent by their views as to what is good. In this way ethical ideas come to be literally constitutive of reality as manifested in time. The degree in which they are so may seem to many to be comparatively slight at the present moment: though it is difficult to say how slight or how great it is until we have formed a clear idea of the nature of reality. Further, as we are here concerned with reality as a process in time, we must have regard to the future as well as to the past and the present; and it is at least conceivable that, in the future, the degree in which life will be determined by ethical principles may be increased to an indefinite extent. It may even be increased so far that the procession of the ages, if it could be seen at a single glance, might appear as a manifestation of morality; reality might be conceived, in its time-process, as a realisation of goodness. This reflexion, no doubt, is matter of speculation, and it may be taken as merely imaginative. But it serves its purpose here if it illustrates what is matter of fact—that ethical ideas are not cut off from reality, but enter into it, and that, even if we look upon the world merely as a system of cause and effect, we shall find goodness as a factor in its constitution.
The second reason for connecting goodness and reality is independent of the causal efficiency of ethical ideas and of the time-process in which this causal efficiency is shown. We have already seen that ethical principles do not depend for their validity upon their presence in any particular minds. They have an objective validity which may be compared with the objective validity of the laws of nature. They are not entities with a separate existence of their own; but neither are such physical principles as the axiom of the conservation of energy or the law of gravitation. Yet the latter are not subjective principles or simply ideas in the mind. They indicate certain aspects of the order of reality as a physical system; they constitute or help to constitute that system in such a way that existing things manifest this order. We say of them not that they exist, but that they are valid; but their validity cannot be separated from their implication in reality. To be valid is not the same thing as to exist, but it is to be valid of reality2, so that this validity is included in the nature of reality.
Now, if we compare the relation to existing reality of ethical principles with the place in reality of physical principles, we must certainly mark a difference. Existing reality includes as a factor in its system those physical principles which are valid concerning it; but it does not necessarily embody ethical principles in the same way. The very nature of moral law may seem to require the possibility of its not being realised in existence. There would be small meaning in the imperative of duty, if the nature of things were such that what we say ought to be always were just so. In what sense, then, can it be held that ethical principles are valid for existing reality?
This question forces us to ask another, Of what nature is the reality for which ethical principles are asserted to be valid? Clearly, they do not apply to that portion or manifestation of reality which is presented to us in the physical universe as it is described by physical science. Of it physical principles are valid in the only way in which principles can be valid of such a universe, that is, by constituting its actual order. But the universe for which ethical principles hold is the universe which is manifested in personal life. And persons are distinguished from material things by being centres of conscious activity whose nature it is to act in pursuit of ends freely selected. Their behaviour is not like that of material things, under laws simply; it is under the conception of laws. “A thing,” it has been said, “is what it does.” But a person is not merely what he does but what he is capable of doing. The law which is valid for him must exhibit its validity by appealing to his rational consciousness without restricting his freedom. The uniform behaviour, exclusive of all alternative possibilities, which nature exhibits and by which it manifests the validity of physical principles, would be a self-contradictory method for the manifestation of ethical principles by the world of persons, for it would be destructive of the rational freedom which belongs to them as persons.
As free and rational, persons are also purposeful, seekers of ends. The law which the person recognises as valid for his life is that which tends to the end in which personality is conceived as reaching its true good. This is an ideal, and its attainment must be looked for in the gradual process by which character is built up and conduct brought into rational order. The moral agent is thus compelled to regard his true personality as consisting not in the actual features of the passing moment but in an is to be— in something to which he should attain and to which he can at least approximate. This ideal self is conceived as in harmony with the moral values which he recognises, and it is at the same time regarded as the complete realisation of that personality which, throughout life, is always in process of growth3.
If we would reach a true view of the connexion of value with reality, we must bear these points in mind. The validity of ethical principles and, generally, of ideas of value differs from the validity of physical principles. This difference, however, is not a difference in degree of validity. It is a difference in the reference of the respective classes of principles: ethical principles are valid for persons; physical principles are valid for material things; and this difference is the ground of the different kinds of validity possessed by each. In summing up these results I am at the same time approaching a first division of reality, from which the further advance of this argument may be made. This first division of reality may be formulated as follows. There are (1) existents, among which we distinguish persons from what may be called simply things; (2) relations between existing things, of which relations the ‘laws of nature’ may be taken as an example; and (3) values.
This first division of reality is, at the same time, a classification of the objects of knowledge; and, as such, it raises certain preliminary questions, with which it is desirable to deal at once, although they can be treated in a summary fashion only. The classification is not founded upon an enquiry into the forms or conditions of knowing, and will not be affected by such an enquiry unless the latter should lead to a dissociation of knowledge from reality or from existence. Such dissociation, however, was the result of the investigation of the subject-object relation which culminated in Hume. The issue of that enquiry leaves us without any knowledge properly so called, and only with a succession of transitory impressions and ideas. According to Hume impressions arise out of the unknown; ideas, however, occur in a certain regular way which can be described by the laws of association; they have also certain similarities and differences, and even (he thinks) certain quantitative relations, one to another; but these do not permit of our making any statement about the world of nature or of mind which can be regarded as having objective truth. Hume, whose insight seldom failed him, saw that his conclusion involved the disintegration of all knowledge—not merely of theology and metaphysics but also of geometry and natural science4. Had he not been somewhat perfunctory in his examination of one of his classes of the relations of ideas, even knowledge of quantities and of resemblances would not have been allowed to pass on such easy terms. As it was, he recoiled from the results of his analysis, and in his later works tried to tone them down. In his first work he did better; for there he probed the causes of his own failure. “Did our perceptions,” he said, “either inhere in something simple and individual, or did the mind perceive some real connexion among them, there would be no difficulty in the case5.” It was because he found no unity of mind or consciousness, that he had to begin with merely transitory and isolated impressions; because there were no objective relations discoverable that he was left with no world at all-only chaos. In all probability Kant had never read the words of Hume which I have quoted; but his own theory of knowledge was specially directed to a solution of this very difficulty which, said Hume, “is too hard for my understanding.” Kant's doctrine of the unity of consciousness enabled him to dispense with Hume's assumption that “all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences”; his doctrine of the forms of perception and understanding gave a basis for a theory of objective relations.
This point of view enabled Kant to elaborate a compact and rational system in which the atomism of Hume was overcome. But one of Hume's difficulties was not surmounted by him. Knowledge still remained, if not divorced from reality, at any rate in only problematical connexion with it. And the reason for this lies in a similarity between his own starting-point and that of Hume. The latter's enumeration of his perplexities and of their sources was incomplete. Behind the assumption that there is no mental or subjective unity of experience (an assumption which treats mind as a fiction), and behind the assumption that the data of experience are isolated units (an assumption which makes objective relations impossible), lay another assumption which he inherited from Descartes and Locke. This is the view that the direct objects in knowledge are in all cases mental facts—perceptions, as Hume called them, or what Descartes and Locke called ideas. Kant shared this view, and hence the subjectivism which clings to his system and which he was never able completely to shake off.
Reid was the first systematic writer who had the courage to question the ideal theory, as he called it, and to work out a doctrine of knowledge founded upon its denial. He held that in knowledge the subject is directly aware of an external reality. There is much debatable matter in his views; but he had at least the merit of recalling philosophers to an examination of their assumptions. The questions in dispute cover a wide field, and the discussion of them would be in large part irrelevant to the present enquiry. But we do need to take our bearings regarding them, and to come to some agreement as to the application of such terms as ‘existence’ and ‘reality6,’ and the validity of using them of the object and of the subject of knowledge. To do this I must risk the appearance of dogmatism. But it will at least tend to clearness to state and defend certain epistemological propositions, which will be assumed in the sequel, even although it is not possible in this place to give them the full vindication of which they may stand in need.
1. My first proposition is that existence is given in the fact or act of knowledge. In knowing we are aware of something as there; of what nature the something is, and what exactly is implied by ‘thereness’—whether, for instance, it involves spatio-temporal relations—these are subsequent questions. The proposition is simply that, in knowledge, existence is given. There is indeed another meaning of knowledge—distinguished in other languages, in French by the use of savoir instead of connaître, in German by wissen as contrasted with kennen, and in English described as knowledge about or knowledge that in opposition to acquaintance with7.In this sense—in the sense of savoir, wissen, knowing about or knowing that—we may deal with abstractions from which the character of existence is deliberately removed. Our knowledge of relations is of this sort; but it is founded on and arises out of the more fundamental kind of knowledge described as acquaintance or immediate awareness or perception. Here we are aware of something existing. For the assertion that it exists there can be no formal proof; but if this assertion is denied, there is no other way in which existence can be reached.
2. The second proposition is derived from the nature of knowledge as a subject-object relation. In knowledge the subject is aware of an object which is other than itself—at least than itself as the subject knowing. Even the reflective consciousness of self which we have in introspection, so far from having a good claim to be regarded as the original and typical case of knowing, attains definiteness only by making the self observed an object to the subject observing, and thus distinguishing it as an other. The view that the primary objects of consciousness are ‘mental modifications,’ and the assertion that the primary certainty in knowledge is to be expressed in the proposition ‘sunt cogitationes,’ are variations upon the assumption that the mind can know immediately only its own ideas—the assumption that led to the failure of Hume and the difficulties of Kant. It is indeed hard to understand how the subject can know the object, the ego the non-ego. But is it really any harder than to understand how it can know itself? Knowledge is certainly a great mystery, which no knowledge can explain. But why do we say that the subject cannot know what is other than and unlike itself? It is probably a physiological doctrine concerning the sense-apparatus and the nervous system, coupled with a materialistic view about the seat of the soul in the pineal gland or other spot within the brain, that has made people think that knowledge of mental modifications is more easily understood than knowledge of anything else. Apart from any consideration of the physiological processes which condition perception, it appears to me that self-knowledge is a subtler and more elusive process, and harder to understand, than the knowledge of objects which only a sophisticated psychologist would think of describing as ‘mental modifications8.’
At the same time the proposition which I am formulating makes no assertion about the nature of the object of which one is aware in knowledge. It may be mental in nature or it may be physical—the question is left open. Only, knowledge implies something other than the subject knowing. Nor does the fact of self-consciousness invalidate this statement; and this for two reasons. In the first place our normal consciousness of self is not a knowledge of the self alone, but of self in commerce with objects; there is always a consciousness of objects other than self, on which the reflex consciousness of self depends. In the second place, in the deliberate process of introspection, in which we try to eliminate other objects from our consciousness (always, perhaps, with incomplete success), the self known is objectified and distinguished from the subject.
3. The third proposition is that the object of knowledge is not an isolated something. The assumption was constantly made by Descartes and Locke that objects of knowledge, or in their language ideas, are given as isolated units; and Hume formulated this assumption in the words that “all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences.” It is from this assumption that the initial and chief difficulty concerning relations arises: how do these “distinct perceptions” get organised into the system of knowledge? what unity can there be in a world which consists of all these “distinct existences”? But the assumption which gives rise to this difficulty is not true to the facts of consciousness. Distinctness is not a primitive—hardly even a normal—feature of our perception or of its objects. In most cases it requires art and pains to achieve it. The hen mesmerised by a chalk line on the ground may be near this state on one level; the mystic wrapped in the contemplation of God and unconscious of all earthly concerns may be near it on another level. One perception—one thought—one “distinct existence” may form their universe. But, where there is any diversity in consciousness or its objects, distinctness is not attained without difficulty. The process of perceiving or knowing is a complex and changing activity to which many factors contribute without being clearly distinguished from one another, even when they point to a single end; and the object of consciousness is also varied and moving; a few points—or a single point—may be prominent in the field and form its centre: but this centre or prominent feature is not a “distinct existence”; it is part of the wider whole. Facts are not given or found as separate isolated existences, as Locke and Hume and some modern realists suppose. Distinctness is attained only by selective and concentrated attention; and thus it betrays abstraction and usually a certain artifice. Ideas, as William James picturesquely put it, have ragged edges; and I may add that their edges are ragged because we have torn them from their context. The same is true of objects. Their distinctness from one another is not absolute but only a matter of degree; they are all portions of an objective field—an object which we cannot grasp as a whole, but in which we proceed to draw distinctions: these distinctions being in part marked out for us by differences within the objective field, and in part due to our own purposes. Certain things (as we learn to call them), either by their own prominence or owing to our selective purpose, achieve distinctness in the objective field. But even that distinctness is not isolation; they are connected with, and not absolutely separated from, other portions of the field.
4. From this follows a fourth proposition. As the things which we distinguish in the objective continuum, and with which we have dealings practical and cognitive, are not isolated or “distinct existences” but portions of a connected whole, so the relations which we look upon as connecting one thing with another have equally an objective basis. Were it not for these relations, or for their foundation in the objective continuum, things would fall apart as isolated units; and, seeing that things are not isolated units but portions of a whole, their connexions one with another within the whole must exist or be objective just as much as the things themselves. Relations therefore belong to reality as much as things do.
This fourth proposition, therefore, follows from the preceding. And it has two very important consequences for our theory of knowledge.
In the first place, it is inconsistent, if not with the Kantian epistemology in any form, yet with that version of it which used to be known as Neo-Kantian. The relations, which give order to our knowledge and by means of which we arrive at some understanding of things, are not forms imposed upon these things by the subject, that is, by the actual subject or ego who knows them9. The dualism of an unrelated matter, somehow presented to the subject, and of immaterial forms of subjective origin which are somehow applied to this material, thus giving birth to objective knowledge—this dualism must be relinquished. We find things in an order. We do not first supply the order and then put the things into it: for without some order there would be no things and no material for them. The subject certainly plays an active part in cognition; but it plays that part by selecting the object of attention and marking its limits, as much as in formulating its relations. Things and relations equally are selected by the subject out of an objective field in which they are both present.
In the second place, the proposition has a bearing on the vexed question of internal or external relations. The theory of external relations, it seems to me, is connected with what may be called the atomic doctrine of knowledge. If we start, and are justified in starting, with isolated units, “distinct perceptions” or “distinct existences,” then any relation which one such unit can have with another such unit may be something outside its own nature—an external relation. For what other relations than external relations can we conceive as belonging to independent isolated units? On the other hand, when we relinquish this atomic theory, and recognise that objective existence, like our perception of it, is a continuum within which and between whose factors we proceed to distinguish, compare, assimilate, and draw many other relations, we see that these relations belong to the continuum; or object as a whole, and are within it, just as much as the artificially distinguished things which form the terms of these relations10.
5. To these four propositions concerning the subject-object relation in knowledge and its existential implication, a fifth proposition should be added in order to define the nature and limits of self-knowledge. In attempting to formulate such a proposition, we are met with a special and grave difficulty. Knowledge is a subject-object relation; the subject knows the object; but when we speak of the subject knowing itself, are we not using language which is meaningless? Knowing is a relation, and a relation needs two terms, while here we have one term only. Ex vi terminorum what the subject knows must be an object, and therefore it cannot be the subject itself. The subject of knowledge is like the eye which sees all things but itself is invisible. This doctrine, which seems to make all psychology impossible, is yet sometimes received with avidity by the psychologist. “All introspection is retrospection,” he says. The object which the knower has before him in introspection is truly an other, something that has been shed from his own life and is now a caput mortuum, a fragment of the past, and no part of the present living subject of knowing and doing. It has become something outside the subject-self; it is an other, an object.
This view has received distinguished support; but it seems to me to be more specious than true. Even if it be the case that, in the deliberate process of introspection, the object before us is the state of mind that has just passed rather than the state at the very moment of introspective observation—even if this be true—yet this past state cannot be entirely passed and done away with, for then there would be nothing to observe. Its traces continue into the present, and it is through their persistence that observation of them is possible. All retrospection, therefore, is introspection—as we may say, converting the psychologist's dictum. And the dialectic which lies behind the dictum and supports it, is equally faulty. Knowledge is indeed a relation; but it is a unique relation; and it is pure assumption to assert that, in knowledge, the two terms of the relation cannot stand for the same being—that the knower cannot also be the known. This is simply to assume the impossibility of self-knowledge, not to prove it. If we wish to demonstrate that self-knowledge is impossible, it is a plain petitio principii to set out with the assumption that the subject cannot function as its own object. The possibility of self-knowledge can only be understood by studying the actual process.
The view that the ego or self (if there is an ego or self) cannot be known has as its antithesis the view that nothing else can be the direct object of knowledge. This latter view also has been widely held, and is expressed in the assertion that the immediate object of knowledge must always be ‘mental modifications,’ or ‘ideas in the mind’—that is to say, states of the self. This view has been already criticised, and the only thing that requires to be said now concerning it is that it has one point of agreement with its opposite: the reasons given in favour of it are not taken from an examination of the fact of knowledge so much as from an a priori view of what knowledge must be. The former view was that self-knowledge is impossible because what the subject knows must be an object and therefore an other. This latter view is that knowledge cannot exist without parity of nature between subject and object, and consequently that subject or mind, being unique in nature, must have states of mind for its immediate object. Discarding both assumptions, we have ground for accepting neither extreme—neither that subject-knowledge is impossible, nor that all knowledge is of subjective states.
How then shall we draw the line between the object which is known as Self and the object which is known as Other? Shall we say that both are always intermingled in our experience? This also is a familiar view, but never more fully or finely stated than by J. F. Ferrier. He asked the question “What is the one feature which is identical, invariable, and essential in all the varieties of our knowledge?” and gave the answer in the first proposition of his Institutes of Metaphysic, “Along with whatever any intelligence knows, it must, as the ground or condition of its knowledge, have some cognisance of itself.”
This proposition, however, is not perfectly simple; and its contents will repay analysis.
In the first place, are we to say that, as a matter of fact, knowledge, however it may appear directed to one object only, has always two objects? When we are perceiving a tree, is our knowledge really two-fold—of tree plus self, matter mecum? Is “the knowledge of self,” in Ferrier's words, actually “the running accompaniment to all our knowledge11”? “There is,” he says, “a calm unobtrusive current of self-consciousness flowing on in company with all our knowledge, and during every moment of our waking existence: and this self-consciousness is the ground or condition of all our other consciousness. Nine hundred and ninety-nine parts of our attention may be always devoted to the thing or business we have in hand: it is sufficient for our argument if it be admitted that the thousandth part, or even a smaller fraction, of it is perpetually directed upon ourselves12.”
But if the portion of our attention directed to self is so small a fraction as this, can we be quite sure that it is an actual constituent of the mental state? Ferrier himself speaks of it as possibly latent13; and ‘latent’ means that it is not an actual feature of the conscious state, though appropriate conditions will make it such. And this, I think, is where the truth lies: as Kant puts it, the ‘I think’ must be capable of accompanying all our ideas14—it is not necessary that it should form an actual part of them all. When I reflect upon a state of knowledge in order to understand what its actual content was, the method of study is retrospective, as the psychologists have said; it is the cognitive state of a moment ago that I study, although I do so by means of the trace which that state has left in my mind. Now, so far as I can see, that state does not in all cases contain an element of self-consciousness which can be identified as present in it. I may be entirely occupied in the examination of an object of perception, or in thinking about it, without the reflexion entering my mental state that I am so perceiving or so thinking. That reflexion is always there at call—so to speak—a potential element of any cognitive state; but it is not in all cases an actual element in it. The truth in Ferrier's doctrine and other statements to the same effect is that self-consciousness is continuous with consciousness, a further development of it. From the first self-consciousness is implied in every conscious state, because it can be brought to light by reflexion. But it is not explicit there, because reflective examination may show that it did not appear in that past state. Its appearance means the raising of mental life to a higher level15.
Again, in the second place, the reason why Ferrier insists that this self-knowledge in all cases actually accompanies our knowledge of everything else is not that this knowledge of self has, in every case, some additional value of its own; he admits that it may be so faint as to be negligible (and often, when present, it would seem only to disturb the concentration of attention on the real object of interest at the time); but because he thinks that without it there could be no knowledge of any kind whatever. Is this correct? Is “this self-consciousness…the ground or condition of all our other consciousness”? It would be strange if this view were quite correct. For, if it were, we should have to admit that, when our other consciousness is at its clearest and strongest, it is necessary for its ground or condition to be extremely weak and faint. Those who observe external things most distinctly are least disturbed by thought or consciousness of self. We should need clear evidence to convince us that the consciousness of one object always requires to be accompanied by the consciousness of another object, even although that other object is self. Surely the true condition of all our knowledge is not a superadded consciousness of self, but the fact of its being a consciousness by self. It is the unity of the subject that makes it possible, not a duality in the object. At the same time this objective duality is never far off: reflexion at any moment will call forth the consciousness that this object is my object, and this is self-consciousness. My concluding proposition will therefore have to be stated in somewhat different terms from Ferrier's first proposition, and may perhaps be formulated as follows: knowledge of self is distinguished from knowledge of any other object inasmuch as it involves the explicit consciousness as an object of that self whose activity is the condition of knowledge of every kind; and this consciousness of self is implicit in all our other consciousness.
The terms Existence, Reality, etc., are not usually defined, because they cannot be analysed into simpler components. But they have a meaning; and as that meaning varies with different writers, and sometimes even with the same writer, it may be well to try and make clear the sense in which they are used in this book.
1. Existence. Sometimes Existence is said to mean simply position, or position in time and space, or at least in time, or position in the context of experience; at other times it is held to involve permanence, or persistence in mind, or it is regarded as a power of operating upon consciousness or as a permanent possibility of sensation.
The first interpretation seems altogether too vague. It was offered by Kant in his pre-critical treatise Der einzig mögliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration des Daseins Gottes (Werke, ed. Hartenstein, vol. II, p. 117). Existence is there called “absolute position” to distinguish it from the result of the process by which a quality is predicated of a thing. So far Kant anticipates his criticism of the ontological argument. If I assert the proposition ‘a triangle has its interior angles equal to two right angles,’ Kant would call that relative position. But I can simply posit the concept triangle without making any assertion about it, even that it exists. This is one sense in ‘which absolute position’ might be used; and Kant did not at first distinguish this sense from his own in which existence and absolute position are said to have the same meaning. When he does distinguish them, in his criticism of the ontological argument (Kritik d. r. V., 2nd ed., p. 628), it is by defining the context wherein this position has place. “Through the concept,” he says, “the object is thought only as in agreement with the general conditions of a possible experience in general”; but when we say that it exists, the object “is thought as contained in the context of the whole of experience.” We place it in time and space (or, if it is a mental event, in time only) and also in the causal system to which it belongs. This is its position; and the claim of any object to existence is tested by the questions where? when? what are its causes and effects? If we cannot assign its position in the spatio-temporal order, or in the ‘context of experience,’ we hold the assertion of its existence to be unwarranted.
Thus the question arises, does existence mean simply position in this order? The spatio-temporal order, and in general the context of experience, to which we refer, is not an immediate datum of experience, but a later construction. We have no experience of space, or time, or causation, by themselves: only of things in space and time and causal interaction. The spatio-temporal order does not exist apart from the things in it; it is a conceptual framework, made homogeneous by our conceptual processes, into which things may be fitted. Unless we had previous experiences of extended and enduring things, we should have no conceptions of space or time; nor any conception of causation unless we had experience of things acting upon one another. Accordingly it would seem that our first apprehension of things as existing is not dependent upon the systems or orders in which we ultimately place them. It is also probable that, if we could have formed a conception of these orders without apprehension of things, we would not have said that the orders existed, while we do assert existence of things when our conception of the order of their existence is still far from complete. On the other hand we may not assume that we first apprehend things as distinct existences and then bring these things into relations (spatial, temporal, and causal) to one another. Existing things cannot be apprehended except as enduring and extended and as continuous with their environment. Such objects, already in a ‘context of experience’ but with their exact position in this context still undetermined, are apprehended as existing. Subsequent reflexion defines their position in space and time and in the causal system; but the conviction of existence preceded this reflexion. Enduring and extended things are first apprehended as existing; the spatial, temporal, and causal systems are intellectual constructions built on this foundation; afterwards, when a question arises as to the existence of any object of thought, the criterion used is whether or not it has a place in these systems. Thus we get a convenient test of existence, but we have not reduced its meaning to simpler terms.
When we say that any object of thought exists, a contrast is suggested with something that does not exist. Every object of thought, everything we can talk about, is posited in some way—has some sort of ‘being,’ as we may call it. Certain objects only have existence. How then are we to discriminate existence from mere being? There is an indication of the answer in the familiar logical distinction of ‘universes of discourse,’ which differentiates the objects of our thought into various systems or orders. (The term ‘universe’ was used by De Morgan to signify the “range of ideas which is either expressed or understood as containing the whole matter under consideration” [Formal Logic, 1847, p. 41]; the introduction of the term ‘universe of discourse’ to convey the same meaning was due to Boole [Laws of Thought, 1854, P. 42], and it has been brought into familiar use by Dr Venn [Symbolic Logic, 1881, p. 128] and Dr Keynes [Formal Logic, 1884, p. 29].) It is customary to speak of any object of thought as ‘existing’ in some universe of discourse but not necessarily in that universe which we commonly call the existing universe. It is better, therefore, to say that such objects have ‘being’ in these other ‘universes.’ For the universe of discourse may be purely imaginative or fictional or it may be a system of universals, and to such universes we deny existence when ‘existence’ is used in any sense specific enough to discriminate between existing and non-existing objects.
To take an example. The object of hallucination is said not to exist, as contrasted with the object of perception which does exist. Now the hallucination and the perception both exist as facts of mind, and are so far of the same order. But, in addition, the object of perception is said to exist, whereas the hallucination has not an existing object. The ground for this statement (whatever its correctness) is that the latter is regarded as entirely dependent upon the subjective state of mind (it has mental existence only), whereas the former is not so dependent (it has also extra-mental existence). Here existence signifies, negatively, independence of the individual subject, and positively, that the object has a place in rerum natura or in the ‘context of experience.’ Here, as before, it is clear that this concept of a rerum natura or context of experience, which is used as a criterion of an object's claim to exist, is itself a comparatively late result of the organisation of our experience. And a further point is brought out. The hallucination is called so because its object simulates an object of perception (that is, an existing object) so that we are liable to mistake one for the other, and consequently our primary apprehension of existence may be mistaken. The only means of correcting the mistake is further experience by which we place the objects of hallucination and of perception each in its own order.
The hallucination is a hallucination because its mental existence is mistaken for an extra-mental existence: there is a confusion of universes of discourse. In organising experience we form a concept of mental existence which we distinguish from that of the world of material things—calling the latter external and the former internal. Certain differences may be traced between the two: (a) The material existent has a certain fixity due to its spatial position; although its position may be changed, its spatial extension remains, and the change of position may be traced in relation to the position of other material bodies. (b) It has a certain permanence, of which we become aware through the power of the individual subject to repeat his experience of it under certain conditions. (c) It is trans-subjective, being an object which is common to all normal experients under appropriate conditions. The mental state is contrasted with it in these respects: (a) It is not extended or determined by spatial relations. (b) As compared with external things it is transient—though the transience of the mental state is relative to another if more recondite feature of consciousness, the permanence of the individual mind. (c) It is directly apprehended by one subject only. These are some of the characteristics which may seem to give material existents greater precision and even greater certainty than mental existents.
On the other hand, in spite of the rapid change of mental states, self or subject is a persistent factor in our consciousness, whereas our apprehension of material things is, after all, only intermittent. Hence many philosophers have been at a loss to justify our assertion of the existence of material things when we are not perceiving them. Hence also have arisen the attempts to explain the material world without ascribing to it an existence independent of our perception. When independent existence is denied to the external world, an effort may still be made to vindicate in some way its continuous existence in spite of our intermittent perception of it. J. S. Mill's theory of permanent possibilities of sensation is the leading case in point. These “groups of possibilities” are regarded as “the fundamental reality in nature,” and “the reliance of mankind on the real existence of visible and tangible objects, means reliance on the reality and permanence of possibilities of visual and tactual sensations, when no such sensations are actually experienced” (Examination of Hamilton's Philosophy, 5th ed., pp. 232, 233). Existence (as predicated of material things) is thus reduced to a species of the genus possible, its specific differentia being that it becomes actual under assignable conditions. This, which he calls permanence, is for Mill the distinguishing mark of existence. To nearly the same effect Spencer says, “existence means nothing more than persistence” (Principles of Psychology, § 59). Whatever the value of Mill's theory as a psychological account of belief in an external world, it seems clear that existence is a more fundamental concept than permanence. The latter is arrived at only after repeated experiences in which the former has been involved. These experiences of objects, however, are not strictly instantaneous; they have duration; and there is no such complete break between one experience and its successor as to make it difficult to understand the formation of the idea of a comparatively permanent object. Permanence, however, is a convenient test not so much of existence or non-existence, as of the extra-mental or merely mental existence of objects. Images are normally transient, changing with the flow of consciousness, whereas objects of sense-perception are comparatively permanent, or, more strictly, are capable of re-instatement in consciousness in accordance with definite conditions.
As compared with this test of permanence, therefore, the tests formerly referred to—position in time, space, and the causal system—do serve to discriminate between what exists and what does not exist: for instance, they mark off universals as belonging to a different universe of discourse from that of existing things. They are not the ground of our idea of existence, being themselves dependent on previous perceptions of existents; but, when an object is not immediately known as existing, they may enable us to infer its existence, by finding its connexion with other existents, thus placing it in the context of an existing system.
2. Being. We apply the term ‘being’ to certain objects of thought to which we do not ascribe existence. This distinction is not found in every language. Plato, for example, was in a difficulty from not having this distinction of terms. He ascribed being or existence to the ideas which are the objects of intellect, and could not admit that the individual things which are objects of sense-perception had being or existence in the same sense; they arise and decay: they are not. In modern terminology, we commonly say that the individual things which we perceive are, exist, or have being, and that the universals which are objects of thought are or have being, but do not exist. Existence belongs to individuals only; but being may be ascribed to a group of objects of thought which widens indefinitely. These different ‘beënts’ or ‘subsistents’ have a very varying status. What that status is in each case may be matter of controversy. But it would seem that ‘beënts’ may all be arranged in an order determined by their connexion with existence. The blue sky is an existent; but the quality blue is not apprehended as by itself an existent. The blue of the sky which I now see is a feature of, or factor in, an existing thing; but this particular blue, in being abstracted from the thing to which it belongs, is potentially generalised, thus losing its individuality and proper existence. Similarly, the concept ‘man’ does not exist, only this that and the other man. ‘Man,’ like ‘blue,’ has being only, not existence; but its being (or at least our knowledge of its being) is based upon the existents from which the concept is derived. The same view may be defended for other beënts—number, for example—which are further removed by abstraction from existing thing, but have reference to them and are illustrated by them. Again, we ascribe being but not existence to the relations between existing things; yet these relations are factors in a total existing complex which includes both the things and their relations. Other more formal relations hold of classes and qualities, and these are still further removed from existence; but they also are based upon the nature of the classes or qualities, and the nature of the classes or qualities is based upon existents. Imaginative or fictional concepts present a new combination of qualities and relations founded upon experience of existence of some kind, but combined in a manner due to subjective interests. And the diversity of possible interests allows of the formation of concepts which are inconsistent with the facts of existence or even with a valid conceptual system. Further, the interest which determines the formation of the concept may be purely private and personal, and there may be no reason for assuming that the ‘being’ ascribed to the object is independent of the particular subject who forms the concept. It may even have no intelligible meaning, may be merely a combination of letters, like abracadabra, or a pseudo-combination of inconsistent qualities, like circular square; and in such cases we hesitate to ascribe even being to the concept. The reference in a judgment which Meinong calls its ‘objective’ may also be said to have being; and here also there is the same kind of connexion (more or less close and more or less accurate) with existence. Reviewing all these cases in which being but not existence is predicated, we see that they range from cases which are almost indistinguishable from existence (the being of a feature or quality of an existing thing) to cases inconsistent with existence (the being of a concept which contradicts the conditions of possible experience). The one common characteristic is a certain objectivity; but this objectivity may be conferred by the subject only, in positing an idea in his own mind or a proposition formulated by him.
3. Reality. Here I can only state the sense in which I use the term. In my usage it is nearly equivalent to existence, but with two differences. In the first place, it marks its object off from the imaginary, although the imaginary has always existence as a mental fact. In the second place, reality and real are used not only of the existing things to which, through our perceptive and intellectual processes, a measure of independence has been ascribed; but also of those factors in the conditions and behaviour of existing things to which we do not assign existence by themselves, although without them the things would not be what they are. Thus, for example, gravitation belongs to reality or is real, because without it the physical world would not be what it is. Mathematical and logical relations are also spoken of as real, because constitutive of the nature of the universe; and it is argued that values belong to reality for a similar, though not identical, reason. I speak, however, of ‘realising’ a value, meaning by that the process of so modifying the nature of existents that the value becomes a feature of existing situations or persons. If I had used some other phrase such as ‘bringing into actual existence,’ there would have been more exact consistency with the use of ‘real’; but there did not seem to be so great a danger of ambiguity as to necessitate the discarding of a familiar term for an awkward phrase. I do not restrict the use of the term reality to ‘ultimate’ or ‘fundamental’ reality; nor do I use the term in a ‘honorific’ or ‘eulogistic’ sense (cp. Urban, Journal of Philosophy, vol. XIV, 1917, p. 312).
4. Relations. This seems the most appropriate place for a note explanatory of what was said about external relations on pp. 199 f., and preparatory for some parts of the succeeding argument.
A portion of the objective continuum, provided it contains diversity within it, may be called a complex. It is not strictly a whole, because it is not isolated from the environing portions of the objective continuum; but it is a whole relatively to the parts which make up its internal diversity. In considering the problem of relations we may restrict ourselves to a complex of this sort, and ask what the nature is of the relations which we find between the parts (these parts being denominated by us things or terms) of this complex. The obvious answer is that the relations are internal to the complex, though they may be external to the distinguished things or terms within this complex. Whether they are thus external is a question which cannot be discussed fully here, but I think the answer to it will depend on our ability to get down to absolutely simple things or terms. If we can do so, their relations to one another may be found to be external to the terms; but if we are not dealing with simple terms then there is more scope for the relation being grounded in the nature of the terms.
When we say ‘the knife is to the left of the book,’ we assert a relation ‘to the left of’ which the knife holds to the book. Our reference is to a ‘complex object,’ as Mr Russell says (Philosophical Essays, p. 182; cp. Problems of Philosophy, p. 159). This complex object he calls ‘knife-to-left-of-book.’ But it is really more complex than this. It is the knife and the book in certain spatial positions relatively to one another. The knife is at a definite distance to the left of the book, and it is on the same level as the book or else higher or lower than it by a definite amount. Further, each portion of the knife is at a definite (and perhaps different) distance from each portion of the book. These details do not interest us, even if we observe them; all that interests us is that every part of the knife is at some distance to the left of the book. We form this concept ‘to the left of’ to describe a great many different spatial relations which all agree in this one respect. But the objective ground of the relation is not a universal ‘to-the-leftness,’ somewhere within the complex, but just those numerous definite spatial relations which we imperfectly observe and describe.
It is clear that the relation which we assert is a relation actually found, or at least supposed to be present, within the complex object. To change this relation a change would require to be brought about within this complex object. On the other hand there is nothing in knife or book (apart from their position in the complex) which makes this particular relation ‘to the left of’ follow from the nature of either or both (cp. Russell, Journal of Philosophy, vol. VIII, 1913, p. 159). The knife may be transferred to the right of the book, or to the top of it, or their relative positions may be otherwise changed, without any noticeable change in either knife or book. Hence the nature of the knife, or of the book, clearly does not constitute the relation ‘to the left of.’ But yet this relation would not hold unless knife and book had natures of a certain kind. If either of them had neither spatial extension nor spatial position, the relation would be impossible. A ground or condition of their having such a relation is that both have spatial position; that is to say, the relation between them is grounded in their having spatial position. Now, as knife and book are impossible except as extended in space, extension in space belongs to their nature. Consequently the relation is grounded in the nature of the terms. The result for this case is that the relation is constituted by the nature of the complex object, and that it is also grounded in the natures of the related parts.
Does this hold generally? So far as I can see, when there is a relation between two existing things, it is always grounded in some characteristic of one or both of them. It may be argued, however (cp. Russell, Journal of Philosophy, vol. VIII, p. 159), (1) that simple terms could have no relations at all if all relations were grounded in the nature of the terms, and (2) that all complexes are made up of simple terms. As regards (1), it seems evident from the example (a point with spatial position only) that a simple term with one characteristic only would owing to that characteristic possess a necessary ground for an infinite number of relations to other terms (that is, points): although the term in the example would not possess the necessary ground for other than spatial relations. (2) The second assertion is commonly regarded as self-evident. Thus Mr Russell holds that the denial of external relations would involve the complexity of every term and that this is a reductio ad absurdum. (Cp. also his Our Knowledge of the External World, p. 145.) Leibniz formulated the same doctrine in the second proposition of his Monadology: “There must be simple substances, since there are compound”; giving as his reason for the statement that “a compound is nothing but a collection or aggregate of simple things.” But the reason given is merely verbal. If by “compound” is meant a combination of simple things which once existed, or even could exist, separately, then it is not self-evident that “there are compounds.” Unless “compound” means this, its components may not be simple. If “compound” means a whole in which analysis discovers variety, then it does not follow that “there must be simple substances.” There are really two assumptions in Leibniz's argument: (1) that our analysis can discover simple elements; (2) that these elements, if discovered, would be found to be “simple substances,” that is, capable of independent existence. Grounds are needed to justify both assumptions, for (1) our analysis of existents never reaches absolutely simple elements, and (2) even if we assume that there must be such, they may be incapable of existing otherwise than as elements in a whole. We are not acquainted with existing things which are simple.
It is always possible to abstract in thought a single quality from an existing thing or complex, and to consider this quality alone. We shall in this way arrive at a simple term but not at a simple existent. I do not underrate the importance of the enquiry into relations between terms or entities such as abstract qualities, though my general argument does not require me to enter upon it. But it seems to me that there is a tendency, in defending the doctrine of external relations, to take such abstract entities instead of existents as the terms with which we have to deal, and then to interpret existents after their likeness. Thus Mr Spaulding (The New Realism, p. 479), in defining the doctrine of external relations, gives as its first implication the proposition that “both a term and a relation are (unchangeable) elements or entities.” If so, then the term cannot stand for an existent, for existents are never unchangeable and (so far as our acquaintance goes) never elements. Mr Russell deals so constantly with concrete situations that I doubt his being prepared to accept Mr Spaulding's view. Sometimes, indeed, his discussion of a particular topic (e.g., the way in which he deals with the ‘simple things’ whose coming together makes a ‘fact,’ in Our Knowledge of the External World, p. 51) may seem to suggest a similar doctrine; but I do not think that he has made any statement from which it can be inferred. If it is only the (hypothetical) ultimate simple constituents of reality whose relations are external, then the doctrine of external relations should be re-stated in accordance with this view.
Essays in Radical Empiricism, p. 279.
Cp. J. Ward, The Realm of Ends, p. 227: “Validity implies reality and is otherwise meaningless.”
It is in his later and more popular work, Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, that he attempted to limit to metaphysics and theology the application of the destructive criticism which he had applied to knowledge generally in A Treatise of Human Nature.
Treatise of Human Nature, appendix, ed. Selby-Bigge, p. 636; ed. Green and Grose, vol. I, p. 559.
See the supplementary note on pp. 206 ff.
The distinction between acquaintance and knowing about was formulated by John Grote, Exploratio Philosophica, part 1 (1865), pp. 60 ff. More recently its importance has been emphasised by Mr Russell, e.g., in Problems of Philosophy, pp. 71 ff., where universals as well as sense-data are regarded as objects of acquaintance. It is distinctive of Grote's view that knowledge is regarded as never completely immediate. He therefore speaks of ‘knowledge of acquaintance’ rather than ‘intuitive’ or ‘immediate’ knowledge. “This knowledge,” he says, “is knowledge which, to use a homely expression, would be immediate if it could”; “immediate or intuitive knowledge is knowledge with the smallest amount of reflection possible consistent with its being knowledge.” “Knowledge begins when reflection begins, and no earlier, for in immediateness it is dormant”; “immediateness is confusion or chaos, which reflection begins to crystallize or organise.” Exploratio , part 11 (1900), pp. 201, 203, 204, 206.
“The subject knows the universe,” says Varisco (Great Problems, Eng. tr., p. 111), “but only in so far as the universe is enclosed in the subject.” How “enclosed”? we may ask. The thing known must be “in” the subject only if by “in” we mean the same as “known by.” In any other sense of “enclosure,” the assertion involves a spatial or quasi-spatial view of the nature of knowledge.
The reference here, it should be noted, is not to consciousness-in general, or impersonal consciousness, as conceived, for example, by Rickert; cp. his Gegenstand der Erkenntnis, 2nd ed., p. 67.
See further in the supplementary note, below, pp. 213 ff.
Institutes of Metaphysic, 2nd ed., p. 81.
Institutes of Metaphysic, 2nd ed., p. 82.
Institutes of Metaphysic, 2nd ed., p. 82.
“Das Ich denke muss alle meine Vorstellungen begleiten können.”—Kritik der reinen Vernunft, 2nd ed., p. 132.
Grote suggests that in such a state there is acquaintance with self as knowing but not knowledge that one knows.—Exploratio Philosophica, part I, pp. 60, 61. I agree with Grote, as well as with some contemporary writers, in regarding this self-knowledge as ‘acquaintance.’ and not merely ‘knowledge about.’ But the self with which we are acquainted is never the ‘pure ego,’ any more than it is simply mental states apart from the pure ego. The pure ego is always a factor in the mental state known introspectively, but introspection cannot present it in isolation.