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Chapter Three: The Discrimination of the Other

We have determined the form of the original motivation of personal activity. We must complete this by considering the form of its development. For a person is an agent; consequently a static analysis provides at most the form of a starting-point the zero of a developing series which has full meaning only through the activity of which it is the origin. It will be desirable therefore to begin by reconsidering our conclusion from this point of view.

The starting-point of personal development since a person is an agent is the development of the ability to act. Action we discovered1 is defined by intention and so involves knowledge as a determinant of purposeful movement. But this presupposes its own negative a motive consciousness which determines purposive behaviour without knowledge as reaction to stimulus. Intention therefore presupposes motivation and a complete account of action involves the consideration of its motivation as well as of its intention. Genetically as we have seen the negative is primary; and motivation is therefore prior in the temporal sequence of development to intention. For this reason any understanding of personal development must begin with an attempt to formulate the pattern of personal motivation. This is one justification for concentrating attention at this point upon the development of motivation to the exclusion of intention. The development of a person from infancy to maturity is a process of acquiring skills or in other terms of forming habits. This includes of course the development of the ability to form and to execute intentions. But these intentions are not fully serious; they have the character of play. The long-range intentions which affect a child's future are taken for him; and only when he ‘comes of age’ is he responsible in the full sense for his actions and so master of his own intentions. If we consider the period of development to maturity as a whole we must assign it a negative character in the sense that the developing intentionality which it exhibits is itself subordinated and directed to the development of a system of motives and so to the acquirement of a system of habits. This is the element of truth in Aristotle's doctrine of habituation.

We are justified then in considering the process of development as primarily concerned with motivation. There is however a further limitation which we shall set ourselves if only to make the subject manageable within the limits of space at our disposal. We shall concentrate upon the positive personal aspect of the process and neglect its negative component. This negative component is the organic aspect of personal life which includes maturing and exercising the powers of the body together with the developments of discriminating motive consciousness which are integrated with these. The child has to learn to discriminate and to co-ordinate the manifold of feeling sense and muscular movement: he has to learn to stand to walk to feed himself to put his clothes on to speak and in general to acquire and establish in himself the mechanisms of personal activity. The investigation of this development forms the subject-matter of child-psychology and of the psychology of learning. For our philosophical purpose it is only necessary to recognize it and to presuppose it. This is not to minimize its importance in personal development and we shall be compelled in special contexts to refer to it. But we are concerned with the positive aspect; with that which makes the development of the human being a personal and not an organic development and this as we have seen is to be found in the relation of persons to one another of which the mother-child relation is the starting-point. The positive aspect of personal development is therefore the development of this relation. Within this development of personal relationship the organic development functions as a differentiating element. Since persons are agents their relations are realized in action; consequently the types of action in which the relationship is embodied must vary with the capacities for action of the persons concerned though the personal motives of these varying actions may remain constant. The mother's love for the child is the constant motive of a varied set of activities which make up her care for him. These activities are differentiated by the variety of the child's organic needs and by the stage of his organic development. They are modified progressively by the variation in the child's capacity for action. The same obviously holds for the child's response to the mother's activity on his behalf. We ought perhaps to remind ourselves in this connection that the term ‘organic’ when applied to personal behaviour does not refer to that which we have in common with the animals though it includes whatever of this there may be. It refers to the habitual aspect of personal activity in abstraction from the intentionality to which it is normally subordinate.

With these explanations we may return to the starting-point of personal development in the original motivation-pattern of the infant's behaviour in relation to the mother. We have described it as a bipolar system with positive and negative poles each of which possesses an implicit reference to the personal Other. We have identified the positive pole with love and the negative with fear. This formal statement calls for explication and comment.

The original pattern of personal behaviour is not merely a starting-point. It is not left behind as the child grows up. It remains the ground pattern of all personal motivation at every stage of development. If the terminus a quo of the personal life is a helpless total dependence on the Other the terminus ad quern is not independence but a mutual interdependence of equals. In comparing human and animal development it is not enough to say that the human infant is dependent upon its parents for a much longer period. This tends to suggest that the difference is one of time; and that the child at length reaches the stage where he can provide for his own needs as an animal can from a much earlier age. But this is not the case. The boy who has reached maturity in dependence upon his parents does not then find himself fitted to wander off into the wilds and find food and shelter for himself in animal isolation. He finds employment in which he can earn money with which to buy what he needs. He exchanges a direct and personal dependence upon his family for a dependence on a wider society a dependence which is impersonal and indirect. We can make the same point if we consider the behaviour to which the original pattern of motivation gives rise. This behaviour is as we have seen2 a communication to another person unconscious to start with on the infant's part but understood and responded to by the adult. When we say then that the original motivation of personal behaviour remains as its ground pattern throughout life we are merely insisting that communication is fundamental in all personal experience and determines its form. This includes the commonplaces that it is the power of speech which distinguishes us from the animals and that human life is inherently social. But it goes deeper than these and both of them are somewhat superficial—and so misleading—observations. Speech is only one of the techniques of communication however important and it is not the earliest. It is an acquired skill. That man is social by nature is true but highly ambiguous. Many animals are social; yet no species is social in the sense in which we are for none has the form of its life determined from the beginning by communication. Communication is not the offspring of speech but its parent.

We have identified the positive and negative poles of our personal motivation as ‘love’ and ‘fear’ respectively. This is necessary for identification but it should be accompanied by a word of caution. Our language for the identification and discrimination of motives is both poor and imprecise. This is not perhaps so great a defect as might appear at first sight. When we distinguish clearly between the motives and intentions of our actions we find that our distinguishable motives are relatively few and extraordinarily persistent. The behaviour which they motivate on the other hand is highly complex and diversified. But this complexity arises chiefly from the fact that we act with knowledge in terms of the world outside us so that the form of our behaviour is determined by the variety and complexity of the situations in which we act. Moreover we are normally unconscious of the motives of our actions because our attention is focused upon the intention which determines them. It is only when action is thwarted or inhibited when the motive is prevented from functioning in bodily movement that it is reflected back upon itself as it were and so thrust into explicit consciousness as an emotion. So it comes about that we have occasion to speak of love and fear mainly in a complex situation where they force themselves with some violence upon our attention as emotions which disturb the normal attitudes and activities of our lives. This no doubt is why we tend to think of them as abnormal states of mind and to contrast them with the cool ‘unemotional’ attitudes which we associate with ‘rational’ behaviour. This is a mistake; for a cool feeling is just as much a feeling as an excited one and no activity rational or irrational practical or reflective is possible in the absence of a motive. The reason why any strong emotional excitement tends to make us act wildly and ‘irrationally’ is not that emotion is ‘irrational’ or ‘non-rational’ but simply that by invading consciousness it distracts our attention from the situation in which we must act and turns it inward upon our state of mind. Yet for this very reason it is easier to identify our motives when they are excited and so thrust upon our notice. When we identify the positive and negative poles of personal motivation as ‘love’ and ‘fear’ respectively we are speaking of them not as perturbations of consciousness but as they function in behaviour to determine the direction in which we expend our energy.

But a further caution is necessary. We are speaking of love and fear as personal motives which must be distinguished from organic impulses. There are organic impulses to which the terms ‘love’ and ‘fear’ are frequently applied; erotic impulse in the former case and panic terror in the second. When ‘love’ is used to refer to sexual passion there is always in my opinion a confusion involved. For the motive of sexual behaviour is not necessarily ‘love’; it may for example be revenge. But I need not press this and we may treat it as a matter of linguistic usage. In the case of fear there is not a confusion in the use of terms but a mere failure to distinguish between fear which is subject to intentional control and the abnormal and rare experience of panic. What is decisive in this—as in the case of uncontrollable sexual impulse—is the complete loss of intentional control of behaviour so that pure organic activity pure reaction to stimulus manifests itself. It may be important to remember both that this is possible and that it is highly exceptional.

When we identify the original motives of personal action with love and fear the character which distinguishes them is the reference to a personal Other. The behaviour which they motivate is communication. It is only in this sense of the terms that they denote personal motives. The need which they express is one which can only be satisfied by another person's action. The behaviour which they motivate is therefore incomplete until it meets with a response from the other and the character of the response—or indeed its occurrence—depends upon the other person. This primary and distinctive character of personal behaviour we shall refer to hereafter as the mutuality of the personal. It is what we mean when we say that the personal is constituted by the relation of persons. The reference to the personal Other is constitutive for all personal existence.

The reference to the other person differs in positive and negative motivation. In the former case it is direct: in the latter indirect. Love is love for the other fear is fear for oneself. But this fear for oneself refers to the behaviour of the other. Since mutuality is constitutive for the personal it follows that ‘I’ need ‘you’ in order to be myself. My primary fear is therefore that ‘you’ will not respond to my need and that in consequence my personal existence will be frustrated. Fear as a personal motive is at once fear of the other and fear for oneself. Thus both love and fear fall within the personal relation; both refer to this relation; and fear as the negative presupposes love and is subordinate to it.

To complete this statement we must notice that both the positive and the negative motives are operative in all personal action. It is for this reason that we have described the original motivation of the personal as bipolar and ‘love’ and ‘fear’ as the positive and negative poles of a single motivation. This accords with the form of the personal as we have determined it—a positive which contains is constituted by and subordinates its own negative. It is easy to see that this must be so. Action contains two elements—or as we phrased it has two dimensions—movement and knowledge. Consequently it is deliberate while a reaction to stimulus is impulsive. The motivation of action therefore must contain an inhibiting element which prevents the immediate habitual response provides a counteracting impulse to reflection and allows the apprehension of the situation to determine what we do. Fear is in its nature inhibitory; and the most positive action must contain an element of negative motivation if it is not to be completely thoughtless and reckless. The most pervasive expression of this is the continual presence in action of an awareness—even if it is normally implicit—of the possibility of making a mistake of doing the wrong thing. The operation of choice between alternative possibilities is thus necessarily the effect of a negative motivation. In the original ‘You and I’ situation it represents the fact that the fulfilment of my purpose depends not merely upon me but also upon you; so that there is always present the possibility that my call for help may not meet with a response. ‘My’ success depends upon ‘your’ motive and ‘your’ intention.

In the alternative case no action can be motived purely by fear. For a totally negative motivation would inhibit action totally. We should be ‘paralysed by fear’. The presence of an element of positive motivation is necessary if there is to be a deliberate action to deal with the danger that is apprehended. To express this character of personal behaviour we must agree upon a terminology which will refer to it as accurately as possible. We shall adopt the following terminology. We shall lay that personal motivation is bipolar having positive and negative poles which we identify by reference to ‘love’ and ‘fear’ respectively. We shall then distinguish between action which is positively and action which is negatively motived by laying that in the former case the positive pole is dominant and subordinates the negative; while in the latter the positive is subordinated to the dominant negative. We shall express the function of the subordinated pole by saying that it works as a discriminating force that is to say it makes possible a discriminating activity. And having used the emotions of love and fear to identify the positive and negative poles of personal motivation we can speak in the future of positive and negative motives simply using the terms ‘love’ and ‘fear’ only where a more specific identification is desirable.

There is one other matter of terminology closely related to what we have discussed which it may be as well to refer to now. Action which is negatively motived is defensive. Fear as we have said is for oneself and the agent himself is the centre of reference for the action. We may find this mode of distinction a useful one; and we shall refer to it by saying that negatively motived action is ‘egocentric’ while positively motived action which has its centre of reference outside oneself in the Other we shall describe as ‘heterocentric’. This distinction between egocentric and heterocentric action becomes paramount when we consider the subordination of motive to intention. The mother's care for the child for example necessarily includes a negative element—an anxiety lest her child should damage itself or get hurt. If the child's clothes were to catch fire the mother would take immediate action to extinguish the flames and her action would be accompanied by a feeling of fear and anxiety perhaps of extreme terror. But her action is not therefore negatively motived. For it is clearly heterocentric at least under normal conditions. Her fear is not for herself but for the child and she may act in a fashion which recklessly disregards her own safety. Her action indeed would be recognized as a signal expression of her love for the child in spite of or indeed because of the extremity of fear which she experiences. We recognize at once that the fear is itself an expression of her love of the child that it is the negative and subordinate component in a persistently positive motivation called into prominence in consciousness by the character of a particular situation. This fact that the emotion felt by an agent at the moment of action is not necessarily the motive of his action is one of the main reasons why we are so apt to be mistaken about our motives while the judgment of others is often more correct than our own. For others must judge our motives from the character of our behaviour while we ourselves tend to judge them by the feelings of which we are conscious. These are no doubt components of our motivation; but they are not necessarily or even normally its defining characters. For what determines the presence of a particular emotion in the form of consciousness is the character of the situation upon which our attention is directed. We may even go farther and say that the emotion felt is unlikely to reveal the true character of the motive. For one of the major conditions of the invasion of consciousness by a particular emotion is its inhibition as a motive of action. The mother's felt terror when the child's clothes catch fire is occasioned by the fact that she must act in a way that disregards her own safety. Her natural fear for herself must be inhibited as motive; consequently it is prevented from expressing itself in action and reflected back into an ‘internal’ effect which is the feeling of fear as a strong emotion. It is the absence of fear from the action that explains its intrusive appearance in consciousness. The resulting ambiguity provides one reason for avoiding the terms ‘love’ and ‘fear’ in discussing motivation except for purposes of identification.

We are now ready to discuss the development of this original motivation though since our purpose is formal our only concern is to disengage its persistent pattern from the endless complexities of the actual process of growth. The first point that claims our attention is the derivation of a third original motive from the interrelation of the positive and negative motives in the personal situation. As we have identified the first two by reference to the emotions of love and fear we can identify the third by reference to hatred but with the same caution. In some respects it might be better to use the term ‘resentment’ instead of ‘hatred’; though in that case we should have to replace ‘fear’ by ‘anxiety’ and ‘love’ by ‘caring’—since the term ‘charity’ which would be the corresponding word has been debased in usage. I call this motive original because like love and fear it is a universal component in the relation of persons inherent in the personal situation in all its forms. I call it derivative because it presupposes love and fear as operative motives. It originates in the frustration of love by fear through the mutuality of the personal relation. The behaviour which expresses love requires for its completion a response from the other to whom it is directed. Love is fulfilled only when it is reciprocated. If the response is refused the action which expresses the positive motive is frustrated. Now in general the personal relation is unavoidable since the personal is constituted by the personal relation; and the refusal of mutuality is the frustration of personal existence absolutely. This can be seen in the original mother-child relation in its stark simplicity. If the mother refuses to care for the child the child must die. But when a rejected lover commits suicide the motivation is the same. The act is irrational because there are other alternatives open for the fulfilment of his personal life. In general however and in principle the ‘You and I’ relation which makes us persons is such that if you act positively to me so offering to enter into friendly relations and I reject your advance I threaten your existence as a person in an absolute fashion. I throw you back on yourself and the negative pole of your motivation must become dominant. You are afraid for your own personal existence which is threatened by my motivation in relation with you. Consequently you necessarily resent my action; and if the relation is unavoidable then your resentment becomes hatred—a persistent motive in your personal relation to me; not of course we must remember a persistent emotion which you feel towards me. Hatred therefore as an original motive is inevitable in all personal relations though like the other motives only as a component of a complex motivation not necessarily dominant and subject to the control of intention. It is inevitable because it is impossible that you should always be able to respond to me in the way that my action expects. This is why forbearance and forgiveness are necessities of positive personal relationship. The rejection of personal relationship itself is a negative aspect of personal relationship and itself enforces a reciprocity of negation. In so far as I threaten your personal fulfilment you can only reciprocate by threatening mine. Hatred therefore is the emotion by which we can identify the motive of mutual negation in the personal relation. If it completely escapes from intentional control it issues in murder. For this reason we contrast love and hatred as opposites rather than love and fear. Both have a direct reference to the Other. They sustain a positive and a negative relation of persons respectively. Yet the opposition of love and fear as contraries is more fundamental. For a negative relation of persons is a practical contradiction. It is a relation which is at once maintained and refused and which is therefore inherently self-stultifying. It can only be maintained by a positive motive: its rejection can only mean that this positive motive is continuously inhibited by a negative one. Now we have seen that a positive relation of persons must contain and subordinate a negative element: the possibility of a negative relation can only signify an inversion of this motivation in which the negative element is dominant and subordinates the positive. Hatred therefore is a motive of self-frustration. Since the ‘You and I’ relation constitutes both the ‘You’ and the ‘I’ persons the relation to the ‘You’ is necessary for my personal existence. If through fear of the ‘You’ I reject this relation I frustrate my own being. It follows that hatred cannot as a motive of action be universalized. It presupposes both love and fear and if it could be total it would destroy the possibility of personal existence. It is no doubt this that underlies even if it does not completely justify our tendency to assume that suicide is evidence of mental derangement.

This mutuality of hatred as the motive of a negative relation of persons is clearly an evil. Hatred itself as an original and necessary motive in the constitution of the personal is perhaps what is referred to by theology as original sin. At any rate the distinction we have just drawn between a positive and a negative relation of persons is the origin of the distinction between good and evil. But this is a subject which will claim our attention later. I have introduced it here because it has a direct bearing upon the pattern of personal development which we are seeking to formulate.

The first aspect of this development which we must notice might be described as the differentiation of the Other. We have seen that in the relation of mother and child the term ‘mother’ has not an organic but a personal denotation. It refers to the adult person who cares for the baby. But only in very abnormal circumstances can this be a single person. Most of the mothering of the baby will normally be undertaken by one adult and usually it will be its female parent. But it will be shared to a greater or less extent by others; by a father a grandmother an aunt an elder sister or brother a nurse or a neighbour. Now there is no ground for thinking that in the very earliest weeks of his life the infant is able to discriminate between the different persons or indeed to recognize objects at all and certainly not by sight. The primary perception of the Other we have seen is tactual. The correlation of sight and touch has to be learned. Consequently the primary perception of the Other must arise from the discrimination between being tactually cared for and the absence of this; and this discrimination cannot serve to distinguish different Others. Since the infant's motivation contains an implicit reference to the Other the recognition of the Other as ‘What responds to my cry’ must become explicit so soon as any power of discrimination is acquired. And since this is the first cognition we can understand why ‘all cognition is recognition’. It is the repeated process of crying for the mother and being handled by the mother in response that elicits the recognition and with it both memory and expectation. This recognition is at once the dawn of knowledge the awareness that something has been going on which has only now been noticed and the expectation of its continuance. And what has been happening is a rhythm of withdrawal and return in the tactual contact of mother and child. The language in which this has to be described is by far too definite and explicit since language arises in and is adapted to a much more definite and discriminated level of personal experience and it must be interpreted accordingly. The central point is this that so soon as the infant can perceive at all its perception is a perception of the Other and therefore knowledge however minimal. There is no problem of how an originally subjective experience becomes objective. If there were it would be insoluble. The idea that there is such a problem arises from the assumption that language is essential to knowledge. What is essential to knowledge is communication of which language is the most important but not the only medium. The original adaptation of the human being to life contains the reference to the Other and his first behaviour is an unconscious communication. Communication is for all human beings a fact before it becomes an act before explicit perception and the formation of an intention is possible for us. The reference to the Other of which the objectivity of thought is a particular case is present from the beginning.

The first knowledge then is knowledge of the personal Other—the Other with whom I am in communication who responds to my cry and cares for me. This is the starting-point of all knowledge and is presupposed at every stage of its subsequent development. Consequently there is no problem about our knowledge of other persons. On the contrary any philosophy which finds itself required by its own logic to ask the question ‘How do we know that there are other persons?’ has refuted itself by a reductio ad absurdum and should at once revise its original Assumptions. For any assertion—not to speak of any effort of proof—presupposes this knowledge by the mere fact that it is a communication. If we did not know that there are other persons we could know literally nothing not even that we ourselves existed. To be a person is to be in communication with the Other. The knowledge of the Other is the absolute presupposition of all knowledge and as such is necessarily indemonstrable.

But this original knowledge of the Other as the correlate of my own activity is undiscriminated. The development of knowledge is its discrimination. We are discussing here of course primary knowledge knowledge as a dimension of action not a reflective activity which intends the improvement of knowledge. We found in our first volume that the primary certainty was the ‘I do’. But we were then talking abstractly from the point of view of the solitary self withdrawn into itself in reflection. We now see how this must be completed in the concrete. The ‘I do’ is the correlate of ‘the Other does’ and since knowledge is primarily ‘of the Other’ the ‘I do’ now appears as the negative which falls within the knowledge of the Other as agent and is necessary to it. In the actual situation in which we all begin our individual existence—in the mother-child relation—our own agency is negative. It is the Other who does everything for us who is the Agent upon whose action we are totally dependent and within whose activity supporting and limiting us our own action is progressively achieved. If we use as we must the reflective language of maturity we may say that the first knowledge is the recognition of the Other as the person or agent in whom we live and move and have our being.

My first discrimination of the Other is into a number of different persons all of whom are in communication with me and with one another. The Other acquires the character of a community of which I am a member. The details of this process do not concern us. We may leave them to the psychologist. We need only notice a few formal points. The gradual enlargement of the group of persons to which we stand in relation and with whom we are in communication is a commonplace in all studies of the process of human development from infancy. It runs from the family circle which is the first community and the model for all other communities to the vision of a community of all persons. Our interest centres in the universal pattern which it exhibits. In thinking of this we must remember that the discrimination of the Other is a practical not a reflective discrimination. It is a discrimination in behaviour in relation to the Other. The ability to distinguish different members of the family to which the child belongs is established very early and manifests itself in differences of behaviour in relation with each. It is acquired long before speech and at least in rudimentary form before any efficient correlation of hand and eye.

This differentiation of behaviour in relation to different persons involves a complication of the system of motivation. For the child may be negatively motived towards one and positively to another and the intensity of these motivations whether positive or negative will vary with the extent and frequency with which the other person cares for him. The mother will remain the central figure and the others will be subsidiary figures related to the child through their relation to her. New and more complex motives develop of which jealousy is possibly the most important. These secondary complexes of motivation depend upon the discrimination of the Other as a group of persons in personal relation to one another and in personal relation as a group and as individuals to myself. Their reference to the Other is therefore to a community and they are either positive or negative. In either case their objective is the unity of the Other. The group has a personal centre. In the original community the mother is this personal centre. She is as it were the personal unity of the persons composing the community since she cares for them all and all need her love. Each is personally related to all the others by this personal relation to the central figure which is common to them all. For each the maintenance of the positive relation to the mother depends upon maintaining the unity of the Other. But this may be sought either positively or negatively; either by the inclusion of the subordinate others in the positive relation to the mother or in their exclusion from it. This negative motive appears emotionally as jealousy. In its original form it is the motive of the childish refusal to share the mother's care and affection with others. Formally it is a regressive effort to restore the unity of the Other in its original undifferentiated form.

The pattern of this aspect of personal development is now before us so far as it concerns the differentiation of the personal Other. But before summing it up we must refer to another aspect of the process—the differentiation between persons and non-persons or things. The recognition of the distinction between persons and things comes considerably later than the differentiation of persons and is not definitely established for some years after the child has learned to speak. Like primitive man young children are animists; and to overcome animism require a considerable experience and some capacity for abstract thought. It is very difficult for us to recognize this and still more difficult to realize effectively the philosophical consequences.

Primitive animism whether in the race or in the individual shows genetically what we have already discovered analytically3—that the concept of a material world is abstract and derivative. The material is in fact the non-personal; and as a negative conception it depends for its definition upon the positive which it negates. Our knowledge of the material presupposes both logically and genetically a knowledge of the personal. Logically the Other is the correlate of the Self as Agent. It is that which resists and in resisting supports my intention. Since Self and Other are primary correlates any determination of one of them must formally characterize the other also. The form of the Self and the form of the Other must be identical: the categories through which both are thought must be the same. If I am the agent then the Other is the other agent. If my act is the realization of my intention then the activity of the Other is the realization of his intention. Thus the primary correlation on which all knowledge rests is the ‘You and I’ in active relation. How then is it possible for the Other to be known as non-personal? Only by a reduction of the concept of the Other which excludes part of its definition; only that is to say by a partial negation: only by down-grading the ‘You’ in the ‘You and I’ to the status of ‘It’. If we do this however we necessarily reduce its correlate the ‘I’ in the same fashion. The non-personal Other is thus the correlate of the Self as body that is as a material object. Now what is excluded in this abstraction is intention. The non-personal Other is that which is active without intention. Its correlate is myself unintentionally active. For this reason I remarked earlier4 that we should not know what was meant by a body falling freely through space if we had never fallen downstairs.

Genetically the first correlate of the Self is the mother; and this personal Other as we have seen is gradually differentiated in experience till it becomes the whole community of persons of which I am an individual member. Side by side with this differentiation but dependent on it and falling within it there develops the negative differentiation between personal and non-personal elements in the Other. The distinction between persons and things is no doubt implicit in the distinction of two or more persons since this distinction itself is made against a background. Once we have become used to apprehending ‘things’ it is difficult for us to conceive a condition in which the distinction is not obvious. We tend indeed to reverse the process and to consider any personal apprehension of the material world—in poetic imagination for instance or in primitive nature-worship—as a personification of what is known in unexcited observation as inanimate. Genetically however we arrive at the inanimate object through a process of depersonalization. It is here specially important to remember that it is not the visual but the tactual perception of the Other that is primary and that what is discriminated is not simply what is there but depends upon interest upon the selective activity of attention in the service of purposes. The original discrimination is simply the focusing of attention. For the infant it is that which responds to his cry. When he comes to discriminate more than one person in the Other it is at first as two centres of response. Whatever else he distinguishes is not an individual in its own right but a concomitant related more or less closely to this focus of interest. It is the whole Other that is personal. When two foci are established the problem set him is to divide the whole Other into two referring some of it to the one and some to the other centre. With this comes the further problem of referring some to myself as ‘mine’ and some to the others as ‘his’ or ‘hers’. Indeed this problem remains always incompletely solved. ‘My body’ continues to occupy an ambiguous position in relation to me. From one point of view it is me or part of me; from another it is an object which I ‘have’ or ‘own’ or ‘possess’ as I possess my clothes or my fountain-pen. For the small child this ambiguity occurs with all objects. They all ‘belong’ to somebody and are identified with their owner and indeed nearly all the objects of his environment are artifacts and are private property. The growing child discovers early that everything including his brothers and sisters himself and even his mother ‘belong’ to father.

It must then be a considerable feat of young intelligence to consider a material object out of relation to persons and so as belonging to itself and having a being of its own. How this is actually achieved and by what stages it is for the psychologist to tell us. A summary statement is sufficient for our purpose. The non-personal is discriminated within the unity of the personal as a negative. It is that in the Other which does not respond to my call. If I am to enter into active relation with it then I must go to it; it will not come to me. The relation I have with it lacks the mutuality of a personal relation. It is then that which can be moved but which cannot move itself. Secondly it is that which corresponds in the Other to myself when I am moved but do not move myself—when I fall if my support is removed when my movements are not under my control and so are unintentional; or when some other person lifts me and carries me from one place to another. It is that which in action is passive to action. It resists me and so is other than me; but its resistance is a passive resistance. Its movements must be referred to something other than itself. Thirdly and following from these it is that which in the largest sense is a means to action. It is for example an instrument or tool like the poker with which we stir the fire: it is stuff which can be formed or shaped like cloth from which clothes are made or the plasticine I play with. It is the material I use to satisfy my organic needs—the food I eat or the materials which mother mixes up together to make my birthday cake. In general the non-personal is that which in action is always means and never agent.

Some non-personal elements in the Other are depersonalized with greater difficulty than others. They are on the one hand those which are too big or too distant for us to use the earth the sky the sea the sun moon and stars are examples. The easiest to depersonalize are small objects mostly artifacts which are in familiar use by different members of the family group and are not specially associated with one or other as ‘his own’. On the other hand the depersonalizing becomes more difficult the more a material object is the exclusive property of a particular person. For then they tend to characterize him and to present themselves as expressions or even as attributes of his individual existence. It is this difficulty which is as I have mentioned already at its maximum in the case of a person's body so that a complete depersonalization is practically impossible and an insuperable ambiguity remains.

Yet even with regard to common objects which we all easily depersonalize and dissociate from the personal Other as inanimate things the ambiguity lurks in the background and re-emerges in our reflective activities. We need not here refer especially to those mystical or quasi-mystical experiences which visit some people frequently and others rarely if at all. For these if they stood alone might well be dismissed as regressions to an infantile state of consciousness. What is more impressive is the development of physical science. For the modus operandi of depersonalization is largely visual; and the visible individuality of macroscopic objects plays a leading role in the process. But it is just this individuality—this ‘being-for-itself’—that is dissolved by scientific reflection. All objects alike become temporary specifications of a universal ‘stuff’ or ‘matter’. The search for a real individual—for an existing unit of the non-personal—leads to the atom; and all material objects become congregations of identical units in the void. Presently the atom dissolves in its turn; and in the process energy takes precedence of matter or body just as in our present philosophical effort to understand the personal action takes precedence of object. The non-personal becomes a vast multiplicity of somewhat imprecisely located centres for the reception storage and transmission of energy. And what is energy? It is action without an agent. Is this really thinkable? Only it would seem in terms of those automatic activities of our own for which we disclaim all personal responsibility. They are and yet they are not our own. In terms of the form of the personal they are negatively personal; instances of the negative which is necessary to the constitution of the personal. So we saddle our bodies with the responsibility that we disown.

In discussing the depersonalization of the personal Other as the formation of a notion of the material existent we have omitted all reference to the organic. This has been a deliberate omission. For genetically the organic world remains persistently ambiguous and the contrast of personal and non-personal is a contrast between persons and things. For this reason reflective thought tends to operate within a dualist framework classifying all possible entities or events as either material or mental; and classifying philosophies as either idealist or realist mentalist or materialist. So when we isolate the organic for reflective understanding we seek to understand it either through categories drawn from the personal or from the material field. The controversy in biology between vitalists and mechanists is a very recent memory and the temporary victory for the chemists is not likely to prove decisive. Organic chemistry can hardly hope to cover the whole field of biological enquiry since it must abjure any form of representation which has even a quasi-teleological flavour.

I do not propose to remedy this omission since to do so would add little to our own purpose. We need only notice that the ambiguity lies in our relation as persons to the world of organic life. It is our practical relation that draws the primary distinctions and from this point of view the facts themselves are ambiguous. For the growing child there are some animals and even some plants in the garden which are as it were parts of the family circle which belong to people and are fed and housed and cared for. There are others which are simply articles of diet like fish or carrots which we make part of ourselves by devouring them. From another point of view there are animals which are kept as pets. The family dog will respond to the child's call by coming to him; and will reply to expressions of affection with expressions of pleasure. The fancy that makes the big dog the children's nurse in Peter Pan has its roots in reality and requires no violent effort of imagination—only a gentle stretching. Yet it can only apply to a very few of the highest forms of animal life: and even so it crosses the absolute dividing line. This is not so much due to the absence of speech as to the inability of even the highest organism to care for us even for a child in the practical ways in which we must be cared for if we are to survive and mature as persons.

In short and to conclude the discrimination of the Other into persons organisms and material objects is primarily practical. We have to learn three different modes of action in relation to three different types of Other. The mode of behaviour which is appropriate to persons is inappropriate in our dealings with things; while the mode that is right in our relations with organisms stands midway between the other two holding out a hand to either. But if we try to make these distinctions absolute for purposes of reflection in definitive concepts the unity of the Other as one world in which all are related infects our efforts with ambiguity which we cannot resolve and which tempts us to reduce two of them to the third. But though we may satisfy our craving for theoretical simplicity in this ingenious fashion the moment we act the distinctions reassert themselves inescapably.

  • 1. The Self as Agent, pp. 128, 172.
  • 2. See above, Chap. II, pp. 48 ff.
  • 3. The Self as Agent, p. 173.
  • 4. The Self as Agent, p. 117.
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