This book constitutes the second volume of the Gifford Lectures delivered in the University of Glasgow in 1953 and 1954. The first volume was published, under the title The Self as Agent, in 1957. It was concerned to exhibit the primacy of the practical in human experience, and the need to transfer the centre of gravity in philosophy from thought to action. It went on to consider the structural implications of such a change, and the manner in which the forms of reflective activity are derived from and related to action.
The present volume presupposes the conclusions of the first. The reflective activities are solitary, however their results may be published and communicated to others. Consequently, the tradition which conceives man as Thinker must conceive him as a multiplicity of centres of reflection, each inherently unrelated to the others; each standing over against the world which it knows. From this point of view action is strictly inconceivable, and even the reflective activities are restricted to the one which aims at knowledge, the activity of thought. This does not preclude the recognition of other forms of human activity. But if they are practical, they are considered as determinate happenings in the object-world; or else there is postulated, illogically and mysteriously, a point at which a process of thought is prolonged or transformed into a bodily movement. If they are themselves reflective, they are considered in their external manifestations, as they affect an observer. Art, for example, is treated not as a form of reflective activity, but as a set of ‘works’ to be apprehended and appreciated.
The effect of transferring the centre of reference to action, and at the same time its sufficient justification, is that man recovers his body and becomes personal. When he is conceived as agent, all his activities, including his reflective activities, fall naturally into place in a functional unity. Even his emotions, instead of disturbances to the placidity of thought, take their place as necessary motives which sustain his activities, including his activity of thinking. For our present purpose, however, the result which concerns us especially is that it ends the solitariness of the ‘thinking self’, sets man firmly in the world which he knows, and so restores him to his proper existence as a community of persons in relation. It is the purpose of this book to show how the personal relation of persons is constitutive of personal existence; that there can be no man until there are at least two men in communication.
This conclusion has clearly a positive relation to the current linguistic philosophy. Both are concerned to stress the centrality of language for philosophy. To transfer the task of logic from the analysis of thought to the analysis of language is to take a step towards the recognition of the mutuality of the personal and its implication, the primacy of action. But to rest here, to conceive philosophy as simply the logical analysis of language, is to fail to see the implications of this step, and to remain stuck in the presuppositions of the philosophical tradition from which it could release us. Language is the major vehicle of human communication. Communication is the sharing of experience. If language is fundamental to human existence, it follows that the human sphere, the field of the personal, cannot be understood through organic categories, in functional or evolutionary terms. It means, in other words, that men are not organisms, that the human world is as distinct from the organic as the organic is from the material, though it is built upon the organic as the organic is upon the material.
The exploration of the structure of this personal world, and the discovery of the categories through which it may be coherently conceived is the task set for philosophy in our time. In a sense this always has been its task, though hitherto it has thought to perform it analogically, by means of mechanical or organic models. Now we can pass beyond these, knowing that they are inadequate and why they are inadequate, and address ourselves to the task directly, using whatever methods the nature of the material demands. To this new enterprise the chapters that follow are intended as a contribution. What I have written can be no more than a preliminary and tentative reconnaissance. I hope that it may indicate a promising direction for advance.