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Lecture 4. Panegoism.

The second postulated existence exaggerated in Universal Materialism.

HUMAN organisms and their self-conscious life appear, at the point of view of atomism or moleculism, to be only part, and a very insignificant part, of the transitory natural issue of the universe of molecules in motion. They emerge for a time in a remote and petty corner of immensity, under those particular physical conditions which are found to give rise to self-conscious organism. Mind—the state of matter called consciousness, according to materialism—is one among innumerable other sorts of manifestation which molecules make of themselves; not in itself more significant than any one of the many sorts of quantitative differences, in size, shape, or arrangement, of the molecules and molecular masses, on which conscious life, as well as all the other qualities of things, are, on this conception of existence, assumed to depend. Just as fire differs from water, and water from gold, ultimately on account of supposed differences in the size, shape, motion, and consistency of their respective constituent molecules,—differences which might be described with precision if one could construct microscopes powerful enough to reveal them,—so, on the same condition, those special characteristics of molecular organisation which give rise to consciousness, when they happen to become actual, might in like manner be described in detail. This is the universe of the materialist, which rises in imagination, when the second of the three postulates of existence is exaggerated, and is at last taken as alone sufficient for the explanation of all.

What of the first postulated existence—the ego?

But has the phenomenon of percipient and self-conscious life by which man is characterised, and which has started up in this remote planetary corner of the material world, nothing more than this to say for itself? Is this all that it in any way implies?

The exaggeration of the first postulate occurs later than that of the second.

This question and the answer to it do not so soon force themselves into notice in the way the boundless and endless world of outward things presented to the senses does. The conscious self does not at first obtrude itself upon the unreflecting as exclusively entitled to be called real. Our assumed invisible reality seems ready to resolve itself into transitory modes of the solid and extended entities with which the senses are perpetually concerned, and with which we are constantly in contact and collision. Reflex science of life, especially of the sort of life that is conscious, follows in the wake of actual life; for thought must have material, in the form of spiritual states passed through, before it begins to reflect upon these, and to reduce the life to science.

“The baby new to earth and sky,

What time his tender palm is prest

Against the circle of the breast,

Has never thought that this is ‘I.’

But as he grows, he gathers much,

And learns the use of ‘I’ and ‘me,’

And finds I am not what I see,

And other than the things I touch;

So rounds he to a separate mind,

From whence clear memory may begin.”

Or again—

“Dark is the world to thee: thyself art the reason why;

For is He not all, but thou, that has power to feel ‘I am I?’”

The outward transformed into the inward.

Accordingly the second of the three fundamental postulates of existence—that which assumes outward things—is apt to be exaggerated into the one solitary postulate sooner than the first, which assumes the individual ego. In the earlier stages of one's development he is more ready to suppose that consciousness can be refunded into the universe of outward things, than to suppose that the universe of outward things is dependent on his own self-conscious perceptions. We are all in our childish years more or less materialists. And we find the materialist point of view the favourite one in the childhood of the race of man, as in early Hellenic speculation: so it was in the ancient world to the end, with only a dim apprehension of human individuality and personality. It was with the rise of Christianity that this idea of the individual person unfolded into distinctness. The early Christian theologians found something in a self-conscious person that was foreign to Hellenic and Roman thought in the pre-Christian world. “Great is the power of memory,” one finds Augustine exclaiming in his ‘Confessions,’—“great is the power of memory, in all its depth and manifold intensity; and this strange thing is my mind; and my mind is myself. Fear and amazement overcome me when I think of this. And yet men go abroad to gaze upon mountains and waves, broad rivers, wide oceans, and the courses of the stars, and overlook themselves, the crowning wonder.” In the next thousand years after Augustine one finds many utterances in harmony with this. The supreme significance of the ego survives after the rise of the modern reaction against scholastic thought, and a philosophy determined by ecclesiastical authority. When new conceptions of the universe and the ultimate meaning of life were struggling into reflective life in Descartes, the watchword was Cogito ergo sumEgo sum cogitans: my thinking is the essential fact for me. Not atoms but egos, or rather each ego—each person—was taken as the primary element. His own self-conscious life is what is nearest to the person whose individual life it is, and his world is the world which is continually living in his ideas. This was the starting-point and centre of introspective Cartesianism, that first birth of the new philosophic spirit, which so strenuously asserted itself in the seventeenth century. That “nothing can be more evident to us than our own existence,” was what we found Locke afterwards acknowledging. “If I doubt all other things, that very doubt makes me perceive my own existence as a conscious being, and will not suffer me to doubt of that.” The more this invisible fact of self in which consciousness centres is pondered, the more one seems to see the dependence of the universe on it. So self, conscious and percipient, comes by degrees to absorb all outward things, converting an illusory outwardness into real inwardness. Like Actæon, changed into the stag, and then torn to pieces by his hounds on Mount Cithæron, the once too obtrusive world of molecules is wholly swallowed up in the world of one's own self-conscious personality.

Conscious life the light of actual existence.

For, when one takes his own living consciousness, reflected on and recognised as the universe of his experience, for the philosophical point of view—instead of physical quantities of molecules in space, and the changes in and through which they evolve in time—one finds that his final conception of the universe undergoes a transformation; and the new conception seems to be deeper and truer than the old one. Conscious life in me—conscious life, if there are other egos, whenever it arises—no longer looks like an ephemeral and insignificant accident, that has somehow, through the concourse of molecules, happened to make its appearance on this one planet. I seem at any rate no longer able to suppose that percipient consciousness of man, and conscious intelligence in other phases, in other possible egos, might cease for ever in the universe of existence, and yet that, after its extinction, the huge aggregates of molecules in their molecular masses, with all their properties and other consequences, might continue as they were before its extinction, without any change in their appearance. Percipient life seems now to be able to say for itself, that it is the one paramount necessity, the one indispensable condition of all actual reality, and of all the changes that occur in what actually exists. The introduction of percipient consciousness into existence looks like the introduction of light into a dark room that is distinguished by the beauty and variety of the colours which it presents by day. In the darkness this beautiful variety of form and colour was virtually not in existence, in the sombre and uniform darkness. The brilliant spectacle suddenly becomes actual as soon as the lamp is carried into the dark chamber. If light had never existed, or if it were now to be suddenly and for ever annihilated throughout the universe, the visible glories of earth and sky, as well as of the darkened room, would all cease to be: and if light had never existed, they would never have existed, as we now see them; for they are all virtually created by, because dependent on, the command, “Let there be light.” So too with the percipient life introduced into existence by the ego, that “candle of the Lord,” which seems to show itself in this way as the unit of the universe. “Let there be a self-conscious ego”—if we could suppose this fiat possible on the hypothesis without a contradiction—“let there be a self-conscious ego,” and all becomes the actuality that we perceive. The reflective thinker seems to find this so, when he tries in vain to imagine a material world—a universe of molecules and their aggregates—after all percipient life has been withdrawn. Let this mental experiment be made by one who desires to pass from the exclusive materialism, according to which we were trying to think the universe in last lecture, and who wants to occupy the point of view of egoism, which I am asking you to take provisionally now.

The fate of an unperceived material world.

Consider further what becomes of the world revealed in vision and touch, which is the object of daily interest to every human being, which is the means, when scientifically interpreted, of advancing man's comfort, and on which the progress of civilisation depends;—what becomes of this solid and spacious world, of all the physical and natural sciences too, and even of materialism itself as the living philosophy of a self-conscious spirit, when this postulated reality is withdrawn, so that conscious reason, human and divine, is for ever extinct.

Intellectual suicide.

For one thing, all experience of outward things, including the philosophy which teaches that existence is ultimately outward and molecular—all special sciences and philosophy—depend on what is inward. They are contained in consciousness, which is not a molecule nor a mass of molecules. The inward perceptions and inferences, of which living knowledge of external things consists, are indispensable conditions in the construction of that interpretation of existence, as a wholly external and extended natural process, which constitutes the universal materialism or moleculism in which consciousness looks so insignificant. But for the conscious life that it contains, in this little corner of the universe or elsewhere, the world of outward things would be virtually nothing, because all unperceived, in the entire absence of percipient life. If the persons who are percipient of the universe in space, and supposed to be able, by reasoning combined with observation, to discover all that is scientifically affirmed about it, are themselves found, in the progress of their own discoveries, to be in the last resort only transitory issues of unintelligent and unintelligible Matter, this materialistic philosophy of theirs must, like all else that depends upon them, be unworthy of trust, because an outcome of unreason. A merely human science is discredited in the degradation of the beings by whom it is made into accidents of the universal flux. For sciences and materialistic philosophy are then only accidents in the history of certain organisms, which, at this era in the molecular evolution, happen to be formed on this little planet. The supposed discovery that the whole is ultimately only continuous mechanical motion of atoms, without guarantee in a divine-natural order, discredits the discovery itself. Unless there is that in man which is more than physical evolution of matter into organism—if “matter” means only what is given in sense or understanding measured by sense—there can be no valid science, and no valid materialistic philosophy. The testimony given by our human adventurer to the fact that he has been cast up inexplicably in the endless succession of the molecular changes which are the only ultimate reality, and who thinks that he sees scientifically that all conscious life must sooner or later disappear out of existence—this testimony, under such conditions, can neither be vindicated nor refuted. The issue is a literally unutterable scepticism about everything. The key which pretended to open the secrets of reality has been taken away in the very act of using it. Universal moleculism is intellectual suicide.

The conscious ego greater than a universe of unconscious things.

The larger human life is a continual protest against this. To suppose that conscious intelligence itself is essentially only molecular, is found to be an inadequate, if not a self-contradictory position. The modern science of outward things, of which the race of man is justly proud, as one of the most signal of its glories, is made only one among innumerable other sorts of accidental and temporary modifications of atomic form and movement; culminating in the discovery of the irrelevancy and insignificance of the conscious reason that recognises the discoveries. The existence in a living thought, of the great mechanical law of gravitation, or of the still greater biological law of universal natural evolution, including of course the evolution of those very discoveries themselves, surely implies, in the final constitution of the universe, something deeper than an originally unconscious and accidental concurrence of atoms. We are reminded of the familiar sentiment of Pascal. When looked at only as a visible and tangible organism, that occupies an infinitesimal portion of space, during an infinitesimal period of time, man seems no more than a reed, even the weakest reed, in external nature: he is nevertheless a thinking or self-conscious reed; with all the tremendous consequences that may be found involved in this one unique fact. Physically, he is a transitory individual organism. When we measure its size and duration, and compare this with the Immensities and the Eternities, I and all other men are seen to be so insignificant that there is no need for the boundless material world to employ its collective forces in order to compass our destruction. A vapour, or a drop of water, is found to be enough for this purpose. Yet even if the illimitable material world were to have all the molecular forces that are supposed to belong to its atoms exclusively combined for destruction of men, there is still that in man which is greater, and therefore more noble, than this by which the organisms would be destroyed; greater, too, than the organism itself, as a mere portion of the outward world. For the man would be conscious of his fate; while the universe of things visible and tangible, in which his organism disappeared, would be unconscious of its victory. The true character and standing of man in the universe is to be read, not in the quantity of space that his body is seen to fill, nor in the periods of time during which the physical evolution of which his body is the ephemeral issue has been going on, but in the invisible life, percipient and self-conscious, which at last emerges, and is indeed his very self. Invisible egos are therefore superior to unseen molecules, and also to visible aggregates of molecules, however vast in size they may be. Each of us is greater than all matter abstracted from all percipient life can be—the ego is greater than any objects presented through the senses; because the ego is conscious and active, while things presented to our senses are only passive and unconscious appearances.

What should we mean when we affirm the real existence of matter or molecules?

The Panegoist looks into a question which materialism always overlooks. He asks what the word matter should ultimately mean, when the word is rightly used. What is meant by the real existence of a molecule, or an aggregate of molecules, or by the existence of molecules in motion? What is meant by an outward thing, or by the external existence of anything? Let us by this kind of reflection try to bring more fully into light the second postulated existence,—instead of leaving it in the vague form of an uncriticised faith. When we do this, at our new point of view, in obedience to that exclusive supremacy of the first of the three postulated realities, we begin to see that there is more mystery than we had supposed in the fact of conscious perception of things that are assumed to be not conscious,—and that are yet held to be things upon which perception and all else that is called “mind” absolutely depends. There is here a chasm, which the history of philosophical inquiry suggests the difficulty of bridging over,—a chasm between, on the one hand, those living perceptions of things that are referred to myself—to the mind of the individual person who is conscious of them—and which succeed one another in the absolute privacy of one's own conscious life, and, on the other hand, solid and extended things, molecules and masses of molecules, supposed to exist, and to continue to exist, just as one actually sees them and touches them, whether or not there exists a percipient who is seeing or touching or otherwise having sentient experience. The things once called “outward,” and believed to be quite independent of any inward percipient life, seem now to lose their so-called qualities one by one. These begin to disappear as empty abstractions, when percipient life is supposed to be withdrawn from the universe; so that one is obliged to ask whether a molecule, or an aggregate of molecules, could exist externally—if to exist externally means to exist, in the way it now appears to the senses to do, after the extinction of all mind in the universe. When I say that outward things are, have been, and will continue to be, can this really mean more than that I or some percipient is, has been, and continues to be conscious of the mental states called seeing and touching? in the faith, it may be, that those seeings and feelings, and the pleasures and pains which accompany them, are part of the universal order; which faith, however, being only another expression for faith in God, is an unexplained addition to a purely individual egoism.

The human organism is, and the self-conscious person is not, part of the material world of sense.

Again. One begins to see that, when one speaks of external things, he must include among them the minute organism which he calls his own body—that organism which, for the materialist, is really the whole man,—an organism the visible insignificance of which, among the other contents of infinite space and duration, and its arbitrary unintelligible connection with their molecular evolution and physical constitution, signified to the materialistic imagination the insignificance of self-conscious life, as an item in the immeasurable universe. For one's own body is a part of the material world. Even though it is called “living matter,” it is still external, like all other visible things, to the private and invisible self, or proper ego. When it is seen in this light, the thought occurs that no sufficient reason can be produced to show that the conscious life is necessarily embodied, although it is now embodied. Is that an a priori reason which forbids the supposition that I might have passed through all the varieties of sentient experience of which I have been conscious since I was born, without being embodied? Why may I not have the mental experience called seeing, or that other sort called touching, without my present visual and tactual organs, or even without any organism of gross molecular matter at all? Our so-called five senses, too, might conceivably have been other than they are—more numerous, for example—and thus presenting outward things clothed in innumerable qualities which are now unimaginable by man; or they might be less numerous, in which case much that normally constituted men can now perceive and imagine would be unimaginable. Of this last we have examples in those human beings who are born entirely blind, and to whom, in consequence, all words expressive of visual ideas to us who see are meaningless and unrepresentative. For aught we know, there may be percipient beings in some other corner of the universe who are destitute of all our so-called five external senses, and endowed with five, or five hundred, other sorts of senses, each different in kind from any of ours. If so, what is matter, in their perceptions and conceptions of it? It can have none of the qualities or quantities which we refer to the things that we call outward; and it must have five, or five hundred, sorts of properties, all of which a human being would be as unable to imagine as the born-blind man was to imagine scarlet, which Locke's blind friend pictured mentally as like the sound of a trumpet.

The present correlation of bodily organism and mental experience.

Further, what in the nature of mental experience, as we find it when we examine our own introspectively,—what is there in this which forbids a continued percipient life—either like our own as it now is, or like that of any of those supposed percipients who may have been endowed with five hundred senses other than any of ours—after our present organisms are dissolved in physical death? I see no difficulty, Berkeley, at this point of view, would say,—I see no difficulty in conceiving a succession of mental states, following physical death, being maintained as well without as with organised body, in the future life. For it seems easy to suppose a self-conscious and percipient experience persisting, without those conditions of molecular movement on which it is found now to depend, and which in this life are its “physical basis,”—to suppose that the ego still continues to exercise itself as I am doing now, receiving ideas of colour but without the organ of seeing, and of sounds but without the organ of hearing. And yet, even if this should turn out to be more than a mere conjecture, reason can be suggested for the present existence of the elaborate organs that are contained in the bodily constitution of man.

Illustrative facts.

But we must return from conjectures to facts. Let us look more carefully at the appearances which matter presents. We may see how, as things now are, the properties popularly referred to matter so hang upon percipient life as that with its extinction they must necessarily disappear too, and at last leave the molecules in all the nakedness of empty abstractions.

The properties of matter distinguished as primary or quantitative, and secondary or imputed.

It has been customary with philosophers to distinguish the properties of bodies as of two sorts—those, on the one hand, which are essential to what is called body, deprived of which it would not be so named; and those, on the other hand, which seem to be accidentally connected with it, or at least which might disappear without body ceasing for us to be called body. The first sort are said to be primary or essential properties of matter; the others are called secondary or imputed properties. In their primary or essential attributes, bodies—whether large or small aggregates of molecules, as well as the constituent molecules separately—are space-occupying: they are solid quantities of extension: they can be formulated mathematically and mechanically, in terms of quantity. The secondary properties, again, are those which invest bodies with their chief human interest; those in virtue of which they are of practical importance or useful to man,—their hardness or softness, for instance, their heat or cold, their colours, sounds, odours, and tastes,—all which, as distinguished from the former sort, are alone properly called qualities; for the former sort are quantitative. In fact, on the molecular final conception of existence, the atoms or molecules were supposed to be quantities only, without qualitative differences; and the innumerable differences which we observe in the secondary qualities that are imputed to an external thing were referred to quantitative differences too minute to be seen by men at any rate,—differences in the shape, size, position, and motions of its constituent atoms or molecules. Democritus, the representative of early materialism, argues that all the qualitative differences in external things are caused by—i.e., are physically dependent on—their quantitative molecular differences. Water, for instance, presents qualities different from iron—in other words, qualities different from those of iron are imputed to it, because its constituent molecules are round and smooth, and do not fit into one another; those of iron, on the contrary, are jagged, uneven, and densely aggregated. This hypothesis of Democritus reappears in Descartes and in Locke, with the cautious qualification, introduced especially by Locke,—that if the qualities thus imputed to outward things are not differenced by their dependence on unperceived (but conceivable) quantitative relations of their constituent molecules, they must depend upon something in bodies that is even more mysterious than an essence or substance that is molecular.

Obvious dependence of the imputed or secondary qualities upon a percipient.

Now, looking in the first place only at the imputed and interesting properties of the things we call outward, it appears that for all by which those qualities are distinguished from the molecular modes and relations by which, on the atomic hypothesis, things are supposed to be determined, in their several imputed varieties, things depend entirely upon sentient and percipient life. We cannot even imagine the secondary properties existing externally in the absence of life, except by reading them only in terms of the non-resembling molecules and molecular motions by which, on this hypothesis, they are supposed to be conditioned, or of which they are thus the correlatives. For the atoms of which fire, for instance, is composed have surely themselves no felt sensation of heat, like that which I have when I approach fire. Now, if the sensation is abstracted, what remains that is at all imaginable, in the objective meaning of the word “fire,” except—motion among the molecules of which the burning object is composed? Heat is therefore necessarily read in terms of motion whenever it is imagined as external. When I cease to read fire in terms of my own feeling of heat, I must read it, if I read it at all, only in terms of molecular motion. Then an orange becomes colourless in the dark; it must lose all that we are percipient of in what we call its odour and taste, when all mental experience is withdrawn: the residuary issue is at the most a mass of colourless, inodorous, tasteless molecules. When one tries to imagine heat in an object that is in combustion, or an orange in possession of its imputed qualities, but with no one percipient of them, one is obliged to imagine, not the sensations now named, but some correlative modification of molecules in motion. Analysis of what are called “properties of bodies” in this way obliges us to strip the “outward” world at least of all its secondary and interesting qualities;—except so far as these can be formulated in terms of the atomic motions of which they are then the correlatives, but which have no resemblance to the qualities in question at all; for our sensations of heat in fire, or of sweetness in an orange, are not in the least like solid and extended molecules, nor like any relations that can exist among solid and extended molecules. Moreover, physical science itself finds a barrier to its perfection here; for it has not yet discovered and precisely formulated the innumerable varieties of molecular motion which, on the hypothesis of molecular correlation, correspond to the innumerable varieties of the so-called secondary or imputed qualities of the things around us. So that the latter cannot yet be read scientifically to any considerable extent in terms of the former.

Implied dependence likewise of solid quantity, or primary qualities, on a percipient.

But the disintegration of outward things that is consequent upon the withdrawal of all self-conscious and sentient life from the universe, it may be argued, at the point of view of Panegoism, does not stop here. It is not arrested as soon as it has stripped molecules and their aggregates of all that gives them human interest and utility. It may be argued that the aggregates of molecules, and the very molecules themselves of which things are believed to consist, become inconceivable abstractions after they have been stripped of all their imputed qualities, and left to exist in an absolutely unresistant, colourless, silent, inodorous, and tasteless condition, neither cold nor hot. For one's imagination of the chief primary property of things—namely, their extension, or occupancy of space—is itself dependent upon the relative sensations of which we are conscious, with which it is blended so inextricably that we cannot even imagine a perfectly colourless mass of matter. An extended thing that has no secondary qualities cannot be imagined as an outward thing at all; for it must be a thing that is neither hard, nor soft, nor coloured. Try, in a word, to strip things of all the qualities imputed to them which obviously depend for their actuality upon the presence of a percipient, and then all that by which they are known to us, or can be imagined by us, disappears too. But this subtraction of all their properties is practically the subtraction of the things themselves: therefore things cannot be imagined actually existing independent of all percipient life. At the most, only an unqualified and unquantified something remains, of which nothing can be either affirmed or denied,—an empty abstraction or negation, not worth taking into account as a factor in the constitution of the universe.

Unperceived molecules thus become empty abstractions.

If all the properties of material things are in this way proved to be in their nature dependent upon the living percipient, the common but confused supposition that some of them exist externally, meaning by that independently of all percipient life, is argued to be contrary to reason. For they are kept in actual, if not also in potential, existence, by the sentient ego through whose sentient experience they become what they are, and in whom accordingly they are finally substantiated. The universe is not a universe of independent molecules: it is a universe of the independent ego; with molecules, aggregates of molecules, and qualities imputed to them, all sustained in the continued mental experience of the ego. In this conscious life the visible and tangible world is continually manifesting itself, and being delivered from abstraction. “For can there,” we are asked, “can there be a nicer strain of abstraction than to distinguish the existence of sensible objects from their being perceived; so as to conceive them existing unperceived? One might as easily divide a thing from itself as do this. Some truths there are so near and obvious that a man need only open his eyes to see them. Such I take this important one to be, namely, that all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth—in a word, all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world—have not any subsistence without a mind,—that their being is to be perceived”—either by me or by some other sentient ego, if another exists.

Our conception of what is meant by the real existence of molecules is transformed accordingly.

Accordingly, no man who reflects upon the universe of reality, at this point of view exclusively, can doubt that what we call “outward” things—stars, their planets, this planet with all its visible and tangible contents, including our own bodies—are really mental experiences, arising in an established order which somehow enables us to expect mental experiences still future,—all which orderly universe of personally perceived phenomena would necessarily become extinct with the extinction of the conscious and percipient life of the ego, on which the whole is practically suspended. Our final conception of what a material world is, and of what reality means, is more deeply transformed in this individual egoism than was the old-fashioned anthropocentric conception, by the modern discoveries of the astronomer and the biologist. Instead of an external flux of molecules, in imagined orderly motion in space, the universe is now seen to be an eternal flux of orderly perceptions or ideas in the history of the self-conscious ego. In this transformation scene, self-conscious life is the final supposition—not the starry heaven, with its molecular occupants, in the immensity of an independent space, nor the unbeginning and unending physical metamorphoses, in which this earth and all its living inhabitants are supposed physically to participate, apart from living mind, and what living mind involves. Nothing now seems great in the universe of existence but self-conscious mind;—and the only living mind of which I am conscious is my own.

The conception of causality or power in outward things also transformed.

At this individual immaterialist point of view, a transformation in our ideas of causality and power has been likewise tacitly going on. The meaning to which the words “cause” and “power” were confined when only customary sequence or customary co-existence was recognised in them, is found to be inadequate when one reflects upon the meaning of cause and power as found applicable to one's personal acts. For the Ego is found by reflection to be a centre of power more deeply and truly than molecules, or aggregates of molecules, are perceived by the senses to be powers. In particular, in recognising one's self—and other persons, if there are any—as moral agents, one finds that he is obliged to acknowledge more in an agent, or in moral agency, than sense reveals in the physical “agency” popularly attributed to molecules and their masses. In merely outward nature, per se, all that is perceived is phenomena followed by, or changed into, other phenomena, in a continuous procession of caused causes—an endless, orderly procession of metamorphoses—each unit in the procession, so far as appears, the passive subject of a rule to which it seems to conform; but without innate activity being found in any of the units of the procession, in the way that innate activity, or self-originated power, is found in the personal agent who deserves praise or blame for what he does. For conscience obliges us to recognise ourselves as in a measure originating agents—the ego as the real agent—in the case, at least, of all states and changes which evoke the feeling and conviction of remorse on the part of the ego on account of their occurrence. The moral and immoral acts of the ego thus differ in kind from caused or dependent causes in the natural procession which the physical sciences are so successfully interpreting. None of them are found by sense to be agents that absolutely originate their acts, as I am found by conscience to be when I am judged to be the creator of an act of my own for which I blame myself. When we seize this deeper meaning of power and agency, all outward things seem to be powers or agents only metaphorically. They are found empty of real efficacy, which one is obliged to refer to an intending personal agent. So power proper comes to be regarded as that in which a change of some sort is found to originate; not that which is found only as the customary antecedent of a change, under a rule or law which a priori one has no reason to suppose might not have been different from what experience shows that it actually is. The physically scientific conception of causality, as continuous sequence only, is seen, in the light of this moral experience in my own conscious life, to be thin and shallow.

Occasional causation, and Locke on power in outward things and in egos.

Those who take the philosophical position even of a modified Panegoism find power only in persons. The occasionalism of Descartes emptied sensible things of causality in any other sense than that of the regularity of sequence, which, it was assumed, was actively maintained by God, whose existence seemed to him as certain as his own. But by Malebranche, still more by Spinoza, finite persons as well as things were inferred to be powerless, in the exclusive unity of all in God. Locke, too, notwithstanding his tendency to ultimate atomism, had an inkling of active causality being exemplified only in egos, in contrast with the passive susceptibilities of molecules and their aggregates, according to Aristotle's idea of antithesis between active and passive power. “We are abundantly furnished,” Locke says, “with the idea of passive power, or capacity for change, by almost all sorts of sensible things. In most of them we cannot avoid observing their sensible qualities, nay, their very substances, to be in a constant flux. Nor have we of active power fewer instances; since whatever change is observed, the mind must collect a power somewhere to make that change, as well as a possibility in the thing to receive the change. But yet, if we will consider it attentively, bodies by our senses do not afford us so clear and distinct an idea of power as we have from reflection on the [moral and immoral?] operations of our minds.” Again: “Whether matter be not wholly destitute of active power, as its author God is truly above all passive power [i.e., above being a mere unit in the procession of caused causes]; and whether the intermediate state of created spirits be not that alone which is capable, both of active and passive power [i.e., man participating at once both in passive external nature and in active spirit], may be worth consideration. Natural substances any way are not so truly active powers as our hasty thoughts are apt to represent them.” So that instead of matter and force, or molecules in motion, explaining everything they really explain nothing: all their changes under gravitation, and their natural evolutions, as well as their gravitation law and their still wider law of evolution, themselves need to be explained; and the only light for explanation comes from reflection upon conscious life. Of conscious life there is one imperfect specimen somehow connected with the physical evolution of a human organism, on this locally insignificant planet. It would therefore seem that the only agents that are really agents are incorporeal, and, so far as morally responsible, “not properly of physical consideration,” and beyond the sphere of astronomical, geological, or biological science. External things are agents only metaphorically: persons alone are really active.

The outward world only a world of sense signs, found by custom to be interpretable.

In this way, instead of being an aggregate of individual agents, to each of which certain issues may be absolutely referred, as those for which that agent exclusively is responsible, the world unfolded to our five senses presents only aggregates of passive sense appearances, called sensible things, which are related to one another, not as an agent properly so called is connected with the effects which originate absolutely in the agent, but only as sensible signs connected with events yet future, which they practically signify, so far as they are believed to be in constant sequence with them. What are called causes in the material world are really only premonitors, somehow supposed to warrant men in expecting the actual appearance of changes they are believed to signify. They are only the somehow established forerunners of events, for which they prepare those who are able to interpret them; and in each case the physical antecedent might a priori be supposed different from what in experience it is found actually to be. The world presented to our senses is conceived as a world, or a universe, only because it is conceived to be this system of interpretable sense signs: it is interpretable because certain sorts of its presented appearances are found in constant sequence with certain other sorts: faith in this constancy makes men infer that when an instance of the one sort appears, an instance of the other sort may be expected to follow. The world that is called outward or non-mental, becomes transformed under this conception into a system of mind-dependent sense signs; and we find that we are able to interpret some of the signs on which the pleasures and pains of sentient life depend—which, in short, signify pleasure or pain to an animated being. This world of sensible experience is found to involve happiness and misery for me. At the same time, one among many functions which the same world seems to discharge is, that of awakening and educating intelligence in me the percipient, by that exercise of intellect which is needed for the interpretation of changes in the sense-presented order of phenomena, and by the exercise of prudence and benevolence in the useful applications of which the interpretations admit, when they can be made to minister to the comfort and organic satisfaction of man.

What right has the individual egoist to assume the interpretability of sense phenomena?

But how comes it that the sense phenomena of experience are thus significant? and have I any reason for supposing their significance, which I always do? How, too, have I come into existence to be an interpreter of sense signs? If two of the three postulated existences of ordinary faith are neglected, and if the only reality presupposed is myself, it seems to follow that in perceiving and interpreting what is, without proof, treated as a universe of reliable sense signs, I am only entitled to say that I am perceiving and conceiving unintelligible modifications of myself. At the most it is an “outward” universe of impotent sense phenomena, dependent upon my conscious and percipient life and experience; for some of the changes I find myself obliged to acknowledge my own personal responsibility, and so conclude that I have power to regulate them: the great majority are either the issue of what is called (as an apology for ignorance) my “occult faculty” of perception; or else they originate in another ego foreign to my private consciousness, and therefore to my knowledge; unless, indeed, I choose to refer them to some absolutely incognisable power,—the term “power” then a cover for empty verbal abstraction. The procession of felt sense perceptions, which forms so much of my inward life—so far as conscience (itself unexplained by the Panegoist) does not oblige me to refer some of its changes exclusively to my own agency as their originating cause—must all be referred to something unknown and unknowable. Moreover, these hypothetical references are themselves only states of my own consciousness as intelligent. Individual egoism is eternally confined within the individual ego.

The universe of individual egoistic immaterialism lives and dies with the individual ego.

But sense perception still introduces an incalculable element into my experience of myself, even when outward things and God are overlooked or explained away. This is one impediment to Panegoism, when I pretend to reduce absolutely to the unity of my own individual consciousness the reality that is present in sense. At the point of view of individual egoism, the universe is born and dies with the person who experiences it, and the only person of whose existence I am conscious is myself. The postulated Matter and the postulated God of ordinary faith are absorbed and lost in me. The exclusive ego, in the last resort—as well as the exclusive molecules, in the last resort—reduces human experience of reality to an absurdity, if not to a contradiction; although Universal Immaterialism has more to say for itself than Universal Materialism.

Another alternative.

I turn now to the third and only remaining postulate, to ponder its adequacy to the need of reason and experience when it is conceived in the end to supersede the other two. May the desired intellectual and moral satisfaction be found when the Infinite Being is taken as the one reality, and when we think of molecules and individual egos as alike only perishing or illusory modes of God? This third alternative will be considered in the next two lectures.

From the book: