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Lecture 6: Self-Consciousness as the Clue to the Typical Structure of Reality

Finite Consciousness not ultimate. It is a defect in the Universe?

WE have seen that Finite Consciousnesses cannot be the ultimate directors or constituents of the universe. They and their subjective teleology are appearances at a certain stage; they rest on arrangements below them; they indicate in every feature fuller forms of totality above them. Finite consciousness, whether animal or human, did not make its body, and does not set the greater purposes to its world. Something greater and more inclusive than itself both operates through it and reveals itself to it.

The resistant and the responsive not-self.

1. Is finite consciousness, then, an accident in a universe of alien nature? Is self-consciousness,1 the fullest form of consciousness which we experience, born of a defect, and killed by its removal? Or may we look to find in this completest phase of finite experience something which furnishes a clue to the typical structure of reality—something which is not annihilated but rather enhanced by the transition of discord into responsiveness and of the hostile not-self into the other of the self?

The question is, in other words, whether self-hood runs parallel with Individuality, or whether the former experience must cease when the latter is at a maximum? The question is not one necessarily of ultimate importance. There might be experiences in the highest individuality which would rightly supersede the experience of self-hood. But yet, if we can remove a certain misapprehension which stands in the way, we shall have opened the path to a deeper conception of reality, framed at least on the analogy of self-consciousness.

Now in finite experience that to which the universal opposes itself in its unceasing effort to become fully individual, that in overcoming which the self feels itself relatively one and self-complete, is prima facie difference in the form of what is alien or hostile; a resistant not-self in face of which we are ignorant and weak and never, as finite beings, become absolutely triumphant and at home. And it is essential to the basis of our account of Individuality to understand whether this not-self is something which depends on and indicates imperfection, or something which belongs to the essential structure of the real.2 Might we, for example, conceive of individuality as perfecting itself as a cosmos and a self-in-otherness, in proportion as the irresponsiveness, or even hostility, which for us is one great mark of the other or the different, is being overcome?

One obvious view rests wholly on the discordance of the not-self, and consequently holds that self-hood is confined to imperfect being, and vanishes in so far as the hostile not-self is overcome. This view perilously resembles, though it is not one with, the view for which all consciousness is a disease and a defect. It is facile, but dangerous, simply to drop the higher characters of experience when we endeavour to conceive the absolute. It is a more trustworthy plan to indicate, if possible, the line of their transmutation. And indeed I notice that the responsive or concordant not-self makes its appearance within the same set of speculations, though disregarded in their result. It seems, then, an error to neglect this significant feature in treating of the ultimate nature to which the individual can aspire. In a word, is discordance the only otherness, and is otherness, therefore, ultimately unreal? Is it not the case at bottom that discordance itself rests upon the claim and possibility of harmony?

Contradiction. What is a solved contradiction?

2. I desire, then, to discuss in this chapter the familiar view which treats what may be called what is a Negativity not as a vanishing defect but as a fundamental characteristic of the real; to exhibit this view in connection with one or two points in logical theory, and to insist that its value depends on the principle being pressed home in its full force.

I start from what I take to be the nature of full or logical contradiction. The crucial point seems to be that no predicates are intrinsically contrary to one another.3 They only become so by the conditions under which they are drawn together. Contradiction consists in “differents” being ascribed to the same term, while no distinction is alleged within that term such as to make it capable of receiving them.

This is Plato's Law of Contradiction—what does or suffers “opposites”—(the danger of a logical circle is removed if we say “differents,” which is enough4) in the same relation must in itself be two and not one. And this is the root of his distinction between Opinion or Appearance, and Knowledge or Reality. It is a formal contradiction if you say, “This colour is both beautiful and ugly, i.e. not beautiful.” It ceases to be a contradiction if you say, “This colour by daylight is beautiful and by candle-light is ugly.” Are not, it may be asked, those terms intrinsically contrary which can in no case be affirmed of one another, such as the circle and the square? Why, no. They do not impede one another or the process of thought unless we bring them together in a special form, to which their content is inadequate.5 They may quite well be conjoint predicates of the same complex term, and when thus affirmed, and protected by adequate distinction, have nothing in them contrary to one another. It is one of the points that at first tries our patience in Plato, that he seems to find it contradictory that the same thing should look different at different distances.6 It is really just a case of what he is constantly explaining, as in the argument above referred to. Obviously, it would be a contradiction if a thing looked the same at different distances; that it looks different at different distances is a plain case under his Law of non-contradiction. There are places for all predicates; and when all predicates are in their places, none of them is contrary to any other. It is the bringing them together, on an inadequate basis of distinction, which is the essence of contradiction and contrariety, and this may happen with any diverse terms whatever. I venture to think that when we find an implication that predicates can be antecedently “contrary” or “opposite,” we may infer that contradiction has not been adequately analysed.7 Contradiction, then, we suggest, is not a dead fact about certain predicates; it is an imperfection in the organisation of systems.

We may describe Contradiction then as a deadlock, caused by the attempt to bring together two or more different terms without adequate adjustment of content for their reception. Contradiction in this sense is rightly pronounced unthinkable, and cannot, therefore, be a characteristic of Truth or of Ultimate Reality. For these, if they are anything, are experiences in which Thought is triumphant and harmonious with itself at least, even if with more besides.

It will be a first step in our argument if we can decide at this point in what sense even such complete and formal contradiction is in some way an actual existent, and a characteristic of Reality. We see at once that it cannot be ultimate; and we are disposed at the first look to admit that it is merely a blunder of our own making, a subjective error, incapable of belonging to the world of fact. But in saying this, we seem to have unduly idealised our actual world—our given experience so far as we can at all recognise anything as given. We seem to be treating this with the respect only due to ultimate reality. For if there is anything that is given, it is a perpetual unrest of action and cognition; and this testifies to the presence of conflict and discord within every pulse of our experience, that is to say, the presence of contradictions which both in action and speculation make it impossible to repose in any actual moment. It must, I infer, be admitted that every day fact, what is given in normal experience, is self-contradictory as well as actual. If we say that what is self-contradictory cannot be actual fact, then we must deny the actuality of our whole normal world which is the field of our knowledge and action. For it is too plain that every object of knowledge and every situation such as to determine practice, if acquiesced in for a time, is acquiesced in only on sufferance, and really contains incoherences, combinations impossible as they stand, which must as soon as noted drive us onwards. Facts, as we call them, are stable up to a certain point,—will, so to speak, answer certain questions and meet certain needs; but when we transcend their several limits of stability by bringing them into connection with more of the real world, we become aware that none of them are sufficiently stubborn things to stand as finally coherent. The common appearances of our lives—of material things, of conduct, and of institutions, all carry us a certain way, and to pronounce them illusory would be a foolish exaggeration. But, to take a single example, if we trust to man's living by bread alone—by bodily comfort—we shall find he cannot, and that though bodily nutrition is actual, we shall fall into contradiction—find that nourishment is not nourishment—if we take it as the exclusive mode in which human beings are kept alive. We shall find other needs asserted; what we took for our system of “fact” will not give room for them. Our fact has broken down; and all our facts break clown in some such way, and at some such point. Thus, if we do not care to adopt the doctrine of Máya—which arises from a misapprehension on this head—and class the whole known world as illusion, we must admit that what is experienced as actual fact may yet be self-contradictory.8 We cannot escape by saying “thus far and no farther”; by saying “we will take the world without asking questions, and thus it shall be perfect fact, and real without contradiction.” For such a world will not keep pace with our experience. We shall find that action and argument, “like a wind,” take us outside it; and our petrified facts will neither serve our need nor maintain themselves.

The whole difficulty springs from trying to attribute to given fact the features of ultimate Reality. In truth, the actual world is charged with contradiction. Things are given with conjunctions of predicates which no distinctions are at hand to deal with and explain. In the life of conscious beings, again, contradiction is a felt experience, as actual as pain, dissatisfaction, unrest, which are forms of it or one with it. It consists in an attempted union, which, though given, yet because it fails in the contents necessary for adjustment, a mind or even a life (it would appear) cannot endure. It is actual, as the experience of progress proves, over the whole region of action and cognition, which is equivalent to the region of finite experience.

The spirit of otherness is Negativity.

3. Our next step is to ascertain what form or spirit of “otherness” survives when a logical contradiction is resolved. The point I would draw attention to is that we are here dealing with a survival of what was present in Logical Contradiction. Nothing is changed, except that what was attempted has been achieved. The contents are diverse, as they were; sensuous contents, ideas, emotions, conscious members of a social world. The principle is the same throughout; they rush towards one another through the same impulse, to come together in the whole which animates them; the change is merely that now they and their world have been readjusted, and can carry out their union. How are we to describe the form of their surviving distinctness? We may take such examples as a sensuous harmony of colour or sound, or mind and motive at their best, or two selves united in one emotion, or the satisfaction of desire.

I may illustrate the point by Hegel's view of contradiction.9 It is merely an illustration, for I do not wish to raise any historical question. It is familiar ground that Hegel has been accused of denying or disregarding the logical law which pronounces contradiction to be unthinkable, and that his best interpreters have shown the charge to be false. They have pointed out that the Dialectic, so far from disregarding the law of Contradiction, rests entirely upon it. It is because Contradiction is unthinkable and intolerable that a conjunction of judgments which makes their predicates irreconcilable demands a readjustment of contents and the formation of a new totality.

Now, while I admit that this is contained in Hegel's view of Contradiction, I cannot but think that there is something more behind. Hegel obviously feels himself fundamentally in antagonism to the current formal view of Contradiction as merely unthinkable. No words are too strong for him to express his scorn of such an attitude. “What moves the world is Contradiction; it is ridiculous to say that Contradiction is unthinkable. What is true in this assertion only comes to this, that Contradiction cannot be final, and that by its own action it cancels while it maintains itself (Sich aufhebt). The cancelled and maintained contradiction, however, is not abstract identity, for this is only one side of the antithesis.”10 Here, no doubt, we are in the region of essence, where oppositions are sharp and pointed. But this does not account for the whole of Hegel's attitude, which is fundamental with him: “Whereas people say that Contradiction is not thinkable, the truth is that in pain which a living being feels it is actually a real existence.“11 (He says the same of motion in space.) Again: “Formal thinking prescribes to itself the rule that Contradiction is not thinkable; but, in fact, the thinking of Contradiction is the essential moment of the Notion.”12 These latter passages are from the discussion of Life and of the Absolute Idea. It is clear that we have here a reference to something more than the mere deadlock between saying and unsaying the same thing. It is agreed that a logical contradiction is a position which cannot be held; but we further note a strong conviction that it contains and implies something, the value and necessity of which accounts for and justifies the inevitability of contradiction itself. Contradiction, as we saw above, is not just a mistake of ours; it is a check or friction incident to the misfit of experience in its self-systematisation. The question is, what is left, what is found to have been the true movement of union, when the check or friction is removed by readjustment?

This brings us to a suggestion for meeting the problem. “What survives when a contradiction is resolved?” We might venture to reply—“A successful embodiment of ‘negativity.’” Hegel often speaks of Negativity as apparently a factor or moment lying deep in the inmost structure of the Real, as the pulse of life and spring of movement of the world.13 It is not one with the dead fact of unthinkableness which attaches to logical contradiction. It is rather the spirit of system14 and self-consciousness—the intimate nature of a being which, while acting and expanding, is yet at home with itself—distinguishable or self-distinguishing, in and throughout the intimate union with its contents in expansion and in action. It is the successful and pure expression of that whole aspect or tendency of anything real, which finds imperfect manifestation, with an accompaniment of friction and hindrance, in what has been described above as Formal or Logical Contradiction.

Negativity, then, it is submitted, is fundamental in all that is real. It is the same characteristic which has been described as the fact that experience is always beyond itself—the character, indeed, which we have described from the beginning as that of the universal, or, in other words, the tendency of every datum to transcend itself as a fragment and complete itself as a whole. It is what has been spoken of under the name of self-consciousness as the nature of a being which is itself and its other in one.

I am suggesting that Negation and Negativity have sometimes been confused with Contradiction. Contradiction, as we have tried to explain it, is an unsuccessful or obstructed Negativity; Negativity a successful or frictionless contradiction. Negation, according to our views which have been maintained elsewhere, is correlative to affirmation. The question about it is, not, how much meaning you can conjure out of a bare denial, but why, in the most highly developed experience, negation bears an equal part.15 And the answer is, that negation is fundamental in a systematic whole. Its members, in order to be, must also not be. In a sense this is true even of the whole itself, as active in them.

It seems erroneous, therefore, to hold that Negativity vanishes as perfection is approached. The reverse seems to be the case.

Negative and affirmative grow pari passu. When this is not admitted, we suspect a confusion between Contradiction and Negation. It is a point which seems full of significance, and which can hardly be too much insisted on, that otherness and the not-self, the vastness of the universe with which every self has to be reconciled, increases and does not diminish by the same movement by which friction, obstruction, conflict, are reduced and removed. So long as there is no science, and the world baffles and contradicts the mind of the savage at every turn, there can be no such conception of a reality not ourselves over against the self as there is in the days of Newton and Darwin. Whether it is here interpreted to the right effect or not, this matter is one which is, and ought not to be, neglected; viz., that negation plays a larger and not a smaller part as contradiction diminishes. It is contradiction in fact—confusion or conflict checking the orderly expansion of a system, whether a life or a theory—which hinders significant negation from appearing. A true negativity, say, an organised universe of desire, is a solved contradiction.

This, therefore, it is submitted, is the spirit of difference which survives even where contradiction has been overcome, and where we possess what is most real and most thinkable. Everything contributes to the whole, and the friction or failure of adjustment, which made the contradiction or deadlock, say, in the attempted combination of two or more desires, no doubt represented and enhanced the distinctness of the two sides, which survives in and tends to perfect the completed union. But it appears to me that we are allowing ourselves to lose sight of the full problem if we treat the mere fact of having refused to enter together into a whole—that is, of having been in contradiction, as something which, surviving as such, qualifies the successful union. The qualification, whatever it is, can surely count and work only as it survives within the completed whole, and it is in the factors of this whole itself that we have to find the experience of negativity; which is not, according to the view here insisted on, a note of imperfection, but is a character that is deepest in the most perfectly real experience.

What, then, do we mean by Negativity as a feature of experience? If it only means difference, the distinctness necessary to identification, is not a term connected with the idea of negation too violent and exaggerated to use for it? What is here meant is not precisely difference, but difference as subsumed under the general character of negation, that is to say, diversity or distinctness as regarded from the point of view of an attempted union; the attitude—to take a conscious being, probably the only ultimate case, as at least an illustration—of any spirit that demands a union or satisfaction, to that with which it is impelled to unite or in which it aspires to be satisfied. Now no doubt self-completion, satisfaction, felt solution of contradiction, are possible at many levels of life; and compatible with very easy and effortless experiences. But it is here suggested that in a true typical satisfaction—felt resolution of a contradiction—there is always a certain exaltation which depends essentially on the fact that in satisfaction the self goes out into the other, and, though or because it becomes enriched, is beyond itself. In a word, to put the whole paradox brutally, it is undergoing an experience which logically and in its fundamental structure is one with self-sacrifice.16 How can this be construed of anything but a finite being? Obviously not by help of such words as have just been used, presupposing limits and a temporal modification in the self. But there is a point of some interest which may at least serve to bring out the distinction of principle between taking Negation, as, like Contradiction, an incident of finiteness, and taking it as fundamental in Reality.

Hostility (Contradiction confused with Responsiveness (Negativity). Vraisemblance of the confusion.

4. It has already been implied that the current view of experience, influential even among philosophers, confuses Contradiction and Negativity. The principle that an element of Reality can find completion only in what is not itself, is confused with the imperfection of adjustment in finite beings or contents, which so far hinders such completion from taking place. And thus it comes to be held that Negation, like Contradiction, is a vanishing quantity, and that in a complete experience it would disappear. The point of interest which was just now referred to as emphasising the distinction of principle, is the extreme difficulty of avoiding this confusion. When we endeavour to insist upon the nature of self-consciousness, as self and other in one, by instances and analyses drawn from actual experience, we constantly find ourselves appealing to characteristics which depend upon ignorance and imperfection. The ideal which we have in mind is the self in the other, but in actual experience we get little more than the self and the other.17 Now the crux in the distinction of principle arises at this point, because of the appearance as if it were the discrepancy of self and other that for us gives interest to the realisation of self in other. We may take as a characteristic case that apparent responsiveness of external Nature to human moods, the perception of which is at least a great part of the apprehension of the beautiful. The freshness and strength of the feeling which such perceptions bring with them is surely in a great measure dependent on the fact that they come to us as undesigned coincidences. It is for this reason that they seem to bring to us a confirmation of our own sentiments which is rooted somewhere beyond the foundations of our own private being. If there were no novelty, no unfamiliarity, in a word, no friction nor discrepancy intruding upon our apprehension of natural beauty, then, we are inclined to conceive, the return upon ourselves would lose in vigour what it gained in facility, and the magic of the new and inexplicable would be lost in a dull sensation that it is all the same old story.

Now the case thus stated emphasises the opposite side of the question from that which was stated before. And the interest is that both are undeniably actual. It is true, as we urged, that the sense of the beyond, of a something which stands over against the mind, must be incalculably greater for Newton or for Darwin than for a savage to whom nature is chiefly a mysterious source of unaccountable interferences. But it is also true that a loss of novelty and strangeness—of friction in making the world our own—seems to very many minds destructive of poetry, and of responsiveness on Nature's part. The two tendencies are deep-rooted, and both no doubt must have their justification. Does complete knowledge and familiarity dull the interest of a landscape or a poem, or does it rather, as some would say, cause the response to be even deeper, and the significance to be more profoundly felt? Is novelty necessary to enjoyment, and ought a story to lose its interest when we find we have read it before?18 In these simple questions, which our every-day acquaintance with nature, art, and letters, forces upon us, we have an embodiment of the metaphysical issue which is the subject of this chapter. Is Logical Contradiction a necessary condition or accompaniment of a genuine conciliation and satisfaction; or is this, comparatively speaking, an accident of growth, giving place to an exaltation which increases with mastery and the removal of incidental interferences, as the self comes together with a not-self which is completer and more free from discrepancy? There can be no doubt that the latter alternative on the whole represents the truth. It is a bad romance which interests on the first reading only. It is a vulgar appetite for the marvellous which finds superstition more exciting and poetical than science. It is not the obstructive but the truly responsive different, which in the deepest sense attracts and exalts us.19 Of course the possibility of the former is rooted in the characteristic which constitutes the latter.

The other tendency we can empirically see to be of a vanishing nature; or else civilisation would, as the pessimist thinks, destroy the charm of the world. But the pessimist is not without his grounds, and novelty and inexplicability must have genuine features of attraction. The two sources of interest have, as we saw, the same root; the possibility of discord is involved in the claim to harmony. I n the first place, we can see the necessity that it should be so; if not, if their first aspect was purely deterrent, progress could never begin. Secondly, as we have said already, the response that is cumbered with strangeness and obstruction has the seal of an undesigned coincidence; we feel that the very enemy takes our part. These might be called formal feelings, like the analogous enjoyment of detecting a plot puzzle, or being amazed at unheard-of ingenuities of romance. But when the rind of things is pierced, and the content begins to be won, a deeper set of emotions is stirred; and we begin to rejoice in the substantive values which expand and affirm our self, and not merely in the surprise that the crust should yield to our instruments at all. There is more to be said than this, of course, about the delights of mystery; but we must be content with a single warning. The attitude of the mystic, which all philosophy must respect, does not depend on mystery in the vulgar sense; not on the marvellousness, or unaccountableness, or obscurity of ideas. The mystic, above all men, is absorbed in the greatness of a content for its own sake, and in its overwhelming clearness. It is not contradiction, not friction and obstruction, but immediacy as opposed to discursiveness that distinguishes his apprehension of the real.

We may thus understand, perhaps, or approach an understanding, how Logical Contradiction, though apparently a characteristic attending interest and value in the response of the not-self, is so really only as an introduction, and for vanishing reasons. And we can infer that to interpret our interesting sense of the beyond or “other” which furnishes our satisfactions, as due to our ignorance and defect, and as a vanishing quantity in the progress of the mind, is to confuse the incident with the essence; and that, as in the example of natural knowledge, the otherness becomes more definite as the object becomes more adequate to the subject.

It is partly, perhaps, with the view of construing these appearances that many thinkers have embarked on the adventure of treating all the content of life as a translation of the interaction of conscious beings. Here, no doubt, we seem to have a suggestion of an “other” which is able to maintain its independence, its otherness, along with any degree of transparency or familiarity. And I mention the speculation chiefly to make clear, if it does not seem clear, what is the particular crux which I have had in mind. We may hold it possible to imagine an intelligent being who has nothing left to learn from a sunset or even from a pain or pleasure; and, putting that impossible case, we should be unable to comprehend how they can any longer be experiences by union with which his self has anything to gain. But a person, it would be urged, however well you know him, is still an independent source of response, and it may be argued that here, and here only, you find the true other of a self.

I find a difficulty in this speculation which may rest on misapprehension, but which I will indicate in a few words because our view of externality is concerned. What we must have, on any theory, for Reality and especially for Negativity to be manifested in, is the content of life, pain, conflict, sacrifice, satisfaction. Now there is a difficulty, is there not? in getting these contents out of a universe in which nature is a system of persons, except by presupposing, in the outside or other of every thing regarded as a person, what might as well have been presupposed as the outside or other of the persons commonly recognised as such. It is things, is it not? which set the problems of life for persons; and if you turn all things into persons the differences which make life interesting are gone, except in as far as for practical purposes you turn the persons back again into things, i.e. your food, or your own body, or the place at which you were born. In making the outside adequate to the highest claims, you have turned it into an inside, and so, while professing to meet the problem of the outside in the highest degree, you have, it appears to me, really abandoned it altogether. If the instruments and attributes of my life are turned into persons, I surely am reduced to emptiness and deprived of my character, for without external activity my character is nothing. This criticism may be mistaken, but it may pass as affirming that we must perceive as actual the distinctions, which give life its content. There cannot be spirit, it would seem, constituted by nothing but pure spiritual centres.20 Spirit is a light, a focus, a significance, which can only be by contact with a “nature,”21 an external world.

Conclusions opposed to current opinions.

5. I will proceed to indicate the consequences of these ideas, well-known consequences, to which I have nothing to add, except just this, to urge that their point is lost if they are not conceived in their whole depth of paradox. I will try to express them through antitheses to current opinions, which will bring out the reasons for which they seem to me important; and these are also the characteristics which define their peculiarity.

Finiteness and evil not illusions.

α. It is a mistake to treat the finite world, or pain, or evil, as an illusion. To the question whether they are real or are not real, the answer must be, as to all questions of this type, that everything is real, so long as you do not take it for more than it is. On the view here accepted, finiteness, pain, and evil are essential features of Reality, and belong to an aspect of it which leaves its marks even on perfection. The view that they are illusions says that if we knew everything and could feel everything we should see and feel that there was no pain or evil at all. The view that contradiction is actual, and, more than that, is an exaggeration of a feature truly fundamental in reality, says that if we knew everything and could feel everything we should see and feel what finiteness, pain, and evil mean, and how they play a part in perfection itself. The way of meeting them—though it is not our business to preach, yet we may permit ourselves to illustrate our view by its effect—the way of meeting them is different in principle for these two theories. It is absurd and insulting to tell a man in pain or in sin that there is no such thing as pain or sin; it is neither absurd nor insulting to try to let him feel that of each of them something great and precious can be made. In a certain sense the two views, that which disposes of them as illusion, and that which accepts them as immanent in perfection though not just as they seem, may be forced into approximation. But our present task is to insist on their difference, to urge that all depends on being in earnest with the idea of negativity, and that from such a point of view the idea of illusion is rejected, though that of appearance, as something actual and yet contradictory, is accepted. I do not think that Hegel can be held to treat evil as an illusion, though he has used the word illusion in discussing the matter.22 As I understand, the illusion which he speaks of is not the belief that evil or finiteness is actual, but the belief that its actuality prevents the supreme end from being accomplished, whereas in truth it is essential to its accomplishment.

At all events, as against the idea that finiteness, pain, and evil are illusions, the view here indicated would maintain that finite conscious beings actually suffer and do wrong because it is their nature to complete themselves, and the general form of this completion involves as one factor in it the relative loss of self, and in the finite world this is emphasised by various degrees of what we have called Logical Contradiction, that is to say, inadequacy of the elements in which completion is sought. It would follow, and this seems to agree with the best ethical theory, that the ultimate logical structure, if I may so speak, of suffering and of evil is the same as that of satisfaction and of good. That is very noticeable, of course, in Green's theory of morality. It is undoubtedly not easy on this theory to distinguish otherwise than in degree between moral good and evil. And I believe this to be an indication that its main outline, its metaphysical fabric, is sound.23 The difference, in principle, is one of the adequacy of the contents in which self-completion is sought, and the consequent degree of their tendency to give rise to discord24 and contradiction. But in all important satisfaction there is a thrill, which is analogous to pain, due to the tension of self-completion; and theory seems to demand that, as Plato suggested, a perfect experience25 should be, not indifferent or neutral as the careless reader supposes, but such as to include and harmonise in itself the characteristics of pain and pleasure.

The perfect stability must not exclude activity.

β. The same mode of thought would be hostile to any conception of the divine nature which should involve stability and perfection in such a sense as to exclude activity and the general form of self-sacrifice. It is not intended to adhere to the view of those who conceive the divine being as finite, and as possibly one of a number. The intention is rather the reverse, namely, to maintain that finiteness eo ipso arises, if negativity is not given its full significance in the conception of the supreme nature. Dr. E. Caird's criticism of Aristotle's Theoretic Life,26 as literally interpreted, puts this point very clearly. It is not an imperfection in the supreme being, but an essential of his completeness, that his nature, summing up that of all Reality, should go out into its other to seek the completion which in this case alone is absolutely found. The “other” in question can only be finite experience; and it is in and because of this, and qualified by it, that the Divine nature maintains its infinity. And, therefore, it may be said that the general form of self-sacrifice—the fundamental logical structure of Reality—is to be found here also, as everywhere. Not, of course, that the infinite being can lose and regain its perfection, but that the burden of the finite is inherently a part or rather an instrument of the self-completion of the infinite. The view is familiar. I only plead that it loses all point if it is not taken in bitter earnest.27

I have used remorselessly phrases which imply time—“activity,” “going out of oneself,” “seeking and finding.” The objection to predicating time of the supreme experience lies in the nature of self-completeness, and if, on the one hand, succession seems incompatible with this, on the other hand, the idea of instantaneousness or simultaneity, which is a temporal idea, must not here be introduced to embarrass our thoughts. We must surely distinguish the conception of changing or progressing as a whole from the conception of uniting in a self-complete being characteristics which for us demand succession.28 If we were to be barred from ascribing content to the supreme being, because for us all content is developed in time, the end must be that for us the supreme being will be nothing.

“Surplus of pleasure over pain” not the true point at issue.

γ. Finally, our point of view is hostile to the form in which questions of optimism and pessimism are usually raised as to the surplus of pleasure over pain in the universe. Even Mr. Bradley has discussed this question with reference to the Absolute. But I cannot help thinking that it is improperly stated. What we as factors of Reality demand, what any factors of Reality as such must demand, is essentially, if I am right, not pleasure but satisfaction, that is, the sense that by help of the negative we have attained ourselves. This, no doubt, implies some pleasure; but the point is, if I am not altogether wrong, that in satisfaction the pain or difficulty, as a “moment”—i.e. a phase which remains an element—contributes actively to the positive attainment. Whereas, in comparing pleasure and pain as experienced facts of feeling, I presume that they retain their first positions as respectively plus and minus quantities.

This is one point, and another follows from it. The comparison of pleasure and pain in respect of quantity, even if we disregard the difficulties pointed out in anti-Hedonist polemic, betrays an inorganic point of view. The question cannot surely be how many moments of pain you have experienced, and whether you have had enough moments of pleasure, allowing for the intensities on each side, to outweigh them, but whether the experience has done its work, and returned you to yourself a complete or at least a completer being. So, it would seem, the problem should be stated about the universe. Not, if we could reckon up moments of equal pleasure and pain (to simplify the question by reducing it to a matter of counting) which of the two classes would be found to outnumber the other, but rather, is there reason for thinking that pain and finiteness are elements playing a definite part in the whole such that its completeness depends upon containing them? Broadly speaking, I suggest, experience indicates that a soul which has never known pain, like a nation which has never known war, has no depth of being, and is not a personality at all. Of course, this way of looking at the matter does not by itself dispose of the suggestion that the cost even of perfecting a soul may be too high; but the conviction that there essentially must be a certain cost corresponds to our best insight in the sphere of every day experience.

All-important whence we adopt suggestions of satisfaction.

δ. And so, in the end, if such a question as that of pleasure or pain in the Absolute has reality for us at all, it seems all-important whence we take the suggestions from which we are to learn what to look for. We ought surely not to start from commonplace experiences, but rather from those in which self-expression is at the fullest, the rare moments to which Aristotle alludes in the discussion of the Theoretic life. It may be noteworthy that Aristotle consents while Plato refuses to ascribe the feeling of pleasure to the Divine nature; and this may be connected with Aristotle's apparent omission of negativity from his conception of an ideally perfect experience. In his distinction, however, between the enjoyment of self-realisation and the enjoyment of recreation he throws out a hint which we might do well to follow. And for him as for us, apparently, the activities primarily devoted to sheer enjoyment and delight are wrested by the very structure of man's soul to severer forms of self-expression, so that the completest of all the creations in which as yet man has freely and spontaneously sought what at his best he most enjoys is, I presume, for us, as for Aristotle, that of poetical tragedy. This does seem to me to be a paradox worth noting. Can we seriously suppose that a nature which, when it reaches the summit of evolution so far as we have experienced it, is taking such a line as this, will find a perfection in any attainment which is not strongly marked with an analogous temper?29

I am only using this idea to set the question of optimism in a certain light; that is to say, to state it not as the question whether pain is as it were quantitatively submerged or neutralised by pleasure, but by looking for a completeness in which souls have found themselves, or realised their inherent structure; which completeness, considered as a whole, cannot be quantitatively compared with the factors or elements, such as pain or pleasure, subordinated within it. If we had no negative factor but Contradiction as such, then I suppose completeness could only be in its abolition, i.e. in an Absolute or perfection which bore in it no trace of the character present in finiteness and imperfection. But the distinction between Contradiction, as we defined it, and Negativity, seemed to be suggestive on this head.

The two aspects of the not-self. Is discord essential to selfhood?

6. It is on the whole an attractively simple view The two that the not-self means discord and collision with the self, and that the self is experienced, and self-hood indeed exists, by opposition to such a not-self;30 and that consequently, with the cessation of discordance, that is, of what we have called Logical Contradiction, the experiences of selfhood as such must cease and determine, though Individuality proper would all the more survive and prosper. For such a view the responsive not-self would have no existence, and consequently, all differentiations or sub-individualities within the Absolute would be in various degrees imperfect and self-discordant, and the Absolute itself could have no experience of selfhood. They would be mere appearances whose inner imperfection would reveal itself in their discrepancy as against an outer not-self. A conception of this kind, involving the admission that all minor individualities within the Absolute must be imperfect and self-discrepant, would cut many knots. It would release us from the attempt to understand the perfect experience as implying a society of perfect selves, and to explain the relation of our imperfect selves to such supposed perfect differentiations of the Absolute.31

But there is an obvious and all-important fact, already mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, which demands that any such ideas should only be accepted with considerable modification. It is quite plain that our conception of self has two32 sources in its relation to the not-self, and not one only; and that the sense of unity and reconciliation with the world beyond us is a far larger factor in our awareness of selfhood, and one which increases concomitantly with it, than is the sense of collision with the not-self.

Now if we are going to say that the sense of union with or satisfaction in the not-self—e.g. of co-operation with a society—is not an element in furnishing us with our conception of selfhood, then we are driven to this result, that the awareness of selfhood disappears in proportion as the self expands in excellence and success. And in a certain sense such a conclusion is tenable;33 and in this sense it might give us a useful indication when we come to consider the attribution of an awareness of self to the Absolute.

But the fundamental point is here. In agreement with the whole doctrine of this chapter, we must take it that the sense of discord and the sense of concord are rooted in one and the same characteristic of experience, the negativity which makes satisfaction possible, but which in imperfect conjunctions takes the form of contradiction. If we are willing to dispense with the conception of a system of perfect selves as constituting the Absolute, then we may admit that in some degree contradiction as well as harmony will attach to every finite self, because of its imperfection. Therefore, we may concede that however complete the reconciliation with the not-self, however true it is that the self at its best has in its world of externality an immense affirmative expansion, yet the determination of the sense of selfhood by contradiction with the not-self is an element never altogether absent from the finite self-consciousness, and one that co-operates in giving sharpness to the recognition of self.

The finite self, then, would be essentially such as we know it, imperfect and inconsistent with itself; though it would have in its nature an element of unity and expansion, suggesting a completion which as a finite self we must conceive that it would never attain. As experienced in the absolute experience, when the essence of perfection is to transmute and to triumph over imperfection, it would no longer, so the indication runs, be called a self.34 As we have seen and shall see, its substance would lend itself to new arrangements, to the constitution of new worlds in continuity and readjustment with other selves, so that the experience would be no longer describable as constituting a system of selves.

Nevertheless, the positive affirmation of the expanding self in its not-self, which we have seen to be the really essential element of self-consciousness, though not perhaps the limiting factor, gives an indication that cannot be disregarded either for the self in the Absolute, or for the Absolute if we attempt to regard it as a self. We have urged throughout that it is in the highest of our own experiences that we must seek for the clues to the fullest reality. And that we experience our self most completely just when we are least aware of its finite selfness35 is a clue which must not be forgotten. Defect and contradiction cannot constitute the really significant essence even of a finite being. It is positive awareness of an area or quality of self-maintenance that after all the self aspires to, though failure and contradiction may force on it a recognition of its limits—and it is this, the real foundation of selfhood, that is in some way possessed by the self in the Absolute, and by the Absolute so far as analogous to a self.

Has finite selfhood a value? The higher mysticism; Continuity with Absolute.

7. Thus we have attempted to show that while contradiction and discrepancy are inevitable in the constitution of the finite self, they are not the ultimate characters which the constitution of a self presupposes; and that this ultimate character, quite apart from speculations about the Absolute, reveals itself in increasing degrees through those experiences which exhibit the finite self as a self in the fullest sense. We have, however, admitted that much of what we habitually associate with the idea of a self in the “other,” is connected with the features of apparent discord and opposition, which give the idea of freshness and independence that seems to reinforce any responsiveness we meet with in nature. And it is not in the absence of negation, but in the growth pari passu and even in the fusion of the negative and positive responses, that we found reason to treat self-consciousness as conditioned, if by a negative, yet not by a contradiction.

A strong light is thrown upon the difference between these two conceptions by a problem which is fundamental for our attitude to the finite self and finite life in general. It is allied to the problem of pessimism, but is really rather the issue between the lower and the higher mysticism. Men have asked, from Greek times downwards at least, whether it is better to be born or not to be born? I do not mean in the commonplace sense of asking whether or no life or the world of lives contains more of pleasure or of pain, as, in my opinion, we roughly and rather unthinkingly distinguish them. On our attitude to this form of the question I have said something above, and shall have more to say below. But the point now before us is different and much more serious. It is not a survey of life by a standard taken within it, but an ultimate question as to the place and functions of finite life in the universe; the question insisted on by mysticism in its popular and aggressive forms.

Every student of Plato must often have longed to know what Plato held to be the function and justification of terrestrial life on the whole and in the scheme of the universe. One might state the problem crudely by asking if he ever admitted that any soul was the better for undergoing or having undergone the life on earth. Did our knowledge, our morality, our love of beauty, partially and laboriously won in the conflict of sensations and desires, seem to him to be of any value, for ourselves or for the universe, which would not have equally been real—more real—without them? Did he consciously apply to the whole being of the finite the principle so obvious in his detailed theory, that hindrances and contradictions are opportunities and starting-points? It would be beyond our present subject to attempt an answer to these questions as regards Plato.36 But they serve as an introduction to the standpoint of mysticism.

“Earth, these solid stars, this weight of body and limb,

Are they not sign and symbol of thy division from Him?”

These lines, as I understand them,37 show an interesting deviation towards natural mysticism in a poem which contains along with them a splendid expression of “immanence.”38 And so the mysticism of the East, at any rate in a popular stage which passed into European thought largely through Schopenhauer, answers decisively that it would be better if no one were born. Self, self-consciousness, self-will are held to be disturbances, diseases of the universe, and illusions in the full meaning of the word, that is to say, not merely appearances whose contradictions point to a fuller reality, but phenomena which essentially involve the total contradiction and disappointment of the ideas and desires which constitute them. And this disappointment and contradiction are not held to be in any way instrumental to a realisation of the content of such ideas and desires in any form whatever. A link between such an attitude and the constructive conceptions of Western thought is indeed supplied by the reservation that though not instrumental to any fulfilment of itself, the finite world is connected with the one desirable fulfilment—its own suppression—by a law imposing certain conditions on the attainment of the goal. It cannot be suppressed by violence, e.g. by suicide; the evil lies deep in the will to live, and only the suppression of this will by means which take a form akin to art, morality, and religion, can put a stop to the vicious circle of the wheel of life.

The same paradox is inherent in popular Christianity, and is acutely felt.39 And the popular solution is not unlike the solution of Schopenhauer's Buddhism. It presses itself on the earliest reflection, and we may state it in the words in which Plato refers to it. “We mortals are here on duty, and must not withdraw till we have our orders.”40 Heaven, we understand, though much better than what we have, would be forfeited by the attempt to grasp at it prematurely. And if our enquiry presses behind the details of the “scheme of salvation” and we ask, “But was the Fall itself a part of the scheme of salvation, and is a world with sin and atonement a better world than one without them?” it seems as if different views may be taken as to what a typical Christianity should answer. For Christianity, no doubt, sin is the greatest of evils—the evil; and the victory over it the object of the world. But it would seem that for a Christianity which has the courage of its opinions the idea of the victory involves the idea of the Fall, and the answer would be that the scheme of salvation, involving finiteness and sin, was essential to the nature of God and the perfection of the universe. Speaking at the level of reflective orthodoxy, it would appear hardly possible to admit that anything so deep-rooted as the connection of the doctrine of the Trinity with the Incarnation and the Atonement should be considered as an excrescence on the plan of the universe or an arrangement contrived in time to remedy an incidental aberration. Thus we are brought in sight of the philosophical conception, which has frequently been applied to the interpretation of Christian dogma, that finiteness is essential to true infinity, and that the two are continuous and interwoven, not exclusive and antagonistic alternatives.41

It is from this point of view that we have to adjust our conceptions of the defectiveness of the self and of self-consciousness. We are, broadly speaking, to enter into the idea that finite experience, though itself defective, is neither an accidental disturbance of the Quiet,42 nor a regrettable deviation from the Perfect. The absolute or infinite should present itself to us as more of the finite, or the finite at its best, and not as its extinction. More, not in time nor in quantity, but in completeness, in progress along the path of continuity which is indicated by the nature of things. It is at bottom a logical blunder to hold as obvious truth that merely to annul the finite is to affirm the infinite, i.e., that merely not to be in the finite world is logically and per se a presumable gain. In logical phrase, the bare negation has no significance. To be nearer perfection than on earth must mean, if it is to mean anything, not merely to be rid of terrestrial life, but to have realised it and more.

The above treatment of the relation of self and not-self in self-consciousness is in harmony with these ideas. As in the antithesis of morality and religion, so in the antithesis of self-consciousness and what is more than self, it is our conviction that a positive continuity can be exhibited, and that the defects of the given not merely necessitate transcendence but positively indicate its nature. It is after all not the bare negation by a not-self, but reconciliation with it and expansion through its response, on which self-consciousness in its fulness depends. Satisfaction and sacrifice, which for us are opposite examples of the same fundamental structure,43 must both contribute of their nature to the complete experience. And such an experience would possess and absorb into its being all that finite selfhood exists to achieve, self-maintenance in self-transcendence.

  • 1.

    I mean by self-consciousness the recognition of self in other as experienced in cognition, practice, the aesthetic attitude, and religion. Its essence is not the perception of the whole self as an object by itself as a subject (Appearance, 2nd ed., p. 111), but the recognition in externality of a counterpart, whether discordant or harmonious, with its own principle.

  • 2.

    A very just illustration of this problem and of the general lines of its solution is to be found in the aesthetic experience of the “sublime” (see A. C. Bradley, Oxford Lectures on Poetry).

  • 3.

    See Bradley, Appearance, 2nd ed., p. 562; and cf. author's Companion to Plato's Republic, notes on 436 B and 479 A.

  • 4.

    Bradley, l.c.

  • 5.

    Cf. Bradley in Mind, lxxii. p. 173.

  • 6.

    When he introduces the judgment of magnitude, “We see it bigger and smaller,” the fact becomes doubtful. But there is enough truth in the statement for his immediate purpose. There is a tendency to the error in question.

  • 7.

    I meet with this difficulty in McTaggart's Studies in Hegelian Dialectic, p. 9. If I am right, the term opposite, applied to predicates, has none but a rhetorical meaning. Cf., however, the same author's Commentary on Hegel's Logic, sect. 116, where “opposites” are terms referred to a common basis and reconciled by distinction.

  • 8.

    Metaphysical criticism directed to establishing degrees of reality, after the manner of Plato and those who follow him, is of course the completest support of this point of view. It is most striking to note that Hegel desires to treat “Widerspruch” as a category of his Logic, that is, as a necessary predicate of reality at a certain stage, apart from the working contradiction by which every category passes into its successor (McTaggart, Commentary, sect. 118-9).

  • 9.

    See above, p. 225.

  • 10.

    Encyclop. p. 119, Zusatz 2.

  • 11.

    Werke, Bd. v. 249.

  • 12.

    Werke, Bd. v. 332.

  • 13.

    For different views on this question see McTaggart, Studies in Hegelian Dialectic, sect. 9 and 117; Prof. McGilvary, Mind, vii. p. 397.

  • 14.

    See author's Logic, 2nd ed., i. 289, on place of Negation in Knowledge. Cf. Bergson, Évolution créatrice, p. 315, who on this point seems unaware of Plato's profound discussions.

  • 15.

    Cf. author's Logic, loc. cit. M. Bergson has discussed the question at length (Évolution créatrice, loc. cit.). His answer, though emphasising the factor of interest and sentiment, falls within the general account given by Plato and others, that negation is the spirit of an interdependent system. This is why often, instead of affirming a, it is convenient to deny b.

  • 16.

    There is self-sacrifice, in form, in so far as the self contradicts itself as a condition of self-expression. But the form may include a contradiction we do not approve of—one which minimises the self on the whole—and then we call it wrong-doing.

  • 17.

    Nettleship, Biography of Green, p. 206.

  • 18.

    Cf. the question how far hostility to sense is necessary to the sublime (Professor A. C. Bradley, Oxford Lectures, p. 56). On the whole, and when the experience is at its best, it is not so.

  • 19.

    The two tendencies in the appreciation of beauty which I have taken as examples of interest depending on Logical Contradiction and on simple Negativity respectively, are curiously parallel to the two views of the conditions of the consciousness of self, which will be discussed below, p. 247.

  • 20.

    Cf. Caird, Critical Philosophy of Kant, ii. 536; Bradley, Mind, li. p. 327 note.

  • 21.

    How far is such a view cognate with the ideas of M. Bergson? Would he say that la vie would he better, and could be at all, without matter, which appears to be for him in the main the débris or detritus of life, and yet in some way its positive sine qua non?

  • 22.

    Encyclopädie, sect. 212; cf. McTaggart, Studies in Hegelian Dialectic, Chap. v.

  • 23.

    A theory of the bad self, such as we have in Mr. Bradley's Ethical Studies, is needed to work out the distinction of good and bad in conduct.

  • 24.

    It must be remembered (Bradley, Appearance, 2nd ed., p. 364) that the discord which is not felt may be the most extreme. The hardened sinner is an obvious case. That the inadequate self-completeness is sought as true self-completeness is an essential point of the bad self. It is involved in the statement of the text.

  • 25.

    Philebus, 33 B; Nettleship's Remains, ii. 311.

  • 26.

    Evolution of Theology and Greek Philosophy, i. 382; ii. 25 ff.

  • 27.

    I have had much in mind Nettleship's fragment on the Atonement.

  • 28.

    I may refer again to one of Nettleship's fragments, that on Immortality. Cf. also Kant's doctrine of the infinite moral progress as seen by God.

  • 29.

    Is it tolerable to contemplate enjoying such imaginations without sharing something of the experiences which suggest them? And if the idea is tolerable, yet could such enjoyment be possible? A truth may be hidden under the notion that the saved are to delight in the vision of the sufferings of hell (Browning, Johannes Agricola), but our ordinary thoughtless hope that others have suffered for the happiness and amusement of those who come after, who are to enter upon the inheritance without a pang, strikes me as essentially one with that mediaeval mood, and as prima facie revolting. Its error is in wholly separating satisfaction from pain. The truth must bring them nearer together. Cf. Introduction, p. 14, on Mr. Bertrand Russell's remarks on Tragedy in his essay entitled, “A Free Man's Worship” (Philosophical Essays).

  • 30.

    Taylor, Metaphysic, p. 340; cp. pp. 61 and 350.

  • 31.

    The difficulty raised by Mr. McTaggart's view. See Studies in Heglian Cosmology, sect. 22 ff.

  • 32.

    See Taylor, Elements, p. 350. “The two typical forms of experience from which the concept of self appears to be derived,” I can hardly reconcile this with the exclusive prominence given to the negative form, e.g. on p. 340.

  • 33.

    Cf. “self-consciousness” in the bad sense, the disappearance of which certainly means a strengthening of the self.

  • 34.

    Bradley's Appearance, 2nd ed., p. 529.

  • 35.

    Cf. again the case of self-consciousness in the bad sense.

  • 36.

    See Caird, Evolution, of Theology in Greek Philosophy, on Timaeus, i. 254.

  • 37.

    Tennyson, “The Higher Pantheism.” I take the poet to mean that it is finite life which separates the soul from God; I have known it to be held that he meant the hint of separation to lie in the possibility of death, inherent in the body.

  • 38.

    “Speak to Him thou for He hears—”

  • 39.

    e.g. Twelfth Night, Act i. Sc. 5. Fool. “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother's soul being in heaven.”

  • 40.

    Phaedo, 62 B.

  • 41.

    The only important difference between my view and Dr. McTaggart's (Studies in Hegelian Cosmology, sect. 243 ff.), is on the question of the attitude of Christianity to virtue and to sin (see especially sect. 255). Technically, to Christianity, I should have thought, virtue per se is nothing; and no man can take part in a Christian liturgy except as, officially, a sinner. It is an overstrained feeling, but not wholly false to the Christian attitude, which makes men sing “Doing is a deadly sin; Doers shall be damned.” I was much struck by a passage in some novel, where a child says to a respectable and worthy old gentleman, “Of course I know that you are a bad, bad man.” “Why, my clear?” “Because I heard you say so in church on Sunday.”

  • 42.

    Caliban upon Setebos. The Christian idea of a “state of probation” is at least an attempt to furnish a logical nexus between finiteness and perfection, though the need of probation remains unexplained.

  • 43.

    Page 242 above.