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Lecture 7: Ourselves and the Absolute

“Man itself” beyond “man.” That it is so is the bedrock fact of the life

1. IT seems desirable before going further to make an attempt at stating simply and clearly what appears to us to be the fundamental nature of the inference that carries us beyond ourselves to affirm an absolute being. It is not merely the logical outline of the argument that needs explanation; it is what this, rightly understood, involves—the whole estimate of the relative value and significance of different provinces of experience, and the question where we are to look for that which will most help us to appreciate the whole. It is here that current opinion seems so seriously defective, and that even first-rate metaphysical speculation hardly shows full appreciation of the resources open to it.

The doctrine of a rational reality transcending the given has been subjected to two main forms of criticism, the one aimed at the rationality of the real, the other at its transcendence of the given. The former may be summed up in three words of Bergson, the phrase which he loves to reiterate, “tout est donné”; the latter was first expressed by Aristotle in his criticism of Plato's form of the good, and continues to be urged by considerable thinkers to-day. The latter is the subject of the present chapter; the former will be discussed at a further point in our argument. It will be time enough to show that freedom and initiative are one with the rationality of the real when we have shown that a real transcending the actual is the very substance and spirit of our experience.

The archetype, then, of one-half the later criticism of absolutist theory may be found in the impatient observation that Aristotle has more than once let fall with reference to the Platonic doctrine of Form, “What on earth can they mean by ‘the thing itself,’ as e.g. ‘man himself,’ [or more strictly ‘itself’], if, as is the case, the definition of man itself is the same with that of man?”1

What, indeed? If things as given to us, or man as we have experience of him, can have their nature defined, so that the definition shall include self-consistently all that they are, and nothing beyond it, what more can we possibly want? If that is all, frisch zu; let us set down our definitions of man and of nature in terms adequate to our experience and to which our experience is adequate, without internal incoherence and external reference, and be done with troublesome speculation.2

But, as we all know, here the difficulty begins. If you set down a description of man as he seems to be, you find that his self—what gives character to the appearance, and is needed to understand it—lies outside what you have portrayed. If you now try to define or describe, coherently and intelligently, the self of man, or indeed of anything, you find that you have got far beyond what we actually possess in our experience. The moment we enter upon the reflective study of man, we learn that his individuality, his self-identity, lie outside him as he presents himself in time.3 His nature, according to Green's phrase which goes to the root of the matter, is in process of being communicated to him.

Now if all this is so, there seems to be a sufficient reason why things themselves, or man itself,4 should be contrasted with things and man as prima facie given to our experience. The “self of man” or of things will not be a reduplication of their given being, but will be that way of being in which, in Platonic language, they can really be, i.e. can maintain themselves, can experience or be experienced without contradiction. And if this way of being proves to be very different from the ways which were the first to be suggested and accepted in our interpretations of experience, that is only a case of the universal destiny which is manifest in all growth and education; and even if the character which things bore in our immediate world seems to be absorbed and to disappear in their fuller realisation, this is a characteristic for which there is the strongest every-day analogy in the relation of our commonplace perception and sentiment not to the most remote abstractions, but to the full concrete apprehension of what life contains. Ultimately, of course, an absolute must be all-inclusive, and even impotence must find a place in it.

But nevertheless, to any mode of reasoning which rests on accepting as final what we imagine to be first given, whether immediate experience or divided personality, it is a fair rejoinder, and one not nearly enough relied upon, to say, “There is nothing in the world worth having, doing, or being which does not involve a self-transcendence, and an enormous self-transcendence, of the type which you deny.” Think of the attitude demanded of one by, say, a masterpiece of art. You say you do not want an Absolute in which you would not recognise yourself. But you scarcely recognise yourself when for a moment Shakespeare or Beethoven has laid his spell upon you. It is a difficult matter to deal with truths, which, as it sometimes appears to the present writer, every one accepts, and no one believes. And perhaps the most efficacious shelter of disbelief is the observation that there is nothing new in them. But there would be enough of novelty were we to believe them in bitter earnest.

Thus it is largely in obedience to commonplace prejudices that interpreters of Plato have agreed to find in him a recognition of two worlds.5 The really fundamental point for him I take to have been that there was and could be only a single world, and that what we commonly presume to be a world is not one at all, not possessing the features which belong to the self of anything, to a stable and coherent complex.

The prejudice which expresses itself in the popular interpretation of Plato and the popular conception of idealism is really the same which levels to-day the reproach of Agnosticism at the critical effort to establish the nature of a world which could be taken as real. We have the given, it seems to say, and why go further? You can get to nothing concrete or actual; you admit that you cannot possess the experience in which you say your Absolute consists; why dissolve what you have by hostile criticism when it leads to nothing beyond? So with the votaries of Personality. Metaphysical analysis seems to them to go further and fare worse; to abandon or dissolve the solid facts of individual life and will and the self, and to reach no assignable result which can be put in their place. It seems to them a gratuitous abandonment of the substance for the shadow.6

All this is supposed to be rooted in common sense, in every-day thought and feeling, and it is not surprising that it should assert itself strongly. It is really rooted, not in common sense, but in the attitude most opposed to common sense, that of common sense theory. There are two points, however, that should be borne in mind with reference to its latest form.

One of these is the substantive unity in the history of philosophy of that point of view which takes us beyond the given, or what the first interpretation assumes to be the given. There is a tendency to be lost in the details, and to forget that when we reject this way of looking at things we have to meet not merely this or that modern writer, with his special form of dialectic, but the whole position of idealistic philosophy from Plato down to living thinkers, which is in the main perfectly simple and direct. And the other is the deficient disposition to appeal for corroboration and explanation to the nature of our best experience itself, and to its progressive difference from what is prima facie given. Metaphysic itself to-day appears to be infected with this diffidence, and to be in consequence too deeply imbued with prejudices resting on prima facie appearance. I will deal with the two points just mentioned in the two following sections.

The spirit of Logic must carry us to the whole.

2. The essential argument of metaphysic might be described in general as an argument a contingentia mundi. And the failure to recognise the true nature of this argument and its identity in all Idealist philosophies, depends ultimately on an inadequate conception of logical determination. If, one might almost say, if we have settled it as a matter of principle that a conclusion cannot transcend its premisses either in certainty or in content, then we can never admit the central position of metaphysic. All the commonplace analogies, such as that water cannot rise higher than its source,7 or that you cannot get more out of a box than you put into it, are wholly hostile to the nature which metaphysical analysis finds in rational procedure. Whether or no it is correct to say that Aristotle held some reasoning to be analytic, it is certain that his definition of the syllogism describes in so many words the synthetic character by which thought builds up its world, “Discourse in which certain things being posited, something else than what is posited necessarily follows on their being true.”8 And we may add, what the theory of induction has made clear, that in the conclusion the premisses become not only more significant, but more certain. It will be objected that this is only the case if the conclusion affirms a fact independently verified, for the explanation of which a particular premiss is demanded to the exclusion of any other. And it would commonly be denied that there is any such relation between a conclusion and its premisses when the premisses or inductive hypothesis have not been shown, by the trial and rejection of a number of others, to be the only ones that are compatible with the required conclusion.

I am convinced that such a view underrates the continuity and fails to apprehend the essence of logical process.9 What really happens in any inference whatever is that the data and premisses are brought together in a new whole, and by reason of the new combination their respective limitations, as isolated factors, are pro tanto removed, and a new character is made explicit, which belongs to them in their new combination. Now it is impossible that such a new character should not bring with it a step towards non-contradiction, and new contacts with the general whole of experience; it is impossible that a new meaning read into a proposition, a new application of a purpose, a new sensitive fibre developed in an emotional disposition, should not affect the issue of its truth completeness or stability.10

This, then, is the nerve of logical determination, viz. the removal of error or contradiction by means of a positive union in which data or premisses destroy each other's defects, and give rise to a new totality which transcends its factors. This is the essential process of experience throughout, and in all its kinds, and when traced and analysed in propositional form it reveals itself as logic—the creative and originative nexus of mind as such. It may be made explicit, as we have argued above in Lecture II., under the principle which, when abstractly stated, is called the principle of non-contradiction; but, as we have seen, this principle is simply a formulation of the life of the whole, and is not subject to the formal limitations which its abstract appearance may suggest. I will restate this point in a few words.

First,11 you cannot escape the application of the principle by what might be called a logical quietism. You cannot say, “If I affirm little or nothing, I am safe from being forced forwards into self-transcendence.” For all negation, all exclusion, rest, as we know, on affirmation. You can never satisfy the principle which demands consistency, so long as anything remains outside your system. The negation which puts it outside carries an affirmation which must bring it inside. A vacuum or nothingness, or an “I” or an “is” reduced to the merest point, are not self-consistent by force of emptiness, but are nests of contradictions. Each is entangled in a congeries of relations, and yet, claiming no explicit content, it has no power to unify or organise them.12 It is an old argument, but it needs to be insisted on in view of the notion that the principle of non-contradiction can be satisfied by mere emptiness, and has no driving-power towards the concrete.

Secondly and more particularly, therefore, as we mentioned in Lecture I.,13 the operation of the principle cannot be restricted to the maintenance of the propositions whose denial involves their assertion, as when we say, “There is no truth.” That is to say, it cannot be so restricted unless we have learned to discern this characteristic, in its real meaning, in all the great provinces of experience, and more distinctly as they are greater.

We are apt to think that within these provinces—the spheres of our ordinary informal experience and interest—we can deny this and that, without in any way shaking the general framework of our world; and therefore we are apt again to be misled into supposing that here we have to do with a lower order of certainty than that attaching to formal principles with little apparent content. But as I attempted to show above,14 this apparent freedom to deny is only possible because in every such negation so very much more is asserted than is touched by the negation's immediate content, so that the negation asserts affirmative truth without itself being false. For when we make negative observations in the world of historical fact, or of beauty, or of morality, our negation is in every case founded upon the affirmation, as a whole, of the world within which we are making a denial. In every negation, then, and not solely in that of certain formal propositions, an affirmative content is asserted. The difference is, that a negation which can be true asserts immensely more than it denies, while a negation which must be false—the negation of an a priori proposition—affirms only what it denies, and nothing more. In the former case we are pointing out a contrast or distinction within the content of some enormous general affirmation; in the latter we are addressing our negation to the whole affirmation of our world as such. But if in the former case we were to attempt a parallel procedure to that which we appeal to in the latter, we should obtain the same result with substantially better justification. If we were to say, not “that is not well done,” but “there is no morality”; or instead of “that is not good art,““there is no aesthetic perception,” we should be convicted of self-contradiction in the same manner and degree as if we had said, “There is no truth.”15 As we realised the meaning of our negation, the world of morality and of beauty would spring up and reaffirm themselves as at once the condition and contradiction of our denials. The fuller experience, in spite of the room it leaves for negation in defining the system of its members, is more truly supported by the principle of non-contradiction than the simple and abstract proposition. It is really because we cannot conceive ourselves denying the complete world of our experiences that we are obliged to hold the simplest a priori truths to be affirmed in their negation. They have to be affirmed because they are the world at its minimum, with only “a single neck.” But non-contradiction has really a stronger purchase, the more there is to lose by contradiction.16

This, then, the positive and constructive principle of non-contradiction—in other words, the spirit of the whole—is the operative principle of life as of metaphysical thought. We might call it, as I said, in general the argument a contingentia mundi, or inference from the imperfection of data and premisses. And it is this, essentially, and overlooking differences of degree, in virtue of which alone we can at all have progressive and continuous experience, whether as inference, or as significant feeling, or as expansion through action. It is this through which my perception of the earth's surface makes one system with my conception of the Antipodes, or the emotion attending the parental instinct passes into the wise tenderness of the civilised parent, and the instinct itself, as we are told, develops into the whole structure of social beneficence.17 And it is this, only further pursued, that forces us to the conception of the Absolute. I am aware of no point at which an arrest in the process can be justified.

This, then, is the fundamental nature of the inference to the absolute; the passage from the contradictory and unstable in all experience alike to the stable and satisfactory, the βέβaιoν. It is the transition which is carefully worked out for every side of life in Plato, and which has formed the framework of serious philosophy ever since. It is misapprehended if we call upon it to put us in possession of an ultimate experience which is ex hypothesi incompatible with our limited being. What it will do for us is much more, relevant to the transformation of our lives. It exhibits to us in their relative stability and reciprocal suggestions of completeness the provinces of experience which comprise the various values of life; it interprets the correlation of their worth with their reality, and of both with their satisfactoriness to the soul. We put the whole enquiry in a wrong perspective, and lose its truth and its significance, if we make some special form of human destiny the unspoken interest of our arguments; if, one might say, when we refer to the Absolute we are really thinking of Heaven. We should not expect metaphysic to predict terrestrial history; and still less, therefore, that which lies beyond the grave. What it may do, and in the hand of the masters has always done, is, starting from any datum, no matter what, to point out what sort of thing is in actual life—which is in the Absolute now as ever—the higher and more stable; and what is the more defective and the more self-contradictory; and to indicate the general law or tendency by which the latter is absorbed in the former. In this way, it seems true that it “gives us hope,” but it does not seem true that it does not give us knowledge and guidance. “Higher, truer, more beautiful, better, and more real, these, on the whole, count in the Universe as they count for us. And existence, on the whole, must correspond with our ideas. For, on the whole, higher means for us a greater amount of that Reality, outside of which all appearance is absolutely nothing.”18

The higher experiences are the clue to true individuality and to the mode of inclusion of the lower.

3. We have seen that, from a logical point of view, the criterion of self-maintenance degrees of being, or non-contradiction applies not merely to fundamental abstract principles but, as Plato applied it, to the several worlds and levels of concrete experience. It holds good, we have seen, of significant sensation as in beauty, and of feeling in the sense of emotion, or of pleasure and pain, no less than of strictly logical structures, such as science and philosophy, or of the ideas which operate in morality, in social behaviour, or in religion.

Now all these types of experience are phases of individual living, stages in which the “individual” maintains himself in different modes and degrees, and with different achievements in the way of completeness and consistency. And therefore it seems all-important when discussing the nature of the individual to draw into evidence their main characteristics, and to avoid acquiescing in conceptions of ourselves adopted from our first reflections on the apparently separate human being wie er geht und steht. It is obvious that if we take our idea of the individual from what he is at the minimum of his conscious being, say in the state of fear or ineffective desire, we shall get a wholly different reading of his nature from that which will suggest itself if we take into account the social aesthetic or religious consciousness and their characteristic or their highest development. And further, identifying degrees of reality with degrees of being or self-maintenance, it seems fair to take, as under one pretext or another is usually assumed in ethical theory, the fuller self for the truer self. And from this simple consideration, which many will call an elementary platitude, very serious results appear to me to follow, which are habitually neglected. The individual, then, does not attain the maximum of individuality in his exclusive self when he feels himself repellent against others. And if personality is taken in the strict sense of the character of being a subject of rights and duties among other similar subjects, then personality itself is only possible in virtue of an individuality which already transcends it. For there can be no system of rights and duties except in virtue of an identity of wills in which rights and duties become a mere machinery of daily life. You cannot coerce the individual and organise his life within a system of “persons” except on the ground of a consciousness on his part which at bottom desires to be coerced and to be organised. So individuality, the principle of reality and the consistent whole, takes us on beyond personality in the strict sense, beyond the consciousness of self which is mediated by an opposing not-self, into the region where we go out of the self and into it by the same movement, in the quasi-religion of social unity, in knowledge, art, and in religion proper. And in all these experiences, as the repellent self-consciousness diminishes, and the sense of unity with the world and with man becomes pre-eminent—in all these individuality is strengthened, and the self, though less in opposition to a not-self, is more itself, and is more at home. And when freedom and spontaneity reach their climax in religion the self no longer insists on its exclusive claim, and the whole being goes out together into the service which is perfect freedom. In all this there is nothing that is not familiar, but the result of it for the theory of personality or individuality does not seem to be readily apprehended. It is plain that the height of individuality is to be looked for in experiences which raise to the acutest pitch the sense and fact of identity with man nature and God. And if we ask for a definition or identification which will give us the individual finite being, per se, so that we can say, this much and no more is he, and at this level we have him and can estimate his separate value,19 there is nothing of the kind to be found. If we take him at his best he exhibits quite other features than those which his normal being tempts us most to emphasise, and if we could take him as he really is, it may be again that the best we know of him would be wholly left behind.

At any rate, to repeat the point precisely, two things seem made out. First, the minimum of individuality has not, any more than the minimum meaning of a word,20 any claim to be accepted as the normal and determining standard. In such questions as that of the communicability and objectivity of feeling, or of the identity between human souls or of the continuity of the maximum experience of the self, there is no justification whatever for making our commonplace sense of impotence, isolation, or self-will the basis of our theories. The formal separateness of “individual” centres of experience is progressively outweighed by their material identity of content and emotions, and if we were to base our theories on what human beings are as they sing together, or fight on the same side, or sacrifice themselves for those dear to them or for a cause, or think with the full power of their intelligence, the difference in our attitude would not be one of idle sentiment alone, but would be a logical and metaphysical difference of immense significance. It would consist in the emphasis laid on identity of content and system in which different selves are one, and in which the usually unrealised continuity of the single self with itself also ultimately lies, as against the differences of organic sensations and limits of immediate experience determined by impotence, which appear to be the grounds of distinction that keep “a mind” apart from others, and, for the same reason, from itself. And, as is suggested by a modern view on which I have commented before, the self, as that which is our unity, the good of life, and that for which we care, would turn out to lie not in a consciousness of the not-self but in a content or quality of being, which, as the view referred to admits, is most completely realised when the antagonistic consciousness of the not-self is at its minimum. This set of notions would give a wholly different lead on the problem of consciousness of self in the Absolute from that which is the outcome of taking self-consciousness as a reflective awareness of self, dependent21 on an adverse not-self.

And, secondly, this comparison of the higher regions of experience with each other and with those that are less complete enables us in principle to understand the relation of the less to the more inclusive and perfect conditions of mind as a world, and thus to meet one of the fundamental difficulties in the conception of an absolute experience. Such an experience, we say, includes and absorbs the experiences which we possess severally—includes them positively and in a fuller form of each, yet without reproducing them in their separate distinctness. I am inclined to think that the difficulty of in any way conceiving this relation as between any given conditions of mind and any others is the main hindrance to grasping the notion of a continuity between our defective self and a perfection transcending it. No one, it seems, is unreasonable enough to make it a fatal difficulty that we do not profess by metaphysical argument to attain and come into possession of the perfect experience. But there is a natural scepticism as to the conceivability of our alternating and seemingly heterogeneous moods and phases of mind being fused, absorbed, and transcended in any single mode of experience that could really be continuous with all. How can they be contained in it? How and under what conditions can the partial moods, which are really in it, subsist apart from it under the conditions of finite being?22

This difficulty can, I believe, in principle be removed from the point of view on which we are now insisting.

We are saying, then, that the clue to the nature of individuality lies in the contrast between the forms of mental life in which self-transcendence is at its minimum with those in which it approaches its maximum. There is a prima facie difficulty due to the difference between true self-transcendence and the alienation from self which lies in the unconsciousness of limitation or impotence. Obviously the latter is almost perfect where the limitation and impotence—the de facto alienation from self—are extreme,23 while a great measure of true self-transcendence, as in some types of religious emotion, may be accompanied by an acute and despairing sense of impotence and bondage. But the standard should be the amount of genuine self-identification with the content of reality; the accompanying consciousness of bondage or of freedom is so wholly relative to the range of the self's outlook that it might in some cases be taken as an indication that varies inversely as the fact.

Passing over this difficulty, then, as only apparent, we can see that in the normal case our less complete attitudes are absorbed and united in those which are more complete, and tend to reappear in their fragmentary character as our impotence is revealed by relative or absolute diminution of mental or bodily force. As life becomes more finite, in short, our attitudes tend to become alternative and successive rather than fused and solid. It is a simple and necessary consequence of the grades of our impotence, in a world which, though one in principle, is full of diverse aspects, solicitations, and opportunities. The only real difficulty is to see how in principle the aspects and attitudes can be fused or absorbed into one, and not merely blended or conjoined.

In the first place, we must remember that our phases and attitudes never are wholly severed; that man is never in any phase purely feeling, purely practical, purely moral, aesthetic, intellectual, or religious. There is one kind of unity—it is a familiar topic—before the evolution of differences; there is another, we hope and contend, as they are absorbed and unified in perfection. But also in the intermediate region in which we live, where the differences are very marked and insistent, there is always the unity of feeling in which the self has a certain solidarity with itself, with others, and with nature. So that there is always a basis of repose, a faith and purpose and appreciation uniting the man with somewhat beyond him; and you do not and cannot get, for example, morality apart from religion—the reliance, that is, on the particular will, judgment, and sense of duty, apart from the social and the cosmic basis of life, which imply man's reliance on a strength and wisdom beyond his own.

Bearing this preliminary point in mind, let us consider the relation of morality, theoretical cognition, the aesthetic attitude, and what we commonly call religion, to the more intense and inclusive forms of the religious consciousness.

Religion, like other forms of experience, has many modes and levels, and because of this, a single answer to the question how it is related to science and philosophy can hardly be given. In its primitive form it seems to show but little analogy to the scientific or speculative consciousness;24 in its developed and intermediate forms, in the civilisations known to history, it seems, if anything, hostile. So, too, in its relation to art and to morality, there is plenty of ground in many of its stages for pronouncing it hostile, or at best indifferent, both to one and to the other. Still, as we have just seen, actual life can never allow its activities to become wholly detached from one another, and the logical connection between them which the nature of consciousness implies never wholly ceases to exhibit itself in the manner of their interdependence. Even the myths of the savage, as we are told to-day, are a first effort at interpretation of the appearance of things, ultimately of the same nature with the hypotheses of science.

Thus it is a question of convenience and degree how we estimate the relation, say, of philosophy and religion par excellence. But undoubtedly we can find experiences in which the two have come together, or rather have not been separated, and are, or have come, together, with very much more besides. If we choose to adopt the name of religion—understanding that it is capable also of many inferior applications—for that frame of thought and devotion which Dante, for example, expresses as his ideal, then we shall be able to illustrate the unity of a highest experience, and the necessity of its dissociation according to the degrees of finiteness and impotence.

In Dante's religion, for example, we have the suggestion of an experience in which (α) as it is religious par excellence the individual finite being feels his will and emotions absorbed and transformed in the perfect will, which is also his will. Yet (b) inseparable from this unity, but distinct within it, there is a side of morality. The supreme will is realised through conflict; and pain and evil, and with them effort and aspiration, are present potentially in the finiteness by which the individual contributes to the divine perfection. And when I say “potentially” I do not mean that they “might be present” but are not. I mean that they are present as a characteristic of the religious experience in question, a depth or tension or seriousness which depends on the holding together of its constituents in a way analogous to the survival of desire in satisfaction.25 And this characteristic, if experienced in relative isolation, owing to the obscuring of other aspects of the whole, could reveal itself as the effort, or in extreme cases the despair, which belongs to the moral attitude taken by itself and unqualified.

And further (c) it is an integral part of this religion that the sensible universe is apprehended as a revelation of the Divine order, an apprehension which includes the completest realisation of all that the aesthetic attitude can mean; and (d) what, taken apart, would be the theoretical or speculative intelligence, as all things are seen in God, has also the completest satisfaction, and its need for non contradiction throughout experience is thoroughly fulfilled.

Now, of course it may be urged that even this highest religious experience is not one which most of us at any rate can actually possess; that merely to describe, as we have done, its constituent factors, in the language of our separate ways of behaviour, is to abandon the conception of its unity; that if its unity were complete, the separation of the experiences would have disappeared; and that if they are traceable as separate, the characteristic imperfection and self-contradiction of each are not done away.

I do not believe that this is a relevant criticism. It belongs to the general type of thought which may be described as logical pessimism, a method fundamentally eristic, which proceeds by the juxtaposition of extreme cases in the absence of the analysis which would exhibit their continuity. It is thus that pain, pleasure, evil, personality are exhibited as hard units, repellent and unyielding against the claims of perfection and totality. But what is here relied on is analysis, sustained by the truth of living experiences. No man is confined even at a single moment within the limits of a single mood or type of behaviour; every man has experience of being aided by greater characters and intelligences or by great emergencies to surpass his habitual self, and to apprehend the effect of an exaltation of his whole being upon the currently distinguished elements of his finite consciousness. In these experiences we only apprehend through life and feeling the truth on which the philosopher's analysis insists when, for example, he points out that abstract morality cannot and does not exist per se, but that in logic as in experience its sharp antagonism between ought and “is” implies and possesses a deeper basis, in which what ought to be is one with what is.

And now our point does not seem hard to understand. We assume a finiteness, consisting in various kinds and degrees of impotence, to be the condition of existence for a being capable in principle, say, of the religious experience we have described. It is not hard to see how the logical elements of such a beatific vision should persist or stand out in relative isolation, according to the nature of the impotence, and the type of emergency with which it is confronted. We can see, surely, every day, that the finite mind, whose life is in succession and in choice, will not be able to hold on all at once even to the highest mode of consciousness of which in principle and on occasions it is capable. But this is no hindrance to the fundamental truth that what it does hold on to, what shows, as it were, through the mist, is both of one logical texture and of one emotional tissue with that which relative emphasis and distinction has for the moment, or for part or for the whole of an age or a lifetime, withdrawn from its distinct apprehension. The facts are obvious and familiar, though their importance is apt to be unrecognised. It is plain that when engaged in one thing we cannot be engaged in another, and that what we are doing or suffering at the moment commands our mood and our mental attitude. In moments of moral difficulty we are full of effort, preoccupied with the sense of wrong in the world, the sense that the next move is with us, and that good and evil rest upon our shoulders. In moments of detached analytic labour—say, when occupied in experimental research—we necessarily set aside the “relativity” of the “external” world to some kind of knowledge or apprehension, and treat it ad hoc as a self-existent reality which we have to take as given. In moments of religious exaltation of the commoner and narrower type, our minds are withdrawn into a mood of repose and absorption, involving a faith which excludes the temper of research, and the attribution of independence and full reality to the world apprehended through sense-perception; and into an attitude of trust and resignation which, it may be, does less than justice to moral endeavour and responsibility, and yet represents a logical implication apart from which such endeavour and responsibility would be torn up by the roots. All these limitations are defects in the several moods and attitudes themselves, but defects in some degree inevitable to their existence in finite subjects, whose life is carried on by succession and alternation.

The matter is made much easier to grasp when we remember what we insisted on as a preliminary; that we never do realise in actual living the dissociation which we postulate alike for purposes of theoretical analysis and in the rough nomenclature of every-day life. We never are purely intellectual without volition, nor moral apart from being religious, nor aesthetic without practical or theoretical interest. Each of these attitudes, indeed, is in and by itself an instance and example of all the others as well as of itself, although their central characteristics are not its central characteristics. This familiar fact is highly significant of the inherent unity of all experiences which our impotence merely disguises, and the problem is to give it its value without making it into a ground of failure to recognise plain distinctions.

Thus the connection of things is obscured and loosened by our finiteness, but it is not done away; and we are able, if we attend, to see how our moods, alternating apparently at random, are in truth the limbs and features of fuller forms of mind, left outstanding in seeming separation through the mist that limits our particular world.

“Well then,” the reader may say, “will you plainly tell us what you take the individual finite being to be? We have hitherto supposed him to be a single and permanent spiritual unit, having as his minister a physical body, but with a nature or essence of his own apart from this, perhaps inherited from other souls, perhaps unique and eternal; with a power of initiative which we are in the habit of calling will, activity, spontaneity, a power depending on this essence and not on the suggestions of experience, and possessing to an indefinite extent ability to arrest, modify, and initiate bodily processes. In fact, we have conceived the soul to be like a whole living man, and the body to be like a machine which he directs ‘like a boatman in his boat.’ Probably, we have thought, he outlives his body. At any rate, the being and destiny of his soul, those of a thing which is itself and nothing else, are distinct and exclusive against those of other souls as much as the bodily life-history of a man on earth is distinct from and exclusive of the bodily life-histories of other men. This is at least clear and decisive. If it is not right, what do you put in its place? You seem to volatilise the individual into a sort of logical progression of ideas and emotions, always passing out of itself into, as it were, another theory, as a thought can blend with and be absorbed in another thought within the limits of a single mind. Is this what you mean? Is it not then a man's principal interest and value that he is permanently he and no one else, a self-complete being, not composed out of the outward world, but over against it, a rival or superior power, liable to sin and failure, but not essentially incapable of perfection while remaining what he is; and, as one of the constituent members of the universe, having a weal and woe of his own, which and the like of which, in him and in others distinct from him, determine the perfection and imperfection of the world.”

And the answer is, first, negatively, that there are three analogies in the challenge just stated, all of which should be avoided, or at all events transcended, in our conception of the individual.

And in the second place, affirmatively, that we want to think of the individual primarily as mind. And we must learn to interpret “mind” positively, in its own right, by what it is and does. The temptation is overwhelming to suggest comparisons and analogies either from external objects or from isolated phenomena within the sphere of mind itself. But though we may help ourselves by these, partly as suggestions, mainly as contrasts, what we really need is to accept the significance of mind on its own merits and as sui generis, not as a “thing,” nor yet as a mere power or attribute of a thing (say, of body or of brain), nor again even as a “life,” however attractive the analogy may be—but as a “whole” of a special kind, with a structure and concreteness of its own, only to be appreciated by experiencing it where there is a “more” of it, and entering into the characteristic differences between the more of it and the less.

Three vicious analogies for Individual: Thing, Legal Person, Self in reflective self-consciousness.

i. First, then, we do not want to think of the individual merely on the pattern, α of a thing, β of a legal personality, γ of a self for reflective self-consciousness.

α. We are aware, no doubt, on reflection that a thing in external nature is not self-subsistent and would be nothing by itself. I do not mean merely apart from the apprehending mind, but apart from the context and reactions of other things. But the implication by which the analogy of a thing affects our idea of the soul (nobilissimae substantiae),26 ego, or self, is that of an identity behind and supporting diversity, but not entering into it or constituted by it. The soul as assumed in the conception of metempsychosis is a sufficient instance; it is a transferable thing, compatible with any body and with any set of experiences. In the face of such a notion, based on an extreme assumption of numerical identity, to speak of the identity of the souls or selves inhabiting at the same time different bodies, or of the diversity of souls within one body, seems wholly unmeaning. It is like speaking of the identity of a chair and a table which stand side by side, or of a chair which becomes a table from time to time as the fancy seizes it. This is, I imagine, the feeling with which many people first hear of multiple personalities within a single body.

We feel it hard, on the other hand, to assign concrete and individual value to an ideal or an experience. But some effort in this direction was made inevitable once for all by Kant's criticism of rational psychology, and by Hegel's emphasis on the idea of subject as opposed to substance.27 The active form of totality within a certain mass of content, a life of self-transformation on the part of such a mass towards the riddance of contradictions, is the sort of conception we require; and the analogy of a thing suggests to us nothing more than unaccountable persistent identity heightened to exclusiveness, which just leads us astray.

β. The term person or personality has all sorts of meanings, and has been made the vehicle of what are meant to be the highest claims on behalf of the individual nature. The individual, it is argued, if he is to have value, if indeed he is to be anything at all, in the strict sense of being, must distinguish and be aware of himself, so that he can be an object to himself, and therefore an interest and a source of aspiration after perfection. No doubt the requirement is sound in principle, and for us, for our moral activity and our social obligations, is true in its accepted form, involving personalities which are exclusive and more or less repellent. The person, as a subject of rights and duties, is essentially the individual in society, as defined by law; and, as we said above, the legal personality already presupposes a stage of individuality which transcends it. Legal personality represents the social machinery, the mechanism of definite co-operation. But the social spirit which sustains it must be beyond the system which it sustains. You could not secure recognition for a system of obligations unless the minds which accept them were united in a purpose of which the obligations were corollaries. And the social spirit itself is not the final form of individuality even in our experience. Thus, no doubt, the individual must at least be a person, as, at his minimum, he must have the self-identity of a thing. But if personality means rigid systematic limitation as against other persons, and a union with the whole which is only partial and indirect, individuality must be capable of taking a form in which the negative may play a more affirmative part.

γ. We should not interpret individuality as limited to a self-consciousness reflected from the contrast with a not-self. Our main point in conceiving Individuality is to maintain its freedom; its power or essential nature of self-transformation in obedience to the logic of the whole which operates in it. We do not want to be burdened with the negative approach, and to say that when we are most fully entering into the content which best unites us with the whole and with ourselves, we are ceasing to be individual, because we are beyond the reflective consciousness of self against not-self. Individuality is positive and constructive; and if self-consciousness is negative against the idea of self, individuality must not be limited by being construed in analogy with it. Diversity or affirmative negation will play its part in the system of contents into which individuality develops; but that is a different thing from a contradictory negative in the form of a not-self resisting the expansion and affirmation of the system of the self.

Mind is sui generis best described as “a world.”

ii. Secondly, then, we may use all these analogies, but we must not bind ourselves by them. What we can say affirmatively is that the individual, as we know him, is mind, and α mind. The meaning of his individuality centres on the sense in which he is α mind. For he is this really in two disparate senses, by negation and by affirmation, and the two are not in harmony. His mind is one, because it is united in itself, and also because it is exclusive of others. But the principle through which it is united in itself is not in harmony with its exclusiveness of others, at any rate in the sense in which it does actually exclude them. Its exclusiveness, judged by the principle of its self-identity, is a defect.28 The individuality or distinctness which depends purely upon this is external and self-contradictory, connected with the positive unity only by the corollary that unity and power go together, and where power ceases, unity must also find its limit. If a man has more power of comprehension and inclusion so that less is outside him, and that what is outside him is less outside him, his own unity and individuality is so far and for that reason not less but greater. A mind then is a mind, not through a principle hostile to the nature which makes it mind, but through a realisation of that nature, to the imperfection of which realisation the imperfection of its unity is correlative. The conditions of psychical oneness, such as qualitative continuity of feeling and logical connection of ideas and purposes merely carry out on a small scale what is necessary to constitute a unity of mind. But there is no reason to limit this unity to any special complex of feeling and experience, and in fact it is not so limited. The best general description of the nature of mind is to call it a world; and the world which constitutes a mind is not limited according to any hard and fast rule. It has been found suggestive and convenient, for example, to speak as if the principle of individual distinctness were “one mind, one social function.” But obviously this is a quite unreal simplification of the facts, unless we reduce its meaning to what is true enough; viz. that it is a serviceable ideal to regard the content of a single mind, however complex, as constituting a single conation.29 Consciousnesses are of all degrees of comprehensiveness. They are centred par excellence no doubt in a range of externality which a single body focusses for a single mind each to each; but this immediate centredness is no ultimate limit for their comprehension; and there are many conditions under which it might truly be said that a single mind is constituted by and controls more bodies than one. In a word, then, we are to think of the individual as a world of experience, whose centre is given in the body and in the range of externality that comes by means of it, but whose limits depend on his power. He is a world that realises, in a limited matter, the logic and spirit of the whole; and, in principle, there is no increase of comprehension, and no transformation of the self, that is inconceivable as happening to him. Whether he even continues to be a self in our limited sense of the term is a matter of degree. Why and how there come to be these separate microcosms which we call finite selves, or (improperly) individuals is a question we cannot answer. But we can see that by its being so, a certain completeness through incompleteness is attained. Every degree, and every distinct centre or origin of individuality or comprehension necessarily constitutes a different vision and interpretation of things, and through all these incompletenesses a totality of differences must emerge which, so far as we can grasp, could not be attained in any other way.

It is suggested, as we noted above, that the unity of the individual lies in a purpose or a conation. And for a being which is finite, whose life is therefore in time, and its world more or less self-contradictory, the element of purpose and conation cannot be absent. But this way of speaking seems connected with what we have before designated as the negative approach. For a purpose or a conation, in general, is nothing more than the operation of a dissatisfaction or a contradiction towards its own removal. But this is a very negative and uncharacteristic conception. According to the nature of the contents which set up the dissatisfaction and are reconciled in the satisfaction you may have a conation of any degree of value from negative to positive. A conation may be a mere escape from discomfort, and end in indifference; or it may partake in a greater or less degree of the nature of a positive developmeat evoked by and evoking a response harmonious to the self. If we are to define the individual by his conation, it should be his conation as relative to some special type of fruition; and it should be understood that the content in which the individuality is based, no less than the completion which its nature demands, characterises and determines the individuality.

What we call “the individual” then is not a fixed essence, but a living world of content, representing a certain range of externality, which in it strives after unity and true individuality or completeness because it has in it the active spirit of non-contradiction, the form of the whole. It is not a series of mental occurrences, nor a power or attribute of the brain. It is, on the contrary, a higher concrete than the body, which enters into it and is its instrument of communication with spatial objects, but in being so is itself only a small part of the spatial theatre as we perceive and conceive it. The structure and conditions of unity of a single mind, under normal conditions and par excellence, are plain and definite. They are nothing mysterious, but just what they are; a continuity of interest and identity of content and quality maintained in ways which are analysed by psychology. There can be no question, normally, of doubt as to where one self ends and another begins,30 and no suggestion that selfhood is a trivial or unreal thing. Nevertheless, we breathe a freer air when we realise it on the analogy of a concrete thought, held together and kept apart by what it is in itself, and by nothing else in the universe; and when we have banished the conception of a thing whose limits are fixed, and which is characterised and limited by another nature behind and apart from the experiences which grow up within it.

  • 1.

    Ar. Ethics, i. 6.

  • 2.

    Of course no one would suggest that this was Aristotle's real attitude. I suppose it is one of the perplexities of Aristotelian interpretation that Aristotle appears so naïve when criticising Plato, while so profound in himself.

  • 3.

    See e.g. Nettleship's Biography of Green, pp. 27, 114, 136. It is the same on any view of the nature of the true self. Cf. Bergson, Évolution, p. 218: “Nous ne nous tenons jamais tout entiers. Notre sentiment de la durée, je veux dire la coïncidence de notre moi avec lui-même, admet des degrés.”

  • 4.

    This is not, or not merely, a question of approaching the special form of consciousness which we call the consciousness or experience of “self.” The self of anything as Plato meant it—the form in which it attains stability and consistency—is a standard with reference to which even the awareness of selfhood has to be judged.

  • 5.

    If we will have it that it is unhistorical to credit Plato with a monism, then we should understand him better by adhering to his own figure of a triplicism or quadruplism as in the divided line, or more, as in the progression from unity to plurality of, say, the Philebus; we should thus see more clearly that none of the lower phases are solid against the whole, so as to form par excellence a dualism

  • 6.

    It does almost seem to me, though I feel strongly how likely I am to be wrong, that even so wise and accomplished a philosopher as Professor Pringle Pattison argues with this naïveté in Man's Place in the Cosmos.

  • 7.

    Pringle Pattison, Man's Place in the Cosmos, p. 207.

  • 8.

    Joseph, Logic, P. 225.

  • 9.

    See author's Logic, 2nd ed., ii. 159, 171, and for a statement of the opposite view add to the reference there given Joseph's Introduction to Logic, pp. 485-6.

  • 10.

    Cf. Bradley, Mind, lxxi. 335 note.

  • 11.

    Cf. Bradley, Mind, lxxii. 494 ff.

  • 12.

    Bradley's Appearance, p. 364.

  • 13.

    Page 48 ff.

  • 14.


  • 15.

    It might be rejoined that “there is no truth” claims to be truth, while “there is no goodness” only implies or involves the being of goodness. But I think the difference is only one of degree; the fundamental point is the impossibility of denying what makes the fact of your denial possible.

  • 16.

    Compare the author's discussion of the relation between “positive” and “negative” freedom. Philosophical Theory of State, pp. 143-6. It is the full and positive conception that is the basis of the empty and formal, not vice verse.

  • 17.

    M'Dougal, Social Psychology, p. 79.

  • 18.

    Bradley's Appearance, P. 550; Cf. p. 560, and above, p. 19.

  • 19.

    Contrast McTaggart on “Individualism of Value,” International Journal of Ethics, July 1908.

  • 20.

    I refer again to the discussion of freedom, Philosophical Theory of State, l.c.

  • 21.

    Taylor's Elements of Metaphysic, pp. 340, 343, 350. It is noteworthy how the positive view tends in these passages to supplant the negative.

  • 22.

    An instance in which the fact and interpretation of this absorption is all-important is the advance in Hegel's Logic, from Cognition to the Absolute Idea. See McTaggart, Commentary, sect. 288, and my notice, “Mind,” January 1911.

  • 23.

    Bradley's Appearance, l.c.

  • 24.

    According to a certain view of Magic and to the theory of Animism some kinship is traceable.

  • 25.

    Cf. the argument of Lecture VI. sect. 3.

  • 26.


  • 27.

    The idea of Subject, implying the Subject-object relation, is itself not final but it affords at least a clear line as against the idea of substance.

  • 28.

    Contrast Ward, Naturalism, ii. 167: “Individuality consists precisely in this impossibility,” viz. the impossibility of the presentations of each of several subjects becoming accessible to the others. (See Varisco, op. cit. P. 37.)

  • 29.

    It would be hard, however, to show that the contents of two or more minds could not together constitute a single conation.

  • 30.

    The abnormal phenomena are enough to show that the distinctness and identity of selves are matters de facto, a question of actual qualities and contents; and this is what on a sane theory we should expect, and gives a far higher interest and value to selfhood than if it were a mysterious isolation, imposed by destiny inexplicably and without degrees.