THESE lectures, however defective, at least contain the record of a very strong conviction. I feel assured that a great deal is offered us, especially in modern philosophy, which we do not really care about and cannot seriously expect to prove. On the other hand, I am persuaded that if we critically consider what we really want and need, we shall find that it can be rationally established by a straightforward argument.
In thus maintaining that philosophy gives us the quintessence of life, I am not suggesting that the best thing in life is the pursuit of philosophy. What I mean is that the things which are most important in man's experience are also the things which are most certain to his thought. And further, I should urge, this is not an accident but inevitable, because importance and reality are sides of the same characteristic.
And if, as is quite likely, I have almost entirely failed to maintain this connection in its detail, I am confident that others will be found to take up the work with better success. Indeed, I do not conceal my belief that in the main the work has been done, and that what is now needed is to recall and concentrate the modern mind out of its distraction rather than to invent wholly new theoretical conceptions.
But, it will be asked, is there to be no progress in philosophy? How, one might retort, can there be progress if no definite ground is ever to be recognised as gained? There is no progress in a Penelope's web. Problems of thought are deepening and ramifying, no doubt, from generation to generation; but this is just because an advance has been made. We do not even know, it may be said, what we mean by matter, nor how it is related to mind. But we do know, I think, the limits within which the explanation must fall, and we can exclude certain ways of approaching the problem as certainly unfertile.
I chose Individuality as the clue to my subject, because it seemed to be the principle which must ultimately determine the nature of the real and its constituents, of what is complete and self-contained, and of what approximates or belongs to such a reality. I wished to investigate its positive nature, to show what it intrinsically demands, and what are mere incidents annexed to it by a mistaken tradition. I hoped that it might be possible to disengage the positive nexus of philosophical thought from the details of critical controversy which have been necessary to secure its line of advance, and which have erroneously been held to indicate a mainly destructive attitude. My inmost aspiration, I admit, would be expressed if I could say to the critics of Absolutism, Mark now, how a plain tale shall put you down. But I am well aware that my performance does not justify such language.
I have retained in this book the formal title of lectures. But, of course, it was not possible to deliver the whole of what is here printed in ten addresses each occupying less than an hour. I have, therefore, some hope that the book may appear more coherent than the lectures may perhaps have seemed to those who heard them.
It may be noted that I have not sharply distinguished between God and the Absolute. If I am able to complete a second course I shall hope to go back upon this distinction in dealing specifically with the religious experience.
The fourth lecture is based on a paper which appeared in the Proceedings of the British Academy; the second Appendix to the tenth lecture is part of a paper which was published in the International Journal of Ethics. I have to thank the editors in both cases for permission to make use of this material. For the ideas expressed in the latter as much credit is due to Professor Burnet's edition of Aristotle's Ethics as its author is willing to accept.
I have reprinted, after the Table of Contents, the abstracts of the Lectures prepared by me for the daily press, which, as free and popular versions, may be of service to some readers.
EDINBURGH, November 1911.