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Chapter XXII: Value and Metaphysics

The purpose of the present chapter is to give an answer to the question of the kind of being which is to be attributed to value. The word ‘being’ is a participle of the verb ‘to be,’ and its diversity of meaning reflects the extreme diversity of the grammatical uses of this most familiar and most troublesome verb. He who attempts to collate and systematize all of its meanings soon finds himself going around in circles. It would be as hopeless as it would be unprofitable to attempt to fix upon a single meaning to which all of this diversity can be reduced. The assumption that there is such a meaning, worthy of being spelt with a capital letter — a “Being” clothed with majesty and constituting the final goal of the metaphysical quest — is one of the obscure dogmas which has served to discredit that branch of metaphysics known as ‘ontology.’

Whatever systematic position be taken in logic — whether a logic of classes, relations, or propositions, whether extensive or intensive, whether “universals” are accepted or rejected, and whatever position be taken in theory of knowledge, whether rationalist or empiricist, a priori or experimentalist — in any case, provision must be made for ultimate entities or terms. Thus, according to Bertrand Russell:

Whatever may be an object of thought, or may occur in any true or false proposition, or can be counted as one, I call a term. This, then, is the widest word in the philosophical vocabulary. I shall use as synonymous with it the words unit, individual and entity. The first two emphasize the fact that every term is one, while the third is derived from the fact that every term has being, i.e. is in some sense. A man, a moment, a number, a class, a relation, a chimera, or anything else that can be mentioned, is sure to be a term; and to deny that such and such a thing is a term must always be false.1

This is the only meaning that can be assigned to “pure being”: it is the “anything” which is repeated or assumed in every statement which is made about anything. References to “nothing” (that is, no thing) involve the distinction between a name and that which it names. A “nonsense syllable,” exclamation, or “mere combination of words,” is itself an entity, that is, a noise or mark. But there is no entity of which it is the name, and statements which deny entity are usually statements to this effect. They are made about entities, such as verbal entities, of the kind which are commonly used as names, and which therefore beget an expectation of something named; the judgment “nothing” annuls this expectation.

The terms ‘real’ and ‘existent’ refer to specific modes of being. It is because of the questions “Is it real?” “Does it exist?” that it is necessary to provide for an “it” which is other than reality or existence: a being which is unquestionable, when its reality and existence are questioned.

It is impossible to allude to entities without introducing them into the context of discourse. It is not to be inferred, however, that they are therefore terms of discourse by definition. To point them out it is necessary to use the means of pointing out. This necessity, however, attaches to the pointing out, and not to that which is pointed out. The alluding is no more a constituent of what is alluded to than the signpost or index finger is a constituent of that to which it points. While this caveat will be more fully discussed below it must be introduced at this point because certain kinds of being are distinguishable only by their relation to mental operations.

Thus the questionable reality of a being may refer to its independence of subjective acts. The “real” is here opposed to the construct or fiction. The fictitious may be created by intent, as the characters and action of a drama or novel are created by the writer; or it may be an unintended reproduction of antecedent perceptions, as in the case of dreams. In either case the entity in question is dependent on the act of apprehension; it would not have been but for that — it is “make-believe,” an object “made up,” or “dreamed up.” The fictitious in this sense is to be distinguished from whatever is not so produced. This distinction applies to knowledge when the mind-constructed hypothesis is distinguished from the state of affairs by which it is proved true or erroneous. Knowledge is true when things are, independently of the expectation, what they are expected to be.

The object of interest is “realized” when as an indirect consequence of being expected, it becomes real. It is not made real by the expectation of it, but by the action which the expectation mediates. Dreams do not “come true” of themselves, by virtue of being merely dreamed; but they may come true when the dream becomes a goal of effort. And when an object of interest is thus realized, it is then independent of subsequent cognitions.

The notion of the real as the self-sufficient also derives from independence. The real is that which is in itself, and which when known can therefore be truly known independently of the knowledge of any other being. Its opposite is “appearance,” not in the sense of the illusory, hallucinatory, erroneous, or problematic, but in the sense of the partially or inadequately known. It is in this sense that the organic whole is held to be more real than its parts, or society than the individual; and is one of the meanings of the reality of a substance, as distinguished from its shadow, or from its modes or attributes. It is this idea in its extreme form which has generated the monistic doctrine that because all beings are interdependent and interpenetrating the only being which can “stand alone,” and be truly known, is a one great being composed of all beings.

There is also a use of the term ‘real’ in which it refers to the essence rather than the accident. Unless, however, the distinction between essence and accident is construed as merely “nominal,” the essence of a thing being whatever it is convenient for any purpose to single out and emphasize, essence is the same as the self-sufficient or independent. When it is said that a man is “really,” that is “essentially,” a rational animal this means that rationality is the key to the understanding of man: he who knows his rationality knows all.

The term ‘fact’ is often used to mean the same thing as ‘true,’ as when one says “it is a fact that,” meaning it “is true that.” Or, this term may be used to mean the same thing as independent reality, as when one refers to “brute facts” and counsels a “respect for facts.” Or ‘fact’ is sometimes a synonym for ‘existence,’ or for ‘a complex of existences.’

There remains, then, the notion of existence. There is, in the first place, a logical meaning of existence. Members of a class, or values of variables, or terms that stand in a relation, whichever the form of logic one prefers, exist; or the classes, variables, and relations are said to exist by virtue of having members, values, relations. When one asks whether there is “such a thing,” or whether there is “anything of the kind,” one is raising the question of existence in this logical sense. Thus, numbers are said to exist, inasmuch as the class of numbers has members; and zero exists by virtue of being a member of this class.

Logical existence is not to be confused with the realization of an object of interest. The identification of these two notions is responsible for insinuating teleology where it does not belong. To say that nature “embodies” ideas, that is, provides them with instances, is not the same as to say that these ideas are plans which some creative will has executed. There may never have been any such will: the ideas may never have had the status of problematic objects; because nature consists of particulars of generals it does not follow that the particulars were “created” by a mind which adopted universals as its patterns.

There is a second meaning of ‘existence,’ which is more restricted but more important than logical existence. Whereas logical existence signifies membership in any class, existence in this more restricted sense signifies membership in a specific class, the class, namely, of participants in the space-time-causal nexus which is identified, though not defined, by human agency. The existent, in this sense, is the “actual” world; the world in which things “happen,” or “take place”; the world in which man “lives and moves and has his being.” Hamlet's “to be or not to be” signifies “to exist or not to exist,” in the sense of a prolongation of his space-time life. While the existent realm is that in which man actively lives, it is not necessary that it should be lived in, in order to be existent. The existential axes of reference intersect the human agent's field of operation, and can be so indicated; but they extend beyond him, and beyond his horizon.

When ‘existence’ is thus defined, there is an option as to whether the several characteristics of an existent shall or shall not themselves be regarded as existent. A red rose, for example, exists by virtue of the fact that it occupies a place at a time in the garden, is sprung from planted seed, and goes to seed; the red does not exist in itself, but derives existence from its being a character of this particular rose, or a part of the existing purpose of the gardener.

Although the term ‘existence’ will hereinafter ordinarily be employed in the space-time-causal sense, the expressions ‘physical,’ ‘natural,’ or ‘cosmological existence,’ or, better still, ‘causal existence,’ may be used to avoid confusion with ‘logical existence.’

Existence is sometimes identified with particularity. Existents, as here construed, are particulars; but not any particulars. There are no absolute particulars, but only particulars of some general. Particulars of the space-time-causal nexus are so “importantly” particular because of their relation to action, that they tend to be taken as the particulars, par excellence; as individuals of the human species tend to be thought of as individuals in a preeminent sense.

Other familiar notions of existence fall into line. “This” or “that” is existent: yes, but because these words refer to a here-now, or a there-then, indicated by the temporal-spatial orientation of the user of the words. Sensation is taken as evidence of existence: yes, because in sensation the thing sensed acts causally on the subject — which is most palpably the case with tactual and muscular sensation. And when it is held that one knows one's own existence best (however ignorant one may be of precisely what it is that exists), this is because one is here most immediately aware of action: that is, both of causing and of being caused.

The tense of the verb ‘to be’ creates an illuminating ambiguity. The present tense of this verb, has a double use. When one says “Churchill is Prime Minister” one means now, at the time of the utterance, and refers to causal existence; but when one says that “Churchill is a Prime Minister,” or that “roses are red,” there is no reference whatsoever to time, but only to membership in a class, and therefore to logical existence.


Classification of the meanings of being, reality, and existence paves the way to a résumé of the general philosophical position already foreshadowed in earlier chapters; namely, a union of “neutralism,” “realism,” “empiricism,” “naturalism,” “freedomism,” “temporalism,” and “pluralism.”

Neutralism2 is neutral between the opposing parties of mind and body when those two are aligned against one another. It refuses to take the side of one against the other, nor does it leave them merely distinct and opposed; it finds a common ground between them. As distinguished from the sheer dualism of mind and body, it may be described as the commingling, or overlapping doctrine. Thus qualities, such as colors, and structural characteristics, such as number, are not peculiarly mental or bodily, but may be either or both. The difference between mind and body is a difference in the organization of such neutrals.

David Hume made the seemingly casual admission that since “what we call mind” is nothing but a heap or collection of different perceptions, there is “no absurdity” in separating any particular perception from the rest; in which case, being divorced from the collection, it ceases to be mental. And similarly, he went on to say, there is nothing in the perceived object to prevent its being admitted to the collection, and thereby becoming mental.3 In other words, there are elements which may enter and leave the mind without forfeiting their identity. When they leave the mental field, although they cease to be mental, they do not necessarily cease to be; and during the lapse of their mentality they may still persist in another field, such as the physical world.

Neutrals in themselves exist only in the logical sense. Thus it can be said of a neutral that it is a class having members, or a member of a class; but not that it belongs to the space-time-causal nexus. This is sometimes expressed by saying that neutrals “subsist”; but such a statement is questionable, since it almost inevitably suggests a quasi-existence in some exalted realm: exalted spatially to a kind of heaven above; exalted temporally to eternity; or exalted to a world which is governed by “spiritual,” as distinguished from natural or historical, laws. Or to say that neutrals “subsist,” suggests that subsistence is a specific kind of being, coördinate with existence. It is safer to say only that neutrals are, and rest content with that.

The most serious confusion which attends the doctrine of neutralism arises from the use of the word ‘experience.’ William James, who is the most influential sponsor of the doctrine of neutralism, has identified it with a philosophy of “pure experience,”4 and many neutralists have taken him at his word. The vogue of the word ‘experience’ creates one of the most dangerous pitfalls of modern philosophy. It is acceptable as a word with which to refer to all modes of consciousness, including thought and feeling as well as sensation and perception. The object experienced is then distinguished from its mental act or state of experiencing— the sound from the sensing, the thought from the thinking, the felt from the feeling. But even then it will not do to identify the neutrals with experience; for the neutral, while it can be sampled from what is experienced, may or may not be experienced.

Nor will it do to say that the neutral is that which can be experienced, for this implies the existence of appropriate faculties of experiencing. A “possibility of sensation,” or “sensibilium,” for example, requires a qualified sensory subject. The most that can be claimed for the neutral is that so far as it is concerned, it is capable of being experienced; or that if the appropriate mode of experiencing were present it would retain its antecedent identity in acquiring the new status of being experienced.

In accordance with this analysis, physical events may coincide, in greater or less degree, with that aspect of mind which is called its “content.” This provides for the limiting case of “presentation,” in which the same event occurs in both the mental and the physical realms. The mental is then a selection from the physical. In this way it is possible to distinguish mental from physical disappearance. Thus when the eyes are closed, or attention is directed elsewhere, the volcano's summit is excluded from the mental selection; but when the volcano erupts with sufficient violence its summit is destroyed, that is, excluded from the spatio-temporal-causal nexus.

The same analysis provides in principle for illusions, hallucinations, and erroneous perceptions. These are composed of neutrals which are “mistaken” for parts of the physical world; or which are “taken” for parts of the physical world as they stand, whereas they are parts of the physical world only by virtue of certain relations, such as the relation of the colored to the source of light, or of the hard to the body of the perceiver. When these relations are ignored they beget unwarranted spatio-temporal-causal expectations.

The mental, construed as a selection of neutrals, calls for further elucidation. It may mean no more than the relation of part and whole — a circumscribed area within a larger area. The circumscription may be due merely to the station and condition of the individual. Thus what will be embraced within the mind reflects its time and place, or sensory equipment and acuteness, or waking and sleeping, or intensity of stimulation. Or, on the other hand, the circumscription may be due to interest: the cognitive interest, or the aesthetic interest, or to any practical interest which determines the relevance or irrelevance of portions of the environment.


Realism is the thesis that what is truly known owes nothing to that fact except that fact itself. Thus if one truly perceives that the cat is on the chair, then the cat is “really” on the chair; the cat is on the chair independently of what, in the statement, precedes the word ‘that, The cat's being on the chair does not imply, presuppose, or depend upon, its being so perceived. If it is true that hydrogen is lighter than air, then hydrogen is lighter than air, regardless of the occurrence of the scientific discovery to that effect. As applied to the famous controversy over universals, it means that the universal “man,” for example, does not depend upon being thought, but is otherwise, either as a simple entity, or as the generic characteristic of individual men.5

The direct approach to this topic is by way of analyzing the act of knowing. The verb ‘to know’ is a non-causal transitive verb. There are many such verbs, of which the essential meaning is that while they have objects they do not produce them. They take, but they do not make. To build a house is one thing, to buy a house “as is,” is another thing. To know a house is like buying a house; it accepts it as it finds it. Such verbs may be said to denote static rather than dynamic relations. When a given physical entity, for example, “differs” from another, or approaches or leaves it, or lies in a certain direction from it, or fits it, the second entity, denoted by ‘it,’ is not caused or conditioned by the first entity. Such static relationships may lead to dynamic relationships but are not in themselves dynamic.

Mental acts may be causal. A fiction is by definition something fashioned, and the corresponding act (of inventing or imagining) is a causative act. Noticing, mentioning, selecting, and expecting, on the other hand, are distinguished by their non-causative character. Discriminating is non-causative: there is a considerable difference between discriminating a man's head from his shoulders, and removing his head from his shoulders. The realistic thesis is that truly knowing is of the non-causative transitive variety: being similar to, indeed comprising, noticing, mentioning, discriminating, selecting, expecting.

Since this realistic view of the relation of knowing and known coincides with the prima facie character of the knowing act, and also with the common sense view of the matter, the burden of proof lies with the opposing doctrine, commonly named ‘idealism.’ Realism consists largely, therefore, in showing that idealism is not equal to this burden.

The alleged proofs of idealism consist in part of two closely related fallacies: “definition by initial predication,” and “the argument from the ego-centric predicament.”6 The first of these fallacies consists in a confusion between ostensive and real definition. Because everything whatsoever can be first referred to, and thus identified by its place in cognition as that which is perceived, thought of, mentioned, or otherwise experienced, this relationship is taken to constitute its basic meaning; whereas it may be only one of innumerable accidental and trivial relationships. A teacher of modern languages may begin by saying that “a triangle is that the German name for which is ‘Dreieck’”; but this statement, though correct, generates no geometrical theorems.

The fallacious “argument from the ego-centric predicament” is to confuse the redundant statement that “everything which is known, is known” with the statement that “everything which is, is known”; or to infer the second statement from the first. The same redundancy appears in a more veiled form in such statements as “only the intelligible can be known,” or “only possibilities of experience are capable of being experienced.” The only significance which these redundancies have is to reveal a certain procedural embarrassment. To know whether things are or are not dependent on being known it is impossible to try the experiment of removing the knowledge. This is self-evident and troublesome, but it proves nothing as to the dependence of things on being known.

There are more serious arguments for idealism. The first of these consists in calling attention to the fact that knowledge, especially in its more advanced stages, involves the construction of hypotheses. Hypotheses are ideal — qua hypotheses they depend on the cognitive act; and since the thing known is what the verified hypothesis affirms it to be, it is argued that the thing known is also ideal. But this inference ignores the fact that when the hypothesis is verified it assumes another role. It is no longer “a mere hypothesis”; what is hypothetically affirmed is also real in the sense of being independent of its hypothetical affirmation.

An object which is constituted by a subjective act, such as a fictitious object, may then be known by a second, non-causative, subjective act. Thus the object created by the dramatic imagination, such as Hamlet, once created, becomes independent of the Shakespearian critic's true knowledge. The fiction, so far as known, is known realistically; and the critic who creates a Hamlet of his own, is not knowing his Shakespeare truly. Similarly, a problematic hypothesis, once constructed, becomes an entity in its own right, and is independent of the knowledge of the historian of science, who may then construct hypotheses about it. There are hypotheses about the Copernican hypothesis, which are verified only when that hypothesis is, independently, what the historian affirms it to be.

Knowledge itself can be known, and insofar as it is known it is known after the manner of all knowledge. Idealism implies that since all things are dependent on the knowledge of them, it is necessary to know knowledge in order to know anything. Realism relieves knowledge of this necessity. This is fortunate because knowledge is one of the most difficult things to know: it is much easier, for example, to know what sweetness is, or that sweet is different from bitter, or even that the rose is sweet to smell, than to know what sense-perception is. The knowledge of knowledge comes late in the order of knowledge, and profits by the fact that there is more and more knowledge to know, and by the fact that the intent and meaning of knowledge become more and more clear, and therefore more knowable. Those who first set themselves the problem of knowledge, and postpone all other problems until this shall have been solved are likely to get no further, both because of the extreme difficulty of the problem, and for lack of any knowledge to know.

One of the major errors by which traditional philosophy has betrayed confiding mankind, is the error of supposing that subjectivity in all its aspects — self, consciousness, will, and all the various acts into which these are divisible — are so evident as to afford knowledge its securest foothold. Starting with the admissible fact that whenever anything is known there exists a knower which knows it, the doctrine proceeds to the questionable statement that every time one knows anything one knows oneself as knowing subject, and that, however well proved other knowledge may be, this knowledge is even more abundantly proved, or, indeed, needs no proof. It is by this route that the idealist arrives at a metaphysical “spiritualism,” according to which the subject is the one substantial reality, to which, by its knowing them, all other alleged forms of reality are annexed.

That I exist, whoever be the “I” which makes the assertion, is not likely to be disputed, especially when the question is raised by “me.” But there are many other statements of existence which are equally unlikely to be challenged. The lover, for example, is equally convinced that “she” exists; or any man by the statement that his grandfather existed, or that it is raining, or that his tooth aches. In other words, the criterion of ready acceptance or certitude gives no preëminent cognitive credit to self-existence.

One is, no doubt, familiar to oneself, but knowledge is not proportional to familiarity — quite the contrary; familiarity breeds ignorance, whether or not it breeds contempt. Similarly, one is, presumably, intimate with oneself, close to oneself. But proximity may or may not conduce to knowledge. Too close proximity may prevent knowledge; as one may fail to see the wood for the trees, so one may fail to see the “me” for its multiplicity of states. Most dubious of all is the argument that the optimum knowledge is that in which the knower and the known are identical! It is a strange thing that a doctrine which is on the face of it paradoxical, if not self-contradictory, should have achieved such high respectability among serious philosophers. If there is to be a knower and a known they must be at least numerically two. It is, of course, possible for one part of a whole to know another part, and the whole of which they are both parts may be a self: but then the self qua knower and the self qua known are not identical.

So much, then, for realism. That knowledge is contaminated with subjectivity is, of course, a fact. But the realist contends that the intent of knowledge is pledged to a self-denying ordinance. This does not mean that knowledge is passive, but that its activity — its effort and its elaborate and refined procedures — are directed to the end of objectivity.


Empiricism has two meanings. In the most general sense it is an application of the thesis of realism to the question of proof. It means that the being which is real or existent independently of knowledge itself provides the evidence which proves the knowledge to be true. In colloquial terms this means that if knowledge is to be true, it must “square with the facts.”

This statement, however, oversimplifies the matter. If facts are to contribute evidence of truth they must be evident, that is, they must themselves be known; and there can be no knowledge that may not prove to be erroneous. Thus when science is verified by a “pointer-reading,” the pointer must be read; when observations verified Einstein's calculations there was something observed; but what is read can be misread and observations may be mistaken. The empirical thesis must be amended, therefore to state that knowledge is proved true in proportion as its object coincides with that to which it looks for its verification. Knowledge always retains some degree, however small, of contingency. All the refinements of technique by which knowledge is improved — the procedures of experiment and confirmation — are designed to reach a point of minimum difference between fallible expectation and the occurrence of that which is expected.

‘Empiricism’ is sometimes construed in a second, and more restricted, sense to mean that only sensible knowledge is true. But this is a special case, namely, the case of true knowledge of existence. When ‘existence’ is construed in the causal sense, and ‘evidence’ is construed in terms of the close approach of the expectation to the occurrence which fulfills or surprises it, then sensation assumes its peculiar authority. For sensation is not merely a disclosure of quality, but of causality: it is an impact from without; an event which thrusts itself upon the mind, as the thunder bursts upon the ear, uninvited and intrusive. In true knowledge of the physical or natural world sensation speaks with final authority.

But logical and mathematical knowledge, while it is not proved by sensation, is nevertheless proved by confrontation with being. Terms such as ‘observation,’ ‘presentation,’ ‘witnessing,’ and ‘seeing’ suggest sensation. To provide for conceptual knowledge these terms may be used in a figurative sense, as when one speaks of “the mind's eye,” or one may introduce another, and less sensuously contaminated, word such as ‘inspection.’ Whatever the vocabulary employed, the final word in conceptual knowledge is pronounced by a meaning, a relationship, an implication, a contradictoriness, which speaks for itself. Its thrust is less violent than that of sensation — in fact it is not a thrust at all in the causal sense; but it nevertheless has its own kind of stubbornness and requires submission like any other evidence.

The causal existence of six planets, or of a spheroidal earth, is established only by the testimony of sense. The testimony of sense is decisive because it is at that point that the causal chain itself enters into the mind — or stands on its threshold. But when a theory of the space-time-causal nexus is proved true it is true in a double sense: it is sensibly true, and it is logically and mathematically true. While only the first of these truths is empirical in the narrower or sensible meaning of the term, they are both empirical in the broader meaning. The theory as a whole is true because things are, evidently, as the theory describes them.

This equating of the physical or natural world with the true knowledge of it when that knowledge is perfected is inescapable. The statement about knowledge and the statement about being are two sides of the same statement. Things are truly known for what they are, and they are what they are truly known to be. To stop halfway and suppose that sense alone reveals the nature of things, while thought is a subjective addition contrived for human and practical purposes, is equivalent to saying that the better a man knows the more does his knowledge diverge from the order of nature and history.


The philosophical position here summarized would no doubt be labeled ‘naturalism,’ and this label is acceptable on the condition that its meaning be defined. The fact is that the term ‘nature’ has at the present time no precise meaning authorized by etymology or by usage.7 Even the meaning of ‘physical nature’ has lost its sharpness of outline since the obsolescence of the traditional dualisms.

Naturalism has in the past been held objectionable on the ground that it disparages the conscious will together with its ideals; mentalism on the ground that it ignores, or fails to do justice to, the world of matter, force, energy, and mechanical causation. When these antitheses, negations, and recriminations are abandoned, and the conceptions of emergence, continuity, and neutralism are introduced in their place, there remains a revised naturalism which is definable by the following statements: (1) the knowledge designated as ‘physical science’ (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) is true, and is more true than any other knowledge, of its own subject matter; (2) mind, together with its states and activities, exists in the same sense, and belongs to the same spatio-temporal-causal nexus, as the events known by the physical sciences; (3) physical nature embraces the objects of perception; (4) physical nature embraces the ideal objects of conceptual thought. While these statements are more or less overlapping they may for purposes of exposition be divided and expanded in turn.

(1) Naturalism is distinguished among philosophies by its respect for the natural sciences. It accepts their conclusions as they stand in their latest emendation by science itself. The conclusions of natural science are not to be treated as second-class truths, dealing with merely “secondary” causes; they are not to be transformed into truths of a transcendent or supernatural order. Any conspectus of knowledge of the world in which man lives will incorporate them. Whether or not they are final, or require correction, is left to the scientist himself. Naturalism offers no escape from the truths of natural science, however unpalatable they may be. Insofar as it assigns limits to present scientific knowledge, and thus provides an area of ignorance where faith may enter, it is the same ignorance as that which science itself acknowledges.

(2) Man with all his higher faculties has emerged within that same spatio-temporal-causal manifold which once embraced only inorganic events, which now embraces only inorganic events in vast outlying regions, and which might conceivably at some time in the future cease to contain any but inorganic events. What is true of life is also true of the human history which has emerged from life. The Scriptural reminder that man, having sprung from dust, returns to dust again, is usually taken as a counsel of despair, but this is to forget “how nigh is grandeur to our dust.” That man should have sprung from dust speaks well for dust, at least from the human point of view. What has sprung from dust may spring again, and that man has sprung from dust is a more solid fact than that he will some day be only dust.

Man's emergence from an inorganic world argues his capacity to act upon that world; it places man and his physical environment in a relation of effective intercourse. That which emerges can act upon, modify, and even create, things of the same type as that from which it emerges. It is a commonplace, one of those commonplaces which become marvelous “when one stops to think about it,” that through his body man's mind can deal with his inorganic environment, and can create inorganic artifacts.

Those who would prefer to think that man is a disembodied spirit forget that if he were he would be no more than a specter impotently haunting the natural scene, or at best observing a play in which he took no part. One cannot have it both ways: one cannot both be incorporeal and act corporeally. The possibility of succumbing to inorganic forces is the price that man pays for his capacity to wield inorganic forces.

(3) Perceptual objects are parts of nature; indeed nature may be said to be a system of percepts, if by a ‘percept’ is meant what is perceived. This view is opposed to the view, held by some philosophers, that percepts are not constituents of physical nature but its mental effects.8

That in perception the external physical world acts upon the mind through the channel of the sensory and neural apparatus is not to be denied. But neither, on the other hand, is it to be denied that the physical world is the mind's object. Starting with the physical world one can trace a causal chain to the sensory stimulus, and through afferent nerves to a cerebral center, where it assumes the form of sense perception. Starting, on the other hand, with sense perception, one can trace a train of thought which leads from meanings to judgment, and to the verification of that very theory of physical nature which describes the first process.

Neither of these accounts of perception will stand by itself. No psycho-physiologist has ever explained how a terminal nerve impulse suddenly blossoms, like a Japanese water flower, into the pageantry of qualities and shapes which constitutes the content of sense perception — to say nothing of the ensuing elaborations of thought. No philosophical exponent of the causal theory has ever explained why one rather than another of the antecedent causes of the mental state should assume the role of its object. And when all that perception and thought embrace is assigned to the end effect, the causes are so impoverished as to explain nothing. The physical world becomes a “one-knows-not-what” which operates as a cause “one-knows-not-how.”

This agnostic outcome, which is sometimes considered to be the last word of science, is, as a matter of fact, belied by science. For science looks to perception for its verification. Science says, in effect, that we know the physical world by perceptions; it is evident perceptually; in perception it is made manifest. To form a true and adequate idea of it, science teaches one to accept actual perceptual content as far as it goes, and to supplement it by analogy and extrapolation. To know physical nature is to exceed the presented by the represented; where the represented is the perceptual more or less remotely expected — infinitely varied and multiplied, but of the same texture as the perceived.

The reverse account, according to which the external world is spun by the mind out of itself, is equally unsatisfactory because it fails to provide for the outwardness of physical nature. The mind, having annexed to itself all thought and percepts, is imprisoned within its own subjectivity, and is compelled to take its surrounding environment on faith. Nature having been placed within the mind, it is impossible to assign the mind a place within nature.

There is no escape from this dilemma except to conceive of sense perception as selective response. The progression of the afferent nerve impulse does not end at the center, but returns in the direction of its origin. This second segment of its course is not confined to the innervation of muscles controlling the posture of attention or culminating in overt behavior, but embraces attitudes, meanings, interpretations — in short, expectations — oriented toward the stimulus, which then becomes the sensory nucleus of its object.

Thus when the ear is assailed by a stimulus from a certain quarter the organism listens toward the stimulating source, and acts, or prepares to act, both upon that source, and upon its context. When so reacted toward and upon the stimulus is converted into the object; one hears the sound there, and perceives it as a bell having further visual, tactual, and causal characteristics. The perceptual object embraces what is expected of the sensory object; it is that part of the total surrounding field to which the organism alerts itself.

(4) Nature as causal existence embraces ideal objects. If this were not so it would not be possible to affirm that nature is as it is represented in the finished product of scientific inquiry. As science advances, that is, more nearly fulfills the requirements of knowledge, it describes in terms of concepts and systems of concepts. If the logical and mathematical structures of knowledge are to be true of nature they must be abstracted from nature, and verified by nature; if so, they must be in nature.

One reads in a textbook of physics that no force, however great, can stretch a cord, however fine, into a line which shall be absolutely straight. How, then, can it be said that nature is linear? There is only one solution of this apparent difficulty, which is to suppose that nature is linear or otherwise geometrical, as a limit of approximation. Similarly, the laws which natural science discovers reign in the realm of nature, and not in the realm of natural science. The law of gravitation, for example, governs bodies and not the minds of physicists. As conceived by the scientist it is exact; as resident in nature it is that exactness which is most nearly approached. The “not quite” of nature can be described as it is only in terms of the “quite.”

Nature also embraces ideal ends or purposes. As goals pursued, and represented to the agent in advance of their realization, they are parts of the spatio-temporal-causal nexus because interests exist there, and because it is impossible to state what an interest is without including its problematic object. The natural interest has its ideal object as truly as — together with other natural existents — it has its logical and mathematical form.


In discussing the topic of freedom in connection with the cultural institutions and sciences it was not necessary to go to the root of the matter. One was concerned with the relation of freedom to ideals and to social controls, and not with the metaphysical question of the existence of freedom.

The answer to this fundamental question is largely predetermined by the metaphysical doctrines already affirmed. Thus realism excludes the doctrine that man is free from natural causation because he creates the laws of nature and is therefore above them. Realism implies that the necessities and determinations of nature, whatever they be, obtain independently of the human, or any other, knowing mind. Naturalism places man in the stream of spatio-temporal-causal events, and assigns him no habitation in a higher realm where he is free from the causes which operate in the world of physical science: in short, whatever freedom a man may or may not enjoy is the freedom of the natural man.

Empiricism as applied to the question of freedom, means that whether there is or is not freedom is a question of fact, to be settled by observation; and not a presupposition, a postulate, or necessity derived from an analysis of the moral consciousness. Whether man is or is not free, and in what sense, undoubtedly affects what can be truly said of man as a moral agent, and bears on the meaning of moral concepts such as duty and responsibility; the empiricist, however, does not deduce freedom from morality, but adjusts his conceptions of duty and responsibility to what he finds out about freedom.

In accordance with the view, already adopted, which identifies freedom with choice, the general question is divisible into two questions: “Is human choice a cause?” and “Is human choice an effect?”

In the sense of the first question, ‘freedom’ means that men actually choose, think as they choose, and do what they choose. While human choice is never a sufficient cause of subsequent events in the world of nature and history, it is often a necessary condition. Certain events would not have occurred but for human choosing, or will not occur unless they are chosen. Of this there can be no more doubt than attends any empirical observation. It would never have been denied save on some dogmatic grounds.

Freedom in this sense is evidence against any doctrine which denies the efficacy of human choice. Thus what philosophers call “epiphenom-enalism” holds that the line of causation passes through the human body and by-passes the will, leaving it impotently fanning the air. Mechanists of the extreme school conceive causation exclusively in the terms of physics and chemistry. Animalism and primitivism in psychology and the cultural sciences limit causation to certain lower levels of interest, such as instincts or appetites, and deny it to man's so-called “higher processes” of reflective choice. The doctrine of “historical dialectic” introduces a force sui generis, which presides over human destiny regardless of personal choice. Finally, freedom conceived as effective human choice is evidence against all those forms of monism which limit the causation of the will to super-personal wills, such as a will of society, or of the state, or of a god, or of a metaphysical absolute, and conceive the individual will as merely executing it or riding on its back.

The affirmation of freedom in the sense of effective personal choice has far-reaching implications. It does not exclude recognition of the narrow limits of the power of the human will: its impotence to prevent or bring about the storm or earthquake, or the procession of the equinoxes; or the impotence of the single human will either to prevent or to bring about events which require a concord of many human agents. But it does imply that the human will has points of entry into the causal chain, and that it is possible to enlarge its influence. It implies that whatever influences (such as science, education, and persuasion) create, modify, or spread human knowledge, can modify the course of events through the choices which the knowledge mediates. Through knowledge men can capture and harness the forces of nature and use them to work upon nature. The very magnitude of physical forces, such as, for example, atomic energy, then works for, and not against, human control. While the power of human choice remains small, and often seems negligible, it is true, nevertheless, that it has no assignable limits of possibility.

The second question concerning freedom has to do with the causes of human choice. Are men's choices predetermined by external or antecedent conditions which are not chosen? Are there human choices which spring from nothing beyond themselves — bolts from the blue, spontaneously generated, and therefore unpredictable? Is it true to say that when a certain choice occurs some other choice might have occurred under precisely the same circumstances?

Before attempting to answer this question it is well to recognize what would be implied by an affirmative answer. It is scarcely conceivable that choice could be effective without being itself an effect. If it interlocks with the causal chain at all, it would seem to be in a position to receive influences as well as to impart them. Furthermore, if choice were undetermined then it would not be possible for one man to influence the choices of another, since will works upon will through physical intermediaries such as speech, records, and bodily action. “Fatalism” is begotten by one or both of two beliefs: the belief that what one chooses makes no difference; and the belief that things happen by chance. Fatalism as a sense of helplessness or an attitude of apathy and despair, does not result from the discovery of law and order in nature, but from their seeming absence. It is the assumed lawlessness and disorder in things that lead one to say, “There is nothing to be done about it; what will happen will happen; one can only await the blows of fortune.” It is to be noted that the advances of science have led to a decline, and not to a rise, of fatalism.

Whatever be its practical or emotional implications, the best verified empirical generalization as of today is that man lives in a world in which there are strains of determinism, and strains of indeterminism — areas of predictability and areas of unpredictability. There is no self-evident principle by which to settle the question in advance. To state that every event must have a cause is to state a dogma. The only conclusive proof that an event has a cause is to find the cause; wherever events appear to occur in the absence of causes, the indeterministic hypothesis remains open.

The unpredictability of human conduct is notorious, and its unpredictability is proportional to the extent to which men choose. The cultural sciences, employing the explanatory method, have not eliminated the unpredictability of the behavior of an individual who makes up his mind for himself. They tend to look for statistical laws, analogous to the physical law of the diffusion of gases; and there is nothing to forbid the conjecture that there may be molecular spheres of individual choice which, like the chemical molecules, pursue “random” courses of their own.

Modern science also supports the idea of emergence, that new structures appear in the course of nature which behave in a manner that could not have been predicted in advance of its occurrence and is not implied by the parts. The choosing person may be such an emergent structure or a series of such structures each of which is a new thing in the world and a new beginning.

There is, therefore, no reason to suppose any regrettable lack of indetermination, unpredictability, and novelty; and their admixture with determination, predictability, and sameness would seem to suit and to describe that balance of the rational and the irrational, of the planned and the unplanned, of the controlled and the uncontrolled, which is characteristic of man's pursuit of his interests and ideals.


The metaphysical position here adopted may be described as “temporalistic” and “pluralistic.” It is temporalistic because over and above logical existence, it admits no existence save that “causal existence,” that stream of events, in which each occupies a particular time, and occurs before, after, or at the same time with, the rest. “Eternal” or non-temporal entities enter this stream only vicariously, through the events of which they constitute the conceptual part, or through becoming the ideal objects of interests which exist in time. They possess no peculiar dignity or eminence, no degree of value, no value of any sort, save what they may derive from the temporal interests which are directed upon them. They are not to be confused with “enduring” entities which, if they are to persist throughout time, must exist in time.

There are as many varieties of pluralism as there are of monism, its opposite. Its oldest form is the monism of substance, this being taken to mean a universal stuff or material. Monism of this kind began with familiar substances such as air, water, and fire. It was succeeded by monisms of matter, force, energy, and, most recently, electricity. Anti-naturalistic philosophers have counterattacked with the claim that there is a universal mental substance — will, mind, spirit, soul, psyche, or thought; some one of these being selected to do the work of all the rest, and to provide the inner core of the physical world as well.

Monisms of substance, physical and mental alike, have declined with the decline of the idea of substance itself. A stuff common to all existence has to be so stripped of qualities of its own that eventually it has none, and, having lingered for a time as an indeterminate “something,” eventually vanishes altogether. The common substance becomes equal first to x, and then to zero.

Monisms of cause have been based on the notion of cause as an impulse, communicated from next to next through a train of subsequent notions. The notion of a first physical event from which all natural and historical events have followed by a sort of chain reaction fails for lack of evidence. No such first event has been discovered, and owing to the infinity of past time, it is difficult to see how it ever can be discovered. To prove it to be first it would be necessary to prove the negative thesis that no natural events preceded it, as well as the positive thesis that all subsequent events can be derived, directly or indirectly, from it. Non-naturalistic philosophies have introduced a god as first cause, and have encountered similar difficulties. It is a sound instinct which has prompted the child to ask “Who made God?” since the very principle of antecedent causation which leads back to a god implies something still further back.

The monisms of substance and cause have been superseded by the monisms of system and purpose. The monism of system consists in the assertion that there is one all-governing order, or law; a set of propositions by which all events are implied, or from which they can be deduced as necessary, and in terms of which they require to be explained if they are to be truly explained.

It has been argued that there must be such a total system, because all things are related; so that it is impossible to explain anything save in terms of its relations to everything else. This argument rests on the doctrine that all relations are “internal” to their terms, and that therefore nothing can be, or be what is is, in the absence of any of its relations. But it is to be noted that the only relations which are known to obtain between all things are the relations implied by plurality. If one is to speak of a multiplicity of things at all it must be conceded that they are all related to one another by such relations as “and,” co-being, number, and difference. But these are the very relations which are not internal to their terms — relations which leave the terms otherwise unaffected.

It is true that causal existences will have causal relations to one another. This implies that they are all temporally and spatially interrelated. But temporal and spatial relations alone do not imply causal relations; and terms which are causally related to some other terms need not be causally related to all other terms.

Thus the question of “the one and the many” becomes an empirical question; and the answer, based on the as-yet-unascertained facts, is that there is both unity and plurality, and that it is futile to assert one to the exclusion of the other. Science and philosophy look for unity no doubt, but there is no justification for asserting more unity than is found; and there is always a residual plurality. There are laws in nature, but there are many laws, and there is also lawlessness. There are different keys which unlock different doors, but there is no master key.

Since there is no knowledge of everything, and since there is knowledge nonetheless, it must be possible to know things piecemeal. The plurality of independent truths is as well-established a fact as any other fact. Indeed, it is as important for the advancement of science to know things separately as to know them together. The controlled experiment which exact science seeks to employ depends on the possibility of repeating the experiment; which implies the isolation of limited sets of conditions from their varying contexts. And if there is a plurality of independent truths there is a plurality of things known, and of things to be known.

As to the monism of purpose, no such purpose has ever been verified. The poet who says “I doubt not through the ages one increasing purpose runs” expresses his own absence of doubt, but he does not state the purpose, or provide evidence which will satisfy those who do doubt. No such all-embracing purpose has ever been affirmed save on a priori grounds, or on grounds of dogma or faith. Empirically speaking, there are purposes, and purposes can be adopted and realized; but, empirically speaking, there are many purposes, and a sufficient amount of purpose-lessness to warrant the utterances of the less optimistic poets.


In terms of a neutralistic, realistic, empiricistic, naturalistic, freedomistic, temporalistic, pluralistic metaphysics what shall be said of the relation of being and value? There are two major questions: Are reality and existence valuable? Is value real and existent?

The answer to the first of these questions is clear. Reality and existence per se do not imply goodness or badness. Realities and existences may be good, bad, or indifferent. When they are good or bad it is not because of their bare reality or existence, but because they are objects of interest, or are qualified to be objects of interest.

No one has argued that whatever is is bad, but the thesis that “whatever is is good” has been argued on several grounds. It has been contended that since all things are created by a benevolent deity, they must be good — otherwise they would not have been created. But the doctrine of benevolent creation requires for its empirical proof the very thesis which is here in question — namely, that all existent things are good. A more formidable argument is based on the idealistic contention that all being is the product of a knowing mind, which, in turn, is governed by interest. Things are thought into reality or existence and, since thinking is a kind of interested activity or is ruled by interested activity, things must therefore owe their reality or existence to their appeal to interest, that is, to their goodness. This argument in all its forms is refuted by realism.

There remains one, and only one, sense in which all things may be said to be good. All things are potentially good-to-know, good relatively to an insatiable curiosity. It is not possible, humanly speaking, to know everything, but there are no doubt inquiring minds bent on obtaining true beliefs concerning no matter what; beliefs whose truth is verifiable by anything. Everything is “food for thought.” It is not to be inferred, however, that what is food for thought is food for any other appetite, or is good in any other than the cognitive sense. The cognitive interest embraces the desire to “know the worst” — the bad as well as the good, and the indifferent as well as the good or bad. Furthermore, cognitive goodness is relative to the cognitive interest and is a comparatively late arrival in the world. There were no cognitive goods or evils during those immense stretches of time which preceded the emergence of the intellectually curious man.

If it be conceded that neither reality nor existence gives value to an object which otherwise is valueless, there still remains the question whether they may augment the value of an object which already possesses value? As has already been pointed out, the problematic object of a given interest is not better when it is realized; indeed its realization marks the point at which that interest is terminated, and ceases, therefore, to confer value on its object. But the realized object may, and usually does, then become the object of a new interest — a prolonging or enjoying interest. It is clear, also, that instrumental values, potential and actual, derive value from existence: potential instrumental value from causal relations that obtain in nature; actual instrumental value from mediating judgments of causal relations, which serve their dependent interests better when they are true than when they are erroneous.

The second of the two questions concerning the relation of value and being is the reverse of the first. Does value imply being? In the fundamental sense of the term ‘being’ the answer is self-evident. That which is good or bad is; and its goodness or badness is. Value is also real, in the sense of being independent of the judgment which affirms or denies it. In other words, values are not made good and bad by thinking them so. Both interest and its object may be fictitious. The fictitious object of a fictitious interest has value, namely, fictitious value. But fictitious values are real in the sense of being independent of judgments about them. The fictitious objects of Hamlet's fictitious hopes and fears are good and bad independently of the reader of Shakespeare.

Values have existence in the logical sense of that term — they are members of classes, values of variables, or terms of relations. The question of their causal existence is less simple and the answer is less trivial. Generally speaking, the existential status of the value follows the existential status of the interest which confers the value. When the interest is causally existent, the value of its object is causally existent. It is to be noted that negative interests have the same title to existence as positive interests (a negative interest is not the same as a non-existent interest) and that evil is existent in the same sense as good.

The crucial point is that there are causally existent human interests, which emerge within a certain phase of the advancing complexity of life and mind. When they do emerge they interact with their non-mental and inorganic environment, as well as with other interests. This is true of interests on every level, of the higher flights of creative thought and imagination as well as of the reflexes, appetites, or basic drives. Even the non-preëmptive interests of cognition and aesthetic contemplation, although they do not act causally on their objects, nevertheless interact within the organism, and tend to become practical interests. Ivory towers have their two-way passages on the ground floor which open upon the street. Man with his interests is not an exile from another home-country, a visitor with a limited visa, an unnaturalized resident from abroad; he is a native of this world, a citizen by birth. The only “other world” in which he lives or can live is an extension of this world. What his interests move him to do here, is of consequence in the business of the cosmos.

As has been frequently pointed out, the object of interest abstracted from the interest may or may not exist. Interest may take the form of prolonging the existence of that which exists; or it may take the form of realizing the existence of that which does not exist. In the latter case the object is good when it does not as yet exist. But interest may also take the form of interrupting or preventing existence; in which case the object is bad when it exists. These considerations cut the ground from under the famous “ontological argument,” which correlates existence with goodness. The object of a positive interest may be said to be “fit to exist,” and the object of a negative interest “fit not to exist,” if these statements are taken to mean that there are interests which tend to their existence or non-existence.

The rejection of every generalization which equates the real or existent with the good leaves room for the empirical fact that some things do owe their reality or existence to their goodness. Interest tends to the realization of its objects, and this realization may, and often does, take the form of bringing possibilities into existence. The realized objects of interest then take their places in the space-time-causal nexus along with the products of inorganic, non-mental, and non-human causes, and have their own future consequences. The products of man's interested activities then become part of the existential environment of his subsequent interests. To some extent man lives within a world of his own making, and in proportion as his interests assume the form of choice he lives freely among the creations of his own freedom.


Man, together with his interests and the values which these generate, is immersed in a natural order. There is a partial agreement between man and this natural order; and if this were not so man himself would not and could not have existed and survived. Having purchased existence by accepting nature on its own terms, man is able in some measure to dictate terms to nature. These are the two sides of man, who is both creature and creator.

The power of man to shape his cosmic destiny is pitifully small, but in principle it is unlimited. For in proportion as man knows what the limits are, and what are their causes the way is open to remove them, by indirection, by organization, and by playing one natural force against another. Man can now move mountains, having found the necessary lever and fulcrum. It is not impossible that he should someday learn to abolish death itself. It does not follow that he will do so, or is likely to do so. The issue remains in doubt, and man's personal choices, together with man himself, may go down to defeat and to final extinction. An empirical and naturalistic philosophy justifies no more than an attitude of disciplined hopefulness.

It is proper to speak of “mother nature,” if one means that man is sprung from the space-time-causal nexus which surrounds him on all sides, before and after and to all points of the compass, and which penetrates him to the core. It is appropriate to be grateful to this natural order for the extent to which it answers to his interests: because it supplies his needs; because it has implanted sympathy and love (as well as hatred and brutality) in his breast; because it in its orderliness is suited to his cognitive faculties; because in its beauties it provides objects of his aesthetic interest.

It is improper and unwarranted, however, to suppose that the goods which nature has provided owe their reality and existence to their agreement with human interests. Nature lends itself unwittingly to the human life which it has generated. Having begotten man, nature permits his continued existence and his extravagant hopes. It would be presumptuous and foolish to assume that there is a kindly indulgence at the seat of cosmic control: presumptuous because unsupported by evidence; foolish because it would weaken man's reliance on himself. Human life appears to have survived a series of hairbreadth escapes, to enjoy a slender margin of tolerance, and to have achieved a precarious footing for the future. Indeed when one considers the vast complex of conditions, celestial and terrestrial, which have combined to make it possible, human life seems so improbable as to be incredible — but for the fact that here we are.

Such considerations beget doubt, and rightly so. On the other hand, they may lead to the hopeful question, “If so far, why not further?” If the cosmic order is not pledged to good, neither is it pledged to evil. Existence is consistent with good. There is always room for hope, however small the room may be. And hope is itself a hopeful sign, because hope is not a mere wishing or prediction, but a cause by which things hoped for are sometimes realized.

  • 1.

    The Principles of Mathematics, 1903, Vol. I, p. 43.

  • 2.

    Cf. the Author's “A Note on Neutralism,” in Structure, Method and Meaning, P. Henle, etc., (ed.), 1951. For the part played by E. B. Holt and H. Sheffer in giving vogue to both the term and the idea, cf. this article. Cf. also the Author's “Peace without Victory — in Philosophy,” Journal of Philosophical Studies, 3 (1928).

  • 3.

    Treatise on Human Nature, Bk. I, Part IV, sect. ii. Credit for emphasizing the significance of this passage is due to W. P. Montague, “A Neglected Point in Hume's Philosophy,” Philosophical Review, 14 (1905).

  • 4.

    Cf. his Essays in Radical Empiricism, 1912; especially the famous essay, entitled “Does ‘Consciousness’ Exist?”

  • 5.

    Realism in this sense does not imply that universals exist “by themselves”; as is supposed to be the doctrine of Plato. Cf. the illuminating article on “The Scholastic Realism of C. S. Peirce,” by E. C. Moore, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 12 (1952).

  • 6.

    Cf. above, ch. xviii, § 2. Also The New Realism, by E. B. Holt and others, 1912.

  • 7.

    The most illuminating treatment of the subject, in the light of recent science, and broadly in agreement with the view here presented, is contained in R. G. Colling-wood, The Idea of Nature, 1945.

  • 8.

    The most formidable contemporary exponent of this “causal theory of perception” is Bertrand Russell; cf. his Human Knowledge, 1948, ch. iv. A good antidote to the causal theory is Bergson's Matière et Mémoire, 1906, English trans. Matter and Memory, 1911.

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