We must now turn to consider the derivation of our theoretical activities or modes of reflection from our primary activities which are positive and practical. We have to justify an earlier assertion that if we start from the ‘I think’ there is no possibility of arriving at action; whereas it is possible to derive the theoretical from the practical if we affirm the primacy of action. The first step we have already taken when we recognized that the ‘I do’ contains the ‘I think’ of necessity as its negative aspect. Without knowledge there may be activity but not action. The ‘I do’ includes the ‘I know that I do’. We must now consider the abstract formula in its concrete setting as the form of our experience of the world.
The ‘I do’ is essentially incomplete. In actual experience it must have the form ‘I am doing this’. The ‘this’ again is a specification which implies discrimination. It means ‘I am doing this and not that.’ It answers the question ‘What am I doing?’ Consequently its negative aspect ‘I know that I do’ is in actuality ‘I know that I am doing this and not that’. I must know what I am doing to know that I am acting at all. But as we have seen this knowledge of what I am doing is itself incomplete. It admits of greater or less discrimination. I may set out for a walk without knowing where I am going; but not without going in one direction and not in another. I must always know up to a point what I am doing and never completely. For I am agent in my movement and not merely the cause of it. A cause may initiate a process; thereafter the process continues without control by its cause. But an agent is in his movement and consequently can always alter or modify it at will within the limits of his resources. If I could know completely what I was doing I should have ceased to be an agent and become a continuant. I should have surrendered my power to modify my intention as I proceed.
This is merely one aspect of the fact that action is choice. The movement of an agent does not happen it is made; and so long as it is in the making it can be modified. It remains indeterminate throughout until it is complete. On the other hand an actual choice is possible only if there exists a ground of discrimination independent of the agent. The knowledge in action which makes action possible must therefore be a knowledge of what is practically possible and of a ground of discrimination between alternative possibilities. In general then it must be a knowledge of the Other.
Now the knowledge of the Other is given primarily we have seen in action through tactual perception—as that which resists our intention and so both limits and supports it. I cannot walk a step without support from the resistance of the ground beneath my feet. If this resistance disappears I lose the power to move and must merely fall. For a fall is a movement that happens to me not a movement that I make. This support for my movement also limits the possible directions of movement. I can move only along the surface of the earth; not upwards or downwards. The knowledge of practical possibility is therefore primarily a knowledge of the variations of resistance to my movement in different directions. The development of this primary knowledge in action is highly complicated involving as it does the interrelation of tactual perception with the discriminations of bodily feeling and of our sensory apparatus in general. But this does not concern a philosophical study and must be left to psychology. The discrimination between possibilities and so choice in action has its source undoubtedly in our organic needs which provide the primary intentions of our actions and so the constant element in the form of all possible intentions.
Instead then of pursuing these complications we may consider the formal difference between human action even at this primary level and animal behaviour. This difference lies in the direction of activity by knowledge and not by mere awareness. What then we may ask is the justification for using the term ‘knowledge’ in such a context; especially when the traditional usage of modern philosophy would restrict this term to a more exalted use. It would be more normal to speak here of ‘immediate awareness’ or ‘immediate consciousness’ or even of ‘animal faith’ or to use some form of words which would not draw such an extreme contrast between the highest reach of organic consciousness and the lowest level of personal awareness. The justification is that it is precisely to draw such a contrast that the term is used; to mark a distinction of categories which must not be blurred. We have to distinguish absolutely between acting from knowledge and reacting to a stimulus.
In an earlier chapter we reached the conclusion that conscious reaction to stimulus is motive and not cognitive however elaborate the discrimination of consciousness in any reaction to stimulus may be. In any reaction the initiative of behaviour lies with the stimulus. The reaction involves no choice on the part of the organism. What reaction follows depends of course upon the internal structure of the organism including the structure of its consciousness if consciousness is involved; and since the organism is itself a process of continuous change it depends also upon the state of the organism at the time the stimulus is applied. Let us call this ‘the nature of the organism at the moment’. Then we may say that the reaction is produced by the stimulus in terms of the nature of the organism at the moment. In the case of action however the initiative lies with the agent who determines his activity in terms of the nature of the Other. Suppose that for the moment we take the Other as object then we must say that awareness in action is an objective awareness; that is it is the awareness of an object other than the self; and objective awareness is knowledge. It is thus the nature of an agent to act not in terms of his own nature but in terms of the nature of the object that is of the Other. However simple and immediate an action may be so long as it is an action and not merely a reaction to stimulus then it is informed and directed by an awareness of the Other-than-self as other; and the ground of choice that is the determination of the action lies therefore in the agent's knowledge of the Other. This knowledge may be extremely limited; it may be very far from any adequate determination; and however it may be extended in experience or through reflection it can never be complete. But so far as it goes it is knowledge and nothing less; and within its limits however narrow it is both objective and certain. At the lower limit the pressure I bring to bear upon an obstacle is an absolute measure of the resistance this other existent offers to my will. It is this experience that enables us to formulate with certainty the principle that ‘action and reaction are equal and opposite’. And at a much higher level if I am asked whether I know the present Prime Minister of Canada my answer unless I tell a lie is necessarily true. I cannot be mistaken. So long as we do not generalize or anticipate or in any way go beyond its immediacy our knowledge of the Other in action has a certainty that no reflective knowledge can ever attain. Indeed if we limit the term knowledge as some philosophers would do to that ‘logical certainty’ which is the result of theoretical demonstration we should have to confess that there is not and cannot be knowledge and so relapse into a complete scepticism. The reference to pure mathematics which might appear to refute this is beside the point. For in so far as it is certain it is not knowledge; and in so far as it is knowledge it is not certain. That one plus one equals two is neither true nor false since it is purely formal and in its purity is strictly meaningless. For it refers to nothing objective. It enunciates a rule for counting; and though a rule may be certain in the sense that it is the only possible rule for an operation it cannot be true or false. If however I refer it to the Other as the form of a judgement about the world it is no longer certain. If I add one drop of water to another I do not have two drops but only one bigger drop. That the world is constructed on a mathematical plan may conceivably be true but it is by no means certain and there is plenty of evidence that appears at least to point in the opposite direction.
Since time is the form of action knowledge in action which is our primary knowledge participates in the temporal form. No question arises therefore about the way in which we are aware of time itself as it does for any philosophy which takes the ‘Cogito’ as primary. If I know that I am doing something then I know ipso facto the distinction between past and future which is the form of doing. To be aware of what I am doing while doing it is to be aware at once both of what I have already done and of what I have yet to do. Such knowledge is therefore as awareness of the past memory; and as awareness of the future anticipation. This reference to the future however is not to matter of fact but to matter of intention. It implies no affirmation that something will happen; but rather a knowledge of present intention and an expectation of obstacles which will provide a ground for the continuous modification of intention either in detail or as a whole. No doubt the present intention is determined by an expectation that the present conditions of action will continue; but this is not affirmed. On the contrary our practical attitude to the future involves an expectancy of continuous change in these conditions necessitating a continuous adaptation of intention. The continuity of the activity of knowing is precisely this concentration of attention upon the unexpected which leaves to the ‘unconscious’—that is to the automatic reaction to stimulus of the organic awareness which is contained within it—whatever is found to continue without change in the conditions of action. As memory on the other hand it is concerned with matter of fact since what has been done is determinate. The Agent in determining the future creates a past. As Subject in action he is aware of what he is doing; and this continuous awareness is gathered up from moment to moment as a knowledge of what has now been done and which therefore is eternally determinate and unalterable. The form of this knowledge memory involves of course the distinction of Self and Other. It is the history of the interrelation of Self and Other up to the present. For the past which the agent creates in action is his own past in relation to the Other; and the primary awareness of this in memory includes both an awareness of his self-determination and of the Other as his action has determined it.
But now if we abstract from action and so isolate this knowledge from the action which sustains it the Self appears as pure subject knowing an object-world. The Subject stands over against the Object not in dynamic relation to it; because being the past no action upon it is possible. And since to abstract from action is to abolish the future the Subject has no future qua subject. This is what is signified when a philosopher asserts that the Subject is not in time or refers to an ‘eternal present’. The empirical analogue of this in psychology is the ‘specious present’ whose limits are defined at any moment by the memory span of a momentary consciousness. From the standpoint of the agent we must state this differently. The Agent constitutes himself subject by negating his own agency. He forms a theoretical intention. He is then in reflection turned back upon his own past. This past then is presented in memory as the object of knowledge. It appears as a four-dimensional system in which time is the fourth dimension. This use of the term ‘dimension’ is justified because the time factor in the continuum is the order of past time—the temporal relations of past events all of which are present in memory at the same time. It is in this sense that as we have already noticed past time is spatialized as an order of events which coexist for thought in memory. The Subject may select any point he pleases in this time-order as the present and call what occurred before it past and what occurred after it future since in abstraction from action there is nothing to determine a real present. He can therefore locate this present in the real future if he pleases; but if he does this he must treat the object-world as merely continuant; and this is always possible. For being the past it is completely determined and the patterns of its temporal form can be continued in thought indefinitely.
The object of knowledge then is the past conceived as continuant that is as completely determinate and not to be modified further by action. This is the ‘four-dimensional continuum’ of the physicists; or if this use of the term ‘dimension’ is objected to it is a continuum determined formally by four variables. The activities of reflection since they are not actions but ‘doings’ of the Subject make no difference to the Object. They merely determine for the Subject in idea what is already determinate in fact. What is given for any particular agent in reflection is only the content of his own memory which is necessarily fragmentary and therefore an indeterminate and very inadequate characterization of the past; or if you will of what exists. The rational activities of reflection are efforts to extend and in extending to correct where necessary the fragmentary content of immediate memory. How this is possible we shall not consider in detail. Kant's account seems to me still to be the best available. We need only remark that from the standpoint of the ‘I do’ the spatio-temporal framework and the logical determinateness of the structure are no longer postulates of the possibility of experience but themselves immediate derivatives from our empirical that is our practical experience.
We must however consider at this point the function of attention in determining the structure of our experience. The ‘I do’ is experienced as a felt tension in the Self; or rather since it is an active not a passive tension it might be more strictly described as a ‘tensing’ of the Self. But since the ‘I do’ is incomplete; and since the Self is the correlate of the Other this ‘tension’ is directed towards the Other. This direction again has a positive and a negative distinction within it corresponding to the positive or practical and the negative or reflective aspects of personal experience. In its practical aspect we call it ‘intention’; in its reflective aspect ‘attention’. We intend a modification of the Other to be determined by our agency. We attend to a mode of the other which is already determinate in order that it may reveal to us the structure of its determination. Thus ‘intention’ and ‘attention’ refer respectively to the forward-looking and the backward-looking aspects of knowledge in action to anticipation and memory. In reflective activity there can be no intention since negative activity determines nothing in reality. The correlative of the reflective self is a continuant world and its determinateness governs all activities of reflection. We cannot intend the conclusion of a train of thought. We can only attend to what is given to the data or the premisses. Without this attention nothing happens. With it something follows from the data which is determined by the data not by any intention of ours. The withdrawal from action is a withdrawal from intending; and so the whole activity of reflection is an activity of attending to what is already there to what has already been done. Thinking is then something that I do since without my attention nothing will follow; but it is a negative doing because what follows when I attend is something that I do not determine. The idealist is right in saying that the idea develops itself in my mind: but this is conditional upon the attention which makes the thinking mine. Apart from this we have mere dreaming in which the idea develops itself in my mind without any tension in me. Intention on the other hand contains attention within itself as its negative aspect.
Attention is selective. This is simply the reflective aspect of the fact that action is choice. It can be varied deliberately either in intensity or in concentration. By its intensity I mean the amount of tension in the Self which is involved; by concentration I mean a limiting of the complexity of what is attended to. I may first attend to something as a whole and then attend to its parts or to aspects of it successively. Again since attending is what I do in reflective activity I can intend a determinate process of attention. This reflective intention is a negative intention: it cannot determine an end to be achieved but only a method to be followed in attending. I can formulate a series of questions to be answered through a process of reflection and decide the order in which they shall be asked. What I cannot do is to determine in advance the answers that I shall get. These have to be discovered. For this reason the success of reflective activity depends largely upon a methodology—upon a systematic ordering of attention.
In its primary character as attention in action the selection of what shall be attended to is governed by the intention of the action.1 In action we select in attention what is relevant to our intention or rather what we consider to be relevant. What is not so attended to so far as it enters into or affects the action is left to the automatism of habit that is to say to the included organic process of response to stimulus. It is the continuant aspect of the situation that which persists without change that is excluded from attention. What is attended to is in the main the unexpected; for what is expected is already provided for; it is the unexpected—which of course is not necessarily the surprising but simply that which is indeterminable in advance—which is relevant to the modification of intention.
This selectiveness of attention underlies and accounts for those characteristics of reflective activity which are traditionally referred to as ‘abstraction’ and ‘generalization’. Reflective abstraction is a negative ‘taking away’; a taking away which in fact takes nothing away. This is possible through a concentration of attention which isolates a discriminable element in a given complex and excludes the rest from consideration. We confine our attention to a part or aspect of a whole. What is so ‘abstracted’ may of course itself be a complex which in actuality falls within a wider complex. The ‘material world’ for example is an abstraction from the actual world in which we act. It is produced by excluding action and confining attention to the continuant aspect of the world. Two important corollaries follow from this. Firstly what is known in reflection is always abstract since it is conditioned by the selectivity of attention; and moreover reflection is itself constituted by a withdrawal from action. Secondly the abstract as such is non-existent that is to say it is idea. This is only another way to state Kant's dictum that ‘existence is not a predicate’. To exist means to be in dynamic interrelation with other existents. What exists is concrete not abstract; and existence is a practical experience. That which is isolated from its dynamic relations with the whole is isolated from existence. Thus reflection is indifferent to the existence of its object. The ‘data’ or ‘facts’ upon which reflective activities are directed are abstract. They are primary isolates from practical experience retained in memory. They are then subject to secondary selection by limitation of attention since we cannot attend to all the facts we are aware of at once and must select in accordance with some principle of relevance. So we can produce any possible combination of facts or data in whatever order of attention we please. This is what is sometimes referred to as ‘mental construction’; it is a negative construction which consists merely in attending exclusively to a selected group of data; so including their relations to one another and excluding their relations to anything else from the focus of consciousness. We can combine premisses in this way and draw conclusions. But these reflective constructions and the conclusions which follow from them are alike abstract and carry no guarantee of existence with them. The constructs produced by selective attention and the conclusions of reflective processes of thought equally require verification by reference to practical experience.
Generalization again is itself an aspect of abstraction. Already in organic reaction to stimulus we find a practical generalization at work. For the reaction is an adaptation to relevant aspects of the environment and the same response serves to answer widely varying stimuli. In our own behaviour habit itself is a generalized response to situations; but there is now a reflective element present which recognizes the situations to which we respond with a behaviour pattern already determined as recurrences of the same type of situation; that is to say as abstractly identical the abstraction being in terms of what is relevant to our intention.
In reflection however the intention is negative or theoretical. From this certain consequences follow. First the primary ‘given’ is the memory of a completed act. It can therefore be apprehended in terms of a distinction between means and end for it is only in action that the end remains indeterminate. Second since the given is determinate while action always refers to the future the distinction between act and event is irrelevant; and in the abstraction from action which constitutes the reflective intention the given appears as a series of events constituting the unity of a process. The end is no longer intended; it merely constitutes the last event in the process isolated in attention though the ground of this isolation is the fact that it was intended. In general then the past as the object of reflection is given as a system of processes each of which consists of a series of events. Third these processes and the events which constitute them are in actuality completely determinate; but for reflection they are only partially determined. The reason for this is that in action attention is governed by a practical intention and only so much is noticed as is required for the purpose in hand; and for normal activities the determination is predominantly visual. In buying or selling for example one shilling is identical with another for all practical purposes; and the differences between different issues of the coinage go unnoticed. When therefore a theoretical intention replaces the practical the given for thought is relatively indeterminate and the activity of reflection is concerned to achieve a theoretically more adequate determination of this primary representation. The use of the term ‘representation’ in this connexion is literal. The elements of knowledge in action are ‘presentations’. In reflection they are remembered and so become representative of the original presentation in action.
We have seen that any theoretical intention being negative cannot determine an end and so a means to that end. Instead of an end it has an ideal; and instead of a means it has a method of procedure. Truth for example is in this sense an ideal. An ideal might be defined as a negative end; as the bare form of an end. For it can be defined only negatively in relation to a starting-point. Truth for instance might be defined as the completely adequate determination of the object; yet what this might be we cannot tell; since if we could we should already possess it and reflective activity would be both unnecessary and impossible. The definition has however a negative relation to our present knowledge: that is to say it expresses a recognition of its inadequacy and so of our ignorance. In this way it defines a method of procedure from the inadequate given towards its fuller determination by thought.
There are however two directions in which a fuller determination of data can be sought. The relative indeterminateness of a representation can be made more adequate either by generalization or by particularization. The terms ‘general’ (or ‘universal’) and ‘particular’ it should be noted are logical correlatives. Neither the one nor the other has any reference to existence. Both refer to representations and so to the theoretical activities which concern the production of adequate representations of the existent. What exists is the concrete individual from which both the universal and the particular are ideal abstractions. To talk of a concrete universal is to confuse idea and existence; but it would be precisely the same error if we were to refer to the concrete particular. The concrete individual is given only in practical experience: in reflection we may limit our attention either to its particularity alone or only to its universal aspect. For purposes of cognition therefore we may either particularize a representation or universalize it. We cannot however do both at once. For that as Kant rightly said we should require an intellectual intuition; which would mean a reflective activity which should determine an object in contrary directions at the same time.
To particularize a representation is more than to fill in the detail which has been left out of account for practical purposes. It is to complete the representation for the expression of the uniqueness of what is represented. For this purpose the elements discriminable in the representation must constitute a self-contained unity. Each element must refer to all the others and nothing must refer the Subject beyond the representation. In other words the representation must be so constituted that it holds the attention within itself and so isolates itself from all external reference. So far as this can be achieved the object is represented as an unconditioned whole a unity in its own right and therefore unique. Such a representation can only be produced as an image for intuition; and its production is the work of artistry. This is of course the ideal of particularization; and we particularize a representation when we develop it in the direction of such an ideal.
To generalize is to develop a representation in the opposite direction so that what is represented appears not as unique but as constituted by its external relations. The process is one of analytical reduction. It is the ‘negative’ aspect of taking something to pieces and so reducing it to the elements of which it is composed. If I isolate any element in attention from the others with which in actuality it is conjoined it ceases to have any necessary location either spatial or temporal. It might be anywhere or at any time. So abstracted as a relationless element it is a general idea. The blue of the sky becomes when isolated simply blue which might occur as an element in any other visual context actual or imaginary. I can generalize all the elements which make up a representation in this way. I have merely to exclude from consideration their relation to one another. On the other hand I can eliminate the elements and attend only to their relations in the representation and so produce a representation which is purely schematic. This ‘form’ or ‘schema of relations’ is also general in the sense that other elements could be arranged in these relations. The pattern can again be analysed into the elementary relations of which it is composed and which could be recombined in different ways to provide other relational patterns. The ideal of this type of reflective process is a complete generality—the idea of an infinite multiplicity of unit elements which can be related in an infinite number of different ways. It is essential to this ideal that all the elements should be represented as identical; since only in this way can all necessary connexion between them and so all particularization be eliminated. This again is an ideal which cannot be attained. Generalization is a process which moves in this direction. Generality and particularity are therefore polar opposites; and any representation is more or less general; less or more particular. If we call the completely general the pure concept and the completely particular the pure intuition then any representation is more or less conceptual and less or more intuitional; and of course we can attend either to the conceptual or to the intuitional aspect of a representation to the exclusion of the other. Thus just as the artistic method of representation seeks the completely particular so the ideal of science is a complete generality. Both are abstract; the concrete individual which is represented is both constituted by its relations to the rest of the real and is a whole in its own right.
We shall return to this topic in the next chapter. In the meantime we must consider finally the derivation of theoretical from practical activity in order to show how the standpoint of the ‘I do’ overcomes the dualism of thought and action which the theoretical standpoint makes inevitable. We should be clear first of all about the ground of discrimination between theoretical and practical from the standpoint of the Agent. It is not a distinction between material and mental entities or processes. In reflection where the Self is subject and everything else including its own past is object this distinction between material and non-material aspects can be made by selective attention. In action however the distinction is matter of intention; and the ground of distinction is the difference between a theoretical and a practical intention. A practical activity is one which intends a modification of the Other; a theoretical intention is one which intends a modification in the representation of the Other. In either case the means to the realization of the intention may involve a modification of the Other. The experiments which a scientist makes in his laboratory and which involve the devising erecting and manipulation of apparatus are elements in a theoretical activity. The thinking out—the calculating and planning—which a builder undertakes before he starts to erect a factory are elements in a practical activity. Whether what I do involves moving things about or not is immaterial.
Now a practical intention is positive while a theoretical intention is negative. Action we have seen involves knowledge as its negative aspect. The carrying out of a practical intention therefore involves a development of knowledge—or if you will a continuous modification in the representation of the Other—as its negative aspect. This indeed is the source of that primary knowledge which comes unsought with the growth of experience. At every point in a practical activity there is a recognition of alternative possibilities and a choice in action of one of these. At certain points new possibilities are apprehended which are relevant to the attaining of the objective and so may involve a modification of the immediate intention. But this continuous modification of the representation in action is not itself intended: it is only the negative aspect of a practical activity—the ‘attentional’ aspect we might say of an intention which passes beyond the representation of a thing to terminate in the thing itself. A theoretical intention is then an intention which terminates in an idea and does not pass beyond it. It is a limitation of practical activity. It intends a determination of our idea of the world without going beyond this to a determination of the world itself. For this reason the results of theoretical activity have a reference beyond themselves. For any development of knowledge makes possible a modification of action which was not possible without it whether such a modification is intended or not. The extension of knowledge always extends the range of possibility for action. We noticed earlier that ‘action’ was an inclusive and ‘thought’ an exclusive concept. We may now say that in the same sense a practical intention is an inclusive and a theoretical intention an exclusive intention. Practical activity includes theoretical activity of necessity in its constitution. Theoretical activity excludes practical activity from its intention though not necessarily from the means to the realization of its intention. Consequently its results are meaningless in themselves and require a reference to action to give them meaning. They can be valid or invalid through a reference to the validity or invalidity of the practical activity which they suggest.
It remains only to indicate how if the practical is primary a theoretical activity can establish itself and even become dominant. To understand this we should start from a practical activity in which movement and knowledge are continuously fused. We might choose as our example the case of a skilled carpenter producing a plane face on a piece of rough wood with a chisel. To exclude as far as possible anticipatory awareness we may assume that he has to do this in the dark and so by tactual perception alone. The wood is felt throughout as a resistance at the cutting edge of the chisel; and the carpenter's skill is shown in a continuous modification of the amount and direction of the pressure he exerts in response to slight variations in the resistance. If he were teaching a tyro to do this he would no doubt instruct him to avoid any jerky movement and keep up an even pressure upon the chisel. This implies a practical assumption that the resistance of the timber is a continuant factor which does not alter; yet the action proceeds as an attentive expectation of and response to variations in the resistance as they arise. This is the typical pattern of rational activity. It proceeds on the assumption that the future will be as the past—for this alone provides a basis for the automatism of habit upon which all skill must be based. At the same time it expects that this will not be completely the case; and concentrates attention expectantly to meet actual variations from the pattern of continuance that is presupposed.
It is only by assuming abnormally simplified conditions however that we can isolate instances where movement and knowledge are so continuously complementary. Even in these careful study will bring to light a rhythm of attention which swings between the awareness of the Other and the movement of the Agent. In normal experience and especially when the range of anticipation is enlarged the amplitude of this rhythm is increased. Consider an artist painting a picture. He alternately puts colour on the canvas and stands back to observe the effect; and this goes on until he can find no more to do and the picture is finished. While he is actually painting of course he sees what he is doing and feels movement and resistance just as the carpenter does. But this looking and feeling is not enough. He must stand back and contemplate what he has done to see it as a whole before he does more. These contemplative moments are part of the practical business of producing his picture. The succession of positive and negative phases of movement and of reflection is so characteristic of the personal life that it would be well to have a name for it. We shall refer to it whenever we meet it as ‘the rhythm of withdrawal and return’.
In most practical activities the withdrawal into reflection is forced upon us because we meet unforeseen difficulties. We have to stop what we are doing and consider the next step. It may be that alternative procedures present themselves between which we must choose and the relative advantages and disadvantages of these must be considered. It may be that the means we are using fail to produce the expected result; and we have to think out a new method of procedure and start afresh. In all such cases the periods we spend in reflection and consideration fall within a dominant practical purpose and are negative moments in the realization of a practical intention. We may notice here that the relative time spent in action and in reflection is of no theoretical importance. Many actions involve little reflection and much practical activity; others require much careful planning and then perhaps a single decisive act. Many would have been accomplished more speedily and more successfully if longer time had been spent in considering each step in advance.
We have been considering activities in which a definite and fairly clearly defined end is in view. But many of our activities are not of this kind. Others consist in exploiting such means of action as we possess. These originate rather in a consideration of our resources and the possible activities in which they may be employed. In such cases the ends are in a sense dictated by the means. But the important point in this is that just as the same end may be attained by various means so the same means may serve the attainment of various ends. Because of this it is possible to accumulate power—that is the means of attaining our ends—without deciding in advance between the alternative purposes to which the power shall be put when we have got it. The accumulation of wealth is a case in point since the richer I am the more alternative possibilities of action I possess. In such activity the ultimate end remains undefined and the intention terminates in the means over long periods of time in many cases. Indeed since the use of the power which is being accumulated may be postponed indefinitely the pursuit of power may become for a particular agent an end in itself however irrational and even meaningless such an intention may be. For power of any sort has meaning only in reference to an end beyond itself to which it is the means.
The intention here is still practical. But clearly it need not be. The reflective moment in a practical activity is itself concerned with the means to the realization of a practical end; and in many cases the knowledge it achieves can be applied in different activities than the one for which it was originally intended. Knowledge indeed is power in a special sense and any increase in knowledge is an increase in power; since knowledge is actually a dimension of action and without it an increase in material resources is nugatory. Consequently the generalization of knowledge as the negative aspect of action makes possible an activity which intends the accumulation of knowledge without any defined reference to the practical intentions which it makes possible; and so without reference to its application in action. The moment of withdrawal into reflection may be prolonged indefinitely and the operative intention will then be a theoretical intention with no specific reference to any practical intention to which it is the means. So knowledge may become an end in itself; even though this too is irrational and meaningless. For in the absence of all reference to the practical reflection becomes phantastic incapable of either truth or falsity.
This then is one way in which it can be shown that though when we start from the primacy of the theoretical we can find no way to the possibility of action yet when we start from the ‘I do’ the possibility of reflection is no mystery; and the dualism of mind and matter is overcome.
- 1. The intention, we must remind ourselves, is not the same thing as the end. It is in the action, and is not fully determinate. The analysis of actions into means and end is reflective, and presupposes that the action is both complete and successful. Our actions are not necessarily planned in advance.