We must conclude our study of the Self as agent by considering how from this point of view the unity of experience can be thought. But before doing this I should like to remind my readers of the two limitations to which this whole study is subject; for if these are forgotten misunderstanding is liable to follow. The first is the limitation of purpose. No attempt has been made to achieve a systematic comprehensiveness. The design has been to justify as the philosophical need of the present time the substitution of a practical for a theoretical point of view; and thereafter to indicate in regard to a few selected issues the modification of theory which seems to be required. None of these issues has been considered with the methodical thoroughness which their separate importance demands nor has there been any pretension to anticipate and answer the many objections to which such conclusions as have been reached are certainly open. Anyone who looks for a philosophical system or demands a detailed and scholarly demonstration will be disappointed. Systematic scholarship is of the highest importance in philosophy; but it belongs to a later stage of the process which is here only initiated. For until we have familiarized ourselves with a new standpoint and taken a few tentative bearings on the more obvious and outstanding landmarks the attempt to construct in detail the map of a new landscape could only result in distortion and confusion. It is only the already sufficiently familiar that can be systematized and demonstrated while the obvious objections which spring to our minds are apt to be grounded in the standpoint which it is proposed to abandon.
The second limitation is methodical. Our criticism of the tradition of modern philosophy was twofold; that it was theoretical and that it was egocentric. In this first part of our study we have sought to overcome the first of these defects only by thinking from the standpoint of the Agent and not of the Subject. But we have retained the egocentric outlook; considering various aspects of our experience from the standpoint of the Agent in isolation. The result of this has been that some aspects and these the most fundamental have had to be omitted altogether. We have given no account of religion of morality of political society or of philosophy itself; for these aspects of our experience are grounded in our relations to one another. Indeed we were driven to recognize in considering the implications of action that action itself is impossible unless there is presupposed a plurality of agents in relation to one another in one field of operation. Consequently any conclusion which we can reach at this point must be incomplete; and all that we have said so far must be held liable to modification and revision when later we seek to overcome the egocentric predicament to which we are still in bondage.
Within those limits there is a conclusion to be drawn concerning the unity of experience as it appears from the standpoint of the Agent. The only way in which we can conceive our experience as a whole is by thinking the world as one action. It will facilitate the exposition of this concept however if we first consider one of the reflective disciplines which we have hitherto left unexamined and which in its own way underlies and encloses all the others. I refer to history. In distinguishing between two modes of reflective activity in the last chapter we were following an old tradition which distinguishes between the sciences and the arts. Philosophers have found it difficult to determine whether history should be classed as one or the other; and historians themselves have wavered between the two ideals sometimes treating the writing of history as a form of imaginative literature and sometimes using a scientific procedure so far as their subject matter would allow. Certain schools of philosophy on the other hand have insisted upon the intimate relation between history and philosophy and in some cases have gone so far as to identify the two.
The reason for this ambiguity and hesitation lies in the fact that history is concerned with action and any attempt to determine its place among the reflective disciplines from a purely theoretical point of view involves itself in insuperable difficulties. We should expect therefore that the adoption of the Agent's point of view should resolve this ambiguity; and that its ability to do so should provide a justification of the new standpoint. History then is concerned with action in the sense that the subject matter of the historian's reflection is the doings of men in the world. Here the distinction between ‘action’ and ‘process’ between ‘what is done’ and ‘what happens’ is of primary significance. What merely happens lies outside the historian's province. He is concerned with natural events and organic processes only in so far as they enter into the activities of human beings and play their part in setting the field for human decisions. This is indeed obvious when we attend to the historian's procedures; yet the influence of the philosophy of organism has tended to obscure it. The use of organic categories in general and of the concept of evolution in particular had a double effect. It stimulated a new interest in the study of history; and at the same time confused history with organic development. This confusion has had two interrelated consequences. On the one hand the concept of history has been applied in general to all processes of natural development. We tend to describe any attempt to understand things by reference to their origin as ‘historical’ and to talk of the ‘history’ of the earth or the ‘history’ of a biological species. On the other hand we tend to apply organic categories and particularly the idea of evolution in the field of history proper and so to think of our human past as a determinate natural continuance which could not have been otherwise. Historians themselves have not been greatly affected by this confusion: their material is too recalcitrant. At most it has influenced their selection of data and their method of procedure to some extent. But it is responsible for a crop of philosophies of history and interpretations of history which have had important practical results of which the most portentous is the communist movement. It is not the only one however. The liberal faith in an inevitable progress has the same confusion at its source. To some extent this is a question of words. There is no serious objection to using the term ‘history’ with reference to natural processes; and we have seen that action necessarily contains natural processes as its negative aspect so that an abstraction of these for relevant purposes is justifiable. No questions however are merely verbal; for the language we choose has its overtones and its suggestions. If I say that the battle of Waterloo happened in 1815 I may be tempted to ask what caused it; and in my answer to treat human decisions and intentions as mere matter of fact. It will be safer to say that the battle was fought in 1815; for then language will itself suggest the proper historical questions ‘Who fought it?’ and ‘What were they fighting about?’
We must notice next the essential inclusiveness of history. Since knowledge is a dimension of action no extension of knowledge can be without a practical consequence. Natural events as such do not enter into history. But the knowledge of them does; and even our speculations about the unknown add their quota to the determination of our intentions in action. Nature itself we have seen with all her events and processes organic or inorganic is an ideal abstraction. So far as natural events enter into human experience they modify human action and so come within the scope of history. If it be urged that very much happens in the world of which we are ignorant and that the world itself exists independently of us and of our knowledge it must be admitted that this is the case and that we know it to be the case. Yet our very ignorance is a negative element in the determination of our intentions; and the historian can only understand the actions of men in the past by recognizing their ignorance of much that is familiar today. History therefore is in this sense all-inclusive. The whole human past with all the knowledge that informed it with all the errors and illusions and misjudgements which distorted it is matter of history; and there is no event however seemingly remote from our practical interests which may not turn out to be relevant to the historian's task. The sciences and the arts philosophy and religion all have their histories; and these histories are not separate histories but parts of the one history which is the story of the doings of man on the earth. It is indeed one of the more important theoretical consequences of the practical standpoint that we should cease to look upon the sciences as independent ‘bodies of truth’ and learn to think of them as human performances as things that men do.
This inclusive character history shares with philosophy. These two disciplines have as it were a common starting point; it is the whole of the past as entering into the determination of action. The history of philosophy is part of history; but it is also part of philosophy in a way that the history of a science is not a part of that science. For philosophy like history is one and every new philosophy is a continuation of the one philosophy just as every new history of an age is a rewriting of the one history. The difference between the two is that while philosophical reflection generalizes historical reflection particularizes. It is this refusal of generalization this effort to represent the particularity of temporal sequence which makes history seem in some respects to be art rather than science. Yet it does not as an art does express a reflective valuation: for it is concerned to represent matter of fact and in this it stands closer to science. Unlike science however it docs not seek to discover recurrent patterns which could form a basis for prediction. History then is neither an art nor a science though it has certain affinities with both. How then are we to place it among the reflective activities of the Self?
To answer this question we must return to the moment of withdrawal from action. This is the negative moment in action in which the Agent isolates himself from contact with the Other—not of course in fact but in intention—and so becomes the Subject in contemplation. The object of reflection is then what has been done and so is determinate and continuant. This is we have decided the past. What represents the past for the Subject is the content of memory. Memory is the present representation of what has been known in action as a contemporary whole. But though it is given as a whole its representation is incomplete and inadequate. For memory contains only what was noticed by the agent; and this noticing has been determined selectively by a practical intention. Until the end is attained until the moment of withdrawal the Other is known only as means to an end and what is noticed is therefore only so much as is relevant to its use as means. The immediate content of memory therefore is only so much as was adequate to the particular intention of an action; and this is completely inadequate to the reflective intention which is theoretical.
The various ways in which memory is inadequate and unreliable as a knowledge of the past are well known to everyone from experience and have been the subject of much psychological investigation. They need not detain us here. One or two points however deserve mention because they are pertinent to our immediate theme. First we may notice that there is a reflective activity of remembering when we make an effort to recall something we have experienced in the past. This effort serves to fix an event in memory; that is to facilitate its subsequent recall; and the more often we recall a past experience the more readily available it becomes. But this fixing of an experience in memory is notoriously unreliable. The main reasons are that the activity of recall is an imaginative process so that it is difficult to be sure that the recall is purely reproductive and not inventive. Moreover what is actually remembered is usually fragmentary and demands imaginative completion. There is always apt to be an unconscious modification or idealization of the memory content in the deliberate effort to remember.
Secondly the process of observation is itself an activity of memory. For contemplation takes time and though the intention is to apprehend something as a unity in itself the activity is a succession of observations which are fused together in a memory-synthesis. Add to this that visual perception of events is in principle always a perception of the past since light takes time to travel from the object to the eye; and though for practical purposes this interval is negligible it becomes theoretically important where the distances as in astronomical observation are sufficiently great. The anticipatory function of vision in action rests upon the assumption of continuance. But a particular event does not recur; what does recur is another event of the same type. Auditory perception again depends upon the speed of sound which is much slower than that of light so that allowance must be made for this at much lesser distances. In general since the present is the point of action it is only in tactual contact that our awareness of the Other is not a knowledge of the past.
Thirdly the content of memory is relative to the position and the action of a particular agent. Under normal conditions at least we can remember only what we have ourselves experienced that is to say only our own past. It is believed by some that nothing we have ever experienced is totally lost to memory; and the use by psychologists of techniques for the overcoming of amnesia provides impressive evidence for such a generalization. But even if this is true there are still two points to be taken into account. The first is that it is rarely possible to be sure that we are really remembering and not inventing; and second that even if this difficulty could be overcome even if a particular agent could remember all he had ever experienced and could be sure that his memory was completely trustworthy the content of his memory would constitute only a tiny fragment of what there has been to experience. As a knowledge of the past it would amount to very little.
I have drawn attention to these characteristics to provide a background for the conclusion which specially concerns us. The inadequacy of memory as a knowledge of the past comes from the fact that no reflective activity is complete until it is expressed; and this expression must itself be independent of the continuing activity of the Self. This expressing of memory we call ‘recording’; and when it is pursued systematically we speak of ‘compiling records’. When it is important that we should remember something with precision it is better not to trust our unaided memory but to make a note of it. If we wish to be able in the future to recall our past experience and activities satisfactorily we keep a diary. Such records we know must be made when the experiences to which they refer are still fresh in the memory if they are to be reliable. All such records are expressions of the activity of remembering; they are not so much substitutes for memory as memories published. For the records in themselves are mere symbols; and if I read in my diary I remember my past experience with an exactness and a detail which would otherwise be impossible. But the recording of my experience has also the effect of making it public in the sense that someone else can read what I have written. If this happens my knowledge of my own past which is the content of my memory becomes his knowledge of my past. So my memories through the record I make become elements in a public memory a knowledge of past experience which has become available to anyone who reads the record.
Now both the modes of reflection which we have examined the intellectual and the emotional depend upon the recording of personal experience. The scientist must record his observations and experiments with meticulous exactness and he must have access to the records made by others. The artist too must study his subject and brood over his experience of it and make studies in his own medium though in his case since he is concerned in the end to express not some matter of fact but an evaluation the exact record of observation is less essential and he may more easily rely on unrecorded memory. For the making of his final expression is itself the recording of a continuity of contemplative experience and its earlier stages are built into the finished product. But in both these cases the recording of experience is incidental to a special intention; it is a means to an end and it is therefore highly selective in terms of relevance to the end in view. In both cases too the intention involves an elimination of the temporal reference; for the scientist seeks an eternal law—the discovery of a general pattern in events which recurs ad infinitum without change; while the artist isolates his object as an eternal value and seeks to make it a possession for ever.
There is therefore need for a reflective discipline the intention of which is neither to generalize nor to particularize but to record. This discipline is history the business of which is to construct an adequate and reliable public memory. It would be wrong or at least misleading to say that the historian is concerned to construct the record of past events. For he is not concerned with events as such in the scientist's sense. He does not abstract from experience a purely ‘objective’ world of events. He is concerned with events only as they enter into human experience and so modify human action; only with the material world or the world of Nature so far as they provide the field of human activity and set the practical problems which men must solve. History is then essentially personal; and it exhibits the form of the personal: for it concentrates upon practical activities and treats the reflective achievements of an epoch as secondary and derivative; as of interest in so far as they enter into and condition the practical doings of the time. And since history is concerned with the human past in its pastness it makes no reference to the future; it does not seek to derive from the past anything that can be referred to the future. This can be best expressed by reference to memory; for memory provides the archetypal form of all historical reflection. The ideal of history is to represent the whole human past as if it were the memory-content of a single agent who had experienced it all and whose memory was completely adequate and reliable. This ideal explains among other things the selectivity of history; by which I mean the way in which the representation of a past epoch varies from historian to historian and from one generation of historians to the next. This variability has led to the view that history is necessarily and not merely accidentally coloured by the personal prejudices and interests of the individual who writes it; and therefore is an art rather than a science inherently subjective. In fact it is merely the ‘public’ form of one of the functional characteristics of memory. The ‘content’ of memory is not all present to consciousness at once it is merely available when required. What requires that this or that aspect or element in memory should be recalled is always a present and practical interest. For what is actively remembered is ipso facto brought into a determining relation to present intentions and preoccupations. What is actually recalled is selected for its relevance to the present; and the accounts that we give of the same experience of our own from time to time necessarily vary with the occasion for their production. Nor does this variation necessarily affect their validity. Just as there can be no definitive memory so there can be no definitive history.
As in all forms of reflection the ideal determines the methodology of the historian. The raw material of his activity is records that is to say published memories. He estimates their reliability and collates them and so builds up a composite picture which is more reliable than any of the sources taken singly. There are of course gaps and these must be filled in; if possible by the discovery of further records or if these are not available by inference and imaginative construction which will be tested and verified in every possible fashion. The results are ‘histories’: themselves records to be compared and collated with the ‘records’ produced by other historians. So the co-operative process of reflection moves gradually in the direction of its ideal; towards a single reliable and complete record of human activity in the past which links the past to the present in a continuity of action and provides a public memory available to everyone.
This underlying conception of a continuity of human action interests us particularly at the moment. History is not mere chronicle; it is understanding. Its fixed point of reference is the present; its effort is to exhibit the continuity of the past with the present and the present as continuing the past. But this past is a human past; its elements are the doings of agents. Consequently its continuity with the present can only be a continuity of action; and action is constituted by intention. Historical understanding is then a comprehension of the continuity of human intention and so far as it succeeds it exhibits a multitude of individual acts as constituting a single action in virtue of a community of intention. It is clearly impossible to analyse or expound this complex concept without facing the problem which we have reserved for future consideration—the relatedness of persons in action. We can only notice here where we are concerned with its empirical employment by the historian that it presents him with two interrelated problems. He must discover and express the unity of intention which combines the contemporary doings of many agents into the action of one society of agents; and also the continuity of this common intentionality from generation to generation. As an example of the first we might recall our habit of speaking of a battle as an action; of the second the idea of the continuity of British foreign policy in the Nineteenth Century. In both cases we are dealing with many actions of many individuals which constitute a unity of action because they are informed by community and continuity of intention. We must bear in mind if we are to understand this aright that intention is not to be confused with end or a common intention with a common end or a continuity of intention with the persistence of a determinate end. Intention determines itself progressively in action.
However we are to interpret this we can at least recognize it as a postulate or working hypothesis of historical reflection. Without intention there is no action; and therefore nothing for history to record; without a unity of continuing action which is made up of the actions of many agents it must be impossible to talk sensibly about the acts of a group or a nation or about the policy of a government. An ant-hill or a herd of elephants has no history. Without memory which is his immediate knowledge of his own past the individual cannot act; and it is the continuity of memory which combines all his actions into the unity of a single human life. So without a common memory there can be no common action; without a public memory no public life. And without the systematic and methodical investigation of the historian determining the record of the past in terms of a distinction between true and false there can be no reliable public memory but only a legendary tradition.
There are two reasons for introducing such a commentary upon history at this stage of our argument. The first is that it completes—so far as it can be complete at present—our study of reflection and its relation to action. Historical reflection is the matrix of all modes of reflection. They arise from it and return to it again. Without the record of past activity they are impossible; and if the record is unreliable they are led astray. Memory is the sine qua non of personal existence in any of its modes; and an unreliable memory is a fruitful source of faulty action. The consideration of history might well have taken precedence in our study of reflection. We have left it to the last because when we seek to understand historical reflection we find ourselves faced with the necessity of analysing the relation of persons in action. This points directly to the subject of our second volume. The other reason is that in history we find in empirical use the thought of an intentional unity of actions in one action. If now we take this empirical concept from the historian and isolate it as a logical form we reach the point where we must consider what may be called for want of a better term the metaphysic of action.
The very mention of metaphysics is apt to arouse feelings of suspicion more or less violent and hostile among an influential section of contemporary philosophers. A short comment on this attitude is therefore desirable in order to clarify our own position. The doctrine that metaphysical statements are meaningless has its roots in the positivistic aspect of the Critical philosophy. The ground of this judgement is that a metaphysical assertion cannot be verified because it purports to refer beyond the limits of possible experience. For Kant synthetic judgements a priori can be known to be true only if they are purely formal. For modern positivists the formal judgements to which Kant refers are not synthetic but analytic and their validity is guaranteed by the fact that they are tautological. This difference of doctrine is unimportant in the present connexion; since in either case it rules out the possibility of metaphysics in the sense of the term with which we are concerned. Now this rejection of metaphysics seems entirely justified from the standpoint of the primacy of the theoretical. If the ‘I think’ is the primary postulate of all knowledge then metaphysical assertions are meaningless because they require verification and cannot be verified. But this conclusion is valid only on the assumption that the theoretical standpoint is the only possible standpoint. If this is not so then the conclusion may be taken as a reductio ad absurdum of that standpoint. Now we have already shown that the ‘Cogito’ is inadequate and even self-contradictory as an absolute presupposition of experience; and we have been exploring the possibility of substituting for it the ‘I do’ of an experience which is primarily practical. Consequently the possibility of metaphysics remains an open question and the arguments against its possibility have lost their cogency.
The issue now turns upon the nature of verification. For we must grant it seems that any assertion which requires verification yet does not admit of verification is meaningless; and any assertion which is reasonably doubted requires verification. From the standpoint which we have adopted the weakness of the positivist case lies in a misunderstanding of verification; a misunderstanding which is inevitable if theoretical activity is taken to be self-contained and self-sufficient. On this presupposition verification must take the form of a reference from one aspect of reflective experience to another; that is to say to sense-perception. But a reference to sense perception as such—that is to say as a pure receptivity of the mind—verifies nothing. It only seems to do so on the assumption that what is given in sense-perception exists independently in its own right. We have already characterized the realist assertion that this is the case as a mere dogma. But it is a groundless assertion only upon his own presuppositions. If sense-perception is taken as an element in action and not in reflection the case is different. For then the reference in verification is not to sense-perception but to action in which of course sense-perception is a constitutive element; and verification is itself the testing of theory in action.
Now it follows from this that the field of verification is much wider than is commonly allowed. For in principle wherever a reflective construction can enter into the determination of an intention it can be verified. What is required is simply an expectation in action which can be falsified in the event. What is expected may of course be a certain perceptual experience. But clearly it need not be. A reflective valuation as we have noticed already can equally be verified in action. Then why not a metaphysical assertion? To say that it is meaningless could only signify that whether it was believed or not could make no difference to the intentionality of an agent. There may be assertions of this kind though I cannot think of any which could be taken seriously. If there are such assertions then I for one will happily agree that they are meaningless. But most metaphysical assertions at least those which have been seriously maintained are not of this kind. They are assertions which if seriously believed make a profound difference to the direction of human intentions. The differential consequences of the kinds of action which they promote constitute their verification. For to act upon a belief involves expectations which may or may not be falsified in the event. What is expected may not be a particular sensory experience. Indeed if the belief is a metaphysical one it clearly cannot be. It must be remembered that even in science to verify a hypothesis does not mean to demonstrate its truth. No hypothesis can ever be established beyond the possibility of revision. What verification does is to provide practical grounds for believing an assertion in preference to any known alternative. Belief is a practical category; to justify a belief is to provide rational grounds for acting on the assumption that it is true. Since we cannot pursue the question how metaphysical beliefs are tested in action I shall add only one further remark. If we can understand to whatever extent what difference would be made in our intention if we acted in the belief that a certain proposition were true then that proposition has a meaning: and if the meaning of a proposition is its verification in some sense of this obscure phrase then the mode of verification to which it is susceptible is a clue to its interpretation.
The particular metaphysical assertion which I have in mind is that the world is one action. This is the conclusion to which our whole argument moves and it has been implicit from the beginning. For to think the Self as agent is to think the unity of the world as a unity of action. We can therefore draw this series of lectures suitably to a close by making this conclusion formally explicit.
If we take our stand as the philosophical tradition does on the ‘I think’ and conceive the Self as subject then any attempt to think the unity of the Real must conceive it as object of knowledge. This we have seen necessitates a dualism. The Self and its activities or states cannot be included in the world which is known. The theoretical alternative is to include the Object within the Subject so that in the last analysis the Subject is its own object and all knowledge is self-consciousness. This is the conclusion of Objective Idealism; but it is solipsistic and therefore self-refuting. For solipsism is an ultimate denial of the possibility of any distinction between true and false and so of the possibility of knowledge. In that case it cannot itself be true or false and is merely meaningless.
Now dualism is the denial of the possibility of thinking a unity of the Real. The world divides into an absolute duality of objective and subjective; only the objective is real; while the subjective is unreal. To think the world as a whole would be to think it as a completely determinate object. But such a concept is necessarily exclusive; we have considered it already in the form of the concept of the continuant and have seen that it is an ideal abstraction within our experience of the world an isolate which falls within the whole. It excludes from reality all that is indeterminate; therefore all error all illusion and all possibility of action. But indeterminateness is an essential character of the Self whether as subject knowing or as agent in action. In knowing the Self determines an object theoretically; in acting it determines the future practically. If nothing real is indeterminate then neither action nor knowledge is possible and the existence of the Self is illusory; there is in fact no self. In so far then as metaphysics involves the endeavour to think the world as a whole including in the world ourselves and our experience of the world metaphysics on the basis of the primacy of the theoretical is an impossibility. The result could only be a dualism of real and unreal which in the nature of the case must issue in antinomies.
All this is no more than a resumé of previous conclusions. But we discovered also that when we substituted the ‘I do’ for the ‘I think’ and carried on our reflection from the standpoint of action there emerged a new logical form which we called the form of the personal. We defined it as the form of a unity in which the positive included its own negative as a necessary constituent. By means of this form we were able to overcome the dualism of subjective and objective of mind and matter and to give an account of action. Now if this form is given a metaphysical use it will enable us to think the determinate as necessarily including its negative the indeterminate; or more generally to think Reality as constituted by the inclusion of the unreal in its own being. Such a concept would then enable us to think the unity of the world without falling into dualism and antinomy.
We have accepted so far the prima facie distinction between actions and events; between what is done and what happens. We have now to ask whether this distinction constitutes another dualism. If it does then it is impossible to think a unity of the world and the understanding must confine itself within limits; coming to a halt in face of questions which as Kant said it cannot help but ask yet cannot hope to answer. If it does not then one of the terms of the distinction must ultimately reduce to the other. The alternatives are that we should think reality either as a unity of events or as a unity of actions; that is to say either as one process or as one action.
Contemporary thought under the dominant influence of science does at least implicitly conceive the world as a single process; either biologically as an evolutionary process or mathematically as a material process of events obeying physical laws. But we are in a position to reject this alternative decisively. For we have seen that the conception of a unity of events whether conceived physically or organically is the conception of the continuant and that the continuant is an ideal abstraction from our experience as agents. It is constituted by the exclusion of action. This concept of process cannot therefore include action as an element in the unity it seeks to express. If the world is a unitary process it must be a world in which nothing is ever done; in which everything simply happens; a world then in which everything is matter of fact and nothing is ever intended. We should have to assert in that case that there are no actions; that what seem such are really events. It will not be sufficient to say that all our actions are determined; for this is a contradiction in terms. The capacity to act is freedom; what has to be denied if the world is one event is that anything is ever intended. But in that case the assertion itself must be unintentional and therefore meaningless. In rejecting this alternative we are merely using the criterion that we established earlier that since the ‘I do’ is the primary certainty any theory which explicitly or implicitly denies it must be false.
On the other hand we have seen that the concept of action includes the concept of the continuant process as its own negative. Any action in its actuality if we abstract from its intentionality and so from the knowledge which directs it presents itself as a process of events. In reflection once it is done it can be described exhaustively as matter of fact without reference to the intention which determined it. It follows from this that what appears to us to be a process of events which happen in a necessary succession may always be a part or an aspect of an action. Granted that in our empirical experience we must recognize occurrences which we cannot refer to the intention of an agent and which we must treat as mere happenings it still does not follow that they are not so referable. If we cannot prove intention from premisses that are matter of observed fact neither can we disprove it. It is therefore possible to think the world as one action. It is not possible to think it as a unitary process.
It is then logically impossible that the world should be a single process; it is logically possible that it should be one action. But this does not prove anything actual. We must therefore ask whether there is any reason why we should think the unity of the Real at all? In pure theory there is none. But pure theory must mean a reflection which has no reference to action and which is therefore meaningless. We exist only as agents; and in our existence we are parts of the world dependent upon it for the support and the resistance which make our action possible. The thought of the world as a unity is a postulate of action. For any action in the world depends on the co-operation of the world. It is indeed an integration of the movements of the Agent with the movements of the Other so that in action the Self and the Other form a unity. This integration is the action and its unity is intentional. It would be impossible unless the process of the Other independently of the agent's intention were itself systematic; for if not there would be no ground for any expectation that the movement initiated by the agent would be continued by natural processes in one way rather than another. If we could not rely upon the world outside us we could not act in it. We can act only through knowledge of the Other; and only what is a determinable unity can be known. It does not follow as we have seen that its future can be completely determined in advance; only that whatever occurs must be systematically related to what has gone before so that through all its changes the world remains one world.
We must therefore as agents think the world as a unity: and we have seen that this unity can only be coherently thought as a unity of action. This means that we must think the world in which we act and of which we are constituents as a unity of intention. But admittedly any thought however formal requires verification and the possibility of verification is grounded on the differential effect it has upon intention. If we act as if the world in its unity is intentional; that is if we believe in practice that the world is one action—and our consideration of history has shown us what this signifies—we shall act differently from anyone who does not believe this. We shall act as though our own actions were our contributions to the one inclusive action which is the history of the world. If on the other hand we believe that the world is a mere process of events which happen as they happen we shall act differently. Our conception of the unity of the world determines a way of life; and the satisfactoriness or unsatisfactoriness of that way of life is its verification.
The heart of this verification must lie in the effect of the belief upon the relations of persons; and only when we have considered this topic will it be possible to go beyond the formality of our present conclusion. Meanwhile in bringing to a close the first stage of our inquiry we may profitably return to our starting-point. The long argument of modern philosophy we said has moved steadily in the direction of an atheistic conclusion; and with it the historical development of our civilization has moved towards irreligion. At the same time this has precipitated a revolutionary crisis in society and made a break in the philosophical tradition which compels us to start afresh from a revision of its fundamental assumption the primacy of the theoretical. We have substituted the ‘I do’ for the ‘I think’ and made a first tentative effort to follow out the implications of this radical modification. Very much remains obscure; but there is one result which is sufficiently clear. The argument which starts from the primacy of the practical moves steadily in the direction of a belief in God. To think the world in practical terms is ultimately to think the unity of the world as one action and therefore as informed by a unifying intention. It may indeed prove possible to think the process of the world as intentional without thinking a supreme Agent whose act the world is. But prima facie at least it is not possible to do so. The conflict between religion and atheism turns in large part at least on the issue whether the process of the world is intentional or not. We noticed in our first chapter that contemporary existentialism in its division into theist and atheist wings poses the substantial problem of philosophy in our day in the alternatives ‘God or Nothing’. We may now add to this as a pointer to the direction of a verification that the theistic alternative issues in the hope of an ultimate unity of persons in fellowship which gives meaning to human effort; while atheist existentialism finds human relationship an insoluble problem and all human projects doomed to frustration and ultimate meaninglessness. As Sartre says in Huis clos ‘L'enfer c'est les autres’.