This volume contains the substance of the Gifford Lectures delivered in the University of Glasgow during the Spring term of 1953. The second series of these lectures delivered the following Spring under the title Persons in Relation will be published in due course. The general subject of the lectures was dictated by a double criticism of our philosophical tradition. The traditional point of view is both theoretical and egocentric. It is theoretical in that it proceeds as though the Self were a pure subject for whom the world is object. This means that the point of view adopted by our philosophy is that of the Self in its moment of reflection when its activity is directed towards the acquirement of knowledge. Since the Self in reflection is withdrawn from action withdrawn into itself withdrawn from participation in the life of the world into contemplation this point of view is also egocentric. The Self in reflection is self-isolated from the world which it knows. This theoretical and egocentric character of our philosophy is not doctrinal. It is a presupposition generally unconscious implicit in philosophical procedures. It is quite compatible with voluntarism. Fichte for instance begins from the assertion ‘In the beginning was the Act’. But this ‘act’ turns out to be an act of consciousness and its objective the theoretical and egocentric one of complete self-consciousness.
My purpose has been to challenge both these presuppositions. Against the assumption that the Self is at least primarily a ‘knowing subject’ I have maintained that its subjecthood is a derivative and negative aspect of its agency. This corresponds to the fact that most of our knowledge and all our primary knowledge arises as an aspect of activities which have practical not theoretical objectives; and that it is this knowledge itself an aspect of action to which all reflective theory must refer. Against the assumption that the Self is an isolated individual I have set the view that the Self is a person and that personal existence is constituted by the relation of persons.
The present volume is concerned with the former of the two issues and so with the Self as Agent. The question of the interrelation of selves—the proposal to substitute the ‘You and I’ for the solitary ‘I’ of the philosophical tradition—has been reserved in order to facilitate exposition for the second volume. This method has disadvantages and may even be misleading if the incompleteness of the first volume is forgotten. It may therefore be desirable to say at once that the agent-self which will be the subject of our present discussions is a logical abstraction and can exist only as a community of personal agents.
The misunderstanding however against which it is most important to guard touches the purpose or the philosophical function of these lectures. Because they range in a systematic fashion over every general aspect of human experience they may suggest that what is offered is a new philosophical system. This is not the case. Unlike many of my contemporaries I have no objection to system-making; I consider it indeed in its proper place a necessary part of the philosophical enterprise. Most systems of philosophy indeed are the product not of the genius of the original thinkers to whom they are ascribed but of the industry of their commentators. But there are system-builders among the great philosophers. Aristotle Aquinas Hegel are examples. Their function is to give a definitive and systematic expression to a process of thought which has been unfolding itself over a period of history. At the beginning of such processes stand the pioneers thinkers like Pythagoras or Descartes whose function it is to reject current presuppositions and to establish a new point of view with new assumptions. The process itself which unites these two extremes consists in the gradual discovery of the implications and consequences of the new point of view. The present work is a pioneering venture. It seeks to establish a point of view. Its purpose therefore is formal and logical—to construct and to illustrate in application the form of the personal.
A new philosophical form cannot be established by demonstration. It can only be exhibited and illustrated in use. It is possible to show the need for new formal construction by a critical analysis of the philosophical tradition. The forms in actual use—at present the mechanical (or mathematical) form and the organic (or dialectical)—can be shown to prove inadequate to their function. The analysis can be used to indicate the locus of this inadequacy and so to suggest the starting-point of a new construction. Further the analysis of this starting-point can be made to yield the form which it implies and the presuppositions which this form carries with it. But the verification can only be undertaken through an attempt to apply the new form over the whole field which it must cover. The function of a philosophical form is to exhibit the unity of human experience as a whole in all its general aspects both theoretical and practical. To verify it is to show that it is capable of doing so. This explains the appearance of system-building. It has been necessary to consider each major field of human activity both practical and reflective in systematic order from the new point of view and to offer at least the suggestion of a theory in each which might be compatible with the new form. But this process has been carried only to the point where the application of the form has been sufficiently illustrated. What has been attempted is to indicate in each field the modification of traditional theory that seems to be required. The paramount interest has remained the same throughout—to clarify the form and to exhibit its philosophical adequacy.
It goes without saying that the suggestions I have made in this or the other field are intended to be serious contributions to the developing content of philosophical theory. I hope that when they are worked out to the point at which the difficulties and doubts to which they must give rise become apparent they will be found capable of withstanding criticism; if not in all cases at least in some. My confidence however is severely qualified by a knowledge of the inherent difficulty of the task. It is one thing to discover the presuppositions underlying a historic tradition and to recognize that they are no longer tenable. It is quite another if that tradition is one's own to track down all the effects of those presuppositions upon the body of belief and opinion which one has inherited. The influence of the old assumptions is pervasive and unformulated. It is not possible even if it were desirable to empty one's mind completely and start afresh in a condition of intellectual innocence. It is only to be expected therefore that I have carried over much from the old order that should have been left behind and that my tentative theorizing will be found liable at many points to the objection that it still presupposes what it purports to reject. Yet even should this prove the case in a much larger measure than I hope and expect the main object of these lectures would remain unaffected. The form of the personal would still have been exhibited and the possible range of its application would have been illustrated even if all the particular applications had gone awry through the intrusion of attitudes and assumptions which ought to have been excluded.
This nagging doubt has however a more cheerful aspect. Criticisms of these applications which remain whether consciously or unconsciously within the presuppositions of the traditional philosophy and which depend upon the logical forms which I have rejected have no force. For critics also the formal issue is paramount.
So far as the nature of the subject-matter would allow I have sought to employ the methods and the terminology which are usual in abstract and formal philosophical analysis. But it is in accordance with the general thesis that the abstract theoretical discussion has a concrete and practical reference and that this too should be expressed. The simplest expression that I can find for the thesis I have tried to maintain is this: All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action and all meaningful action for the sake of friendship.
I am glad to have this opportunity to express my gratitude to the University of Glasgow for the invitation to prepare these lectures and to colleagues and friends in that University for the kindness and hospitality which made their delivery a delight. I also owe a debt to my philosophical colleagues in Edinburgh for their helpful criticism and encouragement. In particular I should like to thank Dr. Frederick Broadie for checking the manuscript and compiling the index.