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Part One (First Course): On Selfhood

Lecture III: The Essence of Cognition

1. We shall be embarking in the present lecture upon the main project of our first course—the endeavour to show that, despite the contrary trend of so much contemporary philosophy, the rigorous application of reason does not compel a renunciation of the theologically indispensable concept of the soul. There are, however, certain preliminary observations of a methodological sort which it seems desirable to make.

As I indicated earlier, I do not think it possible to counter effectively a scepticism that is so widespread, and of such varied provenance, as present-day scepticism about the soul, by the method of rebutting piece-meal this, that and the other specific argument against the soul's reality. At bottom, this contemporary scepticism derives, I believe, from a whole way of approach to the problems of philosophy, and to the interpretation of the human mind in particular; a way of approach which has been gaining in popularity roughly since the turn of the century, and which at the present time may be said to claim the allegiance of the great majority of professional philosophers. It is given, very commonly, the general title of ‘empiricism’; but this is not, perhaps, an entirely happy usage. For the great divide between philosophers in recent times is not, in my opinion, between those who appeal to ‘experience’ to provide evidence for their doctrines, and those who spin their theories out of something called ‘pure reason’. Almost every philosopher today would at least claim to be basing his views on ‘experience’. There is, however, a very real divide between those who understand by ‘experience’ merely sensory experience, and those who believe that experience as a source of evidence is far richer than is allowed for by its arbitrary limitation to the sensory.

So far as the study of the human mind is concerned, the least misleading term to designate the typical modern approach is, I think, ‘naturalistic’. For the method of procedure now favoured is based throughout on the assumption that the human mind is just one among other objects in the ‘natural’ world. I need scarcely say that this is not the method I propose to adopt in these lectures. Criticism of particular manifestations of the naturalistic approach must await its proper occasion, but it is perhaps worth while indicating at once in general terms why I am convinced it can only lead to grave distortions. The naturalistic standpoint, the standpoint proper to, and indeed alone possible for, the study of physical objects, is the stand-point of the external observer. But that standpoint is bound to be inadequate to the study of that which is something not merely for an external observer, but also for itself. It will not afford us even a glimpse of this latter aspect of the thing's being; and in the degree that this latter aspect is Important to the thing's being, any account which abstracts from it is bound to result in travesty. Now there can be no doubt that the human mind, whatever else it is, is at least ‘something for itself’. And there can be very little doubt, I should have thought, that this aspect of it is of very great importance. Accordingly it seems to me clear that the naturalistic approach to the study of the mind, abstracting wholly from the standpoint of the experiencing subject, which can alone throw light upon what the mind is for itself, is in principle hopelessly incapable of revealing to us mental experience as it really is, and as, in our less doctrinaire moments, we all believe it to be.

I venture to suggest, therefore, even at the threshold of our enquiry, that people today who have a concern for religion are perhaps a little unduly disquieted by the inability of so many modern philosophers to discover in their investigations anything that could answer to the common notion of a ‘self—let alone of a ‘soul’. Adopting, as these philosophers predominantly do, the naturalistic approach to human experience, the surprising thing would be if such a discovery were made. It does not follow, of course, that a conclusion satisfactory to the theologian will emerge from an enquiry conducted from the more adequate standpoint which takes due account of what our distinctively human experience is for the experiencing subject. But this standpoint does seem to be the only proper one; and it is one for which it is at least an open question whether or not the soul exists. I think that that question is in effect answered in advance by those who elect to adopt the naturalistic approach.

2. In my first lecture I gave it as my view that ‘in the intellectual milieu of today, there can be no effective vindication of the “self” short of its constructive establishment from philosophic first principles’; and that this involves ‘an examination of our distinctively human experience in some of its more fundamental modes and manifestations’. Without prejudice to questions about the metaphysical primacy of one or another mode of experience, I shall, simply as a convenience of method, deal first with man as a cognitive being. What is characteristic of human, as distinct from merely animal, experience depends so vitally upon the presence of ‘ideas’ that not much of importance seems able to be said about human conation or human feeling without some prior understanding of human cognition. On the other hand, it is, I think, perfectly possible to elicit satisfactorily the essential character of human cognition with almost no reference to either conation or feeling. One does well to bear in mind, however, that there is probably no cognitive experience which has not a conative and a feeling aspect, and that it would be quite vain to try to understand a man's cognitive life as a whole, or even over any considerable span, without taking account of the manner in which all three sides of his nature interweave with and reciprocally determine one another.

Our problem in this lecture, then, will be to ascertain the essential nature of human cognition. I shall lead up to the answer in my own way; but I should like to make it clear that, to the best of my knowledge, it is only in mode of presentation, not in substance, that my answer differs from that given seventy odd years ago by F. H. Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet.

In inviting attention, as I am about to do, to one of the basic teachings of Absolute Idealism, a philosophy that has for some time been rumoured to be defunct, I am aware that many of you will feel that something in the way of an apology is called for. I fear, however, that any display of contrition on my part would be hypocritical. There is, indeed, much in the metaphysics, and hardly less in the ethics, of this school of philosophy which I should be most unhappy to have to defend; and of the imprecise and rhetorical language in which its doctrines have too often been presented, I think there is no defence. But that there are also to be found in it elements of very great value is doubted (so far as my experience goes) only by those who have contrived to remain in, or to return to, virtually a state of nature with respect to what the major representatives of this school have had to say. It is my own strong conviction that Idealism succeeded in laying hold of two outstandingly important truths, the neglect of which in recent philosophy has been nothing short of disastrous. Both of these truths, as it happens, are of the highest relevance to the subject of this course. The first is the centrality of the judgment in human cognition. The second is the centrality of self-consciousness in human experience generally. With the first we shall be concerned at once; for we have in the Idealist's ‘judgment-theory’ of cognition, I am persuaded, the one sound answer to the question with which the present lecture has to deal, viz. ‘What is the essential nature of the fundamental mode of human experience we call “cognition”?’

Nevertheless, while I cannot bring myself to feel apologetic about asking your attention for a doctrine which I believe to be as true and as fruitful as it is now unfamiliar, I freely confess that I am a good deal troubled about how to expound it with reasonable brevity in terms that do not presuppose some acquaintance with the context of philosophic thought in which it arose. Yet the problem of the essential nature of cognition is, in my view, of such moment, not merely for an appreciation of what sort of thing a thinking mind is, but for philosophy in general, that the task must at least be attempted. I shall do what I can to avoid question-begging assumptions, and I shall hope to forestall some misunderstandings by taking note of such objections as appear in the rare references to the doctrine that I am able to discover in recent philosophical writings. (And for your comfort let me add that not until Lecture XIX do I propose again to tax your patience by involving the argument in a system of thought so uncongenial to contemporary philosophy as that of F. H. Bradley.)

3. Let us be quite clear what it is we are setting out to discover. We are looking for those characteristics in virtue of which we should be prepared, on reflection, to call an experience a cognitive experience; for those characteristics which are at once necessary to and sufficient for cognition. The procedure which may be expected to throw the required features into sharpest relief is, I think, to select some case in which what everyone would agree to call a cognitive experience supervenes upon what everyone would agree to call a non-cognitive experience, and to try to ascertain what happens in one's mind when the transition takes place. We want to concentrate attention upon the transition-point between non-cognition and cognition. And it will be better, I think, to take a case where the transition is not from total non-cognition to cognition (as in awaking from a profound and dreamless sleep), but rather from non-cognition in respect to a particular field to cognition in respect to that field. This latter type of case is preferable because instances of it are abundant, can be produced at will, and are much more amenable to introspective observation and analysis.

Here, then, is an instance1 to serve as a basis for our analysis:

Let us suppose ourselves to be lying out on the open hillside on a fine summer day, completely absorbed in our private thoughts. All sorts of sights and sounds and smells assail our senses, but they ‘mean nothing’ to us. So far as awareness of our physical surroundings is concerned, we might as well be sitting before our study fire. Suddenly something occurs to arouse us abruptly from our reverie—perhaps the scream of a low-flying ‘jet’. We ‘come back to life’ (as the saying is) and begin to notice what is before us and about us. What we were previously looking at, but without awareness, now ‘registers’ in our conscious mind. It has now, in sharp contrast with a moment ago, what it is natural to call a ‘meaning’ for us.

I take it that everyone will allow that we have here a case in which the mind passes from a non-cognitive to a cognitive state with respect to our physical environment. Let us now select for special attention some particular item in the cognised field, for preference some very simple item like a patch of green; and let us consider what is involved in its thus becoming ‘cognised’.

It will not have escaped notice that already, in what purported to be mere description, we have moved a little way towards an answer. The ‘green’, we suggested, in becoming cognised, acquires a ‘meaning’ for us. This step, I think, should offer no difficulty to anyone. The claim will hardly be made that there can be a state properly called ‘cognitive’ in which there is no awareness of meaning. It is, indeed, in complete accord with ordinary usage to say of an object when it first enters into our cognition that it ‘takes on significance for us’, or ‘acquires a meaning for us’.

Nevertheless, ‘meaning’ is such a troublesome term in philosophy that it may be as well to protect our present use of it against misunderstanding. Be it noted, then, that the sense of the term ‘meaning’ in our present, quite familiar, usage is different from its sense in that still more familiar usage in which we speak of symbols (the most common of which are words) as having ‘meaning’. ‘Meaning’ in our present usage is a much more ultimate notion than that. It has sometimes been asserted, I am aware, that ‘only “symbols” mean’. But if ‘mean’ is here equivalent to ‘have meaning’, then the assertion involves an arbitrary and highly inconvenient limitation upon the meaning of the term. It is perfectly intelligible, and in some contexts important, to say ‘In so far as an object is anything for a mind, it has a meaning for that mind’. That ultimate sense is the sense in which we are using the term ‘meaning’ here, and clearly it has nothing to do with symbolic reference as ordinarily understood.

In the passage, then, from the non-cognitive to the cognitive state in respect of the green patch, we pass from a state in which it has no meaning for us to a state in which it does have meaning. Let us concentrate upon this point of transition. Let us ask ourselves, introspecting with all possible care, what takes place in our experience when the ‘green’ we have been looking at, but have not ‘cognised’, is suddenly perceived as green.

The answer I propose to you, and shall go on to develop, is as follows. The green acquires a meaning for us, is cognised as green, when, and only when, we are aware of it as in some sense qualifying or characterising the objective world—and, accordingly, as related to other constituents of that world.

Now the term ‘objective world’ is here obviously of key importance. What it denotes cannot, strictly speaking, be defined. It stands, like ‘meaning’ in our present usage, for a quite ultimate notion. The notion of an objective world is not something at which cognition arrives, but something from which cognition starts, something necessarily presupposed in all cognition. We can best indicate its cognitive function by saying that ‘objective world’ denotes for us that which in all cognition the cognising subject supposes himself to be knowing or seeking to know. The life of cognition from beginning to end rests upon the presumption that there is an ‘objective world’, in this sense, to be known. If we try to dispense with the notion of it we find that eo ipso we are dispensing with the notion of cognition itself.

An equivalent of the expression ‘objective world’ would be ‘objective reality’. And it is, I think, on the whole a preferable equivalent. For the expression ‘objective world’ has gathered about it in common speech certain limiting associations (e.g. with the merely physical realm of being). ‘That which in all cognition we suppose ourselves to be knowing or seeking to know’ clearly ought not to be identified in advance with purely physical entities (nor indeed even with these plus psychical entities). It is better designated by the more comprehensive expression ‘objective reality’. We are justified in calling it ‘objective’, because in all cognition one takes for granted that what one is trying to get knowledge of exists independently of one's own knowing of it. And we are justified in calling it ‘reality’, because knowledge is and must be of the real if it is to be knowledge properly so called at all. (Apparent exceptions to this, such as knowledge of ‘imaginary’ entities like the isle of Prospero, could, I think, with very little trouble be shown to be merely apparent.)

With these linguistic explanations in mind, it can now be made clear, I think, what I meant by saying that the condition of the green being ‘cognised’, i.e. of its having meaning for us as green, is that it be apprehended as characterising the objective world—or, as we shall now say, the objective reality. If it were not apprehended thus as being a character of the objective reality, if it were for us (per impossibile) just ‘green’, then it would contribute nothing to, could in no way enter into, our cognitive experience. For the whole business of the cognitive life is to know the objective reality, i.e. to characterise it accurately and adequately. In other words, to be just ‘green’ is to be, for cognition, just nothing; it involves total isolation from the life of cognition. If, on the other hand, the green is apprehended as characterising the objective reality, then we can see at once how it enters significantly into the life of cognition and comes to play the part in that life which we find that a cognised ‘green’ does in fact play. If, and only if, what is ‘cognised’ is apprehended as characterising the objective reality, can we proceed to link it up with other constituents of the objective reality as characterised by us in other cognitions. It is thus and only thus, that that which, when it first enters into our cognition, may be, as in our example, no more than ‘a green something’, can develop for our cognition into, say, ‘a green shrub in the middle of a stretch of moorland half a mile or so to the south-west’.

What I have been trying to do in this analysis is in effect to make explicit elements that are already implicit in any experience to which one is prepared, on reflection, to give the title ‘cognitive’. Of course it is not immediately obvious that these elements are present. There would be no ‘problem’ about the essence of cognition if it were. That which is merely implicit is in the nature of the case never ‘obvious’. I am convinced, however, that careful introspection, reinforced by consideration of what a cognition must involve if it is to make any contribution to the cognitive life in general—without which it can hardly qualify for the name ‘cognition’—leaves no plausible alternative to the view I have been urging. I repeat the view once more, for it will be of much importance for our subsequent discussions. Unless and until an experience involves apprehension of something as characterising the objective reality, it cannot have the status of a ‘cognition.’ If, on the other hand, this minimal condition is satisfied, the experience in question at once becomes continuous with our cognitive life in general, and what is apprehended through it can be, and normally is, linked up with other characterisations of the objective reality. It is now in a position to contribute, as it could not possibly do before, to that progressive articulation of the nature of objective reality which is the specific function of the cognitive mode of experience.

We have now to notice that if the essence of cognition lies thus in the apprehension of something as characterising objective reality, cognition will in fact always involve what is commonly designated in philosophical discourse by the term ‘judgment’. We have, quite clearly, the qualification of a subject by a predicate.2 The subject is the objective reality that is being characterised. The predicate is that by which the objective reality is being characterised. The element of affirmation proper to the judgment—the mental affirmation that the predicate qualifies the subject—is perhaps less manifest. In many everyday cognitions, particularly in the field of sense-perception, we should feel it more natural to say that we ‘mentally accept’ that the predicate qualifies the subject rather than that we ‘mentally affirm’ it; as, e.g. when we ‘cognise’ that this room is warm. But on reflection it appears that ‘acceptance’ here is not different in principle from ‘affirmation’. For if someone should say to us ‘This room is rather cold’, we should have no hesitation in taking this remark as contradicting our unexpressed thought. And it could not contradict our thought unless our thought involved affirming something, and was capable of being true or false; unless, in short, our thought involved judgment. Mental acceptance differs from mental affirmation, I think, only in that in the former the consciousness of affirmation is relatively inexplicit. For although there are no degrees in the affirmation characteristic of judgment, although we cannot affirm ‘more or less’, we can be more or less clearly conscious that we are affirming.

4. Cognition, then, always involves judgment. Shortly I shall go on to develop further what is involved in cognition by considering what precisely is entailed by its having the judgment-form. Only after that has been done shall we be fully prepared to appreciate the immensely important implications for philosophy which are (as I think) carried by the thesis that all cognition involves judgment. But it will be best to defer for a little this analysis of the judgment-form in its epistemological significance in order that we may consolidate our thesis as it has so far been propounded by a consideration of the kind of objections that tend to be raised against it.

I begin with a rather superficial objection which is, I think, just worth noticing, though not worth commenting on at length. It may be argued against the contention that all cognition involves judgment that certain utterances which undoubtedly express cognitions give no indication of the subject-predicate structure essential to judgment: as, e.g. when someone shouts out ‘Fire!’ The answer is simple. Overt utterance is only a clue, and often a most misleading clue, to the logical structure of the cognition it expresses. It is perfectly clear as soon as we reflect upon the actual cognition expressed by the single word ‘Fire!’ (though, of course, ‘cognition’ is not all that is expressed by the word) that subject and predicate are there, for thought though not in speech. Our actual awareness is of a house (or whatever else it may be) as subject, characterised by the state of being a-fire as predicate. The judgment is given abbreviated expression in utterance for practical purposes that are obvious.

5. What looks like a more formidable objection has been raised by Professor Price. He complains that ‘judgment’ as used by idealists is a sort of blanket term which covers indiscriminately different types of cognition which ought to be carefully distinguished. Idealist logicians, he says, ‘used the ambiguous term “judgment” to cover knowledge, opinion and belief all at once, as if there was no difference between them.’3 As a result of this linguistic solecism, he contends, idealist logicians implicitly deny certain truths so obvious as to have the standing of platitudes. By rejecting the distinction between believing and knowing, they implicitly deny, e.g. the following platitude: ‘It is self-contradictory to say “X knows A is B but in fact A is not B;” whereas it is never self-contradictory (though it may be false) to say “X believes that A is B but in fact A is not B.”’4

I fear it must be replied, however, with all respect to its distinguished author, that this charge rests upon a misunderstanding of the idealist logician's teaching about judgment. The only sense in which idealist logicians can be said to use the term ‘judgment’ ‘to cover knowledge, opinion and belief all at once’ is a sense which is completely compatible with their recognising the mutual distinctness of knowledge, opinion, and belief. What they contend is that judgment is common to ‘knowledge, opinion and belief (and every other cognitive mode). Judgment may therefore be said to be, for the Idealist logician, an identical element in all three. But that is a totally different thing from saying, as Price is apparently saying, that for the idealist logician judgment is identical with all three, and that all three are therefore identical with one another!

To illustrate briefly. There is nothing in the judgment-theory of cognition to prevent our distinguishing ‘opinion’ from ‘belief’ in some such terms as these. Opinion that S is P is a state involving the judgment that it is in some degree probable that S is P. Belief that S is P is a state involving the judgment that S is certainly or almost certainly P. The case of Knowledge is trickier. We cannot define it, as we can define opinion and belief, without a reference, implicit if not explicit, to the truth-value of its ‘content’; and even its psychological character is debatable. Perhaps the following might serve. Knowledge that S is P is a state involving the judgment that S is certainly P, where the evidence upon which the judgment is based is such as to justify logically the assertion of certainty.

But the precise terms in which the distinctions are made is unimportant. The point of substance is that there is no difficulty about making the distinctions compatibly with the doctrine that all cognition involves judgment. Price's charge that the idealist logician must implicitly deny the platitude he quotes is based on the premise that for the idealist logician ‘believing’ cannot be distinguished from ‘knowing’, since each is identical with ‘judging’. With the collapse of that premise no case remains for the accused to answer.

6. I pass on to an objection that is really one of nomenclature. A good many philosophers who are not ill-disposed to the view that there is something at least closely resembling what the idealist calls ‘judgment’ present in all cognition, nevertheless dislike the use of the term ‘judgment’ to refer to it. Admitting the thing—more or less—they are unhappy about the name. The complaint is lodged, I think, on two main counts.

(a) It is urged that the meaning idealists give to ‘judgment’ flouts traditional usage. According to Cook Wilson, ‘judgment’ as it is used in ordinary speech implies a decision, taken normally after doubt and deliberation.5 Now it is as evident on the idealist account of cognition as on any other that very many cognitions cannot properly be so described. To use the term ‘judgment’, therefore, to signify something alleged to be common to all cognitions, involves a sharp conflict with traditional usage, and ought to be condemned as conducing to needless misunderstanding.

(b) It is complained that ‘judgment’ has the further inconvenience of ambiguity. It can mean either the act of judging or the content judged. Used indiscriminately for both, it breeds much avoidable confusion.

I cannot feel that there is really much substance in either of these objections. As regards the first, it has frequently in the history of thought been found expedient to pre-empt some term of common speech for a specialised technical usage. This is the alternative to inventing a completely new term in these situations where no term of common speech in its ordinary usage will satisfactorily fill the required role. If this specialised usage is announced at the outset, it should occasion no difficulty to the specialist reader for whom it is intended. The likelihood of the philosophical specialist being misled by a certain degree of divergence between the traditional use of the term ‘judgment’ in ordinary speech and its technical idealist usage seems remarkably slight. Idealist logicians commonly take the greatest care to explain how they propose to use the term. And after all, idealist logic was for so long predominant in the philosophical life of this country-roughly for forty years after the publication of Bradley's Principles of Logic in 1883–that it might fairly be argued that it has itself created for philosophers a ‘traditional’ usage.

As to (b), the ambiguity alleged seems to me to be greatly exaggerated. There is something of a fashion among philosophers today of finding ambiguities in terms and expressions which, if read in their context as they are meant to be, ought to mislead nobody. (Incidentally, sentences that contain the word ‘nobody’ are a very good example.) It would surprise me to learn that any serious student of idealist logic has in practice been embarrassed by the ability of the term ‘judgment’ to mean either the judging or what is judged. My own experience has been that the context almost always makes it perfectly clear which of the two is meant; or whether, perhaps, as sometimes happens, it is the two sides as integrated in the unity of the concrete judgment to which the author is directing attention.

In some respects, moreover, it is a positive advantage in the term ‘judgment’ that it covers both the judging and the content judged. Normally, it is the side of ‘content’ in which the epistemo-logist is most interested. It is important, however, that he should not lose sight of the fact that ‘content’ is, after all, an abstraction, never to be found in and by itself. It is extremely easy to forget this if we do our epistemological thinking in terms of ‘propositions’; almost impossible to forget it if we do it in terms of ‘judgments’. Not so long ago a prodigious amount of philosophic ink was spilled over the pseudo-problem ‘What kind of entities are “propositions?”’—as if propositions were anything in their own right, and not essentially relative to a mind that thinks them. Unhappily the remedy adopted by many philosophers, of going forward from propositions to ‘sentences’, instead of back to ‘judgments’, replaced a term which was apt to mislead in one way by a term that could hardly fail to mislead in another way.

7. Finally, I want to refer at somewhat greater length to a recent criticism which comes ‘nearer the bone’, in as much as it impugns directly our view that the mental assertion characteristic of judgment is present in all cognition.

The author of this criticism, Professor G. E. Hughes, rightly points out that, in the last resort, the presence or absence of mental assertion is a matter to be settled by introspection, and that, as he puts it, ‘if on introspection I cannot detect it in a particular case I do not think anyone has the right to tell me that it was there after all in spite of the fact that I couldn't detect it’. He then proceeds to tell us what happens in his own introspecting.

‘And when I try to introspect it seems to me that the answer is that in some cases I do detect such “mental assertions” but that in others I detect neither them nor any sub-vocal muttering of words; e.g. I think there is often a time-lag between seeing a shape in the darkness and the first tentative “perhaps it's a dog” or even “it's something on the other side of the road” (or their wordless analogues).’6

But the answer to this seems not very difficult. Certainly there often occurs a time-lag of the sort Hughes indicates. But this time-lag has point for Hughes’ argument only if he is assuming that the earlier cognition—what he calls ‘seeing a shape in the darkness’—does not itself contain the element of mental assertion. Hughes evidently thinks this is obvious. In point of fact it begs the very question at issue. For the idealist logician, the time-lag in the case cited is between two cognitions each of which involves the mental assertion of judgment. What difference is there, he would ask, between the cognition (if it really is a cognition) called ‘seeing a shape in the darkness’ and the mental assertion ‘There is a shape in the darkness’? Seeing a shape in the darkness (like seeing the patch of green in the example I gave earlier of the transition from non-cognition to cognition) is every bit as much a judgment as the cognition expressed in the words ‘Perhaps it's a dog’. The latter cognition, according to the idealist analysis, is just a further characterisation of that objective reality which has already been characterised in a more rudimentary way in the cognition of ‘a shape in the darkness’. What Hughes ought to be trying to show, if his criticism is to be truly on the target, is that we can have an experience of a shape in the darkness which is genuinely cognitive and which yet does not involve mental assertion of a shape in the darkness, I have argued earlier that this is not possible. Either the shape in the darkness is nothing at all for cognition, or it is mentally asserted (or accepted) as characterising objective reality; i.e. either there is no cognition, or judgment is present.

Professor Hughes, who is, I am sure, sincerely anxious to be fair to idealism, goes on a little later in his article to suggest that there is both an important truth and an important mistake contained in the idealist argument that ‘there cannot be perception without at least mental assertion of judgment’:

‘The truth it contains is this: that if we find we cannot answer any questions about a certain object, which we have reason to believe was in our presence recently, if we cannot even think of it in a context, then we do say “I couldn't have seen it” or (shifting the sense of “see”) “I may have seen it but I wasn't aware of it”.… But the mistake is this: what I have spoken of as involved in all perceiving (or all experiences properly described as “perceiving something”) is an ability to say and/or do certain things. Now “ability” is a disposition word, and it is a mistake to conclude that because my seeing or hearing something gives rise to the ability to do or say certain things, this saying or doing or something like them was present at the time of the seeing, hearing, etc. This is, I think, a case of the failure to make that distinction between disposition-words and occur rent-words which it has been one of the most valuable achievements of recent philosophical work to clarify. And if we then ask the question “Is it possible for an experience which does not contain even a “mental assertion” to be a part-cause of our coming to make assertions, mental or verbal?” then the answer seems to me to be that there is no reason on earth why this should not happen.’7

Now I am not at all satisfied that it is a mistake to hold that my ability to say, e.g. ‘That was a dog I saw’ presupposes my mentally asserting ‘That is a dog’ at the moment of seeing. But it hardly seems worth while to dispute the matter, since the ‘mistake’ is not one which the idealist requires to make in order to establish his thesis; nor, so far as I am aware, is it a ‘mistake’ upon which any leading idealist writer has ever in fact based his view that perception involves the mental assertion of judgment. The idealist comes by his view not through inference from some external test of whether a given cognition has occurred (such as the ability to say or do certain things), but through the introspective study of actual cognition, and the answers which this yields when the appropriate questions are put. What was (I hope) a plain statement of the idealist argument along these lines was in fact offered in the article of mine8 which was the occasion of Hughes's critical observations upon idealist epistemology. I venture to commend to his notice, in particular, pages 295–6, where (as in the present chapter) it is maintained that, while in the case of perception ‘mental acceptance’ is often a more fitting expression than ‘mental assertion’, the ‘acceptance’ of A as B is simply an inexplicit ‘assertion’ that A is B. I confess I am rather at a loss to understand why Professor Hughes should ignore this passage and prefer to father upon idealists an argument of his own devising.

I could wish also that Hughes had made more precise his charge of a failure by idealist epistemologists to make ‘that distinction between disposition-words and occurrent-words which it has been one of the most valuable achievements of recent philosophical work to clarify’. Does he imagine that the idealist supposes ‘ability’ to be an occurrent-word? If the idealist did suppose that, he would suppose that one's ability to assert ‘That was a dog I saw’ entails that one is now asserting ‘That was a dog I saw’. But even Professor Hughes has not, at any rate in the argument of his quoted above, accused the long-suffering idealist of this enormity. He has accused the idealists only of inferring, from the ability to assert, ‘That was a dog I saw’, that the assertion ‘That is a dog’ was present at the moment of seeing. It is possible that such an inference is, as Professor Hughes thinks, mistaken. But the mistake, if mistake it be, seems to me to be totally unconnected with a failure to distinguish between disposition-words and occurrent-words. Professor Hughes may well be right in his claim that the elucidation of the distinction between these two types of word is an achievement of very great philosophical value; I think he must look elsewhere, however, if he is to illustrate the justice of his claim.

8. The discussion of these typical criticisms will, I hope, have done something to clarify, as well as to justify, our contention that all cognition involves judgment. We have now to try to penetrate a little more deeply into cognition's essential character by analysing the judgment-form itself. I want to bring out, from the epistemological point of view, the nature of the subject, of the predicate, and of the relation between them. And since again I have nothing to offer in the way of positive doctrine substantially different—in intention at least—from orthodox idealist teaching, I shall make my exegesis as brief as possible.

To begin with the subject of judgment. I earlier argued that cognition involves asserting something as characterising objective reality, and I pointed out that we have our subject of judgment in the reality which is being characterised. Looking at the matter now from the standpoint of the judgment-form, there are two simple ways in which it can be shown that the ultimate subject of judgment (from which we shall later have occasion to distinguish the immediate subject) is always ‘Reality’.

1. The judgment, by its very form, claims to be true. Its inherent claim to truth is manifest from the consideration that if we make and utter a judgment—say, ‘Glasgow is the oldest Scottish University’—and someone rejoins ‘That's not true; St. Andrews is older’, we at once recognise this rejoinder as the denial of a claim implicit in our judgment. But if the judgment does thus claim truth, what is there for it to be true of except Reality? Does not ‘truth’ imply ‘reality’ as its correlate? The claim of the judgment to be ‘true’ seems to make sense only if the judging mind distinguishes between the ideal content it is affirming on the one hand, and, on the other hand, an independent reality which it aims at characterising correctly by this ideal content. The essence of the truth-claim is that the ideal content correctly characterises, i.e. is true of, the independent reality. In short (however it may be proper to specify the immediate subject) the ultimate subject of judgment is always ‘reality’.

2. The same result ensues from the consideration that there is no judgment ‘S is P’ which cannot be re-cast without change of meaning in the form ‘Reality is such that S is P’. If that is the case (and surely it is the case?), how is it possible to deny that the ultimate subject about which we are asserting in the judgment is always Reality?

This doctrine about the ultimate subject of judgment has often been challenged, but always, in my opinion, through some misunderstanding of its essentially simple purport. Since it has, despite its simplicity, highly important philosophical implications (as I shall try to demonstrate in the next lecture), it will be expedient to pause here for a brief space in order to notice the kind of objection that is taken to it. Perhaps the article by Professor Hughes already referred to, which finds difficulties in this aspect of the judgment-theory also, may be accepted as sufficiently representative of modern criticism. Professor Hughes has very hard words indeed for the idealist formula ‘Reality is such that…’. It will be instructive to consider what he thinks is wrong with it.

Hughes begins his complaint against it by urging that the word ‘Reality’ is used in the formula ‘so all-embracingly’ as to empty the assertions made in terms of the formula ‘of all content whatsoever’: and he ends it by expressly denying that the formula has any meaning. This, he thinks, can be shown from the very use the idealist makes of it:

‘The idealist is anxious to point out that “any judgment ‘S is P’ whatsoever can be cast, without change of meaning, into the form ‘Reality is such that S is P,’” but this… seems to me the clearest way of showing that “Reality is such that…” means nothing at all.’9

Now when Hughes speaks of the formula as using the term ‘Reality’ so all-embracingly as to empty the assertions of all content whatsoever, I presume he must be meaning that ‘Reality is such that S is P’ adds nothing in the way of content to mere ‘S is P’ At any rate he can hardly mean anything so unplausible as that when one asserts that Reality is such that the leaves are brown one is asserting just nothing at all. But if all that Hughes means is that assertion in terms of the formula adds no fresh content, I see no reason why any idealist should wish to dissent. On the contrary, the idealist himself virtually says as much in declaring that assertions with and without the formula are mutually interchangeable so far as meaning is concerned. But from this fact that the formula adds no fresh content it does not follow, as Hughes apparently supposes, that the formula ‘means nothing at all’. For the point of the formula is not to add fresh content. Its whole point is to make explicit what the content of the judgment is asserted of(i.e. ‘Reality’). In our ordinary verbal expression of judgments this aspect does not appear. We say just ‘The leaves are brown’. But that the aspect is nevertheless implicit in the judgment is clearly indicated by the fact that, once it is put to us, we recognise that when we substitute ‘Reality is such that the leaves are brown’ for plain ‘The leaves are brown’ we are not making a different judgment but merely re-stating the old one.

Professor Hughes’ comments are somewhat tightly compressed, and I am not altogether sure whether he wants to deny not merely that the formula ‘Reality is such that…’ has meaning, but also that the word ‘Reality’ itself, when used thus all-embracingly, without specific determination, has meaning. On the whole the impression is left on me that the latter, no less than the former, is intended to fall under his axe. There is even some suggestion that the meaninglessness of the former is for him a consequence of the meaninglessness of the latter. It is desirable, therefore, that I should repeat here what I said earlier in this lecture; that what I at any rate mean by the word ‘Reality’ when used in this indeterminate way is ‘that which in all cognition we are knowing or seeking to know’. If Hughes finds that these words convey nothing to his mind, I fear I can help him no further. I confess that the recent fashion among philosophers (now perhaps on the wane) of deriding all talk about ‘Reality in general’, or ‘Reality with a capital R’, is to me most perplexing; for it seems to myself quite clear that we cannot get rid of ‘Reality in general’ in our thought, whatever we may do in our talk. And indeed even our talk constantly implies it. It is nor usually considered a grave philosophic misdemeanour to talk of X as ‘a specific determination of the real’. But it makes no sense that I can see for the critic to tell us ‘We know what you mean all right when you speak of X as a specific determination of the real, but we have no idea what you can be after when you speak of a ‘Reality’ of which X is a specific determination!’10

9. I cannot find in Professor Hughes's difficulties, then—or elsewhere—any good reason to resile from the position that it is about Reality that we are asserting in all judgment. And it is, of course, a matter of complete indifference what kind of judgment it happens to be—attributive, relational, or any other kind.11 If the arguments we have been advancing are sound, then the ultimate subject of judgment, whatever the judgment be, is ‘Reality’.

Now given that this is the case, it follows that there is a legitimate sense in which the predicate of judgment, that which is asserted of the subject, can be described as the whole complex of terms-in-relation which constitute the ideal content of the judgment—including what we ordinarily distinguish within that content as the logical ‘subject’. But what then happens, it may reasonably be asked, to this ‘ordinarily’ recognised distinction of logical subject from logical predicate?—e.g. the distinction of ‘the leaves’ as subject from ‘brownness’ as predicate in the judgment ‘the leaves are brown’? It is surely an important distinction, which must be accorded some significance in any acceptable analysis of the judgment? Even if there is a legitimate sense in which the whole ideal content of the judgment falls on the side of the predicate, must we not admit another legitimate sense in which we can distinguish subject from predicate within the ideal content?

The point is a valid one; and its validity is recognised and allowed for by the idealist logic. As Bosanquet has put it, there is in the typical judgment ‘a starting-point or point of contact with the ultimate subject’ (i.e. Reality). Our interest in judging is normally focused upon some aspect of Reality which has already been partially characterised through past judgments, and which it is the business of the present judgment to characterise further. These past characterisations are accepted by the judging mind, provisionally at least, as correctly characterising Reality so far, and can therefore serve as bases for the progressive building of the fabric of knowledge. Now what is ordinarily distinguished as the ‘subject’ of the judgment is the partially characterised aspect of reality upon which our cognitive attention is focused; and what is ordinarily distinguished as the ‘predicate’ is the further characterisation which in the judgment we ascribe to it. It is convenient to have a name for this ‘immediate’ subject to mark it off from the ultimate subject, and the term ‘immediate subject’ will do as well as any. To illustrate. In the judgment ‘This tree is a poplar’, Reality is the ultimate subject, and the predicate is the whole ideal content ‘the poplarity of this tree’. The immediate subject is the aspect of Reality already partially characterised to our satisfaction by what we mean by the words ‘this tree’; and the corresponding predicate, by which in the judgment we now further characterise it, is what we mean by the words ‘poplarity’, or ‘being a poplar’.

Judgment, then, and indeed knowledge generally, may be regarded as the characterisation of reality by the progressive articulation of the nature of specific or immediate subjects, which are already accepted as real by the judging mind in their nature as so far articulated. The situation has been happily and succinctly described by Joachim: ‘In every judgment, when the logician reflects upon it, he must clearly distinguish (a) a certain extent and level of knowledge which it develops or expands—what Bosanquet somewhere calls the “growing-point” of knowledge; and (b) the “outgrowth”—i.e. the expansion or development effected in, and by, the judgment in question.’12

10. This very summary exegesis of the judgment-form is all that our limits of time will permit. But it provides a sufficient basis, I think, for me to explain in my next lecture just why I regard the judgment-theory of cognition to be of such palmary importance for philosophy, and just why I have ventured to describe the current neglect of it as a ‘disaster’. If the judgment-theory should be valid (and I can hardly emphasise enough that, with rare exceptions, contemporary philosophers have not examined and rejected it, but simply ignored it), then it can be shown, I believe, that many of the problems that have been at, or near, the centre of philosophic controversy in the twentieth century are mere pseudo-problems. To make good these admittedly bold words will be the main task of the next lecture.

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