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Chapter X: Freedom

Freedom as determination in enjoyment. Problem V.

Man is free, and his freedom has been supposed on one ground or another to separate him from the rest of creation. As free, he has been thought either to be exempt from causality, or to possess a causality of a different sort so as to be independent of determination, like the rest of the world, by some antecedent cause. If it were so, causality would no longer claim to be a category as entering into the constitution of every form of finite existence. But we are already familiar with the notion that mental processes affect each other causally, and that a mental process may be the cause of a non-mental one or the effect of it. It remains then to identify the consciousness of freedom that we possess. It will be seen that freedom is nothing but the form which causal action assumes when both cause and effect are enjoyed; so that freedom is determination as enjoyed, or in enjoyment, and human freedom is a case of something universal which is found wherever the distinction of enjoyment and contemplation, in the widest sense of those terms, is found.

Enjoyed determination is that species of determination in which both the determiner and the determined are enjoyed. Contemplated determination is that species in which both events are contemplated, and it comprehends all instances of causal relation in the non-mental world, in so far as these are treated merely as objects of contemplation to some mind, and not regarded as themselves subjects of enjoyment, in an extended application of that last term. Besides these two, we have the third species to be mentioned, where one of the members of the relation of determination is contemplated and the other enjoyed Since in this third species, though the other member of the relation is contemplated, I do enjoy being determined or determining, it is perhaps better to call that kind of determination in which both members are enjoyed, no simply enjoyed determination, but determination in enjoyment.

Verification from experiences of freedom and unfreedom.

The proposition that freedom is determination in enjoyment is of the same sort as the familiar doctrine that freedom is self-determination, though it is more general. All that it does is to translate self-determination into other terms. I may illustrate its meaning and its reasonableness from common experiences of the occasions when we feel ourselves free, or unfree. Begin with the case last mentioned. We are free to open our eyes or not, or to direct them anywhere, but we are not free to see or not: we are passive or under compulsion in respect of our sensations. At the other extreme, in willing freely, we enjoy the determination of one mental state by another. A passion of anger induces the idea of striking and this idea passes into realisation: as Mr. Bradley says, an idea realises itself. The consciousness of willing is the enjoyment of the passage of such an idea into fact, and has been analysed before.1 The real nature of willing is clearer from such cases of internal willing than from those of willing an external action. Yet it is clear in these cases too. I will to strike a man, and the idea of striking him is realised in the last mental state which is effective and issues in the actual striking. In the continuously enjoyed passage from motive to idea of action and thence to this last effective mental act I enjoy myself as willing and as willing freely. This continuous enjoyment is prolonged into the perception of the blow. The blow itself is indeed a physical event and contemplated, and in respect of it we have a case of mixed determination. But while I should say undoubtedly that the blow was caused by me, it is only in so far as I perceive the blow (by kinaesthetic sensations and perception of the results of the blow) that I am aware of myself as being free in the mere act of striking. If I were anaesthetic and unaware of the effected act I should so far as that part of the situation is concerned not be aware of having struck freely. As it is, I am aware of the perception of the blow as determined by my previous mental states, and I feel myself free from one end of the self-determined process to the other.

Willing is not the only kind of action or condition in which we may feel free. For example, we have this consciousness in instinctive processes, where one mental state leads on to another; or in what we call the free play of the imagination, one fancy suggesting another, where the word free does not merely mean the absence of interference from thought or the higher self. In the same way we experience unfreedom not only in antithesis to freedom in willing, but otherwise. The most obvious case of unfreedom of will is that of action under physical compulsion. Our action is determined not by an enjoyment but by a physical cause, and the case is on the same level as the passive reception of sensations. Here the will might have come into play and did not. But there are cases which do not concern the will at all. An unaccountable outburst of anger, or a mental obsession, makes us feel unfree, because of the absence of any determining mental state. There are also conditions in which we feel partly free and partly constrained. Thus a train of instinctive or perceptual action is free so far as it follows the line of mental predetermination, but it is also guided by external objects to which we feel ourselves compelled to adapt ourselves, and are, so far, unfree. Even in the free play of imagination we are continually subject to constraint by the objects created by our fancies: “we depend on the creatures we have made”; and, so far, imagination is like perception. As we grow, we learn that our imagination is most truly free and most our own when it most conforms to verisimilitude—the lesson which underlies Plato's use of the imagination in education; just as in conduct we find as we grow that our highest freedom consists in recognition and welcoming of lawful restraint, so that from the mere action of our selves we act within the limits of general human advantage. So, again, in willing we have the mixed experience of freedom and unfreedom where we yield to threats or force majeure of any sort and do actions we should not under normal circumstances have willed. We feel ourselves unfree because of the external compulsion, but free so far as the act issues from our intention, however formed.

In all these cases the experience of unfreedom is compatible with responsibility, and the two questions, of consciousness of freedom, and responsibility, are to be distinguished. A drunkard may do in a fit of drunkenness an act of which he is unaware or, at any rate, of whose meaning he is unaware; and yet he may be responsible. Even an obsession, or an outburst of fury, may leave a man responsible though he feels himself the victim. Responsibility depends on whether the man's own previous conduct has contributed to his enslavement. On the other hand, there may be cases where, as Mr. Bradley has pointed out,2 the passive compulsion may be of such a nature as to paralyse the will and destroy the conditions of willing; and the person, for all his remorse, may really be unfree and not responsible.

Confirmatory exceptions.

Certain facts which seem at first sight contradictory to the general statement that we feel free or unfree according as a mental state is or is not enjoyed as determined by a prior mental state or the outcome of it,3 confirm the statement on examination. Thus in the play of fancy we feel free; but relatively to this a mere routine association of ideas seems, as we say, mechanical. Sometimes we feel ourselves the slaves of such routine habits; as in Locke's case of the young man who could only dance in a lumber room because it was in a lumber room he had learned dancing; or in James's case of a man who, having gone to his room to change his clothes, went to bed by force of habit. The reason why such processes seem mechanical, though the person may not at the time be aware of any compulsion, is the want of intrinsic connection between the actions. One mental state is succeeded by another, but the connection is an accidental one, due to the external conditions. I have experienced A and B together, and so the apprehension of A is succeeded by that of B, but there is no development of B from A so that correspondingly the one mental state should be an outcome of the other. Thus so far the feeling of determination of one enjoyment by the other is missing. In proportion as this occurs will be the feeling of unfreedom, unlike the case of a spontaneous process of reflection where one idea is felt to be the outgrowth from another, and not a mere artificial sequence on it.

Another apparently exceptional case is that of the sudden upspringing of new mental states which may mean giving a new bent to a person's life or a new direction to his thinking; for example, in conversion or in inspiration, where a new idea comes into the mind like those unaccountable outbursts of passion mentioned before. From one side these cases confirm our statement. For the person himself regards these sudden changes as coming to him from elsewhere, for example from God, and imposed upon him.4 It may happen indeed that a person is conscious, in these cases, of intense personal initiative; but this is because he disregards the passive or mentally uncaused uprush of the exciting emotion and is vividly attentive to the passage of the emotion, once it has possessed him, into the action he adopts. On the other hand these facts are often taken to suggest that whatever a man's conduct or thinking may have been he still has power to change; and so regarded they are treated as evidence not of unfreedom but of freedom. But this must I think be regarded not as a first-hand experience on the part of the persons in question, but as an interpretation of that experience or a theory about it. So far as the direct experience goes, it is in favour of passivity. What is meant is that there must be something in the person to account for such revolutions. It is however easy enough by a counter theory to urge that these unexplained resources are to be found in elements of the man's whole nature, including his body, which have not yet come within enjoyment. In other words the outbreak is determined by contemplated conditions and the experience of unfreedom, which is what the person actually has, is justified.

Lower and higher freedom.

But the best support of our proposition is to be found in comparing lower and higher experiences of freedom. The more we feel ourselves determined by our own enjoyed mental states, the keener the consciousness of freedom. Hence freedom in a special sense belongs to the will. For in willing not only does the idea of a wanted object realise itself, but in that process it is supported by large masses of ideas and dispositions which constitute interests, and in the end it is supported by the whole self, and freedom is eminently the consciousness that the whole or large masses of the self are consenting to the adoption of an object. Here also eminently we have determination in enjoyment. Relatively to such action of the whole self, isolated streams of enjoyed determination seem less free, mechanical. Moreover, experience shows us that such complete determination by the personality on all its sides is more attainable in the good man than the bad one. For goodness is essentially the balanced development of all sides of human nature, its personal and its social elements all included; and though the bad man may exhibit a high degree of organisation under some mastering impulse, he in general leaves certain sides of his nature undeveloped or else is wanting in certain necessary elements of character. Hence the distinction of two senses of freedom, the one in which it means merely freedom from external determination, that is, it means determination by the man himself; the other in which it is equivalent to goodness. In the first sense the bad and the good are both free; in the second sense only he whose self is an exhibition of law is free, and badness is the slave of its passions. Benjamin Franklin had the idea in earlier life of forming a sect of “virtuous and good men of all nations” which he proposed to call the “Society of the Free and Easy”5—a title which we should hardly use with the present meaning of those words. Thus as the outcome of examining our experience of freedom it appears that we are most eminently free when we most enjoy determination by our mental states and dispositions.

Freedom and preference.

Returning from this survey of the data, we have now to see that the notion of freedom as determination in enjoyment is proof against the difficulties which may be and have been urged against it, or have been thought to make freedom something sui generis.

Freedom in willing or freedom of will is felt most obviously in choosing between two or more alternative courses. The consciousness of freedom is the consciousness that we choose between them. The so-called fiat of the will is in fact nothing more or less than the consciousness that it is we who are consenting to the act, or that the motive adopted proceeds from the self or character. But choice between two alternatives seems at first sight to distinguish completely between voluntary choice and ordinary physical causality. For when two forces are operative upon a physical body the effect is the resultant of the two effects of the separate causes; whereas in choosing, one or other motive is adopted and the other disregarded. In general we do not in consequence of solicitation by two sets of considerations choose a course which is midway between them. We adopt one or the other; and the defeated inducement is rejected entirely. We have however to observe that the rejected inducement does not or may not cease to exercise its effect. The temptation we resist may continue to tug at our hearts and we persist in its despite—a fact familiar in cases of what is called action in the line of greatest resistance. Strictly speaking, we act in the line of least resistance because we act from our characters. But the inducement, which appeals to one part of us and is defeated with effort by summoning up to the help of the other part all the reserves of our character, may continue to exert its fascination.

This observation indicates the real answer to the difficulty. Consciousness attends, or is borne or carried by, a structure or body more complex than a physical body, less homogeneous in its constitution but at the same time exhibiting closer co-ordination of its parts. The greater complexity in the constitution of the higher existents means that their response to stimuli is more plastic in character. The mechanical and the mental are not, as has been observed before, separated from each other by absolute differences. In the mechanical there is an element which performs the office of mind, and in the mental there is something which performs that of body. Each responds according to its constitution. Even the mechanical body responds differently to a blow according as the body is a wall or a piece of putty. The relative simplicity of the physical body excludes preference of one stimulus to another; each exerts its effect and the two effects are combined in the resultant. Preference implies a greater complexity; but it does not begin with man, but with life. Lowly organisms' like algae may exhibit preference, avoiding one form of stimulus and pursuing another. There are various familiar facts which mark the transition from such simple preference which is not choice to voluntary choice in man. In the animal body with nervous ‘mechanism’ it is now well established that in order to the performance of certain actions, not only are the appropriate muscles innervated, but it is part and parcel of the action that the antagonist muscles are inhibited. It is but a step from this to the total disregard of the alternative stimulus. Between the two we have the above-noted isolated persistence of the alternative when the choice has been made, and the preparatory condition of irresolution of which Buridanus' ass is the standing illustration.

Freedom and prediction.

There is nothing in free mental action which is incompatible with thorough determinism. Neither is such determinism incompatible with novelty. Novelty may however be understood in a less important and in a more important sense. It may be understood merely as a protest against the notion of bare repetition; or it may be understood as implying the impossibility of prediction.

Let us take the former sense first. Every mental action, and more specifically every act of willing, is unique. Novelty W. James6 describes as “a character of fresh activity-situations.” But such uniqueness they share with every other individual in the universe. No mere combination of universals explains individuality; things or events have their own special and particularising features, even if no more than their place and date. Novelty in this sense is not distinctive of human action. But the novelty alleged to be distinctive of free-will means more than this. It turns on the belief that human action is not wholly predictable. An examination of this belief will show both that within limits it is well founded and why; and secondly that unpredictability is not limited to human determinism.

Undoubtedly human action is partially predictable. The intercourse of men with one another implies it and is based upon it. We resent equally (as Mr. Bradley has said) that our action cannot partly be predicted and that it can wholly be predicted; for instance, if a person tells us he could not be sure that we should speak the truth, or if he tells us he knew precisely what we should do. Our resentment in the second case is in practice a protest against encroachment on our privacy, and it has its good theoretical justification. For I myself am a thing enjoyed, which I myself do not contemplate, and still less a stranger. Still it is true that my mind is, after all, also bodily; and the more another knows of me, mind and body, the better can he forecast my action. A skilled observer, knowing a person's general bodily constitution, the latent tendencies in his bodily ‘make-up,’ might, apart from the difficulty of the calculation, which is supposed to be negligible, go far towards predicting a revolution in his character under certain circumstances. But the observer could only do so on the basis of present knowledge of human tendencies, combined with tendencies suggested by the bodily condition. He could not foretell something outside of the range of past experience; though of course after the event had happened he could see the connection of the strange event with its conditions, which would then be seen to have determined it.

This brings us within sight of the deeper justification for the belief that human action cannot wholly be predicted. Human nature is a growing thing, and with the lapse of real Time may throw up new characters which can only be known to him who experiences them. It may be possible to predict, if not from the knowledge we have of minds, at any rate from the knowledge we have of the underlying neural processes, what combination of ideas may possess a man at some future date. But the meaning of the ideas, the spirit of them, the objects to which they refer, may be beyond our calculation. It is not, however, so important to recognise this possibility as to determine the limits of prediction, and discover where prediction becomes impossible.

The limits of prediction.

Let me illustrate by cases. First let us take Hume's famous assertion of how imagination may in rare cases be aware of its object without actual impression. We may imagine, he thinks, a shade of grey between two given shades, without previous experience. The alleged fact is gravely open to doubt. To think of an intermediate shade is to be aware of a shade thought of as intermediate—a problem to be solved. We should not know what that which is described as an intermediate shade would look like. As a matter of fact, we should solve the problem by taking a brush and mixing our colours in the intermediate proportions and then We should see that this was what we sought. And this is, in general, the method on which we proceed in order to find what is the object of which the conditions, but not the object itself, are given in our thought. We only discover by getting the experience. I am not denying that possibly the precise neural process may occur from internal causes to which the shade in question corresponds as object, and that consequently without having actually seen the shade in the outer world a man may conceivably see it in fancy. I only deny that he would imagine it by thinking of it as the intermediate shade; and if he imagined it accidentally he would only recognise it as being the shade he sought in the same way as if he had mixed the pigments. If this is true of the subject himself, still more is it true for the outsider who observes him and predicts. Even if the subject could by a chance anticipate in fancy in the way described an experience not yet impressed from without, the outsider could not tell what it would be, unless he were identical with the subject. To take another example, how could the outsider predict, without previous knowledge of the experiment, that blue exposed to one eye and red to the other would give me purple. He might know the two nervous processes excited in the two halves of the brain. If they are not entirely distinct, if there is any co-operation between them, any “synergy,” he might conceivably calculate their resultant process. Yet he would not know that this resultant process meant for the subject the consciousness of purple, unless he knew it already, which is supposed not to be the case.

In such cases prediction seems impossible, because it is new mental meanings, new objects, which are in question. The same thing is true of practical action. For minds by their action project new combinations and are creative: they bring new things into the world. Thus to an observer in France in the eighteenth century it might have been plain that some revolution and reconstruction was inevitable. He might with sufficient knowledge have calculated beforehand the movements in mechanical, or even physiological, terms of all the actors. But he. could not predict that these movements meant for the actors the new idea of democratic freedom. He would only predict its appearance in forms of movement or at most of life. A third instance will show where it begins to be arguable that in such cases prediction really is possible. Might not the observer from previous knowledge calculate that at such and such a moment an idea would enter a Prime Minister's mind of optional and temporary exclusion of the counties of Ulster from the Irish Parliament; that his mind should work in a way which corresponded to this arrangement outside him? It may be so. But only, I imagine, if it is true that this arrangement means nothing more than rearrangement among familiar things, and so long as this proposed arrangement introduces nothing specifically new, no new creation of the human spirit, in political life.

Thus while the limits of unpredictability are very difficult to fix, it would seem that in certain cases prediction is impossible, even on the supposition of the vastest powers of calculation. In other cases prediction is possible theoretically, though impossible practically because of the coarseness of the calculating instrument. Even then it must be understood that calculation can only succeed so far as the data are exact and individual. This however applies to physical as well as to human concerns.

Determinism in mind is therefore not incompatible with unpredictability; and we have seen the reason, that the predictor is a mind, and while he may predict human future regarded as a contemplated object, that is in physiological terms, he cannot predict it wholly in mental terms. Now this fact is not peculiar to human determinism; but it arises wherever the change from one level of existence with its distinctive quality to another occurs; or in other words wherever the distinction of enjoyment and contemplation, in the extended sense, arises.

A being who knew only mechanical and chemical action could not predict life; he must wait till life emerged with the course of Time. A being who knew only life could not predict mind, though he might predict that combination of vital actions which has mind. But the limits of prediction are still narrower. In general, let A be a lower level and B the next higher level. A being on the level A could not predict B. A being on the level B could possibly predict the whole future in terms of A and lower levels, but not in terms of B, e.g., if he lived at the beginning of life, he could not predict the forms of life, except possibly in terms of physico-chemical action. I use the word possibly in order to point out a qualification. For not only are there differences of level in existence, but within any level of existence, e.g., animal life, there are differences, like those of animal species, emerging in the course of Time, which may approximate to differences of quality, like those that occur in the growth of humanity of which I have given an example from the French Revolution. Now it is an open question whether such differences on the level A could be predicted by a creature on the level B. For instance could an angel or God foretell all the new creations of human advance? It may be not; though on the other hand the cyclical recurrence of groups of physical properties even among the elements might indicate that there is some calculable order of forms of existence. Be this as it may, about one stage of existence no question seems to arise: the lowest of all, changes in space and time. In terms of Space and Time the future can be predicted for a being on any stage higher, sufficient calculating capacity being presumed.

The calculator of Laplace.

The famous puzzle of the Laplacean calculator is full of confusions but contains a truth. A person who knows the whole state of the universe at any moment can calculate, so it urges, the whole future. Now it is true, I understand, that, given the condition of the universe at a certain number of instants in terms of Space and Time, the whole future can be calculated in terms of Space and Time. But what it will be like, what qualities it shall have more than spatial and temporal ones, he cannot know unless he knows already, or until he lives to see. He will be able to say that this morning certain vibrations at a rate of so many billions a second will impinge upon a certain group of motions of a highly complicated character, but unless he knows what green is and what life and mind are, he will not be able to say that I shall this morning see the green of my garden. How much of the future he will be able to predict depends on the time at which his calculation begins, that is, on the state which the universe has then attained in the unfolding of its characters. Certainly, if he is only present during the nebular period, he will never predict you and me, though he may predict the groups of changes in Space and Time which go by the names of you and me. Suppose he begins when human minds exist, he cannot, as we have seen, predict their future completely, because he only enjoys mind; and it is an open question whether he may foretell all possible developments at lower levels. Except in the limited sense described, the hypothesis of the calculator is absurd. He is supposed to be predicting as a man, though with more than human skill. Yet, if he exists at a stage earlier than the arrival of mind, he is an impossibility and, anyhow, he has not the materials for complete prediction except to the extent indicated. If he exists at the human stage, he is supposed to be contemplating human development instead of being involved in it himself, and the one thing which for that reason he cannot do is to foretell completely the future of man and still less of stages higher than mind. He stands, in fact, for little more than the proposition that at any moment of the world's existence the future of the world “will be what it will be.”7 But what it will be he cannot foretell, for the world itself is in Time and is in perpetual growth, producing fresh combinations.

Either, then, the infinitely calculating mind of the hypothesis is unable to predict, or it is supposed by a petitio principii to know more than it really knows, and prediction is unnecessary. In the end it assumes Time to be unreal, or, what is the same thing, that the universe is completed: that, in Mr. Bergson's phrase, tout est doné. Nor is it of the least help to identify the supposed infinite mind with God. For whatever deity may be it is not merely infinite mind, if that phrase has any meaning, but something higher. The only meaning which can rationally be attached to the notion that God can predict the whole future is that the future will be what it will be. And there is one part of the universe which in any case even God cannot predict, and that is his own future.8

Determinism and prediction are therefore distinct ideas, and determinism is compatible with unpredictability, and freedom with predictability.

Freedom and necessity.

Not only may mental action be determined and yet unpredictable, it may be free and yet necessary. Necessity conflicts with freedom only if it is taken as equivalent to compulsion which removes the conditions of freedom or makes choice impossible. An external compulsion like a physical force may put the will out of action, or like imminent death it may under certain circumstances unman a person and reduce him to the condition of a brute. But the necessity which the will obeys is the ‘necessity’ of causation, the determinate sequence of event upon its conditions. Nor need we perplex our minds with the puzzles of fatalism. If our acts can be predicted, it is said, we cannot be free. Yet the only way in which we can predict human action, so far as it can be predicted at all, is to assume it to be free, and aware of its freedom. To disown the responsibility of choosing rightly because our future is determined is to suppose it to be determined by something which is not ourselves.

Freedom not indetermination.

It follows that freedom does not mean indetermination. When indetermination is used to mean that free action cannot practically be predicted or in certain cases cannot even be predicted theoretically, in both these senses human action is indeterminate or novel, but in both these senses indetermination is true of the non-mental world as well. It is certain that to predict the individuality of every physical event exceeds the practical resources of science. And for the same reason as we ourselves are beyond certain limits totally unpredictable by ourselves, events in nature are at their own level equally unpredictable. If indetermination means novelty, it is not distinctive of freedom and cannot be used as a criterion of freedom.

On the other hand if indetermination means contingency, that, in spite of its antecedents, the free act might have been different, the criterion is false. As there is no ‘must’ for science or philosophy, neither is there a ‘might’ or ‘might not be’; science has to deal with what is. ‘Might be’ for it means not variation from what it finds, but variation within limits where not all the conditions are known. The determinism of the free act means no more than this, that it has followed in fact from its antecedents, as they exist in the character of the agent and the circumstances which appeal to him for action. The freedom consists in the act of choice; there is no power of choosing behind the choice itself, no freedom of choice but only freedom experienced in choice. Had the character and other antecedents been different, the act would have been different. Too often this criterion of indetermination is merely misreading the consciousness which we may have, not that the act might have been different but that it should or ought to have been different. It is not the criterion of freedom, but the statement of the difference between positive and negative freedom. I have done wrong; had I been good or truly free I should have done otherwise. Or perhaps I have done right, but I am conscious that if I had not been truly free, I should still have been free, as acting from my own character which was not truly good. Remorse is the awakening of my true character which had been partially lulled into oblivion, or the growth of a more perfect character after the act which the new character condemns.

Other mistaken criteria.

We may enumerate one or two more of the criteria by which freedom has been mistakenly distinguished. Freedom does not mean action which proceeds from the whole personality, though that is true of the completest freedom. The physical body, which for us is not free, thrills also to its depths at the touch of circumstance. Freedom does not mean ignorance of the real causes of action. On the contrary it means awareness of them. We are most fully conscious of freedom when we are most aware of our acts proceeding from ourselves. It does not mean purpose, if only because actions may be attended by consciousness of freedom which are not purposed. Freedom of the will always involves purpose, but purpose, though essential to the willing, is not essential to its freedom, that is, does not define its freedom. Purpose is the idea of an end which precedes the action. But this idea (I mean the ideation of it) is itself determined by antecedents and in turn it determines action. Willing is eminently free because throughout its stages we have the awareness of enjoyment determined by enjoyment. But that the determining enjoyment is the anticipation of the determined one is indeed vital to the will but not to its freedom.

Finally it implies no contrast of any intelligible character of human nature with its sensible character, such as Kant regarded as necessary to account for obligation. Human nature is wholly empirical, and obligation arises within its empirical limits. The consciousness of obligation is the consciousness we have that right action is the judgment of the standard mind; that it is what the standard or collective mind wills. The sense of guilt is the sense that our will is inconformable thereto. These distinctions grow up within the collective of persons, or within the individual as he represents in his own person that collective. That acts of a certain sort are typical is a fact not confined to human nature but common to it with at least all organic forms. We possess but the reflective consciousness of it. Nothing but an empirical existence is needed for these facts; and indeed I do not know how the mind should ever have been regarded as anything else than purely empirical, were it not that it is supposed to contemplate itself, which in fact it never does.

Universality of freedom.

Freedom, then, is determination in enjoyment, and we have seen that it involves no feature save enjoyment which distinguishes it from natural or physical action, which is contemplated. Not all human action is free. When it is unfree its determinants are not present in enjoyment. But when free action in turn becomes the object of contemplation it falls into the class of determined natural action. At the same time the angel or God who sees our action as determined may know also that for us it is enjoyment and free, though he cannot enjoy our freedom but only knows that we feel it. Let us extend the usage of enjoyment and contemplation, and we shall then see that each contemplated thing enjoys its own peculiar level of existence while it contemplates the levels below it. Hence the action of the plant which for us is natural determination is for the plant itself the enjoyment of its freedom. The stone which for us is compelled from our point of view is free in its internal actions for itself. It acts, in the Spinozistic phrase, from the necessity of its own nature. It is only to the higher level of creatures that free determinism or enjoyment in determination becomes mere determinism. Thus freedom in general is the experience which each thing has of the working of its own nature; and a distinction parallel to ours of freedom and unfreedom exists for the plant and for the stone or the atom. The plant undergoes the wind which bends it, or the air which sets its respiration at work. But it enjoys its own free act of respiration. The stone is passive to the freezing water that splits it, but free in its resilience to deformation. Physicists are now occupied with the free actions of the atom.

Thus freedom is not an exceptional privilege of human life but as enjoyed determination is, as Wordsworth said of pleasure, “spread through the world.”9

Summary of the Empirical Problems.

With freedom we have completed the survey of those characters of mind which appear at first to make mind unique among things. In each case we have been able to verify the proposition that the distinctive features of mind belong to it in virtue of its character as a conscious being, not in virtue of anything which separates it from other finites. All finites according to their level of existence possess the character distinctive of that level, but all of them alike stand in relations to one another which they derive ultimately from being spatio-temporal complexes which are contained within the one Space-Time. Knowing, the distinction of things and appearances, freedom, even values, are characters which have their analogues at lower levels of existence, and are but particular instances of general characters of all things, as those general characters are modified in the case of a finite which is conscious. To know an object is but an instance of universal compresence of finites with one another, and hence we were led to extend the contrast of enjoyment and contemplation to every case in which a finite of one level was compresent with one of a lower level, or with a feature of another finite which belongs to a lower level. The contrast of the whole of a thing with its partial characters obtains throughout the relations of finites with one another, and is not confined to the relations between mind and other things. The universality of freedom has been the subject of this chapter. Only in the case of value was the conclusion imperfect, because of our inadequate knowledge of the history of material things. Thus, with allowance made for this imperfect conclusion, we have found that our familiar ways of regarding ourselves in relation to other things are the forms which relations of a simpler or more universal character assume in the case of the highest of known finites.

The method has been, not the more difficult one of attempting to show from the general character of finites that certain relations obtain between them which in human minds assume these forms, but, starting with the ways of mind, to express them in terms of a more general character. We have thus sought to verify the fundamental hypothesis, that all finites are differentiations from the same matrix. In every finite there is one element corresponding to body in ourselves and another corresponding to mind. The business of metaphysics was upon each level of existence to identify the different forms which these two elements assume, and in particular to indicate what in each case was the element which played the part of mind. On the lowest level, which has purely spatio-temporal character, the mind was Time itself. Hence we ourselves are built on a universal pattern of which Space-Time itself or any of its purely spatio-temporal differentiations is the simplest exemplar. As we pass from one level to the next higher, we find that a portion of an existent on that level is set aside to be the bearer of a new characteristic empirical quality which is distinctive of the next level, and between that specialised body of the lower and the characteristic of the higher level there is identity in the same sense as a mental process is identical with its equivalent neural process. The orders of the finites being thus described, we find that they enter into various relations with one another in consequence of their all being contained within the common matrix. These relations are those which we have examined at such length, and they arise out of the categorial characters of these empirically distinguished orders of finites.

In this way, mind is discovered not to stand apart from other things in some kind of isolation, nor to impress upon things its own mental character. The fundamental features which mind shares with other things and the relations into which it enters with other things are the witnesses that minds and things which are not minds share in the consequences of their common origin. The affinity which exists between them is that which links together all creatures, minds and material things alike, as all alike children, in various degrees of perfection of growth, of the one parent. Time which inspires Space and makes it a continuum of motions, when it reaches in man the form of mind, inspires knowing and freedom and value. In a poem which he calls ‘Meditation under Stars,’ Meredith has described this affinity between us and the stars, and how in the view of it our earth acquires a meaning which it has not otherwise. “The fire is in them whereof we are born; the music of their motion may be ours.”10

The picture we have then before us is that which was sketched hypothetically at the beginning of this Book. In the course of Time which is the principle of movement the matrix of Space-Time breaks up into finites of ever increasing complexity. At certain points in the history of things finites assume new empirical qualities which are distinctive of levels of existence, primary qualities, matter, secondary qualities, life, mind. The distinctive quality of the finite at its level is the ‘mind’ of that finite. The highest of these empirical qualities is mind or consciousness. But the lower finites are not minds in the strict sense but only in an extended and metaphorical sense. There are no degrees or kinds of consciousness lower than consciousness itself, as Leibniz thought, but different grades of reality each with an element which is not mind but corresponds to mind in its office. Not even the universe of Space-Time has mind; but in so far as it has Time, it is parallel, with the qualifications noticed before, with the empirical finite which is both mind and body in one. The only mind in the universe is those finites which are conscious. There are consequently minds in the universe but no mind in general. The notion of a mind as such which pervades things is a fiction generated by the illegitimate extension of an empirical finite thing mind. Infinite mind is unknown to us; infinite Time is known to us. If there is an infinite something which is more than Time, it is more than mind.

Supplementary Note

Have All the Forms of Existence Existed Always?

A DIFFICULTY remains which might be felt, and which if it were well founded would mar the clearness of the picture; but it rests on a misapprehension and may be dealt with in a note. All the forms of finite existence, from primary shapes in Space-Time down to mind, are born in Time. But since Time is infinite, it might seem that every form of existence must have existed in the past. Every form of motion must have been tried, and therefore in the strictest sense the universe is not an evolution at all, but the whole of its varied riches exists already, no matter at what point in the history we are imagined to stop. This objection recalls the notion of Leibniz that each portion of matter contains the whole universe of forms, and perhaps at bottom it involves the same notion of representation of the universe by each finite as his. For us the idea of representation of the universe has no place. Each finite does indeed stand in relation to the whole universe, because it is a portion of Space-Time. But it does not represent the universe, any more than our minds which are related to their objects, and related correspondingly so that to each object there corresponds a distinct mental process, represent these objects so as in any sense to resemble them or contain them. The mind is a mode of being of its own, distinct from that kind of being which the objects possess; and in like manner every finite has a mode of being of its own distinct from the rest of the universe to which it stands in relation. The parts do not reflect the whole but are parts of it. But we may leave this possible motive of the objection, and trace it to its real source in its misapprehension of the infinity of Time.

It misunderstands in the first place the notion of infinity. Because an infinite time has elapsed down to and including the origin of man, we may not therefore conclude that man must have existed before. It is true that there are as many instants in the time which elapses down to a given event as in the time which elapses down to an hour before that event. But this does not mean that every event in the longer time has occurred earlier. The infinite series of numbers from the number 3 onwards does not include the numbers 1 and 2, though there are as many numbers in the one series as the other. Or to take a case which is more strictly parallel, the infinite series of negative numbers which ends at—1 does not include the numbers 0 and 1. The very definition of an infinite collection is that its image or representation is only a part of the original, though in the derived infinite there is an exact correspondence with the original. Thus though there is an exact correspondence between the number of instants in an hour and a minute, the hour is still longer than the minute.

In the next place the objection neglects the distinctive character of Time which is to be a succession within duration; it conceives of Time as given all at once as if it were a line. In other words it conceives of Time as if it were precisely the same as Space. But Time in the abstract is distinct from Space in the abstract. The one is in the abstract mere coexistence; the other mere succession. Since the instants of abstract Time are homogeneous, the conclusion is drawn that in an infinite Time everything which can happen has happened. But this overlooks what is essential to Time, that it is creative: that something comes into being which before was not.

Just because Time is taken in the abstract it is treated as if it were given at once, as if there could be at any one moment a completion of what is essentially successive, and therefore cannot be at once. But the deeper cause of the misunderstanding is that Time, as we have more than once seen to be the case in philosophical discussions, is taken apart from Space. There is no such thing as a Time which subsists alongside of Space. There is only one reality which is Space-Time. When we separate Time from apace, Space becomes purely geometrical. In such a Space all the spatial patterns of finite existents are already contained. But a finite existent is not a merely spatial pattern but a spatio-temporal one, a configuration of motion. Thus we cannot say that because the spatial pattern of man exists in Space at any moment therefore man also exists at any moment. We are dealing with patterns as traced out in time. But to arrive at a higher or more complex order of finite existent takes time. Time is taken in the abstract, separated from Space, and accordingly things in the real stuff of Space-Time are emancipated from the history of their becoming. But when we think of things as generated in time out of the fundamental stuff, they have all of them a history. The time which has elapsed down to man is infinite, but it is an infinity which has been occupied with the generation of certain forms, and will be occupied with the generation of other forms. Though Time is infinite, experience as registered in historical records tells us that in times before the birth of man there was no man. That pattern had not yet been traced which is the condition of the emergence of human mind.

The same reality of Time which has evolved the various forms of finite existence leaves room for still higher births. Except for the belief that development is finished with the highest thing we know, there is no ground for the doctrine of cyclical periods of the world's history, a cataclysm followed by a fresh beginning, such as are supposed by many philosophies, from Heraclitus and Zarathustra and the Stoics down to Nietzsche. On the contrary the notion of a fresh beginning vaguely assumes the finitude of Time, which in reality has no beginning or begins at each moment indifferently. Real Time hints, by analogy with the past, the movement towards higher empirical qualities of existence. On this is founded the possibility of understanding deity.

  • 1.

    Above, ch. ix. B, p. 248.

  • 2.

    Ethical Studies, Essay I. Note A.

  • 3.

    Compare Mr. Stout's Analytical Psychology, vol. i. Bk. II. ch. i., ‘Concept of Mental Activity,’ esp. p. 148. “Mental activity exists when and so far as process in consciousness is the direct outcome of previous process in consciousness.” I am of course greatly indebted to this chapter in the above.

  • 4.

    See above, ch. viii. p. 221.

  • 5.

    Franklin's explanation is: “free, as being by the general practice and habit of the virtues free from the dominion of vice; and particularly by the practice of industry and frugality, free from debt, which exposes a man to confinement and a species of slavery to his creditors” (Autobiography, ed. Bigelow, New York, 1909, p. 207). The phrase “free and easy” was generally used at that time to mean well-bred and elegant ease of manner, and it implied merit. ‘Lady Darnford also made me a fine compliment,’ writes Pamela on ‘Sunday the 4th day of my happiness,’ ‘and said I looked freer and easier every time she saw me’ (Everyman's edition of Pamela, vol. i. p. 344).

  • 6.

    “As a matter of plain history,” writes W. James (Radical Empiricism, p. 185, note), defending himself against the charge of invoking free-will as a supernatural agent, “the only free-will I have ever thought of defending is the character of novelty in fresh activity-situations. If an activity-process is the form of a whole ‘field of consciousness,’ and if each field of consciousness is not only in its totality unique (as is now commonly admitted) but has its elements unique (since in that situation they are all dyed in the total) then novelty is perpetually entering the world, and what happens there is no pure repetition, as the dogma of the literal uniformity of nature requires. Activity-situations come, in short, each with an original touch.” This contradicts nothing in what has here been said. Exception might indeed be taken to the statement that activity-consciousness implies a whole field of consciousness, as being unduly restrictive; but more particularly to the notion that the elements of a total field are unique because they are dyed in the total. They may receive a new value from entry into an organic whole (to borrow an expression from Mr. Moore), but the new character which they thus receive does not necessarily alter their intrinsic nature. Interpenetration, if so understood, would make a colour red different in itself because it. may mean blood, or a point defined as the intersection of two straight lines different in itself because it is also a focus of an ellipse. But apart from these objections, every act is so far unique.

  • 7.

    Mr. Russell's phrase in the paper, ‘On the notion of cause,’ Proc. Arist. Soc. N. S. xiii., 1912–13, p. 22. (Also in Mysticism and Logic.)

  • 8.

    Some of these remarks about the calculator, and on the general subject of this section are in agreement with what is said by Mr. Bosanquet (Individuality and Value, Lect. iii. pp. 107–17). See also J. S. Mackenzie, Constructive Philosophy (London, 1917), p. 375.

  • 9.

    The larger part of the preceding pages of this chapter is taken from an article on ‘Freedom’ in Proc. Arist. Soc. N. S. vol. xiv., 1913–14.

  • 10.
    I quote the passage in full. We have to allow for his depreciation of Space and of Time.

    So may we read and little find them cold:

    Not frosty lamps illumining dead space,

    Not distant aliens, not senseless Powers.

    The fire is in them whereof we are born;

    The music of their motion may be ours.

    Spirit shall deem them beckoning Earth and voiced

    Sisterly to her, in her beams rejoiced.

    Of love, the grand impulsion, we behold

    The love that lends her grace

    Among the starry fold.

    Then at new flood of customary mom,

    Look at her through her showers,

    Her mists, her streaming gold,

    A wonder edges the familiar face:

    She wears no more that robe of printed hours;

    Half strange seems Earth, and sweeter than her flowers.

    Poems, vol. ii. p. 171, ed. 1907.