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Meditation I

THE PRIMAL ACTUALISATION: Mind a Conscious Entity—Fundamental Correlation of Subject and Object—Natural Realism.

THERE is an event from which all thought on Mind must start, and that is the primal actualisation in mind-experience—the feeling of a “somewhat” which is not the being that feels.

Without dwelling here on the transition from non-conscious bodies to feeling or conscious bodies, we may see clearly enough that all feeling, sentient, and conscious bodies are differentiated from others by this very fact of feeling or consciousness. This is (to use Aristotelian language) their form or idea—that through which, as a prius and condition, they find their relations and realise their bodily as well as mental activities. They are not bodies that function consciousness, but bodies in and through which consciousness is functioned; and, in the case of man, self-consciousness also. This is the concrete as presented to us.

Thus, fixing our thought on consciousness as supreme idea and true significance of an animal body, we interpret it by its highest term, and are entitled to say that the animal is a conscious being that exists as a body or in and through a body; and in like manner when we come to man, we say that he is a conscious and self-conscious (or thinking) being that exists in and through a body. So we say that a blade of grass is a concrete of life and body. Is it the body that functions life—the dead the living, or is it life (the “form” of the vegetal world) that functions body?

If, then, men call feeling, consciousness, self-consciousness by the general name “mind” to distinguish it from the body in which it is involved, they are entitled to do so because it presents itself with characters wholly different from that of body, nay, repudiates the characteristics of body or matter (so-called). But we must ever remember that “mind” is only one side, though the inner side, of a concrete dual unity: it is the specific character of the whole—the outcome, issue, “form,” purpose of the whole. But, inasmuch as it is a “concrete dual unity” that is presented to us, we say that body is a necessary condition of mind being functioned.1 None the less we can interpret the body by itself as one side of the concrete, and mind by itself as the other side of the concrete. We can also investigate the phenomena of the interaction of mind and body and vice-versâ (psycho-physics).

If body exists for mind, it is also a fact that mind exists in and through body. The reciprocity and involution are beyond question. Accordingly, we are constrained to say that an animal is a conscious being involved in body as a condition of the existence of consciousness and all that is implied in that; and man is a conscious and, self-conscious being involved in body as a condition of his specific mode of existence as a mind here and now.

This, it would seem, is to say little; but note further: “Being” determined to a specific mode of existence is, I submit, an individual “entity”; and, accordingly, I shall not be deterred, by the fashion of the day, from calling mind an “entity”; by which I mean a specific determination of Being individualised: any imaging of which, however, is to annihilate it as mind and to transmute it into a “thing,” in the loose popular sense of that word. Mind is a thought-thing, not a sense-thing.

Why then also call man a conscious and self-conscious “subject”? Because he is conscious only in so far as he feels an “other” than himself. He might revolve round his own conscious entity to all eternity and make nothing of it. The primary experience is Feeling and a “felt other” in a synthesis. It is a synthesis of two opposed “things” in one experience. As opposed and correlative, we call the feeling entity Subject and the felt “other” Object. They are convenient names for an experience that nobody questions. Now, this “subject-object” may be fitly called the primal actualisation—the great event from which all reflection on man must start. It would seem, then, that the feeling subject and the felt object, as they stand, so must they fall, together; and this is the basis of natural realism. For the term “object” is a generalised reflective afterthought to express a correlation. What really happens is that an entity (a reality) stirs the feeling of itself in another entity (reality).

Other considerations are forced on us as we contemplate the primal event. The Feeling subject is called into life by a presentation that negates it. The subject presents itself to us (when we reflect on experience) as a mere potentiality of life and feeling till it is elicited by that which is not it. Thus the two “realities” are given as independent of each other, to the extent not merely of opposition but of reciprocal negation.

Accordingly, it is not “object,” as an abstract, that insists on finding and evoking subject, but “thing” as a complex of qualities or energies. If we posit an object-thing at all, we must take all that it gives to conscious subject or none. This gives rise to difficulties of interpretation; but a fact unsolved is better than a false solution. It is as spaced, figured, coloured, movent, etc., that subject receives the object-thing. Again, the subject reveals to us no content save the object-thing: it waits for its content: in so far as it is anything but a reacting receptivity, it is empty. Further, the object-thing exists as presented. Finally, the object as given brings externality with it and compels subject (implicitly) to affirm externality of non-subject: objects are sensed as outside each other and outside subject, and this outness or externality we call Space. The Object thus given in its complex whole, is all that philosophy and science have for interpretation whether we call it a “thing” or not: and as a “given” it is accepted by all, I understand. Call it “idea” or sensation or impression, and we simply, so far as investigation goes, change the name.

Two questions now arise. “Feeling subject-entity” and “felt external-object-entity” are there within the absolute Whole: but first, inasmuch as the external object exists in the primal experience as in subject, and must always and at last, as at first, exist as in subject, how is it that we can feel it as external not-subject? It certainly has no existence of any kind for me save in so far as it is in me; and so it is with all possible experience. Since then I can be aware of objects only as in and within my subject, do they exist or can they exist anywhere or anyhow save in a conscious subject? This question, as put, admits of only one answer, because it is begged in the correlative terms subject and object: the question, if more exactly put, is, Can there be an entity or “existence” save in a conscious subject?

It appears to me that object-thing is given as negating subject and independent of it; and to sense the “mode” of its independence is its externality. If the object is external to and independent of the conscious subject, it has a per se existence: it is an entity. By thing or per se existence we merely mean a “being” that negates other beings and shows itself to be a being by what we call sense-qualities and activities. It is in this sense that the feeling subject is a per se existence or entity showing itself in its recipient and other activities—all as involved in “body”.

If we accept the above propositions we have at the foundation of all possible philosophy and science not merely subject-object, but “entity-subject” and “entity-object” in the primal synthesis of sentience.

But let me explain: when I say that conscious subject is an entity, I merely mean that it is a specific determination of Being (negating all other beings), that remains one and permanent in the diversity and flux of felt presentations and representations. It is identical with itself. (I confine myself to normal states.2) It uses body as the vehicle of its recipient and active activities, and body, as a per se existence negating mind, is at once vehicle and resistant and conditioner of the activities of mind. In the case of disease, body enslaves mind; and, if it ceases to live, mind disappears for us, and grave questions of mind-continuity arise thereupon.

Further, given an object-entity which is independent of and external to recipient subject-entity, is it correct to say, as I have done above, that the former enters into the latter as it exists, or are the difficulties that arise in connection with the transeunce such that man can never be sure that he has in consciousness the thing as it exists, but only some modification of the object-thing adapted, in or by thing-subject to its own peculiarities of constitution; and consequently, that the object in consciousness does not emerge in consciousness as it really exists in the totality of things outside the subject? In other words, is my awareness of that wall “immediate,” or is it somehow mediated so as to effect in my consciousness an object which is not the wall as in rerum natura, but only the wall for me? In other words, have I a relative awareness of the wall, but not an absolute awareness? I choose to put the question of natural realism in this way. A frivolous question, it may be said; but it is an important one; for what is true of sentience is true of reason, and all possible knowledge: nay, Newton's Principia, and so forth, would be a mere disporting in a subjective world of relativity of subjective sensations, if our knowledge of a sense-object is not immediate.

“Natural Realism” says that the subject is conscious of the wall immediately, and its awareness is therefore an absolute awareness, if it be clear and distinct.

Inasmuch as the object is a “thing,” it is permissible to call it a reality giving itself to another reality which we call the subject. And here, again, a question suggests itself. Since I can find no initial content in the bare subject, and since, consequently, the subject-reality (prior to the appearance of self-consciousness) appears to be a mere potency of recipience and reaction, would it not be more correct to describe the primal actualisation as object realising itself in a sentient thing for the sake of itself, no less than for the sake of the sentient thing? If we dwell on this, we shall find that there are secrets in the processes of Absolute Being as creative which we can never penetrate. Just when we are on the point of seeing, things are hidden away. But this position I, meanwhile, take up, viz., that finite object realises itself, as a “being,” entity or thing, in finite subject, and that finite subject realises itself, as a “being,” entity or thing, in and through object; by which is here meant the grand-total of experience.

We have, then, valid and absolute, because immediate, awareness of the object, and the next question is, What is it that is delivered as object by the mysterious cosmic forces to me a sentient subject? What does this or that presentation present? And here I would answer generally, that it presents all I can ever feel or sense and all I can ever know, except the form of knowing itself. If I can interpret one object, I therein interpret the whole world of experience. All physics and metaphysics may be said to be there in that stone wall.

I ask myself now, What is object-thing in its completion as an existent thing in rerum natura? and I answer it is there precisely what it is here in subject-thing: the object exists in the Absolute Whole as I find it in, and for, conscious subject. Again, What is subject in its fulfilment, or fulfilled potency, as an existent entity in rerum natura? and I answer it is object—the total of experience. And yet object and subject, at first and at last and all through, face each other as antagonists—as reciprocally negating energies. This is what I mean by Natural Realism. And the ultimate synthesis for me is the infinite object, or God, fulfilled in the finite subject-mind in so far as that mind can bear the mighty burden.

Before going further, I shall indulge in a few polemical words in order to make my own position clear:—3

Nobody, I imagine, denies that there can be no object save in subject and no subject save in object. These terms implicate each other, and it is a mere tautology to affirm their necessary correlation. The question (at least to me the natural man) is this: Is the object a res or reality, distinct—nay, also, separate, from the subject, which object (we may say) seeks and finds the subject in order that it may be felt and known?

We are speaking, remember, of a finite subject and its object. Let us keep to this. And the question then becomes, Can there be no existence in the Absolute Whole save in so far as it is an object to a finite subject? The language used by certain writers justifies me in putting a question the negative answer to which would to my mind be ludicrous. “Can there, then, be an existence in the Absolute Whole which is not an object to an infinite subject?” This is a totally different question. And as to this, it appears to me that to say that there can be no existence which is not present to the consciousness of infinite Subject, is either nonsense or a mere way of saying that all existences are in and through Mind-universal;.4 and consequently (a) nothing can exist save in and through Mind-universal, (b) the sum-total of existences are dependent on the One Being-Mind. If this be all that is meant, we may accept the belated re-assertion of the venerable doctrine of a Contingent World.

The question will then arise, Is the Contingent sum of things wholly dependent? Is the world merely the way of living for a One Being (Pantheism)? Or, Is the way of living of the One Being through dependent independents? Or does the One Being in throwing out, eodem actu, throw aside, its own creation as a nonsignificant trifle, and withdraw to some lonely Sinai? We leave these questions in the hands of the general argument that follows.

Meanwhile I ask leave to say, There is a Given in all Sentience—a Given so urgent and insistent that it almost wholly obscures the sentient subject, which, as sentient, lives in and for the object: the object, in truth, occupies the field to the suppression of that which makes the object, as such, possible. There is, further (as we shall see), when the Will-dialectic (Reason) takes up the Given, an “affirmation” of the Given as given, and as independent of subject.

Now this Given which we call “object” either evolves its own subject as the mere terminus of its energy (a wandering idea that lays the egg of a subject sentient of it), or it is evolved out of and by the subject as the manner of its life; in either of which events we have a monism which abolishes the one factor or the other as separate realities. Or, finally, the object is an external energising “thing” which makes its way to an internal recipient “thing” and, falling into it, constitutes the synthesis of subject-object which is the form of all experience. Meanwhile both subject and object remain alive and well in their separation in the Absolute Whole, and when one of them dies, the other goes on; if all finite subject-things died, the object-thing would go on. I say that each remains alive and well as a separate entity, just as I say that a tree is a separate entity in the cosmic whole from the soil out of which it springs and from the squirrel that runs along its branches. It may be said, nobody denies this. If so, why then not say it and confess to a natural realism? For this is natural realism—this is the naïveté of the common man. He is a Dualist because, and only in so far as, he is a Pluralist.

And the question ultimately is, What is “given” as object? above all, how is its externality given? How, it may be said, is this “outness” carried “in”? Or put it otherwise: How can the externality which is felt only inside be, at the same time, felt as outside? This is arranged for—must be arranged for, if there is to be veritable subject and object in the cosmic whole; if, in other words, there is to be life or knowledge at all, or anything save a continuous dead One.

It is evidently worth while to continue this line of thought, and to endeavour to lie close to the primal actualisation in consciousness and liberate it into its parts. What is the process in the actualisation, and does this process throw any light on the emergence in the subject of the consciousness of the externality of the object?

Note.—Later subjective ideologism says that we are “constrained to think” the objectivity of the sum of our “ideas”. But if we are constrained so to think the sum (our inner world), we must be constrained so to think each member of the sum. If by “objectivity” be meant that the idea (say of a table) is a non-subject presentation to subject, it is superfluous to discuss the question. No one denies that kind of objectivity. Every one admits that there is “object”. If objectivity, on the other hand, mean the independence and externality of the object, the “constraint” by which we are compelled to “refer” the “idea” to an external object must go a little further and “constrain” to the affirmation of that object as in identity with the idea. We should then have merely a gloss on Reid's doctrine of the universality and necessity which is involved in the sensus communis—a gloss because it interposes the superfluous and fictitious “idea”. Such an attempt at explanation cannot save us from subjective ideologism—a theory which rests, I consider, on an extravagant and crude dualism, as I hope will appear in the sequel, if I succeed in making clear to others the attitude of mind in which dualism or natural realism is to be conceived, viz., as a monistic system and as the only true idealism.

  • 1.

    I am necessarily somewhat dogmatic here; but I think the sequel will justify my position.

  • 2.

    The “How” of Identity I do not discuss. I am unable here to pursue the question beyond the given fact; although the general question of identity must be considered in the sequel.

  • 3.

    I need scarcely say that much that I say in these earlier Meditations can only be justified by the development of thought in the sequel.

  • 4.

    There is much in my mind that is not present to it as object, although how it stays there and crops up, when wanted and when not wanted, I have no idea. Is that which is Potential ipso facto dead?