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Meditation V

BEING: Being as the One Ground of all Diversity—Being, Sole, One, and Universal—Being the Common Bond of Things—Attributes of Being—The word Phenomenon.

WE have seen that the fundamental fact of all experience and of the possibility of experience is subject-object—a synthesis of two (a factual synthesis not, qua synthesis, conscious)—a duality in which reflection finds the one element to be as real as the other. Object—the datum in sentience exists independently of the subject. What is the object as a somewhat, a reality? It is a permanent possibility, we are told, of setting up sensations or experiences in a subject! And what, then, is the subject? It is nothing save the sensational activities over again. Accordingly, object, i.e., the world, is a permanent possibility of setting up sensations, and subject is a permanent possibility of sensational reactions!

We are also told that the subject is not a “thing”; and, of course, a permanent possibility—the object, is not a “thing”. This follows from the fundamental explanation of experience as permanent possibilities. If neither subject nor object are “things,” then reality (derived from res) is in floating and disconnected sensations alone. In that case floating sensations are “things” only when they have been manipulated by association and reflection. What is it that associates sensations? What is it that reflects? Whence Universals?

The mind of the ordinary man in the street reels in the attempt to realise to itself this doctrine as an explanation of experience. We cannot explain the external object by any one abstraction. You are to me a permanent possibility of sensation of course. But is this all you are? The question is, Granting that there are existences of some sort, what do these when they present themselves to me bring with them? I must listen to all they have to say, if I am to be fair to them. As composites in a “single” or as combinations in a “one,” what do they bring with them, I repeat? Inter alia, they bring with them “being”. They present themselves to me as “beings”; as Being One and Universal differentiated thus or thus, not as floating predicates or adjectives that have lost their way and have been caught in my net, as they were drifting aimlessly through space.

What then have we before us in the given presentation? Shapes and motions in every degree of relation and complexity, simplicity and subtlety. These touch a conscious subject and are at once lighted up to their full reality as objects there as well as here in the subject. The subject as conscious tells them what they are. All meanwhile, are individua: all are related in Space and Time.

I am confining myself to that which is given as object to the conscious attuitional subject in the modality which we call the realitas-phenomenon. I have spoken of this as the Real. What is my title to do so? The answer has been already given: it is the Is implicit in the presentate. It is phenomenon as Being which is the Real—Being as phenomenon. It is a concrete. And this not merely in a conscious subject, but objectively in the system of the universe as that is revealed in and for a conscious subject.

If, then, I am asked: “Is there any content in the concrete as given other than the shapes and characters and motions in which it presents itself to sense, and which are the matter and occasion of our predicates?” Or, put it otherwise: “In the crisis of the ‘becoming’ of object for subject, is there any deliverance to the subject other than shapes and characters?” The answer is, Yes,


The modality of experience—spatio-motor shapes and relations—are given to us as being. Space is and Time is, and both consequently are realia in so far as they are beënt phenomena. So with the pathic suggestions arising in our own organism. Each is: all is. This is the cardinal fact of all consciousness of the self or of the other. The thing presented is: it is felt to BE at the sentient stage of subjective mind: it is perceived and affirmed to BE at the reason-stage; but it does not await the emergence of reason before becoming the content of attuent subject. In a sense it is true that Being is the lowest and barest category: in another sense it is ultimate reality and holds all the categories: and this fact of “being” is not merely the guarantee, but the truth, of reality: there is no other. Without it all vanishes into nothing or at best into “such stuff as dreams are made on”.

How, now, do we acquire this fundamental unseen fact? The attuent subject more or less clearly feels being in its own organism, and every object presented to it comes laden with being as at once ground and possibility of itself, and as the guarantee and reality of itself. It is the universal Ground and Implicate. It is not a logical abstraction, but a given empirical reality—the reality. It is received and felt.

In all phenomena as presented to me, Being, I say, is given. It is in them as their non-sensible reality, and it is also in the subject, which, however, first receives the fact and thrill of Being from the non-subject; for, until there is an “object” (extra-organic or intraorganic), the conscious subject is a mere potency of energies of a definite kind, and consequently asleep. The attuitional subject feels Being as the bearer of subject and object, and of all that exists or can exist. It is not one more predicate of the object: it is in every predicate. It is the most immediate of immediates. Being is Ground of subject and object: it is the Whole, and it is every part, of experience. It is the one great fact. Save Being, there is no “substrate” of the whole or of the parts.

Nor is this my first acquaintance with Being. It is so many æons since I was a germ-subject and, as Pure Feeling, lived in communion with Being Unconditioned that I have almost forgotten it. But if I dig deep down into the strata that the tides of Time have laid down, I shall come to the bed-rock; and find that Unconditioned Being was my first experience; and my second was and is the same Being as now diverse and conditioned.

We can abstract Being, as we can abstract any experience, from all others. And as an abstract, Being is, of course, predicateless. So it must be, as the Sole Universal—the Universal Positive, the Primal and eternal Ground—the first and last moment of the Absolute Whole. Being is not itself a predicate, and, consequently, it cannot be treated as summum genus. It is the ground and possibility of all predicates and all genera. I find the following sentence on page 127 of Professor A. S. Pringle-Pattison's Hegelianism and Personality: “It is not the category ‘Being’ of which we are in quest, but that reality of which all categories are only descriptions and which itself can only be experienced, immediately known or lived”. That reality is, I submit, Being as it is here presented. Below this no man can go. All the actual and possible is simply Being thus or thus determined—Being clothed as with a garment. Being is the universal Noun-Verb of the Universe. Space is Being “othered” as a continuum of extension. Duration is Being exhibiting itself as a one infinite Protension of During in opposition to the succession of finite pluralities in sentience. The one-after-the-otherness of presentations along with the subconscious feeling of a protensive continuum, is Time. [I do not ask how Space and Time are effected in the cosmic system. Whatever physical antecedents they may have, the resultant here and now is Space and Time as we sense them.]

Accordingly, we are entitled to say that the Real in attuition is the phenomenal as Being, or rather, Being as appearing. Being is the one continuum; and each of the particulars which go to make up the complex whole of attuition also are; but they await discrimination by us as percipient energies.

And when the dialectic emerges, the conscious subject perceives1 and affirms Being (already in pure feeling and in sense) as in all and constituting the ground-reality of all—the Sole One. It is then, and only then, a “necessary” as well as a universal, because the opposite is unthinkable,—it is the synthetic condition of all feeling and of all thinking,—the primal and indestructible fact of all appearance and existence. The transitions which we see from one state of being to another are merely the Time and Space conditions peculiar to a finite experience. That is all. “Becoming” is itself Being—the Being of Becoming.

To conceive of Being as an innate idea or a priori category of the finite subject is the characteristic of an untenable dualism. As a conscious subject I awake out of potentiality into the feeling of Being—Being here and Being there. It is simply the universal fact of the parts and the whole, in which and of which I also exist as a fact and a factor. I am within the Universal. Each individual consciousness only “opens out a way” (to use a phrase of Browning's) whereby the universal enters, to the extent of the potentiality of the individual subject, be it that of a mollusc or of a man.

It is this underlying feeling and fact of Being that first expands my narrow individuality until, ere long, it seems to embrace the immensity of God Himself. It is non-finite unconditioned ground, and also immanent holder, of the finite. It is not permitted that man should be other than universal even from the very first. Here in Being, he first encounters God and is widened and exalted. It contains the basis of sympathy not only with his kind but with all life, with all nature: All things breathe as one. And by Being-universal I mean, in the words of Aristotle, to, a`plw/j Von, or (if you please) the Substance of Spinoza, “that which is in itself and conceived through itself—that the conception of which does not need the conception of another thing from which it must be formed”. It is one, sole, unique in the diverse of experience. In realising this fact, Man is no longer a mere individual.

There is, then, no ultimate reality save Being: the phenomenon is real in so far as it is Being—it is the display of Being. I may separate them in thought, but they are nowhere separated in the system of things. I must accept what is given. The task of philosophy is to find what is given, clearly and distinctly to know it as given in and for attuition, and, thereafter, as given in and by Reason.

We ask for a Continuum: we have it always with us in every feeling and in every act of percipience: it is the Plenum: it is Being. Each thing, each ultimate part, is different from every other; but there is a continuity from the lowest to the highest: all is veritably One in Being. I cannot escape from this if I try ever so hard. That the profoundest thought to which Meta-physic can attain should all the while lie on the surface is strange. Men when they would “think,” too often miss the obvious: the ultimate of ultimates is in the sphere of Feeling. The deepest and best is not far from any one of us.

The phenomenon, then, “as being” is the Real, because it is. By phenomenon I mean here all that is given in and to sense—the modality of Being-universal. The object, however, is not merely an aggregate of phenomenal particulars reposing in Being, as will appear when we rise to a higher plane of subjective mind. Meanwhile, let us accept the concrete presentation as reality—as revealing the truth of mysterious Being as alone it can be revealed on this plane of the absolute process.

In brief, the ultimate possibility of my experience is Mind as determined Being of a specific nature: the ultimate ground and possibility of all experience (subject and object) is Being undetermined.

To say that the “Whole is alone the Real” seems to me to darken counsel by an obvious proposition. Whether there be God or not, the Whole or The Absolute can alone be, in a sense, the Real; but we are not, therefore, to deny “reality” of any part of the finite manifestation. We want an explanation of the finite differences within The Absolute. Am I who feel and think not a Real?

Note that when I say that I cannot be aware of phenomena save as Being, this does not mean that Being as universal and immanent in the particular is the cause of the phenomenal. I am as yet on the attuitional plane of mind and showing that phenomena are “reals” as Being—that Being is in, not behind phenomenon. But we shall in the sequel see that the true or full way of regarding a presentate is as a dialectic determinate of Being revealing its nature in sense-qualities and finite relations.

Being-Immanent as Sole One and Universal.—I have been speaking of Being in the diverse and particular; but there is more to be said, for I am in the awful presence of the primal synthetic necessary of all actual and possible things and thoughts.

In the concrete I find Being here in subject, and Being there in object, and Being everywhere as sole ground-universal of the system of things.2 What is it that gives vitality to those mountain slopes save life itself as Being? This feeling of Being would seem to be predicted in the plant, if not indeed in germ already there: it is in the experience of the animal as a feeling being; it is in the consciousness of man as a feeling and as a sensing being—both in the feeling subject and in the content of the object; it reveals itself to his consciousness as that which bears phenomenal experience; and, thereafter, it is the primary affirmation in the dialectic act of percipience—which is this (as we shall find)—“‘That’ there is”; and finally, it is found to be the universal in every concrete—the one in the many, the identity in all differences. It is not a predicate or property of things, but itself the reality of all things. In the rock, the flowers and the stars it is Being which reveals itself to us.

In short, Being, in so far as it is an experience, is not only in both subject and object as the same identical Being, but as ultimate reality of both subject and object alike. Here, and here alone, we find the “substance” of the realitas-phenomenon and of all things, man included. There is no other “substance”.

The same continuum of Being is, I say, there and here and everywhere. No break of continuity between object and subject, or things generally, is possible. So far, All is One. The consciousness I have of myself is a consciousness of Being, the feeling an animal has of itself is a feeling of Being, the feeling which animal and man alike have of the non-subject is a feeling of Being. It is immediate as ground of all: it may be said to be mediated, at the stage of Sense, through the finite, but this only because it is “given” in and with the finite.

Wherever I have a sense-experience presented to me as a complex of predicates, I can, by an act of Will, isolate each and look at it by itself. That tree, its colour, its many leaves, its motion as it waves in the breeze, are, each and all, realities—“kinds” of Being. They would not be so, were they not at once Being and Qualification in a union which thought alone is competent to separate. I abstract the qualification and try to look at it; it vanishes into nothing except in so far as it is. I abstract Being and leave it naked of determination: still IT is in consciousness. Being equals Being. It is the sole pure affirmation. Phenomenal forms have vanished, but Being remains; for it is not a logical abstract: it is not an abstract at all. It is the one Real. It still lives—the self-identical condition and ground of the possible in determination—the verb-noun of the adjectival universe.

Determination without Being is an impossible consciousness: Being without determination is—Being. I cannot see it, I cannot figure it, I cannot as yet in any way discern a positive quality in it. To do so, I would have to convert Being into the phenomenal of difference, quality, determination, in and by which it presents itself to me. To do so would be ultroneously to destroy a “pure” experience at the very moment I have gained it for myself—a wilful and perverse procedure. Being is Nothing, only in the sense that it is no-“thing,” no determination.3

Lotze says (apropos of Herbart) that being, if simply posited, cannot be brought into relation with the facts of the universe—the system. But one has only to look straight to see that Being is given already in, and in the realisation of, these facts—as constituting the ground of these facts, the sole continuum. True, I may not be able to bring this Being into relation with the system in the sense of showing the how of the relation. This, however, I know, that I feel Being immediately as prius of all determination, and also feel (and subsequently know) it as in and through the determined—the system of things. Being is not that system, however, though it is the ultimate reality of it. The fact of the interpenetration of the non-finite (Being) and the finite (Determination) is given (Being and not-Being); and these, not as two contradictorily opposed notions, but as in mutual traffic with each other; conciliated contraries, not contradictories.

Facts are one thing: an attempted explanation which will show the “how” of conciliation and reduce all to unity is quite another.

Being is the Common Bond.—In any cosmical synthesis, then, I must be allowed, following the humble empirical method of a Natural Realist, to start with this fact of Being—Being objective, universal, and implicitly containing (potentially being) the whole realm of the possible and actual—subject and object. There is no hypothesis here; no result acquired by a process of analogy or of inference: we are in presence of the sole reality though we behold it as yet in the slumber of potentiality—sola et unica substantia. Being, to recall an ancient thinker, never was and never will be but always is undividedly present, everywhere self-identical as the continuum which holds all things together—the one in difference. I differ from you and from a tree or a stone, but we are all alike: we are one with a difference. It is this feeling of Being as a one and continuum, I have said, that is at the root of our joy in all the forms of nature. We see the “One” of our differing selves, and there is a joy in this large, this infinite, kinship. The ultimate ground of all sympathy, cosmic or personal, is fellowship in a One of Being. And where there are many existences alike in their differences from all else, like draws to like, as in herds of cattle, flocks of birds, shoals of fish, communities of men; that is to say, the community of Being (sympathy) is irresistible. The universal One-ness is intensified by the addition of every difference in which a class of existences are alike. We rational beings not only feel this, but (unlike the animals) we perceive it and affirm it. Hence it is that your self is my self, and that there is in truth but one Human Self prior to, and at the basis of, the individuality and personality of each.

Prior to the emergence in a conscious subject of the active dialectic which analyses and abstracts and synthesises, I could not be aware of this Being so as to affirm it. In the sensational or attuitional consciousness of presentations it is only sensed. The discriminative activity of the dialectic brings into explicitness and affirmation the implicit fact. It may be true that, in the operations of active reason, I get down to the universal fact by stripping the subject of its phenomenal presentations and reducing it to indifference, and by similarly stripping the object or datum of its predicates or differentiates; but I am getting down only to what I already have and must have in prior sentience immediately.

Being, then, is the sole ultimate Reality—unica, sola, et universalis. There is, and there can be, nothing save Being and its predicates in the large sense of Attributes, Forms and Modes. Were Being itself a predicate, the universe, it is clear, would be a conglomeration of isolated beings; and all relation, all community, would be impossible. Nay more, were Being a predicate, we should be compelled to demand the being of this Being. Were there, on the other hand, no predicates there would be only a silent “One”. The universe of sentience, then, is the concrete of Being and Predicates. In other words, the content of the presentation in experience is not only the a posteriori categories—phenomenon, but Being as ground of their possibility and as their ultimate Reality.

Attributes of Being.—Are there, now, any predicates in or of Being which, as non-phenomenal, are universal in all possible phenomena and necessary to the constitution of an ordered world and a rational experience? I think there are. For, when I interrogate experience it seems to me that, while Being, relatively to itself, can only be spoken of as Being and is predicateless, yet, in its opposed relation to the finite other, it reveals many attributes. I call them “attributes” because they are not of it but in it and convertible with it: (1) It is universal; (2) It is one; (3) It is continuous; (4) It is permanent; (5) It is absoluto-infinite, and the prius of predication; (6) It is ultimate ground and source of the possibility of all things that exist, including mind as well as (so-called) matter—the “Potential” of the existent. In relation to our experience it is the One on which the Many rests, the great affirmation of which the finite is the negation, the continuous where all is diverse, the sole self-identical in the flux of existence—the ultimate reality of, and in, the Concrete Total.

These are not predicates in the ordinary sense, nor yet properties: they are mediated through finite predicates as being the negation of these predicates, and they are to be designated as “attributes,” for without them Being would not be Being.

There is no other “substance” than Being, no other support for wandering adjectives; and is it not enough? or must we have one more big adjective which shall be “High-master” of the others? The concrete phenomenon is by virtue of that which is not phenomenon. If Being, too, were phenomenon, we should have to seek a ground for it.

I would not dwell so much on Being were it not that an adequate apprehension of the primal and basal fact of Being seems to point the way to the simplifying, if not the resolving, of some questions. Most of our difficulties arise from our restricting our view to the phenomenon in its abstractness as phenomenon. There, of course, we find never-ending flux and the unsolvable problem of identity. There we find the contradiction of the individuum and continuum: there we find the infinitely finite of continuity and discreteness. But if we grasp the Object in its concrete totality as resting in all-pervasive, all-sustaining Being, we may cease to trouble ourselves about material substance: if we grasp Being in its oneness of continuity we may cease to trouble ourselves about material continuity (which would, of course, make the atom impossible), for we now have non-material continuity of Being in which the atom (whether static or dynamic) is a possible conception; for the “many” in a unity of differences is truly a one continuum of Being. Objective Time itself, as a succession of presentations, is a succession in and through the continuum of Being—the successions are the pulsations of Being; and without this conception the experience of succession could never yield Time as an objective fact. Successive movements are but the pulse-beats of the Being-continuum, in itself timeless; and these pulse-beats, in turn, are inconceivable save in and through a finite series. Then, as regards subject and object: they are One in Being, but neither is thereby cancelled. The object is not x clothed by a formative a (the subject): it is not a as a process projected (I speak of finite subject): it is not x + y (the subject) nor x×y (the subject); but simply b an external reality presented to and “becoming” in and for a, which also, cosmically viewed, is an external reality, but relatively to b an internality. A and B are not mutually exclusive contradictions, but contraries; not antagonisms but oppositions in a One.

The atomistic doctrine of subject and object thus disappears; but none the less is there duality, nay, dualism, as form of existence. It has been the recoil from this atomism which has led to untenable theories. There is One Being in which and out of which all differences arise, including the supreme opposition of subject and object. All are one in Being; but that “moment” of the vast cosmic movement, in which and of which we are, is what naïve realism says it is. One Being lives through the “many” of itself: it never loses its oneness. “Becoming” is conceivable only as in identity with the One of Being.

The Word Phenomenon.—To a few it may seem a contradictory thing to say that the “phenomenon is”; but this is because they first read unreality into the word phenomenon as opposed to some true reality or other. The external must always be to a finite consciousness as sentient, a system of predicates. If you regard them as a mob of predicates flying about and held bound by nothing, the unreality is obvious enough. But take them as actually and concretely given as rooted in Being, and their unreality at once disappears. To some, on the other hand, it would appear that there is nothing real save qualities and predicates. These men may be said to be outside philosophy. They cannot see and handle Being, and therefore, to them, Being is not.

To speak, then, of the phenomenon—the static and dynamic of sense-experience—as an illusion, is false; to speak of it as a picture thrown on a screen is a misleading analogical illustration; to speak of it as the parallel of Mind demands two independent beings which cannot communicate; to speak of it as sign or symbol or metaphor or adumbration, would seem a weak evasion. These ways of speaking may serve rhetorically to emphasise the phenomenon in its abstractness qua phenomenon or predication: but there is no such phenomenon given: what is given is phenomenon-being—a contradiction (so-called), but yet the mode of all Reality: a contradiction, however, which is only appearance, and, when closely looked at, passes into mere opposition or contrariness.

In short, the term “phenomenon” to denote the characteristics of the Real as given in and to sense or feeling, is a very apt one, if we do not import into it a theory of knowledge which reduces it to mere Schein. The Truth for Man is simply the Actual there before him as it presents itself first to Feeling and subsequently to Reason (Thought). The reality of phenomenon is guaranteed by the “being” of phenomenon. It is given to us as being; it is subsequently affirmed by us as being.

Phenomenon, then, is Being existent; it is the true expression or utterance of the ultimately real; it is the sense-form of the ultimately real—the finite way in which the ultimately real finds its own externalisation, and it is to be received by us with wonder and gratitude as the revelation of God in Space and Time. Because I can abstract the beautiful and subtle expressions of a countenance from the soul behind it, the physical expression is none the less a reality as the very way by which I penetrate to the living spirit and as having all the reality of that spirit? So also, the highest utterance of the prophet comes to us through sensible signs, which signs are the thought they convey, only now in sense-forms. In themselves they are merely “articulated air”.

I have not been speaking of the whole of presentation as in a rational consciousness; but only of object in sentience as attuition. The primary actualisation within a conscious subject is a complex concrete, in which much more will be discerned as implicit when we rise to the dialectic plane of mind. When we have found the Whole, it is only then that we shall have found THE ACTUAL. We then shall “know”; and not till then. We shall know the “thing,” that is to say, as regards not only its universal modality, but also in its beënt form or dialectic; and, if we could reach, under these universals, a complete and coherent statement of experience, we should, perhaps, round the knowledge of our sphere of Being within the Absolute Whole, and achieve for thought an Absolute Synthesis.

Meanwhile, we may sum up our gains. We find the Feeling of Absolute Unconditioned Being at the root of finite subject; and, at the stage of sentience, we see it pass into finite differences as immanent in these—the world of plurality. We find in that phenomenal plurality the same One Being as now immanent reality of all that exists or can exist. There is, it may be said, a suggestion of mysticism in these things, and, in truth, there is an affinity between Mysticism and Natural Realism. But with a kindly and perhaps too sympathetic hand, I would waive aside the mystic; for he lives in a dreamy world; and if he would only take a step further in the analysis of experience, he would find that the God he seeks does not dream, and that if his aim is to be one with God, he must bestir himself.

  • 1.

    Perceives, I say; but not as a sense-perception. Perceiving properly defined has nothing to do with sense: it is act of reason and involves judgment and affirmation. As such it transcends sense and the whole sphere of the attuitional. (See sequel.)

  • 2.

    On the subjective side of the dualism of experience, we find feeling as the universal ground of all possible recipience and re-flexion of presentations—feeling which is itself, to begin with, indifferent and predicateless and whose object is indefinite Being. On the objective side we find Being as universal ground of all possible predicates—itself predicateless.

  • 3.

    Lotze says: “The Being which on the evidence of sensation we ascribe to things consists in absolutely nothing else than the fact of their being felt”. But yet he says Being is independent of our recognition of it. There is surely contradiction here. The recognition of Being is of Being there in things. The feeling of Being is not simply a “feeling” and nothing more.