You are here

Meditation VI

PHENOMENON: Phenomenon as Concrete is; as Abstract is not—Negation as giving individuality and independence—The Phenomenon as a revelation of Absolute Being through Negation—Matter—Monistic Pantheism.

The word phenomenon which we have inherited means appearance, and it connotes the conviction that sense-experience, and indeed all other experience of man, in so far as given, is not the whole of the reality before him. Presentation and presentate are words that beg no question; but when we ask what is precisely given in a presentate of sense, we are compelled to take the whole or none. The whole is the various qualities with which the presentate comes to us laden, and which belong to the category of Phenomenon; but there is something more which they bring into consciousness, and that something more, as we have seen, is Being. Phenomenon is a concrete of qualities in and of Being. That a “reality” is thereby constituted means that the presentate is not only an object, but objectively existing—that is to say, a fact in the cosmic system independent of the subject which is conscious of it.

(I am still speaking of the presentate as in the attuent consciousness.)

Each stage of evolving mind has its object as given, and every ascending stage of mind carries the lower with it. Even in contemplating the diverse of presentation, the subject is aware of Unconditioned Being deep down (when at the reflective stage it looks for it), and it carries that Feeling into the presentation as now conditioned Being—Being immanent in all differences.

Being in itself has, at this stage of finite mind, no differences save as revealed phenomenally. It is one, unique, simple, universal, while penetrating and sustaining its phenomenal externalisation. It thus reveals its nature, but remains one with itself. Were it not One with itself through all phenomenal differences, it would have to be regarded as differencing itself; and this differencing, whatever form it took, would be “other” than Being, though containing it. And this is just what seems to happen, but not as differences within Being, but differences revealing Being.

Being contains no positive and constitutive finite predicates save as phenomenon. Its full reality is in its modality; just as the reality of the modality is in Being.

It seems to me to be a tautology to say that the One of Being can difference itself only as a finite other. The infinite series of diversities are, relatively to each other, finite; but, first of all, they are finite and many in relation to the Infinite One of Being. Thus are we brought face to face with the fundamental contradiction in our experience—the One and the Many as constitutive of a single Whole. This contradiction cannot be resolved on the attuent plane. The dialectic (as we shall see) resolves it to thought in so far as it reveals the One in the Many; although we can never penetrate to the “How” of the phenomenal process.

This, however, we may now see clearly, that the finite diverse is a negation of the One of Being. The One of Being can exist or externalise itself only in its own Negation. To think the phenomenal as such is to think nothing; for it is always given as a concrete, viz., Being-phenomenon. The concrete, as phenomenon, contains Negation—Negation of Being as ground of the possibility of phenomenon. The finite is the negation of the non-finite. Our difficulties, accordingly, seem to increase; for we have before us in the given of presentation a negating finite—negating the positive non-finite of Being, just as we have the many negating the One of Being.

This character of negation in the phenomenal finite is the non-being of the Greeks, but it is not to be disposed of by this phrase. For the negation is there as possibility of the finite; but note, it is there. In other words, the Absolute Whole contains negation as the possibility of the appearance of finites. Each “thing” is thus a synthesis of Being and not-Being in a concrete.

Now as regards these contradictions: while it would be presumptuous in me to say that I can solve them, it is not presumptuous to say that I accept them and try to interpret their significance within the plane of evolving mind on which I, a man, stand, by bringing them to the bar of a higher plane of mind: which, however, we have not yet reached in our argument.

The One of Being, let us then now carefully note, can appear as a pluralism only through that which is its negation. The principle or fact of negation makes the finite possible, and all phenomenal forms are, as abstracts, negation or nil; but yet they are, because they be. They are the “other” of universal Being; and to be the “other” is to be not the “same”. As not the same, as diverse and finite, they are negation. Being can appear only as that which is not itself; and yet the not-itself is. The reality of the presentate, then, lies in the synthesised conflict of being and non-being. The negation is. This is, I think, the fundamental contradiction in our experience.

Negation of Being is to be regarded as a metaphysical principle, like Being itself. But Being as ground of all is ground of its own negation, and negation itself cannot be except as Beënt. Being is in negation and negation is within the Absolute Movement: it is, consequently, to be strictly called a contrary or opposition, not a contradiction, of Being.

In attuiting the world in which we are placed, this negation presents itself to us as diverse shapes and motions separated in Space and Time. Each individuum negates all others, while it, also and above all, negates the One of Being. Thus, and not otherwise, does the One of Being exhibit its modal characters. We ourselves are within the evolving process; and, accordingly, the beënt negation presents itself to us as, first of all, a world of Space and Motion. Things through diversity and individuality are alone possible: through diversity and individuality they are alone thinkable by us. Negation, I say, is a moment within the Absolute Synthesis; nor can I see any difficulty in realising to thought a world of oppositions to a One from which they are never set free, though each is centre of its own activity. By emphasising finitude, we create a contradiction which seems unreconcilable, but which melts before our eyes when we rise to the beholding of the finite as rooted in Being—the non-finite One.

I seem to be making a great deal of the obvious, but the exposition of the obvious may possibly yield the fundamental.

The concrete phenomenon, then, it would appear, “is” and “is not”. It may be plausibly urged that we make free with “contradictories” inasmuch as Yes and No, when said of the same thing, is usually held to dispose of an argument by reducing it to absurdity, when it suits us so to use the principle of contradiction. “Yes” cannot be at the same time and the same place and same relation “No,” because the “No” is excluded by the identity of “Yes”. So with analytic judgments generally. Such contradictions, if admitted to be valid, paralyse thinking. I cannot in the same breath affirm an identity and negate it, relatively to that identity. When, however, I say the “phenomenon is” and emphasise the term “phenomenon,” I do not negate Being relatively to itself or to its own identity, as if I said “Being is not Being”. I negate Being by the “other” of itself, which is yet within itself. And when, again, I emphasise the term “is” I negate phenomenon, not relatively to itself or its own identity, but relatively to the “other” of itself, or rather the ground in which it inheres, viz., Being, of which “the other” is an unveiling. The affirmation and negation are one in a third identity—the concrete thing. They are conciliated as a reality there before me. So, e.g., in the oneness of a physical law; its identity, as it appears in numberless sensible shapes, is conciliated with the particular. The “how” of the union of contradictories in a third identity we cannot explain until we know the Absolute Whole; which we cannot know. We must be content to get down to the actual facts of experience and hold by them. It is correct to say that the “other” of Being is inasmuch as it is “Other”. It is only as phenomenal abstract that the Other is the contradictory or negation of Being to thought.

Note.—In the contemplation of diverse singles, we see that every presentation establishes its own identity by negation. It is itself by virtue of not only being itself, but of its being not other things. The act of percipience at the dialectic stage of mind will more fully reveal this. In each particular percept the “is” may be said to be constituted by the “is-not”; but this does not mean that “is-not” is constitutive of the “is” of a percept as an actual; but only that the “is-not” is constitutive of the possibility of the “is”—an important distinction sometimes overlooked. The affirmation of an object is an affirmation in and through negation. Affirmation of a positive “somewhat” is the “end” of the percipient movement as we shall see; but this positive, whether as an affirmation of finite reason or as an actual in the objective system, cannot sustain itself save through its negative relations. That is all.

Matter and Monistic Pantheism.—I have presented to me then beënt phenomenon. What then and where is “Matter”? The physicist seeks for its genesis and its primordial nature when he seeks for the “Atom,” but he is in his pronouncements more speculative than the metaphysician. The latter, however, has his own difficulties. He sees God in all things, and sums up what he calls “Matter” in the a posteriori categories. But these are to him merely adjectives, and are to be regarded as the way whereby Absolute Being reveals itself to itself and to us. This, however, is too easy a solution: it does not explain the diverse plurality of individuals. “God in all things” has been translated into “God as all things” and we have Pantheism. The hold, which we and all other particular existences have on Being and reality, will not permit this large and sweeping solution. Given infinite Absolute Being, the diverse is finite and, as such, negates its source. Through negation it is resistant and individual. These phenomenal individuals we see acting, each from its own centre, by ways and processes which are fixed and produce an ordered system of pluralities. The ways and processes we call Laws, and they have the fixity of fate and seem regardless of man, and his needs and desires. Without the principle of Negation, the finite and individual are unintelligible. The metaphysician, then, must retrace his steps, and, casting aside “God as all things,” he must return to the formula “God in all things,” and he must add, “these ‘things’ and their laws being the negation of Absolute Being”. The life or externalisation of Absolute Being is, as a matter of fact, in and through Its own Negation. The phenomenon or predicate thus negates Being, while Being affirms it. It is a contingent, hanging on necessary Being. It is not merely the passive vehicle for the manifestation of Being in so far as it is, but, through the fact of negation, it holds its own and re-acts on Being. There is a ceaseless flux and re-flux of Being and of negation in the modality. And not only does negation react on Being; but, as beënt negation, or concrete phenomenon, it acts in the system of things as from its own centre. It acts as one body on another body; and, further, it acts on Being itself, since it holds the negating and resisting condition whereby Being can become an external and finite. “That,” says Heraclitus, “which strives against another supports itself.” The whole externalisation is primarily negation of Being-universal. Through the a posteriori (so-called by us) or modal categories, accordingly, Being reveals its truth through that which is itself, while yet not itself. Through this modality God reaches me who am within the system as a self-conscious other of Him; indeed, the supreme negation of Him. And yet, because the ground-moment is continuous Being and the phenomenon can be only as Being, its activity, though it seem to start from its own negation-centre, is essentially derivative and contingent activity. Derivative; because it (phenomenon or predicate system) exists at all only in so far as it is the very Being which it turns upon and even holds in a kind of bondage, while at the same time it makes the life of Being possible as a Many. This inner contradiction may be unsolvable; but the obvious fact seems to me to be capable of only this form of expression. But let us remember that negation is not set up against Being, but is in and of and within Being. All is One.

The phenomenon, accordingly, as negation, has its own rights—laws of existence. These operate, often to our dismay, in limiting the possible range of Being as determined (of which hereafter); and, further, in fulfilling their own laws of growth, decay, evil and death. In these we have the mechanism of Nature. The infinite aggregate of individua could not exist, and, once existing, could not cease to exist, we might say, did they not hold the principle and fact of negation in them. And yet, let me repeat, this negation is itself rendered possible by the fact of Being immanent in the negation it is a “not” within the Absolute: it is a posited negation. This is the supreme contradiction in finite thought: it is the system within which we exist: it is The Real for man; and he must make the best of it.

What we call Matter, then, is more than an illusory manifestation of universal Mind; more than a parallel or concomitant of mind; more than a metaphor. These words and phrases serve well enough to emphasise, by way of contrast, being and mind as logical prius and root-reality of the concrete presentation. But they seem to drag matter at the heels of mind, so to speak, and to give it a position of nothingness with which it will not be content. We forget that the negation has its source and sustainer in Being. It is a necessary moment in the Absolute as we have it—necessary to make the finite possible and is very far from being an empty show, a shadow on the wall. It is the first moment in the cosmic actualising of God, and it is of infinite significance in our system. This dependent independence, which we call Nature and Man, is at the same time the symbolic utterance of the Divine Nature. It is Absolute Being displayed in Time and Space under the conditions on which that display was alone possible.

A true synthesis thus yields us the two moments—the Noumenal and the Negation in the phenomenal as together constituting concrete Reality. If we exclude the former, we fall into the mechanical materialism of a hard, necessary and relentless nature, which, yet, has the strange power of throwing out from itself the peculiar illusion of self-conscious mi-d as a kind of summer lightning, and which is essentially non-significant in the scheme of things. True, this mind has the remarkable characteristic of knowing what “matter” is doing, accompanied by the illusion that it, as an individual, is over against matter and has the function of self-regulation. These illusions, however, are all in the interest of the big matter-machine which goes crashing and crushing on its way to an apotheosis of conflagration, in which the iron of its remorseless wheels will be tempered for a fresh run.

If, again, we exclude the phenomenal as negation and deny it its rights, we find ourselves involved in monistic Pantheism in which all forms, shapes, and individualities are, not the reflection or “othering” of a Divine One (though they have been so called), but the very modus essendi of that One. The earth and the fulness thereof, along with the mind of man, are only the Being and dialectic of Absolute Mind made visible to Itself, and to all other consciousnesses in their degree: they are not symbols but the express self of Being and the dialectic—constitutive of it. The One is externalised as space and time and as individuals (conscious, unconscious and self-conscious),merely “for the glory” of the One, that is to say, as its manner of being: and we ourselves but repeat, as finite minds, the movements in and of Sole Being; and are, consequently, but passing shows. This monism is, doubtless, a truer record of our experience than the phenomenalistic; but it does not satisfy the conditions of the problem. For, if we thus omit the “not” in the absolute synthesis and fail to recognise the negation of Universal Being in the externalisation, and the consequent re-active and active energy of sense-presentates as a system of individuals, we then have simply mind or dialectic put in the place of matter and energy: all we gain is the substitution of mind-mechanism for matter-mechanism. There can in that case be no explanation, which is not illusory, of the individuality of atom or man. For individuality lies in the resistance to a universal movement, and the negation of the One of Being is the form of individuality generally. A One which is conceived as the “Many” and a process in the Many cancels the individuality of things; nay, it would appear to cancel also its own Sole Oneness by being converted into an aggregate of particulars.

The world of our experience, then, is given to sentience as a beënt negation in the modes of quantity, motion, quality, degree, and so forth. It is a Realitas—phenomenon just as it lies there before us in this our own sphere of the universal and divine movement.

It would appear that we have only been putting into words a very simple position: we have been using the term “phenomenon” in its ordinary and popular sense; for the word contains in it the thought of shapes and forms as the “appearance” of that which has neither shape nor form. It is a beënt appearance—and therefore Reality. That sunset is the manner of the Divine existence on this man-plane of Universal Being, and yet it contains the negation of that Being; and I, a man, see it as it veritably is on this plane.

Although in the metaphysical account of “matter” we seem to have saved ourselves from Pantheism, the position is not wholly satisfactory; for negation and phenomenon might be the mere emanation—flux and reflux of Absolute Being. If the world be an emanation from Absolute Being as Monistic Pantheism would have it, Absolute Being is as things, and not merely in things that have a quasi-independence. And so far as reflection on the data of the attuitional plane of mind is concerned, it might be so. And if it be so, the Absolute Whole may just as well be a Democratic accident or a blind Force for all man cares. On the highest plane of subjective mind we shall look for some better solution. Meanwhile, I hold by the unseen universals which I believe are given to me on the planes of feeling and attuition, viz., Absolute Unconditioned Being as immanent in the phenomenal diverse; and Negation as the method whereby a finite world is possible.1

  • 1.

    All this while, let it be remembered, we are considering the attuitional plane of mind, and see nothing but being and diverse appearances that contain being: there is as yet neither will, nor cause and effect, nor purpose, nor law, nor reason in any form.