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Meditation X

THE DIALECTIC PROCESS AS SPECIFICALLY WILL-MOVEMENT: (a) Self-Consciousness—Ego. (b) Growth of Self-Consciousness generally. (c) Range of Percipience as Dialectic; Dialectic Percepts are Ultimates. (d) Will as Root of the Subjective Dialectic—Free Will. (e) Further Considerations.

IF mind arrested itself at attuition, it would not question its immediate experience of either inner or outer feeling. It would then remain in a passive and godlike equilibrium, except in so far as it was involved in the promptings and disturbances of organic desires.1 The experience we should have gained would have yielded to mind as attuent, nothing but diverse shapes, vague coexistences and sequences in space and time, and more or less vivid relations of our organism to the satisfaction of its needs. Subject and object would be one in an important practical sense; for, although felt, they would not be distinguished and could not be separately affirmed. Mind would live in and through the object in contented tranquillity, reposing in the great binding fact of Being. As sentient, it is lost in the object alone: it is only on the higher plane of the Dialectic that the relation of subject and object becomes a question.

On this plane, a new event proclaims itself, as we have seen. This all recognise, and call the new event or fact evolved in the cosmic system, Reason; and then assign the name Man to the creature in whom it appears: appears as supreme and governing, as constitutive of Man as Man, and constitutive, therefore, of the possibility and character of his peculiar experience.

What precisely is it? Watch its genesis. Assuredly an activity; which, to distinguish it from the movement or conation of a merely attuent organism in search of the satisfaction of desire, we call pure activity. It is Will. This activity first seeks to affirm and complete its attuitional experience; but, when it has once started on its career, why not be content with the more exact discrimination and reduction to self of the sensates of attuition as realitas—phenomenon, and leave all else? The answer is, Because it brings with it—nay, it is—a dialectic or organising activity. It brings no fresh matter of experience into consciousness except itself; and this is always the same.

This new dynamic of mind we call “formal” because it is not itself the “matter” on which it directs itself: it can be so only by duplicating itself. We also say that, as formal, it is a priori, inasmuch as it is not a datum of recipience. As formal, what then is its essential Form as furnishing a priori forms generally? What does it contribute to our experience as question and answer? What does this eye of reason see to which the eye of sense is blind? What process does it move through that it may truly see? These are vital questions.

We call this Will-reason the subjective dialectic: it is the method of “knowing” experience, the movement whereby the “sensing” of experience is superseded—not abolished, but sublated. It is not put on the top of attuitional empirical mind, but evolves itself out of it and never leaves it. And this “knowing” of experience is simply the reduction of experience to the demands of the Dialectic itself which insists on living its own life, and on now playing the supreme cosmic role. It is necessary to the constituting of the unity, coherence and wholeness of experience: it insists on doing so.

Henceforth, accordingly, all our judgments are the analysis of complexes presented to attuition. We analyse the synopsis with a view to synthesis; for we are now more than intelligising animals: we are more than attuitional mind adapting itself to its environment and dynamically assimilating experience through unself-conscious psychical and dynamical movements. The subject, as conscious mind, exhausts itself within the sphere of merely animal potentiality: whereas man is, further, self-conscious. Let us again consider what the higher plane of subjective mind means, how it arises, what it implies, and its manner of dealing with the given real of attuition, outer and inner.

(a) Self-Consciousness—Ego.

And first, I would consider the genesis of self-consciousness. By this we mean that the conscious subject becomes conscious of itself as its own object. The subject is not a datum to conscious subject (as external objects or inner feelings are data to a conscious subject), but is itself constituted by subject a datum or object to and for itself. There, surely, is an intense activity, an all-potent energy here. When we think of it, it never fails to impress us as an astonishing evolution of the great cosmic process within the specific being which we call Man. And if we dwell on it long enough, it fills us not only with wonder, but with a kind of fear. We contemplate with mysterious awe this new being, which is yet ourselves, and seems to be constituted by a free act within ourselves. It must mean much: it must mean everything for us. And if we look more closely to ascertain, if perchance we may, what is the essential characteristic of the new cosmic fact, we find that it is an evolutionary movement in and of the already existing conscious subject (or entity) itself, whereby it goes forth, under an impulse of pure formal activity with End implicit, to seize and divide all presentations, breaking up wholes that are merely “associated” dynamically, separating total complexes and the parts of each from one another in order to raise the attuitional synopsis to a synthesis, and so to transmute a mere total into a unity.

But first of all (logically speaking), subject must divide itself from itself. In the very crisis of the reflexing of a feeling in mere attuitional consciousness stirred from without, we found an automatic reflexive externalising of the recept as “object”; which object at the same moment returned, as sensate, into the subject. The subject was, in its turn, thereby implicitly affirmed, i.e., evoked as subject: implicitly affirmed, I say, for, as a matter of fact, it is only dimly felt; as by animals. So now, in the crisis of subject projecting itself as object to itself, the subject (now there to thought) returns into itself as its own object. We are evidently lifted here far above the plane of reflexive mind-action: the movement in and of the subject is an act emerging out of itself, uncaused, 2 or, rather, causa sui.

This pure act, as distinguished from the passivo-active or reflexive, I call WILL. There is no other name for it. It lifts me above attuitional experience: it is the possibility of me. Will (Boulesis) means free pure activity; and to speak of “free” will is a tautology. It is precisely here that we encounter Free Will in the man-organism; not in moral choice. If it is not here, in the primary act of knowing, it is nowhere; and man is then a dynamic organism, and nothing more. The motive force of action on the attuitional plane, on the other hand, is, inasmuch as it is not subject-originated, to be distinguished as Conation or “volition” (Thelema): it is not free, because it is determined by the dominant inner affection or external force that, for the time, occupies the area of the subject. To call it Volition, however, considering how this word is constantly applied, is misleading. Let us rather call it Orectivity or Conation—a movement from within the organism which is a reflex of the desired object; although it may also arise as an organic straining caused by a vaguely felt want. Animals, and we, while on the animal or attuitional plane, are conscious automata; and if my interpretation of the higher plane be false, we men are animals, but without their consolations and happy limitations.

We are now, then, evidently in presence of the most wonderful event within the experience of man. And that event is just Man. The conscious subject does not get itself split up into two halves, like a protoplasmic cell. There arises in the very heart of it a nisus, force, or energy, whereby subject throws the whole of itself out from subject and, eo actu, recovers itself as object into itself, while all the while it has never left itself. This energy emerging out of subject constitutes subject an “object”. It is the purest kind of knowledge. The whole is projected, while yet the whole remains as it was, and the projected whole doubles back on the whole that remains, and, at the very crisis of return, there flashes out the consciousness of “subject” as now transformed into a “self” or “ego”. Such appears to be the genesis of Ego. What was formerly merely a feeling of subject in antithesis to presented objects is now a perception of subject by subject. Formerly, I was a “subject-conscious,” now I am conscious of my “subject-conscious”. I am a double consciousness and always continue double—two natures constituting one person. There is a self-analytic process, and the synthesis of the moments of that process is Ego. Till yesterday the formula was “am”; to-day it is “I am”. The conscious individual, in brief, is now a self-identical person. What is this movement, this mysterious nisus that breaks one into two while it yet remains one, and synthesises the two identities into a new and third complex identity—Ego? It is Will; and if there be a pure act anywhere within the Absolute Whole, it is precisely here; or nowhere. What has hitherto been the feeling of self-sameness is now the perception and (consequent) affirmation of self—sameness—i.e., Personal Identity. The Kantian uses the term “experience” in too narrow a sense: we are now in presence of the supreme experience. Mind conditioned now becomes mind conditioning. It is creative and in the image of God.

I have been giving the natural history of a wonderful event which is the sole firm foundation of all true idealism in philosophy. Some would seem to rest their idealism on the ruins of the phenomenal. Others are satisfied with the proposition “All is Thought”. But how do you get this proposition? What is Thought? Under such a conception, I may be a mere instrument whereby Universal Thought thinks—a passing phase of an eternal consciousness. I would quite as soon be a helpless resultant of the conflict of atoms. My position in the cosmos would be the same,—a vehicle for the processes of something not myself. It appears to me that the only basis of an idealism that is spiritualism is to be found in the analysis of the spirit of man—an analysis that tells us that man is above natural processes, and, as transcendental Ego, is master of his fate. If the criticism of knowing does not reveal a pure Will-movement whose form is a dialectic emerging out of the attuitional or empirical subject, there is no basis for objective idealism which is not mere hypothesis and arbitrary dogma. To my mind, it appears that the only alternative to the doctrine set forth here is a dynamic or geometrical absolute system—either of atoms, or mind, or mind-stuff; it matters not a rush which. I am not an idealist because I label everything “mind”. The best outcome of this idealism is Deus as Natura, Natura as Deus; and who cares by which name the Whole is designated?

Moreover, the principle of what I consider to be true and genuine idealism is not a one conception, nor a tissue of conceptions, which would crush all the contents of experience within the walls of formal categories; but, by its doctrine of attuition and of Being, it comprehends, in its fullest sense, the world of feeling and the real in all its variety and affluence as ab initio given to self-consciousness, and not in it or of it; and, further, by the necessity of its origin and nature it is living, moving, ever-progressing Spirit.

(b) Growth of Self-Consciousness generally.

Man is an organism that evolves itself, like all other organisms, in Time. There is a graduated order in attaining to the full reach of himself. He does not become clearly and distinctly self-conscious all at once: there are degrees of consciousness, and there are also degrees of self-consciousness. He begins by absorbing the sensate or attuit—the object already in attuition but thrown back into space as object (or “thing-there”)—a process with which he, as specific man, has nothing to do. It is done in him and for him; but, now, actively discriminating it from other sensates by negating them, he, as Will, brings the sensate, as presented, a second time into sentient consciousness. The “relate” is thus a second time related to mind by this act proceeding from within the subject: it is re-duced into the conscious subject (where it had already found itself as a sensate), and, in the crisis of that re-duction, it is perceived and thereupon affirmed; or, rather, the crisis of that re-duction is percipience and consequent affirmation or judgment. Then as to the subject: the dim feeling of subject is now lifted up into the sensation of the subject—an awareness of a reality “here” as well as a something “there”. This is the first stage of self-consciousness in the child, and goes on repeating itself for long in the growing mind, until, finally, much concrete repetition stirs the subject to recognise itself in its very abstractness—to discriminate or separate itself from its own activity and all objects of that activity; and, at that precise crisis, subject prehends and perceives pure subject as such, and affirms it. Self-identity or Ego is now explicitly established. In Time, I say, this is the order; but the primary acts of prehending and perceiving and affirming outer objects by reducing them to the subject, as distinguished from the mere sensing of them—the re-ducing, in brief, of the sensate a second time to sentient consciousness, in the act of percipience, rests ultimately on an implicit consciousness of subject in its abstractness as object. For, how could I re-duce a sensate into the subject without implicitly, and therein, affirming the subject? Hence we say that self-consciousness is the logical prius of the possibility of discriminating, prehending, perceiving and affirming any object whatsoever, as distinguished from the sensing or attuiting of it. And self-consciousness, when it is explicit, is the constituting of self by self through a nisus within the subject, which is Will. If I deny this, I find myself left in the hand of cosmic forces which are not myself. Self is an illusion. Individuality I may have; selfhood not. I remain a mere aggregate of feelings, associations, and reflexive activities within a universal mechanical monistic process.

To speak of an empirical self-consciousness is a contradiction. There is an attuitional consciousness which is empirical; but in self-consciousness we rise to another plane of Absolute Being evolving Itself as finite mind.

(c) Range of Will as Percipience. Dialectic Percepts are Ultimates.

At this point, it is important to recur to our definition of the percipience, as distinguished from the attuition, of an object, and as primal function of the subjective dialectic. Percipience is the active discrimination of a fact in consciousness from all else, and its re-duction to the subject. Thus percipience is not merely of the outer, but of the whole realm of inner feeling; nor is it limited by this, but it discriminates and perceives the non-sensible implicates of the sensible object as given to it in the reason-act of subsuming that object. The Infinite, the objective dialectic, the idea, the teleologico-causal, the ideal of this or that or of the Whole, are all the progeny of the Dialectic. But these implicates are dialectically given as ultimates, as ground, and cannot turn round on themselves and re-think themselves as objects to themselves. This would be to sensualise them. The seeing of these ultimate categories is the point of arrestment for human thought; and they go, as we shall see in the sequel, to constitute the moments in the Notion “God,” who is thus a more assured possession of the human mind than anything else save its assurance of itself.

(d) Will as Root of the Subjective Dialectic—Free Will.

The inner nisus, whereby subject “perceives” object and finally perceives itself as object, is to be called Will, I have said. By what other name shall we name it? “Through absolute freedom,” says Fichte, “not by a transition, but by a leap do we raise ourselves to rationality”: Will is the spring-board of Reason.

This native energy, this actus purus, is in itself wholly inexplicable; it moves towards its primary ends—viz., percepts—after a dialectic form; and Will in this its dialectic process, constitutes what we call Finite Reason Self-consciousness is the subject willing to seize itself and, eo actu, raising subject into Ego. In ordinary percipience, we affirm an object as itself and not any other: in the percipience of self we affirm the subject as itself and not objects—not the phenomenal world of presentation.

Will, in the sense of arbitrary freedom of indifference, is not yet banished either from philosophy or from popular thinking. It is supposed to descend on this or that motive of action “of its own free will”. This blind Will is now, I suppose, expelled from philosophy. Again, it is said, Will is “determined,” inasmuch as it is always consequent on a judgment or act of reason: and, inasmuch as the matter and activity of reason are themselves determined outside pure Will, Will and its actuation are manifestly determined by that which is not our essential self. Thus we get a kind of mediated mechanicalism and fatalism. Will is simply intellect or reason, it has also been said, and with a great show of truth; but, all the while, reason and reasoning are regarded as a spiritual machine. The truth, I think, lies in our elucidation of the moments of mind. Will is not subsequent to, or consequent on, reason. It is itself root of reason. As Will, it wills Will; and, instinct with purpose, it moves to an end after a certain manner, and this is the whole essence of reason—the whole pure subjective dialectic—the sum of the a priori. Thus, Will always moves to its end by way of reason (of which it itself is first moment) and fulfils itself in its affirmed end, and in externalising the end in the act of “Willing” or “Volition,” the Will that initiated is still present, and is satisfied. Will, for example, always active as reason (not in reason, for it is itself first moment of reason) establishes this or that judgment, which remains with us as maxim and motive. Thus, a man called on to act, wills in accordance with the already ascertained judgment as motive. In doing so, he renews swiftly and almost sub-consciously the process of ascertaining that judgment, and carries forward into the actualisation of “willing” the Will that initiated the process whereby the judgment was originally affirmed. Thus it is that the actualised “willing” or volition of to-day may have been initiated as Will ten years ago. We are always free, in so far as we act in accordance with a principle that we ourselves have freely affirmed.

I will say no more about this subject-generated act of Will here save to point out that it contravenes the doctrine of Spinoza which says: “That alone is free which exists by the necessity of its own nature and of which the action is determined by itself alone”. Now, the whole world exists as a sum of individualities, and each individuality has its “own nature,” from the atom upwards. Each thing is “for itself” and seeks its own fulfilment according to the “necessities” of its own nature. A stone, a star, a mollusc, a dog, a man, all alike do so; but with a difference. Mind in each of these objects is subject to certain conditions and “laws” of existence (which so-called laws express its idea or essence), and each fulfils itself according to the necessities of its own existence—its inner and outer relations as determined in it and for it. In Man,—the new and startling product of the movement of the Eternal in Time,—the “necessity of his own nature” is precisely freedom in relation to all else that exists: his essence is just free activity. The Spinozistic expression ought perhaps to be: “That alone is free which exists according to (the necessity of) its own nature and of which the action is determined by itself alone”. The necessity or essence of man's nature is free activity; and he is a “man”—a personality, as distinguished from a mere individuality, only in so far as all his acts are determined by this free activity—knowing acts as well as doing acts. It may be said that every atom or monad is free; but man differs in this, that he propounds his own ends and constitutes himself. The essence or idea of man, in brief, is precisely this Will-nisus and its implicit dialectic; and to this central fact the interpretation of all experience must conform or confess its impotence. Man finds his fulfilment only in accordance with the necessities of his own essential nature—the prime necessity being free activity controlling and co-ordinating all data of experience: that is to say, the whole realm of attuition—the inner and outer world of sense. From the point of view of The Absolute, man's essence is, of course, a necessary and determined fact; but the essence being once constituted, it has to work from its own centre of freedom as the very essence of its essence, and to exercise supremacy over all other finite things within its orb of dominion, including its own attuitional and empirical subject. In this necessity lies the moral “ought”; and what I ought to do in any particular case is that which free-functioning reason affirms to be the law, or essence, or truth—the “must” of the situation.

Accordingly, whatever the Absolute Being or “The Absolute” may be, so far from our being under compulsion to regard Him (or It) as an irresponsible mechanism who or which must by the necessity of his or its nature wind up his world, including all possible individual activities, like a clock, and then let it run down, we are forced to regard it as the source of freedom in the creature man. Within the vast Orb of the Absolute there is freedom in the form of finite reason. This involves a contradiction only if we first posit a one all-embracing necessary process which excludes the possibility of free finite activities; and thus, in face of fact, beg the whole question.

I do not affect a knowledge of Absolute Being. The simple fact that the man-sphere is relative to the whole Orb of Being, makes a synthesis of the Absolute impossible; and yet we forget that in such questions as that which we have just been considering, when we demand to know the “relations” of the Absoluto-infinite Will to the finite will, we are gratuitously positing the possibility of absolute knowledge of The Absolute. So with many other unsolvables. Does any man believe that we can so transcend the limits of our finite spirits as to solve (par exemple) beyond all question the mystery of evil, pain, and death? All our solutions are mere glozings, save when we frankly accept our world as a world of contradictions in which final solutions are pointed to and predicted, but assuredly not effected. If we cannot answer such questions, what is all our toil over The Absolute worth? We have been sometimes told, for example, by way of explanation of Death as extinction, that The Absolute cares only for the type and is regardless of the individual! This is all very well for The Absolute, but what is that to me? Huxley well says, somewhere, that it can be little consolation to the primaeval horse struggling distressfully for a precarious existence in some dismal swamp, to know that ten million years after he is dead, his evolved descendant will win the Derby. But while all synthesis of the Absolute, I repeat, is impossible save as a faith, an absolute synthesis of our own orb is possible; and within that I assuredly find the free energising of the Subject (now to be called Ego) as central and dominant fact—essence of the creature man. Somehow or other this is reconciled in the universal scheme with the “necessary nature” of The Absolute. By what right do I preclude such a possibility? What right have I to say that the nature of The Absolute is a necessary nature? What do I mean by a “necessary” nature, and so on? If I only mean that God is not contingent in the sense of being dependent on some other which is prius, the term is in its place; but let me keep to this meaning. His world however comprehends Contingency.

Man, let us conclude, is a Will-dialectic or Will-reason.

(e) Further Considerations.

A few further considerations in confirmation of our position that Will is root (or, let us say, nerve) of Reason are worth stating.

1. We have been told that Free Will is in the necessariness of Reason. What, now, does this precisely mean? The necessariness of reason means its “necessary nature,” and the necessary nature is simply its nature; and nothing more. But if Reason be a mere mechanism of thinking, a category-machine, its freedom can only mean that, as a threshing machine is fed by the sheaves and separates the grain from chaff and straw, so reason is fed by the “real” of sense and mechanically works the grain, i.e., the meaning of experience out of the raw material. But where is freedom here? The “real” is, doubtless, the helpless matter, and reason dominates it; but it does so as a machine, and while thus far supreme over the real, it is, quoad itself, a piece of mechanism once for all wound up, and now running down in response to the applied stimulus of sense. Or it may be likened to a fermenting vat. It is only when we apprehend Reason, or the subjective dialectic, as a Will-movement, an actus purus in its initiation, that we can say that Freedom is in the nature (or necessariness) of reason.

2. Ethically, again, freedom is in Law, we are rightly told. But how can law, which enslaves, give freedom? Only because Law is the affirmation of Truth or Ethical End by reason, and Reason is a “free” energy searching for moral ends, just as it searches for the truth of nature.

3. Further, a true explanation always carries with it the explanation of false explanations, which yet tenaciously survive; and we see in our theory of reason the meaning and the justification of the untenable “liberty of indifference”; for there actually exists in us the free movement hither and thither of Will (as first moment of the subjective dialectic), ever restlessly seeking an end which shall be motive-idea of its activity; just as on the sentient plane there is the incipient organic straining which we call “desire”. But “liberty of indifference” is wholly untenable: even wilful willing in contradiction of that which is affirmed by ourselves to be right and true, is the substitution of the barren individualism of self for objective moral end.

4. Men speak of the function of reason as being the search for truth, or the idea. How can reason search, if it be a mere thought-mechanism? It can only mechanically grind up what is given to it by some other agency.

5. Also, men are said to “strive after an ideal,” whether as artists, ethicists, or as statesmen. How can they be said to strive, unless the specific man-function is at root a will-movement, in whose very form is End implicit—an incessant and eternal stimulus? Evidently, the motive force in all rational activity, whether in the field of abstract thought or ethical purpose, is in a dialectic which is primarily a will-movement. In Will alone is to be found the explanation of the ever-onward and upward reason-activity of man and the possibility of progress. How else find the rational impulse? Is the purposing of man a blind response to an appulse? Whence aspiration, intellectual or ethical? If man be Will in his essence, this interpretation of him defines him as a free activity seeking ideal ends, pointing ever to the infinite and unattainable. No other way of looking at man can yield this ethical result.

6. How, indeed, could ideals of knowledge or conduct be formed save by Will with Form of End implicit ever pushing on—infinitely pushing on? In pursuing Truth I predict Absolute Truth; in pursuing Goodness, I predict Absolute Goodness; in pursuing the Beautiful, I predict Absolute Beauty. How explain these contents of reason, if reason be a kind of mechanism and not a living dynamic with Form of End in gremio and the infinite at the heart of each finite conclusion? Were it not for this infinite pushing on, the finite judgments of the “understanding” would be our limit, and content us just because of their self-sufficing limitation. Herein we see one distinction between “understanding” and reason. The former is satisfied with finite judgments: only the Infinite satisfies the latter.

7. What is Attention (otherwise inexplicable) but a sustained act of Will under the stimulus of end sought? The so-called attention in an animal is mere detention by an object.

8. The subjective dialectic must take up all matter of experience in itself; this is Thought. And this it is that gives validity to all our knowledge as reasoned knowledge, and is thus also the apprehension of Objective Reason in things. But further, it contains in it the Oneness of the Whole, because we must, under the necessity of the form of the Dialectic, take up the total actual and possible as permeated and sustained by the One Thought—the Dialectic Movement, of which the phenomenal many is the show. [At the same time it has to be noted that outside and prior to the emergence of the Dialectic, we have forced on us the One in the empirical fact of Universal Being as bed of all particulars. Thus, in the lower stages of mind no less than in the pure dialectic activity, we find The One in which all things rest and out of which they all emerge.]

9. This divine man-reason (divine because it is the Dialectic of Absolute Being as creative emerging in Its finite mind-evolution) can be used as a mere tool for judgments of the co-existent and sequent and serve the admirable purpose of distinct percipience, exact concipience, generalisation, and a coherent co-ordination of facts, whether of the external world or subjective mind. This is Reason or the Dialectic as understanding. Now, we are told by the positivist to stop at this point of mind-movement. But man cannot stop here if he would. He cannot rest content with knowledge which is a mere conjunction of separates, a mere aggregation and arrangement of units. The infinite, which lies in the ever-onward and upward energy of Will, impels him to comprehend all experience as Universal Being and Reason; as a many in which there is interfused that which reconciles all difference. In the objective world, Objective Being and Reason are seen face to face with subjective reason; and, impelled still further, subjective reason beholds subject and object as within one Absolute Whole. This is the reason-stage of subjective mind, and is the final act of the dialectic in so far as thought is distinct and determinate. It is the conception of immanent operative God in all.

We may well be satisfied with this stupendous consummation of Will reason in us; but the mind of man does not halt even here. It arose out of the indeterminate: it must pass again into the indeterminate and unconditioned; and this it does in the apprehension of Absolute Being by finite mind as it stands, still straining, on the utmost verge of Reason. Will-reason cannot otherwise be satisfied. Even in this life there awaits us the supra-rational Intuition of The Absolute, as we may in the sequel see.

  • 1.

    It is not surprising that the Egyptians worshipped a cow: that animal seems to me a fine embodiment of the most recent definitions of “The Absolute”.

  • 2.

    Relatively to the organism man and the larger organism within which he is, viz., Nature.