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Meditation III: The Dialectic—Subjective And Objective

The Dialectic Impulse—(1) The Necessity in the Dialectic impulse to find the Idea—(2) The Necessity in the Dialectic to construct the Ideal—(3) The Conception or Imagination of a Whole: whence and how? The relation of the Dialectic to the Whole: “The Absolute” in its various senses—(4) The One—(5) The vital significance of Finitude—(6) The subjective Dialectic as a One Thought-Concrete is Objective.

Before proceeding to consider more closely the question “What is God as revealed in Man,” it is necessary to resume the consideration of the Dialectic; but now in its specific relation to the synthesis of Experience and the Notion, God.

Phenomenalism, whether we call it sensationalism or positivism, instead of restricting its interpretations to one plane of man-mind—the attuitional, its sole legitimate field, constantly transgresses the bounds of its restricted territory and would take possession of the whole field of philosophy by a kind of coup de main. It requires no argument to show that such a philosophy, if it understands itself, must reduce the function of man in the cosmos to that of an animal adapting itself, as best it may, to its environment. Its only logical conclusion must be materialistic fatalism in its doctrine of Will; a denial of the ideal as Reality; and agnosticism as regards God, for it is already an agnosticism as regards ultimate philosophy.

The emergence of Will-reason (whose birth we signalised), through which Man rises to the “notion or actual” of each and all with their contained Dialectic, is for much higher purposes than the mere co-ordination of the record of sense and the institution of social rules of conduct in the interests of self-preservation. It has a profound significance.

First of all, such a conception of Man makes possible, and alone makes possible, a true idealist philosophy—a philosophy, that is to say, which shows man to be supra naturam, a being lifted out of the dynamical series by the free act that differentiates him.

Secondly, this Will-dialectic gives man dominance over the whole field of attuition. It is true that from a cosmic point of view man as a will-dialectic is himself determined: but it is into freedom as his essence that he is determined. Other things are determined as existences involved more or less in the bondage of Nature according to their degree in the scale of Being.

And thirdly, it is only through Will-dialectic that the question of God arises at all: it is, indeed, only through its insistent demands that philosophy arises. To believe in ultimate philosophy and to believe in God are one and the same act.

It unquestionably has been customary to speak of the Reason which differentiates man from animals, as if it were a piece of machinery superadded to animal consciousness for the purpose of grinding up the materials presented to it. It is as if you were to take a musical box already containing a mechanism which threw out notes numerous but confused, and inserted a still more cunning piece of machinery which intercepted these notes and converted them into a tune. If we look at reason from this point of view, it is hopeless to attempt to explain its vital characteristics. The act of percipience, the pursuit of the idea and the ideal, the constructive impulse, the all-comprehending ambition to know, the purposed energy in the regulation of conduct, are all left without their explanation. When, on the contrary, we accept the conscious or attuitional “subject” (common to man and animals) and contemplate as evolved in it the pure act of Will with form of End implicit, we see for the first time the true nature of reason to be a Will-dialectic. In the system of nature, the higher product, while it is an evolution from the lower, always carries the lower with it: so it is when we come to the highest product of all and see Man—an attuitional or animal subject, with all its content of sense, feeling, desire and emotion, being evolved into reason as a self-generated act of Will. Reason is, as such and relatively to all other products, self-creative; but it always carries with it the empirical attuitional subject and all its content into the higher sphere of the Reason-self—the Ego. It has not separated itself off: it leaves nothing behind. The higher, indeed, is already immanent in the lower.

This genetic theory of reason seems to me to explain much. It answers many questions which resist all possible solution on the usual assumption that “reason” is a kind of syllogistic electric battery inserted into an attuent subject. For example, the most thoughtful writers have said that free-will in man is simply intellect. So far, then, our analysis shows them to be on the right track. The fact, however, is that intellect is itself Will and its “form” of activity; and what we call Free Will is the whole concrete dialectic. And yet, this view preserves all that is vital in the untenable, but popular, conception of Will as a kind of independent entity moving about in man's brain and pouncing arbitrarily now on this motive, now on that, for the effectuating of desire—a volition ex nihilo.

It is solely because of its bearing on the Objective-Dialectic that I now recall what has been already said in almost similar terms in the first book. I rest the whole argument of these Meditations on a criticism of knowledge, that is to say, on the analysis of the evolution of Universal Mind as subjective finite mind, from pure Feeling upwards: and this is the analysis of subject-object and its ever-growing revelation. If we are to know God as more than Being absolute and immanent revealed to Feeling and Sentience, it manifestly must be in and through the Dialectic movement. I do not purpose to dwell further on this evolution of Mind as finite mind: I merely desire to put in evidence certain facts of man-consciousness with a view to showing that these are capable of explanation as mere facts, only if we conceive of reason as a formal will-dialectic which prescribes its own end, and cannot be satisfied save by the identification of itself with the world of experience. The Nature of God, in so far as that is know-able, is thus, and thus only, revealed.

The facts of consciousness to which I refer are the pursuit of the Idea and of the Ideal; the conception we have of a Whole; “The Absolute” as the Whole, etc.; and I ask attention to the genesis and possibility of these phenomena of man-mind.


The Attuent mind, we found, receives, reflexes and associates diverse wholes, and, outside the field of reactive recipience and psychical chemism, there is a feeling of indefiniteness of space and objects in space. It remains content with this: it asks no questions. How is the restful contentedness of a cow to be explained? By the fact that all mind, as attuent, is within the sphere of physical and mental dynamics and adequately completes itself as a veritable harmony within that sphere. The worship of certain animals just because they exhibit this rounded life, is intelligible. The elephant in the primæval forest “browsing majestic and calm” seems to embody a self-complacent and harmonised natural order—the calm of divinity itself. It is the intrusion of subjective Will-dialectic into the drama which completely changes the aspect of things as they have appeared to Attuition, and raises all our problems. The conscious subject has now burst the bonds of the natural life; and subject, as generating Will, is now self-driven to seize, to discriminate and to know. It must reconstitute nature in its own form of movement—the form of the dialectic.

The primary end of this Will-movement, as regards the sensed object of experience, is a percept. The subject is now no longer content to be (virtually) lost in the object. It seizes it and affirms “that presentate there is”. The crowd of other objects furnishes the occasion for persistence in contemplating the selected object or sensate; and the percept of that object is itself, again, but a starting-point for the question, “What is it?” It is a complex; and the energy of Will, under the stimulus of the implicit form of End, divides it and reduces it to its elements that it may elicit the many in the single total, which is then and thereby raised from being a mere synopsis of sense to a synthesis or unity of reason—as yet, however, only a synthetic aggregate. The method or procedure is analytico-synthetic. But, always and ever, the provisional syntheses are, in their turn, starting-points for a deeper analysis which shall yield the ultimate truth of the many in one. This, that, and the other element are the “what” of the thing, but they are not the “specific is-ness” of the thing. I can find the same elements elsewhere, scattered over the face of nature. The unique “is-ness” which I now seek, under the eternal prompting of Will, is the ultimate differentiating is-ness or essence or idea which holds the synthesis in a rational objective unity—the “one” in the many; and I drive home the dissecting knife of Will as if I were bent on laying bare to its roots the specific and ultimate being of the total existence before me. And this essence which I am compelled to seek is the teleologico-causal “form” whereby the thing is what it is and not any other thing. As essence it is at once cause and idea and end and truth and identity of the thing. It is the idea, then, of the thing which I unrestingly pursue—the “one” in the many; and it is Will, whose own essence is freedom or pure activity and which is itself the first moment in the dialectic, that imposes this task. The Dialectic cannot rest, because its principle is movement, and its contained and concealed spring is End as formally implicit in its first moment, Will.

The idea—the determination of Being—if I had it, would be the “one” in the many of the complex concrete existence or actual presentation; but it could not, in its bareness, constitute the thing, seeing that the thing is a many as well as a one. The bareness of the idea is, in relation to the many in the thing, so bare that we can express it only as formal, i.e., as formally conditioning and causative ground. It is, in brief, “specific or determined being”: Being Universal determined thus and not otherwise. It is in the region of Thought; and the identity of a concrete “thing” lies ultimately in its process as determined by the idea. So long as phenomenal elements are present—whether atoms or energies—we have always to think each and all under a like necessity of dialectic procedure: and we can rest content ultimately only in the thought of Being as determined thus. And this ultimate goal of our knowing is itself Absolute Being determined into (and in the large cosmic movement determining or reflected into) the sensible elements or phenomena by which, as taken together in their physical causal synthesis, we know the object—Absolute Being now immanent in difference. The ultimate essence, idea, cause, is, therefore, Being determining itself through a formal or rational process whereby its particular end—“the concrete thing”—the Determinate or Actual exists. The idea and its sum of synthesised phenomenal units or elements thus constitute the concrete total of the thing; which total, from the subjective point of view, we call its Notion—its filled and fulfilled concept. But it is not an aggregate of units, but a teleologically grounded synthesis.

Now, what is true of the individual “thing” is true of the externalised Whole. Objective Being and Dialectic would not find entrance to our thought at all, were it not that the objective is also subjective, and in subject reveals to us its true character. And if it could not be shown that the subjective dialectic functions in every presentation to consciousness as Being dialecticised and finds itself already there in the presentation, it would be futile to spend endeavours to find God as Reason in the world of our experience.


If we say that the idea of each and all is Absolute Being determining itself as a dialectic in certain moments, it is incorrect to say that the idea is in one moment more than another. But speaking of the process (as we must do) under the Time-category, we emphasise the mediating and determining moment as the genetic prius of the mediated and determined idea; which idea as so determined is the determinate or telos. This telos we are ever driven on to seek and affirm; just as we are also driven to seek the arche (primordial actuals).

Thus are we forced to construct ideals. An ideal is an idea in its adequately fulfilled corporeity—the perfected sum of the concrete whole as a one in many—in brief, the “notion” as fulfilled in the sphere of finite thought.

All nature reaches us clothed in the a posteriori categories; in other words, as a thing of sense. Imagination (reproductive or representative) is simply the recurrence or reinstatement of sense affections. But the imagination also constructs; it is productive in the spheres of Sense, Emotion and Knowledge alike. The purpose of this construction is a perfected whole; that is to say, it is the idea of a thing or things either logically or sensuously fulfilled as a harmony—a one in many. In other words, it is the telos of the cosmic movement (in parts or in the whole); and at the same time “idea” or arche (principium) carried forward into its concrete corporeity. The necessity in reason to pursue the ideal is, consequently, due to the teleological moment in the dialectic: in other words, the Form of End which is implicit in the Will-nisus. Without this there could be no productive imagination.1 Given a phenomenal concrete at all, the necessary impulse to form an ideal is primarily contained in the teleological moment of the dialectic and nowhere else; and our ever-unsatisfied persistence is due to the infiniteness implicit in all finite judgments. We cannot help ourselves. We must push on. Whence the intellectual ideals which are the previsions of scientific genius? Whence also the ever-ascending ethical ideals by which and for which we strive to live? These are not machine-made, but the creation of a free energy in us. And even if, as practitioners in life, we finally became the automatic slaves of these ideals, we should ourselves have put the monarch on his throne and given him our consecration.

So with Art or Poietic ideals. It is the finite Will-dialectic that pushes on to the idea and the ideal—infinitely. It will not be content till it has grasped the particular and the whole in its own form, and discriminated “ends” as well as beginnings in the matter of inner and outer sense. It reads itself into all experience; and it finds itself there. The goal towards which it ever strives is generalised in the words The True, The Good, The Beautiful—that which ought to be. And every Ought is an Is in the creative counsels. Descartes' “idea” of the infinitely perfect may be thus vindicated by a true analysis of reason. It is of the very essence of reason. The ideal of life in me does not “constitute my Ego,” as has been said; on the contrary, the ideal itself is constituted by the free pure activity of my Ego as itself already containing the Will-movement; containing it, because Ego itself is the resultant of the Will-movement generated in the merely attuent subject and subsuming it.

The impulse, then, let us say, to construct ideals is primarily contained in the subjective dialectic as a Will-movement with Form of End implicit; and nowhere else. Nay more, this same impulse contains in it the prediction of final achievement; if not here, then elsewhere. For the pursuit of Truth contains in it the prophecy of Truth absolute: the pursuit of Goodness contains in it the prophecy of ethical Perfection: the pursuit of The Beautiful contains in it the prophecy of Beauty consummate. These things are immanent in all our reason-activity, properly understood.

As to The Good—not in the Hellenic sense of the fulfilled end, but as The Good for man in the ethical sense, it is further of importance to point out that the conception of The Good is the resultant of this same dialectic in the sphere of feeling and emotion. So much is confusedly written of Feeling, Emotion, Desire, Sentiment, etc., that a careful analysis of what we mean by these words is demanded in the interests of religious belief as well as morality. Some men, for example, talk as if religion might be divorced from the guiding light of reason because the emotions, etc., demand an object of their own and have rights independently of reason: it is, accordingly, incumbent on us to point out that emotions are vague non-rational feelings in consciousness, wholly non-significant for man save in so far as they are dialecticised. Trace them to their source and you will find that they are generated by simple feelings and appetitions common to man with animals; and, as attuitional products of inner sense, they are analogous to the confused attuitional record of outer sense. For both alike the dialectic exists, for purposes of rationalisation. These Feelings and Desires and Emotions are the raw material of ethics only, and the dialectic seeks to discriminate the “idea” of each, and the “ideal” of the whole, thereby giving each its due place as constitutive of the inner life of man and motive of his willing in conduct—the outer expression of the inner life. The idea or essence of inner Feeling we can ascertain because our consciousness of it is immediate, not mediated by outer sense. The result of our search is an ethical idea. Thereby we find our way to that inner harmony of ethical ideas—the ideal which is the truth of the man-being. In the religious sphere, consequently, it is incorrect to talk of emotions, sentiments, and so forth, as if they were pigeon-holed substantive realities apart from the dialectic, and demanding separate satisfaction in despite of reason. It is reason which constitutes the ethical and religious out of the anarchy of feelings; and it is only when reason has done its work, that these uncoordinated and licentious feelings have any standing ground in man as a rational unity. Their discrimination and harmony is The Good; and The Good contains the ideal and the infinite, simply because it contains the dialectic.

It is with the Beautiful as with the True and the Good. In nothing is the creative initiation of man more conspicuous than in Art. This energy of mind does not admit of explanation on any theory which does not reveal Reason to be a Will-Dialectic.

Do ideals exist in and for man and nowhere else? Are they merely subjective? The fundamental conception which runs through these Meditations answers that they are objective. The great Whole, including Man, is a One seeking to live and to fulfil itself: the distinctions are within itself as a One. “Natura” attains to its reality in finite mind as sentient; to its actuality in the same mind as reason, and, through the dialectic activity of reason, it reveals itself as idea, and as a system striving towards ideals. While in building up these ideals for himself relatively to himself as an organism man determines his own ends—his own true life, he, by the same act, proclaims the teleological and ideal in the object which gives him his mind-content.

In man, its highest product, the Universal finds its Truth—Natura finds its own idealism as Object, just as on the sentient plane it found its own realised modality. For the ideal is the summed reality of the object mediated through the man-subject. What is here is there. And yet object and subject perdure: no specific entity can be confounded with another.

All is One Being, One dialectic, One process—the process of Absolute Being as now immanent in its own finite negating differences. Within this we find Man. And the intensest form of self-identity and negation— the Ego, is itself used as an instrument, in the Absolute Whole, for proclaiming the One and the Universal in presence of which it suppresses its very self, veiling itself in adoring awe. The Absolute God, having committed Himself to the other and finitude, can recover Himself only through that which is other and finite, and He receives back the tribute of His creation through Man. Through him he mediates Himself for Himself, as a finite living God. Through devious, strange, and seemingly anarchic events, He holds on His way, and it is for you and for me to search out His purposes and to satisfy His demands.


But now what of the conception of the Whole—the universe of things including myself, in other words, The Absolute?

The attuent subject, aware of diverse wholes, takes them as they offer themselves in all their separation and finitude, and, though having a “feeling” of an indefinite beyond of Being and Space, knows nothing of “The Whole”. It is in the dialectic, then—the reason-plane of evolving mind—that we must seek for the genesis of the appearance in consciousness of the notion or imaginative concept of the whole—an absolute whole.

(a) The primary resultant of the dialectic is a percept. Percipience is de singulis. It determines that which is present to consciousness as a discriminated unit. But the presentation is always, as a matter of fact, complex, and of indefinite quantity in respect of number and magnitude. Now, in determining the presented totality for knowledge, i.e., placing the already sensed object (sensate) a second time in the subject as now affirmed (judgment)—I, ipso facto, affirm also (or sub-affirm) an undetermined in quantity (number, space, time) and quality—all already confusedly given by the complex object to empirical or attuent subject. Then, the living activity of Will-reason, urging itself to further and further determination, necessarily affirms an undetermined beyond. Experience of this quickly reveals an undeterminable beyond, i.e., the Sense-infinite—that which is greater than any assignable quantity; and this is finally seen to be immanent in the knowing act as such. Now, in seeking further to determine this “beyond,” I am seeking to determine in and for myself the total of actual and possible experience. Thus the determination of the single total in percipience ultimately generates, under the stimulus of the Infinite implicit in all determination, the imagination of an unattainable Whole which includes all “singles”. This expands the vision of man: but it is of no further significance. It is merely a quantitative and synoptic Totality—a crude Absolute. It is a mere aggregate, and full of contradictions to thought; for it is here a total we strive on this plane of mind vainly to comprehend, not a unity. But even so, what a vast chasm is already revealed between the animal and man! This Whole we may call the Perceptual Absolute.

(b) The next resultant of the dialectic in dealing with the material in attuition is (we found) a synthesis of percepts—a sense-concept. The singles discriminated in the object fall together again in the totality of presentation. This is a many in a numerical one—a unity. The imaginative synopsis of a Whole that was merely a “Total,” is now through the continued operation of the Infinite in us, transformed and elevated into the imaginative conception or synthesis of a Whole which is a “Unity” of the many. This is a cosmic and, so far, also a rational, conception. This new concept of universal experience is, however, no more than an aggregate of particulars which are now bound together: totality is contemplated as a quasi-mechanical Unity of the manifold, and contradictions abound. This we may call the Conceptual Absolute: a merely numerical “one and many” as a single colligated total.

(c) The final resultant of the dialectic is, as we have previously seen, a caused or reasoned unity of the individual concept as containing in itself initiation (Objective Will as kinetic); Mediation as formal cause and as Determining-so; and Telos or End. Thus at last arises the reasoned synthesis of an individual object: a “One” of idea in the many of the complex individual concept or thing. The imaginative unity of the Whole as a One and many, is, accordingly, now (still under the stimulus of the fact of Infiniteness) finally elevated into the reasoned unity of the Whole—a rational synthesis. Particulars and apparent contradictions are woven into a reasoned unity; and it is only now that we are entitled to say The Absolute is a System—a One in Many.

The above, it appears to me, is the subjective mind-history of the conception of “The Absolute” as an expression for the total actual and possible. It is contained and predicted in the dialectic; and it is clear that the intellectual imagination of a Whole can contain no more and no less than the content of my experience of the individual, raised to the nth power under the stimulus of the implicit Infinite. In affirming, then, this true or rational Absolute, I affirm no more than I affirm to be found in every presentate of experience. It is a Reason-One—the Notion. But meanwhile the Infinite, implicit in all determination, tells me that this Absolute is restricted in its sweep by the content which I put into it, and that the “Absolute” in any other sense lies far beyond the range of cognition, and can only be felt, as a vague but assured reality, in the realm of the transcendent.

This reasoned Unity or One, then, of the whole of experience which comprehends all existences including myself, I call the “True Absolute”. This is man's sphere. The True Absolute, then, is simply the Actual which contains all of the objective universal that exists, or can exist, for man and including man. It is a whole with a content of which I can rationally speak; for it is given in my experience. This true Absolute is the absolute or reasoned unity of man's experience—the sum of the Actual on the grade, and within the orb, of the finite man-mind. And if we will only consider carefully the genesis and generation of ideas and ideals, we shall see that, were it possible for any finite subject whatsoever to grasp “The Absolute” in any other sense, there could be for it neither ideas nor ideals: these would be transformed into actuals. The Absolute as containing the Infinite is, for a finite subject, merely an ideal of the intellectual or rational imagination which we must affirm; and then let alone. It is the outcome of the dialectic. It contains all individuals and all experience within my range: but much more; for finitude affirms possibilities which are not mine. This is what the word “finitude,” ipso facto, contains. It may be said that, in as much as The Absolute is affirmed by man as an ideal imagination, it is within his experience, and that, accordingly, a synthesis of The Absolute, and not merely an absolute synthesis, is possible. But I would point out that what precisely the absolute synthesis affirms is, that “The Absoluteas Totality is a transcendent outlying fact. In this sense only is “The Absolute” within the absolute synthesis.

Man, then, extending his thought under the impulse of the dialectic which generates the Infinite, affirms and imagines the reasoned totality of things. But even so, it never is, and never can be, a reasoned totality, simply because any such imagination, however mighty, contains and obtrudes the Infinite and, therefore, the immeasurable. Accordingly, a man must say to himself, “In my imagination of a Whole I delude myself, for this imagination itself contains its own impossibility”.

Note that I have been speaking of The Absolute within the sphere of cognition and the conditioned, and showing that the fact of its infiniteness and transcendence is all we know. But there is another fact within experience, although the prius of cognition; and that is Being-Absolute. This is Being Unconditioned, and is within the sphere of Feeling. If it be impossible for finite mind to grasp the Absolute of the Conditioned, it is a fortiori incompetent to grasp the Unconditioned: it feels it as bare fact—the fact of Ground and Potentiality—the Neutrum which moves into the actual and brings itself within our ken only in so far as it is immanent in the actual. For a faculty of “knowing,” which is essentially limitative, to know the undetermined save as ground-fact, would be evidently a contradiction in terms. True I not only feel but perceive the Infinite of progression in the Conditioned and also the non-finite of the Unconditioned; but only as negative percepts—realities of experience opposed to the finite, and mediated through the finite; but of their content I can say nothing.

Accordingly, when I speak of “The Absolute,” I mean The Absolute Synthesis of Experience which contains at one pole the Unconditioned and at the other the infinite and the unattainable of the Conditioned. Not only Feeling, but Reason, as negative percipience, gives us the Unconditioned or Non-finite as part of the record of subject-experience; but this does not tell me the essence or way of Absolute Being as Ground of the Whole. So also with The Absolute, as the Totality in imaginative conception: it can be, and must be, ideally affirmed, and so far it is part of experience; but it cannot be comprehended in fact or thought: it contains its own impossibility of limitative definition.

Now whence all this striving? It is the subjective dialectic which, under an infinite and untiring impulse seeks and ever seeks the One in the Many—the One, not as a non-significant universal—a mere unit, but as “The One Being” out of which, as unconditioned, I may deduce genetically all beings and determinations, and give logical and necessary system to the universe of fact and thought. But it is proclaimed in my finitude that I cannot do this; and it is at the same time proclaimed in my infinitude, as an ever aspiring Will-reason, that I must always try. Onward and ever upward are the watchwords of finite reason. Nor is it desirable that Man should have a power of thought adequate to the Absolute, for, if he had, all would be definite, rounded and logically complete, and for him there would be no mystery, no infinite, no ideals. It would be a contradiction of the very Notion, Man, and subvert his specific plane of Being.

In the great Event—the large Effect, God, if there be God, must be; and, so far, I may know Him, and endeavour to interpret His ways in order that I may truly live in and to Him, as summing up all my meaning as man. My whole effort is to reveal to myself what is implicit as matter of fact in my experience, and, having unfolded this, to say to myself “That is God”. But man cannot find out God to perfection. “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the Earth?” When we have done our best, in faithful response to His incessant pressure on us, to find Him and declare Him—our best is only the aspect of God Eternal on this plane of His immeasurable Being. Such God as we can find, as manifest in nature and man, is the “absolute synthesis”: not at all, however, the “synthesis of The Absolute”.

Unquestionably, we are within a “System”; but I make no pretensions to deduce this, or any possible, system from an a priori ground-principle which shall give unity and coherence to the Whole. I can speak only of that which is within my system; and my system reveals a One Being Absolute, and that Being, with its self-generated dialectic, immanent as objective ground of things. But having got these facts, I can say nothing about any of them, save as in and of my system.

And let me say, in concluding this section, that it is only by interpreting finite reason as a One of Dialectic process, whose cosmic function it is to subsume experience into its own form, that I am entitled to say that the universe embodies Will, Idea, End. If I set aside this interpretation, the universe is then to me nothing save a dynamic series blundering into a kind of system—a system which in the case of man is painfully anarchic.

(4) THE ONE.

I would next ask, Whence is the irresistible and incessant impulse of Reason to find the One, which after all it can only affirm when it has got it?

The human mind, unlike the animal mind, always presses forward to a One which may explain the diverse.3 The search for essence of a complex is a search for the generating “one” of that complex; the search for laws in the natural world is a search for a “one” principle of explanation of this or the other class of phenomena. In like manner, the search for an explanation of the totality of diversities is a search for a One of which the diverse is a manifestation. This impulse of the human mind is explained, some might say, by the fact that in sentient consciousness we always receive the data of recipience into a “one” of subject; or again, because in self-consciousness we subsume all diversity into a “one” of self-conscious subject. This, however, would give a habit of mind only, not explain a necessity. For there would seem to be no reason why, because we receive and subsume the diverse into a one of apperception, we should be, therefore, impelled to reduce the whole of diverse experience to an Objective One in Many (which shall embrace even ourselves). I think the impulse is explained only by the nature of the subjective dialectic whose necessity of nature (in its mediating moment) is to seek a Ground of this and of that, and finally of all experience; which Ground must be single, otherwise we should have the problem of diversity over again. We seek the cause of each particular; so also, under the same dialectic necessity, we seek the one mediating Ground of the Whole—the absolute totality. This Ground of the total diverse cannot be itself a string of diversities in indefinite regression. It is a One we seek—not a unit; but a One in the true philosophic sense which shall be an immanent and sustaining One—a One in all difference.4


Let us recall again our fundamental position: Finite subject exists first of all as recipient, absorbent, and reflexive of the universal other in which it finds its “reality”; and then as a free energy whose essential character is determination and finitising of the indefinite “other,” that so it may, step by step, make the universal of possible experience its own, and reflect its acquisition back into the “other” as now knowledge and “actuality”; and, ultimately, as personal life and conduct. Thus the free dialectic fulfils itself; must fulfil itself. Were the apprehension of “The Absolute” in the infinite sense possible, the finitisation, which is the modus operandi of self-conscious subject in knowing, would disappear, and, with it, would go the infinite of space and time, cause and effect, ideas and ideals. Man would either be sunk to the sub-rational state of Attuition in which no questions arise, or raised to the supra-rational state of Intuition. A supra-rational conscious subject would simply feel an endless (but not unendable) reciprocal interaction of the Many in the One and the One in the Many, in which it was tossed about as an individual atom. The difference between this and mere attuitional experience would appear to be one of name only. Reason (so-called) would then be only a kind of glorified or apotheosised sentience; and a reason, which voluntarily sought such a destiny, would be seeking for the suicidal sacrifice of itself on the altar of The Absolute. It would be virtually annihilated or absorbed, by whichever name we choose to express the same fact. If this “pleasing, anxious being” of self-reference, self-regulation, and of interpretative and creative power over the elements of sentient experience have any attractions, man can never desire even immortality, if it carry with it a virtual extinction of selfhood. If the highest for us be supra-rational intuition, the intuition to be worth having, must somehow sublate reason; just as finite reason, here and now, sublates attuition.

In truth, we hug the finite to ourselves, because it is not only guarantee of selfhood, but also, ipso facto, a door of admission to the Universal: it makes the Universal ours while not submerging us in the Universal. For the apprehension of Absoluto-infinite Being, and of the transcendent Infinite which the Dialectic yields, is possible only through the fact and subjective experience of finitude. Both are mediated by the Finite. In a supra-rational, as in a sub-rational, consciousness, the feeling of Being-universal would be, it is true, possible, because it itself (the conscient subject) would be, and reflex the universal of “is-ness”; but it would not be a percept: while the conception of Reason-universal would be outside all possible experience.

At the same time, having frequently affirmed that man here is within a certain orb of the Divine Mind-evolution, that orb being determined by the potentialities of his specific being within the all-embracing Universal, it would be inconsistent now to maintain that, in a higher orb of existence, a higher state of being may not be possible in which a supra-rational personality carries the conception of Universal Reason with it into a larger sphere of interpretation. Not only is this possible, but it is in the highest degree probable. Our experience of varying grades of intelligent life below our own, taken along with the fact of the Infinite revealed to us and ever drawing us on, compel us, as rational beings, to affirm the probability of this. Only within his own orb is man the crown of things. To say more is arrogance. However this may be, let us emphasise the precise position of man now and here, and point out that what knowledge he has of the Universal, or The Absolute, or God (call it by what name we may), has its possibility in his essential finitude. Without this there would be neither ideas nor ideals, nor the Infinite, nor Cause, nor the concrete Whole which men call “The Absolute”. It is the Finite which generates all these through the Dialectic, if our past analytic of knowledge be correct.

If the above conclusions are not evident, then I have failed to give adequate expression to what I have desired to demonstrate as to the genesis and generation of those conceptions which carry man beyond phenomenal relations and particular judgments, and are the supreme realities of finite reason, and also of the Universal Objective concrete. In any case, let me hope that it is apparent that ideas, ideals, and the Whole or “The Absolute” (including, of course, Absolute Truth, Goodness, Beauty) are generated by the subjective dialectic process as Will-dialectic; which is not merely the “form” of finite reason, but is itself finite reason. For this Will-dialectic as a one thought-concrete is constitutive of human reason: it is human reason in its essence or necessary nature as pure activity. The Formal is the supremely Real. But it is a contradiction in terms to regard the Dialectic as an entity capable in itself of further determination by us. This would be to convert the noumenal into the phenomenal. The Dialectic is also Regulative, i.e., regulative of the way in which we must take up and interpret all experience; and, therefore, objective as well as subjective. But not regulative of the way in which we must take up and interpret the dialectic moments themselves. The Sovereign is above the Law and will not be degraded to the status of a subject.


The Dialectic, then, as a one thought-concrete, exists to take up the matter of all experience as an Objective Complex which is willed towards ends that are reached through a mediating and determining process. In other words, the Dialectic is the Causal Notion which, as I have previously shown, is neither kinetic initiation, nor mediating formal cause, nor determining-so (formative cause), nor telos; but a one movement in these four prime moments. It is, in its total concreteness, the supreme regulative conception, and also the constitutive reality of reason, subjective and objective. I say objective, for the subjective Dialectic does not give form to phenomenal existence (this is the subtlest and most hopeless Dualism), but takes the latter up as so constituted, and it thus finds itself to be simply the nucleated or individuated reflexion of the cosmic Whole. There is an ontological and dialectic continuity of subject and object, just as there is a modal continuity on the attuitional plane of mind. All is One and all is Many—One in the Many, Identity in Difference.5

This is what I call Natural Realism, which conceived as I conceive it, may also perhaps be called Absolute Idealism. It certainly rests on the same foundation as Mysticism.

The Absolute for man, then (the true Absolute), is the Actual, i.e., an objective reasoned unity or synthesis of One in Many: it is the sum of the noumenal and phenomenal, the noumenal universals being God immanent. In brief, it is just the Actual or Notion that has been already explained in our Meditations on Knowledge; and the reader will pardon its reproduction in this meditation as it is a necessary step in our synthetic construction.