Elements of Metaphysics

By A. E. Taylor





Book III. Cosmology: The Interpretation of Nature










Chapter I. Introductory

§ 1. In our two remaining Books we shall have to deal with the more elementary of the problems created by the apparent existence of two orders of Reality, a physical and a psychical, which again at least seem to stand in reciprocal interaction. In the present Book we shall discuss some of the leading characteristics which everyday thought and scientific thought respectively assign to the physical order, and shall ask how these characteristics compare with those we have seen ground to ascribe to Reality, i.e. we shall attempt to form a theory of the place of physical existence in the whole system of Reality. In the Fourth Book we shall discuss in the same way some of the leading characteristics of the psychical order as currently conceived, and the nature of its connection with the’ physical order. Our treatment of these topics will necessarily be imperfect and elementary for more reasons than one: not only are the facts of which some account must be taken so numerous and complicated that they would require for their mastery something like an encyclopaedic acquaintance with the whole range of the experimental sciences, physical and |192| psychological, but their adequate interpretation, especially on the cosmological side, would demand a familiarity with the ultimate foundations of mathematical theory which is rarely possessed either by the experimentalist or by the metaphysician. The utmost we can hope to accomplish in this part of our work is to establish one or two broad results as regards general principles: any suggestions we may make as to the details of interpretation must be avowedly tentative.


“Distinction between the experimental sciences and a Philosophy of Nature and Mind. The former concerned with the description, the latter with the interpretation of facts.”


We must be careful to distinguish the task of a Philosophy of Nature and a Philosophy of Mind from those of the experimental sciences which deal directly with the fact of the physical and psychical orders. The fundamental business of the latter is, as we have already seen, the discovery of descriptive formulae by the aid of which the various processes which make up the physical and psychical orders may be depicted and calculated. The fewer and simpler these formulae, the more they economise the labour of calculation, the more completely do the experimental sciences perform the work for which we look to them. And so long as our formulae adequately accomplish this work of calculation, it is indifferent for the experimental sciences whether the language in which they are couched represents a “reality” or not. The “atoms,” “forces,” and “ethers” of our physical, the “sensations” of our psychological formulae, might be as purely symbolic creations of our own imagination as the “imaginary quantities” of mathematics, without their unreality in any way interfering with their scientific usefulness. In the words of an eminent physicist, “the atomic theory plays a part in physics similar to that of certain auxiliary concepts in mathematics … although we represent vibrations by the harmonic formula, the phenomena of cooling by exponentials, falls by squares of times, etc., no one will fancy that vibrations in themselves have anything to do with the circular functions, or the motion of falling bodies with squares” (Mach, Science of Mechanics, p. 492). When it is asserted that the usefulness of a scientific hypothesis, such as, e.g., the atomic theory or the hypothesis of the existence of an etherial undulating medium, of itself proves the real existence of things corresponding to the concepts employed by the hypothesis, the same fallacy is committed as when it is contended that if an algebraical calculus is generally capable of geometrical interpretation, every step in its operations must be interpretable.

The work of the Philosophy of Nature and of Mind only begins where that of the experimental sciences leaves off. |193| Its data are not particular facts, as directly amassed by experiment and observation, But the hypotheses used by experimental science for the coordination and description of those facts. And it examines these hypotheses, not with the object of modifying their structure so as to include new facts, or to include the old facts in a simpler form, but purely for the purpose of estimating their value as an account of ultimately real existence. Whether the hypotheses are adequate as implements for the calculation of natural processes is a question which Philosophy, when it understands its place, leaves entirely to the special sciences; whether they can claim to be more than useful formulae for calculation, i.e. whether they give us knowledge of ultimate Reality, is a problem which can only be dealt with by the science which systematically analyses the meaning of reality, i.e. by Metaphysics. We may perhaps follow the usage of some recent writers in marking this difference of object by a difference in terminology, and say that the goal of experimental science is the Description of facts, the goal of Metaphysics their Interpretation. The difference of aim is, however, not ultimate. Description of facts, when once we cease to be content with such description as will subserve the purpose of calculation and call for description of the fact as it really is, of itself becomes metaphysical interpretation.

The chief danger against which we must guard in this part of our metaphysical studies is that of expecting too much from our science. We could never, of course, hope for such a complete interpretation of facts as might be possible to omniscience. At most we can only expect to see in a general way how the physical and again how the psychical order must be thought of if our view as to the ultimate structure of Reality is sound. For an exact understanding of the way in which the details of physical and psychical existence are woven into the all-embracing pattern of the real, we must not look. And the value of even a general interpretation will of course depend largely upon our familiarity with the actual use the various sciences make of their hypotheses. With the best goodwill in the world we cannot hope to avoid all misapprehensions in dealing with the concepts of sciences with which we have no practical familiarity.

Though this general caution is at least equally applicable to the amateur excursions of the student whose mental training has been confined to some special group of experimental sciences into the field of metaphysical criticism, it would be a good rule for practice if every student of |194| Metaphysics would consider it part of his duty to make himself something more than an amateur in at least one branch of empirical science; probably Psychology, from its historical connection with philosophical studies, presents unique advantages for this purpose. And conversely, no specialist in experimental science should venture on ultimate metaphysical construction without at least a respectable acquaintance with the principles of Logic, an acquaintance hardly to be gained by the perusal of Jevons’s Elementary Lessons with a supplement of Mill.


“Cosmology is the critical examination of the special characteristics of the physical order. Its main problems are: (1) The problem of the nature of Material Existence’; (2) problem of the justification of the concept of the Mechanical Uniformity of Nature; (3) problems of Space and Time; (4) problem of the Significance of Evolution; (5) problem of the Place of descriptive Physical Science in the system of Human Knowledge.”


§ 2. Cosmology, then, means the critical examination of the assumptions involved in the recognition of the physical as a distinct order of existence, and of the most general hypotheses employed by popular thought and scientific reflection respectively for the description of specially physical existence. It is clear that this very recognition of a distinction between the physical and other conceivable forms of existence implies a degree of reflective analysis more advanced than that embodied in the naive pre-scientific view with which we started in our last two chapters. In the simple conception of the world of existence as consisting of the changing states of a plurality of interacting things, there was not as yet any ground for a distinction between the psychical and the purely physical. That there really exists a widespread type of thought for which this distinction has never arisen, is put beyond doubt by the study of the psychology of the child and the savage. Both, as we know, draw no hard-and-fast line between the animated and the inanimate, and the savage, in his attempts to account for the phenomena of life, does so habitually by supposing the physical organism to be tenanted by one or more lesser organisms of the same order of existence. The “soul” he ascribes to things is simply a smaller and consequently less readily perceptible body within the body.

For civilised men this conception of all existence as being of the same order, an order which we might describe from our own more developed standpoint as at once animated and physical, has become so remote and inadequate, that we find it hard to realise how it can ever have been universally accepted as self-evident truth. Physical science, and under its guidance the current thought of civilised men, has come to draw a marked distinction between the great majority of sensible things, which it regards as purely physical, and a minority which exhibit the presence of “consciousness.” Thus has arisen a theory of the division of existence into |195| two great orders, the physical and the psychical, which so dominates our ordinary thought about the world, that all the efforts of philosophers, both spiritualist and materialist, to reduce the two orders once more to one seem powerless to make any impression on the great majority of minds.

When we ask what are the distinguishing marks of the physical order as currently conceived, the precise answer we obtain will depend on the degree of scientific attainments possessed by the person to whom our question is addressed. But in the main both current science and everyday thought, so far as it has reflected on the problem, would probably agree as to the following points. (a) Physical existence is purely material or non-mental, or again is unconscious. The exact significance of these predicates is probably rarely clear even to those who make the freest use of them. On the face of it, such epithets convey only the information that existence of the physical kind differs in some important respect from existence of a mental kind; the nature of the difference they leave obscure. Reflection, however, may throw some light on the matter.

The distinction between persons and animals on the one side and mere things on the other seems to rest in the last resort on an important practical consideration. Among the things which, according to the naive Realism of the pre-scientific theory, form my environment, there are some which regularly behave in much the same general way in response to very different types of behaviour on my own part. There are others again which behave differently towards me according to the differences in my behaviour towards them. In other words, some things exhibit special individual purposes, dependent in various ways on the nature of my own individual purposes, others do not. Hence for practice it becomes very important to know what things can be counted on always to exhibit the same general type of behaviour, and what cannot, but require individual study before I can tell how they will respond to different purposive behaviour of my own. It is on this practical difference that the distinction of mental and conscious from purely physical and unconscious existence seems to be based. We shall probably not be far wrong in interpreting the unconsciousness of purely material existence to mean that it exhibits no traces of purposive individuality, or at least none that we can recognise as such. More briefly, the physical order consists of the things which do not manifest recognisable individuality. |196|

(b) Closely connected with this peculiarity is a second. The physical order is made up of events which conform rigidly to certain universal Laws. This is an obvious consequence of its lack of purposive individuality. The elements of which it is composed, being devoid of all purposive character of their own, always behave in the same surroundings in the same regular uniform way. Hence we can formulate precise general Laws of their behaviour. Originally, no doubt, this uniformity of the physical order is thought of as a point of contrast with the irregular behaviour of purposive beings, who respond differently to the same external surroundings according as their own internal purposes vary. With the growth of Psychology as an experimental science of mental processes there inevitably arises the tendency to extend this concept of uniform conformity with general Law to the processes of the psychical order, and we are then confronted by the famous problem how to reconcile scientific law with human “freedom.” The same antithesis between the apparently regular and purposeless behaviour of the elements of the physical order and the apparently irregular and purposive behaviour of the members of the psychical order is also expressed by saying that the sequence of events in the physical order is mechanically determined by the principle of Causality, whereas that of the psychical order is teleological, i.e. determined by reference to end or purpose.

(c) Every element of the physical order fills a position in space and in time. Hence any metaphysical problems about the nature of space and time are bound to affect our view of the nature of the physical order. Here, again, there is a point of at least possible contrast between the physical and the psychical. As the accumulation of experience makes it increasingly clearer that the bodies of my fellow-men and my own body, in so far as it is an object perceived like others by the organs of the special senses, exhibit in many respects the same conformity to certain general laws, and are composed of the same constituent parts as the rest of the sensible world, such animated bodies of purposive agents have to be included along with the rest of sensible existence in the physical order. The individual’s purposive individuality has now to be thought of as residing in a distinct factor in his composition of a kind foreign to the physical order, and therefore imperceptible by the senses, i.e. as a mind or soul or stream of consciousness in the current psychological sense. Such a mind or soul or stream of consciousness is then |197| usually regarded as not filling a series of positions in space, and sometimes as not filling a series of positions in time.

(d) The physical order, as thus finally constituted by the introduction of the concept of an imperceptible soul or mind, now comprises all sensible existence1 as an aggregate of events in time and space, linked together by the principle of Causality, and exhibiting conformity with general law. To this conception recent science has made an important addition in the notion of a continuous evolution or development as manifesting itself throughout the series. So that we may ultimately define the physical order as a body of events occupying position in time and space, conforming to general laws with rigid and undeviating uniformity, and exhibiting continuous evolution.2

From these general characteristics of the physical order, as conceived by current science and current popular thought, arise the fundamental problems of Cosmology. We have to discuss — (1) the real nature of material existence, i.e. the ultimate significance of the distinction between the two orders, and the possibility of reducing them to one; (2) the justification for the distinction between mechanical and teleological processes, and for the conception of the physical order as rigidly conformable to uniform law; (3) the leading difficulties of the conceptions of time and space, and their bearing on the degree of reality to be ascribed to the physical order; (4) the philosophical implications of the application of the notion of evolution or development to the events of the physical order; (5) finally, we ought perhaps to deal very briefly and in a very elementary fashion with the problem of the real position of descriptive physical science as a whole in its relation to the rest of human knowledge.


Consult further:
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chap. 26 (pp. 496-497, 1st ed.).
H. Lotze, Outlines of Metaphysic, pp. 77-79.
J. S. Mackenzie, Outlines of Metaphysics, bk. iii. chap. 2.
J. Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, lect. I.


1^ I.e. existence of the same kind as that perceived by the senses, whether actually so perceived or not. In this sense the solid impenetrable extended atoms of Newton or Locke are “sensible” existence, inasmuch as their properties are the same in kind as certain perceptible properties of larger masses, though they are not themselves actually perceptible.

2^ Of course the evolution must be mere subjective appearance if, as is sometimes assumed, the processes of the physical order are one and all purely mechanical. But this only shows that the current concept of the physical order is not free from inconsistencies.

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Chapter II. The Problem of Matter

§ 1. In the preceding chapter we have very briefly indicated the nature of the steps by which reflective thought comes to distinguish sharply between a physical and a psychical order of existence. The physical order, when the concept has been brought into its complete shape by the inclusion of my own body and all its parts, is thought of as a system comprising all the bodies in the universe, that is, all the existences which are of the same kind as those which I directly perceive by means of the special senses.1


“The physical order, because dependent for its perceived qualities on the
sense-organs of the percipient, must be the appearance of a more
ultimate reality which is non-physical.”


Now, with regard to the whole physical order thus conceived two things seem fairly obvious upon the least reflection, that it does not depend for its existence upon the fact of my actually perceiving it, and that it does depend upon my perception for all the qualities and relations which I find in |199| it. Its that appears independent of the percipient, but its what, on the other hand, essentially dependent on and relative to the structure of the perceiving organ. As we have already seen, the familiar experience of the variations in perception which accompany differences in the permanent structure or temporary functioning of the organs of sense led, very early in the history of Philosophy, to the recognition of this relativity, so far as the so-called “secondary” qualities, i.e. those which can only be perceived by one special sense-organ, are concerned. We have also seen sufficiently (in Bk. II. chap. 4) that the same consideration holds equally good of those “primary” qualities which are perceptible by more senses than one, and have probably for that reason been so often supposed to be unaffected by this relativity to a perceiving organ.

Without wasting the reader’s time by unnecessary repetition of our former reasoning, it may be worthwhile to point out here how this thorough-going relativity of the qualities of the physical order to a percipient organ leads directly to the indefinite regress, the apparently invariable consequence of all contradictions in Metaphysics, when we try to take those qualities as independently real. I perceive the properties of physical existence by special sense-organs, and the properties as perceived are conditioned by the structure of those organs. But each sense-organ is itself a member of the physical order, and as such is perceived by and dependent for its perceived qualities upon another organ. This second sense-organ in its turn is also a member of the physical order, and is perceived by a third, or by the first organ again. And there is no end to this mutual dependence. The physical order, as a whole, must be a “state” of my nervous system, which is itself a part of that order. We shall see more fully in our final Book, when we come to discuss the problem of Mind and Body, that this contradiction is an inevitable result of the inconsistency involved in the inclusion of my own body in the physical order, an inconsistency which is, in its turn, a necessary consequence of the hard-and-fast separation of the two orders of existence.2 |200|

Considerations of this kind have led to the general recognition that the physical order must be regarded as phenomenal, as the manifestation to sense-perception of a reality which is in its own nature inaccessible to senseperception, and therefore, in the strictest sense of the words, not physical. When we ask, however, how this non-physical reality of which the physical order is the phenomenal manifestation to our senses, is to be thought of, we find ourselves at once plunged into the same difficulties which we have already met, in a more general form, in discussing the concept of Substance. Popular thought, and science so far as it is content to accept the notions of popular thought without criticism, have commonly fallen back on the idea of the non-phenomenal ground of the physical order as an unperceived “substratum.” To this substratum it has given the name of matter, and has thus interpreted the physical order as the effect produced by the causal action of an unperceived matter upon our sense-organs, or rather, to speak with more precision, upon their unknown material substratum. Frequently, as might have been expected, the attempt has been made to identify this substratum with those of the known qualities of the physical order which appear least liable to modification with the varying states of the percipient organs, and lend themselves most readily to measurement and calculation, the so-called “primary” qualities of mechanical science. This is the standpoint adopted by Newton and, in the main, by Locke, and largely through the influence of their work still remains the most familiar to the ordinary English mind. But the inconsistencies we have already found inherent in such a conception of Substance as is here presupposed, so inevitably make themselves felt upon any serious examination, that the doctrine regularly appears in the history of thought as a mere temporary halting-place in the advance to the more radical notion of matter as the entirely unknown non-phenomenal substratum of the sensible properties of bodies.


“Berkeley’s criticism is fatal to the identification of this reality with ‘material substance.’ The logical consequence of Berkeley’s doctrine that the esse of sensible things percipi, would be the subjectivist view that the physical order is only a complex of presentations.”


§ 2. This latter notion is again manifestly open to all the objections previously brought against the more general concept of substance as an unknown substratum or support |201| of properties. It is from these objections that Berkeley’s famous criticism of the concept of matter, the most original attempt at a constructive theory of the real nature of the physical order in the history of English Philosophy, starts. Berkeley first takes the identification of material substance with the primary qualities of body, which Locke had made current in English speculation, and shows, by insisting upon the relativity of perceived quality to percipient organ, that it is untenable. Having thus driven his opponent to surrender this identification, and to define matter as the unknown substratum of the physical order, he proceeds to argue that this notion of an unknown substratum is both useless and unintelligible. It is useless, because our knowledge of the actual properties and processes of the physical order can neither be extended nor made clearer by the addition of an unknowable; it is unintelligible, because we can give no account to ourselves of the nature of the “support” supposed to be bestowed by the substratum or the properties.

Material substance being thus dismissed as an unmeaning fiction, what is left as the reality of the physical order? According to Berkeley, nothing but the actual presentations, or “ideas,” in which the percipient subject is aware of the properties of bodies. A body is simply such a complex of presentations to a percipient; except as so presented it has no existence. As Berkeley is fond of putting it, the esse of the material thing is simply percipi, the fact of its being presented. But just when we expect Berkeley to accept the complete subjectivist contention that bodies are simply “states of the percipients’ consciousness” and nothing more, he remembers that he has to account both for the fact that we cannot perceive what we please and where we please, but that our perceptions form an order largely independent of our own choice, and for the deep-seated conviction of the common-sense mind that things do not cease to exist when my perception of them is interrupted. To reconcile his theory with these apparently conflicting facts, he has recourse, as is the custom of philosophers and others in a difficulty, to divine assistance. The continued existence of the physical world in the intervals of perception, and its systematic character and partial independence of our volition, he explains by the hypotheses that God produces perceptions in us in a fixed order, and that God continues to be aware of the system of presentations which I call the physical world, when my perception of it is suspended. The |202| same explanation would, of course, have to be invoked to account for the existence of physical realities which no human subject perceives.3

It is fairly obvious that the two halves of Berkeley’s theory will not fit together into a coherent whole. If the whole esse of physical things is merely percipi, there can be no reason why I should suppose them to exist at all except in so far as and so long as they are presented to my perception. The whole hypothesis of an omnipresent divine perception which remains aware of the contents that have vanished from my own perception, thus becomes purely gratuitous. It also labours under the disadvantage of being, on Berkeley’s theory, internally inconsistent. For if it is necessary to invoke the agency of God to account for the occurrence of presentations to my experience, it is not clear why we have not to suppose a second deity who causes the series of presentations in the experience of God, and so on indefinitely. On the other hand, if God’s experience may be taken as uncaused, it is not clear why my own experience might not have been taken so in the first instance, and the introduction of God into the theory avoided. Thus the logical outcome of the doctrine that the esse of physical things is merely percipi, would have been either Solipsism, the doctrine according to which I have no certain knowledge of any existence except my own, everything else being a mere state or modification of myself; or the Humian scepticism, which resolves my own existence, as well as that of the external world, into a mere sequence of fleeting mental processes. Conversely, if I have adequate reason to believe that any member of the physical order whatever is more than a presentation, and has an existence in some sense independent of my perception, I have no right to declare of any member of that order, unless for special reasons, that its being consists merely in being perceived.


“But this is clearly not the case with that part of the physical order which consists of the bodies of my fellow-men. These have an existence, as centres of feeling, over and above their existence as presentations to my senses.”


§ 3. Why, then, did Berkeley, as a matter of fact, accept neither the solipsist nor the sceptical conclusion? Why does he, after all, credit the members of the physical order with an existence independent of the fact of my perceiving them, and thus introduce a patent contradiction into his system? It is not hard to see the reasons by which he must have been influenced. The whole physical order cannot be |203| dismissed as a mere subjective illusion, because there are some members of it which undoubtedly have an existence independent of the fact of being perceived by my sense-organs. Such members are my own body and the bodies of my fellow-men.

Both my own body and those of my fellow-men, as they are perceived by the various special senses, belong to the physical order, and share its qualities. But over and above its existence as a member of the perceived physical order, my own body has further another quite different kind of existence. It is, in so far as I perceive its parts, as I do other bodily existence, by the sensations of the various special sense-organs, a complex of presentations, like everything else in the physical world. But my body is not merely an object presented to me by the organs of the special senses; it is also something which I feel as a whole in common or organic sensation, and in the changing organic thrills of my various emotional moods. This unique feeling of my body as a whole accompanies every moment of my conscious life and gives each its peculiar tone, and there seems to be no doubt that it forms the foundation of the sense of personal identity. If we recollect the essentially teleological character of feeling, we shall be inclined to say that my body as thus apprehended is nothing other than myself as a striving purposive individual, and that my experience of it is the same thing as the experience of my purposive attitudes towards my environment. It is, in fact, this experience of my body as apprehended by immediate feeling, that Psychology describes as the “subject” of the various “mental states” of which it formulates the laws. For Metaphysics, it does not seem too much to say, this double existence of my own body, as a presented object about which I have knowledge in the same way as about everything else, and as an immediately felt unity, affords the key to the whole problem of the “independent” existence of a reality beyond my own presentations. To see how this comes about, we must first consider the influence it has on our conception of one very special part of the physical order, the bodies of our fellows.

The bodies of our fellow-men are, of course, from one point of view complexes of presentations which we receive through our sense-organs; so far their esse, as Berkeley would have said, is percipi. But all practical communion with my fellows through the various institutions of society is based upon the conviction that, over and above their existence as |204| presentation-complexes, or contents of my perceptive states, the bodies of my fellows have the same kind of existence as directly apprehended in immediate feeling which I ascribe to my own. In other words, all practical life is a mere illusion, unless my fellow-men are, like myself, centres of purposive experience. By the existence independent of my. own perception which I ascribe to them, I mean precisely existence as feeling purposive beings. Hence, unless all social life is an illusion, there is at least one part of the physical order, external to myself, of which the esse is not mere percipi, but percipere, or rather sentire. If my fellow-men are more than complexes of presentations or “ideas in my head,” then the subjectivist reduction of all reality to states of my “consciousness” breaks down, at least for this part of the physical order. Hence the acceptance or rejection of the subjectivist theory will ultimately depend on the nature of the evidence for the independent existence of human feelings and purposes beyond my own.

On what grounds, then, do we attribute such “independent” existence as experiencing subjects to our fellows? According to the current subjectivist explanation, we have here a conclusion based on the argument from the analogy between the structure of my own body, as presented in sense-perception, and those of others. I infer that other men have a mental life like my own, because of the visible resemblances between their physical structure and my own, and this inference receives additional support from every fresh increase in our anatomical and physiological knowledge of the human frame. But, being an argument from analogy, it can never amount to a true scientific induction, and the existence of human experience, not my own, must always remain for the subjectivist a probability and can never become a certainty.

I am convinced that this popular and superficially plausible view is radically false, and that its logical consequence, the belief that the real existence of our fellows is less certain than our own, is a grave philosophical error. That the argument from analogy is no sufficient basis for the belief in human experience beyond my own, can easily be seen from the following considerations: — (1) As ordinarily stated, the data of the supposed inference do not actually exist. For what I perceive is not, as the subjectivist assumes, three terms — my own mental life, my own anatomical structure, and the anatomy of my neighbour, but two, my own mental life and my neighbour’s anatomy. If |205| I cannot be sure of the reality of my neighbour’s experience until I have compared the anatomy and physiology of his organism with that of my own, I shall have to remain in doubt at least until science can devise a mechanism by which I can see my own nervous system. At present one of the terms on which the analogical argument is said to be based, namely, my own internal physical structure, has to be mostly taken on trust. It would be little less than the truth to invert the subjectivist’s position, and say that, until science can devise means for seeing our own brains, we infer the resemblance of our own anatomy to our neighbour’s from the previously known resemblance of his inner experience and ours.

(2) And even supposing this difficulty already surmounted, as it conceivably will be in the future, there is a still more serious flaw in the presumed analogical inference. If I once have good ground for the conviction that similarity of inner experience is attended by similarity of physical structure, then of course I can in any special case treat the degree of structural resemblance between one organism and another as a sufficient reason for inferring a like degree of resemblance between the corresponding inner experiences. But upon what grounds is the general principle itself based? Obviously, if my own inner experience is the only one known to me originally, I have absolutely no means of judging whether the external resemblances between my own organism and yours afford reason for crediting you with an inner experience like my own or not. If the inference by analogy is to have any force whatever in a particular case, I must already know independently that likeness of outward form and likeness of inner experience at least in some cases go together. The plausibility of the usual subjectivist account of the way in which we come to ascribe real existence to our fellows, is simply due to its tacitly ignoring this vital point.

How, then, do we actually learn the existence of feeling purposive experience outside our own? The answer is obvious. We learn it by the very same process by which we come to the clear consciousness of ourselves. It is a pure blunder in the subjectivist psychology to assume that somehow the fact of my own existence as a centre of experience is a primitive revelation. It is by the process of putting our purposes into act that we come to be aware of them as our purposes, as the meaning of our lives, the secrets of what we want of the world. And, from the very fact of our existence in a society, every step in the execution of a purpose or the satisfaction of a want involves the adjustment |206| of our, own purposive acts to those of the other members of our social whole. To realise your own ends, you have to take note of the partly coincident, partly conflicting, ends of your social fellows, precisely as you have to take note of your own. You cannot come to the knowledge of the one without coming by the same route and in the same degree to the knowledge of the other. Precisely because our lives and purposes are not self-contained, self-explaining wholes, we cannot possibly know our own meaning except in so far as we know the meaning of our immediate fellows. Self-knowledge, apart from the knowledge of myself as a being with aims and purposes conditioned by those of like beings in social relations with myself, is an empty and senseless word.

The recent psychological studies of the part which imitation plays in all learning make this result still more palpably manifest. For they reveal the fact that, to an enormous extent, it is by first repeating without conscious aim of its own the significant purposive acts of others that a child first comes to behave with conscious significance itself. It is largely by learning what others mean when they utter a word or execute a movement that the child comes to know his own meaning in using the same word or performing the same movement. Thus we may confidently say that the reality of purposive significant experience which is not my own is as directly certain as the reality of my own experience, and that the knowledge of both realities is inevitably gained together in the process of coming to clear insight into my own practical aims and interests. The inner experience of my fellows is indubitably real to the same degree as my own, because the very existence of my own purposive life is meaningless apart from the equal existence of theirs.4


“As the bodies of my fellows are connected in one system with the rest of the physical order, that order as a whole must have the same kind of reality which belongs to them. It must be the presentation to our sense of a system or complex of systems of experiencing subjects; the apparent absence of life and purpose from inorganic nature must be due to our inability to enter into a direct communion of interest with its members.”


§ 4. We may now apply the results obtained in the previous section to the general question as to the “independent” existence of the physical order. In doing so we observe two consequences of the highest importance, (1) Now that we have found that at least a part of that |207| order, namely, the bodies of our fellow-men, are not mere complexes of presentations in our own experience, but have a further existence as themselves experiencing subjects, and are so far “independent” of their actual presentation in our own experience, we can no longer conclude, from the dependence of the physical order for its sensible properties upon presentation to ourselves, that it has no further existence of its own. If one part of that order, which as presented stands on the same footing with the rest, and is, like it, dependent on presentation for its sensible properties, is certainly known to be more than a mere presentation complex, the same may at least be true of other parts. We can no longer assert of any part of the physical order, without special proof, that its esse is merely percipi.

We may go a step further. Not only may other parts of the physical order possess a reality beyond the mere fact of being presented to our sense-perception, but they must. For (a) we have to take note, for the obtaining of our own practical ends, of the factors in our material environment precisely as we have to take note of the purposive behaviour not our own which forms our social environment. Just as our own inner life, has no coherent significance except as part of a wider whole of purposive human life, so human society as a system of significant conduct directed to the attainment of ends, cannot be understood without reference to its non-human surroundings and conditions. To understand my own experience, reference must be made to the aims, ideals, beliefs, etc. of the social whole in which I am a member; and to understand these, reference has again to be made to geographical, climatic, economical, and other conditions. Thus of the physical order at large, no less than of that special part of it which consists of the bodies of my fellows, it is true to say that its existence means a great deal more than the fact of its presentation. Unperceived physical existence must be real if I am myself real, because my own inner life is unintelligible without reference to it.

(b) This conclusion is further strengthened by the evidence supplied by the various sciences, that human life forms part of a great system characterised by evolution or development. If one part of a connected historical development is more than a complex of presentations, the other stages of that development cannot possibly be mere presentation complexes. Against any “Idealism” which is mere Subjectivism or Presentationism calling itself by a less suspicious name, it would be a sound and fair argument to contend |208| that it reduces evolution to a dream, and must therefore be false.5

It cannot, then, be true of the physical order as a whole, that it has no reality beyond the fact of its presentation to my senses. Elements in it not so presented must yet have reality, inasmuch as my own inner life requires the recognition of their reality as a fundamental condition of the realisation of my own “subjective” ends. As the facts of hallucination, “suggestion,” and subjective sensation show, what appears to us as an element in the physical order may sometimes have no reality beyond the fact of its appearance; there may be presented contents of which it would be true to say that their esse is percipi. But the very possibility of distinguishing such hallucinatory presentations from others as illusory, is enough to prove that this cannot be true of the whole physical order. It is precisely because physical existence in general is something more than a collective hallucination, that we are able in Psychology to recognise the occurrence of such hallucinations. As has been already observed, you are never justified in dismissing an apparent fact of the physical order as mere presentation without any further reality behind it, unless you can produce special grounds for making this inference based upon the circumstances of the special case.

(2) The second important consequence of our previous conclusion is this, — We have now seen what was really meant, in the crucial case of our fellow-men, by maintaining an existence “independent” of the fact of presentation to our sense-organs. Their “independent” existence meant existence as centres of experience, as feeling, purposive beings. The whole concept of “independent” existence was thus social in its origin. We have also seen that the grounds on which an “independent” existence must be ascribed to the rest of the physical order are essentially of the same kind as those on which we asserted the “independent” existence of our fellow-men. It appears patent, then, that “independent” existence must have the same general sense in both cases. It can and must mean the existence of centres of sentient purposive experience. If we are serious in holding that the esse of the physical order, like that of ourselves and our fellows, is not mere percipi, we must hold that it is percipere or |209| sentire. What appears to us in sense-perception as physical nature must be a community, or a complex of communities of sentient experiencing beings: behind the appearance the reality must be of the same general type as that which we, for the same reasons, assert to be behind the appearances we call the bodies of our fellows.

The doctrine of degrees of reality must be borne in mind throughout this discussion. The reality of which the physical order is phenomenal may itself be phenomenal of a higher reality.

This conclusion is not in the least invalidated by our own inability to say what in particular are the special types of sentient experience which correspond to that part of the physical order which lies outside the narrow circle of our own immediate human and animal congeners. Our failure to detect specific forms of sentience and purpose in what we commonly call “inorganic” nature, need mean no more than that we are here dealing with types of experience too remote from our own for detection. The apparent deadness and purposelessness of so much of nature may easily be illustrated by comparison with the apparent senselessness of a composition in a language of which we are personally ignorant. Much of nature presumably appears lifeless and purposeless to us for the same reason that the speech of a foreigner seems senseless jargon to a rustic who knows no language but his own.

It would be easy, but superfluous, to develop these ideas more in detail by the free use of imaginative conjecture. The one point of vital principle involved is that on which we have already insisted, that existence “independent” of sense-perception has only one intelligible meaning. Hence it must have this same meaning whenever we are compelled to ascribe to any part of the perceived physical order a reality which goes beyond the mere fact of its being perceived. The assertion that the physical order, though dependent for its perceived qualities upon the presence of a percipient with sense-organs of a particular type, is not dependent on any such relation for its existence, if it is to have any definite meaning at all, must mean for us that that order is phenomenal of, or is the appearance to our special human sense-organs of, a system or complex of systems of beings possessing the same general kind of sentient purposive experience as ourselves, though conceivably infinitely various in the degree of clearness with which they are aware of their own subjective aims and interests, and in the special nature of those interests. |210|


“Some consequences of this view.”


§ 5. We may end this chapter by drawing certain conclusions which follow naturally from the acceptance of this doctrine, (1) It is clear that the result we have reached by analysis of what is implied in the “independent” existence of the physical order agrees with our previous conclusions as to the general structure of Reality. For we saw in our last Book that it seemed necessary to hold not only that Reality as a whole forms a single individual experience, but also that it is composed of members or elements which are themselves sentient experiences of varying degrees of individuality. And in our discussion of the unity of the thing we saw reason to hold that nothing but a sentient experience can be individual; thus we had already convinced ourselves that if there are things which are more than complexes of presentations arbitrarily thrown together for the convenience of human percipients in dealing with them as unities, those things must be sentient experiences on subjects of some kind. We have now inferred from the actual consideration of the physical order that it does, in point of fact, consist of things of this kind. Our result may thus be said to amount in principle to the logical application to physical existence of the previously ascertained conclusion, that only what is to some degree truly individual can be real.

It is interesting to contrast with this consequence of our metaphysical attempt to interpret the course of physical nature, the result which inevitably follows from consistent adherence to the procedure of descriptive science. The whole procedure of descriptive science depends upon our willingness to shelve, for certain purposes, the problem wherein consists the reality of the physical order, and to concentrate our interest upon the task of adequately and with the greatest possible economy of hypothesis describing the system of presented contents in which it reveals itself to our senses. For purely descriptive purposes, our sole interest in the physical order is to know according to what laws of sequence one presented content follows upon another. Hence, so long as we can establish such laws of connection between presented contents, it is for purely scientific purposes indifferent how we imagine the Reality in which the sequence of presentation has its ground. Whether we think of it as a system of finite subjects, the will of a personal Deity, a complex of primary qualities, or an unknown substratum, or whether we decline to raise any question whatever about the matter, the results are the same, so long as our sole |211| object is to exhibit the sequence of presented sense-contents as regulated by laws which admit of calculation. Science can go its way in entire indifference to all these alternative metaphysical interpretations of the Reality which is behind the phenomenal order.

The logical consequence of this absorption in the problem of describing the phenomenal sequence of events, apart from inquiry into their ground, is that the more thoroughly the task is carried out the more completely does individuality disappear from the physical order as scientifically described. Everyday thought looks on the physical order as composed of interacting things, each of which is a unique individual; current science, with its insistence on the uniform behaviour of the different elements of the material world, inevitably dissolves this appearance of individuality. In the more familiar atomic theories, though the differences between the behaviour of the atoms of different elements are still retained as ultimate, the atoms of the same element are commonly thought of as exact replicas of each other, devoid of all individual uniqueness of behaviour. And in the attempts of contemporary science to get behind atomism, and to reduce all material existence to motions in a homogeneous medium, we see a still more radical consequence of the exclusive adoption of an attitude of description. Individuality has here disappeared entirely, except in so far as the origination of differential motion in a perfectly homogeneous medium remains an ultimate inexplicability which has to be accepted as a fact, but cannot be reconciled with the theoretical assumptions which have led to the insistence upon the homogeneity of the supposed medium.

The logical reason for this progressive elimination of individuality from scientific descriptions of the processes of the physical order should now be manifest. If all individuality is that of individual subjects of experience, it is clear that in disregarding the question of the metaphysical ground of the physical order we have already in principle excluded all that gives it individuality from our purview; the more rigorously logical our procedure in dealing exclusively with the phenomenal contents of the physical order, the less room is left for any recognition of an element of individuality within it, Our purpose to describe the phenomenal logically involves description in purely general terms. It is only when, in Metaphysics, we seek to convert description of the phenomenal into interpretation of it as the appearance to sense of a more ultimate Reality, that the principle of the |212| individuality of all real existence can come once more to its rights.

(2) It is perhaps necessary at this point to repeat, with special reference to the interpretation of the physical order, what has already been said of all interpretation of the detail of existence by reference to its ground. We must be careful not to assume that lines of division which we find it convenient for practical or scientific purposes to draw between things, correspond to the more vital distinctions between the different individual subjects of experience which we have seen reason to regard as the more real existences of which the physical order is phenomenal. This is, e.g., an error which is committed by confident theories of the animation of matter which attribute a “soul” to each chemical atom. We must remember that many of the divisions between things which we adopt in our descriptive science may be merely subjective demarcations, convenient for our own special purposes but possibly not answering to any more fundamental distinctions founded on the nature of the realities of the physical order themselves. It does not in the least follow from our view of nature as the manifestation to our senses of a system of sentient individuals, that the relations between those individuals are adequately represented by the relations between the different factors of the material world as it is constructed in our various scientific hypotheses.

Thus, e.g., our own self-knowledge and knowledge of our fellows show that in some sense there is a single experience corresponding to what, for physical science, is the enormous complex of elements forming the dominant centres of the human nervous system. But apart from our direct insight into human experience, if we only knew the human nervous system as we know a part of inorganic nature, we should be quite unable to determine that this particular complex was thus connected with an individual experience. In general we have to admit that, except for that small portion of physical nature in which we can directly read purposive experience of a type specially akin to our own, we are quite unable to say with any confidence how nature is organised, and what portions of it are “organic” to an individual experience. This caution must be constantly borne in mind if we are to avoid the abuse of our general theory of the meaning of the physical order in the interests of “spiritualistic” and other superstitions. It may also serve to guard against over-hasty “Philosophies of Nature,” like those of Schelling and Hegel, which start with the unproved |213| assumption that approximation to the human external form of organisation is a trustworthy indication of the degree in which intelligent experience is present in physical nature.

(3) One more point may receive passing notice. It is clear that if physical nature is really a society or a number of societies6 of experiencing subjects, we must admit that, from the special character of our human experience with its peculiar interests and purposes, we are normally debarred from social communion with any members of the system except those who are most akin in their special type of purposive life to ourselves. Of the vast majority of the constituents of the physical order it must always be true that, while we may be convinced, on grounds of general metaphysical theory, that they possess the character we have ascribed to them, we have no means of verifying this conclusion in specific cases by the actual direct recognition of the individual life to which they belong, and consequent establishment of actual social relations with them. Yet it does not follow that we are always absolutely debarred from such direct social relations with extra-human sentient life. The “threshold of intercommunicability” between physical nature and human intelligence may conceivably be liable to fluctuations under conditions at present almost entirely unknown. Conceivably the type of experience represented in literature by the great poets to whom the sentient purposive character of physical nature has appealed with the force of a direct revelation of truth, and known in some degree to most men in certain moods, may depend upon a psychological lowering of this threshold. It is thus at least a possibility that the poet’s “communion with nature” may be more than a metaphor, and may represent some degree of a social relation as real as our more normal relations with our human fellows and the higher animals. It may be true that in the relations of man with nature, as in his relations with man, it is the identity of purpose and interest we call love which is the great remover of barriers.

(4) It should hardly be needful to point out that such a view of the meaning of nature as has been defended in this chapter is in no way opposed to, or designed to set artificial restrictions on, the unfettered development of descriptive physical science. Whatever our view of the ultimate nature |214| of the physical order, it is equally necessary on any theory for the practical control of natural processes in the service of man to formulate laws of connection between these processes. And the work of formulating those laws can only be satisfactorily done when the analysis of the physical order as a system of sense-contents is carried on with complete disregard of all metaphysical problems as to its non-phenomenal ground. It would not even be correct to say that, if our metaphysical interpretation is valid, the view of nature presented in descriptive physical science is untrue. For a proposition is never untrue simply because it is not the whole truth, but only when, not being the whole truth, it is mistakenly taken to be so. If we sometimes speak in Philosophy as though whatever is less than the whole truth must be untrue, that is because we mean it is untrue for our special purposes as metaphysicians, whose business is not to stop short of the whole truth. For purposes of another kind it may be not only true, but the truth.


“There are degrees of truth as well as of reality, and the two do not necessarily coincide.”


That is, there are degrees of truth as well as of reality, and the two do not necessarily coincide. The degree of truth a doctrine contains cannot be determined apart from consideration of the purpose it is meant to fulfil. For the special purposes of Metaphysics, the purpose of thinking of the world in a finally consistent way, whatever is not the whole truth is untrue. But what the metaphysician regards as the lesser truth may be the higher truth relatively to other purposes than his own. Compare the doctrine of Dr. Stout’s essay on “Error” in Personal Idealism.

Our metaphysical interpretation of the physical order is no more incompatible with full belief in the value and validity for their own purposes of the results of abstract descriptive science, than the recognition of the singleness and purposiveness of a human experience with the equal recognition of the value of physiological and anatomical investigation into the functions and mechanism of the human body. Of course a man, as he really exists, is something quite different from the physiologist’s or anatomist’s object of study. No man is a mere walking specimen of the “human organism”; every man is really first and foremost a purposive sentient agent. But this consideration in no way affects the practical value of anatomical and physiological research into the structure of the man as he appears in another man’s system of sense-presentations. What is true in this case is, of course, equally applicable in all others.

We have yet to discuss the most serious stumbling-block in the way of the idealist interpretation of nature, the apparent conformity of its processes to rigid laws of sequence, which at first sight might seem to exclude the possibility of |215| their being really the acts of purposive subjects. This difficulty will form the topic of our succeeding chapter.


Consult further:
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chap. 22.
L. T. Hobhouse, Theory of Knowledge, pt. 3. chap. 3;
H. Lotze, Metaphysic, bk. ii. Chaps. 5,6.
H. Münsterberg, Grundzüge der Psychologie, i. pp. 65-92.
K. Pearson, Grammar of Science, chap. 2 (The Facts of Science), 8 (Matter) |mainly written from the “phenomenalist” standpoint, but with unconscious lapses into a more materialistic view|.
J. Royce, “Nature, Consciousness, and Self-Consciousness” (in Studies of Good and Evil); The World and the Individual. Second Series, Lect. 4.
J. Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, Lects. 1-5, 14, 19.

Of the older philosophical literature:
Descartes, Meditation 6.
Leibnitz, Monadology and New System.
Locke, Essays, bk. iv. chap. 11.
Kant’s “Refutation of Idealism,” in the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, in addition to the already cited works of Berkeley, will probably be found most important.


1^ This definition of the physical order approximates very closely to that adopted by Prof Münsterberg in his Grundzüge der Psychologie, vol. i. pp. 65-77. Prof. Münsterberg defines a physical fact as one which is directly accessible to the perception of a plurality of sentient individuals, as opposed to the psychical fact which can be directly experienced only by one individual. It must be remembered, of course, that my body as directly experienced in “common sensation” and “emotional mood” belongs to the psychical order. It is only my body as perceptible by other men that is a member of the physical order.

2^ Cf. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chap. 22, pp. 260-267 (1st ed.). The attempts which have been made to exempt “primary” qualities from this relativity do not seem to demand serious criticism. The argument in the text applies as directly to extension and shape as to colour or smell. It is not defensible to contend, as Mr. Hobhouse does, that qualities, whether primary or secondary, depend on the percipient organ only for their perception, not for their existence. The contention rests upon taking two aspects of experience which are always given together, the that and the what of a sense-content, and arguing that because these two aspects of a single whole can be distinguished, therefore the one can exist in actual separation from the other. It would be quite as logical to infer by the same method and from the same premisses that there can be a perceptive state without any content, as that the contents can exist, as we know them, apart from the state.

3^ See particularly the detailed statement of his contention and the elaborate examination of objections in the Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, which form a commentary on the briefer exposition of Principles of Human Knowledge, §§ 1-134.

4^ See the fuller exposition of this line of argument in Royce, Studies in Good and Evil, essay on “Nature, Consciousness and Self-Consciousness,” to which I am largely indebted throughout the present chapter, and for a detailed criticism of the alleged “analogical” inference the closely related reasoning of my own essay on “Mind and Nature” in International Journal of Ethics, October 1902. The similar but briefer criticism in Royce, The World and the Individual, Second Series, lecture 4, “Physical and Social Reality,” p. 170, I had not had the opportunity to study when the above was written. For the whole subject of imitation, see in particular Professor Baldwin’s Mental Development in the Child and the Race.

5^ For a study of the significance of the “partial independence” of the physical world on my will as a factor in producing belief in its “external reality,” see Stout, Manual of Psychology, bk. iii. div, 2, chap. 2, “The Perception of External Reality.”

6^ Societies would be the more natural supposition. We have no reason to deny that the various types of non-human intelligence may be cut off from social intercourse with each other, as they are from intercourse with ourselves.

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Chapter III. The Meaning of Law

§ 1. In our view of the underlying reality of the physical order, as explained in the last chapter, we have scarcely gone further, except in the explicitness of our phraseology, than we should be followed by many who profess a complete disbelief in metaphysical construction and an exclusive devotion to positive natural science. From the side of positive science we have often been reminded that no hard-and-fast line can logically be drawn between the organic and the inorganic, that we are not entitled to assume that the continuity of evolution ceases when we are no longer able to follow it with our microscopes, that we are, with the eye of scientific faith, to discern in the meanest particle of matter the “promise and potency” of all life, and so forth. All which statements seem to be confused ways of suggesting some such conception of the physical order as we have attempted to put into more precise and logical form. It is not until we come to deal with the problem indicated by the title of this chapter that our most serious difficulties begin. We have to face the objections which may be urged against our view of the |217| physical order on the strength of the principle known in inductive Logic as the “Uniformity of Nature.”


“The popular conception of the physical order as exhibiting a rigid mechanical conformity to general laws, conflicts with our metaphysical interpretation.”


The events of the physical order, it may be urged, cannot be expressions of the more or less conscious purposes and interests of individual centres of experience, and that for a simple reason. How a purposive agent will behave is always a mystery, except to those who actually understand his purposes. It is impossible, apart from actual insight into those purposes, to infer from the mere examination of his past behaviour what his behaviour; in the future will be. For the special characteristic of purposive action is its power to find new ways of response to stimulus. Hence it is that we rightly regard the power to, learn by experience, that is, to acquire more and more appropriate reactions to stimulus, as the test of a creature’s intelligence. Where there is no progressive adaptability there is no ground to assume intelligence and purpose. Hence again the impossibility of calculating beforehand with any certainty what course the behaviour of an intelligent being will take, unless you are actually aware of the purposes he is seeking to realise.

Now, except in the case of the organic world, it may be urged, we do not find progressive adaptability in Nature. The inorganic constituents of the physical order always react with absolute uniformity in the same way upon the same environment. Their behaviour exhibits absolutely undeviating conformity to general routine laws of sequence, and can therefore be calculated beforehand, provided that the resources of our mathematics are adequate to deal with the problems it presents, with absolute exactitude and certainty. That this routine uniformity exists in physical nature is, in fact, a fundamental principle in the logic of inductive science. Every indication of sentience and purpose is thus absent from physical nature, outside the world of living organisms; it is a realm of rigid conformity to laws of sequence. And these sequences, because absolutely without exception and incapable of modification, are purely mechanical, i.e., non-purposive and non-intelligent. Nature is, in fact, a complicated mechanism, in which every event follows from its conditions with undeviating necessity.

Views of this kind are often supposed to be logically necessitated by the principles of physical science. It is manifest that if they are sound our whole preceding interpretation of the physical order is invalidated. For this reason, as well as because of the far-reaching consequences often drawn from them as to human freedom and moral |218| responsibility, it will be necessary to examine their foundation in some detail.


“Our interpretation would, however, admit of the establishment of averages or approximately realised uniformities by the statistical method, which deals with occurrence en bloc to the neglect of their individual detail.”


§ 2. The main problems confronting us in this examination will then be — (1) How far is calculable uniformity of sequence really incompatible with the presence of purpose and intelligence? (2) Have we any real ground for ascribing such uniformity to the actual sequences of physical nature? (3) if not, What is the real logical character of the principle of the so-called uniformity of nature? (4) and What amount of truth is contained in the conception of the physical order as a mechanism? Into the problem suggested by the popular contrast between the necessity of mechanical sequence and the freedom of purposive action, it will be needless to enter at any length. For, as we saw in dealing with the popular view of necessary causal relation, the necessity of a mechanical sequence is a purely subjective and logical one. The sequence is necessary only in the sense that we are constrained, so long as we adhere to the purpose of thinking logically, to affirm the consequent when we affirm the antecedent. True necessity is always compulsion, and therefore, so far from being opposed to purposive action, can only exist where an actual purpose is overruled or thwarted.1 So long as we are dealing solely with phenomenal sequence in the physical order, necessity is a mere anthropomorphic name for routine undeviating uniformity of sequence.

(1) Calculable Uniformity and Intelligent Purpose. It is sometimes assumed that all successful prediction of a thing’s behaviour is incompatible with the ascription of intelligence or purpose to the thing. Thus it has been argued, and continues to be argued in moral philosophy of a popular type, that if we are intelligent beings with purposes of our own, it must always be impossible for an onlooker to predict how we shall behave in circumstances which have not yet arisen. This extreme view of the incompatibility of calculability with intelligent purpose, however, manifestly rests on a double confusion. To begin with, those who assert this view commonly |219| make the mistake of supposing the prediction of the future stands somehow on a different logical level from calculation of the past from present data. Prediction of my future behaviour is supposed somehow to conflict with my character as a purposive being in a way in which inference as to my past behaviour does not. This is, of course, an elementary fallacy in Logic. The conditions required for the successful inference of the absent from the present are identical in the two cases, as we have already seen in dealing with the problems of Causality. Precisely the same kind of insight is requisite to judge how a given man must have behaved in a certain situation in his past history as are needed to determine how he will behave in a situation which is yet to arise. We may thus dismiss from consideration the special case of prediction, and confine ourselves to the general question, how far the general calculability of the course of a process is incompatible with its purposive and intelligent character.

An answer to this question is at once suggested by reflection upon our ordinary attitude towards such attempts to calculate the course of our own behaviour.2 It is by no means every such calculation that we resent. So far from being affronted by the assumption that our conduct exhibits sufficient uniformity to admit of calculation, we expect our personal friends to have sufficient reliance on its uniformity to assume with confidence that we shall certainly do some things and refuse to do others, that we must have acted in certain ways and cannot have acted in others. “You ought to know me better than to suppose me capable of that” is between friends a tolerably keen expression of reproach, “I know I can count on you to do it,” a common expression of confidence. On the other hand, we should certainly resent the assumption on the part of a comparative stranger of such a knowledge of our character as would warrant confident calculation of our conduct, and if the calculation was avowedly drawn not from personal knowledge at all, but from general propositions of Psychology or Anthropology, we should pretty certainly feel that a more than accidental success threatened our moral individuality.

Now, what is the explanation of this difference of feeling? Manifestly it must be sought in the great difference between the grounds on which the calculation is based in the two cases. In the first case we expected and welcomed the |220| calculation, because we felt it to be founded upon our friend’s personal acquaintance with the guiding interests and purposes of our life; it was an inference based upon insight into our individual character. In the other case we resented the success of the calculation, because we assumed it to be made in the absence of any such personal insight into our individual purposes and interests, on the basis of mere general propositions about human nature. We rightly feel that the regular success of calculation of this second sort is inconsistent with the ascription of any reality to our individual character. If all our actions can be calculated from general theorems in a science of human nature, without taking individual purpose into account, then the apparent efficacy of individual interests and purposes in determining the course of our history must be an empty illusion; we cannot be truly intelligent agents, seeing that we never really do anything at all.

Thus we see that it seems necessary to draw a marked distinction between two types of calculability. Calculation based on insight into individual character and purpose is so far from being inconsistent with purposiveness and intelligence, that the more coherent and systematic the purposes by which a life is controlled, the more confident does such calculation become. Calculation without such special knowledge, and based upon mere general propositions, on the other hand, cannot be regularly successful where one has to deal with the behaviour of individual purposive beings.3

Now, the difficulty as to our interpretation of the physical order as the presentation to our sense of a system of intelligent purposive beings, is that the successes of physical science seem at first sight to show that just this “mechanical” calculation of the course of events from observed sequence, without insight into underlying individual purpose, is possible when we are dealing with physical nature. For, on the one hand, we ourselves admitted that if physical nature is permeated by individual purposes, we do not know what those |221| purposes in detail are; and, on the other, it is undeniable that physical science, which systematically disregards their presence, has been signally successful in the past, and may be expected to be even more successful in the future, in detecting uniformities in physical nature, and so submitting it to exact calculation. Hence it might be thought that the actual success of the empirical sciences cannot be reconciled with the principles of our metaphysical interpretation of the course of nature.

We must, however, draw a very important distinction. There is one method by which uniformities of a certain kind can be detected in the behaviour of purposive intelligent beings, without insight into the nature of their individual purposes — the method of statistical averages. Thus, though it would be quite impossible to say with certainty of any individual man that he will shoot himself or will get married, except on the strength of insight into his individual character and interests, we find by experience that it is possible to say, within a certain narrow range of error, what percentage of Englishmen will shoot themselves or will get married in the year. The percentage is, of course, rarely or never precisely realised in any one year, but the longer the period of years we take for examination, the more exactly do the deviations from the average in individual years compensate one another. The explanation is, of course, that on the whole the incentives to marriage or suicide, in a reasonably stable state of society, remain constant from year to year, so that by taking an average of several years we can eliminate results which are due to individual peculiarities of temperament and situation, and obtain something like a measure of the degree in which the general conditions of social existence impose a certain common trend or character on the interests and purposes of individuals.

Two things are at once noticeable in connection with all uniformities obtained by the method of averages. One is that the result formulated in the statistical law is always one to which the actual course of events may reasonably be expected to conform within certain limits of deviation, never one to which we have a right to expect absolute conformity. Not only is the actual number of marriages, e.g., in any one year, usually slightly above or below the average percentage computed, e.g., for a ten years’ period, but as we compare one longer period with others, the average percentage for the longer period itself fluctuates. It is only in the “long run,” that is, in the impossible case of the actual completion of an |222| interminable series, that the computed average would be exactly realised. As every one who has to deal with averages in any form knows, precise realisation of the computed average within a finite series of cases would at once awaken suspicions of an error somewhere in our calculations. Thus the uniformities of this kind are never absolutely rigid; they are ideal limits to which the actual course of events is found to approximate within certain limits of divergence. The second point is that the existence of such a uniformity never affords logical ground for confident affirmation as to the actual event in a particular concrete case. To revert to our illustration, just as we have no right to infer from the approximately constant percentage of marriages per year in a given society, that this precise percentage will be realised in any one special year, so we have still less right to infer that a particular member of that society will or will not marry. Nothing but insight into the character, situation, and interests of this special member of society can give me the right to judge with confidence how he will actually behave. Similarly, it is possible to say within certain limits of error how many persons over sixty years of age may be expected to die in the next twelve months, but it would be the height of logical presumption to infer that a particular man will die during the year, except on the strength of special information about his pursuits, habits, and general state of health.4 Thus our general conclusion must be, that calculation and the establishment of uniformities is possible, without insight into individual purpose, but that the uniformities thus obtained are always variable and approximate, and afford no safe ground for inference as to special concrete cases.


“‘Uniformity’ in nature is neither an axiom nor an empirically verifiable fact, but a postulate. A consideration of the methods actually employed for the establishment of such uniformities or ‘laws’ of nature shows that we have no guarantee that actual concrete cases exhibit exact conformity to law.”


§ 3. (2). The existence of ascertainable uniformities in physical nature, then, will not conflict with our general interpretation of the physical order, provided that these uniformities are of the type just illustrated by reference to ordinary social statistics. On the other hand, the exact and rigid conformity of the actual course of concrete events with such uniform general “laws,” would certainly be inconsistent with the presence of teleological adaptation |223| to ends. A reign of rigid routine conformity to general law cannot co-exist with individual purposive life. Now, it is commonly assumed, and we shall shortly see that the assumption is both necessary and justified as a practical methodological postulate, that the “reign of law” in physical nature is absolute. But are there any grounds for recognising this assumption as more than a possibly unrealised postulate made for human practical purposes? I think it is easy to show that there are none whatever, and that the conception of a nature devoid of purpose and sentience, and swayed absolutely by mechanical “laws,” is simply a metaphysical nightmare of our own invention.

To begin with, it is clear that the undeviating conformity of the actual course of any concrete process to scientific “law” cannot be verified as an empirical fact by observation or experiment. For in no observation or experiment can we ever deal with the whole of any concrete actual event or process. We have always, for the purposes of our observation, to select certain of the general aspects of the process, to which we attend as the “relevant factors” or “conditions” of the result, while we disregard other aspects as “immaterial” or “accidental” circumstances. And this artificial attraction, as we saw in discussing Causality, though indispensable for our practical purposes, is logically indefensible. Again, within the aspects selected for attention, all that experiment can establish is that the deviation from uniform law, if there is any deviation, is not sufficiently great to affect our measurements and calculations. But how far our standards of measurement are from rigid precision may be readily learned from the chapter on physical standards in any good work on the logic of the inductive sciences.5 Our failure to detect deviation from law is absolutely worthless as evidence that no deviation has taken place.

Thus, if the absolute uniformity of natural processes is more than a practical postulate, it must be an axiom, that is, it must be implied in the very notion of those processes as elements in a systematic whole. But it should at once be clear that we have no more ground for asserting such uniformity as an axiom, than we had for treating the causal postulate as axiomatic. It is by no means implied in the concept of a systematic whole that its parts shall be connected by uniform law. For the unity of the system may be teleological, that is, the parts may be connected by the fact |224| that they work together to realise the same end, to execute the same function. In that case the behaviour of any one part will depend on the demands laid upon it by the plan which the working of the system fulfils. As these demands vary from time to time, the behaviour of the part under consideration will then vary correspondingly, though to all appearance its surroundings may, for a spectator who fails to grasp the end or purpose realised by the system, be identical.6 This is actually the case with those systematic wholes in which human insight can directly detect unity of purpose or aim. A man with definite purposes before him does not react in a uniformly identical way upon situations which, apart from their relation to his purpose, would be pronounced identical. He learns, for instance, from previous failure in the same circumstances, and so acquires the power to react on them in a way better adapted to the obtaining of his end. Or his progressive execution of his purpose, where there has been no failure, may require different conduct on the two occasions. To speak with strict logical accuracy, the situations, relatively to his special purpose, are never identical, though it may be no difference could be detected in them apart from that relation to this peculiar purpose. Relatively to the system of intelligent purposes which realises itself through the circumstances, every situation is, properly speaking, unique.

Now, if we consider the methods by which the uniformities called “laws” of nature are actually formulated, we may see ground to conclude that they may one and all be uniformities of the approximate non-exact type. In many cases, if not all, these uniformities have manifestly been obtained by statistical methods. Thus, for example, when it is said that all the atoms of a given chemical element are absolutely alike, e.g., that every atom of oxygen has the atomic weight 16, there is absolutely no valid ground for regarding this uniformity as actually realised without deviation in individual cases. If the atom should prove, as it may, to be no more than a convenient device of our own, useful for computing the behaviour of sensible masses but with no real existence of its own, it is of course evident that there can be no question of the real conformity of individual cases to the law. But even if there really are indivisible bodies answering to our conception of atoms, still we have to |225| remember that we have no means of dealing with the individual atom directly. We infer its properties indirectly from the behaviour of the sensible masses with which we can deal more directly. Hence, at most, the statement that the atom of oxygen has a certain weight means no more than that we can for our practical purposes disregard any possible individual divergences from this value. The oxygen atoms, if they really exist, might actually fluctuate in individual atomic weight about an average; yet, so long as we cannot deal with them individually but only in bulk, these fluctuations, if only sufficiently small, would produce no appreciable effect on our results, and would therefore properly be treated in our science as non-existent. Conceivably, then, such chemical uniformities may afford no safer ground for precise statements about the weight of the individual atom, than anthropological statistics do for precise statement about the actual height, weight, or expectation of life of an individual man. And we can readily see that a non-human observer with senses incapable of perceiving the individual differences between one man and another, might be led from the apparent uniformity of behaviour exhibited by large collections of human beings to the same sort of conclusions which we are tempted to make about atoms.7

Similarly with other cases of apparently rigid uniformity. As any one who has worked in a laboratory knows,8 such results are in actual practice obtained by taking the mean of a long series of particular results and treating the minor divergences from this mean as non-existent because they are negligible for all practical purposes. In other words, the apparently rigid conformity of natural processes to uniform law is an inevitable consequence of the fact that we are debarred by various limitations of a subjective kind from following the course of any process in its individual detail, and have therefore to make all our inferences from the observation and comparison of series of processes sufficiently extended for individual differences to neutralise each other. But in all this there is absolutely no warrant for the conclusion that the course of any one individual process is absolutely uniform with that of any other. There is room |226| within the uniformity got by these methods of comparison for an infinite variety of individual detail, of which our scientific constructions take no account, either because our means of observation are insufficient to detect it, or because, when detected, it is of no significance for the original object of our science — practical success in interference with the course of events.

It is easy to point out some of the conditions upon which failure to detect actually existing individual deviations from uniformity may depend. Professor Royce has, in this connection, laid special stress upon one such condition, the limitation of what he calls the time-span of our attention. We are unable, as the student of Psychology knows, to attend to a process as a whole if its duration exceeds or falls short of certain narrow limits. Now, there seems no foundation in the nature of the attentive process for the special temporal limitations to which it is subject in our own experience, and we have no means of denying the possibility that there may be intelligent beings whose attention-span is much wider, or again, much more contracted, than our own. One can even conceive the possibility of a being with a power of varying the span of attention at will. Now, it is clear that if we could so vary our attention-span as to be able to take in as single wholes processes which are at present too rapid or too slow to be perceived by us in their individual detail, such a purely subjective change in the conditions of our own attention might reveal individuality and purpose where at present we see nothing but routine uniformity. In the same way, we can readily understand that a being with a much wider attention-span than our own might fail to see anything but purposeless routine in the course of human history. Supposing that we are placed in the midst of a universe of intelligent purposive action, it is clear that we can only hope to recognise the nature of that action in the case of beings who live, so to say, at the same rate as ourselves. A purposive adaptation to environment with consequent deviation from uniformity in reaction would necessarily escape our notice if it took place with the rapidity of the beat of a gnat’s wing, or again, if it required centuries for its establishment.9

Other similar subjective conditions which would necessarily cut us off from the recognition of purposive fresh adaptations widely different from those which occur in our own life, are the limitations of our power of attending to |227| more than a certain number of presentations simultaneously; and again, the restriction of our sense-perception to a few types, and the impossibility of perceiving contents belonging to those types when they fall below or above the lower and upper “thresholds” of sensibility. These considerations do not, of course, positively prove that the routine uniformity of natural processes is only subjective appearance, but they are sufficient to show that there is no valid reason for taking it to be more, and in conjunction with our previous positive argument for the sentient individuality of all real existence, they suffice to bring our general interpretation of the physical order under Mr. Bradley’s canon that “What must be and can be, that is.


“Uniformity is a postulate arising from our need of practical rules for the control of nature. It need not for this purpose be exact, and in point of fact our scientific formulae are only exact so long as they remain abstract and hypothetical. They do not enable us to determine the actual course of an individual process with certainty.”


§ 4. (3) What, then, are we to make of the principle of the “Uniformity of Nature”? Any principle which does actual work in science must somehow be capable of justification, and if our interpretation of the physical order really conflicts with a fundamental scientific principle, it must contain fallacy somewhere. Fortunately, there is no real conflict. In dealing with the principle of Uniformity, we must distinguish very carefully between the sense in which it is actually required for the purposes of science and the sense which has been put upon it in the set of metaphysical doctrines popularly but illogically deduced from the actual procedure of the sciences. As we have seen already, it is impossible to affirm the principle of Uniformity as an axiom of systematic thought. It is also not capable of verification as an empirical truth. Its logical character must therefore be that of’ a postulate, an assumption defensible on the ground of practical usefulness, but only so far as it actually succeeds.

Now, this is precisely the place which the principle fills in the actual procedure of the sciences. We have absolutely no means of showing that the concrete course of Nature is strictly uniform, as has already been seen. But also, we have no need, for our scientific ends, that it should be uniform. All that we require is that natural processes, when dealt with in the bulk, should exhibit no divergence from uniform routine except such as we may neglect for the purposes of practical calculation and control of the course of events. The actual success of the empirical sciences shows that this demand for approximate uniformity is actually fulfilled with sufficient closeness for all our practical purposes. That it would be so fulfilled we could have had no theoretical means of divining before putting it to the actual test. In this sense the principle, like that of Causality, |228| may be said to be a postulate made a priori and in advance of experience. But, once more like the principle of Causality, it could not be presumed to be trustworthy unless the subsequent results of its employment vindicated it; it cannot, therefore, be a priori in the Kantian sense of being known to be true independent of empirical verification.10

This result is confirmed by consideration of the way in which the principle of uniform law is actually applied to concrete cases. Scientific laws, as we all know, are purely general and abstract. They state not what will happen, but what would happen providing that certain specified conditions and no others were operative in determining the result. In this abstract form they are, of course, statements of exact and absolute uniformities. But in this abstract form they cannot be directly applied to the calculation of the actual course of any process. To take, for instance, an example which has been used by Professor Ward.11 We learn in Mechanics that equilibrium is maintained on the lever when the moments of the weights about the fulcrum are equal and opposite. As an abstract generalisation this is a statement of a rigid uniformity. But in order that it may be universally true, we must suppose the conditions implied in the formulation of the proposition to be fulfilled. The lever itself must be absolutely rigid, and must be weightless; it must be of absolutely uniform structure, the fulcrum must be a mathematical point, in order that friction may be excluded, and so forth. Similarly, the weights must be thought of as mere masses without any further difference of quality, and thus only capable of affecting the lever through the one property of their weight; their attachments, again, must be of ideal tenuity, or fresh complications will be introduced. But when all these conditions have been taken into account, the principle has become so abstract as to amount to the tautology that what only operates by its mass and its distance from the fulcrum will not operate by any other property.

In any actual case, the course of events will be liable to be affected by all the conditions which had to be excluded |229| from the abstract formulation of the principle. No actual lever will be weightless or incapable of being bent or broken; its construction will never be uniform. Actual loads, again, may influence the behaviour of a lever differently according to their bulk, their chemical composition, the nature of their attachments. At an actual fulcrum there will be some degree of friction between the lever-bar and its support, and so on. In actual fact, any or all of these circumstances may affect the behaviour of the lever bar when the loads are suspended from it. Consequently, it is quite impossible to apply the mechanical generalisation with certainty to determine the course of events in a concrete case.

What holds good in this instance holds good in all similar cases of the “laws” of nature. In so far as these laws are really exact they are all hypothetical, and deal only with the problem. What would be the course of a physical sequence, assuming its complete ground to be contained in the conditions enumerated in the enunciation of the law? That is, they all, in so far as they are absolute, are different forms of the tautological proposition, that where there is nothing to make any difference between two cases, there will be no difference. But the moment we apply our laws to the calculation of the actual course of an individual process, we have to recognise that the condition for their rigid exactness is absent; in the individual process there are always aspects not comprised in the conditions for which the law was enunciated, and nothing but actual experience can inform us whether the presence of these aspects will perceptibly affect the result in which we are interested. As applied to the study of an individual process, the principle of Uniformity is thus a postulate, like the principle of Causality, which can only be justified by its actual success.

Again, like the principle of Causality, the principle of Uniformity may be successful to different degrees, according to the special nature of the processes for which it is assumed. As the causal postulate rested on the assumption that a selection from the antecedents of an event may for practical purposes be treated as equivalent to its complete ground, so the more general postulate of Uniformity rests on the assumption that individual purpose may be left out of account in assigning the ground of a process. It does not follow that these postulates will receive the same amount of empirical justification for all departments of the physical order. There may well be certain processes in which the individual purposive character is so prominent that, even for our practical purposes, |230| we cannot safely calculate their course without taking their end or purpose into consideration. In that case the principle of Uniformity and that of Causality would, for this part of the physical order, lose their practical value. It is a popular belief that such a failure of these practical postulates actually takes place where we come to deal with the conscious volitions of human agents. The problem is one which must be kept for fuller consideration in our next Book, but we can at present make two general statements.

(1) Such a failure of the postulates of Causality and Uniformity in application to a particular sphere would not involve a breach of the fundamental logical principle of Ground and Consequence, since, as we have seen sufficiently already, both postulates impose special restrictions on that principle for which the nature of the principle itself affords no warrant. It would thus not be an unthinkable or logically untenable position to hold that no general laws of human action can be formulated.

(2) While this extreme denial of the possibility of laws of human action is logically possible, the actual success of those sciences which deal with human behaviour in the statistical way forbids us to accept it. The success of these sciences shows that human behaviour, considered in the gross, does exhibit certain approximate uniformities. But there seems to be no means of proving that all aspects of human behaviour would show such uniformity if considered in gross in the same fashion. It is at least conceivable that some social activities would fail to exhibit approximation to an average value, no matter how extended the area and period taken as the basis of investigation. We might conceivably have to admit that there are departments of social life for which no “laws” can be formulated. If we disregard this possibility in practice, the reason is a methodological one. It is our interest to discover such uniformities, and therefore, as failure may only mean a temporary check to the success of our investigations, we properly make it a rule of method to assume that it is no more than this. We treat all sequences as capable, by proper methods, of reduction to uniformity, for the same reason that we treat all offenders as possibly reclaimable. We desire that they should be so, and we cannot prove they are not so, and we therefore behave as if we knew they were so.

A word may be said as to the nature of the practical need upon which the postulate of Uniformity is based. As we have previously seen, the allied postulate of Causality arose from the practical need of devising means for the control of |231| natural processes. But the causal postulate alone is not enough to satisfy this need. For even if we can assume that every event is determined, sufficiently for practical purposes, by its antecedents, and thus that the knowledge of those antecedents, when obtained, is a knowledge of the means to its production, our practical command over the production of the event is not yet assured. For we can have no general confidence in our power to produce the event by employing the ascertained means, so long as it is possible that the result may on each occasion be affected by variations too minute for our detection, or for other reasons not accessible to our perception. We need to be assured that what seems the same to us is, for practical purposes, the same, and so that the employment of the same means may be trusted to lead to the same result. This is the condition which is expressed in an abstract form by the principle of Uniformity, which states that the course of natural processes conforms to general laws; in their actual application to the concrete processes of actual nature these laws are properly practical rules for the production of effects, and their inviolability means no more than that we may successfully treat as the same, in their bearing on the results in which we are interested, things which appear the same in relation to certain standards of comparison. As wee have seen, the validity of this assumption could never have been known a priori; it can only be said to be actually valid where actual use has justified it. At the same time, it is clearly a principle of method to assume the universal applicability of our practical postulates wherever it is to our interest that they should be applicable, as explained in the last paragraph. This is why we rightly assume the applicability of the postulates in spheres where the successful establishment of general uniformities has not hitherto been effected, so long as no positive reason can be shown why they should not apply. We shall find this last reflection suggestive when we come to deal with the ethical difficulties which have been felt about the application of the postulates of Uniformity and Causality to voluntary action.

It is of course clear that our reduction of Uniformity to a mere practical postulate does not introduce any element of pure “chance” into the actual order of existing things. “Chance” is a term with more than one meaning, and its ambiguity may easily lead to misapprehensions. Chance may mean (a) any sequence for which our actual knowledge cannot assign the ground. In this sense chance, as another name for our own mere ignorance, must of course be recognised |232| by any theory which does not lose sight of the fact of human ignorance and fallibility.

Or again, chance may mean (b) a sequence of which the ground is partially understood. We may know enough of the ground of the sequence to be able to limit the possibilities to a definite number of alternatives, without knowing enough to say which alternative completely satisfies the conditions in a special case. It is in this sense that we speak of the “chances” of any one of the alternative events as capable of computation, and make the rules for their computation the object of special mathematical elaboration in the so-called “Theory of Probability.”

(c) Finally, chance may mean “pure” chance, the existence of something for which there is no “ground” whatever, as it stands in no organic interconnection with a wider system of real existence. Chance in this last sense is, of course, absolutely excluded by our conception of the systematic unity of the real as expressed in the principle of Ground and Consequence, as an ultimate axiom of all consistent thought. Our denial of the absolute validity of the principles of Causality and Uniformity would only amount to the admission of “pure” chance into things if we accepted those principles as necessary consequences of the axiom of Ground and Consequence. If they are mere practical postulates, which present the axiom of Ground under artificial restrictions for which there is no logical justification in the axiom itself, the admission that they are not ultimately true in no way conflicts with full recognition of the thorough systematic unity of existence; it merely means that the view of the nature of that unity assumed by our practical postulates, though eminently useful, is inadequate.

We may here conveniently recapitulate our results. On metaphysical grounds, we felt compelled to regard the physical order as the manifestation to our special sensibility of a system of interconnected beings with sentient and purposive experiences like ourselves. The apparent purposelessness and deadness of the greater part of that order we explained as intelligible on the supposition that the subjective purposes and interests of many of its members are too unlike our own for our recognition. We then saw that if nature consists of such sentient experiences, the apparent domination of it by absolute law and uniformity cannot be the final truth. Such uniformity as there is must be approximate, and must result from our having to deal in bulk with collections of facts which we cannot follow in their individual detail, |233| and will thus be of the same type as the statistical uniformities established by the anthropological sciences in various departments of human conduct. Next, we saw that the uniformities we call the “laws” of nature are, in fact, of this type; that they represent average results computed from a comparison of large collections of instances with which we cannot, or cannot so long as we adhere to our scientific purpose, deal individually, are only absolute while they remain hypothetical, and never afford ground for absolute assertion as to the course of concrete events.

We further saw that the only uniformity science requires of the actual course of nature is uniformity sufficiently close to enable us, for our special purposes, to neglect the individual deviations, and that the principle of Uniformity itself is not a logical axiom but a practical postulate, expressing the condition necessary for the successful formulation of rules for practical intervention in the course of events. Finally, while we saw that we have no a priori logical warrant for the assumption that such rules can be formulated for all departments of the physical order, we are bound on methodological grounds to assume that they can, unless we have special positive reasons for believing the contrary. Thus the universality of a postulate of uniformity does not mean that it is universally true, but that it has universally to be made wherever we have an interest in attempting the formulation of general rules.


“The concept of the physical order as mechanical is the abstract expression of the postulate, and is therefore essential to the empirical sciences which deal with the physical order.”


§ 5. (4) The Conception of the Physical Order as a Mechanism. The conception of nature as rigidly conformable to general laws, finds its completest expression in the view of the whole physical order as a complicated mechanism.

It is not easy to say just how much is always implied when we hear of a “purely mechanical” theory of the world or of physical processes. Sometimes all that is meant is that the theory in question treats the principle of rigid uniformity according to general laws as an ultimate axiom. Sometimes, again, a “mechanical view” of the world is taken to mean, in a narrower sense, one which regards all the chemical, electrical, and other processes of the physical order as merely complicated cases of change of configuration in a system of mass particles. In this narrower sense the “mechanical” theory of the physical world is another name for the somewhat crude form of realist Metaphysics according to which nothing exists but moving masses, everything in the form of secondary qualities being a subjective illusion. Both the wider and the narrower form of the mechanical |234| view agree in treating the processes of physical nature as unintelligent and unconscious, and regarding them as completely determined by antecedent conditions, without reference to any end or purpose which they effect. The theory owes the epithet “mechanical” to the analogy which is then supposed to subsist between the physical order and the various machines of human construction, in which the various constituent parts similarly execute movements determined by relation to the remaining parts, and not by any consciousness of an end to be attained.12

It is of course manifest that, so understood, the mechanical view of physical processes is forced upon us by our practical needs wherever it is requisite to formulate rules for successful intervention in the course of nature. If we are to intervene with success in the course of events, that course must, as we have already seen, be capable of being regarded as approximately uniform, otherwise we can have no security that our intervention according to rule and precedent will have a uniform and unambiguous result. Hence, if we are to formulate general rules for practical intervention, we must be able to treat the course of things as — to all intents and purposes — mechanical. And, on the contrary, if there are processes which cannot be even approximately regarded as mechanical, our power of framing general rules for the practical manipulation of events cannot extend to those processes. The limits of the mechanical view of events are likewise the limits of empirical science and of the general precepts of the practical arts.

We see this admirably exemplified in the study of human natures. The behaviour of large aggregates of human beings, as we have already learned, exhibits approximate uniformity, at least in many respects, and may thus be treated as to all intents and purposes mechanical in those respects. Hence it is possible to have a number of empirical sciences of human nature, such as Ethnology and Sociology, in which those uniformities are collected and codified, and to base on these sciences a number of general prudential maxims for the regulation of our behaviour towards our fellow-men considered in the abstract. But when we come to deal with the actual conduct of concrete human individuals, the mechanical view, as we have seen, fails us. What a concrete individual |235| will do can only be inferred with certainty from the knowledge of his interests and purposes; there can thus be no general science of individual character, and consequently no general rules of prudence for behaviour towards an individual fellow-man. It is not to the so-called sciences of human nature, but to personal experience of the individual himself, we have to go for the knowledge how to regulate our conduct towards the actual individuals with whom life brings us into direct and intimate personal relation. Philosophical reflection upon the nature and limits of scientific knowledge fully confirms the verdict passed by the practical sense of mankind on the doctrinaire pedantry which seeks to deduce rules for dealing with actual individuals from anything but concrete understanding of individual character and purpose.

The mechanical view of physical processes is thus an indispensable postulate of the various empirical sciences which seek to describe those processes by the aid of general formulae. Hence the protests which are sometimes urged against the use of mechanical interpretations in descriptive science are really in spirit no more than the expression of a personal distaste for the whole business of scientific generalisation and description. If there are to be sciences of physical processes at all, these sciences must be mechanical, in the wider acceptation of the term. It does not, however, follow because the mechanical view of physical processes is a necessity for our empirical sciences, that this view is consequently ultimately true. As we have learned already, when we pass from the statement that the processes of the physical order may, for the purpose of description by general formulae, and the invention of practical methods for their production, be treated as to all intents mechanical, to the very different assertion that the physical order really is rigidly mechanical, we have deserted empirical science for dogmatic Metaphysics, and our metaphysical dogma must stand or fall by its own ultimate coherency and intelligibility as a way of thinking about Reality. The usefulness of the mechanical interpretation for other purposes is no evidence whatever of its value for the special purpose of the metaphysician.13


“Consideration of the character of genuine machines suggests that the mechanical only exists as a subordinate aspect of processes which, in their full nature, are intelligent and purposive.”


§ 6. Our previous discussion has already satisfied us that, as Metaphysics, the postulate of Uniformity upon which the |236| mechanical view of the physical order rests, is unintelligible and therefore indefensible. But we may supplement the discussion by one or two reflections which throw into striking relief the inadequacy of that concept of the physical order as a huge self-acting machine which is so often offered us today as the last word of scientific thought. In the mechanical metaphysical theories two points always receive special emphasis. The physical order, according to the thorough-going exponents of the doctrine, is a mechanism which is (a) self-contained and self-acting, and (b) entirely devoid of internal purpose.

Now, in both these respects the supposed world-machine differs absolutely from the real machines upon analogy with which the mechanical theory is in the last resort based. Every real machine is, to begin with, the incarnation of the internal purpose of a sentient being. It is something which has been fashioned for the express object of attaining a certain result, and the more perfect its structure the greater is the impossibility of understanding the principle of construction without comprehension of the result it is devised to effect. Why the various parts have precisely the shape, size, strength, and other qualities they have, you can only tell when you know what is the work the maker of the machine intended it to do. In so far as this is not the case, and the structure of the machine can be explained, apart from its specific purpose, by consideration of the properties of the material, the patterns of construction consecrated by tradition, and so forth, it must be regarded as an imperfect realisation of its type. In a perfect machine the character and behaviour of every part would be absolutely determined by the demands made on that part by the purpose to be fulfilled by the working of the whole; our inability ever to produce such a perfect mechanical structure causes all our actual machines to be imperfect and inadequate representations of the ideal we have before us in their construction.

Thus a true machine, so far from being purposeless, is a typical embodiment of conscious purpose. It is true that the machine, once set going, will continue to work according to the lines embodied in its construction irrespective of the adequacy with which they effect the realisation of the maker’s purpose. A watch, once wound up, will continue to go, though the indication of the lapse of time may, under fresh circumstances, cease to meet the interests of its maker or owner; and again, if the construction of the watch was faulty, it will not properly execute the purpose for which it |237| was made. The machine has in itself no power of fresh purposive adaptability by which to modify the purpose it reflects, or to remedy an initial defect in its execution. But this merely shows that the purpose exhibited in the machine’s construction originated outside the machine itself, and that the originator had not the power to carry out his purpose with complete consistency. It does not in the least detract from the essentially teleological and purposive character of the machine quà machine.

This brings us to our second point. Just as no true machine is purposeless, so no true machine is self-acting. Not only are all machines in the end the product of designing intelligence, but all machines are dependent upon external purposive intelligence for control. They require intelligence to set them going, and they require it equally, in one form or another, to regulate and supervise their working. However complicated a piece of machinery may be, however intricate its provisions for self-regulation, self-adjustment, self-feeding, and so forth, there is always, if you look carefully enough, a man somewhere to work it. The obvious character of this reflection has unfortunately not prevented metaphysicians from drawing strange inferences from their own neglect of it.

Closer reflection upon the true character of machinery would thus suggest a very different interpretation of the analogy between the uniformities of the physical order and the regular working of our machines from that adopted by the “mechanical” view of nature, as elaborated into a metaphysical doctrine. It would lead us to conceive of the apparently mechanical as playing everywhere the same part which it fulfils in our own system of social life. We should think of the mechanical as filling an indispensable but subordinate place in processes which, in their complete character, are essentially teleological and purposive, Teleological action obviously depends for its success upon two fundamental conditions. It requires the establishment of types of reaction which remain uniform so long as their maintenance satisfies the attainment of the end towards which they are directed, and at the same time the power of modifying those types of reaction from time to time so as to meet fresh situations encountered or created in the progressive attainment of that end. In our own individual physical life these two conditions are found as the power to form habits, and the power to initiate spontaneously fresh response to variation in the environment. In so far as our dominant |238| interests can be best followed by the uniform repetition of one type of reaction, attention is diverted from the execution of the reaction which becomes habitual, semi-conscious, and, as we correctly say, “mechanical,” the attention being thus set free for the work of initiating the necessary fresh modifications of habitual action. Our various industrial and other machines are devices for facilitating this same division of labour. The machine, once properly constructed and set in action, executes the habitual reaction, leaving the attention of its supervisor free to introduce the requisite relatively novel variations of response according to new situations in the environment.

There is nothing to prevent our interpreting the mechanical uniformities exhibited by the physical order in terms of this analogy. We should then have to think of the “laws” or “uniformities” in physical nature as corresponding to the habitual modes of reaction of the sentient beings of whose inner life the physical order is phenomenal; these uniformities would thus be essentially teleological in their own nature, and would also stand in intimate interrelation with the spontaneous initiation of fresh responses to variations in the environment on the part of the same sentient beings. Habit and spontaneity would mutually imply each other in nature at large as they do in our own psychical life, and the “mechanical” would in both cases be simply the lower level to which teleological action approximates in proportion as attention ceases to be necessary to its execution.

This conception would harmonise admirably with the result of our previous inquiry into the kind of evidence by which the existence of uniform “laws of nature” is established. For it would be an inevitable consequence of those subjective limitations which compel us to deal in bulk with processes we are unable to follow in their individual detail, that our observation of the physical order should reveal the broad general types of habitual response to typical external conditions, while failing to detect the subtler modifications in those responses answering to special variations in those conditions. Just so the uniformities ascertained by the statistical study of human nature are simply the exhibition on a large scale of the leading habitual reactions of human beings upon typical external situations, as disentangled from the non-habitual spontaneous responses to fresh elements in the external situation with which they are inseparably united in any concrete life of individual intelligent purpose. |239|

There seems no objection to this conception of “laws of nature” as being the formulae descriptive of the habitual behaviour of a complex system of sentient beings, beyond that based on the allegation that these “laws” are absolute, exact, and without exception. We have seen already that physical science has no means of proving this allegation, and no need whatever to make it, the whole doctrine of “rigid,” “unvarying” conformity to law being a mere practical postulate falsely taken by a certain school of thinkers for an axiom. We have also seen that the notion of rigid unvarying law is fundamentally irreconcilable with the only intelligible interpretation we were able to give to the conception of the real existence of the physical order. Thus we have no reason to accept it as true, and the fullest ground for dismissing it as false. But for the unintelligent superstition with which the “laws of nature” are worshipped in certain quarters, it would indeed have been unnecessary to deal at such length and with such reiteration with so simple a matter.

One suggestion, already made in slightly different words, may be once more emphasised in conclusion. Even among human beings the relative prominence of fresh spontaneous adaptations and habitual reactions in the life of the individual fluctuates greatly with the different individuals. The “intelligence” of different men, as gauged by their power of fresh adaptive modification of established habits of reaction, ranges over a great variety of different values. If we could acquire the same kind of insight into the individual purposes of non-human agents that we have into those of our immediate fellows, we should presumably find an even wider range of differences in this respect. In principle we have no means of setting any definite limits to the range in either direction. We can conceive a degree of attentive control of reaction so complete that every reaction represents a fresh stage in the realisation of an underlying idea, so that intelligence is everything and habit nothing; and again, we can conceive a state of things in which mere habit is everything and intelligent spontaneity nothing. Somewhere between these ideal limits all cases of finite purposive intelligence must be comprised, and it would be easy to show that neither limit can be actually reached by finite intelligence, though there may be indefinite approximation to either.14 |240|


Consult further:
H. Lotze, Metaphysic, bk. i. Introduction X. (Eng. trans., vol. i. p. 18), bk. ii. chaps. 7, 8 (Eng. trans., vol. ii. pp. 66-162.
E. Mach, The Science of Mechanics, pp. 481-504 (Eng. trans.).
K. Pearson, Grammar of Science, chaps. 3 (The Scientific Law), 8 (The Laws of Motion).
J. Royce, “Nature, Consciousness, and Self-consciousness” (in Studies of Good and Evil);
J. Stallo, Concepts and Theories of Modern Physics, chaps, i, 10-12 (metaphysical standpoint, “Phenomenalist”).
J. Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, part I, lects. 2-5.


1^ Speaking strictly, all necessity would appear to arise from the presence of conflicting purposes or interests in the same experience. E.g., the logical necessity of affirming the conclusion when the premisses are affirmed, implies (i) the presence of the general purpose to think logically; (2) the presence of some purpose or interest which, if gratified, would demand the affirmation of a result inconsistent with the previously affirmed premisses; (3) the repression of this affirmation by the dominant purpose (1). I believe that careful analysis will reveal these same elements in every genuine case of necessitation. I.e. the mere defeat of my purpose is not true necessitation unless it is defeated by a second interest or purpose which I also identify with myself. Thus all necessity would ultimately be self-imposed. This is not without its bearing on Ethics, as we shall see.

2^ Compare with what follows, F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies, Essay l, and infra, Bk. IV. chap. 4.

3^ Our ordinary calculations as to the behaviour of our fellow-men, beyond the circle of our own intimates, seem to involve a mixture of the two types. We base our conclusions partly on conjectures drawn from the observed past acts of our fellows as to their special interests and purposes, partly on generalisations as to the purposes and interests which are most widely operative in human life. Practical men never allow themselves to forget that the conclusions thus obtained are problematical in the highest degree. The whole course of our investigation will go to show that the notion of a deductive science of human nature, by which the concrete conduct of an individual man might be inferred with certainty from physiological and psychological generalities, is a ridiculous chimera. See infra, Bk. IV. Chap. 4.

4^ It will be recollected that the approximate constancy of such social statistics has been, foolishly enough, brought forward as an alleged disproof of moral freedom. The more vulgar forms of the necessitarian argument have even been pushed to the inference that, if the number of suicides up to December 31 has been one less than the average in some given year, some one must kill himself before the day is out to make up the percentage. What must happen if the number has been one more than the average we are never told.

5^ Compare Mach, Science of Mechanics, p. 280 ff. (Eng. trans.); Jevons, Principles of Science, chaps. 13, 14.

6^ Compare Lotze, Metaphysic, bk. i. Introduction X, chap. 3, § 33 (Eng. trans., vol. i. pp. 18, 90-93); bk. i. chap. 7, § 208 ff. (Eng. trans., vol. ii. pp. 88-91).

7^ See the full exposition of this view in Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. i. lecture 4, on which the present paragraph is founded.

8^ My remark is founded more particularly upon the methods by which quantitative uniformities are obtained in the investigations of Psychophysics. I have no direct acquaintance with first-hand experimentation in other spheres, but the method by which it is made to yield general uniformities seems to be of the same kind.

9^ Cf. Mr. H. G. Wells’s tale, The New Accumulator.

10^ Compare once more the passage already quoted from Lotze, Metaphysic, I. 3. 33.

11^ See Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. i. lecture 2, and compare the elaborate proof given by Mach, Science of Mechanics, pp. 9-23, that all the so-called demonstrations of the general theory of the lever are mere reductions of the more complicated to the simplest cases of a relation which ultimately depends for its recognition on nothing more cogent than the evidence of the senses.

12^ For some comments upon the “mechanical view" in the narrower and more special sense, see Chapter VI. of the present Book. It may be convenient, for the sake of precision, to call this more special form of the mechanical view the “mechanistic” theory of nature.

13^ Psychology ought probably to be excluded from the sciences for which the mechanical view is fundamental. But Psychology does not deal with any part of the physical order. See the present writer’s review of Münsterberg’s “Grundzüge der Psychologie” in Mind for April 1902; and cf. infra, Bk. IV. chaps. I, 2.

14^ Compare with the argument of this chapter, Royce, “Nature, Consciousness, and Self-consciousness,” in Studies of Good and Evil; and “Mind and Nature,” by the present writer in International Journal of Ethics, October 1902. The inveterate prejudice that “laws of nature,” to be of scientific use, must be rigidly exact uniformities is so strong, that it may be worth while, even after the preceding discussion of general principles, to assist the reader by reminding him of the elementary fact that the most familiar quantities involved in our scientific formulae (π |pi|, e, the vast majority of second and third roots, of logarithms of the natural numbers, of circular functions of angles, etc.) are incapable of exact evaluation. This of itself renders a scientific law, in the form in which it can be applied to the determination of actual occurrences, merely approximate, and thus shows that exact uniformity is unnecessary for the practical objects of the empirical sciences.

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Chapter IV. Space and Time

§ 1. The problems which arise for the metaphysician from the fact that the physical order, as it is presented to our senses, consists of elements having position in space and time, are among the oldest and most perplexing of all the riddles suggested by the course of our experience. Adequate discussion of them would demand not only far more space than we are at liberty to bestow on the topic, but such a familiarity with the mathematical theory of order and series as is scarcely possible to any one but an original mathematician. All that we can do in the present chapter is to deal very superficially with one or two of the leading problems, more with a view to indicating the nature of the questions which Metaphysics has to face, than of providing definite answers to them.


“Are time and space ultimately real or only phenomenal?”


|242| The fundamental problem for Metaphysics is, of course, whether space and time are ultimate Realities or only appearances; that is, would the whole system of Reality, as directly apprehended by an absolute all-containing experience, wear the forms of extension and succession in time, or is it merely a consequence of the limitations of our own finite experience that things come to us in this guise? It may indeed be urged that the contents of the universe must form an order of some sort for the absolute experience, in virtue of their systematic unity, but even so it is not clear that order as such is necessarily spatial or temporal. Indeed, most of the forms of order with which we are acquainted, both in everyday life and in our mathematical studies, appear to be, properly speaking, both non-spatial and non-temporal. Thus, e.g., it is seemingly by a mere metaphor that we speak of the “successive” integers of the natural number-series, the “successive” powers of an algebraical symbol, the “successive” approximations to the value of a continued fraction, in language borrowed from the temporal flow of events, the true relation involved being in the first two cases the nontemporal one of logical derivation, and in the third the equally nontemporal one of resemblance to an ideal standard. The full solution of the metaphysical problem of space and time would thus involve (1) the discrimination of spatial and temporal order from other allied forms of order, and (2) a decision as to the claim of this special form of order to be ultimately coherent and intelligible.

The problem thus presented for solution is often, and usually with special reference to the Kantian treatment of space and time in the Transcendental Æsthetic, put in the form of the question whether space and time are subjective or objective. This is, however, at best a misleading and unfortunate mode of expression which we shall do well to avoid. The whole distinction between a subjective and an objective factor in experience loses most of its significance with the abolition, now effected by Psychology, of the vicious Kantian distinction between the “given” in perception and the “work of the mind.” When once we have recognised that the “given” itself is constituted by the movement of selective attention, it becomes impossible any longer to distinguish it as an objective factor in knowledge from the subjective structure subsequently raised upon it Kant’s adherence to this false psychological antithesis so completely distorts his whole treatment of the “forms of intuition,” that it will be absolutely necessary in a brief discussion |243| like our own to deal with the subject in entire independence of the doctrines of the Æsthetic, which unfortunately continue to exercise a disproportionate influence on the current metaphysical presentment of the problem.1 It should scarcely be necessary to point out that the metaphysical questions have still less to do with the psychological problems, so prominent in recent science, of the precise way in which we come by our perception of extension and succession. For Metaphysics the sole question is one not of the origin but of the logical value of these ideas.

It is of fundamental importance for the whole metaphysical treatment of the subject, to begin by distinguishing clearly between space and time as forms of perception, and space and time as conceptual forms in which we construct our scientific notion of the physical order. One chief source of the confusions which beset the Kantian view is the neglect of Kant and most of his followers to make this distinction with sufficient clearness. We cannot insist too strongly upon the point that the space and the time of which we think in our science as containing the entire physical order, are not space and time as directly known to us in sense-perception, but are concepts elaborated out of the space and time of direct perception by a complicated process of synthesis and analysis, and involving abstraction from some of the most essential features of the space and time of actual experience. The following brief discussion may serve to illustrate the general nature of the relation between the two forms of space and time, and to exhibit the leading differences between them.


“The space and time of perception are limited, sensibly continuous, and consist of a quantitative element together with a qualitative character dependent on relation to the here and now of immediate individual feeling.”


§ 2. Perceptual Space and Time. Both space and time, as we are aware of them in immediate perception, are (1) limited. The space we actually behold as we look out before us with a resting eye is always terminated by a horizon which has a more or less well-defined outline; the “specious present,” or portion of duration of which we can be at any time aware at once as an immediately presented content, has been shown by elaborate psychological experimentation to have a fairly well-defined span. Whatever lies outside this “span of |244| attention” belongs either to the no longer presented past or to the not yet presented future, and stands to the sensible present much as the space behind my back to the actually beheld space before my eyes. Of course, in either case the limits of the actually presented space or time are not absolutely defined. To right and left of the line of vision the visible horizon gradually fades off into the indistinctly presented “margin of consciousness”; the “sensible present” shades away gradually at either end into the past and the future. Yet, though thus not absolutely defined, sensible space and time are never boundless.

(2) Perceptual space and time are both internally sensibly continuous or unbroken. Concentrate your attention on any lesser part of the actually seen expanse, and you at once find that it is itself an expanse with all the characteristics of the wider expanse in which it forms a part. Space as actually seen is not an aggregate of minima visibilia or perceptual points in which no lesser parts can be discriminated; so long as space is visually or tactually perceived at all, it is perceived as containing lesser parts which, on attending to them, are found to repeat the characteristics of the larger space. So any part of the “specious present” to which special attention can be directed, turns out itself to be a sensible duration. Perceived space is made of lesser spaces, perceived time of lesser times; the “parts” not being, of course, actually distinguished from each other in the original percept, but being capable of being so distinguished in consequence of varying movements of attention.

(3) On investigating the character of our actual perception of space and time, it appears to contain two aspects, which we may call the quantitative and the qualitative. On the one hand, whenever we perceive space we perceive a certain magnitude of extension, whenever we perceive time we perceive a longer or shorter lapse of duration. Different spaces and different times can be quantitatively compared in respect of the bigness of the extension or the duration comprised in them. On the other hand, the percept of space or time is not one of mere extension or duration. It has a very different qualitative aspect. We perceive along with the magnitude of the extension the form of its outline. This perception of spatial form depends in the last resort upon perception of the direction assumed by the bounding line or lines. Similarly, in dealing with only one dimension of perceived space, we never perceive length (a spatial magnitude) apart from the perception of direction (a spatial |245| quality).

The same is true of the perception of time. The lapses of duration we immediately perceive have all their special direction-quality; the “specious present” is essentially a simultaneously presented succession, i.e., a transition from before to after. It must be added that, in perceptual space and time, the directions thus perceived have a unique relation to the perceiving subject, and are thus all qualitatively distinct and irreversible. Direction in space is estimated as right, left, up, down, etc., by reference to axes through the centre of the percipient’s body at right angles to each other, and is thus for any given moment of experience uniquely and unambiguously determined. Direction in time is similarly estimated with reference to the actual content of the “focus of consciousness.” What is actually focal is “now,” what is ceasing to be focal is “past,” what is just coming to be focal is “future” in its direction.2

This is perhaps the most fundamental and important peculiarity of the space and time of actual perception. All directions in them are unambiguously determined by reference to the here and now of the immediate experience of an individual subject. As a consequence, every individual subject has his own special perceptual space and time; Geometry and Mechanics depend, to be sure, on the possibility of the establishment of correspondences between these spatial and temporal systems, but it is essential to remember that, properly speaking, the space and time system of each individual’s perception is composed of directions radiating out from his unique here and now, and is therefore individual to himself.3


“Conceptual space and time are created from the perceptual data by a combined process of synthesis, analysis, and abstraction.”


§ 3. The Construction of the Conceptual Space and Time Order of Science. For the purposes of practical life, no less than for the subsequent object of scientific description of the physical order, it is indispensably necessary to establish equations or correspondences between the individual space and time systems of different percipients. Apart from such |246| correspondences, it would be impossible for one subject to translate the spatial and temporal system of any other into terms of his own experience, and thus all practical intercourse for the purpose of communicating directions for action would come to an end. For the communication of such practical directions it is imperative that we should be able mentally to reconstruct the spatial and temporal aspects of our experience in a form independent of reference to the special here and now of this or that individual moment of experience. Thus, like the rest of our scientific constructions, the establishment of a single conceptual space and time system for the whole of the physical order is ultimately a postulate required by our practical needs, and we must therefore be prepared to face the possibility that, like other postulates of the same kind, it involves assumptions which are not logically defensible. The construction is valuable, so far as it does its work of rendering intercommunication between individuals possible; that it should correspond to the ultimate structure of Reality any further than the requirements of practical life demand is superfluous.


The main processes involved in the construction of the conceptual space and time of descriptive science are three, — synthesis, analysis, abstraction, (a) Synthesis. Psychologically speaking, it is ultimately by the active movements of individual percipients that the synthesis of the individual’s various perceptual spaces into one is effected. As attention is successively directed, even while the body as a whole remains stationary, to different parts of the whole expanse before the eye, the visual space which was originally “focal” in presentation becomes “marginal,” and the “marginal” focal by a sensibly gradual transition. When to the movements of head and eyes which accompany such changes in attention there are added movements “of locomotion of the whole body, this process is carried further, and we have the gradual disappearance of originally presented spaces from presentation, accompanied by the gradual emergence of spaces previously not presented at all. This leads to the mental construction of a wider space containing all the individual’s different presentation-spaces, the order in which it contains them being determined by the felt direction of the movements required for the transition from one to another.

As we learn, through intercommunication with our fellows, of the existence for their perception of perceptual extension never directly presented to our own senses, the process of synthesis is extended further, so as to comprise in a single |247| spatial system all the presentation-spaces of all the individual percipients in an order once again determined by the direction of the movements of transition from each to the others. Finally, as there is nothing in the principle of such a synthesis to impose limits upon its repetition, we think of the process as capable of indefinite continuance, and thus arrive at the concept of a space stretching out in all directions without definite bounds. This unending repetition of the synthesis of perceived spaces seems to be the foundation of what appears in theory as the Infinity of Space.

Precisely similar is the synthesis by which we mentally construct a single time system for the events of the physical order. Now means for me the content which occupies the centre of attentive interest. As attention is concentrated on the different stages in the realisation of an interest, this centre shifts; what was central becomes first marginal and then evanescent, what was marginal becomes central. Hence arises the conception of the events of my own inner life as forming a succession of moments, with a determinate order, each of which has been a now, or point of departure for directions in perceptual time, in its turn. As with space so with time, the intrasubjective intercourse of man with man makes it possible for me mentally to extend this conceptual synthesis of moments of time so as to include nows belonging to the experience of others which were already past before the first now of their experiences which I can synchronise with a now of my own, and again nows of their experiences relatively to which the last now which synchronises with one of my own is past. The indefinite repetition of such a synthesis leads, as before with space, to the thought of a duration reaching out endlessly into past and future, and thus gives us the familiar concept of the Infinity of Time.4


(b) Analysis. Equally important is the part played by mental analysis in the formation of the conceptual space and time system. As we have already seen, successive attention to lesser parts of a presented extension, or a presented lapse, reveals within each lesser part the same structure which belongs to the whole, and thus establishes the sensible continuity of space and time. In actual fact, the process of attending successively to smaller and yet smaller portions of space and time cannot, of course, be carried on indefinitely, but we can conceptually frame to ourselves the thought of the indefinite repetition of the process beyond the limits arbitrarily imposed |248| on it by the span of our own attention. Thus, by an act of mental analysis, we arrive at the concept of space and time as indefinitely divisible, or possessed of no ultimately unanalysable last parts, which is an indispensable prerequisite of Geometry and Dynamics.

This indefinite divisibility of conceptual space and time is not of itself enough, as is often supposed, to establish their continuity in the strict mathematical sense of the word; their continuity depends upon the further assumption that whatever divides a series of positions in space or events in time unambiguously into two mutually exclusive classes, is itself a position in the space or event in the time series. This assumption does not seem to be absolutely requisite for all scientific treatment of the problems of space and time,5 but is demanded for the systematic establishment of the correspondence between the spatial and temporal series and the continuous series of the real numbers. Moreover, it seems impossible to assign any positive content to the notion of a something which should bisect the spatial or temporal order without occupying a position in that order. Hence we seem inevitably led by the same analytical process which conducts us to the conception of the spatial and temporal orders as infinite series to think of them also as continuous series in the strict sense of the term. The alternative conception of them as discontinuous, if not absolutely excluded, does not seem to be called for by any positive motive, and is incompatible with the complete execution of the purposes which demand application of the number-series to a spatial or temporal content.


(c) Abstraction. The part played by abstraction in the formation of the conceptual space and time order out of the data of perception is often overlooked by theorists, but is of fundamental importance, as we shall see immediately. We have already learned that the most significant fact about the time and space order of individual experience is that its directions are unique, because they radiate out from the unique here and now of immediate feeling. In the construction of the conceptual space and time order we make entire abstraction from this dependence on the immediate feeling of a subject. Conceptual space contains an infinity of positions, but none of them is a here; conceptual time an infinity of moments, but none of them is a now. As the time and space of the conceptual order are taken in abstraction from the differences |249| between individual points of view, no one point in either can be regarded as having more claim than any other to be the natural “origin of co-ordinates” with reference to which directions are estimated. We shall have repeated opportunity in the remainder of this chapter to observe how important are the consequences of this abstraction.

Abstraction also enters in another way into the construction by which conceptual space and time are created. Actual perceived space and time are indeed never empty, but always filled with a content of “secondary” qualities. In other words, they are always one aspect of a larger whole of fact. Extension is never perceived apart from some further visual or tactual quality of the extended, temporal lapse never perceived without some change in presented content, however slight. But in constructing the conceptual space and time system, we abstract altogether from this qualitative aspect; we think solely of the variety of positions and directions in time and space without taking any account of the further qualitative differences with which they are accompanied in concrete experience. Thus we come by the notion of an empty space and an empty time as mere systems of positions into which various contents may subsequently be put.

Strictly speaking, the notion of an empty space or an empty time is unmeaning, as the simple experiment of thinking of their existence is sufficient to show. We cannot in thought successfully separate the spatial and temporal aspects of experience from the rest of the whole to which they belong and take them as subsisting by themselves, any more than we can take timbre as subsisting apart from musical pitch or colour-tone from saturation. We can, however, confine our attention to the spatial-temporal system of positions without taking into account the special secondary properties of the extended and successive. It is from this logical abstraction that the illusion arises when we imagine an empty set of spatial and temporal positions as having first to exist in order that they may be subsequently “filled” with a variety of contents.6 |250|


§ 4. Characteristics of the Conceptual Time and Space Order. The following characteristics of the conceptual space and time created by the construction we have just examined, call for special notice. Conceptual space and time are necessarily taken, for reasons already explained, to be unlimited, and indefinitely divisible. Though it does not seem inevitable that they should be continuous, we appear to be unable to attach any positive meaning to the notion of their discontinuity, and, in the practical need for the application to them of the complete number-series, we have a valid positive ground for taking them as continuous. But space and time are thus resolved, in the process of their conceptual construction, into continuous infinite series of which the terms are spatial and temporal positions or points. Unlike the parts of perceptual space and time, these conceptual terms are not themselves spaces or times, as they contain no internal multiplicity of structure. Conceptual space and time are thus not wholes or aggregates of parts, but systems of relations between terms which possess no quantitative character.


“They are unlimited, infinitely divisible, and there is valid positive ground for regarding them as mathematically continuous. Thus they form infinite continuous series of positions. They involve abstraction from all reference to the here and now of immediate feeling, and are thus homogeneous, i.e. the positions in them are indistinguishable. They are also commonly taken to be unities.”

Between any two terms of the spatial, or again of the temporal, series there is one unique relation, which is completely determined by the assignment of the terms, their distance. In the temporal series, which has only one dimension, you can only pass from any one given term to any other through a series of intermediate terms which is once and for all determined when the initial and final terms are given, hence nothing is required beyond the terms themselves to fix their distance. The spatial series is multidimensional, i.e., you can pass from any one term in it to any second by an indefinite variety of routes through intermediate terms, but it is still true that there is one and only one such route which is completely determined when the terms in question are known, namely, the straight line passing through both. This straight line constitutes the unique distance of the two points from each other.7 Thus the |251| genuine concept of which those of space and time are species is not that of magnitude or quantity, but of serial order.

Further, and this is a point of fundamental difference between conceptual space and time, and the spaces and times of immediate perception, any one position in either order, taken by itself, is qualitatively indistinguishable from any other. All points of space, all moments of time, are alike, or, as it is also phrased, conceptual space and time are homogeneous throughout. It is not until you take at least two terms of the spatial or temporal series and consider the relation they determine, that distinction becomes possible. This homogeneity of conceptual space and time is an inevitable consequence of the abstraction from the immediate feelings of the individual subject of experience involved, as we saw, in the process of their construction. In our actual perception of spatial and temporal extension, that part of perceived space and time which stands in direct unity with immediate feeling is qualitatively distinguished as the here and now from all the rest, and thus does not depend upon the specification of a second spatial or temporal position for its recognisability. Here is where I am, now is this felt present. And similarly, every other part of the actually presented space and time gets a unique qualitative character from its special relation to this here and now; it is right or left, behind or in front, before or after. When we abstract altogether from the unique relation with individual experience which thus makes the here and now of perception, as we do in constructing our conceptual space and time order, every position alike becomes the mere possibility of a here or a now, and as such mere possibilities the various positions are indistinguishable. Practically, this homogeneity is important as the indispensable condition for the quantitative comparison of different portions of extension or duration.

An apparently inevitable consequence of the homogeneity of conceptual space and time is the relativity of spatial and temporal position. As we have seen, positions in conceptual space and time are not distinguishable until you take them in pairs. In other words, to fix one position in space or one date you have to give its relation to another position or date, and similarly to fix this you must specify a third, and so on indefinitely. To say where A is means to say how you get to it from B, and B again is only known by the way it is reached from C, and so on without end. Logically, this is a simple consequence of the nature of space and time as conceptually analysed into endless series. To specify any |252| term in the series you must give the unique relation it bears to some other term, its logical distance. And, in a series which has neither first nor last term, this second term cannot be defined except by its logical distance from a third. In actual perception this difficulty is avoided, owing to the fact that immediate feeling gives us the here and now from which all our directions are measured. But in conceptual space or time there is nothing to distinguish any one here which we may take as our “origin of coordinates,” or any one now which we take as our present from any other, and hence the endless regress seems inevitable.

It follows, of course, that in conceptual space and time there is no principle by which to distinguish different directions. In perception they can be distinguished as right and left, up and down, and so forth. But since what is right to one percipient is left to another, in conceptual space, where complete abstraction is made from the presence of an individual percipient, there is neither right nor left, up nor down, nor any other qualitative difference between one direction and another, all such differences being relative to the individual percipient. When we wish to introduce into conceptual space distinctions between directions, we always have to begin by arbitrarily assigning some standard direction as our point of departure. Thus we take, e.g., an arbitrarily selected line A_____B as such a standard for a given plane, A B and proceed to distinguish all other directions by the angle they make with A B and the sense in which they are estimated (whether as from B to A or from A to B). But both the line A B and the difference of sense between A B and B A can only be defined by similar reference to some other standard direction, and so on through the endless regress.

Similarly with conceptual time. Here, as there is only one dimension, the difficulty is less obvious, but it is no less real. In conceptual time there is absolutely no means of distinguishing before from after, past from future. For the past means the direction of our memories, the direction qualified by the feeling of “no longer”; the future is the direction of anticipation and purposive adaptation, the direction of “not yet.” And, apart from the reference given by immediate feeling to the purposive life of an individual subject, these directions cannot be discriminated. In short, conceptual time and space are essentially relative, because they are systems of relations which have no meaning apart from qualitative differences in the terms which they relate; |253| while yet again, for the purpose of the conceptual construction which yields them, the terms have to be taken as having no character but that which they possess in right of the relations.8

One other feature of the space and time construction is sufficiently important to call for special mention. Space and time are commonly thought of as unities of some kind. All spatial positions, it is usually assumed, fall within one system of space-relations; all dates have their place in one all-inclusive time. This character of unity completes the current conception of the spatial and temporal order. Each of those orders is a unity, including all possible spatial or temporal positions; each is an endless, infinite, continuous series of positions, which all are purely relative. There are other peculiarities, especially of the current concepts of space, with which it is not necessary to deal here, as they are of an accidental kind, not arising out of the essential nature of the process by which the conception is constructed. Thus it is probably a current assumption that the number of dimensions in space is three and no more, and again that the Euclidean postulate about parallels is verified by its constitution. As far as perceptual space is concerned, those assumptions depend, I presume, upon empirical verification; there seems to be no reason why they should be made for the conceptual space-order, since it is quite certain that a coherent science of spatial relations can be constructed without recourse to them.9 |254|


“Perceptual space and time cannot be ultimately real, because they involve reference to the here and now of a finite experience; conceptual space and time cannot be ultimately real, because they contain no principle of internal distinction, and are thus not individual.”


§ 5. The question now is whether the whole of this spatial and temporal construction is more than imperfect, and therefore contradictory, appearance. I will first state in a general form the arguments for regarding it as appearance, and then proceed to reinforce this conclusion by dealing with some special difficulties. Finally, I propose to ask whether we can form some positive conception of the higher order of Reality of which the spatial and temporal series are phenomenal.

That the space and time order is phenomenal and not ultimate, can, I think, be conclusively shown by a general argument which I will first enunciate in principle and then develop somewhat more in detail. An all-comprehensive experience cannot apprehend the detail of existence under the forms of space and time for the following reason. Such an experience could be neither of space and time as we perceive them, nor of space and time as we conceptually reconstruct them. It would not be of perceptual space and time, because the whole character of our perceptual space and time depends upon the very imperfections and limitations which make our experience fragmentary and imperfect. Perceptual space and time are for me what they are, because I see them, so to say, in perspective from the special standpoint of of my own particular here and now. If that standpoint were altered, so what are actually for me there and then became my here and now, my whole outlook on the space and time order would suffer change. But the Absolute cannot look at the space and time order from the standpoint of my here and now. For it is the finitude of my interests and purposes which confine me in my outlook to this here and now. If my interests were not bound up in the special way in which they are with just this special part or aspect of the life of a wider whole, if they were coextensive with the life of that whole, every place and every time would be my here and now. As it is, here is where my body is, now is this particular stage in the development of European social life, because these are the things in which I am primarily interested. And so with all the other experiences in which the detail of the absolute experience finds expression. Hence the absolute experience being free from the limitations of interest which condition the finite experiences, cannot see the order of existence from the stand point of any of them, and therefore cannot apprehend it under the guise of the perceptual space and time system. |255|

Again, it cannot apprehend existence under the forms of space and time as we conceptually reconstruct them. For Reality, for the absolute experience, must be a complete individual whole, with the ground of all its differentiations within itself. But conceptual space and time are constructed by deliberate abstraction from the relation to immediate experience implied in all individuality, and consequently, as we have just seen, they contain no real principle of internal distinction, their constituent terms being all exactly alike and indistinguishable. In short, if the perceptual time and space systems of our concrete experience represent individual but imperfect and finite points of view, the conceptual space and time of our scientific construction represents the mere abstract possibility of a finite point of view; neither gives a point of view both individual and infinite, and neither, therefore, can be the point of view of an absolute experience. An absolute experience must be out of time and out of space, in the sense that its contents are not apprehended in the form of the spatial and temporal series, but in some other way. Space and time, then, must be the phenomenal appearance of a higher reality which is spaceless and timeless.


“The attempt to take space and time as real leads to the difficulty about qualities and relations, and so to the indefinite regress.”


§ 6. In principle, the foregoing argument appears to me to be complete, but, for the sake of readers who care to have its leading thought more fully developed, it may be restated thus. Perceptual space and time cannot be ultimately real as they stand. They are condemned already by the old difficulty which we found in the notion of reality as made up of qualities in relation. Perceptual space and time are aggregates of lesser parts, which are themselves spaces and times; thus they are relations between terms, each of which contains the same relation once more in itself, and so imply the now familiar indefinite regress.10 Again, when we try in our conceptual space and time construction to remedy this defect by reducing space and time altogether to mere systems of relations, the difficulty turns out to have been merely evaded by such a process of abstraction. For, so long as we keep rigidly to our conceptual construction, the terms of our relations are indistinguishable. In purely conceptual space |256| and time, as we have seen, there is no possibility of distinguishing any one direction from any other, since all are qualitatively identical.

Indeed, it is obvious from first principles that when the sets of terms between which a number of relations of the same type holds are indistinguishable, the relations cannot be discriminated. To distinguish directions at all, we must, in the end, take at least our starting-point and one or more standard directions reckoned from it — according to the number of dimensions with which we are dealing — as independently given, that is, as having recognisable qualitative differences from other possible starting-points and standard directions. (Thus, to distinguish before and after in conceptual time, you must at least assume some moment of time, qualitatively recognisable from others, as the epoch from which you reckon, and must also have some recognisable qualitative distinction between the direction “past” and the direction “future.”) And with this reference to qualitative differences we are at once thrown back, as in the case of perceptual time and space, on the insoluble old problem of Quality and Relation. The assumed starting-point and standard directions must have qualitative individuality, or they could not be independently recognised and made the basis for discrimination between the remaining directions and positions: yet, because of the necessary homogeneity of the space and time of conceptual construction, they cannot have any such qualitative individuality, but must be arbitrarily assumed. They will therefore themselves be capable of determination only by reference to some other equally arbitrary standard, and thus we are once more committed to the indefinite regress. The practical usefulness of these constructions thus depends on the very fact that we are not consistent in our use of them. In all practical applications we use them to map out the spatial and temporal order of events as seen in perspective from a standpoint which is, as regards the conceptual time and space order itself, arbitrary and indistinguishable from others.


“Space and time contain no principle of unity; there may be many space and time orders in the Absolute which have no spatial or temporal connection with each other.”


§ 7. Instead of further elaborating this general argument, a task which would be superfluous if its principle is grasped, and unconvincing if it is missed, I will proceed to point out one or two special ways in which the essential arbitrariness of the spatial and temporal construction is strikingly exemplified. To begin with, a word may be said about the alleged unity of space and time. It is constantly taken for granted, by philosophers as well as by practical men, that |257| there can be only one spatial and one temporal order, so that all spatial relations, and again all temporal relations, belong to the same system. Thus, if A has a spatial relation to B and C to D, it is assumed that there must be spatial relations between A and C, A and D, and B and C, B and D. Similarly if A is temporally related with B, and C with D. This view is manifestly presupposed in the current conception of Nature, the “physical universe,” the “physical order,” as the aggregate of all processes in space and time. But there seems to be no real logical warrant for it. In principle the alleged unity of all spatial and temporal relations might be dismissed, on the strength of the one consideration that space and time are not individual wholes, and therefore can contain no principle of internal structural unity. This is manifest from the method by which the space and time of our conceptual scheme have been constructed. They arose, as we saw, from the indefinite repetition of a single type of relation between terms in which we were unable to find any ultimately intelligible principle of internal structure. But unity of structure cannot be brought into that which does not already possess it by such mere endless repetition. The result of such a process will be as internally incoherent and devoid of structure as the original data. Hence space and time, being mere repetitions of the scheme of qualities in relation, cannot be true unities.

This becomes clearer if we reflect on the grounds which actually warrant us in assigning position in the same space and the same time to a number of events. For me A and B are ultimately in the same space when there is a way of travelling from A to B; they are in the same time when they belong to different stages in the accomplishment of the same systematic purposes. Thus in both cases it is ultimately from relation to an identical system of purposes and interests that different’ sets of positions or events belong to one space or one time. The unity of such a space or time is a pale reflection in abstract form of the unity of a life of systematic purpose, which is one because it has unique individual structure. It is in this way, from the individual unity of the purpose and interests of my ordinary waking life, that I derive the right to refer its experiences to a single space and time system. Similarly, it is in virtue of the inclusion of my own and my fellow-men’s purposes in a wider whole of social systematic purpose that I can bring the space and time relations of their experience into one system with my own. And again, the sensible occurrences of the physical order |258| belong to one space and time with the space and time relations of human experience, because of the varying ways in which they condition the development of our own inner purposive life. But there are cases, even within our own conscious life, where this condition appears to be absent, and in these cases we do not seem to be able to make intelligible use of the conception of a single time or a single space.

Take the case of our dreams. The events of my dreams stand in spatial and temporal relations within the dream itself, but there would be no sense in asking what are the spatial relations between the places seen in my dreams and the places marked on the map of England; or what are again the temporal relations between the events of last night’s dream and those of this morning, or those of the dreams of last week. Precisely because there is usually no systematic identity of purpose connecting the dream with the waking life or with other dreams, the time and space of the dream have no position with respect to the time and space system of waking life, nor those of one dream with relation to those of another.11 Of course, it may be said that the dream-space and dream-time are “imaginary,” but the problem cannot be got rid of by the use of an epithet. To call them imaginary is merely to say that they are not systematically connected with the time and space of waking life, not to disprove their genuineness as actual space and time constructions.

Similarly, if there are intelligent purposes of which our human purposive life is debarred from taking account as such, as we urged that there must be behind the phenomenal physical order, the time and space within which those purposes are conceived and executed would have no place in our spatial and temporal system. The phenomenal events of the physical order would fall within our system, but not the life of inner purpose of which that order is the manifestation to our senses. Ultimately, in fact, all spaces and all times could only form one spatial and temporal system on condition that the infinite absolute experience views all its contents in spatial and temporal form; then the various space and time systems corresponding to the purposes of the various groups of finite individuals would finally, for the infinite individual, form one great system of time and space |259| relations. But we have already seen that the infinite experience cannot comprehend its contents in spatial or temporal forms.

We infer, then, that there may be — indeed, if our interpretation of the physical order is valid, there must be — a plurality of spaces and times within the Real. Within any one such space or time all its members are spatially and temporally interrelated, but the various spaces are not themselves related in space, nor the various times before or after one another in time. Their relation is the purely logical one of being varying modes of the expression in a finite detail of the underlying nature of the ultimate Reality.12 For the absolute experience they must be all at once and together, not in the sense of being in “one space and time,” but in the sense of forming together the systematic embodiment of one coherent ground or principle.


“The antinomies of the infinite divisibility and extent of space and time arise from the indefinite regress involved in the scheme of qualities and relations, and are insoluble so long as the space and time construction is taken for Reality.”


§ 8. Similar consequences, as to the phenomenal character of space and time, follow from the consideration of the familiar Kantian antinomies founded upon the concept of spatial and temporal infinity. Space and time must be externally boundless and internally indefinitely divisible, and yet again cannot be either. Freed from unessential accessories, the argument for either side of the antinomy may be stated thus. Space and time must be boundless because all spatial and temporal existence means spatial and temporal relation to a second term, itself similarly related to a third term. For precisely the same reason both must be indefinitely divisible. Yet again, they can be neither, since only the individual exists, and within such an interminable network of relations between terms which are nothing but the supporters of these relations there is no principle of individual structure.13 Thus the Kantian antinomies are a |260| simple consequence of the old difficulty about quality and relation. Space and time must be mere relations, and the terms of those relations therefore qualitatively indistinguishable; again, since they are relations they cannot be relations between nothings or, what is the same thing, between terms with no individual character. As in all cases where the problem of relation and quality arises, it then conducts us to the indefinite regress.

So long as we continue to look upon space and time as real, we have therefore to choose between two equally illogical alternatives. We must either arbitrarily refuse to continue the indefinite regress beyond the point at which its difficulties become apparent, as is done by the assertion that space and time have finite bounds or indivisible parts, or we must hold that the absolute experience actually achieves the summation of an unending series. With the recognition that space and time are phenomenal, the result of a process of construction forced on us by our practical needs, but not adequately corresponding to the real nature of individual existence, the difficulty disappears. Both sides of the antinomy become relatively true, in the sense that for our practical purposes we must be content to adopt now the one and again the other; both become ultimately untrue in the sense that space and time, being constructions of our own, are really neither finite nor infinite series, but are the one or the other according to the purposes for which we use our construction.


“The space and time order is an imperfect phenomenal manifestation of the logical relation between the inner purposive lives of finite individuals. Time is an inevitable aspect of finite experience. Hence space and time are transcended in the Absolute experience we cannot say.”


§ 9. If spatial and temporal position and direction must thus in the end be appearance, phenomenal of some more individual reality, we have finally to ask. Of what are they the appearance? It is not enough to say “of ultimate Reality,” or “of the Absolute.” Ultimately this is, no doubt, true of space and time, as it is of everything else, but we desire further to know if they are not proximately the appearance of some special features of the inner physical life of the lesser individuals which compose the Absolute. We naturally look for some third term, in the nature of finite individuality, to mediate between the structureless abstract generality of space and time relation, and the perfect individual structure of the spaceless and timeless Absolute Individual. We want, in fact, to connect the spatial and temporal form which our |261| experience wears, with some fundamental aspect of our nature, as beings at once individual and finite.

Nor is it particularly difficult to make the connection. When we remember that space and time, as they actually condition our perception and movement, are the space and time which radiate out from an unique here and now of immediate feeling, it is fairly evident that the spatial and temporal aspect of our experience is, as already suggested, a consequence of that limitation of our attentive interests which constitutes our finitude. It is the narrowness of my interests, or at least of those which are sufficiently explicit to rise into the “focus” of consciousness, that is reflected in the distinction of my here from all the theres which are around me. Here is where my body is, because of the specially intimate connection of the realisation of my interests and purposes with those events in the phenomenal physical order which I call the state of my body. Were my interests widened so as to embrace the whole scheme of the universe, I should no longer perceive the contents of that universe as dispersed through space, because I should no longer have as my special standpoint a here to which other existence would be there.

My special standpoint in space may thus be said to be phenomenal of my special and peculiar interests in life, the special logical standpoint from which my experience reflects the ultimate structure of the Absolute. And so, generally, though the conclusion can for various reasons not be pressed in respect of every detail of spatial appearance, the spatial grouping of intelligent purposive beings is phenomenal of their inner logical affinity of interest and purpose. Groups of such beings, closely associated together in space, are commonly also associated in their peculiar interests, their special purposes, their characteristic attitude towards the universe. The local contiguity of the members of the group is but an “outward and visible sign” of an “inward and spiritual” community of social aspiration. This is, of course, only approximately the case; the less the extent to which any section of mankind have succeeded in actively controlling the physical order for the realisation of their own purposes, the more nearly is it the truth that spatial remoteness and inner dissimilarity of social purposes coincide. In proportion as man’s conquest over his non-human environment becomes complete, he devises for himself means to retain the inner unity of social aims and interests in spite of spatial separation. But this only shows once more how completely the |262| spatial order is a mere imperfect appearance which only confusedly adumbrates the nature of the higher Reality behind it. Thus we may say that the “abolition of distance” effected by science and civilisation is, as it were, a practical vindication of our metaphysical doctrine of the comparative unreality of space.

Similarly with time, though the temporal series may, in a sense, be said to be less of an unreality than the spatial. For it does not seem possible to show that spatial appearance is an inevitable form of finite experience. We can at least conceive of a finite experience composed entirely of successive arrangements of secondary qualities, such as sounds or smells, and the accompanying feeling-tones, though we have no positive ground for affirming the existence of such a type of experience. But the temporal form seems inseparable from finite intelligence. For the limitation of my existence to a certain portion of time is clearly simply the abstract and external aspect of the fact that my interests and purposes, so far as I can apprehend the meaning of my own life, occupy just this special place in the logical development of the larger whole of social life and purpose of which my own life is a member. So the position of a particular purposive act in the temporal series of acts which I call the history of my own life, is the outward indication of the logical place filled by this particular act in the connected scheme of interests which form my life on its inner side. But it is an inevitable consequence of the want of complete internal harmony we call finitude, that the aims and interests of the finite subject cannot be in the same degree present to its apprehension all at once and together. In being aware of its own internal purpose or meaning, it must, because it is finite and therefore not ultimately a completely harmonious systematic whole, be aware of that purpose as only partially fulfilled. And in this sense of one’s own purposes as only partially fulfilled, we have the foundation of the time-experience, with its contrast between the “now” of fulfilment and the “no longer” and “not yet” of dissatisfied aspiration.

For this reason, dissatisfaction, unfulfilled craving, and the time-experience seem to be bound up together, and time to be merely the abstract expression of the yearning of the finite individual for a systematic realisation of its own purpose which lies for ever beyond its reach as finite. If this is so, only the absolute and infinite individual whose experience is throughout that of perfectly harmonious systematic realisation of meaning, can be outside the time-process; |263| to it, “vanished and present are the same,” because its whole nature is once for all perfectly expressed in the detail of existence. But the finite, just because its very nature as finite is to aspire to a perfection which is out of reach, must have its experience marked with the distinction of now from by and by, of desire from performance. In this temporal character of all finite experience we may perhaps afterwards discern the ultimate ground of morality, as we can already discern in the unresting struggle of the finite to overcome its finitude, practical evidence that time is not a form which adequately expresses the nature of Reality, and must therefore be imperfect appearance.14

Thus we seem finally to have reached the conclusion that time and space are the imperfect phenomenal manifestation of the logical relations between the purposes of finite individuals standing in social relations to each other; the inner purposive life of each of these individuals being itself in its turn, as we have previously seen, the imperfect expression, from a special logical “point of view,” of the structure and life of the ultimate infinite individual. For the infinite individual itself the whole of the purposes and interests of the finite individuals must form a single harmonious system. This system cannot itself be in the spatial and temporal form; space and time must thus in some way cease to exist, as space and time, for the absolute experience. They must, in that experience, be taken up, rearranged, and transcended, so as to lose their character of an endless chain of relations between other relations.

Precisely how this is effected, we, from our finite standpoint, cannot presume to say. It is natural to draw illustrations from the “specious present” of perception, in which we appear to have a succession that is also simultaneous; or again, from the timeless and purely logical character science seeks to ascribe to its “laws of nature.” But in the “specious present” we seem obliged to attend to one aspect, succession or simultaneity, to the exclusion of the other; probably we never succeed in equally fixing both aspects at once. It thus presents us rather with the problem than with its solution. And again, after our discussion of the meaning of law, we cannot affirm that Nature is, for the absolute experience, a system of general laws. Hence it seems well not to take |264| these illustrations for more than they are actually worth as indications of the merely phenomenal character of time. Metaphysics, like the old scholastic theology, needs sometimes to be reminded that God’s thoughts are not as ours, and His ways, in a very real sense when Philosophy has done its best, still past finding out.15


Consult further:
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chaps. 4 (Space and Time), 18 (Temporal and Spatial Appearance).
L. Couturat, L’Infini Mathematique, pt. 2, bk. iv. chap. 4 (against the Kantian antinomies).
H. Poincare. La Science et L’Hypothese, pp. 68-109.
H. Lotze, Metaphysic, bk. ii. chaps. 1-3.
W. Ostwald, Vorlesungen über Naturphilosophie, lects. 5, 8.
J. Royce, The World and the Individual, Second Series, lect. 3.
B. Russell, Foundations of Geometry: Is Position in Space and Time Absolute or Relative? (Mind, July 1901), Principles of Mathematics, pt. 6, vol. i.
H. Spencer, First Principles, pt. 2, chap. 3.


1^ The student who desires to think out the problems for himself would probably do well to take the discussions of Locke (Essay, bk. ii. chaps. 13-15) and Hume (Treatise of Human Nature, bk. i. pt. 2) rather than that of Kant as his starting-point, as they are less vitiated by psychological superstitions. In recent metaphysical work the chapters on the subject in Mr. Bradley’s Appearance and Reality will probably be found most useful. Much may be learned from Mr. Russell’s work, Foundations of Geometry, with which should, however, be compared the largely discrepant results of his later article, “Is Position in Space and Time Relative or Absolute?” (Mind, July 1901).

2^ We are not called upon to enter into such specially psychological questions as, e.g., whether both directions, past and future, can be detected within the “specious present” of direct perception, or whether the specious present only contains the elements “now” and “no longer,” the “not yet” being a subsequent intellectual construction, as is held, e.g., by Mr. Bradley and Mr. Shadworth Hodgson.

3^ We may indeed go still further, and say that every unique moment of experience has its own unique spatial and temporal system. The method by which I weave the perceived space-time systems of different experiences within my own mental life into a single conceptual system, is in principle the same by which the spaces and times of myself and other men are made into one system for the purpose of practical intercourse.

4^ For an account of the psychological processes involved in all this, see, e.g.. Stout, Manual of Psychology, bk. iii. div. 2, chaps. 3-6; bk. iv. Chap. 6.

5^ Thus Dedekind (Was sindund was sollen die Zahlen? |”What are and should be the Numbers?”| p. xii.) maintains that none of the constructions of Euclid involve the continuity of space.

6^ >Of course, a physical vacuum is not the same thing as empty space. For the purposes of any special science a vacuum means a space not occupied by contents of the special kind in which that special science is interested. Thus, in the ordinary parlance of Physics, a vacuum means simply a space in which there is no mass. Whether it is desirable, tor the purposes of physical science, to assume the existence of vacuum, is altogether a question for Physics itself, and to decide it in the affirmative is not to maintain the existence of that unmeaning abstraction, absolutely empty space. In any case, it may be observed that the widespread notion that motion is only possible in a physical vacuum is a mistake, motion being perfectly possible in a fluid plenum.

7^ It must be carefully noted that distance as thus defined is not properly a quantitative relation, and involves no notion of magnitude, but only of relative place in a series. It should also be observed that in assuming the existence of such a unique relation between every pair of points, it is tacitly taken for granted that the number of dimensions of the spatial order is finite. In a space of an infinite number of dimensions, such unique relation would be impossible. (See Russell, Foundations of Geometry, p. 161 ff.) Our justification for making this assumption, as also for taking time to be of one dimension only, seems to be that it is indispensable for all those practical purposes which depend on our ability to create a science of Geometry, and that we have no positive ground for assuming the opposite. Thus ultimately the assumption appears to be of the nature of a postulate.

8^ The ablest detailed account of the relativity of spatial position readily accessible to the English reader, will be found in Mr. Russell’s Foundations of Geometry, chaps. iiiA, iv. Mr. Russell has since, Mind for July 1901, attempted to prove the opposite view, that positions in space and time are inherently distinct, but without discussing his own previous arguments for relativity. Into the purely mathematical part of Mr. Russell’s later contentions I am not competent to enter. I may, however, suggest that the question of Metaphysics cannot be decided merely by urging, as Mr. Russell does, that fewer assumptions are required to construct a geometry on the hypothesis of absolute than on that of relative position. The superior convenience of an assumption for certain special purposes is no proof of its ultimate intelligibility. And when Mr. Russell goes on to admit that points in space are indistinguishable for us, he seems to me to give up his case. For is not this to admit that, after all, the space with which we deal in our geometrical science is relative from beginning to end? How differences of quality of which we, by hypothesis, can know nothing, can help or hinder our scientific constructions, it is indeed hard to see.

çThis may be brought home even to those who, like myself, are not mathematicians, by the perusal of such a work as Lobatchevsky’s Untersuchungen zur Theorie der Parallel-Linien, (Geometrical Investigations on the Theory of Parallel Lines); where a consistent geometry of triangles is constructed in entire independence of the postulate of parallelism. Of course, in the end it must be a mere question of nomenclature whether a form of serial order independent of these quasi-empirical restrictions is to be called “space” or not.

10^ It must be carefully remembered that the essential defect of the indefinite regress is not it interminableness, but its monotony. We ourselves held that Reality is an individual composed of lesser individuals which repeat the structure of the whole, and that the number of these individuals need not be finite. But, in our view, the higher the order of individuality the more elf-explanatory was its structure, whereas in the indefinite regress an incomprehensible construction is endlessly repeated in the same form.

11^ Normally, that is; for brevity’s sake, I omit to note the possible case of a coherent dream-life continued from night to night. In principle there would be no difference between the case of the space and time of such a dream-life and those of our waking hours.

12^ So the events of my dreams, though not occupying any place in the temporal series of the events of waking life, are so far logically connected with that series as both sets of events stand in relation to certain identical elements of psychical temperament and disposition. Another interesting case is that of so-called “dual personality.” The experience of both the two alternating personalities can be arranged in a single temporal series only because of the way in which both sets are inwoven with the systematic interests of other men, whose personality does not alternate, or alternates with a different rhythm. If all mankind were subject to simultaneous alternations of personality, the construction of a single time-series for all our experiences would be impossible. In this discussion I have throughout followed the full and thorough treatment of the problem by Mr. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chap. 18.

13^ Otherwise, conceptual space and time are, as we have seen, derivatives of the number-series, and we have already learned that the number-series leads to the problem of summing an endless series, and is therefore not an adequate way of representing ultimate Reality. (Bk. II. chap. 4, § 10). Another form of the same difficulty would be that conceptual space and time are applications of the numerical series, but application to what? To a material which is already spatial and temporal. All these puzzles are only different ways of expressing the essential relativity of space and time. But see the anti-Kantian view in, e.g., Couturat, L’Infini Mathematique, pt. 2.

14^ Compare Prof. Royce’s remarks, The World and the Individual, Second Series, lect. 3, “The Temporal and the Eternal,” p. 134. I should certainly have had to acknowledge considerable obligation to Prof. Royce’s discussion had not the present chapter been written before I had an opportunity of studying it.

15^ Against the plausible attempt to solve the problem by simply thinking of the whole physical order as forming a “specious present” to the Absolute Experience, we may urge that the “specious present” itself regularly consists for us of a multiplicity of detail, which we apprehend as simultaneous without insight into its inner unity as the embodiment of coherent system. Hence the direct insight of the Absolute Experience into its own internal meaning or structure cannot be adequately thought of as mere simultaneous awareness of the detail of existence. So long as a succession is merely apprehended as simultaneous, its meaning is not yet grasped.

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Chapter V. Some Conditions of Evolution

§ 1. We saw, in the first chapter of the present Book, that evolution or orderly development is a fundamental characteristic of the processes which compose the physical order as apprehended by the various empirical sciences. For the purposes of Mechanics and Mechanical Physics, indeed, we have no need to look upon Nature as the scene of development; for these sciences it is enough to conceive of it as a vast complex of changes of configuration and transformations of energy, connected by regular uniformities of sequence. As soon, however, as we come to regard Nature from the standpoint of those sciences which explicitly recognise differences of quality, as well as differences in position and quantity, among the objects with which they deal, this narrowly mechanistic conception of natural processes becomes inadequate. With the notion of physical processes as productive of changes of quality we are inevitably led to think of the physical order as a world in which the qualitatively new is derived from, or developed out of, the previously familiar by fixed lines of deviation and under determinate conditions.


“The concept of evolution an attempt to interpret natural processes in terms of individual growth.”


Naturally enough, it is from the biological sciences, in |266| which the study of organic growth plays so prominent a part, that the impulse to conceive of physical change as development originally comes. As long ago as the fourth century B.C., Aristotle had taken the concept of growth or development as the foundation of the most influential scheme of metaphysical construction yet produced in the whole history of speculation. In Aristotle’s view, however, the process of development was regarded as strictly confined within the limits of the individual life. The individual organism, beginning its existence as an undeveloped germ or potentiality, gradually unfolds itself in a series of successive stages of growth, which culminate at the period of complete maturity. But the individual germ itself is a product or secretion derived from a pre-existing mature individual of the same type as that into which this germ will ultimately grow. The number of distinct typical processes of growth is thus strictly determined, and each such process implies the previous existence of its completed result. In other words, the boundaries between species are fixed and ultimate; there can be no beginning in time of the existence of a new species, and therefore no origination of new species by development from other types. As Aristotle epigrammatically puts it, “It takes a man to beget a man.”

A further point of weakness in the Aristotelian theory is the absence of any definite account of the machinery by which the process of growth is effected. We learn, indeed, that the latent capacity of the organic germ to develop according to a certain specific type is stimulated into activity by influences contained in the environment, but the precise nature of this process of stimulation was necessarily left in obscurity, in consequence of the imperfect knowledge possessed by Aristotle of the minute character of natural processes in general.

In the evolutionary theories of modern biology, it is precisely the problems of the origination of new species, and of the special character of the relations between the species and its environment by which this process is conditioned, that have attracted almost exclusive attention. And, with the steadily increasing success of evolutionary hypotheses in dealing with biological problems, there has naturally arisen a tendency to extend the application of the general concept of evolution far beyond the sphere in which it first originated. We have now not only more or less well-accredited hypotheses of the production by evolution of our chemical elements, but even ambitious philosophical constructions |267| which treat the concept of evolution as the one and only key to all the problems of existence. In the presence of these far-reaching applications of evolutionary ideas, it becomes all the more necessary to bear in mind, in our estimate of the worth of the evolution concept, that its logical character remains unaltered by the extension of its sphere of applicability; it is still, in spite of all minor modifications, essentially an attempt to interpret natural processes in general in terms of individual growth.

We are not, of course, in the present chapter in any way concerned with the details of any one particular theory as to the special conditions which determine the course of organic or other evolution. What those conditions in any special case are, is a question, in the first instance, for that particular branch of empirical science which deals with the description of the particular aspect of the processes of the physical order under investigation. And though it would be a proper question for a complete Philosophy of Nature how the details of a well-established scientific theory must be interpreted so as to harmonise with the general metaphysical implications of the physical order, it is for many reasons premature to raise such a question in the present state of our actual knowledge of the details of evolutionary processes. All that can be done here is to ask what in general are the logical implications involved in thinking of a process as an evolution at all, and how those implications are related to our general interpretation of the physical order.


“Evolution means change culminating in an end which is the result of the process and is qualitatively new. The concept is thus teleological.”


§ 2. Evolution obviously involves the two concepts, already criticised at length, of change and the dependence of the order and direction of change upon determinate conditions. But an evolutionary process is never a mere orderly sequence of changes. For instance, the changes of configuration and exchanges of energy which take place when work is done in a material system, conceived as composed of moving masses without any element of secondary quality, are not properly to be called a process of evolution. They are not an evolution or development, because, so long as we keep to the strictly kinetic view of natural processes as consisting solely in the varying configuration of systems of mass-particles, the end of the process is qualitatively undistinguishable from its beginning; nothing qualitatively new has emerged as its result. Or rather, to speak with more accuracy, the process has really no end and no unity of its own. It is only by an entirely arbitrary limitation of view, due to purely subjective interests |268| of our own, that we isolate just this collection of mass-particles from the larger aggregate of such particles which form the physical order as regarded from the strictly kinematic standpoint, and call it one system; and again, it is with equal arbitrariness that we determine the point of time beyond which we shall cease to follow the system’s changes of configuration. In the indefinitely prolonged series of successive configurations there is no stage which can properly be called final. Hence from the rigidly mechanistic point of view of Kinetics and Kinematics there are no evolutions or developments in the universe, there is only continuous change.

Development or evolution, then, definitely implies the culmination of a process of change in the establishment of a state of things which is relatively new, and implies, further, that the relatively new state of things may truly be regarded as the end or completion of this special process of change. Thus the fundamental peculiarity of all evolutionary ideas is that they are essentially teleological; the changes which are evolutions are all changes thought of as throughout relative to an end or result. Except in so far as a process of change is thus essentially relative to the result in which it culminates, there is no sense in calling it a development. We may see this even by considering the way in which the concepts of evolution and development are used in the various departments of Physics. We sometimes speak of a chemical process as marked by the “evolution” of heat, or again we say that, if the second law of Thermodynamics is rigidly and universally true, the physical universe must be in a process of evolution towards a stage in which none of its energy will be available for work. But we can only attach a meaning to such language so long as we allow ourselves to retain the common-sense point of view according to which there are real qualitative differences between what abstract Mechanics treats as equivalent forms of “energy.”

We can speak of the evolution of heat, just because we, consciously or unconsciously, think of heat as being really, what it is for our senses, something qualitatively new and distinct from the other kinds of energy which are converted into it by the chemical process. So we can intelligibly talk of the gradual conversion of one form of energy into another as an evolution only so long as we regard the various forms of energy as qualitatively different, and are therefore entitled to look upon the complete conversion of the one into another as the qualitatively new result |269| of a process which is therefore terminated by its complete establishment. From the standpoint of the physical theories which regard the distinction between the forms of energy as only “subjective,” there would be no sense in regarding that particular stage in the course of events at which one form of energy disappeared as the end or result of a process which terminates in it, and thus such terms as evolution and development would lose their meaning. Only the establishment of the qualitatively new can form a real end or result, and so afford a logical basis for the recognition of the changes in the physical order as distinct processes of development.


“Evolution, being teleological, is essentially either progress or degeneration. If it is more than illusion, there must be real ends in the physical order. And ends can only be real as subjective interests of sentient beings which are actualised by the process of change.”


§ 3. This essentially teleological character of development is emphasised in the language of the biological sciences by the constant use of the concepts of progress and degeneration. For biology an evolution is essentially a process either in the progressive or in the regressive direction. Every evolution is an advance to a “higher” or a decline to a “lower” state of development. Now progress and regress are only possible where the process of change is regarded as throughout relative to the end to be attained by the process. Exactly how we conceive this end, which serves us as a standard for distinguishing progress from degeneration, is a secondary question; the point of fundamental importance is that, except in reference to such an end, there can be no distinction at all between progressive and retrogressive change. Thus, unless there are really ends in the physical order which determine the processes of change that culminate in their actual establishment, evolution cannot be real. If the ends, by the establishment of which we estimate progress in development, are merely arbitrary standards of our own to which nothing in external reality corresponds, then the physical order must really be a mere succession of changes which are in no true sense developments, and the whole concept of nature as marked by development will be a mere human delusion. And, on the contrary, if there is any truth in the great scientific conceptions of evolution, there must be real ends in the physical order.

Now, there is only one intelligible way in which we can think of a process of change as really relative to an end. The resultant state which we call the end of the process, as being the final stage which completes this special process, and enables us to mark off all that succeeds it as belonging to a fresh process of development, must also be its end in the sense of being the conscious attainment of an interest or |270| purpose underlying the whole process. It is only in so far as any state of things is, for some sentient being, the realisation of a subjective interest previously manifested in an earlier stage of experience, that that state of things forms the real culmination of a process which is distinguished from all other processes, and stamped with an individuality of its own, by the fact that it does culminate in precisely this result. The conceptions of end or result and of subjective interest are logically inseparable. Hence we seem forced to infer that, since evolution is an unmeaning word, unless there are genuine, and not merely arbitrarily assigned, ends underlying the processes of physical nature, the concept of evolution as characteristic of the physical order involves the metaphysical interpretation of that order as consisting of the teleological acts of sentient beings, which we had previously accepted on more general grounds. It would be useless to attempt an escape from this conclusion by drawing a distinction between two meanings of “end” — “a last state” and “the achievement of a purpose.” For the whole point of the preceding argument was that nothing can be an “end” in the former sense without also being an end in the latter. Unless processes have ends which are their subjective fulfilment, it is only by an arbitrary convention of our “own that we assign to them ends which are their last states. And if it is only an arbitrary convention that physical processes have ends in this sense, evolution itself is just such a convention and nothing more.1


“Thus all evolution must take place within an individual subject.”


§ 4. What is in principle the same argument may be put in another form, and the equivalence of the two forms is itself very suggestive from the metaphysical point of view. Evolution or development, like all change, implies the presence throughout successive stages in a process of something which is permanent and unchanging. But it implies something more definite still. Whatever develops must |271| therefore have a permanent individual character of its own of which the successive stages in the development process are the gradual unfolding. Unless the earlier and the later stages in a connected series of changes belong alike to the gradual unfolding, under the influence of surroundings, of a single individual nature, there is no meaning in speaking of them as belonging to a process of development. Only the individual can develop, if we are to attribute precise meaning to our words. We speak of the evolution of a society or a species, but if our words are not to be empty we must mean by such phrases one of two things. Either we must mean that the species and the society which develop are themselves individuals of a higher order, no less real than the members which compose them, or our language must be merely a way of saying that the life of each member of the social or biological group exhibits development.

When we reflect on what is really involved in our ordinary loose expressions about the “inheritance” of this or the other physical or social trait, we shall see that the former alternative is far less removed from ordinary ways of thought than might at first seem to be the case. If any kind of reality corresponds to our current metaphor of the “inheritance” of qualities, the groups within which such “inheritance” takes place must be something much more than mere aggregates of mutually exclusive individuals. A group within which qualities can be thus inherited must, as a whole, possess a marked individual nature of its own. Now we have already seen that all individuality is in the end teleological. A group of processes forms an individual life in the degree to which it is the expression of a unique and coherent interest or aim, and no further. Hence, once more, only what is truly individual can develop or evolve. And we readily see that it is precisely in so far as a set of processes form the expression of individual interest, that the demarcation of the group as a connected whole from all previous and subsequent processes possesses more than a conventional significance. Hence only processes which are the expression of individual interest possess “ends” or “last states,” and thus the two forms of our argument are in principle identical. Once more, then, the significance of evolutionary ideas, if they are to be more than a purely conventional scheme devised for the furtherance of our own practical purposes, and as an artificial aid to classification, is bound up with the doctrine that the events of the physical |272| order are really the expression of the subjective interests of sentient subjects of experience.2


“Further, the subject of evolution must be a finite individual. All attempts to make ‘evolution’ a property of the whole of Reality lead to the infinite regress.”


§ 5. To proceed to a further point of the utmost importance. Not only does evolution imply the presence of individuality in the subject of the evolutionary process; it implies its possession of finite individuality. An infinite individual cannot have development or evolution ascribed to it without contradiction. Hence the Absolute, the Universe, or whatever other name we prefer to give to the infinite individual whole of existence, cannot develop, cannot progress, cannot degenerate. This conclusion might be derived at once from reflecting upon the single consideration that temporal succession is involved in all evolution, whether progressive or retrogressive. For temporal succession is, as we have seen, an inseparable consequence of finite individuality. But it will be as well to reach our result in a different way, by considering certain further implications of the concept of evolution which are manifestly only present in the case of finite individuality.

In every process of development or evolution there are involved a pair of interrelated factors, the individual nature which develops, and the environment which contains the conditions under which and the stimuli in response to which it develops. The undeveloped germ is as yet a mere possibility, something which will yet exhibit qualities not as yet possessed by it. In its undeveloped state, what it possesses is not the qualities characteristic of its later stages, but only “tendencies” or “dispositions” to manifest those |273| qualities, provided that the environment provides the suitable stimulus. Hence, if either of the two interrelated factors of development, the individual or the environment, is missing, there can be no evolution. Now, the infinite individual whole of existence has no environment outside itself to supply conditions of development and incentives to change. Or, what is the same thing, since the “possible” means simply that which will follow if certain conditions are realised, there is no region of unrealised possibility outside the realised existence of the infinite whole. Hence in the infinite whole there can be no development: it cannot progressively adapt itself to new conditions of existence; it must once and for all be in its reality all that it is in “idea.” The infinite whole therefore evolves neither forward nor backward.

This impossibility of ascribing development to the whole of Reality is strikingly illustrated by a consideration of the impasse into which we are led when we try in practice to think of the whole universe as in process of evolution. So long as you are still in the presence of the fundamental distinction between the developing subject and its environment, you are logically driven, if everything is to be taken as a product of evolution, to supplement every evolutionary theory by a fresh evolutionary problem. To account for this special evolution (e.g., the evolution of the vertebrata) you have to assume an environment with determinate qualities of its own, influencing the evolution in question in a determinate way in consequence of these qualities. But if everything has been evolved, you have again to ask by what process of evolution this special environment came to be what it is. To solve this problem you have once more to postulate a second “environment” determining, by interaction, the course of the evolution of the former. And thus you are thrown back upon the indefinite regress.

Unless, indeed, you are prepared boldly to assert that, as all determinate character is the product of evolution, the universe as a whole must have evolved out of nothing. (You would not escape this dilemma by an appeal to the very ancient notion of a “cycle” or “periodic rhythm “of evolution, in virtue of which the product of a process of evolution serves in its turn as the environment for the reiterated evolution of its own antecedent conditions, A thus passing by evolution into B and B back again into A. For you would at least have to accept this tendency to periodic rhythm itself as an ultimate property of all existence, not itself resulting by evolution from something else.) The |274| dilemma thus created by the attempt to apply the concept of evolution to the whole of Reality, is sufficient to show that evolution itself is only thinkable as a characteristic of processes which fall within the nature of a system which, as a whole, does not evolve.

We may restate the same contention in the following form: — All development means advance towards an end. But only that which is as yet in imperfect possession of its end can advance towards it. For that which already is all that it has it in its nature to be there can be no advance, and hence no progressive development. Neither can such a complete individual degenerate. For even in degenerating, that which degenerates is gradually realising some feature of its own nature which was previously only an unrealised potentiality. Thus even degeneration implies the realisation of an end or interest, and is itself a kind of advance. As the biologists tell us, the atrophy of an organ, which we call degeneration, is itself a step in the progressive adaptation of the organisation to new conditions of life, and, as the moralists remind us, in the ethical sphere a “fall” is, in its way, an upward step. Hence what cannot rise higher in the scale of existence also cannot sink lower.


“The distinction between progressive evolution and degeneration has an ‘objective’ basis in the metaphysical distinction between higher and lower degrees of individuality.”


§ 6. Evolution is thus an inseparable characteristic of the life of finite individuals, and of finite individuals only. And this consideration gives us the clue to the metaphysical interpretation of the distinction, so significant for all evolutionary theory, between the progressive and retrogressive directions of the evolution process. To a large extent it is, of course, a matter of convention what we shall regard as progress and what as degeneration. So long as we are specially interested in the attainment of any end or culminating result, we call the line of development which leads up to that result progressive, and the line which leads to its subsequent destruction degeneration. And thus the same development may be viewed as progress or as degeneration, according to the special character of the interests with which we study it. Thus, for instance, the successive modifications of the vertebrate structure which have resulted in the production of the human skeleton are naturally thought of as progressive, because our special interest in human intelligent life and character leads us to regard the human type as superior to its predecessors in the line of development. At the same time, many of these modifications consist in the gradual loss of characteristics previously evolved, and are therefore degenerative from the |275| point of view of the anatomical student, who is specially interested in the production of organs of increasing complexity of structure, and therefore takes the complexity of those structures as his standard in distinguishing progress from retrogression.

But the distinction is not a purely conventional one. As we have seen, degrees of individuality are also degrees of reality; what is more completely individual is also a completer representative of the ultimate structure of the infinite individual whole, and therefore more completely real. Hence we may say that advance in individuality is really, and not in a merely conventional sense, progress in development; loss of individuality is real degeneration. Thus we get at least the possibility of a true “objective” basis for distinction between the directions of evolutionary progress. But we must remember that it is only where we are able to know something of the actual interests of finite experiencing beings that we have safe grounds for judging whether those interests receive more adequate embodiment in consequence of the changes of structure and habit produced by evolution or not. Hence, while our insight into the inner lives of ourselves and our animal congeners theoretically warrants us in pronouncing the various developments in human social life to be genuinely progressive or retrogressive, and again in regarding the series of organic types which leads directly up to man as a true “ascent,” our ignorance of the special character of the individual experiences of which the inorganic physical order at large is the phenomenal manifestation, makes it impossible for us to determine whether an “evolution” outside these limits is really progressive or not. We have to treat “cosmic evolution” in general, outside the special line of animal development which leads up to man, as indifferently a “progress” or a “degeneration” according to our own arbitrary point of view, not because it is not “objectively” definitely the one or the other, but because our insight is not sufficient to discern which it is.


“In the evolutionary process, old individuals disappear and fresh ones originate. Hence evolution is incompatible with the view that Reality consists of a plurality of ultimately independent finite individuals.”


§ 7. One more point may be noted, which is of some importance in view of certain metaphysical problems connected with the nature of finite individuality. If evolution is more than an illusion, it seems necessary to hold that it is a process in the course of which finite individuals may disappear and new finite individuals originate. This point is metaphysically significant, because it means that the fact of evolution is irreconcilable with any of the philosophical theories of ancient and modern times, which regard Reality |276| as composed of a plurality of ultimately independent finite individuals or “personalities."3 If these philosophical theories are sound, the course of the world’s history must be made up of the successive transformations of finite individuals, who somehow remain unaffected and unaltered in their character by the various external disguises they assume. The individuals of such a philosophy would, in fact, be as little modified by these changes as the actors on a stage by their changes of costume, or the souls of the “transmigration” hypothesis by the bodies into which they successively enter. And thus development would not be even a relatively genuine feature of the life of finite individuals; it would be a mere illusion, inevitable indeed in the present condition of our acquaintance with the detailed contents of existence, but corresponding to no actual fact of inner experience.

On the other hand, if evolution is not a pure illusion, these metaphysical constructions cannot be valid. For the whole essence of the modern doctrine of evolution is contained in the principle that radical differences in kind result from the accumulation of successive modifications of individual structure, and once established continue to be perpetuated as differences in kind. Now, such differences in kind can only be interpreted metaphysically as radical differences in the determining aims and interests of the experiencing subjects constituting the physical order, and we have already seen that it is precisely the character of these dominant unique interests which forms the individuality of the individual. Thus the metaphysical interpretation of the evolution process seems inevitably to resolve it into a process of the development of fresh and disappearance of old individual interests, and thus into a process of the origination and disappearance of finite individuals within the one infinite individual whole.

A conclusion of the same sort would be suggested by consideration of those facts of our own individual development from which the wider evolutionary theories have, in the last resort, borrowed their ideas and their terminology. The mental growth of the individual human being is essentially a process of the formation of interests in things. |277| Both our formal education, and our informal intellectual and moral training effected by the influence of social tradition and mutual intercourse, are processes consisting of an accumulation of minor modifications which ultimately culminate in the establishment of more or less unique personal interests in different aspects of existence. And inasmuch as this process is never terminated, it is always possible for our previously acquired interests to undergo such modification as renders them obsolete, and substitutes novel interests in their places. So far as this is effected, we rightly say that we are no longer our “old selves.” A new “self” or centre of unique individual interests has then developed within the former self.

Usually the process stops short of the point at which all sensible continuity seems suspended, but that this point can be actually reached, under exceptional conditions, is shown to superfluity by such facts as those of “conversion,” to say nothing of the more pathological phenomena of “multiple personality.” The same phenomena illustrate the fact that a new individuality, once evolved, may stand in various relations to the old individual interests it displaces. It may permanently replace them, or, as in so many cases of “conversion,” may prove only temporary and pass back again into the old individuality, or the two may alternate periodically.4 The one important point in which all these cases agree is simply the general one of the production in the course of development of a new individuality within the first individuality. It may perhaps be suggested that we have in these features of individual growth a hint as to the true nature of the process we call the origination of new species by evolution.5

To recapitulate: evolution implies change determined by reference to an end, and thus constituted into an individual process. Such “ends” have no meaning, except in so far as the processes of change are viewed as the progressive attainment of individual interests, and thus evolution is only possible where there is finite individuality. This is the philosophical justification for our previous assertion that |278| evidence of structural evolution, where it can be had, affords reasonable presumption that what appears to us one thing is really a true individual of some degree, and not a mere arbitrary grouping together on our part of states which possess no inner unity. Further, evolution is a process in which new individuals arise and old ones disappear. Hence its significance for Metaphysics as excluding all theories which make Reality consist of a mere plurality of unchanging finite individuals. It is significant also from another point of view. Implying, as it so manifestly does, the presence of individual subjects of experience throughout the physical order, the concept of Nature as a realm of evolutionary processes is infinitely nearer to the full truth for Metaphysics than the purely mechanistic view of it as a mere succession of connected changes.


Consult further:
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chaps. 27, 28 (pp. 497, 499, 508 of ed. i. for criticism of concept of Progress).
H. Lotze, Metaphysic, bk, ii. chap. 8 (”Forms of the Course of Nature,” Eng. trans., vol. ii. pp. 109, 162).
J. Royce, The World and the Individual, Second Series, lect. 5.
H. Sidgwick, Philosophy: Its Scope and Relations, lects. 6 and 7 (for some general consideration of the bearing of evolution on Metaphysics).
G. E, Underhill, “The Limits of Evolution” (in Personal Idealism).
J. Ward, Naturalism, and Agnosticism, vol. i. lects. 7-9 (criticism of Spencer’s evolutionary philosophy), 10 (on biological evolution).


1^ It might be objected that, e.g., death is the end of life in the sense of being its last stage, without being the attainment of the interests which compose our inner life. But the illustration will not bear examination. The processes of change within the organism, when viewed simply as connected changes, do not cease with death; in fact, they have no end or last state. To call a man’s death his end only means that the purposes for which we are interested in the study of his behaviour get complete fulfilment when we have followed him from the cradle to the grave. He is “done with” at death, because we have done with him. Only teleological processes can have a last stage. Note as a consequence of the significance of the concept of “ends” for evolution, that whereas the purely mechanistic interpretation of the processes of Nature logically leads to the thought of them as a continuous series, the series of successive organic or social types is essentially discontinuous, a point well brought out by Professor Royce, The World and the Individual, Second Series, lects. 5, 7.

2^ I need hardly remind the reader of the vast difference between the view inculcated above and the doctrine of “ends in nature” as it figures in the old-fashioned “argument from design.” The old-fashioned teleology assumed (1) that the “subjective interests” manifested in the evolutionary process are fundamentally human. We, it held, can recognise what these ends are, and further, they are for the most part summed up in the “design” of furthering our human convenience. (2) That these interests exist as the reflective designs of an anthropomorphic Ruler of Nature. Our doctrine is consistent with neither assumption. It follows from our whole interpretation of the physical order, that we do not and cannot know what kind of subjective interest of finite individuals is realised by any portion of it beyond that constituted by our own bodies and those of our near congeners, and therefore are absolutely without any right to fancy ourselves the culminating end of all evolution. Again, a subjective interest need not exist in the form of a definitely preconceived design; most of our own interests exist as unreflective cravings and impulses. Whether any part of the evolutionary process is due to deliberate reflective design on the part of superhuman intelligences, Metaphysics, I take it, has no means of deciding. This would be a question for solution by the same empirical methods which we employ in detecting the presence of design in the products of human art. In any case, reflective design is bound up with the time-process, and cannot therefore be ascribed to the infinite individual.

3^ Compare, e.g., the first of the arguments for immortality in Plato’s Phaedo, p. 70 ff., and the remark in the Republic, with obvious reference to this argument, that the “number of souls is always the same” (611 A). In Plato the doctrine is pretty certainly of Orphic provenance. Compare also the cyclic alternation of death and life in Heracleitus, the (Orphic) cycle of births of Empedocles, that of the Stoics, and in the modern world, to take only one instance, the “eternal recurrence” of Nietzsche.

4^ The same phenomenon of the formation of a new individuality within the limits of an already existing one, is illustrated by the familiar facts of the moral conflict between the “higher” and “lower” self.

5^ Compare Royce, The World and the Individual, Second Series, p. 305 ff., where a view of this kind is worked out in some detail. Prof. Royce’s second volume unfortunately came into my hands too late to enable me to make all the use of it I could have wished; the same is the case with Mr. Underhill’s essay on “The Limits of Evolution” in Personal Idealism.

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Chapter VI. The Logical Character of Descriptive Science

§ 1. In its general outlines our interpretation of the significance of the physical order is now complete. We have seen reason to hold that in that order we have the appearance to our human senses of a great system or complex of systems composed of purposive sentient beings, whose interests are for the most part so widely removed from our own as to preclude all direct intercourse, but who are nevertheless historically connected with ourselves by that unceasing process of the development of new forms of individual interest which we know empirically as the evolution of life and intelligence on our planet. As we have tried throughout the four preceding chapters to show in detail, there is no real inconsistency between this general interpretation of the meaning of the physical order and the working assumptions of our various empirical sciences. At the same time it is obvious that in executing the task of the detailed description |280| and calculation of the phenomenal course of events, the empirical sciences, while not rejecting such a metaphysical interpretation, ignore it; and the more conscientiously they exclude from their programme all amateur excursions into extraneous metaphysical speculation, the more thoroughly is the work of description and mathematical formulation done. It seems advisable, therefore, to conclude our brief sketch of the principles of Cosmology with a short discussion of the nature of the limitations imposed on empirical science, by the special character of the objects it sets before it, and of the way in which the existence of these limitations is revealed by analysis of the most general concepts of the empirical sciences themselves.


“Scientific description may be contrasted with philosophical or teleological interpretation, but the contrast is not absolute.”


It is important, in the first place, to be quite clear as to the sense in which we speak of description as the work of the empirical sciences, and as to the meaning of the contrast between such description and a philosophical interpretation of existence. In this connection there are two points which seem to call for special and repeated emphasis. (1) The contrast between interpretation and description is not an absolute one. Complete description would of itself be something more than mere description, and would pass into philosophical interpretation. Thus a significant purposive movement is not adequately described when, e.g., its direction, velocity, momentum, and duration have been assigned. The complete description of such a movement would require the recognition of its meaning for the being executing it as a step in the realisation of a craving or a design, and would thus merge in what we have called philosophical interpretation. So generally, if all existence is ultimately experience and all experience essentially teleological, such description as can be distinguished from interpretation must always be incomplete from the logical standpoint, though adequate to fulfil certain special purposes.

(2) The descriptions of science, again, must be carefully distinguished from such descriptions as can be effected by the mere multiplication of unanalysed sensible detail. Scientific description, it must be remembered, is always description undertaken with a view to the calculation and prediction of the course of events. This implies that it must be description in general terms, and, wherever possible, by the aid of mathematical analysis. Natural processes are described by the empirical sciences which deal with them, not in their concrete individual detail, but only in so far as they exhibit certain uniform aspects permitting of reduction to formula |281| suitable for calculation. Such description is frequently spoken of as explanation, and is expressly contrasted by this difference in nomenclature with the mere accumulation of sensible detail. We must not, however, allow the difference in question to blind us to the essentially descriptive character of all scientific hypotheses. It is sometimes urged that scientific explanation must differ in its logical character from description, because the “substance,” “agencies,” and “media,” in terms of which explanation is couched, are largely of a kind inaccessible to sense-perception. It must be remembered, however, that hypotheses as to such imperceptible objects are only valuable so far as they serve as connecting-links by which we may calculate sensible events from sensible data. Whatever intermediate links empirical science may find it useful to assume, it invariably takes the sensible occurrences of the phenomenal physical order as the starting-point, and again as the goal of its inferences.1 All its hypothetical constructions are thus subservient to the main interest of the accurate description of the course of sensible events. The only kind of “explanation” which can be reasonably contrasted, in respect of its logical character, with description is teleological interpretation, and even here the contrast, as we have seen, is not final.


“The primary end of all scientific description is intercommunication with a view to active cooperation. Hence all such description is necessarily restricted to objects capable of being experienced in the same way by a plurality of individuals.”


§ 2. We have to ask, then, what is the object at which scientific descriptions aim? What purpose do they seek to fulfil, and how does the essential character of this purpose determine the logical character of the descriptive process? Now, it is at once evident that all description has for its immediate object one or other of two practical ends, which are so closely connected as to be ultimately coincident. Historically, it is beyond a doubt that the original purpose of all description of physical events was intercommunication with a view to social cooperation. I have already referred to this function of description with special reference to the use of causal descriptions in science, but may conveniently deal with the same point rather more fully and in a more general way here.

In a society of finite individuals with interrelated aims and objects, each of the individuals can only attain satisfaction for his own subjective interests by some degree of |282| concerted action along with the rest. And concerted action is only possible where the cooperating individuals can reduce their various views of their common external environment to common terms, equally intelligible to all, and similarly indicate to each other their respective special contributions to the common task. There must be a common understanding of the difficulty to be met, and of the precise part each is to play in meeting it. Thus intercommunication between individuals is an indispensable requisite of all effective practical cooperation.

But again, intercommunication is only possible by means of description in general terms. Only in so far as there are identical elements in the experiences of the various individuals can one communicate the contents of his experience to another. Immediate feeling, precisely because of its unique individual character, is essentially incommunicable. Thus in communicating information about my own body to another, I am of necessity forced to speak of my body in terms not of the immediate experience I have of it in organic sensation, but of those complexes of sense-presentations which he and I alike get through our organs of special perception. And so the whole physical order can only serve as a basis of cooperation between individuals so far as it is describable in the last resort as a complex of sense-presentations equally accessible to the observation of all the individuals. Any kind of experience of nature which is uniquely peculiar to myself, and therefore incapable of being got under assignable conditions by any other individual endowed with the same organs of perception, is necessarily incommunicable, and therefore useless as a basis for concerted action. Hence science is restricted by its very purpose to describe the physical order in such a way that its descriptions may be available for the objects of practical art, to the description of it in its phenomenal aspect as a mere complex of related presentations or possibilities of presentation. It is no accident, but a logical consequence of the conditions of intercommunication, that all scientific description must start from and end with occurrences of the phenomenal order which any individual may experience by conforming to the prescribed conditions of perception. Thus we see that it is an epistemological characteristic of the physical order as investigated by science, that it consists exclusively of those objects which are, in principle, perceptible by more than one individual. If there are objects in their own nature incapable of being experienced by more than |283| one individual, such as, e.g., my own inner life, those objects cannot belong to the physical order of science.2


“A second end of scientific description is the economising of intellectual labour by the creation of general rules for dealing with typical situations in the environment. In the course of evolution this object becomes partially independent of the former.”


§ 3. There is a second purpose of description which arises out of the first as human experiences become more reflective. Description not only enables me to communicate the particular situation of the moment to others, and devise in concert with them means for coping with it; it also enables me to formulate beforehand general rules for my own behaviour in recurrent situations of the same type. The need for the possession of such general views originates, of course, while description is still confined to its original function in assisting social cooperation. From the practical point of view of those industrial arts out of which our various physical sciences have arisen, it is an economical advantage of the first magnitude to be able once and for all to formulate a general rule for dealing with the indefinitely numerous occurrences of typical situations, instead of having to deal with each occurrence separately as it arises.

The advantages of such general rules speedily make themselves felt in the increased power and importance enjoyed by the section of society which is in possession of them, a consideration which may help us to understand why, in early stages of civilisation, such rules are commonly jealously guarded as the hereditary secrets of close corporations.3 Thus it comes to be the special aim of scientific description to assist the formulation of general rules for the practical manipulation of the objects of the physical order. And, with the progress of reflection, this originally secondary object of the descriptive process becomes to a large extent independent of the primary object of intercommunication. Even where I have no need or no desire for intercommunication and cooperation with my fellows, it becomes my interest to seek generalised descriptions of typical situations in the physical order as the basis of practical rules for my own voluntary intervention in that order.


“4. From the interest in formulating general rules arise the three fundamental postulates of physical science, the postulates of Uniformity, Mechanical Law, and Causal Determination.”


§ 4. The interest in the formulation of general rules for practical interference with nature, again, necessarily dictates the form which our scientific descriptions will take, and is thus the source of those practical postulates of empirical science with which we have already made some acquaintance. |284| It compels us to assume, in the first place, as an indispensable condition of success in our descriptions, that there are situations in the physical order which may be treated with sufficient accuracy for our practical purposes, as recurring identically; in the second place, that, so long as we abstain from intentional intervention in the course of events, they succeed one another in a fixed routine order, or, in other words, that there are no departures in nature from established routine of such a kind as to interfere with our calculations; in the third place, that every event in the physical order is, within the limits requisite for our successful devising of means to our ends, determined by antecedent events. It is thus our interest in obtaining general rules for the production of effects in the physical order by intentional interference with it which is the source of the three fundamental postulates of empirical physical science, the postulates of uniformity, of the omnipresence of routine or mechanical “law,” and of the causal determination of subsequent by antecedent events.

The dependence of physical science upon these three fundamental postulates thus does not prove their ultimate truth, as we have already shown at length in preceding chapters: it proves only that where they cannot be treated as approximately true, within the limits in which their falsity could be detected by sensible experiment, our special interest in devising rules for the manipulation of events cannot be gratified. Conversely, wherever that interest can be successfully gratified, these postulates must be for all practical purposes equivalent to the truth. Hence, if we remember that the ultimate object of all physical science is the successful formulation of such practical rules for action, we can see that it is a logical consequence of the character of the interests which dominate our scientific descriptions, that the physical sciences should adopt a rigidly mechanical view of the physical order. Only, in proportion as any one branch of physical science succeeds in carrying out in detail this conception of the physical order as an interconnected mechanism of sequences rigidly determined by laws of sequence, does it succeed in effecting the purposes by which all physical science has been called into existence. We may thus call the mechanical conception of the physical order the most general postulate of physical science. Only, we must once more take care to recollect that a fundamental postulate of physical science need not in the least be an ultimate truth; such a postulate |285| is in the end nothing more than a way of stating the nature of the interest which physical science subserves, and, as we have sufficiently seen, that interest is not the purely logical one of consistent thinking, but the practical one of successful interference with nature.


“The mechanical view of physical Nature determined by these three postulates is systematically carried out only in the abstract science of Mechanics; hence the logical completion of the descriptive process would mean the reduction of all descriptive science to Mechanics. That the chemical, biological, and psychological sciences contain elements which cannot be reduced to mechanical terms, is due to the fact that their descriptions are inspired by aesthetic and historical as well as by primarily ‘scientific’ interests.”


§ 5. It does not, of course, follow that all the sciences which deal in any way with the events of the physical order can as a matter of fact carry out this mechanical view of their objects with equal success. It is only in the various branches of abstract Mechanics that we get anything like complete systematic adherence to the postulates of the mechanical theory of physical nature as previously enumerated. For the physical, chemical, and still more for the biological sciences, it remains an unrealised ideal — and one we have no right to think ever completely realisable — that all the facts of electrical and chemical, and again of physiological process should be ultimately capable of reduction to routine uniformities upon which confident calculation and prediction can be based.

Thus, even in Chemistry, limits are set to the successful adoption of the purely mechanical point of view, by the fact that chemical combination is regularly productive of new qualities in the compound which could not have been predicted from a knowledge of the properties of its constituents, but have to be ascertained a posteriori by actual experiment. It is true, no doubt, that we seem to be increasingly able, as our chemical knowledge advances, to say in general what properties may be expected to result from the combination of given elements, but there is no logical ground for supposing that we shall ever be able to foretell all the properties of an as yet unexamined compound, and in any case such knowledge could only be of a general sort. However much we might know, in advance of the results of the combination of certain elements in certain proportions, it would still be impossible to predict with absolute certainty the precise result of trying the combination in a particular concrete case.

Still less realisable would be the ideal of the reduction of Biology to applied Mechanics. It is not merely that the isolated physiological process regularly exhibits qualitative aspects of a chemical or electrical kind, which we have no right to reduce to mere quantitative changes. Beyond this, as the very terminology of our evolutionary hypotheses is enough to show, it is impossible to state the facts of biological evolution without introducing, under such names |286| as “sexual selection,” continual reference to a subjective factor, in the form of the likes and dislikes, habits and cravings of sentient beings, and this selective factor, being in its own nature incapable of direct presentation in identical form to a plurality of experiences, is not even a member of the physical order. With the case of Psychology we shall be better able to deal in connection with the special discussions of the following Book. (See especially Bk. IV. chap. I.)

Considerations of this kind seem to necessitate the following general view of the logical character of descriptive physical science. The only science in which the postulates of description are rigidly carried out to their logical consequences is the science of abstract Mechanics in its various branches (Statics, Kinetics, etc.). Mechanics owes its power to follow out these postulates to its abstract character. Precisely because it regards only those aspects of the actual physical order which are consistent with the fundamental postulate of describability by general formulae. Mechanics is constrained to be a purely abstract and hypothetical science. For since every actual process involves the appearance of the qualitatively novel, and since all concrete quality is in its essence unique, no actual process can be merely mechanical.

Thus the only way of conceiving the physical order which is logically consistent with the postulates of descriptive science in their rigidity, is one which treats all natural changes as reducible to equations. And it is only in abstract Mechanics that this view is systematically carried out.4 Consequently, it is only in so far as all physical science can be reduced to abstract Mechanics that we can attain the ultimate purpose of our scientific constructions, the calculation and prediction of the course of occurrences by means of general formulae. This conclusion, derived in the first instance from reflection on the logical nature of scientific description, is fully borne out by our actual experience of the results of our scientific theories. Just because we cannot ultimately reduce all chemical and biological processes to mere quantitative changes in a material of uniform quality, we are unable to predict with absolute confidence the precise result of a concrete chemical experiment, and still more unable to foretell the precise behaviour of a living organism. |287|

Hence follow two very important results, (1) There is a real practical justification for the attempt, as far as possible, to treat the chemical and biological phenomena as if they were simply more complicated instances of the relations familiar to us in Mechanics. For though they are not really purely mechanical, it is only in so far as we can treat them without appreciable error as exactly measurable that they admit in principle of calculation.

(2) At the same time, there is also ample justification for the use of qualitative and teleological categories in Chemistry and Biology. For the interests which chemical and biological knowledge subserve are not limited by our need for practical rules for intervention in the course of nature. Over and above this original scientific interest, which can only be gratified by a mechanical treatment of the subject, we have an aesthetic interest in the serial grouping of processes according to their qualitative affinities, and an historical interest in tracing the successive modifications which have led to the establishment of a relatively stable form of human social existence. In so far as the chemical and biological sciences involve the recognition of qualitative distinctions and the consequent use of categories which are nonmechanical, it is these aesthetic and historical interests, and not the primary scientific interest in the control of natural phenomena, which are subserved by their elaboration.

Hence, while Chemistry and Biology, even apart from the possibility of their conversion into branches of applied Mechanics, are essentially descriptive sciences, the task fulfilled by them, so far as they use qualitative and teleological categories, is one of aesthetic and historical rather than of properly scientific description. And aesthetic and historical description, having another object than that of purely scientific description, are under no necessity to conform to the postulates imposed on the latter by the special character of the interests it aims at satisfying. Thus we can see how the right of Chemistry and Biology to be regarded as something more than mere applied Mechanics, can be reconciled with Kant’s profoundly true assertion that any branch of knowledge contains just so much science as it contains of Mathematics. When we come, in connection with the special problems of the following Book, to discuss the aims and methods of Psychology, we shall find in that study a still more striking example of the way in which the narrowly “scientific” interest may play a markedly subordinate part in determining the procedure of a branch of knowledge |288| which must, because of its systematic character, be called a “science” in the wider acceptation of the term.5


“The analysis of such leading concepts of mechanical Physics as the Conservation of Mass and of Energy shows them to have only relative validity.”


§ 6. Since it is only complete and all-embracing knowledge which can be in the last resort a completely self-contained and self-explaining system, we must expect to find that the concepts employed in the mechanical interpretation of the physical order lead us into contradiction the moment we try to treat them as a complete account of the concrete nature of the whole of Reality. This is shown more particularly in two ways. On the one hand, the application of the categories of Mechanics to the whole of Reality leads inevitably to the indefinite regress. On the other, in their legitimate application to a lesser part of existence they are all demonstrably relative, that is, they always appear as one aspect of a fact which has other aspects, and without these other aspects would have no meaning. It is worth our while to consider both these points in some detail.

For the successful application of the mechanical view to the physical order, we need to treat that order as consisting of the changing configurations of a whole of qualitatively homogeneous related parts. Any departure from this point of view would involve the recognition of differences which cannot be treated as merely quantitative, as mere subjects for calculation and prediction, and would thus necessitate the introduction of a non-mechanical factor into our interpretation of the universe. The mechanical view, fully carried out, thus involves the conception of the universe as a system extended and ordered in space and time, and capable of spatial and temporal change, but manifesting a quantitative identity throughout its changes. In the actual constructions of physical science this quantitative identity is represented principally by the principles of the Conservation of Mass and the Conservation of Energy. Both these latter principles are thus, in their general form, neither axioms of |289| knowledge nor verifiable empirical facts, but a part of the general mechanical postulate. There is no ultimate logical principle in virtue of which we are constrained to think of the particular quantities we denote as mass and energy as incapable of increase or diminution, nor again have we any experimental means of proving that those quantities are more than approximately constant.6 It is, however, a necessary condition of success in calculating the course of events, that there should be some quantitative identity which remains unaffected in the various processes of physical change, and it is chiefly in the special forms of the quantitative constancy of Mass and Energy that we seem at present able to give definite expression to this a priori postulate of mechanical construction.

Now, with regard to spatial and temporal direction and position, we have seen already both that they are always relative, position and direction being only definable with respect to other positions and directions arbitrarily selected to serve as standards of reference, and that, when taken as ultimate realities, they involve the indefinite regress. It only remains to show that the same is true of the other fundamental concepts of the mechanical scheme, mass and energy. Taking the two separately, we may deal first of all with the notion of mass. The mass of a material system is often loosely spoken of as its “quantity of matter,” but requires, for the purposes of logical analysis, a more precise definition. Such a definition may be given in the following way. In order to explain what is meant by the constancy of the mass of a body, it is necessary to consider the mutual relations of at least three different bodies, which we will call A, B, and C. It is found that, at a given distance, in the presence of A, C receives an acceleration m, and in the presence of B a second acceleration n; then the mass of A is said to stand to that of B in the ratio m/n, which is the ratio of the accelerations which they respectively produce on C, and this ratio is constant, whatever body we choose for C. Hence, if we arbitrarily take B as our unit for the measurement of mass, the mass of A as determined by the foregoing experiment will be represented by the number m. By the principle of the Conservation of Mass is meant the doctrine that the ratio m/n as above determined does not |290| alter with the lapse of time.7 That is, the ratio between the accelerations produced by any pair of bodies or a third body is constant and independent of this third body itself. This proposition is verifiable approximately by direct experiment for a particular pair of bodies, but when affirmed as universally true becomes a part of the general mechanical postulate.

Now, it is obvious from the foregoing explanation of the meaning of mass (1) that mass is a relative term. It is a name for a certain constant ratio which requires no less than three distinct terms for its complete definition. Hence there would be no meaning in ascribing mass to the whole physical order or “universe.” The “universe” could only have a mass as a whole if there were some body outside the universe, but capable of interaction with it, so that we could compare the relative accelerations, in the presence of this body, of the whole “physical universe,” and of our arbitrarily selected unit of mass. But the “universe,” by supposition, contains all physical existence, and there is therefore no such accelerating body outside it. Hence we cannot say, without an implicit contradiction, that the whole of existence possesses the property of mass, nor a fortiori that its mass is constant. It is only subordinate parts of the universe to which the principle of the Conservation of Mass can be intelligibly applied.

(2) It is also clear that the mass of a body is only one aspect of a whole of existence which possesses other aspects, not regarded in our mechanical constructions. The bodies which actually exhibit a constant ratio in their accelerations have other properties over and above the fact of this constant ratio. They have always, in actual fact, qualitative differences from one another and from other things, which we disregard in our mechanical treatment of them because they make no difference to this special property, in which for purposes of calculation we are peculiarly interested. It is by the barest and most palpable of abstractions that, in Mechanics, we treat bodies as if they were masses and nothing more. Thus the facts taken into account by the mechanical interpretation of nature are, so far as its reduction of bodies to masses is concerned, a mere aspect of a |291| fuller reality which we treat as equivalent to the whole for no better reason than the practical one that it suits a special object of our own that it should be so equivalent, and that this object is empirically found to be attained by regarding it as equivalent.

Precisely the same is the case with the complementary concept of Energy. The kinetic energy, or capacity of a body for doing work against resistance, is found experimentally to be measured by half the square of its velocity multiplied by its mass. It is further found by experiment that, so far as we can measure, the energy of a material system not acted upon from without remains constant. That the constancy is absolute is, of course, once more not a matter for direct empirical proof, but a part of the postulate that the physical order shall be capable of a mechanical interpretation. Now we can see at once, from what has been previously said of the concept of Mass, that the physical order or “universe” as a whole cannot be intelligibly said to possess kinetic energy, whether constant or otherwise. What cannot be said to have mass clearly cannot have a property only explicable in terms of mass. We might indeed have inferred the same consequence directly from the definition of energy as capacity for doing “work” in overcoming resistance. The “universe,” having nothing outside itself, can have no source of possible resistance to overcome, and therefore cannot be thought of as doing “work.” Hence, once more, it is only the parts of the physical order, considered as parts, to which energy can be ascribed.

(3) Again, it is even more evident in the case of energy than in the case of mass, that we are dealing with one aspect singled out by abstraction from a whole possessed of other aspects not regarded in a purely mechanical construction. For (a) the capacity for work of an actual body does not always exist in the “kinetic” form of actual motion. There are various forms of non-kinetic energy, such as, e.g., the energy of “position” of a resting body, the heat of a body of higher temperature than its surroundings, which Mechanics treats as equivalent to “kinetic” energy, because they are theoretically capable of being converted into it. And these forms of non-kinetic energy are qualitatively different both from energy of actual motion and from each other. It is by a mere abstraction that we treat them as identical because they are, for certain special purposes, equivalent. The qualitative differences may make no difference with respect |292| to a particular purpose of our own, but they are none the less really there.

Again, the mechanical scheme itself is quite insufficient to explain why or when these different forms of energy are replaced by one another. As has been well said by Professor Ward, the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy asserts no more than that a certain quantitative identity is maintained in all exchanges of energy. But when or in what direction these exchanges shall take place, the principle itself does not enable us to say. Thus, to take a simple example: if I know the mass of a stone lodged on a roof, the height of the roof from the ground, and the acceleration produced by gravity at the spot in question, I can determine the “potential energy” of the stone. But my data tell me nothing as to whether this potential energy will remain for ever in its potential form, or whether the stone will yet be dislodged and its energy converted into kinetic shape, and if so, when. The principles of the mechanical interpretation of nature are thus inadequate to describe the concrete course of events in so simple a case as that of the fall of a stone. If the stone falls, then by the aid of the mechanical postulate I can describe one aspect of the process, namely, the amount of kinetic energy which will be evolved; and again, if certain previous conditions are fulfilled, e.g., if the support gives way, and if the descent of the stone is not previously arrested, the mechanical postulate enables me to infer that the stone will fall and will reach the ground with just this kinetic energy. But I can never escape, so long as I keep within the mechanical scheme, from this necessity of hypothetically assuming as given data which the mechanical scheme itself cannot fully determine.

All these considerations show how the very nature of the mechanical scheme itself justifies our previous conclusion, that it is in all its details simply the expression of a postulate created by our practical need that the course of nature shall admit of calculation with sufficient exactitude for the devising of successful rules for intervention in it, but logically incapable of being without contradiction regarded as the real truth about any concrete natural process. The internal evidence, derived from examination of the fundamental concepts of scientific Mechanism, thus confirms the view we have already adopted on different grounds, that the whole physical order is merely the appearance of a more ultimate reality of a kind akin to our own sentient and purposive life. At the same time, our examination of |293| mechanism may serve to throw some useful light on the often misconceived antithesis between Reality and Appearance. We call the physical order, as conceived by mechanical science, “appearance,” not because we regard it as illusory or deceptive in itself, or because it is not the manifestation of a true reality, but because it takes account only of those particular aspects of Reality which are important and significant for certain very special purposes. What appears to us as the physical order is, indeed, true Reality, and is, in fact, an integral part of the only Reality there is, but it appears to us in this special form and under these special restrictions because we have arbitrarily excluded every other aspect of the concrete facts from our purview by the choice of our initial postulates of descriptive science. By the nature of the special questions we put to our world, in our physical science, we determine in advance for ourselves the general character of the answer we are to receive.

Rigidly scientific investigation, for instance, finds mechanical determination everywhere in the world, and purposive spontaneity nowhere, just because it has previously resolved that it will accept “mechanical explanation” and nothing else as the answer to its questions. So far as we bear in mind the presence of these self-imposed logical limitations throughout our mechanical science, their existence need lead to no illusion or deception. The success of our mechanical postulates shows that, within the sphere of their logical applicability, the course of the world does really conform to them, and thus the results won by their application are genuine truth, so far as they go. It is only when we forget the limits set to the logical applicability of the mechanical postulates, by the special nature of the interests they subserve, and proceed to treat them as logically indispensable conditions of all existence and all knowledge, that the truths of mechanical science are perverted into the illusions and falsehoods of a mechanical philosophy.


Consult further:
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chaps. II (Phenomenalism), 22 (Nature).
H. Lotze, Metaphysic, bk. ii. chaps. 7, 8.
E. Mach, Science of Mechanics, chap. 2, § 5, p. 216 ff.
K. Pearson, Grammar of Science, chaps. 7, 8.
H. Poincare, La Science et L’Hypothise, parts 3 and 4, chaps. 6-10.
J. B. Stallo, Concepts and Theories of Modern Physics, chaps. 2-6, 10-12.
J. Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. i. lects. 2-6.


1^ And, again, the intermediate links themselves, however imperceptible, have always to be thought of as exhibiting properties identical in kind with those of objects given in direct presentation. As Mill said, a hypothesis which assumes at once an entirely unfamiliar agent and an equally unfamiliar mode or law of operation, would be useless. Thus the imperceptibles of scientific hypothesis belong essentially to the physical order.

2^ This is the characteristic selected by Prof. Münsterberg as the basis of his own distinction between “physical” or “super-individual” and “psychical” or “individual” objects. See Grundzüge der Psychologie, i. 15-77.

3^ Cf. Mach, Science of Mechanics, p. 4. Mach, however, erroneously as I think, makes the intercommunication a secondary consequence of the rise of specialised industrial classes.

4^ I.e., the mechanical view of Nature, to be thoroughly self-consistent, must be purely mechanistic.

5^ To put the matter more succinctly, as regards the position of Chemistry and Biology, we may say that while chemical and biological facts are never merely mechanical, chemical and biological science, so far as they subserve the strictly scientific interest of calculation and the formulation of general rules, must always be so. The facts only lend themselves to this special purpose in so far as they admit of being, without sensible error, treated as if they conformed to the postulates of universal Mechanism. The special and more difficult case of psychological facts I reserve for separate discussion in the following Book (infra, Bk. IV. chap. 1).
  I am glad to be able to refer the reader, for a view of the logical worth of the mechanical postulates which appears in principle identical with my own, to the interesting discussion of Mr. W. R. B. Gibson in Personal Idealism, p. 144 ff.

6^ Compare Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chap. 23, note 2 to p. 331 (1st ed.); Lotze, Metaphysic, bk. ii. chap. 7, pp. 209, 210 (Eng. trans., vol. ii. p. 89 ff.); Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. i. pp. 84-91 (Conservation of Mass), 170-181 (Conservation of Energy).

7^ If we merely desired to fix the sense of the term mass without introducing the concept of constant mass, we might of course consider two bodies only, A and B. Then the ratio

 mass of B  =  acceleration of A in presence of B.
 mass of A  =  acceleration of B in presence of A.

See Mach, Science of Mechanics, p. 216 ff.; and Pearson, Grammar of Science, p. 302 (2nd ed.), on which the above account is based.

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Book IV. Rational Psychology: The Interpretation of Life









Chapter I. The Logical Character of Psychological Science

§ 1. The net result of our brief examination of some of the most important cosmological concepts has been to confirm us in the “idealistic” or “spiritualistic” interpretation of existence to which our first two books in principle committed us. The reader who has followed us so far with acquiescence will now be fully prepared to admit that we shall at least be nearer the truth in conceiving the universe as composed of sentient and purposive subjects of experience, akin in principle to the members of human society, than as constituted, entirely or in part, of mechanically interacting and interdependent elements.


“The various sciences which deal with the interpretation of human life all avail themselves of the fundamental categories of Psychology. Hence we must ask how the concepts of Psychology are related to actual experience.”


The acceptance of an idealist interpretation of the universe, however, still leaves us face to |295| face with a number of problems of the gravest philosophical import. We have still to ask how in particular we can most truly conceive the systematic unity which is formed by the whole multiplicity of apparently more or less independent subjects of experience, what degree of permanence and individuality, so far as we can judge, belongs to ourselves as members of that system, and what light is thrown by our ethical, religious, and aesthetic aspirations and ideals on the concrete character of the whole system and on our own place in it. Again, before we can attack these momentous problems with any reasonable hope of success, we shall need to know which among the categories employed by the various sciences dealing with mental life are of fundamental significance, and what is the logical relation of those sciences to the concrete realities of immediate experience, and to the constructions of physical science. Only on the basis of a rational theory as to the purposes subserved by the various mental sciences, and the possible limitations imposed by those purposes on the use of the corresponding categories, can we decide how far the interpretation of existence as a whole in terms of Psychology, Sociology, or Ethics, is legitimate.

It is clear that the complete execution of the programme indicated in the previous paragraph would involve a systematic philosophical interpretation of the significance of human life for which some such name as the Metaphysics of Society or Metaphysics of History would be a more adequate designation than the traditional title of Rational Psychology. I have, however, retained the ancient name for this subdivision of our task, mainly on the ground that our own elementary discussion will be primarily concerned with those most simple and universal psychological concepts of which the various more concrete social and historical sciences make the same constant use as chemistry and the other physical sciences do of the mechanical concepts of mass, energy, velocity, etc. Whatever view we adopt of the precise degree of connection between Psychology on the one side and the various social and historical sciences on the other, it is at least manifest that Ethics, Sociology, History, and the rest all involve the constant use of such psychological categories as those of self, will, thought, freedom, and that thus any sound metaphysical interpretation of history and society must begin with investigation into the logical character of the science to which these concepts belong, just as a sound Metaphysic of nature had to start by an examination of the postulates of Mechanics. I suppose that there |296| is no need to utter more than a passing word by way of reminder to the reader, that such an investigation presupposes the previous creation of a purely empirical science of Psychology. The business of Metaphysics with Psychology is not to dictate in advance how it must construct its view of the world, but to ascertain the logical character of the completed construction, and its relation to the general system of human knowledge.


“Psychology is a body of abstract descriptive formulae, not a direct transcript of the individual processes of real life. It presupposes the previous construction of the physical order.”


§ 2. The Place of Psychology among the Sciences. From the metaphysician’s point of view, it is of the utmost importance to recognise clearly and constantly that Psychology, like the other sciences, deals throughout not with the actual experiences of real subjects, but with “data” obtained by the artificial manipulation and transformation of actual experience into a shape dictated by certain special interests and purposes. (This is a point upon which the idealist metaphysician, in particular, is peculiarly liable to go wrong when left to himself. Starting with the conviction that the key to the nature of existence as a whole is to be found in our own direct experience of our sentient and purposive life, he almost inevitably tends, unless he has given particular attention to the methodology of psychological science, to take it for granted that the concepts and hypotheses of the psychologist afford a description of this experience in its concrete directness, and may therefore be treated without misgiving as a fruitful source of certain knowledge about the inmost structure of the absolute or infinite individual itself. And even the reiterated demonstration that one or another of the current categories of Psychology cannot be predicated of the absolute whole of reality without flagrant contradiction, frequently fails to produce conviction where it is not accompanied by direct proof of the artificiality and remoteness from concrete actuality of the psychologist’s data. Hence it would be worse than useless to discuss such questions as, whether the infinite individual can properly be thought of as a “self” or an “ethical person,” or again as a “society of ethical persons,” or again whether finite “selves” are “eternal” or only transitory constituents of the world-system, without first arriving at some definite view as to the way in which these psychological concepts are derived from the concrete actualities of experience, the special interests which lead to their formulation, and the restrictions imposed by those interests on the sphere of their valid application.

That Psychology, like all descriptive science, deals throughout with data which are not concrete experience-realities, but |297| artificial products of a process of abstraction and reconstruction, should be sufficiently clear from the very consideration that, like the other sciences, it is a body of general descriptions of typical situations. An actual process of knowing or acting, like every actual event, is always individual, and because of its individuality defies adequate description. It is only in so far as a situation admits of being generalised by the selection of certain of its aspects or qualities as representative of its whole reality, that it is capable of being described at all. Even History and Biography, in which the teleological interpretation of a series of events as internally united by the singleness of the purpose underlying them takes the place of external connection in accord with mechanical laws of sequence as the ideal of explanation, are only possible on the condition that such transformation of the concrete realities of life as is implied in such a degree of abstraction and reconstruction can be carried out without detriment to the special interests of the historian and the biographer. And Psychology is unreal and abstract even as compared with history. It provides us with general formulae which are, or should be, valuable as affording a means of describing certain universal features of the processes of willing and knowing which it is desirable to study in isolation, but it is of itself as incapable of adequately tracing the actual course of a real process of willing or thinking, as Mechanics is of following the actual course of a real individual process in “external” nature. In this respect the concepts and formulae of scientific Psychology stand on precisely the same footing, as regards their relation to the individual and actual, as do those of scientific Physics. Their truth and validity means simply that by substituting them for concrete actualities we can get answers to certain special questions which we have an interest in solving, not that they are unaltered transcripts of the actualities themselves.

This is perhaps most strikingly shown by observing that the very existence of Psychology as a distinct branch of science presupposes that artificial severance of the unity of direct experience into a physical order and a non-physical realm external to that order, of which we have already investigated the origin. Psychology has no subject-matter at all until we have first, for the practical reasons already discussed, constructed the physical order by the inclusion in it of all those experience-contents which are equally accessible under specified conditions to the observation of a plurality of subjects, and then gone on to assign to the realm of “psychical” or “mental” existence whatever experience-contents |298| fall outside the system so defined. And this whole separation of the physical and the psychical or mental, as we have already seen, has no place in the direct experience of actual life. In actual life, until we come to reconstruct it in thought for the purposes of description and calculation, there are neither material bodies nor “immaterial minds” or “consciousnesses” which are “in” them or “animate” them; there are simply sentient and purposive beings and the environment of things to which they have to adjust themselves in the execution of their purposes. How and for what reasons this naïvely realistic view of existence comes to give place to the dualistic conception of a physical world and a plurality of non-physical beings in relation with it, we have already seen in our study of the methodology of the physical sciences. We have now to follow the development of the dualistic line of thought somewhat further, before we can see precisely what is the character of the logical reconstruction of actual experience presupposed by the existence of a science of Psychology.


“The psychological conception of conscious life as a succession of ‘mental states’ or ‘images’ is a transformation of actual experience devised primarily to account for the experience of other subjects, and subsequently extended to my own. The transformation is effected by the hypothesis of ‘introjection.’”


§ 3. As we have already learned, our recognition of the actuality of our own and our fellow-men’s life of unique and incommunicable feeling compelled us to admit the existence of much that, from its incommunicable nature, falls outside the sphere of physical reality. We have now to see how Psychology, in taking this non-physical existence as its subject-matter, conceives of its mode of existence and its relation to the subject-matter of the physical sciences. In recent years, much light has been thrown upon the methodological problem in question by the labours of Avenarius and his followers, from whom the substance of our account will be largely drawn. What Avenarius has for the first time made perfectly clear is, that the psychological interpretation of our own experience is throughout based upon reading into that experience a theory originally devised to meet a difficulty suggested by the existence of our fellow-men.

We have already seen, in dealing with the subjectivist’s fallacy, what this difficulty is. So long as I am concerned only with the analysis of my own experience, there is nothing to suggest the distinction between a physical and a psychical aspect of existence. All that I require, or rather all that I should require had I any interest in analysing my own experience independent of the need for intercommunication, is the simpler and more primitive distinction between myself as one thing in the world and the other things which form my environment. But the case is altered when I come, after |299| the creation of the concept of a physical order, to analyse the experience of my fellow-men. My fellow-men, on the one hand, belong to the physical order, and, as belonging to it, are known to me as objects cognisable through my senses. On the other hand, it is necessary for all the purposes of practical intercourse to credit them with the same kind of sentience and feeling which I directly know in myself This sentience and feeling are, of course, inaccessible to the perception of my own senses; I can see my fellow’s eye and can hear his voice, but I cannot see that he sees or hear that he hears. My fellow thus comes to be thought of as having a double existence; besides that aspect of him in which he is simply one among other things perceived, or in principle perceptible, by my senses, he has another aspect, not directly perceptible but necessarily presupposed in all social relation with him. On the side of his body he belongs entirely to the physical order; but there is, associated with this bodily existence, another side to him which I call his psychical aspect. Now, how must this “psychical aspect” be supposed to be constituted when once it has come to be thus artificially separated in thought from the physical side of my fellow’s existence? It is here that the theory of “introjection,” as worked out by Avenarius, comes to our aid.

When I perceive any object directly, without sophisticating myself by devising psychological hypotheses about the process, what I am aware of is, on the one side, the thing as a constituent of my environment, and, on the other, a variety of movements or impulses to movement in myself, marked by a peculiar tone of satisfied or dissatisfied feeling, and determined by the relation in which the thing in question stands to my various interests. But when I come to explain to myself what is meant by my fellow-man’s assertion that he also perceives the same object, a difficulty seems to arise which renders this simple analysis inadequate. The perceived object, the sun for example, appears to belong to my world of sensible things, for I too see the sun. Not so my fellowman’s perception of it; as I cannot “see him seeing the sun,” so to say, I find it hard to understand how the sun, which is a thing in my sensible world, can be an object for his perception, which is not in my sensible world. Hence I draw the inference that while I see the actual sun, the content of my fellow’s perception is an image or idea of the sun (cf. p. 81).

By the extension of this process of inference I come to think of the non-physical aspect of my fellow’s existence as consisting, as a whole, of a vast complex of successive ideas |300| or images, attended with their characteristic tone of satisfied and dissatisfied feeling; as this series of “mental states” or “ideas” has now to be represented as in some way related to the sensible physical reality I call my fellow’s body, I imagine it as going on “within” his skin somewhere, and thus arrive at the conception of my fellow as a dualistic compound of a physical factor, perceptible by my senses, his body, and a non-physical factor, composed of a stream of “mental images,” and imperceptible to sense, his mind. One further step remains to be taken and the work of “introjection” is complete. That step is the artificial reinterpretation of my own experience in terms of the distinction I have been led to establish for the case of my fellow. I come to think of my own conscious life in terms of the distinction between body and mind, and to analyse what as originally experienced was the direct reaction of a unitary self upon the things which formed its environment into a succession of “mental states” or “images” going on “within” a body, their relation to which will yet form a prominent scientific problem.

Now, it is only when this process of “introjection” has reached its final issue, and the actual life of sentient purposive intercourse with the other actual things of our environment has been replaced in thought by the conception of a mental succession of “images” or “contents of consciousness,” taken to “refer” to “things” which are themselves “outside consciousness,” while the felt unity of experience has given way to the radical sundering of human existence into a physical and a psychical aspect, that we have reached the point of view from which psychological science takes its departure. Only when the actualities of experience have been artificially transformed into “mental states” or “images” of actualities by the hypothesis of “introjection,” and thus definitely constituted into a non-physical order, have we the materials for the construction of a special science of the “psychical side” of our nature. Psychology, in fact, presupposes “psychical states” as the material of its studies, and “psychical states” are not data of immediate experience, but symbols derived from and substituted for the actual data of experience by an elaborately artificial method of transformation. Hence we should be committing a grave fallacy in Logic if we were to argue that since subjects of experience are the sole real things, the hypotheses of Psychology must be the final metaphysical truth about the world.

When we attempt to criticise the logical validity of the process of “introjection,” and the scientific constructions of a |301| Psychology built up on an introjectionist foundation, we cannot fail to observe certain apparent gross breaches of logic which affect it. In the first place, the fundamental assumption that my fellow’s “mental life” is composed of “images” of the actual things of my own experience, is clearly at variance with the principle previously implied in the construction, for purposes of cooperation, of the physical order as composed of things equally accessible to the perception of a plurality of individuals. This discrepancy is once more done away with, when the process of introjection has been completed, by the reduction of my own mental life to a succession of images or states of consciousness, but only at the cost of forgetting that the original motive to “introjection” was a supposed disparity between my own and my fellow’s relation to the physics things of my environment.

Hence it is not strange that Avenarius should apparently hold the whole introjectionist transformation of the “naively realistic” standpoint to be essentially fallacious, and should close his discussion of the subject with the proposition that all attempts to vary the “natural view of the world” lead to superfluities or contradictions.1 It does not, however, seem necessary to follow him in this unfavourable judgment. Indeed, if we reflect that such a thorough-going rejection of all the results of introjection must involve as a consequence the repudiation of the whole science of Psychology, a science which may fairly be said to be at present about as fully justified by its successful growth as most of the physical sciences, we shall probably be inclined to hold that a process so fruitful in results must have its logical justification, however artificial the assumptions upon which it rests.


§§ 4, 5.“The logical justification of the psychological transformation of facts
is twofold. The psychological scheme serves partly to fill up the gaps in our theories of physiological Mechanism, and also, in respect of the teleological categories of Psychology, to describe the course of human conduct in a form capable of ethical and historical appreciation. Psychology may legitimately employ both mechanical and teleological categories.”


§ 4. What, then, is the logical justification for that elaborate transformation of experience which is necessary to bring it into the form presupposed by psychological science? In principle the question is not hard to answer. The “ideas,” “mental states,” and so forth, of Psychology are, as we have seen, symbols which we substitute for certain concrete actualities, and, like all symbols,2 they only partially correspond to the material they symbolise. But, like other symbols, they |302| are admissible as substitutes for the things symbolised on two conditions: (1) that the individual symbol corresponds to that which it symbolises according to a definite and unambiguous scheme, and (2) that the substitution of the symbol for the thing symbolised is required in order to make the latter amenable to such manipulation as is necessary for the solution of some particular class of problem. Now, there can be no doubt that the first of these conditions is fulfilled by the translation of our actual experience into the introjectionist symbols of Psychology. For in the external or “physical” events which correspond to a “mental state,” I possess an unambiguous means of recognising the actual experience for which the mental state in question stands in the symbolism of Psychology. If the various physical “conditions” and forms of “expression” of the mental state are indicated with sufficient fulness and accuracy, they enable me to identify the corresponding actual experience when it occurs in my own life, or even to produce it experimentally for the express purpose of interpreting the Psychologist’s symbolism. The only question, then, that can reasonably be raised as to the legitimacy of psychological symbolism, is the question whether such a transformation of the actualities of immediate experience is demanded for the attainment of some specific purpose or interest.

It seems, I think, that the transformation is really required for more purposes than one. In the first place, one obvious use of psychological hypotheses is that, like the hypotheses of physical science, they assist us to calculate the course of events, in so far as it is independent of purposive interference of our own, and thus to form prudential rules for our own guidance in so interfering. This seems to be the principal use of those parts of Psychology which deal with the more mechanical aspects of mental life, e.g., the laws of the formation of fixed habits and associations by repetition, the gradual passing of voluntary into involuntary attention, and so forth. We are interested in studying the laws of habit and association, just as we are in formulating mechanical laws of physical nature, because we require to guide ourselves by such knowledge whenever we directly and intentionally interfere in the life of our fellows for educational, punitive, or general social purposes. Unless we can forecast the way in which our fellow will continue to act, so far as his behaviour is not modified by fresh purposive initiative, we shall be helpless to decide how we must intervene in his life to produce a given desired effect. Similarly, the direct moulding of our own future in a desired direction would be |303| impossible apart from such knowledge of what that future is likely to be without intentional direction.

It may be said, of course, with justice, that, so far as Psychology presents us with such routine uniformities of succession, it is a mere supplementary device for making good the defects in our anatomical and physiological knowledge. If our physiological science were only sufficiently extensive and minute, we might reasonably expect to be able to describe the whole course of human action, so far as it is amenable to mechanical law, and exhibits routine uniformity in purely physiological terms. Instead of talking about the “association” of “ideas” or the production of a “habit” by repetition, we should then, for instance, be able to describe in physiological terminology the changes effected in a cerebral tract by the simultaneous excitement of two nervous centres, and to write the complete history of the process by which a permanent “conduction-path” arises from the reiteration of the excitement. Such a definite substitution of physiological for psychological hypotheses is pretty evidently the goal which the modern “experimental Psychology” has set before itself, and which it is constantly, trying to persuade itself it has reached, in respect of some parts at least of its subject.

Nor does there seem any reason to doubt that, since the physiological counterpart of a routine uniformity of mental sequence must itself clearly be a routine uniformity, all psychological laws of uniform mechanical sequence might be ultimately replaced by their physiological equivalents, if only our knowledge of the structure and functions of the nervous system were sufficiently advanced. Hence Professor Münsterberg is perfectly self-consistent in arguing from the premisses that the sole function of psychological science is to provide us with mechanical uniformities of sequence by the aid whereof to calculate the future behaviour of our fellows, in so far as it is not modified by fresh purposive initiative, to the conclusion that the whole of Psychology is a temporary stop-gap by which we eke out our defective Physiology, but which must sooner or later cease to be of use, and therefore cease to exist as Physiology advances.3

It would, of course, remain true, even if we were to accept this view of the case without reservation, that Psychology is, in the present state of our knowledge, an indispensable adjunct to Physiology. For, while our knowledge of the physiology of the nervous system is at present too fragmentary |304| and vague to be of much practical use in enabling us to forecast even the simplest sequences in the behaviour of our fellows, Psychology is, temporarily at least, in many respects in a more advanced condition. Thus, if it were necessary, before we could infer the probable effects of exposure to a particular stimulus on a man’s behaviour, to frame a workable hypothesis as to the physiological occurrences in the nervous system between the first reception of the stimulus and the issuing of the ultimate bodily reaction, we should still be waiting helplessly for the means of framing the simplest general judgments as to the probable effects of our actions on our social circle. This is because the nervous changes intervening between the reception of the stimulus and the reaction can only be rendered accessible to observation by devices which postulate for their invention an extremely advanced condition of physical science in general and of Physiology in particular. There is no direct method of translating the actual processes which we experience into an unambiguous physiological symbolism, or, vice versa, of testing a physiological hypothesis by retranslating it into facts of direct living experience. On the other hand, when we have given the assumed conditions of the occurrence of the stimulus, it is comparatively easy to observe, what follows on them in actual life, and to translate it into the introjectionist Psychology, or, vice versa, to test a theory couched in terms of that Psychology by comparison with the actualities of experience.

For this reason psychological hypotheses are, in the present state of knowledge, an indispensable mediating link between actual experience and physiological theory, and if ever they should come to be finally superseded by purely physiological descriptions of human conduct, we may be sure that the triumphant physiological theories will themselves first have been won by the process of establishing psychological formulae and then seeking their physiological analogues. This is illustrated in the actual history of contemporary science by the extent to which the cerebral physiologists are dependent for their conception of the structure of the nervous system on the previous results of purely psychological investigation. We might present the mutual relations of concrete experience. Psychology and nervous Physiology, in an epigrammatic form, by saying that the connecting link between the subject of experience and the brain of Physiology is the “mind” or “consciousness” of Psychology. |305|


§ 5. It is, I think, questionable whether such a view as Professor Münsterberg’s does full justice to the interests which prompt us to the construction of the psychological symbolism. On his theory, Psychology, it will be seen, is essentially a science of routine or mechanical uniformities of sequence, just like the various branches of mechanical Physics. According to him, teleology must be ruthlessly banished from scientific Psychology. In other words, though all the actual processes of direct experience are pervaded by teleological unity of interest or purpose, yet in substituting our psychological symbols for the actualities we must deprive them of every vestige of this teleological character. Nor is this demand that Psychology shall translate experience into a series of non-purposive routine sequences an arbitrary one on Professor Münsterberg’s part. If the sole function of Psychology is to facilitate calculation and prediction of the course of events, so far as it is not controlled by purposive interference, Psychology must, of course, either follow rigidly mechanical lines in its descriptions, or fail of its object. But I would suggest that over and above this function of facilitating calculation and prediction at present fulfilled by Psychology as locum tenens |a place-holder| for a perfected Physiology, Psychology has another and an entirely distinct function, in which it would be impossible for it to be replaced by Physiology or by any other branch of study. This function is that of affording a set of symbols suitable for the description, in abstract general terms, of the teleological processes of real life, and thus providing Ethics and History and their kindred studies with an appropriate terminology.

It is manifest enough that neither the ethical appreciation of human conduct by comparison with an ideal standard, nor the historical interpretation of it in the light of the actual ends and ideals which pervade it and give it its individuality, would be possible unless we could first of all describe the events with which Ethics and History are conceived in teleological language. Apart from the presence throughout those events of more or less conscious striving towards an ideal end, there would be nothing in them for the moralist to applaud or blame, or for the historian to interpret. Thus, if Ethics and History are to have their subject-matter, there must be some science which describes the processes of human life and conduct in terms of teleological relation to an end. Now, to what science can we go for such descriptions? From our previous examination of the postulates of physical science, it is clear that the requisite material cannot |306| be afforded by any branch of physical science which remains rigidly consistent with its own postulates. The nature of the interests in response to which the concept of the physical order was constructed, as we saw, required that the physical order should be thought of and described in terms of rigid mechanism. Hence no science which describes the processes of human life in purely physical terminology can indicate their purposive or teleological character in its descriptions. The purposive character of human conduct, if recognised at all in our descriptions, must find its recognition in that science which describes the aspect of human experience that is in principle excluded from the physical order. In other words, it is Psychology to which we have to go for such a general abstract conception of teleological unity as is necessary for the purposes of the more concrete sciences of Ethics and History.

This function of Psychology is indeed quite familiar to the student of the moral and historical sciences. In Ethics, as Professor Sidgwick has observed, the whole vocabulary used to characterise human conduct, apart from the specially ethical predicates of worth, is purely psychological. All the material which Ethics pronounces “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong” — “acts,” “feelings,” “tempers,” “desire,” etc., — it has taken over bodily from Psychology. And so, too, History would have nothing left to appreciate if a record of merely physical movements were substituted for accounts of events which imply at every turn the psychological categories of “desire,” “purpose,” “intention,” “temptation,” and the rest. Universally, we may say all the teleological categories of human thought on examination prove to be either avowedly the property of Psychology, or, as is the case with the concepts of biological evolutionism, thinly disguised borrowings from it.

If this is so, we seem to be justified in drawing certain important inferences, (1) It will follow that of the two distinct offices which Psychology at present fulfils, one belongs to it, so to say, in its own right and inalienably, while the other is exercised by it temporarily, pending the majority of Cerebral Physiology. While, as we have seen, those parts of psychological doctrine which are concerned with the more mechanical aspects of conduct may ultimately be replaced by Physiology, the parts which deal with the initiation of fresh purposive adjustments, such as the psychology of attention and of feeling, are in principle irreducible to Physiology, and must retain a permanent value |307| so long as mankind continues to be interested in the ethical and historical appreciation of human life.4

(2) It will also follow that, at present and for long enough to come, Psychology is bound, pace Professor Münsterberg, to use both mechanical and teleological hypotheses and categories. Such a mixture of two different logical standpoints would no doubt be intolerable in a science which owed its existence to the need of satisfying a single interest of our nature. For the kind of interest which is met by mechanical hypotheses is baffled by the introduction of teleological modes of thought, and vice versa. But, according to our view, the interest to which Psychology owes its creation is not single but double. We have an interest in the mechanical forecasting of human action, and an interest in its ethical and historical interpretation, and Psychology, as at present constituted, has to satisfy both these conflicting interests at once. Hence the impossibility of confining it either to purely mechanical or to purely teleological categories. If, indeed, our Physiology had reached the point of ideal completeness, so that every routine uniformity at present expressed in psychological terminology as the establishment of an “association” or “habit” could be translated into its physiological correlate, we should be able to dispense altogether with psychological hypotheses as aids to the calculation of the course of events, and to restore logical unity to Psychology by confining it entirely to the task of providing Ethics and History with the teleological categories they require for the description of their subject matter. But such a reform of method would be most premature in the present condition of our physiological knowledge.5 |308|


“The objections sometimes brought against the possibility of (a) psychological, (b) teleological description are untenable.”


§ 6. There are two points of difficulty which our discussion has so far failed to deal with, but must not leave entirely unnoticed. We have allowed ourselves to assume (a) that description in psychological terms, and (b) that description in teleological terms, are possible. Both these assumptions have been questioned, and it is clear that if the first is unsound there can be no science of Psychology at all, while, if the second is unsound. Psychology cannot use teleological conceptions. Hence it is absolutely necessary to attempt some justification of our position on both questions.

As to (a), it has been argued that since only that which is accessible on equal terms to the perception of a plurality of subjects can be described by one subject to another, and since all objects so accessible to the perception of a plurality of subjects were included in our construction of the physical order, description can only be of physical objects. A “mental state” must be in principle incapable of description, because it can only be experienced by one subject.

Now, if Psychology claimed to be the direct description of immediate experience, as it is experienced, this contention would certainly be fatal to its very existence. But, as we have seen. Psychology makes no such claim. Its data are not the actualities of immediate experience themselves, but symbols derived from those actualities by a certain process of transformation. And though what Psychology calls its “facts” cannot, of course, like physical facts, be directly exhibited to the sense-perception of a plurality of subjects, we have in the physical conditions and concomitants of a “mental state” assignable marks by which we may recognise when it occurs in our own life, the actual experience of which the psychologist’s “mental state” is the symbol. Thus, though I cannot directly produce for inspection a sample |309| of what in Psychology I call “the sensation of red,” I can indirectly, by assigning the upper and lower limits of the wave-length corresponding to the sensation, make every one understand what actual experience I am thinking of when I use the term.

(b) The second difficulty need not detain us long. The view that all description must be exclusively mechanical, rests upon the assumption that no other kind of description will answer the purpose for the sake of which we set out to describe things. Now, so far as description is undertaken for the purpose of establishing practical rules for intervention in the course of occurrences, this assumption is perfectly justified. If we are to lay down general rules for meddling in the course of events, we must of course assume that, apart from our meddling, it goes on with routine regularity. And we have already seen that for this very reason the mechanical interpretation of Nature is a fundamental postulate of physical science, so long as it confines itself strictly to the work of formulating “laws of Nature,” and does not attempt the task of historical appreciation. But, as we have also seen, the historical appreciation of a series of events as marked by the progressive execution of an underlying plan or purpose, is only possible when the events themselves have been described in essentially teleological terms as processes relative to ends.

6^ Hence we have no right to contend that all scientific descriptions shall be of the mechanical type, unless we are also prepared to maintain that the only purpose they subserve is that of the formulation of general rules for practice.

If the historical appreciation of events is a legitimate human interest, the description of events in terms of end and purpose must also be a legitimate form of description. Now, in point of fact, even the “physical sciences” themselves, when they come to deal with the facts of organic life, largely desert the primary scientific ideal of the formation of general laws for the historical ideal of the detection of lines of individual development, and if our previous conclusions are correct, it is much more for the latter than for the former purpose that we are interested in the construction of a science of Psychology. What a human being wants |310| Psychology for, in the main, is not so much to help him to forecast the behaviour of other men, as to assist him to understand how the successive stages of his own individual development and that of his “social environment” are knit into a unity by the presence of all-pervading permanent interests and ends. The contention that psychological description must, on grounds of logical method, be of the mechanical type, seems therefore to repose on misconception as to the uses of Psychology.

The preceding discussion may perhaps appear somewhat arid and wearisome, but it was indispensable that our subsequent examination of the metaphysical problems suggested by the recognition of the psychical realm of existence should be based upon a definite view as to the connection between psychological conceptions and the actualities of experience, and such a view, in its turn, presupposes a positive theory of the interests to which psychological construction ministers and the logical procedure by which it is affected. The general result of our investigation has gone to show negatively that Psychology is not a direct transcript of real experience, but an intellectual reconstruction involving systematic abstraction from and transformation of experience, and positively that the reconstruction depends for its legitimacy upon its serviceableness for the special purposes, partly of the practical anticipation of events, but principally of their historical and ethical appreciation. The significance of those conclusions will be more apparent in the course of the two following chapters.

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Supplementary Note to Chapter I.
On the Discontinuity of the Teleological Series of Ethics and History

We have previously seen that every continuous series is indefinitely divisible, and that consequently no two terms of such a series are immediately coadjacent. On the other hand, any series which consists of terms which are immediately coadjacent, and between which intermediate terms of the same series cannot be inserted, is not indefinitely divisible, and a fortiori not continuous. Applying this to the case of a series of psychical processes, we can see that where the sequence is of a mechanical routine type it is continuous, since it can be indefinitely divided into smaller fragments, each exhibiting the same law of sequence as the whole. (Strictly, it ought to be added that the other condition of continuity is also fulfilled, since, whatever point of time thus divides, the sequence falls within the series itself.) But where you have new teleological adaptation there is a manifest solution of this continuity. The new purpose emerges at a definite point in the sequence: what has gone before up to this point belongs to the working out of a different interest or purpose, what comes after to the working out of the now freshly emerged interest. Each may form a continuous process within itself, but the transition from the one to the other is not continuous. There is where the old purposive series ends and the new one begins, a genuine case of immediate coadjacency of terms between which intermediate members cannot be interposed.

In another connection, it would, I think, be easy to show how this consideration is of itself fatal to the reality of Time. My point here is simply to maintain that the facts just referred to do not warrant the inference that “ultimate Reality” or “the Absolute” is for itself a discontinuous series. My objection to this view is that the “emergence of new selective interest” is itself essentially a feature of the finite experience which, because finite, appears in a temporal form. The distinction between the “new” and the “habitual” has no meaning for a completed and infinite experience, which embraces all existence in a perfectly harmonious form. Or, to put it in another way, the serial form of arrangement itself has no significance except for an experience which has to advance progressively from one stage to another of |312| partial insight and comprehension. This seems as true of “logical” order or ethical order of valuation according to moral worth as of merely numerical order. In fact, we said in Book II. chap. 4, § 10, that the serial arrangement is the simplest and most general expression of that relational mode of apprehension which we decided to be at once inevitable for finite knowledge and inadequate to express Reality. It is on this ground that I feel obliged, as I understand the problem at present, to hold that ultimate Reality is neither a continuous nor a discontinuous series, for the reason that it is not for itself a series at all.


Consult further:
R. Avenarius, Der Menschliche Weltbegriff.
F. H. Bradley, “A Defence of Phenomenalism in Psychology” (Mind, January 1900).
H. Münsterberg, Grundzüge der Psychologie, vol. i. chap. 2 (The Epistemological Basis of Psychology), 11 (Connection through the Body).
J. Ward, Art. “Psychology” in Encyclopcedia Britannica, ad init. (“The Standpoint of Psychology”); Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. ii. lect. 16.


1^ See Avenarius, Der Menschliche Weltbegriff, p. 115 ad fin.

2^ Or rather, like all symbols which are not identical with the things they represent. In the latter case, as when, e.g., for any purpose I count the numbers of the natural number series themselves, beginning with I, there may appear to be complete correspondence. But the usefulness of the process depends on the fact that the I which I count and the I by which I count it are at least numerically distinct — how much more distinction this implies I do not stay to discuss here — and hence, I take it, it is by an abuse of language that the process is called “representation of a thing by itself.”

3^ See Grundzüge der Psychologie, vol. i. chap. 11, pp. 415-436.

4^ This is strikingly illustrated by the procedure of Professor Münsterberg himself. He expels selective interest from his psychological account of attention, in obedience to the principle that teleological ideas must be kept out of a descriptive science, and then, when confronted with the problem what it is that does decide what presentations shall actually be attended to, makes the selection a function of the sub-cortical motor-centres in the brain, thus reintroducing into biology the teleological categories previously declared inadmissible. See Grundzüge der Psychologie, vol. i. chap. 15, pp. 525-562. I may once more note, for the benefit of the reader who is interested in methodology, that whereas the processes of the mechanical sciences are essentially continuous, the teleological processes of finite life as conceived by ethical and historical science appear, as Professor Royce has insisted, to be of the nature of discontinuous series, i.e., to consist of terms between which intermediate links cannot be interpolated. Why I cannot accept what appears to be Professor Royce’s view, that ultimate Reality itself is a discontinuous series, will perhaps be clear from Chap. 3 and the following chapters of the present Book. But see also the Supplementary Note at the end of the present chapter.

5^ Psychology is, of course, far from being the only branch of study which, in its present state, employs categories of both types. Compare the constant use made in biological evolutionary theories of the teleological ideas of, e.g., the “struggle for existence,” the “survival of the fittest,” “sexual selection,” etc., ideas bodily conveyed from Sociology and Psychology. As we have just seen, the precisians who object to this mixture of higher and lower categories in Psychology are in the awkward predicament of only being able to get rid of it there by accentuating its presence in Physiology and Biology. Where they go wrong is in exaggerating the amount of logical unity attributable to any body of inquiries which happens, in virtue of being pursued by the same men and with the same accessories, to be called by a common name. It would require only a slight further exaggeration to argue that since all branches of knowledge are alike knowledge, they must be all either exclusively mechanical or exclusively teleological. There is no reason in the nature of things why “Psychology” should not at a particular period in the growth of knowledge coyer as wide a range of inquiries, with as much internal variety of aim and method, as, say “Mathematics.”

6^ And they cannot be so described without the introduction of psychological ideas. Thus, e.g., in classifying a series of implements dating from different periods in the history of civilisation, so as to throw light on the evolution of some particular type of tool or machine, we have to take as our fundamentum divisionis |basis of division| the adequacy with which the different varieties accomplish the kind of work they were designed to perform, and are thus committed at once to the use of the psychological concepts of purpose and satisfaction.

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Chapter II. The Problem of Soul and Body

§ 1. Few questions have more constantly attracted the attention of philosophers, especially perhaps of those philosophers who have lived since the establishment of Christianity as the religion of the Western world, than that of the relation between the soul or mind and the body; and perhaps no question has given rise to graver misconceptions for want of a correct insight into the true logical character of the problem under discussion. Both in the half-scientific speculations of ordinary persons and in the more systematic theories of metaphysicians and psychologists, the subject is constantly approached under the totally erroneous preconception that the dualistic separation of human life into a bodily and a mental part or aspect is a datum of immediate experience which we can directly verify in ourselves, and that the task of philosophy is by ingenious but unverifiable |314| hypothesis to transcend this chasm between given realities. From the standpoint of our previous chapter we can easily see that such a view fundamentally misrepresents the real philosophical problem.


“The problem of psychophysical connection has to do with the correlation of scientific abstractions, not of given facts of experience.”


So long as we are concerned with human existence as we directly find it in our immediate experience, or assume it in our practical social relations with our fellows, no question of the relation between body and mind can arise, because neither term of the relation is as yet before us. For my own immediate experience I am neither a body nor a soul, nor yet a composite of the two, but simply an individual subject of experiences in direct intercommunion with other individuals. Under the influence of conscious or unconscious dualistic prepossessions, we often speak as if it were a directly experienced fact that I can communicate with my fellow subjects only indirectly through the medium of an alien “material” body, and we sometimes contrast this supposed restriction with an imagined higher state of existence, in which “disembodied spirits” may conceivably have direct intercourse with each other. But the truth is, that this direct intercourse and influence of one intelligent and purposive individual on another is no privilege reserved for our enjoyment in “a better world than this”; it is, as we can see if we will only forget our dualistic prepossessions, the very truth about our actual life. In actual life, before we have contaminated our direct enjoyment of it with psychological prejudices, we know nothing of the interposition of an inert “material” organisation between ourselves and the members of our social environment. The severance of the original unity of experience into a physical and a psychical aspect is entirely a product of our own abstraction-making intellect. “Body” and “soul” are not given actualities of experience, but artificial mental constructions of our own derived from the actual “facts” of life by the elaborate processes which we have just been studying.

As we have seen in constructing our concept of a mechanical physical order, we abstract certain elements of our direct experience from the whole, and consider them under the name of our “bodies” as if they had a separate existence; we then, by the aid of the hypothesis of “introjection,” represent those elements of direct self-experience which were omitted from the physical order as forming by themselves a second distinct whole or system called the “soul.” When we have reached this point, we are, of course, compelled to raise the question how these two systems, the |315| bodily and the mental, must be supposed to be connected. But the important fact to remember is that the two systems are not facts of experience, but products of abstraction. Our task in discussing their relation is not to transcend a given dualism, but to get rid of one which we have manufactured for ourselves by the manipulation of experience in the interests of certain special scientific problems. Hence, as Münsterberg well puts it, we have not to find the connection which subsists, as an actual fact, between body and soul, but to invent a connection in keeping with the general scheme of our artificial physical and psychological hypotheses.1


“The ‘consciousness’ of Psychology is thus not the same thing as the finite individual subject of experience, and Reality must not be said to consist of ‘minds’ in the psychologist’s sense. Again, we must not assume a priori that there can be only one working hypothesis of psychophysical connection.”


§ 2. As far as the interests of Metaphysics are concerned, this recognition that the problem of soul and body has to do solely with highly artificial products of scientific abstraction, and not with anything which can be called a “given” actuality, is the one principle of supreme importance which emerges from the discussion of the subject. Two very significant inferences may at once be drawn from it. (1) We clearly must not call the finite subjects of experience, of whom we saw reason to hold that ultimate Reality is exclusively constituted, “minds” or “souls” in the psychologist’s sense.2 To call them so would inevitably be to imply that exclusion from the physical order of “bodies” apart from which the psychological concept of the “soul” or “mind” has no significance. Or, in other words, it would identify them |316| not with what they are for their own direct experience, but with what they become for one another’s theoretical reflection under the influence of “introjection.” As we have seen, it is legitimate and necessary for special scientific purposes to treat ourselves and other individuals as if we were such series of “mental states,” but it is never legitimate to forget that, when we do this, we are substituting a highly unreal symbolism for directly experienced facts.

One consequence of confusing the symbolism with the fact may be noted in passing: when we have substituted the series of mental states for the felt unity of actual conscious life, we go on to ask ourselves how the fact and its symbol — the symbolic nature of which we have forgotten — are related. And thus arise all the unanswerable, because fundamentally unmeaning, questions as to the way in which the “self” has or owns the succession of “states.” Failing to see that the succession of states is simply the unitary subject itself, as it appears from the point of view of the “introjection” hypothesis, we then find ourselves confronted by the alternatives of foisting upon our Psychology the useless and unthinkable fiction of a changeless “substratum” of mental states — the soul-substance of the pre-Kantian psychologists — or resolving real life into a succession of discontinuous “mental images.” With the recognition that Psychology never deals directly with experienced reality, but always with the hypothetical products of an abstraction which is only justified by its usefulness for the special purposes of the psychologist, all these difficulties disappear.

(2) Another important consequence of our principle is that we cannot dogmatically assert that there can be only one legitimate theory of the “connection between mind and body.” If “mind” and “body” were really given as distinct but connected in direct experience, it might well be that there could only be one account of their connection answering to experienced fact. But since the separation is itself of our own intellectual manufacture, as we are dealing throughout with artificial creations of our own abstraction, any theory of their connection which is desirable for the solution of a special problem or class of problems will be legitimate for that particular class of problems. Thus the physiologist may legitimately, if it answers his special purposes, adopt a working hypothesis which the psychologist may find untenable, and again different types of psychological problem may legitimately assume different working |317| hypotheses.3 I shall aim at showing in the immediately following paragraphs that there is one typical psychophysical hypothesis which, on the whole, lends itself better than its rivals to the general purposes of both Physiology and Psychology, but we shall see, as we proceed, that the hypotheses we reject are also legitimate for the solution of important special problems. In fact, our chief interest, as students of Metaphysics, in the further discussion of psychophysical connection will be to point out the fallaciousness of the metaphysical arguments which are commonly used to establish some one hypothesis as necessarily and exclusively true.


“The possible hypotheses may be reduced to three, Epiphenomenalism, Parallelism, and Interaction.”


§ 3. Turning now to consider the chief types of hypothesis which have been, or are at present, actually put forward by metaphysicians and psychologists, we may perhaps group them under the five main heads of (1) Pre-established Harmony, (2) Occasionalism, (3) Epiphenomenalism, (4) Psychophysical Parallelism, (5) Interaction. For our purpose in the present chapter the number of alternatives may be further reduced by the omission of the first two. Neither the Pre-established Harmony of Leibnitz nor the Occasionalism advocated by Geulincx and Malebranche, and in a one-sided form by Berkeley, is likely to find much support from the philosophy of the present day. Both doctrines are, moreover, — that of Leibnitz avowedly and that of the Occasionalists by implication, — much more than special psychophysical hypotheses. They are in principle attempts to get rid of all transeunt causality, and have been discussed in their general bearings in our chapter on the Causal Postulate, where we satisfied ourselves that any science which recognises, as Psychology has to do, the existence of finite things must also admit the principle of transeunt causality, at any rate as a working hypothesis.

Each of the three remaining types of view has its supporters among contemporary students of science and philosophy. The epiphenomenalist theory is largely adopted by |318| the workers in the physical sciences, and though not much countenanced by psychologists and metaphysicians, has the explicit support of Dr. Shadworth Hodgson, while some versions of the parallelist doctrine, notably that of Münsterberg, approach it very closely. The parallelist hypothesis is perhaps at present the most popular among the psychological specialists, and is represented by writers of such eminence as Wundt, Münsterberg, Ebbinghaus, Höffding, and Stout. Finally, Interaction has powerful champions in Bradley, Ward, and James; to say nothing of its adoption by so sound a physiologist as Mr. McDougall. Both the latter doctrines, again, have historical connections with the great philosophical systems of the past. Parallelism with that of Spinoza, and Interaction with those, to mention no other names, of Descartes and Locke. In the philosophy of the ancient world the psychophysical issue can hardly be said to appear in a well-defined form, but we may perhaps state that Plato’s psychological doctrine is decidedly one of Interaction, while the view of Aristotle, though too complex to admit of very precise formulation, inclines rather towards Parallelism.


“Epiphenomenalism is legitimate as a methodological principle in Physiology; it is untenable as a basis for Psychology because it implies the reduction of psychical facts to mechanical law.”


§ 4. Epiphenomenalism. Of the three hypotheses which remain for discussion, the theory of Epiphenomenalism has the least to recommend it, and is open to the most serious objections. According to this view, all causal connections are exclusively between physical states. Bodily changes succeed one another in accord with uniform laws of sequence, which it is the province of the physiologist to discover, and every bodily change is completely determined by bodily antecedents. Certain bodily conditions are further attended by corresponding “states of consciousness,” but those states stand in no causal connection with subsequent bodily states, nor yet with one another. They are thus consequences or effects, but are never causes. The whole series of physical changes, from birth to death, which makes up the history of the human body, goes on precisely as it would if “consciousness” were entirely absent. This is what is meant by the assertion that all mental states are epiphenomena, superfluous accessories, which arise in the course of the connected series of bodily changes, but are entirely without any determining influence upon it. The doctrine may be diagrammatically represented thus

a — α
|
b — β
|
c — γ

where the italic letters symbolise |319| physical and the Greek letters psychical states, the vertical lines indicating the course of causal sequence.

If a psychophysical hypothesis were ever directly applicable to the actualities of experience, we might, of course, dismiss Epiphenomenalism at once as inherently absurd. For nothing is more certain than that in the actual life of direct experience our knowledge and our interests do determine the course of our actions. That what we believe and desire does make all the difference in the world to the way, in which we behave, is one of those elementary verities out of which no scientific hypothesis can claim to reason us. Hence, when the defenders of the theory attempt to draw practical moral and juristic consequences from their doctrines, we are within our rights in simply declining to concern ourselves with so absurd a travesty of the simplest facts of experience. So long, however, as the hypothesis is put forward simply as a working hypothesis for the correlation of our physiological and psychological theories, the case is different. Its validity as a psychophysical theory must be estimated solely by the degree in which it renders this systematic correlation feasible, and is not necessarily impaired by the manifest absurdities which result from mistaking the doctrine for a description of actual life.

Now, if we look at the hypothesis from this point of view, we can at once see that it is really legitimate for some purposes. For the purpose of physiological science it is obviously to our interest that we should be able to deduce the later from the earlier stages of a physiological process. We have thus an interest in treating physiological changes, if we can, as unconditioned by any but physiological antecedents. And every actual success in establishing a uniformity or “law” of Cerebral Physiology is proof that the assumption that, for the process in question, the only determining conditions which count are physiological, is equivalent to the truth. The physiologist, then, is clearly justified in treating the psychical series as epiphenomenal, if he means no more by this than that he intends to deal, as a physiologist, only with processes which can be successfully resolved into uniform sequences on the assumption that they involve only physiological terms. Though whether any processes in the nervous system can be successfully treated as purely physiological sequences, nothing but the physiologist’s actual success in obtaining results from his initial postulate can decide.

If, however, the physiologist should go on, as he sometimes does, to make the assertion that not only can some nervous |320| processes be treated as if their psychical accompaniments made no difference, but that they really are what they would be without those accompaniments, or even that all nervous process is what it would be without “consciousness,” he commits a gross logical fallacy. It is a mere blunder in logic to argue that because the presence of certain circumstances makes no difference to the special result which follows on a given antecedent, the result would equally follow in their absence. For it might be that in their removal the very antecedents in which we are interested would disappear. We are not at liberty to infer that, because the course of certain physiological processes can be computed without taking their mental correlates into account, they could occur apart from those correlates.

Even more serious are the consequences which follow when it is assumed that all mental processes without exception may be regarded as epiphenomenal, i.e. that all human action, if only our Physiology were sufficiently advanced, might be brought under laws of purely physiological sequence. Such an assumption would lead at once to the following dilemma: Either our Physiology must remain rigidly faithful to the fundamental postulates of mechanical science, or not. If it is faithful to them, its descriptions of human action must rigidly exclude all reference to teleological determination by reference to conceived and desired ends. I.e. we must treat human conduct as if it were fatally determined apart from any possible influence of human choice and intention, and thus stultify that whole work of historical and ethical appreciation which, we have already seen to be the principle raison d’être of Psychology as a science. We must revert, in fact, to a theory of life which is identical with the extremest forms of Pagan or Mohammedan fatalism in everything except the name it gives to its ineluctabile fatum |irresistible fate|. Or, if we are not prepared to do this, we must allow Physiology itself to use the psychological categories of desire, selection, and choice, and thus covertly admit that human action, after all, cannot be described without the introduction of factors not included in the physical order. It is no doubt due to their realisation of this dilemma that psychologists are all but universally agreed to reject the epiphenomenalist hypothesis, while its popularity with physiologists maybe explained by observing that physiological uniformities can manifestly only be successfully established for those processes which can be treated as if they were only physiologically conditioned.


“Parallelism. The arguments for Parallelism as necessarily valid to Psychophysics because of its congruity with the postulates of mechanical Physics, are fallacious. We cannot assume that Psychology must necessarily conform to these postulates.”


§ 5. Parallelism. The hypothesis of Parallelism attempts, while preserving some of the characteristic features of the |321| cruder view just described, to avoid its unsatisfactory consequences. Agreeing with Epiphenomenalism in the doctrine that physiological changes must be treated as determined only by physiological antecedents, Parallelism denies that the events of the psychical series are mere “secondary” effects of their physiological correlates. According to it, the series of physical and that of psychical events are strictly “parallel,” but not causally connected. Each event in either series has its precise counterpart in the other, but the physical events do not cause the psychical events, nor vice versa. The successive members of the physical series form a connected causal sequence, independent of their psychical concomitants, while these latter, it is generally assumed,4 form a similar chain of causally connected psychical states. Thus every nervous change is determined solely by precedent nervous changes, and the corresponding psychical change by the corresponding antecedent psychical changes. In diagrammatic shape our hypothesis now takes the form:

a  α
|  |
b  β
|  |
c  γ

Usually it is further added that the ultimate metaphysical explanation of this parallelism without mutual dependence must be found in the (Spinozistic) doctrine of Identity, i.e., the doctrine that the physical and psychical series are two different “sides” or “aspects” of a single reality. Some supporters of Parallelism (e.g., Ebbinghaus) conceive this single reality as a tertium quid, equally adequately expressed by both the series, others (e.g., Stout) hold that its real nature is more adequately revealed in the mental than in the physical series.

The grounds commonly adduced in favour of the parallelistic view as the most satisfactory psychophysical theory, are of two kinds. As a positive argument it is urged |322| that cerebral anatomy has already to some extent confirmed the doctrine of correspondence between definite physical and psychical processes by its successful “localisation” of specific sensory and motor processes in various cortical “centres,” and may reasonably be expected to accomplish further such “localisations” in the future. Stress is also laid upon the formal analogy between the psychological laws of retentiveness, association, and habit, and the physiological theories of the formation of “conduction-paths” in the brain. These positive contentions do not, however, take us far. The correspondences upon which they rest, so far as they are ascertained experimentally and are not mere deductions from the principle of Parallelism itself, would be equally natural on a theory of Interaction, or of one-sided dependence of either series on the other. The real strength of the case for Parallelism rests upon certain negative assumptions which are widely believed to exclude the hypothesis of causal dependence of either series on the other. These negative assumptions appear to be in the main three.

(1) It is said that, while we can without difficulty conceive how the later stages of a continuous physical or psychical process can be connected by causal law with its earlier stages, we are entirely unable to conceive how psychical events can arise from physical antecedents, or vice versa, because of the utter disparateness of the physical and the psychical. The physical process, it is urged, is continuous, and so, on the other side, is the psychical, but when we attempt to think of a cerebral change conditioning a mental change, or vice versa, there is a complete solution of continuity which we cannot bridge by any causal formula.

(2) The doctrine of Conservation of Energy is sometimes supposed to be incompatible with the admission of psychical states among the antecedents or consequents of physical states. It is said that if psychical states can influence the course of nervous change, there will be “work” done in the organism without the expenditure of energy, and if the total effect of nervous change is not exclusively physical there will be loss of energy without “work” being done by the organism, and in either case the principle of Conservation will be contravened.

(3). Finally, it is maintained that it is a fundamental postulate of the physical sciences, that every change of configuration in a material system such as the living organism is assumed to be, is due to exclusively physical antecedents, and that this postulate must therefore be respected in |323| Psychophysics. These are, so far as I can gather them from the works of the psychologists who adopt the parallelist view, the principal arguments by which their case is supported.

It is clear that if all — or any — of these contentions are valid, it must follow that Parallelism is not only a legitimate but the only legitimate hypothesis for the co-ordination of physical and psychical science. I believe, however, that every one of them is fallacious, and that for the following reasons: —

(1) The argument from the inconceivability of causal relation between the physical and the psychical is perhaps the most effective of the alleged grounds for denying interaction between the psychical and the physical. Yet its force is not really so great as it might appear. It is not denied that we can, in simple cases, assign the conditions under which a mental state follows on a physical state (e.g,, we can assign the physical conditions of the emergence of a given sensation). But, it is argued, we cannot show why those conditions, e.g., the stimulation of the retina, and indirectly of the “optical centres” in the brain by light of a given wave length, should be followed by this particular sensation (e.g., green, and not some other colour). This means that we cannot construct a mathematical equation connecting the character of the sensation with that of the stimulus, as we can to connect the earlier with the later stages of a purely physical process. This is, of course, obvious enough. It is only by making complete abstraction from the appearance of new qualities in the course of a process, and by treating it as a purely geometrical and quantitative transformation, that we can render it amenable to our equations.

As we saw in our discussion of Causality, mathematical Physics only succeeds in its constructions on the condition of excluding all qualitative change, as “subjective,” from its purview. But we also saw there that the origination of the qualitatively new is an essential part of the idea of Causality, and that in reducing all change in the physical world to quantitative transformation, mathematical Physics really does away with the causal concept. We are, in fact, in precisely the same logical position if we speak of physiological changes as causing sensation, as when we speak of a quantitative change in the proportions of a chemical compound as the cause of alteration in its qualities. The objection that the psychical effect cannot be connected by an equation with its alleged cause, would hold equally in any case of the production of the qualitatively new, i.e., in every case where we use the category of causality at all. And for that very reason it has |324| no force when urged as an objection to psychophysical causality in particular.5

(2) The argument from the Conservation of Energy may be more briefly dismissed, as its fallacious character has been fully recognised by the ablest recent exponents of the parallelistic view, such as Dr. Stout and Professor Münsterberg. As Dr. Stout points out, the argument involves a formal petitio principii. The principle of Conservation of Energy has only been established for what are technically known as conservative material systems, and no absolute proof has been given, or seems likely to be given, that the human organism is such a conservative system. Further, as has been urged by many critics, and notably by Professor Ward, the principle of conservation, taken by itself, is simply a law of exchanges. It asserts that the quantity of the energy of a conservative system remains constant under all the transformations through which it passes, but, apart from the rest of the postulates of mechanical science, it affords no means of deciding what transformations of energy shall occur in the system, or when they shall occur. Hence there would be no breach with the special principle of Conservation of Energy if we were to assume that psychical conditions can determine the moment at which energy in the organism is transformed, e.g., from the kinetic to the potential state, without affecting its quantity.

(3) It is, however, true that it is inconsistent with the postulates of mechanical Physics, taken as a whole, to admit the determination of physical sequences by non-physical conditions. To admit such determination would be to stultify the whole procedure of the mechanical sciences. For, as we have seen in our Third Book, the primary object of mechanical science is to reduce the course of events to rigid laws of uniform sequence, and thus to facilitate the formulation of practical rules for our own interference with it. It is therefore a legitimate postulate of mechanical science that — for its special object — desire and will shall be excluded from our conception of the conditions which determine events, and the whole course of nature treated as if conditioned only by physical antecedents. If there is any department of experienced reality which cannot be successfully dealt with |325| according to these postulates, then the formulation of rigid laws of uniform sequence is, in principle, impossible for that department, and it must be excluded from the “world” which mechanical science investigates.

But the fact that mechanical science can only attain its end by treating all physical events as independent of nonphysical conditions, does not afford the slightest presumption that they must be treated in the same way for all purposes and by every branch of inquiry. Whether Psychology, in particular, is under the logical necessity of conforming to the mechanical postulates, will depend upon our view as to whether the object subserved by Psychology is the same as that of the mechanical sciences, or different. If our purpose in psychological investigation is not identical with the purposes of mechanical science, there is no sense in demanding that we shall hamper our procedure as psychologists by adherence to postulates based upon the special nature of the interests to which mechanical science has to minister.

Now, we have already contended that the aims of Psychology only partially and temporarily coincide with those of the mechanical sciences. If we were right in holding that the principal object of Psychology is to provide a general terminology of which History and Ethics can avail themselves in their appreciations of life, it follows at once that Psychology imperatively needs the recognition of that very teleological aspect of human action which is excluded on principle, and rightly so for the special purpose of mechanical Physics, by the fundamental mechanical postulates. Thus the argument that the parallelistic hypothesis must be the most suitable for the psychologist, because it conforms to the mechanical postulates of sciences which deal with experience from a different standpoint and in a different interest, loses all its cogency.6

Now that we have, as I trust, sufficiently disposed of the a priori arguments for the parallelistic view, we are in a position to estimate it, as a psychological hypothesis, purely on its merits as evinced by its actual success. But first we must point out once more that the whole question is not one as to actualities, but purely as to the most satisfactory way of bringing two sets of abstractions, originally devised for divergent purposes, into touch with one another; and further, |326| that if the hypothesis were put forward as a final metaphysical truth about the constitution of the real world, it would be manifestly self-contradictory.

In the first place, Parallelism, taken for anything more than a convenient working hypothesis, would involve a flagrant breach of logic. It is obvious that, as Mr. Bradley has urged, you cannot infer from the premisses that one total state, containing both a physical and a psychical element, causes another complex state of the same kind, the conclusion that the physical aspect of the first, by itself, has caused the physical, and the psychical the psychical aspect of the second. To get this conclusion you need a “negative instance,” in which either the physical or the psychical state is found apart from its correlate, but followed by the same consequent as before, and Parallelism itself denies the possibility of such an instance. From the premisses that a α, is always followed by b β, it attempts to infer, without any “dissection of nature,” that a by itself was the necessary and sufficient condition of b, and α of β. And this is, of course, logically fallacious. Dr. Ward expresses the same point differently when he urges that unvarying and precise concomitance without causal connection is a logical absurdity.

That the supporters of the hypothesis themselves are conscious of the difficulty, is shown by their unanimous assertion that the psychical and physical series are ultimately manifestations of one and the same reality. What they do not explain is how, if this is so, the two series can be phenomenally so utterly disparate as to exclude mutual influence on one another. The difficulty becomes insuperable when we reflect that on the parallelistic view the physical series must be rigidly mechanical, as otherwise we shall have a breach with those mechanical postulates which are supposed to require the exclusion of psychical states from the determining conditions of physical occurrences. Thus, if teleology is to be recognised anywhere in our scientific constructions, it must be in our conception of the psychical series. And on the whole the supporters of Parallelism admit this in practice by the free use of teleological categories in their Psychology. But it ought by now to be clear to us that the nature of the identical reality cannot be expressed with equal adequacy in a teleological series, and in one which is, by the principles of its construction, purely mechanical. Here, again, most of the parallelists are really in agreement with us, for they usually in the end call themselves “Idealists,” and assert that the “mental” |327| series is a more faithful representation of Reality than the physical. But if the two series are not on the same level in respect of their nearness to Reality, it is hard to see how there can be exact correspondence between them. This is a point to which we shall immediately have to return.7


“As a working hypothesis Parallelism is available for many purposes, but breaks down when we attempt to apply it to the case of the initiation of fresh purposive reactions. A teleological and a mechanical series cannot ultimately be ‘parallel.’”


§ 6. When we ask, however, whether Parallelism, apart from these questions of ultimate philosophy, is legitimate as a working hypothesis in Psychology, the answer must be that, in certain departments of psychological investigation, it certainly is so. In practice, the doctrine of the parallel but independent series amounts, for the most part, to little more than a methodological device for the division of labour between the physiologist and the psychologist, the physiologist restricting himself to the formulation of such uniformities as can be established between nervous processes, considered as if independent of external influence, and the psychologist doing the same for their psychical accompaniments. As a principle of methodical procedure, therefore, in those parts of Psychology which deal with the more passive and, as we may say, routine-like aspects of mental life. Parallelism is a useful and therefore a legitimate working hypothesis.

The question by which its claim to be the best hypothesis must be decided is, to my mind, that of its applicability to the case of the fresh initiation of new purposive adaptations to changes in the organism’s environment.8 For it is just in dealing with these cases that Psychology, if it is to fulfil the purpose we have ascribed to it, must most obviously discard mechanical for teleological categories. Hence it is here, if anywhere, that a difficulty of principle must make itself felt when we attempt to treat the psychical and the physical series as exactly parallel and corresponding. It seems to follow necessarily from the conception of physical science as based upon the mechanical postulate, that a teleological and a mechanical series cannot possibly run “parallel” in all their details in the fashion presupposed by the hypothesis under consideration.

If Psychology is to be of any use in supplying Ethics and History with the subject-matter of their appreciations, it is |328| manifest that it must make the assumption that desire and choice are operative in determining the course of human action, and thus must — at certain points at least — explicitly employ the categories of teleology. These categories, again, cannot possibly be translated into the rigidly non-teleological symbolism of a physical science, based upon the mechanical postulates, as every science of “general laws” must be. It follows that “exact parallelism without mutual interference” cannot, consistently with the purpose which Psychology subserves, be employed, even as a working hypothesis throughout the whole field of psychological investigation itself. When the attempt to extend its employment to the whole sphere of psychical processes is seriously made, it leads inevitably to the crude fatalism of the doctrine that there is no such thing as choice or action (free or otherwise) in the universe. In actual practice, the supporters of Parallelism, who reject this doctrine when it is explicitly avowed under the name of Epiphenomenalism, only succeed in doing so because they do not really insist on carrying out the parallelistic hypothesis in their Psychology. They commonly make their hypothesis prominent, while they are dealing with the comparatively passive and routine-like aspects of mental life, association, habituation, etc., but allow themselves to lose sight of it as soon as they come to treat of such explicitly teleological concepts as attention and choice. Their procedure is also rendered easier for them by the liberal use which evolutionary biologists, even while professing with their lips fidelity to the mechanical postulates, allow themselves to make of teleological categories which are really purely psychological.

It would be an easy task, if space permitted, to show in detail how the fundamentally different principles underlying the construction of the mechanical and the teleological series involve the presence, in the individual members of each series, of characters to which nothing corresponds in those of the other. Thus we might ask, with Dr. Ward, what corresponds in the psychical scheme to the composition of the units of the physiological scheme out of their various chemical components, and of these, again, out of more elementary physical “prime atoms"?9 or, from the opposite side, we might ask, what is the cerebral equivalent, in terms of a rigidly mechanical Physiology, of the psychological character of “meaning” or “significance”? But the multiplication of |329| these problems becomes superfluous if the reader has once grasped our principle, that exact correspondence is only possible between series which are either both mechanical or both — and both in the same degree — teleological. Between a genuinely teleological and an honestly mechanical series such correspondence is logically impossible, because of the fundamental difference between their types of construction.


“We are thus thrown back on the hypothesis of interaction as the only one which affords a consistent scheme for the correlation of Physiology and Psychology. We have, however, to remember that what the hypothesis correlates is scientific symbols, not actual facts. The actuality represented by both sets of symbols is the same thing, though the psychological symbolism affords a wider and more adequate representation of it than the physiological.”


§ 7. For the reasons just produced, it is, I think, necessary to hold that the oldest and simplest hypothesis of the connection between body and mind, that of Interaction, is after all the most satisfactory. According to this view, the two series cannot be thought of as presenting an exact correspondence, and must be thought of as causally influencing each other at different points, precisely as any two sets of physical events do. If we adopt it we shall recognise in sensation a psychical state which has physical processes among its immediate antecedents, and in motor reaction similarly a physical process with psychical antecedents. It is scarcely to be denied that this conception of body and mind, as two things which stand in causal relation, is the hypothesis which most naturally presents itself, when once we have artificially broken up the unity of immediate experience into a physical and a psychical side, and so created the problem of psychophysical connection. So natural is it, that even psychologists who accept one of the other hypotheses are to be found constantly speaking of voluntary movement in terms which, if they mean anything, imply causal determination of bodily by mental process, while no psychologist of any school has ever succeeded in expressing the relation of sensation to stimulus in any other phraseology than that of Interaction. Probably the hypothesis would never have been exposed to hostile criticism at all, but for the metaphysical objections, already dismissed by us as fallacious, founded upon the notion that the mechanical postulates with which Interaction conflicts are ascertained truths about the actual structure of the reality with which we are in touch in immediate experience.

It is clear that, from the nature of the problem to |330| be solved, we cannot be called upon to prove the actual occurrence of psychophysical interaction. As a working hypothesis for the interrelation of two sets of scientific abstractions, the theory is in principle incapable of direct establishment by the “appeal to facts.” All that is requisite for its justification is to show that it is (a) not in principle at variance with any fundamental axiom of scientific procedure, and (b) enables us to coordinate our scientific results in the manner most suitable for the uses to which we propose to put them. Both these conditions are fulfilled by the hypothesis of Interaction, if our foregoing arguments are sound. We have seen the fallacious nature of the objections brought against it on a priori grounds of logical method, and have also seen that it is positively demanded if we are at once to be faithful to the mechanical postulates upon which physical science depends for its successes, and to recognise in our psychological constructions that teleological character of human action which is all-essential for History and Ethics. In substance this is the whole case for the Interaction hypothesis, and no further accession of strength would result from its elaboration in detail.

It may be added that it is one great recommendation of the hypothesis of Interaction, that it is quite consistent with the full recognition of the relative usefulness of the alternative theories, though they, as we have seen, are unable to do justice to those aspects of fact which can only be expressed in terms of Interaction. Thus the hypothesis of Interaction can readily afford to admit that, for certain purposes and up to a certain point, it is possible to treat physical or psychical processes as if they were determined solely by physical or psychical conditions respectively, and even to treat some physical processes as if the presence of their psychical concomitants made no difference at all to their occurrence. The reason of this is, that whereas a mechanical hypothesis can give no intelligible account of a purposive process at all, a teleological hypothesis can quite easily account for the apparently mechanical character of some of the processes which fall under it. As we have seen (Book III. chap. 3, § 6), a purposive reaction, once established, approximates to mechanical uniformity in the regularity with which it continues to be repeated, while the conditions are unchanged, and the end of the reaction is therefore still secured by its repetition.

Thus we can readily see that, even if we contented ourselves with the attempt to translate into the language of |331| psychological science the processes which make up the life of an individual subject, many of them would appear to be going on with routine uniformity. And when we deliberately set ourselves to obtain uniformities by taking an average result, derived from comparison of a multitude of subjects, our results are, of course, always mechanical in appearance, because the element of individual purpose and initiative has been excluded by ourselves from our data in the very process of taking the average. Hence we can understand how, on the hypothesis of Interaction itself, all those mental processes which consist in the repetition of an already established type of reaction should come to appear mechanical, and thus to suggest that mechanical conception of psychical processes which is common to the epiphenomenalist and the parallelist view. Interaction, and Interaction alone, is thus a hypothesis capable of being applied to the whole field of psychological investigation.

I will conclude this chapter with some considerations on the bearing of our result upon the special problems of Metaphysics. We have explicitly defended Interaction as being no statement of actual experienced fact, but a working hypothesis for the convenient correlation of two scientific constructions, neither of which directly corresponds to the actualities of experience. This means, of course, that Interaction cannot possibly be the final truth for Metaphysics. It cannot ultimately be the “fact” that “mind” and “body” are things which react upon each other, because, as we have seen, neither “mind” nor “body” is an actual datum of experience; for direct experience and its social relations, the duality subsequently created by the construction of a physical order simply has no existence. Nor can it be maintained that this duality, though not directly given as a datum, is a concept which has to be assumed in order to make experience consistent with itself, and is therefore the truth. For the concept of Interaction manifestly reposes upon the logically prior conception of the physical as a rigidly mechanical system. It is because we have first constructed the notion of the “body” on rigidly mechanical lines that we have subsequently to devise the concept of “mind” or “soul” as a means of recognising and symbolising in our science the non-mechanical character of actual human life. And since we have already seen that the mechanical, as such, cannot be real, this whole scheme of a mechanical and a non-mechanical system in causal relation with one another can only be an imperfect substitute for the Reality it is intended to symbolise. |332| In fact, we might have drawn the same conclusion from the very fact that the psychophysical hypothesis we have adopted is couched in terms of Transeunt Causality, since we have already satisfied ourselves that all forms of the causal postulate are more or less defective appearance.

The proposition that the psychophysical theory of the “connection” of “body” and “mind” is an artificial transformation, due to the needs of empirical science, of the actual teleological unity of human experience, is sometimes expressed by the statement that mind and body are really one and the same thing. In its insistence upon the absence of the psychophysical duality from actual experience, this saying is correct enough, but it perhaps fails to express the truth with sufficient precision. For, as it stands, the saying conveys no hint of the very different levels on which the two concepts stand in respect to the degree of truth with which they reproduce the purposive teleological character of real human experience. It would perhaps be nearer the mark to say that, while the physiologist’s object, the “body,” and the psychologist’s object, the “mind,” are alike conceptual symbols, substituted, from special causes, for the single subject of actual life, and may both be therefore said to “mean” or “stand for” the same thing, their actual content is different. For what in the language of physiology I call my “body” includes only those processes of actual life which approximate to the mechanical ideal sufficiently closely to be capable of being successfully treated as merely mechanical, and therefore brought under a scheme of general “laws” of nature. Whereas what, as a psychologist, I call my “mind” or “soul,” though it includes processes of an approximately mechanical type, includes them only as subordinate to the initiation of fresh individual reactions against environment which can only be adequately expressed by teleological categories. Thus, though “mind” and “body” in a sense mean the same actual thing, the one stands for a fuller and clearer view of its true nature than the other. In Dr. Stout’s terminology their intent may be the same, but their content is different. (See his essay on “Error” in Personal Idealism.)


Consult further:
R. Avenarius, Der Menschliche Weltbegriff.
B. Bosanquet, Psychology of the Moral Self, lect. 10.
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chap. 23.
Shadworth Hodgson, Metaphysic of Experience, vol. ii. pp. 276-403;

William James, Principles of Psychology, vol. i. chaps. 5 and 6.
H. Lotze, Metaphysic, bk. iii, chaps, 1 and 5 (Eng. trans., vol. ii. pp. 163-198, 283-517).
H. Münsterberg, Grundzüge der Psychologie, i. chaps. 11. (pp. 402-436), 15 (pp. 525-562).
G. F. Stout, Manual of Psychology, Introduction, chap. 3.
James Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. ii. lects. 11 and 12 (art. “Psychology” in Supplement to Encyclopcedia Britannica, p. 66 ff.).


1^ Compare the following striking passage from Avenarius, Menschliche Weltbegriff, p. 75: “Let an individual M denote a definite whole of ’perceived things’ (trunk, arms and hands, legs and feet, speech, movements, etc.) and of ’presented thoughts’ as I … then when M says ’I have a brain,’ this means that a brain belongs as part to the whole of perceived things and presented thoughts denoted as I. And when M says ’I have thoughts,’ this means that the thoughts themselves belong as a part to the whole of perceived things and presented thoughts denoted as I. But though thorough analysis of the denotation of I thus leads to the result that we have a brain and thought, it never leads to the result that the brain has the thoughts. The thought is, no doubt, a thought of ’my Ego,’ but not a thought of ’my brain’ any more than my brain is the brain of ’my thought. ’I.e. the brain is no habitation, seat, generator, instrument or organ, no support or substratum of thought. Thought is no indweller or commander, no other half or side, and also no product, indeed not even a physiological function or so much as a state of the brain.”

2^ As elsewhere in this work, I am using the terms “mind” and “soul” as virtually interchangeable names for the object studied by the psychologist. So far as there is any definite distinction of meaning between the terms as currently used by English writers, “soul” seems to carry with it more of the implication of substantiality and relative independence than “mind.” It might not be amiss to adopt the term “soul” as a name for the finite subject of experience as he is for himself in actual social life, and to confine the name “mind” to the construction which symbolises this subject for psychological purposes. But the popular antithesis between soul and body is perhaps too strongly rooted to admit of this suggestion. In earlier passages, e.g.. Book II. chap. 2, §6, 1 have used the term “spirit” in the sense here suggested for “soul.”

3^ So, in dealing with astronomical problems, we are free to adopt either the Copernican or the Ptolemaic scheme, whichever happens to be the more convenient for our special purpose. The superior truth of the Copernican system seems to mean no more than that the range of its utility is the wider of the two. I may observe that I do not here employ the term “utility” in the narrowly practical sense of those philosophers who, e.g., condemn all speculation about the “Absolute” on the ground of inutility. Whatever satisfies any human aspiration is for me, so far, “useful.” It follows that there is, for me, no such thing as the “useless knowledge” which “Pragmatism” denounces. Thus, if a man’s peace of mind depends upon speculation about the “Absolute” — on the habits of angels, or any other topic you like (and this is a matter in which every man must in the end decide for himself) — Pragmatism would appear to be false to its own principle in forbidding him to speculate.

4^ The assumption is not always made, however. Professor Münsterberg, who classes himself as a supporter of Parallelism, holds on metaphysical grounds that all causal connection must be between physical states. Hence he denies that psychical states can be causally connected with one another, except indirectly through the causal relations of their physical correlates. His doctrine is thus hardly to be distinguished from Epiphenomenalism, except in terminology, though he avoids the consequence of practical Fatalism by his insistence upon the purely artificial nature of both the physical and the psychical series. (His reason for refusing to admit causal relation between psychical states is that causal connection can only be established between universals, whereas every psychical state is unique. Does not this argument imply a confusion between the actual experience and its psychological symbol?)

5^ Most supporters of Parallelism, it may be noted, stultify their own case, so far as it rests on this special contention, by admitting the causal determination of psychical states by one another, though, as psychical states are essentially qualitative, the reduction of causation to quantitative identity is particularly inadmissible here. Professor Münsterberg is quite consistent, therefore, in denying psychical causality and reducing Parallelism to Epiphenomenalism.

6^ The reader who has followed the argument of our Third Book will not need to be reminded that the world of purely mechanical processes is simply an ideal construction based on postulates which we make for their practical convenience, and in no sense a direct transcript of the world of actual experience.

7^ The “neutral Monism” to which the doctrine of rigid Parallelism logically leads, when put forward as more than a working hypothesis, will, one may hope, in England at least, fail to survive the exposure of its illogicalities in the second volume of Professor Ward’s Naturalism and Agnosticism.

8^ This case includes, as will be apparent on a little reflection, not only the initiation of new motor reactions upon a. sensation or percept, but also that of sensation itself as a qualitatively novel reaction upon physiological stimulation, and thus includes both the processes in which supporters of Interaction have always recognised the causal interconnection of the physical and the psychical.

9^ It is with great pleasure that I note the coincidence of my own view on the impossibility of reconciling Parallelism with the recognition of the psychological importance of “meaning” with that of Mr. Gibson (essay on “The Problem of Freedom,” in Personal Idealism, p. 150 ff.). Professor Münsterberg’s declaration, that the consciousness investigated by Psychology “knows nothing by its knowledge and wills nothing by its will,” seems to me a confession of the bankruptcy of Parallelism as a basal psychological hypothesis. Still more so his elaborate and brilliant demonstration that the “brain” with which my “mind” may be regarded as “parallel” is not the brain as studied and charted by the anatomist, i.e., not the brain as a physical object at all. See Psychologie, i. 415-428.

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Chapter III. The Place of the “Self” in Reality

§ 1. We have already, in Book II. chap, 1, § 5, incidentally raised the question whether the whole spiritual system which we found ground to regard as the reality of the universe, can properly be spoken of as a “self.” We decided that to apply such a predicate to it was at least misleading, and might prepare the way for serious intellectual sophistication. Our discussion of the general character of psychological conceptions has now made it possible for us to return to the problem with reasonable hopes of being able to treat it more fully, and to arrive at some definite conclusion as to the amount of truth embodied by the notion of “self.”


“The ‘self’ is (1) a teleological concept, (2) implies a contrasted not-self (where this contrast is absent from an experience there is no genuine sense of self); (3) but the limits which divide self and not-self are not fixed but fluctuating. The not-self is not a merely external limit, but consists of discordant elements within the individual, which are extruded from it by a mental construction. (4) The self is a product of development, and has its being in the time-series. (5) The self is never given complete in a moment of actual experience, but is an ideal construction; probably self-hood implies some degree of intellectual development.”


First of all, then, let us attempt to fix the general meaning of the concept, and to single out some of its more prominent characteristics. It would clearly require much more space than we can spare to enumerate all the senses in which the notion of “self” has been used in Psychology, and the work, |335| when done, would not be entirely germane to our metaphysical purpose. What I propose to attempt here will be simply to consider certain aspects of the concept of “self” which are manifestly indispensable for the purpose of ethical and historical appreciation, and to ask what their value is for the metaphysical interpretation of existence.

(1) It is manifest, to begin with, that “self” is a teleological concept. The self whose quality is revealed in Biography and History, and judged in Ethics, has for its exclusive material our emotional interests and purposive attitudes towards the various constituents of our surroundings; of these, and of nothing else, our self is made. And the self, again, is one and individual, just in so far as these interests and purposes can be thought of as forming the expression, in the detail of succession, of a central coherent interest or purpose. Where this central interest appears not to exist at all, we have no logical right to speak of a succession of purposive acts as the expression of a single self. Thus, though it may be necessary for some of the practical purposes of police administration to take bodily identity as evidence of identity of self, we all recognise that what a man does in a state of mental alienation complete enough to abolish continuity of purpose, is not material for his biographer except in so far as the knowledge of it may modify his interests and purposes on his return to sanity. And even in cases where we may acquiesce in the necessity for assuming responsibility before the law for “deeds done in the body,” conscience acquits us of moral guilt if we honestly feel we can say, “I was not myself when it was done."1 The teleological character of the unity we ascribe to the self is further illustrated by the puzzles suggested by the “alternate” |336| and “multiple” personalities occasionally brought to light in the study of hypnotism and of mental pathology. Finally, in the fairly numerous cases of “conversion,” where a man, as we say, becomes a “new being” or parts with his “old self,” we only recognise him as identical with his past self in so far as we succeed in thinking of his “new life” as being the expression of aims and interests which were, at least implicitly and as “tendencies,” already present, though concealed, in the “old.”

(2) The self implies, and has no existence apart from, a not-self, and it is only in the contrast with the not-self that it is aware of itself as a self. This seems to me clear, as a matter of principle, though the consequences of the principle are in much current speculation partly misconceived, partly neglected. The most important among them, for our purposes, are the following. The feeling of self is certainly not an inseparable concomitant of all our experience. For it only arises — and here nothing but direct experimentation can be appealed to as evidence — as a contrast-effect in connection with our awareness of a not-self, whether as imposing restraints upon the expression of the self, or as undergoing modification by the self. Hence experiences from which this contrast is absent seem to exhibit no trace of genuine “self-consciousness."2 Feeling, where you can get it in its simple form, seems to be universally allowed to be an instance in point. Much of our perception appears to me, though I know the view is not widely current among psychologists, to be in the same position. E.g., normally when I am looking at an object, say for instance, a white-washed wall, I do not find that I am in any real sense “conscious of self.” The content of my awareness seems, to me at least, to be just the wall in a setting of a mass of unanalysed feeling, organic and other, which you may, if you please, from your standpoint as an external observer, call my perceiving self, but of which I am only aware as the setting of the perceived wall.

It is only when attention to the content of the perception becomes difficult (as, e.g., through fatigue of the organs of sense, or conflict with some incompatible purpose) that I am normally aware of the perceived object as a not-self opposed to and restricting my self. The same is, I think, true of much of our life of conscious purposive action. I do not find that in my intellectual pursuit of a chosen study, or again in my social relations to the other members of my community, I |337| have explicit awareness of the “facts” of science, or the interests and purposes of others as a not-self with which my own interests are contrasted as those of the self, except in so far as I either find these facts and interests in actual collision with some aim of my own, or experience the removal of such a collision. In ordinary social life, for instance, I have a strong feeling of self as opposed to not-self when the plans of some member of my immediate circle clash with my own, and again when I succeed in winning such a recalcitrant over to my own side; my self in the one case feels repression, in the other expansion. But I do not think it can be said that the self-feeling arises in actual life where there is temporarily no consciousness of opposition on its removal. For instance, while we are harmoniously working with other men for a previously concerted end, the consciousness of self and its contrasted not-self scarcely appears to enter into our experience. (Though, of course, it does appear in the process of framing and initiating the scheme of concerted action; the other self is here contrasted with my own, precisely because the removal of the collision between my purpose and my environment is felt as coming from without.) This is, I presume, why practical worldly wisdom has always regarded “self-consciousness” as a source of weakness and moral failure. While we are steadily engaged in the progressive execution of a purpose, we “lose ourselves” in the work; it is only upon a check that we become “self-conscious.”

(3) The next point to be noted is that there is no definite line of demarcation between self and not-self. In particular, we must not fall into the error of supposing that the whole content of the relation between self and not-self is social, — the self on its side consisting of me, and the not-self of other men. It is true, no doubt, that the origin of the distinction is mainly social, since it is in the main through experience of what it is to have my execution of a desired act repressed by others, and again to have the stumbling-blocks which have previously restricted my action removed by their cooperation, that I come to be definitely aware of what I want, and of the fact that it is I who want it. But it would be hard to show that the distinction between the self and the not-self could not originate at all except in a social medium, and it is clear that the range of its applicability, when originated, is not limited to the social relation. There seems, on the one hand, to be no feature in our experience whatever which is entirely excluded from entering into the constitution of what is felt as the self. My social intimates,|338| my professional colleagues, my regular occupations, even my clothes or articles of furniture, to which I have grown accustomed, may be so essential to the continuity of my characteristic interests in life that their removal would make my character unrecognisable, or possibly even lead to insanity or death. And as thus indispensable to the teleological unity or my existence, all these “external” objects seem to be capable of passing into and becoming part of the self.

We see an extreme instance of this in the case of the savage transplanted into civilised surroundings, who fails in body and mind and finally dies, without recognisable disease, simply from the disappearance of the interests connected with his old surroundings; or that of the clinging affectionate persons who, in the same way, fade away upon the loss of a beloved relative or friend. In a minor degree we see the same thing in those changes of character which common speech happily describe by such phrases as “he has never been himself since — his wife died, since he lost that money,” and so forth. In principle there seems to be no factor of what we should currently call the self s environment which may not in this way come to be part of the content of the self.3

On the other side, it seems difficult to say whether there is anything which ordinarily forms part of the “self” which may not, under special conditions, become a part of what we recognise as the “not-self.” Thus our bodily feelings and sensations, our thoughts and desires, and in particular our virtuous and vicious habits, are usually reckoned as definitely belonging to our self Yet in so far as we can think of any desire or habit as an element which is discordant with the rest of our self, and ought not to be there, — and the whole business of moral progress depends on our being able to take up this attitude, — we, so far, relegate that element to the not-self. To will the habit or desire to be otherwise is already, in principle, to expel it from the teleological unity which makes up our inner life. So again with our thoughts: in so far as we can suspend our assent to a judgment, and balance reasons for or against accepting it into the general system of our beliefs, the judgment clearly belongs to the external not-self.

Yet it is at least conceivable that there may be intellectual |339| as well as moral habits so deeply engrained in our constitution that we cannot thus set them over-against the self for judgment and sentence. We must not deny that there are cases in which we could not will or think differently, or even mentally entertain the possibility of thinking or willing differently, without the destruction of our life’s continuity of purpose. Again, our bodily sensations seem to belong in a very special way to our self. Yet in so far as we can acquire the power of voluntarily observing them, or again of withdrawing attention from them, they are in principle reduced to the position of elements in the not-self.

Even pleasure and pain do not seem to belong inalienably to the self s side of the contrast. E.g., to adapt a Platonic illustration, if I feel pleasure in contemplating the vulgar or obscene, and at the same time feel disgusted with myself for being so pleased, the pleasure seems in the act of condemnation to be recognised as no part of my “true” self, but an alien element obtruded on the self against its nature. Pain, by reason of that urgency and insistency which give it its biological importance, is much harder to banish from the self; but experience, I think, will convince any one who cares to make the experiment, that bodily pains, when not too intense (e.g., a moderately severe toothache), can, by directing attention to their sensational quality, be sometimes made to appear as definitely foreign to the experiencing self. And the history of asceticism, ancient and modern, as well as the practice of “mind-curers,” suggests that this process of extrusion can be carried further than we commonly suspect.

Organic or “common” sensations of general bodily condition probably form the element in experience which most obstinately resists all attempts to sever it from the whole self and treat it as a foreign object, though in some cases we certainly seem able to extrude the organic sensation from the felt self by analysis of its quality and “localisation.” Still, it must be admitted that if there are any elements in experience which are absolutely incapable of transference to the not-self, they are probably in the main masses of unanalysed and unanalysable organic sensation.4 |340|

All these considerations make two points very clear, (a) The self in which we are interested in Ethics and History is not anything with definitely fixed boundaries. The line dividing it from its complement, the not-self, is one which we cannot draw according to any precise logical rule; and again, what is at one time on one side of the boundary is at another on the other. If there is any part of our experience at all which must be regarded as always and essentially belonging to the self’s side of the dividing line, it will in all probability be merely masses of bodily feeling which are manifestly not the whole of what Ethics and History contemplate when they appraise the worth of a self.5

Further, a conclusion follows as to the nature of the opposition of self to not-self. The not-self, as the readiness with which most of the contents of experience can pass from one side of the antithesis to the other shows, is in a sense included in at the very time that it is excluded from the self. The various factors of which the not-self can, at different times, be composed, our fellows, the physical world, thoughts, habits, feelings, all agree in possessing one common characteristic; when referred to the not-self, they are all elements of discord within the whole of present experience, and it is on account of this discordancy that we treat them as foreign to our real nature, and therefore as belonging to the not-self We may thus say with accuracy that what is ascribed to the not-self is so ascribed because previously found to be discrepant, and therefore excluded from the self; in other words, the not-self is not an external limit which we somehow find in experience side by side with the self, but is constructed out of experience-data by the extrusion of those data which, if admitted into the self, would destroy its harmony. Thus we finite beings are confronted by a not-self ultimately, because in our very finitude, as we have seen in earlier chapters, we contain in ourselves a principle of strife and disharmony. The not-self is no merely external environment, but an inevitable consequence of the imperfection of internal structure which belongs to all finitude.

(4) The self is essentially a thing of development, and as |341| such has its being in the time-process. This is a point upon which it seems for many reasons necessary to insist.- Its truth seems manifest from our previous consideration of the nature of the experiences upon which the concept of the self is based. As we have seen, it is primarily to our experience of internal disharmony and the collision of purpose that we owe our distinction between self and not-self. And such experience seems only possible to beings who can oppose an ideal of what ought to be, however dimly that ideal may be apprehended, to what is. A being who either was already all that it was its nature to become, or was incapable of in some way apprehending the fact that it was not so, would thus not have in its experience any material for the distinction between the self and the foreign and hostile elements in experience. And, as we have already seen in our Third Book, time is the expression in abstract form of the fundamental nature of an experience which has as yet attained only the partial fulfilment of its purpose and aspirations, and is therefore internally subject to that want of perfect harmony in which we have now sought the origin of the distinction between self and not-self. Hence we may, I think, take it as certain, at least for us who accept this account of the origin of the self concept, that selves are necessarily in time and as such are necessarily products of development.

This conclusion seems in accord with positive facts which are too well established to permit of question. It is probable that there is not a single element in what I call my present self which is not demonstrably the product of my past development, physical and mental. Nor does it appear reasonable to contend that though the material of my existing self is a result of development, its form of self-hood is underived. It is not merely that my present self is not as my past self, but we cannot avoid the admission that my mental life is the result of a process of development by which it is continuously connected with that of the embryo and even the spermatozoon. And thus it seems to have its beginnings in experiences which are probably so little removed from simple feeling as to afford no opportunity for the sense of self as contrasted with not-self. Or if we maintain that the contrast cannot be altogether absent from even the crudest forms of experience, we still have to reckon with the fact that, one stage further back in my personal history, I had no existence even as an animalcule. An embryonic self is at least not positively inconceivable, but |342| where was Levi’s selfhood while he was yet in the loins of his father? If we will consider what we mean when we say we have all had parents, it will, I think, be confessed that our self must be admitted to have been actually originated in the course of development, impossible as we find it to imagine the stage of such a process.6

(5) Finally, we must deal briefly with one more point of some importance. The self, as we can now see, is never identical with anything that could be found completely existing at any one moment in my mental life. For one thing, it is thought of as having a temporal continuity which goes far beyond anything that can be immediately experienced at any given moment. It stretches out both into the past and the future beyond the narrow limits of the “sensible present.” Again, this temporal continuity is only an abstract expression of the inner sameness and continuity of aims and interests we ascribe to the self. My experiences are, as we have seen, thought of as being the life of one self ultimately because I look on them as the harmonious expression of a consistent attitude of interest in the world. And any elements in experience which will not coalesce in such a harmony are, by one device or another, extruded from the true self and declared to be alien intruders from elsewhere. Now, in real life we never find this complete and absolute harmony of the contents of experience; there are always, if we look for them, elements in our actual experience which are discordant, and conflict with the system of interests which, on the whole, dominates it. Hence self, in the last resort, is seen to be an ideal which actual experience only imperfectly realises, — the ideal of a system of purposes and interests absolutely in harmony with itself. And there must be, at least, grave doubt as to the logical self-consistency of this ideal, doubts which we must shortly face.

For the present the point to which I want to call attention is this. Must we say that any degree of felt continuity of existence is enough to constitute rudimentary selfhood, or ought we to hold that there is no true self where there is not at least as much intellectual development as is implied in the power to remember the past and anticipate the future, as one’s own? In other words, are we to make |343| selfhood as wide in its range as sentient life, or to limit it to life sufficiently rational to involve some distinct and explicit recognition of the contrast between self and not-self? This is perhaps, in the main, a question as to terminology; for my own part, I confess I find the second alternative the more satisfactory. I do not see that such a degree of teleological continuity as is implied in the mere feeling of pain, for instance, deserves to be recognised as genuine selfhood; and there is, I think, in the unrestricted use of the term self, selfhood, as applied to merely feeling consciousness, a danger of ambiguity. When we have once applied the terms in such a case, we are inevitably tempted to over-interpret the facts of such simple mental life in order to bring them into fuller accord with what we know of selfhood in our own life.7 At the same time, it is clear that we have no right dogmatically to deny the presence of the intellectual processes involved in the recognition of self where our methods of observation fail to detect them.


“The Absolute or Infinite Individual, being free from all internal discord, can have no not-self, and therefore cannot properly be called a self.”


§ 2. We may now approach the problem of the degree of reality which belongs to the self. We have to ask, how far is the conception of self applicable to the individual experiences which in our Second Book we identified as the contents of the system of real existence? Is the infinite individual experience properly to be called a self? Again, is every finite experience a self? And how must we take finite selves, if they are real, to be related to each other? Lastly, perhaps, we might be called on in this connection to face the question how far an individual finite self is more than a temporary feature in the system of existence. Our conclusions on all these points were no doubt in principle decided by the discussions of our Second Book, but it is desirable to make some of them more explicit than was possible there.

First, then, I think it is clear that the infinite experience or “Absolute” cannot properly be called a self. This is immediately apparent if our view as to the essential implications of self-feeling be accepted. We have urged that self is only apprehended as such in contrast to a simultaneously apprehended not-self. And the not-self, we have seen, is composed of all the discordant elements of experience, so far as their discord has not been overcome. It was for this |344| reason that we held the self to be indissolubly bound up with that experience of the world as a process in time, with a “no longer” and “not yet,” which is the universal characteristic of finitude. It must follow that an experience which contains no discordant elements, in their character as unresolved discords, is not characterised by the contrast effect which is the foundation of selfhood. An experience which contains the whole of Reality as a perfectly harmonious whole can apprehend nothing as outside or opposed to itself, and for that very reason cannot be qualified by what we know as the sense of self.

To put the same thing in another way, “self,” as we have seen, is essentially an ideal, and an ideal which is apprehended as contrasted with the present actuality. Hence only beings who are aware of themselves as in process of becoming more fully harmonious in their life of feeling and purpose than they at present are, can be aware of themselves as selves. Self and imperfection are inseparable, and any being which knows nothing of the opposition between the ideal and the actual, the ought and the is, must also know nothing of the feeling of self. Or in yet a third form of words, only creatures whose life is in time — and therefore only finite creatures — can be selves, since the time-experience is an integral constituent of selfhood.

One objection which might be brought against this inference is sufficiently ingenious to deserve special examination. It may be urged that though the experience of imperfection and thwarted purpose are conditions without which we in particular could not come to the apprehension of self, they do not remain as ingredients in the experience of selfhood when once it has been developed. Hence, it might be said, the “Absolute” may conceivably have the experience without having to acquire it through these conditions. In general principle, no doubt this line of argument is sound enough. It is perfectly true that the special conditions through which we come to have experience of a certain quality cannot, without investigation, be taken as everywhere indispensable for that experience. E.g., even if it were proved that the pessimists are right in saying that we never experience pleasure except as a contrast with previous pain, it would still not follow that the pleasure, as felt, is the mere rebound from the pain, and has no further positive quality of its own, and it would then still be an open question whether other beings might not experience the pleasure without the antecedent pain. But the principle |345| does not seem applicable to the case now under consideration, since it is our contention that the contrast of the discordant factor with the rest of the experience to which it belongs is not simply an antecedent condition, but is in fact the central core of the actual apprehension of self. It is not simply that we do not, if our previous analysis has been correct, have the feeling of self, except in cases where such a contrast is present, but that the feeling of self is the feeling of the contrast. Hence our result seems untouched by the undoubtedly sound general principle to which we have referred.

That our conclusion is so frequently opposed by philosophers who adopt a generally idealistic position, is, I believe, to be accounted for by the prevalence of the belief that experience, as such, is essentially characterised by consciousness of self. To experience at all, it is commonly thought, is to be aware of one’s self as in relation to an environment of the not-self. Hence to deny that the absolute Reality is a self is often thought to be equivalent to denying that it is an experience at all and this, from the idealistic point of view, would mean to deny that it is real. But if our previous analysis was sound, it is not even true of human experience as such that it is everywhere conditioned by the felt contrast of self with not-self. From the point of view of that analysis, the contrast only exists where there is felt discord between experience as a whole and some of its constituents. The conception of our experience as essentially marked by a sense of self, must therefore rest upon our intellectual reconstruction effected by the transparent fiction of ascribing to every experience features which analysis detects only in special cases and under special conditions. Hence it is quite possible for us to unite the affirmation that all real existence ultimately forms a single experience-system, with the denial that that system is qualified by the contrast-effect we know as the sense of self. How, indeed, should that outside which there is nothing to afford the contrast, so distinguish itself from a purely imaginary other?8


“Still less can the Absolute be a person.”


§ 3. If the Absolute is not a self a fortiori, it is manifest |346| that it cannot be a “Person.” Exactly how much is intended when the “personality” of the Absolute, or indeed of anything else, is affirmed, it would not be easy to determine. A “self” does not seem to be necessarily a “person,” since those philosophers who hold that there is no reality but that of selves, while admitting that the lower animals are selves, do not usually call them persons. But it is hard to say how much more is included in personality than in selfhood. If we bear in mind that personality is, in its origin, a legal conception, and that it is usually ascribed only to human beings, or to such superhuman intelligences as are held capable of associating on terms of mutual obligation with human beings, we may perhaps suggest the following definition. A person is a being capable of being the subject of the specific obligations attaching to a specific position in human society. And it becomes manifest that, if this is so, personality is, as Mr. Bradley has said, finite or meaningless.

For a society of persons is essentially one of ἲσοι ϰαὶ ὅμοιοι, social peers, with purposes mutually complementary though not identical, and standing in need of each other’s aid for the realisation of those purposes. Only those beings are personal for me whose aims and purposes are included along with mine in some wider and more harmonious system, and to whom I therefore am bound by ties of reciprocal obligation. But it is clear that, to ask whether the wider system which is thus the foundation of our mutual rights and duties as persons, is itself a person, would be ridiculous. Thus, e.g., there would be no sense in asking whether “human society” — the foundation of our moral personality — is itself a person. You might, in fact, as reasonably ask whether it can be sued for trespass or assessed under schedule D for Income Tax.

Still more manifestly is this true of the Absolute which includes within it all the (conceivably infinitely numerous) groups of mutually recognising persons, and all those other forms of experience which we cannot properly call personal. Between the whole system and its component elements there can be no such relation of mutual supplementation and completion as is the essence of genuine personality. If the system, as a whole, may be said to supplement and correct our defects and shortcomings, we cannot be said, in any way, to supplement it; the Absolute and I are emphatically not, in any true sense, ἲσοι ϰαὶ ὅμοιοι, and the relation between us cannot therefore be thought of as personal. All this is so obvious, that, as I take it, the personality of the Absolute |347| or whole of existence would find no defenders but for the gratuitous assumption that whatever is an individual experience or spiritual unity must be personal. This, as far as I can see, is to assume that such an individual must have an external environment of other experience-subjects of the same degree of harmonious and comprehensive individuality. And for this assumption I can, speaking for myself, see no ground whatever.9


“In a society of selves we have a more genuinely self-determined individual than in the single self. Hence it would be nearer the truth to think of the Absolute as a Society, though no finite whole adequately expresses the Absolute’s full nature. We must remember, however, (a) that probably the individuals in the Absolute are not all in direct relation, and (b) that in thinking of it as a Society we are not denying its real individuality.”


§ 4. If we cannot, then, properly say that the Absolute, or the Universe, — or whatever may be our chosen name for the infinite individual which is the whole of existence — is a self or person, can we say that the finite individuals which compose it are one and all selves, and that the Absolute is therefore a society of selves? Our answer to this question must depend, I think, upon two considerations, — (a) the amount of continuity we regard as essential to a self, and (b) the kind of unity we attribute to a society.

(a) If we regard any and every degree of felt teleological continuity as sufficient to constitute a self, it is clear that we shall be compelled to say that selves, and selves only, are the material of which reality is composed. For we have already agreed that Reality is exclusively composed of psychological fact, and that all psychical facts are satisfactions of some form of subjective interest or craving, and consequently that every psychical fact comprised in the whole system of existence must form part of the experience of a finite individual subject. Hence, if every such subject, |348| whatever its degree of individuality, is to be called a self, there will be no facts which are not included somewhere in the life of one or more selves. On the other hand, if we prefer, as I have done myself, to regard some degree of intellectual development sufficient for the recognition of certain permanent interests as those of the self, as essential to selfhood, we shall probably conclude that the self is an individual of a relatively high type, and that there are consequently experiences of so imperfect a degree of teleological continuity as not to merit the title of selves.

And this conclusion seems borne out by all the empirically ascertained facts of, e.g., the life of lower animals, of human infants, and again of adults of abnormally defective intellectual and moral development. Few persons, unless committed to the defence of a theory through thick and thin, would be prepared to call a worm a self, and most of us would probably feel some hesitation about a new-born baby or a congenital idiot. Again, finite societies are clearly components of Reality, yet, as we have seen, it is probably an error to speak of a society as a self, though every true society is clearly an individual with a community and continuity of purpose which enable us rightly to regard it as a unity capable of development, and to appreciate its ethical worth. Hence it is, perhaps, less likely to lead to misunderstandings if we say simply that the constituents of reality are finite individual experiences, than if we say that they are selves. The self, as we have seen, is a psychological category which only imperfectly represents the facts of experience it is employed to correlate.

(b) Again, if we speak of the Absolute as a society, we ought at least to be careful in guarding ourselves against misunderstanding. Such an expression certainly has some manifest advantages. It brings out both the spiritual character of the system of existence and the fact that, though it contains a plurality of finite selves and contains them without discord, it is not properly thought of as a self, but as a community of many selves.

At the same time, such language is open to misconstructions, some of which it may be well to enumerate. We must not for instance, assume that all the individuals in the Absolute are necessarily direct social interrelation. For social relation, properly speaking, is only possible between beings who are ἴσοι ϰαὶ ὅμοιοι |equals and similars|, at least in the sense of having interests of a sufficiently identical kind to permit of intercommunication and concerted cooperation for the realisation |349| of a common interest. And our own experience teaches us that the range of existence with which we ourselves stand in this kind of relation is limited. Even within the bounds of the human race the social relations of each of us with the majority of our fellows are of an indirect kind, and though with the advance of civilization the range of those relations is constantly being enlarged, it still remains to be seen whether a “cosmopolitan society” is a realisable ideal or not. With the nonhuman animal world out social relations, in consequence of the greater divergence of subjective interest, are only of a rudimentary kind, and with what appears to us as inanimate nature, as we have already seen, direct social relation seems to be all but absolutely precluded.

Among the nonhuman animals, again, we certainly finds traces of relations of a rudimentarily social kind, but once more only within relatively narrow limits; the different species and groups seem in the main to be indifferent to one another. And we have no means of disproving the possibility that there may be in the universe an indefinite plurality of social groups, of an organization equal or superior to that of our human communities, but of a type so alien to our own that no direct communication not even of the elementary kind, which would suffice to establish their existence, is possible. We must be prepared to entertain the possibility, then, that the individuals composing the Absolute fall into a number of groups, each consisting of members which have direct social relations of some kind with each other, but not with the members of other groups.

And also, of course, we must remember that there may very well be varieties of degree of structural complexity in the social groups themselves. In some the amount of intelligent recognition on the part of the individuals of their own and their fellows’ common scheme of interests and purposes is probably less articulate, in others, again, it may more articulate than is the case in those groups of cooperating human beings which form the only societies of which we know anything by direct experience.

On the other hand, we must, if we speak of the absolute as a society, be careful to avoid the implication, which may readily arise from a false conception of human societies, that the unity of the Absolute is a mere conceptual fiction or “point of view” of our own, from which to regard what is really a mere plurality of separate units. In spite of the now fairly complete abandonment in words of the old atomistic theories, which treated society as if it were a mere collective |350| name for a multitude of really independent “individuals,” it may be doubted whether we always realise what the rejection of this view implies. We still tend too much to treat the selves which compose a society, at least in our Metaphysics, as if they were given to us in direct experience as merely exclusive of one another, rather than as complementary to one another. In other words, of the two typical forms of experience from which the concept of self appears to be derived, the experience of conflict between our subjective interests and our environment, and that of the removal of the discord, we too often pay attention in our Metaphysics to the former to the neglect of the latter. But in actual life it is oftener the latter that is prominent in our relations with our fellow-men. We — the category of cooperation — is at least as fundamental in all human thought and language as I and thou, the categories of mutual exclusion. That you and I are mutually complementary factors in a wider whole of common interests, is at least as early a discovery of mankind as that our private interests and standpoints collide.

If we speak of existence as a society, then we must be careful to remember that the individual unity of a society is just as real a fact’ of experience as the individual unity of the members which compose it, and that, when we call the Absolute a society rather than a self, we do not do so with any intention of casting doubt upon its complete spiritual unity as an individual experience. With these restrictions, it would, I think, be fair to say that if the Absolute cannot be called a society without qualification, at any rate human society affords the best analogy by which we can attempt to represent its systematic unity in a concrete conceptual form. To put it otherwise, a genuine human society is an individual of a higher type of structure than any one of the selves which compose it, and therefore more adequately represents the structure of the one ultimately complete system of the Absolute.

We see this more particularly in the superior independence of Society as compared with one of its own members. It is true, of course, that no human society could exist apart from an external environment, but it does not appear to be as necessary to the existence of society as to that of a single self, that it should be sensible of the contrast between itself and its rivals. As we have already sufficiently seen, it is in the main from the experience of contrast with other human selves that I come by the sense of my own selfhood. Though the contents of my concept of self are not purely social, it |351| does at least seem clear that I could neither acquire it, nor retain it long, except for the presence of other like selves which form the complement to it. But though history teaches how closely similar is the part played by war and other relations between different societies in developing the sense of a common national heritage and purpose, yet a society, once started on its course of development, does appear to be able to a large extent to flourish without the constant stimulus afforded by rivalry or cooperation with other societies. One man on a desert land, if left long enough to himself, would probably become insane or brutish; there seems no sufficient reason to hold that a single civilised community, devoid of relations with others, could not, if its internal organisation were sufficiently rich, flourish in a purely “natural” environment. On the strength of this higher self-sufficiency, itself a consequence of superior internal wealth and harmony, a true society may reasonably be held to be a finite individual of a higher type than a single human self.

The general result of this discussion, then, seems to be, that neither in the self nor in society — at any rate in the only forms of it we know to exist — do we find the complete harmony of structure and independence of external conditions which are characteristic of ultimate reality. Both the self and society must therefore be pronounced to be finite appearance, but of the two, society exhibits the fuller and higher individuality, and is therefore the more truly real. We found it quite impossible to regard the universe as a single self; but, with certain important qualifications, we said that it might be thought of as a society without very serious error.10 |352|

It will, of course, follow from what has been said, that we cannot frame any finally adequate conception of the way in which all the finite individual experiences form the unity of the infinite experiences. That they must form such a perfect unity we have seen in our Second Book; that the unity of a society is, perhaps, the nearest analogy by which we can represent it, has been shown in the present paragraph. That we have no higher categories which can adequately indicate the precise way in which all existence ultimately forms an even more perfect unity, is an inevitable consequence of the fact of our own finitude. We cannot frame the categories, because we, as finite beings, have not the corresponding experience. To this extent, at least, it seems to me that any sound philosophy must end with a modest confession of ignorance.

There is in God, men say,
A deep but dazzling darkness,11

is a truth which the metaphysician’s natural desire to know as much as possible of the final truth, should not lead him to forget.


“The self is not in its own nature imperishable; as to the particular problem of its continuance after death, no decision can be arrived at on grounds of Metaphysics. Neither the negative presumption drawn from our inability to understand the conditions of continuance, nor the lack of empirical evidence, is conclusive; on the other hand, there is not sufficient metaphysical reason for taking immortality as certain.”


§ 5. This is probably the place to make some reference to the question whether the self is a permanent or only a temporary form in which Reality appears. In popular thought this question commonly appears as that of the immortality (sometimes, too, of the pre-existence) of the soul. The real issue is, however, a wider one, and the problem of immortality only one of its subsidiary aspects. I propose to say something briefly on the general question, and also on the special one, though in this latter case rather with a view to indicating the line along which discussion ought to proceed, than with the aim of suggesting a result.

It would not, I think, be possible to deny the temporary character of the self after the investigations of the earlier part of this chapter. A self, we said, is one and the same only in virtue of teleological continuity of interest and purpose. But exactly how much variation is enough to destroy this continuity, and how much again may exist without abolishing it, we found it impossible to determine by any general principle. Yet the facts of individual development seemed to make it clear that new selves — i.e., new unique forms of interest in the world — come into being in the time-process, and that old ones disappear.

And again, both from mental Pathology and from normal Psychology, we found it easy to cite examples of the formation |353| and disappearance, within the life-history of a single man, of selves which it seemed impossible to regard as connected by any felt continuity of interest with the rest of life. In the case of multiple personality, and alternating personality, we seemed to find evidence that a plurality of such selves might alternate regularly, or even coexist in connection with the same body. The less striking, but more familiar, cases of the passing selves of our dreams, and of temporary periods in waking life where our interest and characters are modified, but not in a permanent way by exceptional excitements, belong in principle to the same category. In short, unless you are to be content with a beggarly modicum of continuity of purpose too meagre to be more than an empty name, you seem forced to conclude that the origination and again the disappearance of selves in the course of psychical events is a fact of constant occurrence. No doubt, the higher the internal organisation of our interests and purposes, the more fixed and the less liable to serious modification in the flux of circumstance our self becomes; but a self absolutely fixed and unalterable was, as we saw, an unrealised and, on the strength of our metaphysical certainty that only the absolute whole is entirely self-determined, we may add, an unrealisable ideal. We seem driven, then, to conclude that the permanent identity of the self is a matter of degree, and that we are not entitled to assert that the self corresponding to a single organism need be either single or persistent. It is possible for me, even in the period between birth and death, to lose my old self and acquire a new one, and even to have more selves than one, and those of different degrees of individual structure, at the same time. Nor can we assign any certain criterion by which to decide in all cases whether the self has been one and identical through a series of psychical events. Beyond the general assertion that the more completely occupied our various interests and purposes are, the more permanent is our selfhood, we are unable to go.12 |354|

These considerations have an important bearing on the vexed question of a future life. If they are justified, we clearly cannot have any positive demonstration from the nature of the self of its indestructibility, and it would therefore be in vain to demand that philosophy shall prove the permanence of all selves. On the other hand, if the permanence of a self is ultimately a function of its inner unity of aim and purpose, there is no a priori ground for holding that the physical event of death must necessarily destroy this unity, and so that the self must be perishable at death. For Metaphysics, the problem thus seems to resolve itself into a balancing of probabilities, and, as an illustration of the kind of consideration which has to be taken into account, it may be worth while to inquire what probable arguments may fairly be allowed to count on either side.

On the negative side, if we dismiss, as we fairly may, the unproved assertions of dogmatic Materialism, we have to take account of the possibility that a body may, for all we know, be a necessary condition for the existence of an individual experience continuous in interest and purpose with that of our present life, and also of the alleged absence of any positive empirical evidence for existence after death. These considerations, however, scarcely seem decisive. As to the first, I do not see how it can be shown that a body is indispensable, at least in the sense of the term “body” required by the argument. It is no doubt true that in the experience of any individual there must be the two aspects of fresh teleological initiative and of already systematised habitual and quasi-mechanical repetition of useful reactions already established, and further, that intercourse between different individuals is only possible through the medium of such a system of established habits. As we have already seen, what we call our body is simply a name for such a set of habitual reactions through which intercommunication between members of human societies is rendered possible. Hence, if we generalise the term “body” to stand for any system of habitual reactions discharging this function of serving as a medium of communication between individuals forming a society, we may fairly say that a body is indispensable to the existence of a self. But it seems impossible to show that the possibility of such a medium of communication is removed by the dissolution of the particular system |355| of reactions which constitutes our present medium of intercourse. The dissolution of the present body might mean no more than the individual acquisition of changed types of habitual reaction, types which no longer serve the purpose of communication with the members of our society, but yet may be an initial condition of communication with other groups of intelligent beings.

As to the absence of empirical evidence, it is, of course, notorious that some persons at least claim to possess such evidence of the continued existence of the departed. Until the alleged facts have been made the subject of serious and unbiassed collection and examination, it is, I think, premature to pronounce an opinion as to their evidential value. I will therefore make only one observation with respect to some of the alleged evidence from “necromancy.” It is manifest that the only kind of continuance which could fairly be called a survival of the self, and certainly the only kind in which we need feel any interest, would be the persistence after death of our characteristic interests and purposes. Unless the “soul” continued to live for aims and interests teleologically continuous with those of its earthly life, there would be no genuine extension of our selfhood beyond the grave. Hence any kind of evidence for continued existence which is not at the same time evidence for continuity of interests and purposes, is really worthless when offered as testimony to “immortality.” The reader will be able to apply this reflection for himself if he knows anything of the “phenomena” of the vulgar Spiritualism.13

When we turn to the positive side of the question, it seems necessary to remark that though the negative considerations we have just referred to are not of themselves enough to disprove “immortality,” provided there is any strong ground for taking it as a fact, they would be quite sufficient to decide against it, unless there is positive reason for accepting it. That we have no direct evidence of such a state of things, and cannot see precisely how in detail it could come about, would not be good, logical ground for denying its existence if it were demanded by sound philosophical principles. On the other hand, if there were no reasons for believing in it, and good, though not conclusive, probable reasons against it, we should be bound to come provisionally to a negative conclusion.

Have we then any positive grounds at all to set against |356| the negative considerations just discussed? Pending the result of inquiries which have recently been set op foot, it is hard to speak with absolute confidence; still, the study of literature does, I think, warrant us in provisionally saying that there seems to be a strong and widely diffused feeling, at least in the Western world, that life without any hope of continuance after death would be an unsatisfactory thing. This feeling expresses itself in many forms, but I think they can all be traced to one root. Normally, as we know, the extinction of a particular teleological interest is effected by its realisation; our purposes die out, and our self so far suffers change, when their result has been achieved. (And incidentally this may help us to see once more that dissatisfaction and imperfection are of the essence of the finite self. The finite self lives on the division of idea from reality, of intent from execution. If the two could become identical, the self would have lost the atmosphere from which it draws its life-breath.) Hence, if death, in our experience, always took the form of the dissolution of a self which had already seen its purposes fulfilled and its aims achieved, there would probably be no incentive to desire or believe in future continuance. But it is a familiar fact, that death is constantly coming as a violent and irrational interrupter of unrealised plans and inchoate work. The self seems to disappear not because it has played its part and finished its work, but as the victim of external accident. I think that analysis would show, under the various special forms which the desire for immortality takes, such as the yearning to renew interrupted friendships of the longing to continue unfinished work, as their common principle, the feeling of resentment against this apparent defeat of intelligent purpose by brute external accident.14

Now, what is the logical value of this feeling as a basis for argument? We may fairly say, on the one hand, that it rests on a sound principle. For it embodies the conviction, of which all Philosophy is the elaboration, that the real world is a harmonious system in which irrational accident plays no part, and that, if we could only see the whole truth, we should realise that there is no final and irremediable defeat for any of our aspirations, but all are somehow made good. On the other side, we must remember that the argument from the desire for continuance to its reality also goes on |357| to assert not only that our aspirations are somehow fulfilled and our unfinished work somehow perfected, but that this fulfilment takes place in the particular way which we, with our present lights, would wish. And in maintaining this, the argument goes beyond the conclusion which philosophical first principles warrant.

For it might be that, if our insight into the scheme of the world were less defective, we should cease to desire this special form of fulfilment, just as in growing into manhood we cease to desire the kind of life which appeared to us as children the ideal of happiness. The man’s life-work may be the realisation of the child’s dreams, but it does not realise them in the form imagined by childhood. And conceivably it might be so with our desire for a future life. Further, of course, the logical value of the argument from feeling must to some extent depend upon the universality and persistence of the feeling itself. We must not mistake for a fundamental aspiration of humanity what may be largely the effect of special traditions and training. Hence we cannot truly estimate the worth of the inference, from feeling until we know both how far the feeling itself is really permanent in our own society, and how far, again, it exists in societies with different beliefs and traditions. In itself the sentiment, e.g., of Christian civilisation, cannot be taken as evidence of the universal feeling of mankind, in the face of the apparently opposite feelings, e.g,, of Brahmins and Buddhists.

I should conclude, then, that the question of a future life must remain an open one for Metaphysics. We seem unable to give any valid metaphysical arguments for a future life, but then, on the other hand, the negative presumptions seem to be equally devoid of cogency. Philosophy, in this matter, to use the fine phrase of Dr. McTaggart, “gives us hope,”15 and I cannot, for my own part, see that it can do more. Possibly, as Browning suggests in La Saisiaz, it is not desirable, in the interests of practical life, that it should do more. And here I must leave the question with the reader, only throwing out one tentative suggestion for his approval or rejection as he pleases. Since we have seen that the permanence of the self depends upon its degree of internal harmony of structure, it is at least conceivable that its |358| continuance as a self, beyond the limits of earthly life, may depend on the same condition. Conceivably the self may survive death, as it survives lesser changes in the course of physical events, if its unity and harmony of purpose are strong enough, and not otherwise. If so, a future existence would not be a heritage into which we are safe to step when the time comes, but a conquest to be won by the strenuous devotion of life to the acquisition of a rich, and at the same time orderly and harmonious, moral selfhood. And thus the belief in a future life, in so far as it acts in any given case as a spur to such strenuous living, might be itself a factor in bringing about its own fulfilment. It is impossible to affirm with certainty that this is so, but, again, we cannot deny that it may be the case. And here, as I say, I must be content to leave the problem.16


Consult further:
B. Bosanquet, Psychology of the Moral Self, lect. 5.
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chaps. 9 (The Meanings of Self), 10 (The Reality of Self), 26 (The Absolute and its Appearances, — especially the end of the chapter, pp. 499-511 of 1st ed.), 27 (Ultimate Doubts).
L. T. Hobhouse, Theory of Knowledge, part 3, chap. 5.
S. Hodgson, Metaphysic of Experience, bk. iv. chap. 4.
Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, bk. i. part 4, §§5,6.
W. James, Principles of Psychology, vol. i. chap. 10.
H. Lotze, Metaphysic, bk. iii. chaps. 1 (especially § 245), 5; Microcosmus.
J. M. E. McTaggart, Studies in Hegelian Cosmology, chap. 2 (for a detailed hostile examination of Dr. McTaggart’s argument, which I would not be understood to endorse except on special points, see
G. E. Moore in Proceedings of Aristotelian Society, N.S. vol. ii. pp. 188-21 1).
J. Royce, The World and the Individual, Second Series, lects, 6, 7.


1^ “Bodily identity” itself, of course, might give rise to difficult problems if we had space to go into them. Here I can merely suggest certain points for the reader’s reflection. (1) All identity appears in the end to be teleological and therefore psychical. I believe this to be the same human body which I have seen before, because I believe that the interests expressed in its actions will be continuous, experience having taught me that a certain amount of physical resemblance is a rough-and-ready criterion of psychical continuity. (2) As to the ethical problem of responsibility referred to in the text, it is obviously entirely one of less and more. Our moral verdicts upon our own acts and those of others are in practice habitually influenced by the conviction that there are degrees of moral responsibility within what the immediate necessities of administration compel us to treat as absolute. We do not, e.g., think a man free from all moral blame for what he does when drunk, or undeserving of all credit for what he performs when “taken out of himself,” i.e. out of the rut of his habitual interests by excitement, but we certainly do, when not under the influence of a theory, regard him as deserving of less blame or credit, as the case may be, for his behaviour than if he had performed the acts when he was “more himself.” On all these topics see Mr. Bradley’s article in Mind for July 1902.

2^ So “self-consciousness,” in the bad sense, always arises from a sense of an incongruity between the self and some contrasted object or environment.

3^ It might be said that it is not these features of the environment themselves, but my “ideas” of them, which thus belong to the self. This sounds plausible at first, but only because we are habitually accustomed to the “introjectionist” substitution of psychological symbols for the actualities of life. On the question of fact, see Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chap. 8, p. 88 ff. (1st ed.).

4^ A colleague of my own tells me that in his case movements of the eyes appeal to be inseparable from the consciousness of self, and are incapable of being extruded into the not-self in the sense above described. I do not doubt that there are, in each of us, bodily feelings of this kind which refuse to be relegated to the not-self and that it would be well worth while to institute systematic inquiries over as wide an area as possible about their precise character in individual cases. It appears to me, however, as I have stated above, that in ordinary perception these bodily feelings often are apprehended simply as qualifying the perceived content without any opposition of self and not-self. At any rate, the problem is one of those fundamental questions in the theory of cognition which are too readily passed over in current Psychology.

5^ Of course, you can frame the concept of a “self” from which even these bodily feelings have been extruded, and which is thus a mere “cognitive subject “without concrete psychical quality. But as such a. mere logical subject is certainly not the self of which we are aware in any concrete experience, and still more emphatically not the self in which the historical and ethical sciences are interested, I have not thought it necessary to deal with it in the text.

6^ I venture to think that some of the rather gratuitous hypotheses as to the rational selfhood of animal species qua species put forward by Professor Royce in the second volume of The World and the Individual, are illustrations of this tendency to unnecessary over-interpretation.

7^ That we cannot imagine it does not appear to be any ground for denying its actuality. It is never a valid argument against a conclusion required to bring our knowledge into harmony with itself, that we do not happen to possess the means of envisaging it in sensuous imagery.

8^ Is it necessary to refer in particular to the suggestion that for the Absolute the contrast-effect in question may be between itself and its component manifestations or appearances? This would only be possible if the finite appearances were contained in the whole in some way which allowed them to remain at discord with one another, i.e., in some way incompatible with the systematic character which is the fundamental quality of the Absolute. I am glad to find myself in accord, on the general principle at least, with Dr. McTaggart. See the Third Essay in his recent Studies in Hegelian Cosmology.

9^ It would be fruitless to object that “societies” can, in fact, have a legal corporate personality, and so can — to revert to the illustration used above — be sued and taxed. What can be thus dealt with is always a mere association of definite individual human beings, who may or may not form a genuine spiritual unity. E.g., you might proceed against the Commissioners of Income Tax, but this does not prove that the Commissioners of Income Tax are a genuine society. On the other hand, the Liberal-Unionist Party probably possesses enough community of purpose to enable it to be regarded as a true society, but has no legal personality, and consequently no legal rights or obligations, as a party. Similarly, the corporation known as the Simeon Trustees has a legal personality with corresponding rights and duties, and it also stands in close relation with the evangelical party in the Established Church. And this party is no doubt a true ethical society. But the corporation is not the evangelical party, and the latter, in the sense in which it is a true society, is not a legal person.
  I may just observe that the question whether the Absolute is a self or a person must not be confounded with the question of the “personality of God. We must not assume off-hand that “God “and the Absolute are identical. Only special examination of the phenomena of the religious life can decide for us whether “God” is necessarily the whole of Reality. If He is not, it would clearly be possible to unite a belief in “God’s” personality with a denial of the personality of the Absolute, as is done, e.g., by Mr. Rashdall in his essay in Personal Idealism. For some further remarks on the problem, see below, Chapter V.

10^ I suppose that any doctrine which denies the ultimate reality of the finite self must expect to be confronted by the appeal to the alleged revelation of immediate experience. Cogito, ergo sum, is often taken as an immediately certain truth in the sense that the existence of myself is something of which I am directly aware in every moment of consciousness. This is, however, an entire perversion of the facts. Undoubtedly the fact of there being experience is one which can be verified by the very experiment of trying to deny it. Denial itself is a felt experience. But it is (a) probably not true that we cannot have experience at all without an accompanying perception of self, and (b) certainly not true that the mere feeling of self as in contrast with a, not-self, when we do get it, is what is meant by the self of Ethics and History. The self of these sciences always embraces more than can be given in any single moment of experience, it is an ideal construction by which we connect moments of experience according to a general scheme. The value of that scheme for any science can only be tested by the success with which it does its work, and its truth is certainly not established by the mere consideration that the facts it aims at connecting are actual. Metaphysics would be the easiest of sciences if you could thus take it for granted that any construction which is based upon some aspect of experienced fact must be valid.

11^ Henry Vaughn, The Night.

12^ This is why Plato seems justified in laying stress upon the dreams of the wise man as evidence of his superiority (Republic, bk. ix. p. 571). His ideal wise man is one whose inner life is so completely unified that there is genuine continuity of purpose between his waking and sleeping state. Plato might perhaps have replied to Locke’s query, that Socrates waking and Socrates asleep are the same person, and their identity is testimony to the exceptional wisdom and virtue of Socrates.
  If it be thought that at least the simultaneous coexistence within one of two selves is inconceivable, I would ask the reader to bear in mind that the self always includes more than is at any moment given as actual matter of psychical fact. At any moment the self must be taken to consist for the most part of unrealised tendencies, and in so far as such ultimately incompatible tendencies are part of my whole nature, at the same time it seems reasonable to say that I have simultaneously more than one self. Ultimately, no doubt, this line of thought would lead to the conclusion that “my whole nature” itself is only relatively a whole.

13^ Compare the valuable essay by Mr. Bradley on the “Evidence of Spiritualism” in Fortnightly Review for December 1885.

14^ Death, however, though the most striking, is not the only illustration of this apparently irrational interference of accident with intelligent purpose. Mental and bodily disablement, or even adverse external fortune, may have the same effect upon the self. This must be taken into account in any attempt to deal with the general problem.

15^ Dr. McTaggart’s phrase is more exactly adequate to describe my view than his own, according to which “immortality” is capable of philosophical proof. (See the second chapter of his Studies in Hegelian Cosmology.) I have already explained why I cannot accept this position. I believe Dr. McTaggart’s satisfaction with it must be partly due to failure to raise the question what it is that he declares to be a “fundamental differentiation” of the Absolute.

16^ I ought perhaps to say a word — more I do not think necessary — upon the doctrine that immortality is a fundamental “moral postulate.” If this statement means no more than that it would be inconsistent with the rationality of the universe that our work as moral agents should be simply wasted, and that therefore it must somehow have its accomplishment whether we see it in our human society or not, I should certainly agree with the general proposition. But I cannot see that we know enough of the structure of the universe to assert that this accomplishment is only possible in the special form of immortality. To revert to the illustration of the text, (1) our judgment that the world must be a worthless place without immortality might be on a level with the child’s notion that “grown-up” life, to be worth having, must be a life of continual play and no work. (2) If it is meant, however, that it is not “worth while” to be virtuous unless you can look forward to remuneration — what Hegel, according to Heine, called a Trinkgeld — hereafter for not having lived like a beast, the proposition appears to me a piece of immoral nonsense which it would be waste of time to discuss.

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Chapter IV. The Problem of Moral Freedom

§ 1. The problem of the meaning and reality of moral freedom is popularly supposed to be one of the principal issues, if not the principal issue, of Metaphysics as applied to the facts of human life. Kant, as the reader will no doubt know, included freedom with immortality and the existence of God in his list of unprovable but indispensable “postulates” of Ethics, and the conviction is still widespread among students of moral philosophy that ethical science cannot begin its work without some preliminary metaphysical justification of freedom, as a postulate at least, if not as a proved truth. For my own part, I own I cannot rate the practical importance of the metaphysical inquiry into human freedom so high, and am rather of Professor Sidgwick’s opinion as to its superfluousness in strictly ethical investigations.1 At the same time, it is impossible to pass over the subject without discussion, if only for the excellent illustrations |360| it affords of the mischief which results from the forcing of false metaphysical theories upon Ethics, and for the confirmation it yields of our view as to the postulatory character of the mechanico-causal scheme of the natural sciences. In discussing freedom from this point of view as a metaphysical issue, I would have it clearly understood that there are two important inquiries into which I do not intend to enter, except perhaps incidentally.


“The metaphysical problem of free will has been historically created by extra-ethical difficulties, especially by theological considerations in the early Christian era, and by the influence of mechanical scientific conceptions in the modem world.”


One is the psychological question as to the precise elements into which a voluntary act may be analysed for the purpose of psychological description; the other the ethical and juridical problem as to the limits of moral responsibility. For our present purpose both these questions may be left on one side. We need neither ask how a voluntary act is performed — in other words, by what set of symbols it is best represented in Psychology — nor where in a complicated case the conditions requisite for accountability, and therefore for freedom of action, may be pronounced wanting. Our task is the simpler one of deciding, in the first place, what we mean by the freedom which we all regard as morally desirable, and next, what general view as to the nature of existence is implied in the assertion or denial of its actuality.

That the examination of the metaphysical implications of freedom is not an indispensable preliminary to ethical study, is fortunately sufficiently established by the actual history of the moral sciences. The greatest achievements of Ethics, up to the present time, are undoubtedly contained in the systems of the great Greek moralists, Plato and Aristotle. It would not be too much to say that subsequent ethical speculation has accomplished, in the department of Ethics proper as distinguished from metaphysical reflection upon the ontological problems suggested by ethical results, little more than the development in detail of general principles already recognised and formulated by these great observers and critics of human life. Yet the metaphysical problem of freedom, as is well known, is entirely absent from the Platonic-Aristotelian philosophy. With Plato, as the reader of the Gorgias and the eighth and ninth books of the Republic will be aware, freedom means just what it does to the ordinary plain man, the power to “do what one wills,” and the only speculative interest taken by the philosopher in the subject is that of showing that the chief practical obstacle to the attainment of freedom arises from infirmity and inconsistency in the will itself; that, in fact, the unfree man is just the criminal or |361| “tyrant” who wills the incompatible, and, in a less degree, the “democratic” creature of moods and impulses, who, in popular phrase, “doesn’t know what he wants” of life.

Similarly, Aristotle, with less of spiritual insight but more attention to matters of practical detail, discusses the ἑϰούσιον |free will|, in the third book of his Ethics, purely from the standpoint of an ideally perfect jurisprudence. With him the problem is to know for what acts an ideally perfect system of law could hold a man non-responsible, and his answer may be said to be that a man is not responsible in case of (1) physical compulsion, in the strict sense, where his limits are actually set in motion by some external agent or cause; and (2) of ignorance of the material circumstances. In both these cases there is no responsibility, because there has been no real act, the outward movements of the man’s limbs not corresponding to any purpose of his own. An act which does translate into physical movement a purpose of the agent, Aristotle, like practical morality and jurisprudence, recognises as ipso facto free, without raising any metaphysical question as to the ontological implications of the recognition.

Historically, it appears that the metaphysical problem has been created for us by purely non-ethical considerations. “Freedom of indifference” was maintained in the ancient world by the Epicureans, but not on ethical grounds. As readers of the second book of Lucretius know, they denied the validity of the postulate of rigidly mechanical causality simply to extricate themselves from the position into which their arbitrary physical hypotheses had led them. If mechanical causality were recognised as absolute in the physical world, and if, again, as Epicurus held, the physical world was composed of atoms all falling with constant velocities in the same direction, the system of things, as we know it, could never have arisen. Hence, rather than give up their initial hypothesis about the atoms, the Epicureans credited the individual atom with a power of occasional uncaused and arbitrary deviation from its path, as a means of bringing atoms into collision and combination. Thus with them “freedom of indifference” was the result of physical difficulties.

In the Christian Church the doctrine seems to have owed its wide — though not universal — acceptance to equally non-ethical difficulties of a theological kind. If God “foreknew from all eternity” the transgression of Adam and all its consequences, how could it be compatible with His justice to punish Adam and all his posterity for faults |362| foreseen by Adam’s Creator?2 The difficulty of reconciling the divine omniscience with the divine justice was supposed to be avoided — in truth, it was only evaded3 — by assuming that man was created with a “free will of indifference,” so that obedience would have been just as easy as transgression if man had chosen to obey. In our own time the problem has assumed a rather different complexion, owing to the enormous developments of mechanical-physical science, which began with Galileo and Descartes. Rigid causal determination being assumed as a first principle of physical science, the question arose whether the assumption should not also be extended to the psychical sphere. If so extended, it seemed to strike at the roots of moral responsibility, by making all acts the inevitable “consequences of circumstances over which we have no control”; if not admitted, the rejection of the principle of rigid causal determination has often been thought to amount to the denial that there is any principle of rational connection in the psychical sphere. Hence, while persons specially interested in the facts of the moral life have frequently inclined to the more or less radical denial of rational connection between the events of the psychical series, others, which special interests have lain in the direction of the unification of knowledge, have still more commonly thought |363| it necessary to hold that human action is determined by antecedents in the same sense and to the same degree as the occurrences of purely physical order.

It will be our object to show that these rival doctrines of Indeterminism and Determinism or Necessitarianism are alike irrational, alike incompatible with what in practice we understand as moral freedom of action, and alike based upon the false assumption that rigid mechanical determination is itself an actual fact, and not a mere postulate of the special physical sciences, valid only so far as it is useful. But before we enter upon our task, it is necessary to begin with a statement as to the real meaning of ethical freedom itself. Until we know what we mean by the kind of freedom we, as moral beings, desire and think we ought to have, it will be useless to ask whether we are or are not free.


§§ 2., 3. “The analysis of our moral experience shows that true ‘freedom’ means teleological determination. Hence to be ‘free’ and to ‘will’ are ultimately the same thing. Freedom or ‘self-determination’ is genuine but limited, and is capable of variations of degree.”


§ 2. “Free” and “freedom” are manifestly what are called by the logicians “privative” terms; they denote the absence of certain restrictions. To be “free,” in whatever special sense you may use the word, means to be free from something. What, then, are the typical limitations which, in practice, we resent as making us unfree? They seem to be, in the main, the following: (1) We are not free when our limbs are actually set in motion by an external physical agency, human or nonhuman. And the reason why we are then unfree is that the resulting movements of our bodies do not express a purpose of our own. They either express the purpose of some other being who moves our limbs as seems good to him, or, as in the case where we are set in motion by the “forces” of the inanimate world, express no purpose at all that is recognisable to us as such. And in either case we have expressed no purpose of our own by our movements; they do not truly belong to us at all, and there is therefore no freedom. It is not necessary that the result of the movement should be one which, if it had been suggested, we should have declined to entertain as a purpose of our own. We might perhaps, if left to ourselves, have done just what another man or the system of physical forces has done for us. Still, so long as the deed, whatever it was, was done for us and not by us, so long as it corresponded to no actual purpose of ours, it was not a free act.

(2) Again, we are not truly free when we act in ignorance (not due to previous free action of our own)4 of the specialist |364| circumstances. Here there is, as there was not in the former case, a genuine act. We actually purpose to do something, but what we purpose to do is not the deed which results from our movements. E.g., if I shoot a comrade by mistake for one of the enemy, it is true that I purpose to shoot, and so far the shooting is an act, and a free act, of my own. But I did not purpose to shoot my comrade, and so the result, in its concreteness, is not the expression of my purpose, and I consequently regard myself as not fully free in doing it, and therefore not morally accountable for it. So far our analysis coincides with that of Aristotle, previously referred to.

(3) Again, I am not acting freely where the circumstances are not such as to admit of the formation of purpose at all. For this reason, merely automatic action — if there is such a thing — is not genuine action, and therefore not free.5 Impulsive action without reflection, again, comes under this category. It is, of course, accompanied by feelings of satisfaction, and if impeded gives rise to craving, and so cannot be called simply non-purposive. But in genuinely impulsive reaction, where the possibility of reflection is excluded, there can be little clear awareness of the concrete character of the purpose that is being put into execution, and hence such action is not truly free. And in practical life, though we are certainly held morally responsible for impulsive action, in so far as it is thought we might have modified it by previous habitual practice of reflection or by avoiding a situation which we had reason to think would deprive us of the power to reflect, we are never held as fully accountable for the deed of impulse as for the reflectively thought out and deliberately adopted purpose.6

Further, we feel ourselves unfree when we fail to execute our purposes, either from sheer inability to attend to a consistent scheme of action, or because we attend equally to purposes which are internally incompatible. This is why the “democratic” man, whose interests are an incoherent medley without logical unity, and the “tyrannical man,” or, as we |365| should now say, the “criminal type,” whose passions are constantly at war with one another and with his judgment, are regarded by Plato as the typically unfree beings. To be really free, in the last resort, we must have purposes which are coherent and abiding. And it is thus no paradox to say that unfreedom in the end means, in the main, not knowing your own mind, while to be free is to know what you mean.


“Determinism and Indeterminism both arise from the false assumption that the mechanical postulate of causal determination by antecedents is an ultimate fact. The question then arises whether mental events are an exception to the supposed principle.”


§ 3. We may now draw some important consequences from this review of the facts upon which every valid interpretation of freedom has to be based, (1) Freedom, as Locke said in that famous chapter “On Power” which is still the classic discussion of the whole subject as far as English philosophy is concerned, “belongs to the man, not to the will.” The proper question to ask is, “Am I free?” not “Is my will free?” or “Have I a free will.” For “freedom” and ”will,” as the facts enumerated above show, are but the negative and the positive name for the same property, the property of acting so as to put what we first possessed as our private purpose into execution in the world of sensible fact. I “will” when my outward deed is thus the expression of my purpose; in the same case, and in no other, I am “free.” Thus to “will” and to be “free” are one and the same thing; a will which was not free would be a will which was not the translation into sensible fact of any one’s purpose, and thus no will at all. Thus the question, “Are we free?” might be also put in the equivalent form, “Can we ever will anything?” and to the question, as thus put, experience gives a ready answer. For we certainly do conceive purposes, and we certainly, in some of our movements, do translate those purposes in act. And therefore we may say that freedom is undoubtedly, in the only sense in which it is desired, a fact of immediate experience.7

(2) If we retain the expression “freedom to will” by the side of the phrase “freedom to act” it can only be in a very special sense. It is clear that not only may my outward deed be a translation into fact of my present purpose, but my present purpose itself, as a psychical event, may also be a |366| translation into fact of a former purpose. This is largely the case with all results of deliberate self-training and discipline, and to a less degree with all acquired habits. Thus, e.g., the movements by which I write these lines are the expression of my preconceived purpose to write the present paragraph, but that purpose itself, as an event in my history, is similarly the expression of a former purpose to compose a work on Metaphysics. Thus there is a real sense in which we can agree with Leibnitz in criticising Locke’s dictum that we are free to act, but not free to will. For the mental conception of a purpose is itself an act, and in so far as it translates into existing thoughts and feelings a previous purpose, it may be said itself to be “freely willed.”8

(3) Freedom, I actual experience, is always limited, and, moreover, admits of the most various degrees. As to the first point, it follows immediately from our consideration of the circumstances which make us unfree. If to be fully free means that your outward deed is the full expression of an inward consistent purpose, then we can see at once that complete freedom is, for all finite beings, an indefinitely distant ideal. For it means (a) that I am not hampered in the execution of my purpose by vacillation of interest or conflict of incompatible interests within myself; (b) nor by the establishment of “habitual” reactions so nearly mechanical as to repeat themselves out of season unless checked by special reflection; (c) nor by the limits set to my power to “act or to forbear” in the physical world by the action of my fellows and of “brute” nature.9 Hence |367| only an experience which is absolutely devoid of internal conflict and external, partly discrepant environment, in other words, only the experience which is the infinite whole can be in all its detail entirely and absolutely free. From the possibilities of internal lack of unity of purpose and external collision with rival purpose which are inseparable from our position as finite beings, it must follow that we are never more than partially or relatively free.

And that the degree to which we are free varies with the nature of our purposes and their relation to the environment, is also manifest. There is an indefinite plurality of such degrees, ranging up from the total or all but total absence of freedom in the case of directly constrained motion up to the case of cordial cooperation with other members of a relatively self-supporting social group in the conscious and systematic execution of an elaborate and coherent scheme of action. To indicate the principal distinctions among such grades of freedom which are of practical importance for law and morality is the task of systematic Ethics, and need not be attempted by us here. We may add that our investigation has made it apparent that true moral freedom, of whatever degree, is no inalienable heritage into which men may step by the “accident of birth,” but — in the main and as an actual possession — a prize which has to be won by the double discipline of self-knowledge and self-mastery, and of social comradeship, and may be, and is, forfeited by the neglect of the arts by which it first gained. No doubt one man’s inherited disposition may make the practice of self-control, or again of social fellowship, easier to him than to another, and to this extent we may say that we are born with a greater of lesser “capacity for freedom,” but of its actual possession we have all to say, “with a great price purchased I this freedom.”

(4) Finally, our examination of the facts of morality enables us to define true freedom. We are free, as we have seen, just so far as our experience is the embodiment of coherent and permanent interest or purpose, and freedom is, like “will,” simply an abstract expression for the teleological unity which, in varying degrees, is an essential feature of all experience. Hence we can at once see that freedom does not mean “absence of rational connection” or “absence of determination,” but does mean as so many recent philosophers have told us, for us finite beings, self-determination. I am most free when acting for the |368| realisation of a coherent rational purpose, not because my conduct is “undetermined”; in other words, because there is “no telling” what I shall do next, but because it is, at such times, most fully determined teleologically by the character of my inner purposes or interests, — in other words, by the constitution of my self. The more abiding and logically coherent my various purposes in action, the freer I am, because it is my whole self or system of rationally connected interests, and not the insistence of others, or some passing whim or impulse which I may forthwith disown as no part of my “true self,” which is getting expression in my outward deeds. And if it were possible for a finite being to become absolutely free, as we have seen that it is not, such a being would, in the very moment of its entire deliverance, become also absolutely determined from within; its whole life, as manifested to the outsider in the series of its deeds, would become the perfect and systematic expression of a single scheme of coherent purposes.


“Determinism and Indeterminism both arise from the false assumption that the mechanical postulate of causal determination by antecedents is an ultimate fact. The question then arises whether mental events are an exception to the supposed principle.”


§ 4. We see, then, that such a genuine but limited freedom as is really implied in the existence of morality is not only compatible with, but actually demanded by, the principles of a sound Metaphysics. From the side of morality we meet with the demand that human beings shall be, in part at least, creatures whose outward acts shall be the genuine expression of individual purpose; from the side of Metaphysics we have already learned that just this teleological unity, genuine though imperfect, is the essential nature of every finite experience. We are now to see how a problem in itself quite simple leads to insoluble difficulties and to the rival absurdities of Indeterminism and Determinism when it is perverted by an initial metaphysical blunder. The initial mistake of both the rival theories consists simply in taking rigid mechanical determination of events by their antecedents in accord with the principle of Causality as an actual fact, the divergence between them only concerning the extent of the sphere of existence for which such determination prevails. According to the indeterminist, the action of conscious beings forms a solitary exception to a principle of determination which is absolutely valid for all purely physical processes. According to the determinist, there are no exceptions to the principle, and our confessed inability to predict the course of an individual life or a period of history from general laws in the same way in which we predict an eclipse or a display of leonids, is due merely to the greater complexity of the necessary |369| data, and the temporary imperfections of our mathematical methods.

It should be noted that there is no substantial disagreement between the more sober representatives of the two views as to the actual facts of life. The indeterminist usually admits that in practice, when you know enough of a man’s character and of the influences brought to bear upon him, you can tell with some confidence how he will conduct himself, and that social intercourse, education, and penal legislation would be impossible if you could not. Similarly, the determinist admits that it would be very rash to treat your predictions of human behaviour in practice with absolute confidence, and that the unexpected does frequently happen in human life. The dispute is solely about the philosophical interpretation of facts as to which there is virtually universal agreement. According to the determinist interpretation, if you were put in possession of the knowledge of a man’s “character” and of his “circumstances” (and it is assumed that it is theoretically possible to have this knowledge), and had sufficient skill to grapple with the mathematical problems involved, you could calculate his whole behaviour in advance, from the cradle to the grave, with infallible precision. According to the indeterminist, you could not do so, and your failure would arise not from any theoretical impossibility of obtaining the supposed data, but from their insufficiency. Our behaviour, he alleges, is not exclusively determined by the interaction of “character” and circumstances; even with the complete knowledge of both these elements, human action is incalculable, because of our possession of a “free will of indifference” or power to act indifferently according to or in violation of our “character.” You can never say beforehand what a man will do, because of this capacity for acting, under any conditions, with equal facility in either of two alternative ways.

I propose to show briefly that the determinist is right in saying that conduct is completely determined by “character” — if the term be understood widely enough — and circumstances, but wrong in holding that this makes infallible prediction possible; on the other hand, that the indeterminist is right in denying the possibility of such prediction, but wrong in the reason he gives for his denial. Infallible prediction is impossible, not because of the existence of “free will of indifference,” but because the assumed data of the prediction are such that you could not possibly have them |370| until after the event. Finally, it will be pointed out that the two errors both arise from the same false metaphysical theory that the causal principle is a statement of real fact.10


“Determinism. The determinist arguments stated.”


§ 5. To begin with the view of the determinist. Human conduct, he says, must be, like other processes, unequivocally determined by antecedents, and these antecedents must consist of (a) character and (b) external circumstance. For (1) to deny the causal determination of our acts by antecedents is to deny the presence of rational connection in the psychical sphere, and thus to pronounce not only Psychology, but all the sciences which take psychical events as their material and attempt to discover rational connections between them, in principle impossible. Thus the very existence of Psychology, Ethics, and History proves the applicability of the principle of causal determinism to “mental states.”

(2) This is still more evident if we reflect that all science consists in the formulation of “laws” or “uniformities,” and that the formulation of “laws” rests upon the principle that “same result follows under same conditions” — i.e., upon the principle of causal determination.

(3) Further, if psychical events are not so determined, then Psychology and the mental sciences generally are inconsistent with the general principles of the mechanical physical sciences.

(4) And, as a matter of fact, we do all assume that psychical events are causally determined by their antecedents. In Psychology we assume that our choices are determined by the strength of the motives between which we choose. Hence, if you know what are the “motives” present to a man’s choice, and the relative strength of each, the determinist thinks the prediction of his conduct is reduced to the purely mathematical problem of the solution of an equation or set of equations. That our present mathematical resources will not avail for the unequivocal solution of such equations is, on this view, a mere temporary |371| defect incidental to the present condition of mathematical science. In principle the equations must be soluble, or “there is no science of human action.”

(5) And in practical life we do all assume that it is possible to predict with considerable confidence the effect of typical conditions upon the aggregate of mankind, and also, when you have the requisite data, the effect of a definite set of conditions upon an individual man. Thus we count upon the deterrent effects of punishment, the persuasive influence of advertisement, etc.; and again, in proportion as we really know our friends, we believe ourselves able to answer for their conduct in situations which have not as yet arisen. Why, then, should we suppose it theoretically impossible, if adequate data were furnished, to calculate the whole career of a man or a society in advance, as the astronomer calculates the path of a planet from its elements? These are, I think, the chief of the stock arguments by which Determinism has been defended. (With the purely theological argument from the absoluteness of the divine foreknowledge I have already dealt in passing, and do not propose to refer to it again.)


“They rest partly upon the false assumption that mechanical determination is the one and only principle of rational connection between facts.”


§ 6. It is not difficult to see that the logical value of all these arguments is nothing at all. They fall of themselves into two groups, one based upon the general view that all rational connection, or at least all such rational connection as is significant for our knowledge, is mechanical causal sequence, the other upon an appeal to the supposed actual practice of the mental sciences. We may deal with the first group (arguments 1 to 3) first. It is certainly not true that causal determination by antecedents is the only form of rational connection. For there is manifestly another type of connection, which we have already seen to be fundamental for the mental sciences, namely, teleological coherence. And we have learned in our preceding books that no truly teleological or purposive series can really be mechanically determined by uniform causal laws of sequence, though it is often convenient for special purposes, as in the physical sciences, to treat such a series as if it were mechanically determined. Whether this type of procedure will be valid in the mental sciences, depends upon the further question whether our interest in the study of mental processes is of the kind which would be satisfied by the formulation of a number of abstract uniformities or laws of sequence, and the neglect of all those features of real mental life of which such laws take no account.

|372| In the physical sciences, as we saw, this mechanical scheme was valid only because we have an interest — that of devising general rules for dealing with typical physical situations — which is met by neglecting all those aspects of concrete facts which the mechanical scheme excludes. But we also saw that the nature of our interest in psychological investigation was predominantly (and in the case of the study of voluntary action) of a different kind. Our interest in these investigations was to obtain such a teleological representation of psychical processes as might be made available for the appreciative judgments of Ethics and History and their kindred studies. Thus, even admitting the possibility of treating psychical life for some purposes, by abstraction from its teleological character, as if it were a mechanical sequence, the abstraction would fatal for the purposes of the concrete mental sciences, and is therefore inadmissible in them. A teleological unity in which we are interested as a teleological unity cannot, without the stultification of our whole scientific procedure, be treated in abstraction from it teleological character.

This rejoinder to the first of the determinist’s arguments is at the same time a refutation of the second. It is true that any science that aims exclusively at the discovery of “laws” or “uniformities” must adopt the causal principle, and must resolutely shut its eyes to all aspects of concrete fact which cannot be resolved into mechanical sequence of “same results” on “same conditions.” But, as we saw in the first chapter of this book, the characteristic task of Psychology, except in those parts of it which appear to be mere temporary substitutes for the Physiology of the future, is not the discovery of ”laws of mental process,” but the representation in abstract and general form of the teleological unity of processes which are the expression of subjective interests. Psychology, then, in its most characteristic parts, is not based on the causal postulate of mechanical science, but on the conception of teleological continuity.

Our answer to the determinist’s third argument is therefore that we admit the truth of the allegation that Psychology and all the more concrete mental sciences which make use of the symbolism of Psychology, because essentially teleological in their view of mental process, would be inconsistent with the mechanical postulates, if those postulates had any claim to admission into mental science as its ruling principles. We deny, however, that they have any such claim to recognition. Being, as we now know that |373| they are, mere methodological rules for the elimination from our data of everything which is teleological, the mechanical postulates are only legitimate in Psychology so far as Psychology desires mechanical results. How far that is we have learned in the first two chapters of the present Book, and we have found that the initiation of purposive action is not a process which Psychology can fruitfully treat as mechanical.


“Partly upon fallacious theories of the actual procedure of the mental sciences. Fallacious nature of the argument that complete knowledge of character and circumstances would enable us to predict human conduct. The assumed data are such as, from their own nature, could not be known before the event.”


§ 7. Turning now to the determinist’s allegations as to the factual procedure of the mental sciences, we may make the following observations: (1) As to the argument from the psychological treatment of “motives” as the determining antecedents of choice, we say that it is either an empty tautology or a fallacy, according to the sense you please to put on the much-abused term “motive.” Choice is causally determined by the “strongest motive”; what does this mean? If the “strongest motive” simply means the line of action we do in fact choose, the argument amounts to the true but irrelevant observation that we choose what we do choose, and not something else. But if “motives” are to be regarded as antecedents causally determining choice in proportion to their strength, as mechanical “forces” determine the path of a particle in abstract Mechanics, we must suppose the “strength” of the various “motives,” like the mass of an attracting body, to be previously fixed, independent of the choice they determine. In other words, the determinist argument requires us to hold that alternative possibilities of action are already motives” apart from their relation to the purpose of the agent who has to choose between them. And moreover have, also in independence of the purpose or “character” of the chooser, a “strength” which is in some unintelligible way a function of — it would not be easy to say of what, though it is incumbent on the determinist to know. And this seems no better than rank nonsense. An alternative is not a “motive” at all, except in relation to the already existing, but not fully defined, purpose of some agent, and whether it is a “strong” or “weak” motive depends likewise on the character of the agent’s purpose. The attempt to conceive of “motives” as somehow acting on a mind with an inherent “strength” of their own, as material particles attract other material particles proportionate to their masses, is so palpable an absurdity that nothing more than the candid statement of it is needed for its complete exposure.

And (2) there is an equal absurdity inherent in the |374| determinist view as to the kind of prediction of conduct which is possible in concrete cases. We have seen already in our Third Book that no infallible prediction of the course of events in an individual case is ever possible. Mechanical calculation and prediction we found to be possible in the physical sciences simply because they deal with the average character of a vast aggregate of processes which they never attempt to follow in their concrete individual detail. And trustworthy prediction of human conduct by the aid of “causal laws” was seen to be of the same kind. Your uniformities might hold good, so long as they professed to be nothing more than statistical averages got by neglecting the individual peculiarities of the special cases composing them, but nothing but acquaintance with individual character and purpose would justify you in making confident predictions as to the behaviour of an individual man.

Now, when the determinist says, “if you knew a man’s character and his circumstances you could predict his conduct with certainty,” it is not this kind of individual acquaintance which he has in view. He means that the “character” of an individual man could be reduced to a number of general formulae or “laws of mental action,” and that from these “laws,” by simply putting them together, you could logically deduce the man’s behaviour. To see how irrational this assumption is, we need only ask what is meant exactly by the “character” which we suppose given as one of the elements for our supposed calculation. If it means the sum-total of the congenital “dispositions” with which we are born, then — apart from the difficulty of saying precisely what you mean by such a “disposition” — the determinist statement is not even approximately true. For (a) though it may be true that a man’s behaviour in a given situation is an expression of his “character,” yet the “character” is not the same thing as “congenital disposition.” Disposition is the mere raw material of the “character,” which is formed out of it by the influence of circumstance, the educational activity of our social circle, and deliberate self-discipline on our own part. And the “character” thus formed is not a fixed and unvarying quantity, given once and for all at some period in the individual’s development, and thenceforward constant; it is itself, theoretically at least, “in the making” throughout life, and though you may, from personal intimate acquaintance with an individual man, feel strongly convinced that his “character” is not likely to undergo serious changes after |375| a certain time of life, this conviction can never amount to more than what we properly call “moral” certainty, and is never justified except on the strength of individual familiarity.

(b) This leads us to our second point. If — to suppose the practically impossible — you did know a man’s “character” with the knowledge of omniscience, you would clearly also know every act of his life. For his “character” is nothing but the system of purposes and interests to which his outward deeds give expression, and thus to know it completely would be to know them completely too. But — and this is what the determinist regularly overlooks — you could not possibly have this knowledge of the man’s “character” until you were already acquainted with the whole of his life. You could not possibly thus know “character” as a datum given in advance, from which to calculate, with mathematical precision, the as yet unknown future acts of the man in question, because, as we have seen, the “character” is, in fact, not there as a given fact before the acts through which it is formed. Your data could at best be no more than a number of “dispositions” or “tendencies,” and from such data there can be no infallible prediction, because, in the first place, “dispositions” are not always developed into actual fixed habits; and, in the second, your data, such as they are, are incomplete, seeing that “dispositions” may, and often do, remain latent and escape detection until the emergence of a situation adapted to call them out. So that, even if it were true that complete knowledge of a man’s original stock of “dispositions” would enable you to calculate his career from its elements, it would still be impossible to be sure that your knowledge of his “dispositions” was complete.

Thus, if a “science of human nature” really means a power to calculate human conduct in advance from its elements, we must admit that there is not and can be no such science. As a fact, however, what we really mean by a “science of human nature,” when we speak of it as possible or as partly existent already, is something quite different. We mean either Psychology, individual and social, which is simply an abstract symbolism for the representation of teleological process in its general nature, or History, which is the detection of coherent purpose in human action, after the event; or, again. Ethics and Politics, which are appreciations of such purpose by an ideal standard of worth. Not one of these sciences has ever attempted the calculation of |376| human action in advance by general laws; such forecasts of the future as we do make, with rational confidence, are palpably based, wherever they are of value, on concrete experience, our own or that of others, and not upon the principles of an imaginary mechanics of the human mind.


“Indeterminism. The psychical facts to which the indeterminist appeals do not warrant his conclusion, which is, moreover, metaphysically absurd, as involving the denial of rational connection.”


§ 8. Indeterminism. With the fallacies of the indeterminist we must now deal more briefly. This is the more possible as Indeterminism, though common enough in popular moralising, has never won anything like the position of the rival doctrine as the professed creed of scientific investigators. The essence of the indeterminist position is the denial of the principle affirmed alike by the doctrine of self-determination and, in an unintelligent travesty, by the determinist theory that conduct results from the reaction of “character” upon circumstances. Seeing that, if all human action is mechanically determined in advance by its “antecedents,” and is thus theoretically capable of being deduced from its “elements,” there can be no true moral freedom, and, not seeing that the essence of true freedom is teleological as opposed to mechanical determination, the indeterminist thinks himself compelled to assert that human action is, in the last resort, not “determined” even by human character. There is a “free will of indifference” inherent in human nature, in virtue of which a man’s acts, or at least those of them in respect of which he is morally “accountable,” are free, in the sense of being independent of his character.

Freedom, according to this view, consists in the ability indifferently to adopt either of two alternative courses; so long as one alternative is closed to you (whether by your “character” or by external circumstances makes no difference according to the indeterminist), you are not “free” and not acting as a moral and accountable being. You are only acting freely in following your purpose when you could equally well follow its direct opposite. The arguments by which this doctrine is supported, over and above the general contention that determination by antecedents is incompatible with moral responsibility, are chiefly of the nature of appeals to immediate feeling. Thus we are told (1) that when we act from choice and not under compulsion we always have the immediate feeling that we could equally well act in the opposite sense; and (2) that it is a matter of direct experience that, in resisting temptation, we can and do act “in the line of greatest resistance,” and that the “will” is therefore independent of determination by “motives.”

The detailed discussion of the actually of the alleged |377| facts belongs, of course, to Psychology, and I do not propose to enter into it here. But it should be manifest that, even admitting the facts to be as the indeterminist states them, they do not warrant the inference he bases on them. Thus (1) it is no doubt true that I often am aware, in resolving on a certain course of action, that I could, if I pleased, act differently. But the conditional clause by its presence makes all the difference between teleological determination and no determination at all. It is, e.g., no genuine fact of experience that I am aware that I could violate all the habits of a lifetime, practise all the crimes I most abhor, and neglect all the interests to which I am most devoted. I could do all this “if I pleased,” but before I could “please” I should have to become a different man; while I am the man I am, it is a manifest absurdity to hold that I can indifferently express in my behaviour the purposes which constitute my individuality or their opposites.

(2) The argument from the successful resistance of temptations is equally fallacious. We have seen already that the determinist assumption against which it is directed, namely, that conduct is mechanically determined by the inherent “strength” of “motives,” is itself unmeaning. “Motives” are, if they are anything, another name for the interests which constitute our character, not external influences which “work upon” that character, and thus their relative “strength” is nothing independent of character, but a new expression for the structure of the individual character itself. But the counter-argument of Indeterminism is just as unmeaning. To talk of the “conquest” of temptation as the “line of greatest resistance” is to use the very same unintelligible mechanical analogy as the determinist uses in talking of the antecedent “strength” of a “motive.” There are, in fact, only two possible interpretations of the indeterminist’s contention, and neither of them supports his conclusion. Either the “resistance” of which he speaks must be measured by our actual success in resisting the suggestion to act, and in that case the very fact that we do not yield to the temptation shows that for us yielding would have been the “line of greatest resistance”; or else “resistance” must be measured by the extent to which the rejected alternative still persists as a psychical fact after its rejection. Then the alleged experience simply amounts to this, that we can and sometimes do, in obedience to training or conviction, refuse to act upon suggestions which as psychical facts have sufficient intensity to remain before the mind even after our refusal. |378| And this, interesting and suggestive as it is, seems no particular reason for denying the teleological determination of our conduct.11

The real metaphysical objection to Indeterminism, however, is not that it is an unprovable and unnecessary hypothesis, but that it involves the denial of rational connection between human actions. By declaring that conduct is not determined by character, it virtually asserts that it is chance which ultimately decides how we shall actually behave in a concrete case. And chance is simply another name for the absence of rational connection. This is illustrated, e.g., by the use we make of the conception of chance in the various empirical sciences. Thus, when I say that it is a matter of chance what card I shall draw from the pack, what I mean is that the result depends in part upon conditions which I do not know, and therefore cannot use as data for a conclusion in favour of one result rather than another. I do not, of course, mean that the result is not conditioned at all, or that, with a sufficient knowledge of the conditions it might not have been calculated in advance, but merely that I in particular have not this sufficient knowledge. Hence the admission of chance in the relative sense of “conditions not at present accurately known” does not conflict with the fundamental axiom of all thinking, the principle that all existence is a rational unity or scheme of some sort. In fact, since we never can know the “totality of the conditions” of anything, it would be true to say that there is an element of chance, in this relative sense, in all concrete actualities.

But absolute chance, such as the doctrine of an indeterminate free will maintains, would amount to the simple absence of any rational connection whatever between the facts which are alleged to issue from such a will. This is why the indeterminist view leads in the end, if consistently carried out, to the same metaphysical absurdity as the determinist. From failure to see that rational connection, such as is presupposed when we impute praise or blame to an agent on the score of his conduct, means teleological determination, both the rival theories in the end deny the rational interconnection of human acts, the one replacing it by the fiction of a purposeless mechanical “necessity,” the other by the equal fiction of a “blind chance.” And the two fictions are really the same thing under different names. |379| For the only piece of definite information that could be extracted either from the assertion that human conduct is mechanically determined, or that it is the result of chance, is the conclusion that in either case it is not the expression of coherent purpose.


“Both doctrines agree in the initial error of confounding teleological unity with causal determination.”


§ 9. It is thus obvious that Indeterminism fails, in precisely the same way as the opposing theory, to afford any theoretical basis for moral responsibility. True, I cannot be “responsible” for deeds which are the outcome of a purely mechanical system of antecedents, because such deeds, not issuing from the purposes of my self, are in no true sense mine; but the same would be equally true of the results of an indeterminate free will. As not owing their existence to my purpose, those results are in no real sense “my” acts, and the choice of the name “free will” for their unknown source only serves to disguise this consequence without removing it. Only as issuing from my character, and as the expression of my individual interests, can acts be ascribed to me as “mine” and made the basis of moral approbation in censure of my “self.”

Thus we see that the determinist and the indeterminist are led alike to impossible results because of the common error involved in their point of departure. Both start with the false assumption that the causal determination of an event by its “antecedents” — which we have in our earlier books seen to be a postulate ultimately not in accord with reality, but permissible in so far as it permits us to obtain useful results by treating events as if they were thus determined — is ultimately real as a feature of concrete existence. Having thus at the outset excluded genuine teleological determination from their conception of the world of change, both theorists are alike debarred from the correct understanding of those psychical processes for the comprehension of which teleological categories are indispensable.

In the terms of theories which treat determination as purely mechanical, the factors which manifestly are the determining conditions of conduct, namely, character and the alternative possibilities of action, inevitably come to be conceived of as the temporal “antecedents” of the act which issues from them. And when once this notion of character as a sort of pre-existing material upon which “motives” from without operate has been framed, it matters little in principle whether you take “character” and “motive” by themselves as the complete antecedents by which action is |380| determined, or add a third “antecedent” in the form of an inexplicable arbitrary “free will.” In either case all possibility of a truthful representation of the freedom actually implied in moral accountability was surrendered when the “character” which expresses itself through an act, and the “motive” which is another name for that character as particularised by reference to circumstances, were falsely separated in thought from each other, and then further treated as the temporal antecedents of the act in which they are expressed. In our own treatment of the problem of freedom we were able to escape both sides of the dilemma, because we recognised from the first that the categories of mechanical determination are not the expression of real fact, but limitations- artificially imposed upon facts for special purposes of a kind which have nothing in common with the ethical and historical appreciation of human conduct, and therefore irrelevant and misleading when applied out of their rightful sphere.


Consult further:
H. Bergson, Sur les données immédiates de la conscience.
F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies, Essay i.
W. R. B. Gibson, “The Problem of Freedom" (in Personal Idealism).
T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, bk. i. chap. 3, bk. ii. chap, i.
W. James, Principles of Psychology, vol. ii. chap. 26; Will to Believe (The Dilemma of Determinism).
J. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, bk. ii. chap. 21 (on Power).
J, Martineau, Types of Ethical Theory, vol. ii. bk. i. chap, i.
J. S. Mill, Logic, bk. vi. chap. 2 ff.
J. Royce, The World and the Individual, Second Series, lect. 8.
H. Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, bk. i. chap. 5; Lectures on the Ethics of Green, etc., pp. 1 5-29.


1^ See Methods of Ethics, bk. I. chap. 4, §6 (pp. 72-76 of 5th ed.)

2^ So Omar Khayyam —
   ”Oh Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin |Beset the Road I was to wander in,|Thou wilt not with Predestined Evil round|Emmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin.”
(Fitzgerald, ed. 4, stanza 80.)
  And our own poet —
”Thou madest man in the garden; Thou temptedst man, and he fell,” etc. (For the original of the stanzas on Predestination in Fitzgerald’s Omar, see, e.g., the Persian text of Whinfield, quatrains 100, 126, 197.)

3^ Evaded, because even granting the satisfactoriness of the solution for the special case of Adam, there would still be the problem of reconciling the alleged “free will” of his descendents with their inheritance of “original sin.” The more rigid Calvinism, with its insistence on the natural corruption of man’s heart and the absoluteness of predestination, seems to secure logical consistency at the expense of outraging our moral convictions. Like so many popular theological problems, this of the conflict between God’s omniscience and justice arises from a misconception of the issue. It is only when the category of time is illogically applied to the ex hypothesi perfect, and therefore timeless, nature of God that God’s knowledge comes to be thought by as fore knowledge before the event, and thus occasions the difficulty which the “free-will” theory was intended to remove. See on this point, Royce, The World and the Individual, vol ii. Lect. 8, and compare Bradley, Ethical Studies, p. 19. Of course, the case would be altered if we thought of God as finite and imperfect, and therefore in time. But there would the be no longer any reason for believing in His omniscience or His omnipotence, and so no problem would arise.

4^ Remember that abstention from acting is itself action, just as in Logic every significant denial is really an assertion. Hence, our proviso meets the case of wilful neglect to inform myself of the material circumstances.

5^ The only automatic acts of which we really know the psychical character are our own “secondarily automatic” or “habitual” acts. It is, of course, a problem for the casuist how far any particular reaction has become so completely automatic as to be no longer an occasion for the imputation of merit or guilt.

6^ For purposes of law it may often be impossible to draw the distinction, and we may have to acquiesce in the rough-and-ready alternative between entire accountability and complete non-accountability. But in passing moral judgment on ourselves or others in foro conscientiae, we always recognise that accountability is a thing of degrees. On this point see Mr. Bradley’s previously quoted article in Mind for July 1902.

7^ It must, however, be carefully noted that will in the sense in which it is equivalent to freedom must be taken to include what some writers, e.g., Bradley, call a “standing” will — i.e., any series of acts originally initiated by an idea of the resultant changes, which is approved of by us unconditionally. In the actual execution of such a series of acts many of the stages are habitual reactions which, as such, are not accompanied by the “idea” of their specific result as a determining condition of their occurrence. The sphere of moral freedom is arbitrarily restricted when it is assumed that an actual volition is indispensable for every stage of the “free” action.

8^ The reader should study for himself Locke’s famous chapter (Essay, bk. ii chap. 21). Locke’s treatment, hampered as it is by his unfortunate retention of the discussion of his first edition side by side with a somewhat modified re-statement, compares favorably for clearness and sound sense with that of most subsequent philosophers, notably with Kant’s unintelligible attempt to reconcile the absolute freedom of man as “noumenon” (a fictitious quality of a fictitious being) with his equally absolute unfreedom as “phenomenon” (another palpable fiction).
  For Leibnitz’s criticism of Locke, see Nouveaux Essais, II. xxi., particularly §§ 8-25. (The English translation by Langley can only be used with extreme caution.) On the whole question, the reader should also consult Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, bk ii. Chap. 1; Bradley, Ethical Studies, Essay I, and article in Mind for July 1902; W. R. B. Gibson, “The Problem of Freedom” (in Personal Idealism).

9^ Then, are “animals” free? I see no reason to deny that, since their life, in its degree, must have teleological continuity to be a life at all, they too must possess a rudimentary degree of freedom, though a degree not sufficient to fit them for a place as ἴσοι καὶ ὅμοιοι |equals and similars| in human society, and therefore, for the special purposes of human ethical systems, negligible. Similarly, a human imbecile may possess a degree of freedom which is important for the educator who is interested in the “care of the feeble minded,” and yet may rightly be treated for the different purposes of a penal code as simply unfree.

10^ Compare with what follows, Bradley, Ethical Studies, Essay 1, and the notes appended to it. For a typical statement of the determinist case in its more sober form, see Mill, System of Logic, bk. vi. chap. 2. It is harder to find a reasonable statement of the opposite view, as most capable moral philosophers have adopted the doctrine of self-determination. For a defence of thoroughgoing Indeterminism, see James, The Will to Believe (Essay on The Dilemma of Determinism). In Professor Sidgwick’s statement of the indeterminist view (see, e.g., his posthumous lecture on T. H. Green’s doctrine of freedom in Lectures on the Ethics of Green, Spencer, and Martineau, pp. 15-28), Indeterminism seems to me to be qualified to the point of being in principle surrendered.

11^ See the admirable discussion of this experience in Dr. Stout’s Manual of Psychology, bk. iv. chap. 10, § 7.

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Chapter V. Some Metaphysical Implications of Ethics and Religion

§ 1. The metaphysician is perhaps at times too ready to treat experience as though it were constituted solely by intellectual interests; as though our one concern in dealing with its deliverances, as they come to us, were to construct out of them a system of knowledge satisfactory to our demand for coherent thinking. This is, of course, a one-sided, and therefore, from the standpoint of Metaphysics itself, an imperfect expression of the nature of our attitude as intelligences towards the world of our experience. Our moral, religious, and artistic, no less than our logical, ideals represent typical forms of our general interest as intelligent beings in bringing harmony and order into the apparently discordant material of experience. Hence no study of |382| metaphysical principles, however elementary, would be complete without some discussion of the light thrown by these various ideals upon the ultimate structure of the system of Reality in which we and our manifold interests form a part. If it is the fundamental principle of a sound philosophy that all existence forms a harmonious unity, then, if we can discover what are the essential and permanent features in the demands made by art, morality, and religion upon the world, we may be sure that these demands are somehow met and made good in the scheme of things.


“If Reality is a harmonious system, it must somehow make provision for the gratification of our ethical, religious, and aesthetic interests.”


For a world which met our ethical, religious, and aesthetic demands upon life with a mere negative would inevitably contain aspects of violent and irreconcilable discord, and would thus be no true world or systematic unity at all. In what follows I propose to discuss the double question, What appears to be the “irreducible minimum” of the demands which morality and religion make of the world, and how far the general conception of existence defended in our earlier chapters provides for their liquidation. The consideration of our aesthetic ideals and their metaphysical significance I propose to decline, on the ground both of its inferior practical interest for mankind at large, and of the very special and thorough training in the psychological analysis of aesthetic feeling which is, in my own judgment at least, essential for the satisfactory treatment of the question.


“But we cannot assume that ethical and religious postulates are necessarily true in the forms in which our practical interests lead us to make them.”


§ 2. In dealing with the subject thus marked out, it will be necessary to begin with a word, partly of caution, partly of recapitulation of previous results, as to the attitude towards the practical ideals of morality and religion imposed upon the metaphysician by the special character of his interests as a metaphysician. It will thus be apparent why I have spoken in the last paragraph of an “irreducible minimum” of ethical and religious postulation. There is a marked tendency among recent writers on philosophical topics, encouraged more specially by Professor James and his followers, to urge that any and every ideal which we think valuable for the purposes of morality and religion has no less claim to be accepted in Metaphysics as of value for our conception of Reality than the fundamental principles of logical thought themselves. Logical thinking, it is contended, is after all only one of the functions of our nature, by the side of others such as moral endeavour towards the harmonising of practice with an ideal of the right or the good, aesthetic creation of the beautiful, and religious cooperation |383| with a “power not ourselves that makes for righteousness.” Why, then, should the metaphysician assume that the universe is more specially bound to satisfy the demands of the logical intellect than those of the “practical reason” of morality and religion or the “creative reason” of art? Must we not say that the demand of the logician that the world shall be intelligible stands precisely on the same footing as the moralist’s demand that it shall be righteous, or the artist’s that it shall be beautiful, and that all three are no more than “postulates” which we make, in the last resort, simply because it satisfies our deepest feelings to make them? Must we not, in fact, say alike to the followers of Logic, of Ethics, of Religion, and of Art, “Your claims on the world are ultimately all of the same kind; they are made with equal right, and so long as any one of you is content to advance his postulate as a postulate, and at his own personal risk, no one of you has any pretension to criticise or reject the postulates of the others”?

The doctrine I have attempted to summarise thus briefly, I believe to be partly irrelevant in Metaphysics, partly mistaken, and therefore, so far as mistaken, mischievous. I pass lightly over the curious mental reservation suggested by the claim to believe as you list “at your own risk.” As George Eliot has reminded us in Adam Bede, it is a fundamental fact of our position as members of a social order, that nothing in the world can be done exclusively at the risk of the doer. Your beliefs, so far as they receive expression at all, like all the rest of your conduct, inevitably affect the lives of others as well as your own, and hence it is useless to urge in extenuation of a false and mischievous belief to which expression has been given — and a belief which gets no kind of expression is no genuine belief at all — that it was entertained at your “personal risk.” That no man liveth to himself is just as true of the metaphysician as of any other man, and he has no more claim than another to disregard the truth in practice.

To pass to a more important point. It is no doubt true that the attainment of satisfaction for our intellectual need for a coherent way of thinking about existence is only one of a number of human interests. And thus we may readily grant that morality, religion, and art have a right to existence no less than Logic. Further, the question whether any one of the four has a better right to existence than the others seems to be really unmeaning. There seems to be no sense in asking whether any typical and essential human aspiration |384| has a superior claim to recognition and fulfilment rather than another. But it does not seem to follow that for all purposes our divergent interests and attitudes are of equal value, and that therefore they may not legitimately be used as bases for mutual criticism. In particular, it does not seem to follow that because Logic and morality, say, have an equal right to exist, there must be an equal amount of truth in the principles of Logic and the postulates of Ethics. Truth, after all, is perhaps not the “one thing needful” for human life, and it is not self-evident even that truth is the supreme interest of morality and religion.

On the face of things, indeed, it seems not to be so. Primâ facie, it looks as if the logician’s ideal of truth and the moralist’s ideal of goodness were, in part at any rate, divergent. For it is by no means clear that the widest possible diffusion of true thinking and the general attainment of the highest standard of moral goodness must necessarily go together. It may even be conducive to the moral goodness of a community that many members of it should not think on certain topics at all, or even should think erroneously about them.1 And the ideals of goodness and beauty, we may remind ourselves, seem to be similarly divergent. It is by no means self-evident, and might even be said to be, so far as history enables us to judge, probably untrue, that the society in which the appreciation of beauty is most highly developed is also the society with the highest standard of goodness.

Now, if truth and goodness are not simply identical, we cannot conclude that the ultimate truth of a belief is proportionate to its moral usefulness in promoting practical goodness. And therefore the metaphysician, who takes ultimate truth as his standard of worth, would appear to be quite within his right in refusing to admit moral usefulness as sufficient justification for a belief, just as the moralist, from the point of view of his special standard of worth, may rightly decline to take the aesthetic harmoniousness of a life |385| as sufficient evidence of its moral excellence. Until you have shown, what the view I am here opposing appears tacitly to assume, that truth, moral goodness, and beauty are one thing, you cannot rationally refuse the metaphysician’s claim to criticise, and if necessary to condemn as not finally true, the “postulates” of which Ethics is entitled to assent, not that they are “true,” but that they are practically useful. And, of course, the same liberty must be granted to Ethics itself. The moralist, I would not only admit but insist, has a perfect right to criticise, from his special standpoint, the doctrines of the metaphysician. It may perfectly well be that certain “truths” are better not generally known, in the interests of practical goodness, and the moralist is fully justified in dwelling upon the fact. But when the metaphysician asserts the truth of a proposition solely on the strength of its value for the promotion of morality, he is deserting the criterion of value which he is bound in his capacity of metaphysician to respect. It is quite true that logic is not the only game at which it interests mankind to play, and that no one need play this special game unless he prefers it; but when you have once sat down to the game you must play it according to its own rules, and not those of some other. If you neglect this caution, you will most likely produce something which is neither good Metaphysics nor sound Ethics. There is every reason for Metaphysics to beware of a “will to believe” which in practice must mean that licence to indulge in uncriticised assertion which Socrates in the Phaedo calls by the appropriate name of “misology,” and identifies as the psychological source of the worst forms of practical “disillusionment with life.”2

It follows, if these reflections are sound, that we must not, as metaphysicians, allow ourselves to assume the truth of any and every conviction about the nature of the world which we find personally inspiring and attractive, or even which we believe to have an invigorating effect upon the moral practice of mankind in general. We cannot, on a |386| priori grounds, dismiss the suggestion that it may make for practical goodness that all of us to some extent, and many of us to a very great extent, should be dwellers in the imperfectly illuminated regions on the “mid way boundary of light and dark.” (ἐν μεταιχμίῳ σκότσυ, to use the poet’s phrase.) On the other hand, it would manifestly be incompatible with the presence of any rational unity of structure in the experience-world that there should be a final and absolute lack of harmony between that world, as it must be conceived by true thinking, and as it must be if our ethical aspirations are to be satisfied. Somehow and somewhere, if the world is a teleological unity at all, these aspirations must be provided for and made good by its real structure, though possibly not in the form in which, with our present limited insight, we desire that they should be met, and though, again, we may be unable ever to say precisely in what form they are met. What is simply inconceivable in a rational world is that our abiding aspirations should meet with blank defeat.


“Thus, while morality would become impossible unless on the whole there is coincidence between virtue and happiness, and unless social progress is a genuine fact,’ ‘perfect virtue,’ ‘perfect happiness,’ ‘infinite progress’ are logically self-contradictory concepts.”


§ 3. What, then, appears to be the “indispensable minimum” of accord between known truth and our “ethical postulates,” without which the moral life itself would become irrational? On the whole, I think we may say that morality cannot maintain itself except upon two suppositions — (1) that in the main and on the whole the world is so ordered that our moral struggle for fuller and stronger individuality of life is successful; that by living the moral life our individual character does become richer in coherent interest and more completely unified; and (2) that the gain thus won by our private struggles does not perish with our disappearance from this mortal scene, but is handed on to the successors who replace us in the life of the social order to which we belong. Speaking roughly, this means that unless morality is a delusion, the moral life is, on the whole, the happy life, and that there is such a thing as social progress. Now, both these conditions, I would contend, are shown by the actual experience of mankind to be met by the constitution of the real world. It was by the analysis of actual social life, and not by an appeal to postulates of a transcendental kind, that Plato and Aristotle showed that the good man is, in the main, even in the present state of society, the “happy” man. And it is by a similar analysis that the modern thinker must convince himself, if he convinces himself at all, that human societies are progressive.

So far, then, no question of ultimate metaphysical issues |387| seems to be involved in the practical demand of the moral life. The case would, of course, be different if we were with Kant to regard it as a necessary demand of Ethics that the world shall be so constituted that, in the end, and for every individual agent, happiness shall be exactly proportioned to virtue. Still more so if we went on to assert that morality is a delusion unless every individual is predestined, by the nature of things, to the ultimate attainment of complete virtue and complete happiness. Views of this kind would manifestly have to be defended by an appeal to metaphysical principles which do not find their complete justification in the empirically known structure of human society. So too the demand that human society itself shall be progressive beyond all limits, cannot be shown to be justified by what is empirically known of the structure and the non-human environment of our society. And if Ethics really does postulate either the complete coincidence of virtue with happiness for the individual, or the infinite progress of society, it is clearly committed to the postulation of very far-reaching metaphysical doctrines.

Further, it must be frankly owned that these postulates, as they stand, are inconsistent with the scheme of metaphysical doctrine expounded and defended in the present work. For both moral goodness and moral progress are bound up with finite individuality and its characteristic form of existence, the time-process. Of “progress” this is manifest: all progress is advance in time, and is advance from a relatively worse to a relatively better. And with “virtue” it stands no otherwise. For to be virtuous is not simply to have an individuality which is at once harmonious and rich in contents, but to make such an individuality for ourselves out of the raw material of disposition and environment. Only in the progress towards fuller individuality are we moral agents, and, just because we are finite, the complete attainment of an absolutely harmonious individuality is for ever beyond us. Hence absolutely perfect virtue — and consequently absolutely perfect happiness — are incompatible with our nature as genuine but finite individuals. In all finite individuality there is inevitably some aspect of imperfection and consequently of sadness, though sin and sadness ought to fill, and can be empirically seen to fill, an increasingly subordinate place in proportion to the degree of individuality attained. The same reasoning is equally applicable to the case of any finite society.

Nor does this seem any ground for regarding the constitution |388| of the universe as ethically unsatisfactory. To repeat the previously quoted remark of Mr. Bradley, no one has the right to call the universe morally unsatisfactory on the ground that it does not precisely apportion happiness to virtue, unless he is prepared to show that more goodness would be produced by making the correspondence exact, and to show this is impossible. Still more absurd would it be to censure the universe because it is neither perfect virtue nor perfect happiness is attainable. For morality itself has no existence except as the creation of finite individuals, and hence we cannot without absurdity censure the universe on moral grounds for containing finite individuals, and so providing for the existence of morality.


“But this does not impair the practical usefulness of our ethical ideals.”


§ 4. Would the case be altered if we had, or thought we had, grounds for holding that the progress of human society has fixed and knowable bounds set to it by the nature of things? If we could know, for instance, that the physical environment of humanity is so constituted that human life must ultimately disappear from the earth? I cannot see that it would. No doubt the widespread acceptance of a belief that the end of things was at hand within a calculable period, might tend to lessen our moral earnestness, and if the period were taken to be sufficiently short, might lead to downright licentiousness and wickedness. But so does the belief in the approaching dissolution of any historic and wide-reaching social order; and yet the fact that societies suffer dissolution is not commonly regarded as reasonable ground for indictment against the universe. Nor is there any logical connection between such beliefs and their consequences. We cannot say that because human society is perishable, if it perishable, its achievements must have been wasted and therefore its progress useless. The result of our achievements might, in some way unknown to us, survive our extinction as a race, even as we can partly see that the results of the individual life are preserved after our death.

And, in any case, it is beyond the power of Metaphysics to set any fixed limits to the existence and progress of human society. As we have seen, Metaphysics gives us no reason to deny, though it does not enable us to affirm, that that the social life begun under present conditions may be continued under unknown conditions beyond the grave. And even the disappearance of physical human life within a calculable period cannot be shown to follow from any principle of Metaphysics. At most we can say that if |389| certain assumed physical laws, especially that of the dissipation of energy, are valid for all physical processes, and if, again, the psychical factor in living organisms is incapable of reversing the “down-grade” tendency of energy to pass into forms unavailable for work, then the human society we know must come to an end within a calculable time. But whether the assumptions upon which this conclusion is based are or are not true, Metaphysics by itself cannot determine.

We are thus left in the following position. That on the whole the virtuous life is also the happy life, that that there is genuine social progress,3 seem to be empirically known certainties. “Absolute perfection” of the finite as finite, and “infinite progress” seem alike excluded as metaphysical impossibilities. But no definite limits can be set by Metaphysics to the possibilities of individual and social advance towards greater virtue and greater happiness. As for the theories in Physics which appear to threaten humanity with extinction within a measurable time, their truth is, to say the least of it, not assured, and we have, in our metaphysical conception of Reality as an individual whole, the certainty that, whatever becomes of the human species, nothing of all our aspirations and achievements can be finally lost to the universe, though we may be quite unable to imagine the manner of their preservation. And for the purposes of a moral struggle from a worse to a better, this seems to be quite as much conformity to our aspirations as we need ask of the world. For the suggestion that our ideals are not worth living for unless we enjoy the fruit of our labors in the form we in particular should like, seems nothing better than an appeal to the baser Egoism.


“In religion we conceive of the ideal of perfection as already existing in individual form. Hence ultimately no part of the temporal order can be an adequate object of religious devotion.”


§ 5. When we consider the specially religious attitude of mind, we shall find that its demands upon the world go further than those of mere Ethics, and are, in part, of a rather different character. It would be impossible in a work like this to discuss at length the nature of the religious attitude, but this much at least would probably be admitted as beyond doubt. The religious attitude towards the world of experience |390| is distinguished from all others partly by the specific character of the emotions in which it finds its expression, partly by the intellectual beliefs to which those emotions give rise. Specifically religious emotion, as we can detect it both in our own experience, if we happen to possess the religious “temperament,”4 and in the devotional literature of the world, appears to be essentially a mingled condition of exaltation and humility arising from an immediate sense of communion and cooperation with a power greater and better than ourselves, in which our ideals of good find completer realisation than they ever obtain in the empirically known time-order. In the various religious creeds of the world we have a number of attempts to express the nature of such a power and of our relation to it in more or less logically satisfactory conceptual terms. But it is important to remember that, though a theological belief when sincerely held may react powerfully upon religious feeling, the beliefs are in the last resort based upon immediate feeling, and not immediate feeling upon beliefs. In this sense, at any rate, it is true that all genuine religious life implies the practical influencing of feeling and action by convictions which go beyond proved and known truth, and may therefore be said to be matters of faith.

What the convictions to which we thus surrender the practical guidance of life are, in any individual case, seems to be largely a question of individual constitution and social tradition. Not only are the convictions as to the nature of the higher power represented by the great typical historical religions very various, but what we may call the individual religion of different persons exhibits even greater variety. There is hardly any important object of human interest which may not acquire for some man the significance which belongs to the completed realisation of his highest ideals. It is no more than the truth to say that a mother, a mistress, a country, |391| or a movement, social or political, may be, as we often phrase it, a man’s “religion.”

Amid all this variety two general principles may be detected which are of primary importance to the metaphysical critic of religious experience. (1) It is essential to the religious experience that its object should be accepted as the really existing embodiment of an ideal. This is the point in which the religious attitude of mind differs most strikingly from that of mere morality. In the ethical experience the ideal is apprehended as something which does not yet exist, but has to be brought into existence by human exertion. Hence for the purely ethical attitude of mind the world has to be thought of as essentially imperfect, essentially out of accord with what it ought to be’ in order to correspond to our demands on it. Thus there is not for morality, as we shall directly see there must be for religion, such a thing as the “Problem of Evil.” That the world, as it comes to us in the temporal order, contains imperfection and evil which must be done away with, is a practical presupposition without which morality itself would have no raison d’etre.

But in religion the case is otherwise. It is only in so far as the object of our adoration, ’whatever it may be, is taken to be the really existing embodiment of our highest ideals, that it can produce, in our spiritual communion with it, that combined emotion of exaltation and abasement, that feeling of being at once ourselves already perfect so far as our will is one in its contact with our ideal, and absolutely condemned and “subject to wrath” so far as it is not, which distinguishes the religious from all other states of mind. But all real existence, as we saw in our Second Book, is essentially individual. Hence it is of the essence of religion that it looks upon the ideal as already existing in individual form. This is why devotion to an abstract principle, such as nationality, socialism, democracy, humanity, proves so much inferior as a permanent expression of religious life, to devotion to a person, however imperfect.5

(2) It follows that mere appearance in the time-order cannot be the ultimate object of religious devotion. For the time-order itself, as we have seen, is essentially unfinished |392| and incomplete, and no part of it, therefore, can be perfectly individual. The completely individual, if it exists at all, must have an existence which is not temporal. Hence no part of the temporal order of events, as such, can be finally satisfactory as an object of religious adoration. So far as it is possible to succeed in worshipping anything which forms part of that order, such as a man or a cause, this can only be done by regarding the temporal facts as an imperfect appearance of a reality which, because completely and perfectly individual, is in its true nature timeless. And it further follows that, since all finite individuality is, as we have already seen, only imperfectly individual, and because imperfect is temporal, the only finally adequate object of religious devotion must be the infinite individual or timeless Absolute itself.

That the great philosophical religions of the world have felt the force of this, is shown in history by the way in which they have inevitably tended to credit their various “gods” with omnipotence. Thus the god of the Hebrew religion, as at first presented to us in its earlier records, is represented as limited in power by the existence of other divine beings, and temporally changeable and mutable. But in the later Old Testament writings, the New Testament, and the subsequent constructions of ecclesiastical theology, we see the gradual development from these Hebrew beginnings of an idea of a God who is “all in all,” and limited neither by the existence of other divine beings with opposing aims and interests, nor by the inherent resistance of “matter,” to His purposes. So the Zoroastrian religion, in which the limitation of the power of the good being Ahura Mazda by the existence of a coordinate bad being, Angro Mainyus, was originally a fundamental tenet, is said to have become among the modern Parsis a pure monotheism.


“This leads to the Problem of Evil. “God” cannot be a finite being within the Absolute, because, if so, God must contain evil and imperfection as part of His nature, and is thus not the already existing realisation of the ideal.”


§ 6. Now, it should be noted that this inevitable tendency of Religion itself to identify its object with ultimate Reality, conceived in its timeless perfection as a complete and infinite individual whole, leads to the difficult metaphysical “problem of evil.” For if God is the same thing as the Absolute, it would appear that evil itself must be, like everything else, a manifestation of His nature. And if so, can we say that God is strictly speaking “good,” or is the complete realisation of our ideals? It is this difficulty about evil, more than anything else, which has led many philosophers in both ancient and modern times to distinguish between the Absolute and God, and to regard God as simply one, though the highest |393| and most perfect, among the finite individuals contained in the Absolute.6 In the following paragraphs I propose not so much to offer a solution of this time-honoured puzzle, as to make some suggestions which may help to put the issue at stake clearly before the reader’s mind.

The doctrine of the finitude of God does not appear in any way to remove the difficulty about evil; in fact, it renders it, if anything, more acute. For evil must now appear in the universe in a double form. On the one hand, it admittedly is taken to exist outside God, as a hostile factor limiting His power of shaping the world to His purpose. But again, as we have seen, every finite individual, because finite, falls short of complete internal harmony of structure, and thus contains an element of defect and evil within itself. Thus evil will be inherent in the nature of a finite God, as well as in that of the existence supposed to be outside Him. We have, in fact, one more illustration of the principle that all limitation involves self-limitation from within. It is only by forgetting this fundamental truth that we can conceive the possibility of a being who is “perfectly good” and yet is less than the Absolute.

And even when we overlook this, our difficulties are not removed. For a “finite” God with a further reality outside and in some way opposed to His own nature, even when illogically thought of as perfectly good, must be at best only such another being as ourselves, though on a larger scale. He, like us, must be simply a partly successful, partly unsuccessful, actor in a universe of which the constitution and ultimate upshot are either unknown or known not to satisfy our religious demand for the complete individual reality of our ideal.7 This is the view which has in history been |394| actually adopted by religions like those of the Hellenes and the Norsemen, in which the gods are regarded as ultimately subject to an inscrutable and unethical Fate, But a finite being struggling, however successfully, against such an alien Fate is, after all, a fit object only for moral respect and sympathy, not for religious adoration. Such a being, however exalted, is still not that complete and harmonious individual realisation of all human aspiration for which Religion yearns, and is therefore not, in the full and true sense, God.

If, then, a finite ethical individual, however exalted, cannot be an adequate object of religious devotion, how does the case stand with the infinite individual whole of Reality? Can we worship the Absolute?8 This is a question which needs some careful examination before we can venture on a positive answer.


“This difficulty disappears when we identify ‘God’ with the Absolute, because in the Absolute evil can be seen to be mere illusory appearance. It may, however, be true that religious feeling, to be practically efficient, may need to imagine its object in an ultimately incorrect anthropomorphic form.”


§ 7. The problem, let it be observed, is not strictly psychological. Experience shows that individual men can derive religious support from belief in the most varied and most defective conceptions of the nature of the Deity. Beliefs which bring one man “peace in believing” might, if seriously entertained, blight another man’s life; one man’s God may be another’s devil. This is, however, not the point. The real question is, whether the Absolute can be made into an object of religious worship, as we have seen that finite individuals cannot, without a breach of logic. Has it the character which, as we have seen, anything which is to correspond to our ideal of “God” must logically possess?

At first sight it certainly would seem that it has. For, as we have seen, the Absolute contains all finite existence, and contains it as a perfectly harmonious system. And therefore all finite aspiration must somehow be realised in the structure of the Absolute whole, though not necessarily in the way in which we, as beings of limited knowledge and goodness, actually wish it to be realised. The Absolute whole is thus, as nothing else can be, the concrete individual reality in which our ideals have actual existence. As all our ideals themselves are but so many expressions of our place in the system and our relation to the rest of it, so the system itself is their concrete harmonious embodiment.

|395| It is true, as we have already seen, that our ideals may not be realised in the whole just in the form in which we conceive them, but it must be remembered that in so far as we set up our private judgment and wishes as standards to which the whole is bound to conform on pain of condemnation, we are adopting an attitude which is at once illogical and irreligious. It is illogical, because it implies the assumption that with fuller knowledge of the system of Reality as a whole we should still desire the fulfilment of our aspirations in the special way which at present recommends itself to our imperfect insight. It is irreligious, because the demand that human desires shall be fulfilled in our way and not in “God’s way” involves the setting up of human wisdom against God’s, and is thus irreconcilable with genuine union of heart and will with the divine order.9

What then becomes, from this point of view, of the problem of evil? How can the presence of moral evil in the temporal order be reconciled with the thought of the Absolute whole as the complete and harmonious realisation of human ideals? I need not say that the detailed solution of the problem is out of the question. As beings whose insight is necessarily limited by our own finitude, we cannot hope to see how in detail everything that appears to us as evil might, with larger knowledge, be known as an integral constituent of a whole which, as a whole, is the realisation of human aspiration, and therefore free from evil. But it is at least possible to make suggestions which may show that the problem is a mere consequence of the inevitable defects of our insight, and that it would disappear with fuller knowledge. It is not hard to see that there are two main reasons why the structure of the universe seems to finite insight partly evil. Our insight into the nature and connection of our purposes themselves is never complete; we are all, in part, ignorant of exactly what it is to which we aspire. Hence our purposes in part appear to be met by existence with a negative just because we are only imperfectly aware of what they mean and whither they tend. There is no more familiar fact than this, that even within the limits of our |396| human life growing experience in constantly teaching us how confused and defective our judgment at any moment as to what we really want, can be. Largely then, our ideals seem to be at variance with actual existence, because we never fully know what they are.

Again, our knowledge of the effects of our acts is always imperfect in the extreme. We seem to fail because we cannot see far enough to understand fully what we have effected. And both these causes of the apparent discrepancy between the real and the ideal may be traced to a single root. Existence appears to be in part evil, because we cannot take it in at once as a whole in its individual structure. We have to make acquaintance with it piecemeal, and as a succession of fragmentary events in the time-series. And imperfection, as we have seen, belongs to the time-series. Hence we can see that evil is at once a mere appearance, and an appearance which is inevitable to the finite experience conditioned by the temporal form. The so-called “problem” is thus in principle insoluble only so long as we falsely think of the time-order itself as a characteristic of the Absolute whole in its real individuality.10

May we say, then, that the Absolute or whole is known in Metaphysics to be “good”? The answer depends upon the precise meaning we attach to the statement. In the sense that it is the really existing embodiment of the ideals we are trying amid our ignorance and confusion to realize, we clearly must say, “yes.” But if we use the word “good” in a narrower sense, to mean “ethically good,” we can hardly say without qualification that the whole is good. For “ethical goodness” belongs essentially to the time-order, and means the process of the gradual assertion of the ideal against apparent evil. To be morally good is to have an ideal that is not realized in the events of the time-order as they come to us in our finite experience, and to mold those events into conformity with the ideal. The moral life is, from first to last a struggle, and where the struggle is absent, it is misleading to speak of morality. Hence it is better not to call the Absolute “moral.”

But we must remember that the Absolute is only not moral, because it is something very much more than moral, |397| only not ethical because there is in it no divorce of ideal from actuality, as there is in the imperfect experience of its finite members. Or, as we might say, it is something more than “good,” precisely because it is already good. In morality, let it be remembered, we have, as in all the experience of finite beings, a process which is throughout directed upon a result that once attained, would transcend the process itself. Morality would not be content with anything less than the total abolition of the evil in the world; and with the disappearance of evil, the struggle against it would itself disappear in some some higher form of experience. Similarly, knowledge is constantly striving to exhaust the object of knowledge. So long as the object is in any respect unknown, the task of knowing is incomplete; yet if once we could so know any object that nothing further remained to be known about it, there would be no aspect of not-self in the object which could distinguish it from the subject by which it is known, and knowledge itself would thus be done away. Thus we may see from the side alike of cognition and of will how the whole life of the finite being forms a constant endeavor to widen experience into the complete apprehension of a content which, because infinite, could not be apprehended without the disappearance of finitude itself. Thus does experience witness to the truth of our fundamental doctrine, that the finite individual repeats in itself, in an imperfect and inadequate form, the structure of the infinite individual of which it is an appearance.

I do not know whether it is necessary to say more than a word with reference to the thoughtless objection so often urged against all philosophical and religious doctrines which deny the ultimate reality of evil, or, what is the same thing, the existence of an independent devil. If existence is already perfect, it is said, Why should we seek to make it better at great trouble and inconvenience to ourselves by moral and political endeavor? Ought we not rather to sit with folded hands acquiescing lazily in “things as they are”? The doubt might even be carried further than this. For to “take things as they are” is just as much a course of self-chosen action as any other line of conduct, and it might hence be argued that abstention and moral effort are alike out of place and absurd in a world where everything is “perfect.”

The objection, of course, turns upon a mere confusion of existence as it is in its individual reality, and existence as it appears to us in the time-series. The argument for Quietism is based purely upon attributing to the essentially imperfect |398| and incomplete series of temporal events the perfection which only belongs to the timeless whole. In that perfect whole our moral ideals and moral effort, as finite beings belonging to the temporal order, are of course included along with everything else, and its perfection is therefore no ground for treating them as nugatory. Our own moral struggle with the apparent evil of the time-series is itself an integral part of the Reality which, in its complete individual character, is already perfect, if we could but win to a point of view from which to behold it as it is. As Plotinus expresses it, “our striving is after good and our turning away is from evil, and thought with a purpose is of good and evil, and this is a good."11

If we may not say without qualification that the Absolute is good, and certainly must not say that it is in the proper sense “ethical,” still less may we say that the Absolute is “morally indifferent.” For the Absolute is only not ethical because it is already all that ethical life consists in striving to become. Hence the higher a finite being stands in the ethical scale, as judged by the double criterion of the wealth of its interests in the world and the degree of harmony between them, the more adequately does its structure repeat that of the whole, and the higher is its degree of reality. And this means that the good man’s ideals are realised in the world-order with less of modification and reconstruction than the bad man’s. In a sense, as Professor Royce maintains, even the bad man’s confused and warring ideals get their fulfilment, since he too is aiming, however blindly, at a complete individuality as the goal of all his striving. But he is seeking it where it is not to be found, in the gratification of desires which cannot be allowed the supreme place in the direction of life without leading to the distraction and mutilation of the self. As Plato puts it, the bad man “does as he pleases,” and for that very reason never “does what he wills.” Hence the place of the good man in the economy of the universe is very different from that of the bad, and the |399| world-order itself is the very reverse of “indifferent” to the distinction between them.12

My own conclusion, then, which I offer to the reader simply as my own, is that anything less than the Absolute is an inadequate object of religious devotion, and that the Absolute itself has the structure which such an object requires. If it should be further suggested that at any rate, when we come to actual experience, we find that we cannot represent the object of our worship to ourselves in an individual form of sufficient concreteness to stir effectual emotion and prompt to genuine action without clothing it in imagination with anthropomorphic qualities which metaphysical criticism proves inapplicable to the infinite individual, I should be inclined to reply that I admit the fact. And I do not think we need shrink from the conclusion that practical religion involves a certain element of intellectual contradiction. Thus, though God is not truly God until we deny the existence of any independent “evil” by which His nature is limited, it seems probable that the thought of ourselves as “fellow-workers with God” would hardly lead to practical good works unless we also inconsistently allowed ourselves to imagine God as struggling against a hostile power and standing in need of our assistance. But this only shows that the practical value of religion in guiding action is not necessarily dependent upon its scientific truth.


“The existence, within the Absolute, of finite ‘divine’ personalities, can neither be affirmed nor denied on grounds of general Metaphysics.”


§ 8. Of course, it would be quite open to us to hold that there may be, within the Absolute, finite beings of superhuman power and goodness with whom humanity is capable of cooperating for ethical ends. Only such beings, if they exist, would not be God in the same sense in which the Absolute may be called God. They might deserve and win our reverence and our cooperation, but because themselves finite and therefore only imperfectly real and individual, they could not logically take the place which belongs only to the completely and perfectly individual realisation of the ideal. That would still fall partly outside them in the nature, as a whole, of the system which harmoniously includes both |400| ourselves and them. Thus such beings would be “gods” in the sense of polytheism rather than God in that of monotheism.

Further, I can see no means of deciding a priori that there could be only one such being in the universe. Even supposing the series of finite beings to be itself finite, it is not evident that it could contain only one “best” member. And supposing it infinite, could there be a “best” member at all?13 Also it appears quite beyond the power of Metaphysics to find either proof or disproof of the existence and agency of such finite but exalted beings. We cannot say that our general conception of Reality is such as to negative the suggestion, and yet again that general conception gives us no positive evidence in favour of taking it as true. It would certainly be the grossest presumption to maintain that the Absolute can contain no higher types of finite individuality than those presented by human society; on the other hand, it would be equally presumptuous to assert that we have reasoned knowledge of their existence and their direct social relation with ourselves. Hence we must, I think, be content to say that the hypothesis, so far as it seems to be suggested to any one of us by the concrete facts of his own individual experience, is a matter for the legitimate exercise of Faith.


“Proofs of the ‘being of God.’ The principle of the ‘ontological’ and ‘cosmological’ proofs can be defended against the criticism of Hume and Kant only if we identify God with the Absolute. The ‘physico-theological proof’ could only establish the reality of finite superhuman intelligences, and its force depends purely upon empirical considerations of evidence.”


§ 9. These reflections may naturally lead to some remarks, which shall be made as brief as possible, about the so-called philosophical “arguments for the existence of God,” which played a prominent part in Metaphysics before their discrediting at the hands of Kant and Hume.14 Kant’s great achievement lies in having demonstrated that the whole force of the “proofs” depends upon the famous ontological argument, best known in modern Philosophy in the form adopted by Descartes in the fifth Meditation. Descartes there argues thus: By “God” I mean a completely perfect being. Now, existence is a perfection, and non-existence an imperfection. Hence I cannot think of a non-existing perfect being without self-contradiction. Hence God, because by hypothesis |401| perfect, must exist, and is the only being whose existence logically follows from its definition.

Kant’s even more famous criticism of this famous inference turns upon the principle which he had learned from his study of Hume, that logical necessity is “subjective.” If I think of a logical subject as defined by certain properties, he argues in effect, I am necessitated to ascribe to it all the predicates implied in that definition. That is, I must affirm them or contradict myself. Hence, if “existence” is originally included among the perfections by which the subject “God” is defined, the proposition God exists is certainly necessary, but is also tautological, and amounts, in fact, to the mere assertion that “an existing perfect being is an existing perfect being.” But if the “existence” spoken of in the predicate is something not included in the definition of the subject, then you cannot infer it from that definition. Now “real existence” is not a predicate which can be included in the definition of a concept. The predicates by which an imaginary hundred dollars are defined are the same as those of a real hundred dollars. It is not by the possession of a new predicate, but by being actually given in a concrete experience, that the real coins differ from the imaginary. Hence all propositions asserting real existence are synthetic, (i.e., assert of their subject something which is not contained in the concept of it), and the real existence of God or any other object can never be deduced from its definition.15

This Kantian criticism has itself been subjected to much criticism, principally at the hands of Hegel and those subsequent philosophers who have been specially affected by the Hegelian influence. What appears to be the general principle of the Hegelian criticism has been most clearly expressed in English philosophy by Mr. Bradley (Appearance and Reality, chap. 24), upon whose discussion the following remarks are chiefly founded. |402|

In estimating the worth of the ontological proof, we must distinguish between the general principle implied in it and the particular form in which it presents that principle. It is manifest that Kant is perfectly right when he contends that, taking existence to mean presence in the space and time-order, you cannot reason from my possession of any idea to the existence of a corresponding object. You cannot say whatever I conceive must exist as I conceive it. But the principle of the ontological proof is perhaps not necessarily condemned by its failure to be thus universally applicable. The principle involved appears to be simply this. The idea and the reality outside its own existence as a fact in the time-order which it “means” or “stands for” are mutually complementary aspects of a whole Reality which include them both. For there is, on the one side, no “idea” so poor and untrue as not to have some meaning or objective reference beyond its own present existence.16 And, on the other, what has no significance for any subject of experience is nothing. Hence in its most general form the ontological argument is simply a statement that reality and meaning for a subject mutually imply one another. But it does not follow that all thoughts are equally true and significant. In other words, though every thought means something beyond its own existence, different thoughts may represent the structure of that which they mean with very different grades of adequacy. That which my thought means may be far from being real in the form in which I think it.

Now, we may surely say that the more internally harmonious and systematic my thought is, the more adequately it represents the true nature of that which it means. If thoroughly systematic coherent thought may be mere misrepresentation, our whole criterion of scientific truth is worthless. How freely we use this ontological argument in practice will be readily seen by considering the way in which, e.g., in the interpretation and reconstruction of historical facts, the internal coherency of a systematic and comprehensive interpretation is taken as itself the evidence of its truth.17 Hence it may be argued that if there is a systematic way |403| of thinking about Reality which is absolutely and entirely internally coherent, and from its own nature must remain so, however the detailed content of our ideas should grow in complexity, we may confidently say that such a scheme of thought faithfully represents the Reality for which it stands, so far as any thought can represent Reality. That is, while the thought would not be the Reality because it still remains thought, which means something beyond its own existence, it would require no modification of structure but only supplementation in detail to make it the truth.

But if we have anywhere thought which is thus internally coherent, and from its own nature must remain so, however knowledge may extend, we have it surely in our metaphysical conception of the real as the absolutely individual. Thus the ontological proof appears, in any sense in which it is not fallacious, to amount merely to the principle that significant thought gives us genuine knowledge; and therefore, since the thoroughgoing individuality of structure of its object is presupposed in all significant thought. Reality must be a perfect individual. That this perfect individual must further be “God,” i.e. must have the special character ascribed to it by beliefs based upon specifically religious emotions, does not follow. How far the “God” of religion is a correct conception of the metaphysical Absolute, we can only learn from the analysis of typical expressions of the religious experience itself. And it is obvious that if by “God” we mean anything less than the Absolute whole, the ontological proof ceases to have any cogency. It is impossible to show that the possibility of significant thought implies the presence of a special finite being, not empirically known to us, within the Absolute.

The “cosmological” proof, or “argument from the contingency of the world,” unlike the ontological, has the appearance, at first sight, of starting with given empirical fact. As summarised by Kant for purposes of criticism, it runs thus: “If anything at all exists, there must be also an absolutely necessary being. Now, I exist myself; ergo, the absolutely necessary being exists.” To make the proof quite complete, it would be necessary to show that the being whose existence is affirmed in the minor premisses, to wit, myself, is not itself the “absolutely necessary being,” and the argument thus completed would become in principle identical with the second of the “proofs” given by Descartes in the third Meditation, where it is inferred that if I, a dependent being, exist, there must be a God on whom I and |404| all things depend.18 As Kant has pointed out, the whole force of this inference rests upon the previous admission of the ontological argument. By itself the cosmological proof only establishes the conclusion that if any dependent existence is real, independent existence of some kind must be real also. To convert this into a “proof of the existence of God,” you must further go on to identify the “independent existence” thus reached with the “most real” or “most perfect” being of the ontological proof. For otherwise it might be suggested, as is done by one of the speakers in Hume’s dialogue, that the series of phenomenal events itself, taken as an aggregate, is the “necessary existence” upon which the “contingent existence” of each several event depends. “Did I show you the particular causes of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable should you afterwards ask me what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts.”

To avoid this objection, we must go on to maintain that only the “most perfect being” can be an ultimately necessary being, and that its “necessary existence” is a consequence of its character. This, as we have seen, is the very assertion made in the ontological proof. Hence our criticisms of the ontological proof will be equally applicable to the cosmological. If we combine the two, restating them in accord with our previous remodelling of the former, the argument will take the following form. All propositions directly or indirectly refer to real existence. Hence it would be self-contradictory to assert that nothing exists. But existence itself is only conceivable as individual. Hence the absolutely individual must be really existent. And this is identical with the general principle of our own reasoning in Book II. of the present work. Clearly, if valid, it is valid simply as an argument for a metaphysical Absolute; it neither proves that Absolute itself to be what we mean in religion by God, nor affords any ground for asserting the existence of God as a finite individual within the Absolute.19 |405|

The physico-theological argument, also known as the argument from design, or the teleological proof, differs from the preceding two in being in its current forms honestly empirical. In the shape of an inference from the apparent presence of order and a regard for human good in the structure of nature to the existence of a wise and benevolent being or beings as the author or authors of nature, it has been the most popular of all theistic arguments both in the ancient world, where, according to Xenophon, it was specially insisted upon by Socrates, and in the modern defences of theological beliefs against rationalistic criticism. It must, however, be observed that the criticisms of Hume and Kant are absolutely fatal to the “argument from design,” when it is put forward as a proof of the existence of a God of infinite goodness and wisdom. At best, as Kant says, the observed order and harmony of Nature would enable us to infer a finite degree of wisdom and goodness in its author. The assertion of the absolute harmoniousness and goodness of Nature, which we require to justify the inference to infinite wisdom and goodness in its author, goes far beyond the limits of the empirically verifiable, and can itself only be upheld by some form of the “ontological proof.” Hence the “argument from design” could at best prove a God whose wisdom and goodness are, so far as knowable, limited. As Hume forcibly puts the same point, if the empirically known facts of the partial adaptation of Nature to human purposes are valid, as they stand, to prove a wise and good intelligence, are not the equally well-ascertained facts of the partial want of adaptation equally valid to prove defective goodness or defective wisdom? (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, part II.) There is a deeper metaphysical reason for this difference between the results of the physico-theological and of the other “proofs,” which may be briefly pointed out. The |406| whole conception of the order and systematic unity of the world as due to preconceived “design” is only intelligible if we suppose the author of that “design” to be finite, and subject, like ourselves, to temporal mutability. For in the notion of design itself are implied the severance of the mentally conceived ideal from the actuality which waits to be brought into accord with it, and consequently also the time-process, which we have already found to be characteristic of all finitude. Hence the physico-theological proof, by itself, can at best be used to establish the reality of finite “gods,” not of “God,” because it works throughout with the categories of finitude.

Upon the logical force of the argument, as thus limited by its initial assumptions, only one observation need be made. What the reasoning asserts is not merely that “Nature” is in reality a system exhibiting individuality and purposive interest, or even “design,” but that it reveals the particular design of assisting and fostering human progress. Now, whether this is so or not would appear to be a question of empirical fact only capable of determination by the methods applicable to other problems of the same empirical kind. Probably the lines along which it will have to be decided in the future are of the following general kind. Evolutionary science seems clearly to have shown that in the influences it knows, e.g., as “natural” and again as “sexual selection,” we have processes which lead to beneficial results without being, so far as we can see, in the least directed by the conscious “design” of establishing those results.20 We should have to ask, then, whether there is actual ground for holding that such influences are not of themselves sufficient to account for the development of human civilisation, so far as it is due to factors belonging to the “environment.” If they are so sufficient, the “physico-theological” argument for benevolent super-human agency in moulding the course of human development, becomes superfluous; if they are not, their failure is, so far, good ground for the recognition of finite “designing” intelligences of a non-human kind as forming a factor in our environment. |407| In either case the question appears to be one of empirical fact, and to be incapable of determination in advance on general metaphysical grounds.21 Nor are we justified in assuming that “design in nature,” supposing it to exist, must always be directed to securing ends which are either intelligible to us, or, if intelligible, “benevolent,” in the sense of furthering our own special human interests. And here I must be content to leave the subject.


Consult further:
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chaps. 25, 26.
J. E. McTaggart, Studies in Hegelian Cosmology, chaps. 6, 8.
J. Royce, The World and the Individual, Second Series, lects. 9, 10.


1^ To take a couple of concrete illustrations. It may be — I do not say it is — conducive to moral goodness that there should be a general conviction that in the long run our individual happiness is strictly proportionate to our degree of virtue. But there is no means whatever of showing that this belief is true, and, as Mr. Bradley once pertinently argued against Professor Sidgwick, no philosopher is entitled to assert its truth on moral grounds unless he is prepared to maintain that he could produce more goodness and less badness by such an exact proportioning of happiness to merit than without it. Again, most of us would probably admit that ordinary moral rules, such as that against wilful lying, have exceptions. But we are not bound to hold it conducive to moral goodness that every one should be aware of this.

2^ I have not taken into account the argument from origins, because it does not appear relevant. That our intellectual interest in “truth” is historically a derivative from an interest in the “useful,” “science” an offshoot of the arts, is, as we have seen for ourselves, true enough, but it does not follow that the truth which is the ideal of the developed intellect is the same thing as the “useful” from which it has arisen. We rejected the claims of the mechanical postulate to be final truth, not because of their origin in the needs of industrial science, but because, as tested by the standard of final self-consistency, they were unsatisfactory to the intellect.

3^ Not, of course, pure progress. It does not require profound insight to discover that moral progress, like everything else, has its price, and that all “progressive evolution” implies “degeneration” as one of its aspects. But the oral progress of society will be genuine if, on the whole, our gain is — from the moralist’s special standpoint — more than our loss. We have no reason to despair of our kind if the impartial historian, comparing the facts — not the self-complacent fictions of popular optimism — about our current social life with the facts — not the fancies of Apologetics — about social life, say, in the first century of the Roman Empire, can pronounce that there has been advance on the whole.

4^ The “religious” temperament is apparently shown by experience to be, in its intenser manifestations, quite as much an idiosyncrasy of congenital endowment as the “aesthetic.” There are persons, not otherwise mentally defective, who seem to be almost devoid of it, just as there are others who have little or no sense of humour or feeling for beauty. As many of these persons are ethically excellent, some of them exceptionally so, and as again the religious temperament is often found strongly developed in persons of quite inferior ethical development, there seems to be no direct connection between religious sensibility and moral excellence, though, of course, religious feeling is the most powerful of moral influences when it is conjoined in the same person with ethical fervour. For a masterly description of some typical forms of religious feeling and belief the reader should consult Professor James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. He will find my own views as to the philosophical interpretation of religion, if he cares to know them, in the final chapter of my Problem of Conduct.

5^ So Hegel insisted that the fundamental significance of the Christian religion lies neither in the historical career nor in the moral teaching of Jesus (which indeed contained little that had not already been uttered in the form of precept or principle), but in the recognition by the Christian community of the union of God and Man as a fact already realised in individual form in the person of Christ. See Dr. McTaggart’s essay on “Hegelianism and Christianity” in Studies in Hegelian Cosmology.

6^ So Plato suggested in the second book of the Republic, that God is not the cause of all that happens to us, but only of the good things that befall us. Perhaps, however, Plato is here consciously adapting his expression to current theological doctrine of which he did not fully approve. For a modern defence of the same conception of a finite God, see Dr. Rashdall’s essay in Personal Idealism. Other reasons which have often led to the same view, such as the desire to think of God as a mutable being like ourselves, capable of being influenced in His attitude toward us by our attitude towards Him, seem to rest too much upon idiosyncrasies of private feeling to be of serious philosophical weight. If private feeling is to count at all, one does not see why that of those who would feel outraged by such a conception of a finite changeable God should not be allowed an equal significance with that of their opponents. It is a palpable mistake to treat private feeling, whatever its worth may be, as all on one side in this matter.

7^ For if we once suppose that we know the universe, in which “God” is only one finite being among others, to be so constituted as to correspond to this demand, it will be the whole of which “God” is one factor, and not “God” by Himself, which will become the supreme object of religious emotion. Thus we may say, until God is thought of as the individual whole. He is not fully God.

8^ It should be scarcely necessary to point out that the Absolute, if it can be worshipped at all, can be worshipped only as conceived as fully individual. When it is falsely thought of as a “collection” or “aggregate” or “totality” of independent things, it is no more divine than any other collection. This is the fatal objection to vulgar “Pantheism.” How far any of the serious thinkers who are popularly charged with “Pantheism” have countenanced this view of the Absolute as a mere collection, is another matter.

9^ I am afraid that this essentially irreligious feeling has a great deal to do with the complaints sometimes urged against the Absolute as a poor substitute for a “living God.” Partly these complaints spring, no doubt, from the mistaken notion that the Absolute is not a concrete individual but a mere “collective concept.” But they seem also to be motived by a suspicion that a finite Deity might be more amenable than the Absolute to our wish to have our ideals gratified in our own fashion. And so far as this is the motive of them, such complaints are essentially impious.

10^ The reader will naturally think of the famous Socratic paradox, that “wrong doing is error,” “vice is ignorance.” If we interpret this to mean that the fundamental advantage of the good man over the bad lies in his truer insight into what he seriously wants, it seems to be true.

11^ Enneads, I. 8, 15 (quoted and translated in Whittaker, The Neoplatonists, p. 83). Plotinus had just previously made the correct observation that to deny the existence of evil in any and every sense means to deny the existence of good. (κακόν γε εἴ τις λέγοι τὸ παράπαν ἐν τοις ουσι μὴ ειναι, ἀνάγκη αὐτῳ καὶ τὸ ἀγαθὸν ἀναιρειν καὶ μηδὲ ὀρεκτὸν μηδὲν εὶναι.) We might thus say, if good is to be at all, evil must have some kind of relative or phenomenal existence as its antecedent condition. But, as thus serving as a condition for the realisation of good, evil is itself, from a more universal point of view, good, and therefore its existence as evil only apparent. On the whole question of the position of evil in the world-order, see the admirable essay on “Sin” in Dr. McTaggart’s Studies in Hegelian Cosmology./p>

12^ When it is said that the Absolute, if it exists, must be morally indifferent, there is often a conscious or unconscious confusion of thought. The Absolute must certainly be “indifferent” in the sense that it does not feel the internal discord of hatred and animosity against any of its constituents. Deus, as Spinoza says, neminem potest odio habere. For the Absolute is not one of the two combatants; it is at once both combatants and the field of combat. But to infer that the Absolute, because devoid of the feelings of hatred and private partisanship, must be indifferent in the sense that our goodness and badness make no difference to our place in it, is a fallacy of equivocation for which unconsciousness and bona fides are scarcely sufficient excuse.

13^ Thus I do not understand why, apart from respect for the traditions of Christianity, Dr. Rashdall should hold that God, in his sense of the word, is one and not many. His argument appears to me to identify God with the Absolute, where it is required to maintain God’s unity, and to distinguish them as soon as it becomes a question of proving God’s “Personality” (see his essay in Personal Idealism). Professor James appears more logical in his obvious readiness to reckon with polytheism as a possible consequence of his denial of God’s infinity (Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 524 ff.).

14^ Kant’s famous onslaught will be found in the Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Transcendental Dialectic, bk. ii. div. 3 (”The Ideal of Pure Reason”), §§ 3-7. Hume’s criticisms are contained in his posthumous Dialogues concerning Natural Religion.

15^ Kant’s criticism had been in part anticipated on the first circulation of the Meditations by both Mersenne and Gassendi. See particularly Gassendi’s strictures on Descartes’ confusion of existence with properties in the “Fifth Objections,” with Descartes’ unsatisfactory reply. Leibnitz repeated the same objection, and proposed to amend the Cartesian proof by a formal demonstration that God’s existence is possible, i.e., does not imply a formal contradiction. He then argues — If God’s existence is possible, He exists (by the Cartesian proof). But God’s existence is possible, therefore God exists. See, e.g., Leibnitz, Works, ed. Erdmann, p. 177; and Latta, Monadology of Leibniz, p. 274. Hume’s comments are even more akin to Kant’s. “Whatever we conceive as existent we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is no being whose existence is demonstrable.” (Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, part 9.)

16^ No thought can be merely and absolutely false, any more than any act can be merely and without qualification bad. Though words may be entirely meaningless, thoughts cannot be.

17^ The appeal to experiment is no objection to the principle. For in making the experiment we do not, of course, get out of the circle of our thoughts, and the experiment only affords a criterion of truth in so far as it leaves us with a new thought which can only be brought into systematic harmony with our old ideas in one determinate way. Except as interpreted by thought, the experiment has no bearing on our knowledge.

18^ This was also a favourite argument with Leibnitz, as Kant notes. For an acute examination of Leibnitz’s use of it and the other “proofs,” see B. Russell’s Philosophy of Leibniz, chap. 15. For Hume’s objections to it, see the already quoted part 9 of the Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion. The other “proof of the Third Meditation, namely, that my possession of an idea of God, which I could not have derived from empirical sources, proves the reality of the idea’s object, is only a special form of the ontological argument from idea to existence.

19^ As thus remodelled, the double ontologico-cosmological argument might be attacked on two grounds — (1) That it only proves, once more, that if we admit that all propositions are concerned with real existence, either directly or remotely, we must admit the existence of the Absolute, but does not demonstrate that all propositions are so concerned. (2) That in saying that existence is only conceivable as individual we fall back into the Cartesian misconception of existence as a predicate. I should reply, (1) that the validity of the premiss in question cannot be denied without being confirmed in the act of denial. I.e. unless the suggested proposition that “some propositions at least have no reference to a reality beyond their own presence as psychical facts in my mind,” itself has the very objective reference in question, it has no meaning, and is therefore no genuine proposition; (2) that we must distinguish between the what and the that of existence. The “that” of existence is not conceivable at all, but our position is that this inconceivable that is only logically, not really, separable from a what, and that it is precisely this inseparability of the that and the what which we mean by “individuality.”

20^ This is quite consistent with our own view, that all real processes are teleological in the sense of being marked by subjective interest. For (a) not by any means all teleological process is actual “design” or “volition” (impulse, organic craving, habit, etc., are all cases in point); and (b) actual volition need not always be volition for the result it actually produces. Sexual selection in man would be an instance of a process which may take the form of actual volition, but in that case is rarely, if ever, volition for that improvement of the stock which de facto issues from it.

21^ Cf. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, pp. 200, 496-497 (1st ed.). Professor Flint’s attempted reply to the Humian and Kantian criticism of the theistic “proofs” (Agnosticism, chap. 4) has not induced me to modify any of the opinions expressed in this chapter.

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Chapter VI. Conclusion

§ 1. It seems advisable, in bringing this work to a conclusion, to bring together by way of recapitulation a few important consequences of our general principle which could not receive all the notice they deserve in the course of our previous exposition. Our main contention, which it may be hoped our discussion of special problems has now confirmed, was that the whole of Reality ultimately forms a single infinite individual system, of which the material is psychical matter of fact, and that the individuality of this system lies ultimately in a teleological unity of subjective interest. Further, we saw that all subordinate reality is again in its degree individual, and that the contents of the Absolute thus form a hierarchy of ascending orders of reality and individuality, and that in this way, while all finite individual existence is, as finite, appearance and not ultimate Reality, appearances, themselves are of varied degrees of worth, and that, apart from the appearances, there is no reality at all. And finally, we learned that all the aspirations of finite individuals must be somehow met and made good in the ultimate Reality, though not necessarily in the form in |409| which they are consciously entertained by the finite aspirant.


“Can our Absolute Experience be properly called the ‘union of Thought and Will’? The Absolute is certainly the final realisation of our intellectual and our practical ideals. But (1) it includes aspects, such as, e.g., aesthetic feeling, pleasure, and pain, which are neither Thought nor Will. (2) And it cannot possess either Thought or Will as such. Both Thought and Will, in their own nature, presuppose a Reality which transcends mere Thought and mere Will.”


This last conclusion naturally suggests the question, whether it would be a correct description of the ultimate Reality to call it the “union of Thought and Will.” I will briefly indicate the reasons why such a description appears to be misleading. (1) The Absolute may no doubt be called the “union of Thought and Will,” in the sense that its complete individual structure corresponds at once to our logical ideal of systematic interconnection, and our ethico-religious ideal of realised individual purpose. But it must be added that the Absolute appears to possess aspects which cannot fairly be brought under either of these heads. Esthetic feeling, for instance, and the aesthetic judgments based upon it, must somehow be included as an integral aspect in the absolute whole of experience; yet aesthetic feeling cannot properly be regarded either as thought or as will. And the same objection might be raised in the case of pleasure. However closely pleasure may be connected with conative efforts towards the retention or renewal of the pleasant experience, it seems quite clear that the “pure” pleasures1 are not forms of conscious “conation,” and that even in those “mixed” pleasures, which depend in part for their pleasantness upon relief from the tension of precedent craving or desire, analysis enables us to distinguish two elements, that of direct pleasure in the new experience, and that of the feeling of relief from the craving. Hence, if it be admitted that the Absolute contains pleasure, it must also be admitted that it contains something which is neither thought nor will. The same argument would hold good, I think, even if we held with the pessimists, that the Absolute contains a balance of pain over pleasure. For, intimate as the connection is between pain and thwarted conation, it seems a psychological monstrosity to maintain that felt pain is always and everywhere an experience of the frustration of actual conscious effort; and unless this monstrosity can be maintained, we must recognise in pain too a fundamental experience-quality irreducible to thought or will. Thus, at best, the description of the Absolute, as the union of thought and will, would be incomplete.

(2) But, further, the description, if taken to mean that |410| the Absolute itself has thought and will, as such, would be not only incomplete but false. For actual thought and actual will can easily be shown to be essentially finite functions, neither of which could ever reach its goal and become finally self-consistent, without ceasing to be mere thought or mere will. Thus actual thought always involves an aspect of discrepancy between its content and. reference. It is always thought about a reality which falls, in part, outside the thought itself, is only imperfectly represented by the thought’s content, and for that very reason is a not-self to the thought for which it is an object. And the whole process of thinking may be described as a series of attempts on the part of thought to transcend this limitation. So long as the content of the thought is not adequate to the reality which it thinks, so long, that is, as there is anything left to know about the reality, thought restlessly presses forward towards an unreached consummation. But if the correspondence ideae cum ideato ever became perfect, thought’s object would cease to contain anything which went beyond thought’s own content. It would no longer be an “other” or “not-self” to the thought which knew it, and thus thought and its object would have become a single thing. But in this consummation thought would have lost its special character as an actual process, just as the object would have lost its character of a something, partly at least, “given” from without. Both mere thought and mere existence, in becoming one, would cease to have the character which belongs to them in finite experience precisely in virtue of our failure completely to transcend the chasm between them.

The same is the case with will. If, indeed, by will we mean a genuine actual process of volition, this result is already included in our criticism of the claim of thought as such to persist unchanged in the Absolute. For all genuine will implies possession of and actuation by an idea which is entertained explicitly as an unrealised idea, and is thus inseparable from thought. (This, I may incidentally observe once more, is why we carefully avoided speaking of the “subjective interest” we found in all experience-processes as “will.”) But even if we improperly widen the interpretation of the term “will” to include all conative process, the general conclusion will remain the same. For all such processes imply the contrast between existence as it comes to us in the here and now of actual feeling, and existence as it should be, and as we seek to make it, for the satisfaction of our various impulses, cravings, and desires. It is the felt, |411| even when not explicitly understood, discrepancy between these two aspects of a reality, which is ultimately one and harmonious under the discrepancy, that supplies all actual conative process with its motive force. And hence we seem driven to hold that conation as such, i.e. as actual striving or effort, can find no place in an experience in which the aspects of ideality and real existence are once for all finally united.

If we cannot avoid speaking of such an experience in terms of our own intellectual, and again of our own volitional processes, we must at least remember that while such language is true in the sense that the all-embracing harmonious experience of the Absolute is the unattainable goal towards which finite intellect and finite volition are alike striving, yet each in attaining its consummation, if it ever could attain it, would cease to be itself as we know it, and pass into a higher and directer form of apprehension, in which it could no longer be distinguished from the other. In the old medieval terminology, the Absolute must be said to contain actual intellect and actual volition, not formaliter but eminenter.2


“Our conclusion may in a sense be said to involve an element of Agnosticism, and again of Mysticism. But it is only gnostic in holding that we do not know the precise nature of the Absolute Experience. It implies no distrust of the validity of knowledge, so far as it goes, and bases its apparently gnostic result on the witness of knowledge itself. Similarly, it is mystical in transcending, not in refusing to recognise, the constructions of understanding and will.”


§ 2. It follows from all this that, just because the absolute whole is neither mere thought nor mere will, nor an artificial synthesis of the two, mere truth for the intellect can never be quite the same thing as ultimate Reality. For in mere truth we get Reality only in its intellectual aspect as that which affords the highest satisfaction to thought’s demand for consistency and systematic unity in its object. And, as we have seen, this demand can never be quite satisfied by thought itself. For thought, to remain thought, must always be something less than the whole reality which it knows. The reality must always contain a further aspect which is not itself thought, and is not capable of being apprehended in the form of a thought-content. Or, what is the same thing, while all reality is individual, all the thought constructions through which we know its character must remain general. We are always trying in our thought to grasp the individual as such, and always failing. As individual, the reality never becomes the actual content of our thought, but remains a “transcendent” object to which thought refers, or which it means. And hence our truest thought can at best give us but an imperfect satisfaction for |412| its own demand of congruence, between thought’s content and its object. The reality can never be ultimately merely what it is for our thought. And this conclusion obviously lends a certain justification both to the agnostic and to the mystic. It is important to understand how far that justification extends.

First, then, a word as to the limits of justifiable Agnosticism. Our conclusion warranted us in asserting that Reality must contain aspects which are not thought, and again must combine thought with these other aspects in a unity which is not itself merely intellectual. In other words, we had to confess that we cannot understand the concrete character of the Infinite Experience, or, to put it in a more homely way, we do not know how it would feel to be “God.” And if this is Agnosticism, we clearly shall have to own that we too are agnostics. But our result gave us no ground for doubting our own general conviction as to the place which intellect and truth hold in the Absolute. On the other hand, it left us with every reason for trusting that conviction. For our conclusion that mere truth cannot be the same thing as ultimate Reality was itself based upon the principle that only harmonious individuality is finally real, and this is the very principle employed by the intellect itself whenever it judges one thought-construction relatively higher and truer than another.

Thus our Agnosticism, if it is to be called so, neither discredits our human estimate of the relative truth of different theories about the real, nor lends any support to the notion that “Knowledge is relative” in the sense that there may conceivably be no correspondence between Reality and the scheme of human knowledge as a whole. It is based not on the distrust of human reason, but upon the determination to trust that reason implicitly, and it claims, in declaring mere truth to fall short of Reality, to be expressing reason’s own verdict upon itself. Hence it does not, like vulgar Agnosticism, leave us in the end in pure uncertainty as to the ultimate structure and upshot, so to say, of the world, but definitely holds that we have genuine and trustworthy knowledge of the type of that structure and the nature of its materials. And it is upon this positive knowledge, and not upon an uncritical appeal to unknown possibilities, that it rests its denial of the simple identity of Reality with thought itself. For all we know, says the common Agnosticism, our thought is sheer illusion, and therefore we must confess that we have in the end no notion what the reality of the world may be. Thought is not illusory, says our systematic |413| Idealism, and therefore its own witness that Reality is an individual whole of experience which is more than thought is a positive contribution to our knowledge. Between these two positions there may be a superficial resemblance, but there is an essential difference in principle.

So again with the mystical element in our result. In holding that all genuine individuality, finite or infinite,3 involves a type of immediate felt unity which transcends reduction to the relational categories of thought and will, we may fairly be said to have reached a conclusion which, in a sense, is mystical. But our result is not Mysticism, if by Mysticism is meant a doctrine which seeks ultimate Reality in mere unanalysed immediate feeling as such. The results of intellectual and volitional construction have not been treated by us as illusory and as a sort of intellectual and moral mistake. On the other hand, we urged that the ultimate unity of the real must transcend, and not merely fall short of, the rational scheme of thought and will. And we consequently insisted that our result, so far as it is a mystical one, can only be justified by following out the constructions of the logical intellect and the ethical will to their final consequence, and showing that each of them itself demands completion in an individual Reality which includes and transcends both. To quote the admirable words of Dr. McTaggart:

”A Mysticism which ignored the claims of the understanding would no doubt be doomed. None ever went about to break logic, but in the end logic broke him. But there is a Mysticism which starts from the standpoint of the understanding, and only departs from it in so far as that standpoint shows itself not to be ultimate, but to postulate something beyond itself. To transcend the lower is not to ignore it.”

And it is only in this sense that philosophy is justified in asserting “above all knowledge and volition one all-embracing unity, which is only not true, only not good, because all truth and all goodness are but shadows of its absolute perfection.” (Studies in Hegelian Cosmology, p. 292.)


“Metaphysics adds nothing to our information, and yields no fresh springs of action. It is finally only justified by the persistency of the impulse to speculate on the nature of things as a whole.”


§ 3. The reader who has persevered to the conclusion of this volume may perhaps, on laying it down, experience a certain feeling of dissatisfaction. Our investigations, it might be complained, have added nothing to our stock of scientific information about the contents of the world, and have supplied no fresh practical incentives towards the strenuous pursuit of an elevated moral or religious ideal. I must at once admit the justice of this hypothetical criticism, and dispute its relevancy. Quite apart from the defects due to personal shortcomings and confusions, it is inherent in the nature of metaphysical study that it can make no positive addition to our information, and can of itself supply no motives for practical endeavour. And the student who turns to our science as a substitute for empirical Physics or Psychology, or for practical morality, is bound to go away disappointed. The reason of this we have already had occasion to see. Metaphysics has to presuppose the general principles of the various sciences and the general forms of practical experience as the materials upon which it works. Its object as a study is not to add to or to modify these materials, but to afford some coherent and systematic satisfaction for the intellectual curiosity which we all feel at times as to the general nature of the whole to which these various materials belong, and the relative truth and clearness with which that general nature is expressed in the different departments of experience. Its aim is the organisation, not the enlargement of knowledge. Hence for the student whose interests lie more in the enlargement of human knowledge by the discovery of new facts and laws, than in its organisation into a coherent whole. Metaphysics is probably undesirable, or desirable only as a protection against the intrusion of unrecognised and uncriticised metaphysical assumptions into the domain of empirical service. And similarly for the practical man whose interests in life are predominantly ethical, the main, if not the sole, value of metaphysical study lies in its critical function of exposing false metaphysical assumptions, which, if acted upon, might impair the vigour of spontaneous moral effort.

But for those in whom the speculative desire to form some coherent conception of the scheme of things to which we belong as a whole is strong. Metaphysics has a higher importance. In such minds the impulse to reflect on the nature of existence as a whole, if debarred from systematic and thorough gratification, is certain to find its outlet in unsystematic and uncriticised imaginative construction. Metaphysics they will certainly have, and if not conscious and coherent, then unconscious and incoherent Metaphysics. The soul that is not at rest in itself without some “sight of that immortal sea which brought it hither,” if hindered from beholding the object of its quest through the clear glass of rational reflection, will none the less seek to discern it amid the distorting hazes and mists of superstition. It is in such seekers after the Infinite that Metaphysics has its natural and proper followers, and for them the study is its own justification and its own reward. If a work like the present should prove of any help to such students, whether by offering positive suggestions which they can accept, or by assisting them to know definitely why they reject its conclusions, it will perhaps have achieved as much as its writer could reasonably expect.


Consult further:
F. H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, chap. 27.
J. E. McTaggart, Studies in Hegelian Cosmology, chap. 9.


1^ I use the epithet in its familiar Platonic sense. The “pure” pleasure is that which is not dependent, in whole or in part, for its pleasantness upon a previous ἔνδεια, or actual experience of craving or desire. I do not mean, as Plato possibly did, that a “mixed” pleasure, preceded by such (ἔνδεια, is a mere contrast-effect without positive quality of its own.

2^ Compare the argument of Appearance and Reality, chap. 26, pp. 469-485 (1st ed.), and the famous scholium to Prop. 17 of part I of Spinoza’s Ethics, where it is contended that “if intellect and volition belong to the eternal essence of God, each of these attributes must at least be understood in a different sense from the current.”

3^ I say “finite or infinite” advisedly. The mystic’s condemnation of the relational scheme as inadequate to express the fall nature of the real, holds good just as much in application to actual finite experience as in application to the ultimate whole. We may say not only of “God,” but of human persons, that they are much more than the “union of thought and will” as such. And in personal human love, no less than in the saint’s “beatific vision” or the philosopher’s “intellectual love of God,” we have a type of experience which may for some psychological purposes be analysed into a combination of ideational and volitional processes, but emphatically does not, in its concrete existence, consist of a synthesis of actual ideas and actual volitions. See ante, p. 152.

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Alfred Edward Taylor
1869 to 1945
British idealist philosopher
Fellow, Merton College, Oxford 1891–1896
Lecturer in Greek and Philosophy, University of Manchester 1896–1903, Frothingham Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, McGill University 1903–1908, Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of St. Andrews 1908–1924
Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Edinburgh 1924–1941


AE_Taylor

Reference

Taylor, Alfred E. Elements of Metaphysics, Part. 2 of 2, 8th ed. London: Methuen and Co., Limited, 1927.

Reproduced here is the complete eighth edition of A. E. Taylor’s Elements of Metaphysics. Other online editions are missing some pages. This work is in the Public Domain.


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