E. Belfort Bax

The Practical Significance of Philosophy

(December 1890)

E. Belfort Bax, The Practical Significance of Philosophy, Time, December 1890, pp.1307-1321.
Republished in E. Belfort Bax, Outlooks from a New Standpoint, 1891, pp.179-197.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Philistine said all metaphysics is a snare and a delusion. Mathematics is the only abstract study worth pursuing. Metaphysics deals with subjects outside the range of human ken; it is simply baseless thinking on that which we can never know, etc., etc. All this sort of talk may be had at a very low rate, even without the asking, from any callow young man of the middle classes who has a little smattering of modern »culture.« But let us for once »odi« this »profanem vulgus,« let us clear our minds of the cant of metaphysicophobia for the nonce, and let us see if this thing, despised and rejected of practical men, can possibly have any practical significance or not.

Philosophy or metaphysics, it is said, deals with things outside the range of human experience. Does it? It is important to rid ourselves of this popular superstition at the outset. The main problem of speculative philosophy, since Kant, has been to analyse experience or common-sense reality into its simplest elements, to discover the ultimate condition which each plane of experience presupposes, and first of all the ultimate condition which all experience presupposes, since without this last we can have no clue to guide us in our ulterior investigations. Philosophy knows nothing of outside experience. For philosophy is nothing more than the consideration and comprehension of experience or reality from a new point of view, that is, a point of view differing as essentially from that of science as from that of so-called common-sense. The first thing, then, we have to ask ourselves in entering upon philosophical investigation is – what is the element or material common to all reality? What is the warp out of which all experience is woven? What does all experience presuppose? This is really a very simple question in itself, notwithstanding the vastness of the issues it opens up. The warp of which reality [1] consists cannot be space or extension, for this is a mere blank form of external objects; it cannot be matter (in the physical sense), for this is merely a name for a synthesis of qualities in space which are perceived or thought, and which have no meaning apart from their perceivedness, as old Berkeley showed it cannot be mind, for this is made up of »impressions and ideas« derived from external experience, or, in other words, from the physical universe. (Heste, Locke and the empirical psychologists.) Lastly, it cannot be time, for this is also merely a blank form of concrete objects external and internal, or, in short, of things physical and psychical, and although it is thus in a sense common to all reality, it does not constitute any positive element in the constitution of reality. Time, moreover, itself presupposes an apprehending of itself; it is not self-subsistent. What then is more fundamental than all these? The answer is the act of apprehension. All object, all existence, no less the things of the world than our own mental states – is an apprehension, a bethought feeling, or, in other words, feeling shot with thought. But we have not yet quite got to the root of the matter. For the apprehension is a synthesis, and may be analysed. All actual apprehension or concrete consciousness presupposes the power or possibility of apprehension, or, in other words, that which apprehends. But this ground of all apprehension is obviously nothing else than the »I« from which the apprehension, the awareness, the consciousness wells up. »I« is at once the ground and raw material of reality. Though it identifies itself perpetually with a definite and particular series of mental states bound together by a memory-synthesis and called myself or this personality, it is nevertheless the eternal background of consciousness in general. Now this indefinite and immediate thatness or nisus, which is the »I« in its pure form, the Subject par excellence (and to which, indeed, the latter word can alone be properly applied), is, from this point of view, a mere inchoate abstractum. Feeler and feeling are at this stage undistinguished; we have a mere thatness per se, which is absurd and as such involves its own negation, i.e., the undifferentiated feeling implies feltness. The »I« per se, the matter, is negated or determined (omnis determinato est negatio) as feltness or whatness, as the form of externality, as not-itself, as not-I, but this negation in its turn evinces itself as untenable. Feltness is not self-subsistent, but is thrown back on the »I« or Subject as recognising itself as feeling, i.e., as distinguishing itself as feeling from its feltness, and in so far negating the form of externality. Now, this act of distinction is the most fundamental, the most universal expression of the logical synthesis – the immediate condition of concrete consciousness or knowledge. Immediately it is consciousness; or in reflection it is reason or knowledge. Abstract the differentia of the last term of the process from those which it presupposes, and you have »pure thought,« the »pure relation« of Hegel. Treated in this way, however, it becomes mere abstraction, and the conditions of a real synthesis, which always involve a double, alogical element (sense and its ground, the inner feeling and the outer felt, the that and the what), in addition to this logical element, are absent, an absence which cannot be atoned for by the plausible manipulation of pure thought-forms or categories.

Thus the primordial subject, the »I,« considered as pure inness or immediateness in its pure form, together with its negative, feltness, the distinguishing feature of which is outness, likewise immediate, both become mediated by the negation of the latter as such, and the re-assertion of the »I,« no longer as pure, but as limited or related to its opposite feltness, the that becomes related to the what, and this relation constitutes thought, which dominates all reality and interprets the whole process in its own terms. Thought is consciousness, in posse, consciousness is thought, in actu. This primal synthesis, as constituting the innermost nature of reality, that is, of experience or consciousness-in-general (possible and actual), is involved throughout its whole range, for it alone constitutes reality. To employ the usual terminology, the essence of every real qua real consists in these three elements or momenta, a thatness or matter (=»I«), a whatness or form (= negation of »I« or feltness), and the limitation of each by each, whence results the relation or logical category, which, so to say, suffuses with its light the alogical process behind it, which it completes. Every real contains a non-rational as well as a rational element. This is the truth at the bottom of the »thing-in-itself,« so much decried by the orthodox Hegelians. To treat the thing-in-itself as a thing existing and yet independent of all possible apprehension is, of course, absurd. But it is scarcely more absurd than the reduction of reality to a mere logical process, a mere thinking and nothing more. (pace, T.H. Green Prologomena, passim.) We recognise this to be the case when we speak of the being of things, which always means that element in their reality which is not actually present in consciousness, what is present being merely the phenomenon or sign of the being or of the thatness which itself ever eludes us. (See Handbook to the History of Philosophy, 2nd Ed., Appendix.) The logical form is always statical, it is a fixating, a defining of things, while the strictly dynamical element in the real is always incapable of comprehension under logical forms – it is infinite. The one is being, the other thought. The purest product of thought – of the logical – is the concept form, that of mere relation. But under that general concept are embraced an infinite possibility of particulars, none of which completely realise the ideal form. The common illustration of this is the geometrical concept – point, straight line, surface, etc. – which is recognised as unrealisable. But the foregoing applies not only to the abstract concept – the concept that is without connotation, of which the geometrical is an instance – but also to the most concrete of concepts – man, horse, tree, etc.; the individual falling under the concept never completely realising the definition as such (that is, it in purity and perfection), but always adding to, or modifying it, so that each particular, or individual within the class in question, must have its own concept, embracing its own differentia, the hierarchy of concepts extending to infinity in accordance with the potential infinity of individuation itself, if we are to regard the concept-form as ultimate. This is, of course, substantially the Aristotelian argument against the ideal theory. The rock on which all the great synthetic philosophical systems, from Plato to Hegel, have struck, has been the ignoring or the minimising of the fact that reality – the concrete synthesis – as such, necessarily involves an element of unreason, and that this element is as essential therein as that of reason. If this be admitted, and it is admitted incidentally even by Hegel, who in the main seeks to extrude it, it follows that Panlogism is a dream – a dream with which is connected, we may remark by the way, the attempt to give completion and finality to philosophical systems.

We must frankly admit then that Being can never be finally absorbed in Knowledge, can never be completely reduced to rationality, although Being apart from Knowledge is as unreal an abstraction as Knowledge apart from Being. Knowledge, the logical, must, it is true, be of the same »stuff« as Being, the alogical. Being (as objectivity) is simply transfigured I-ness (if I may borrow a terms used in another connexion), yet knowledge is none the less a reflected form of the »I,« the final condition of the realisation of the »I.« To Hegel [2] thought was ultimate, the »I« itself was merely a form of thought, and, as such, he was bound to reduce the alogical to terms of the logical.

But his failure is conspicuous in many places, and in none more than in the philosophy of Nature, where he has continually to slur over the element of chance and irrationality in Nature under the somewhat meaningless expression »ohnmacht« – the admission of which contradicts the assumption made at starting. He feels, that under the assumption of the perfect rationality of the real, he is compelled to set aside the alogical,, wherever it presents itself, with a stroke of the pen. The great master of speculation has earned the immortal glory of providing for us a scheme with which to work, but it is a scheme which must be rectified by restoring the elements neglected by him on account of the assumption with which lie set out, that know-ledge was all in all, that the differentia of the final term of the synthesis of the real (of the concrete) annihilated rather than transformed the momenta it presupposes, that they were merely forms of it rather than that it was a form of them, eternally pre-supposing them and never exhausting them. All that relates to being or quality (sense, impression) in reality belongs, considered per se, to the alogical. It represents the inchoateness of the first two elements of the conscious synthesis abstracted from the thought-form, which completes and gives it its final reality. Time and space Kant truly characterised as forms of sensibility; in other words, as forms of the alogical, thought (the category) pre-supposed them, just as they presuppose the primordial »I,« which is at once nothing and all things, nothing per se and all things per synthesis. So with the content of time. This also belongs to the alogical; its thatness, its being, is but the »I« of the original conscious synthesis re-appearing on another plane; its whatness, its quality, is but the »feltness« of the second moment of the synthesis. The category or thought-form, the »I think,« is only the reciprocal relation, and thereby the actualising of the as yet merely potential elements of »I« and »feltness.« To employ the term (» thought,« »idea,« Logos) which specially signifies this completing or actualising of the synthesis for the synthesis in its totality, or as concrete, can only lead to confusion. The distinction may be conceived as one between the potential and the actual.

If reality, objectivity, experience, consciousness-in-general, concreteness, according as we choose to term it, be a synthesis, it may be said that in the process of analysis it disappears, and that, therefore, any such analysis can serve no purpose. But all that philosophy does is to distinguish in thought, i.e., by the aid of reflection or thought on the psychological plane, those elements of which thought is the issue and, therefore, which thought presupposes. It would, of course, be quite illegitimate to treat them as themselves »real« or as »kinds« or as »things«; or again to conceive the so-called transcendental process as a time-process, as having a before and after. The synthesis as analysed in reflection, as sundered into its elements by thought, inevitably wears the garb of time. But this is an unavoidable illusion of the logical faculty which is accustomed to function under the form of time. Of course, with a separation (were such a thing possible) of its transcendental component momenta, reality or the concrete would be dissolved. But this is the case not only with the metaphysical synthesis of the consciousness, or with reality in its most comprehensive sense, but also with the physical syntheses or realities which occur within it. Thus the material synthesis, life, presupposes certain chemical elements; it is nothing but these elements, but yet they exist as a biological reality, as living, only in their synthesis. Dissolve this synthesis, and the reality, »life« or »living thing,« has disappeared. The synthesis is immediate. The elements in abstraction are there, but not the thing, the concrete itself. [3] The difference, of course, is that although in the dissolution of the organic synthesis, the reality, life, has disappeared, yet another material reality, an inorganic concrete, chemical substance, still remains; whereas, with a hypothetical dissolution of the ultimate synthesis of all reality – the supreme synthesis of the consciousness – no concrete would remain over. There is no other plane from which its component momenta can be viewed, every act of apprehension involving this synthesis. But, as before said, all that philosophy pretends to do is to distinguish these momenta in their concreteness. From the primary synthesis of the consciousness, which every definite consciousness presupposes, philosophy deduces its method, This method is known as dialectics. Its procedure is to tear out the process which constitutes the essential in every plane of existence or in every real by discovering therein the same contradiction and the same resolution of that contradiction into a higher reality as is involved in the original bare fact of world-apprehension. This key it finds will unlock the innermost secret of every reality, in psychology, in physics, in biology, in anthropology. Its category is action and reaction, the reciprocal cancelling of each other by contradictory elements. In this it differs from the standpoint of common-sense, the »classical« category of which is »substance and accident,« as also from that of science, whose favourite (though not exclusive) category is »cause and effect.« Philosophy qua philosophy deals in every case with the elements of concretes, rather than with concretes themselves. Just as it contemplates knowledge or consciousness-in-general in the making, so it regards all departments of »reality« according to the absolute conditions of their possibility, rather than according to the phenomena as presented in their concreteness. The Hegelians of the »left« thought they could retain the method of dialectics apart from metaphysics. But the dialectical method without metaphysic is a tree cut away from its roots. It has no basis and therefore no justification as an instrument of research. Unless we recognise the fact, that thought enters into the constitution of reality, that reality is nothing other than experience possible and actual, and that the unity of experience and the rationality which we find in the universe, or the system of experience, is deducible in the last resort from the primal unity of the consciousness, and from the condition of its synthesis – unless we recognise this, where is our locus standi in employing the dialectical method? Or in fact, where is our ground for assuming a determinate order in things at all? The commonest categories must then be inadmissible, and we have no alternative but the Humean position in its most extreme and impossible form.

The obvious and oft-repeated truth – so obvious, that it only requires to be stated to be seen by the most uninitiated – to wit, that the sum of the collocations of matter and motion, which we term Nature or the external world, is simply a system of categorised sensations, and that to gratuitously assume non-sensuous, uncategorised things-in-themselves as existing some-where or other behind »phenomena,« is a meaningless absurdity, of itself suffices to dispose of the theory of the cruder materialism. Every fool nowadays knows, or ought to know, that all psychical facts or phenomena may be interpreted in terms of matter and motion, and so far every man with any pretension to culture is a materialist. But this leaves the metaphysical problem precisely where it was before, matter and motion themselves being simply general terms for sensation differentiated and synthesised by thought, and apprehended by the Ego. All that the above materialism really means, is that on the empirical plane – i.e., on the assumption of experience in general as already given in its concreteness – mind presupposes material conditions, or otherwise put, this particular mind existing here and now, is dependent on, and subsists by virtue of, a material structure, to wit, an organic body of which it is, in a sense, the function. The individual mind necessarily presupposes the whole conditions of experience as given. But the object of metaphysic is to inquire how they come to be given; what is involved in this synthesis of which the individual mind is, and on which it feeds? The result shows us that the »matter« and »mind« of the vulgar are neither of them ultimate, but alike owe their reality to their apprehension or apprehensibility, which, again, merely means that they are in the last sense the self-determinations or functions (objects) of an »I.« This alone constitutes the possibility of abstract thought – »matter« and »mind« having a common basis. Because of this, we recognise the »law« reproduced in our minds as identical with the law imbedded in the »object.« We perceive the object itself, indeed, simply, because at bottom »it is of such stuff« as we are made of, its nature being perceptibility or apprehensibility. It was Hegel himself, I think, who started the mot, »The real is rational, and the rational is real.« But true though this is, it is sometimes used to give colour to the fallacy before alluded to, which Hegel, with certain qualifications, champions, that the real is all rational. A completely rational or logical world, a world resolvable into pure thought-categories would at once cease to be a world, as a very little reflection will suffice to show. Reality we find is compounded of reason and non-reason, of logic and the alogical. Each by itself is abstract, but both alike are modes of Iness, and involved therein, and in this alone they are concrete or real.

The theory of Panlogism in its strict sense is reflected in the popular theistic notion that there is no such thing as chance in the world. If there were no such thing as chance there would be no such thing as law. Law and chance, necessity and contingence, representing the logical and the alogical in the dynamic of Nature, are mutually complementary. The individual or particular in Nature, as such, is always irrational; it is the domain of chance. As given in reality, of course, every concrete particular has a universal or logical element, but the element of particularity in it is always warring with and confounding the logical element, the unreason resisting the reason (see Handbook of the History of Philosophy, 2nd Edition, appendix). Time and space, as the forms of the sensible or particular, in other words, of feeling and of feltness, are the hunting-grounds of chance. The »sensible« always tends to infinite plurality, just as the »intelligible« always tends to definite unity.

Among the vain attempts of reflective thought to reduce chance to law, or rather to extract a logical rule from what is essentially alogical, may be instanced the »theory of probabilities« in mathematics, and, indeed, more or less the whole science of mathematics. The free-will controversy affords another instance of the abortive attempt to discern a rule in chance, to extract logic from the alogical. For will per se, mere nisus, is nothing but a form of the »I« more fundamental, as Schopenhauer rightly saw, than the logical principle and presupposed by the logical. The fixation of the relation between the »I« and the first form of the object, namely, the »feltness« in which it negates itself, in other words, the most elementary form of the synthesis of knowledge, involves this nisus. It is, therefore, prior in nature to thought, and belongs to the »I« or alogical principle per se. The individual, psychological will, inasmuch as it operates through consciousness, follows motives given, but its true nature, as Schopenhauer well says, »shows through;« it is known immediately as inness, and hence the impossibility of fitting it into the logical category of »cause and effect« – the category of mediateness or outness par excellence. On the mechanical plane, the plane of pure outwardness, all things follow the law of causation, all things are mediate, but it is not so here. Will is not pure determination from outside, from something not itself, it is self-determined, although it is easy enough when viewed from the outside to bring its phenomenon under the law of causation. As we have before pointed out, every concrete, every reality, as such, has an alogical and a logical, a sensible and an intelligible side: it is only a question of which is dominant. When we take our standpoint in the particular, we have to do primarily with sensibility, unreason, chance; when we take our standpoint on the universal, we have to do primarily with thought, law, intelligence. The particular of common-sense (so-called) or of ordinary perception, is, of course, a particularity already synthesised, although imperfectly, by thought. The »world« of common-sense nevertheless is a world in which particularity and unreason dominates. Science by means of the categories of reflective thought distinguishes the thought-element in common-sense reality from that of mere blind particularity or being (sense-element), and reconstructs the sense-world on an amended pattern. Philosophy shows the categories of science to be inadequate, as having the particularity of being or of sense still cleaving to them. It reconstructs the world of common-sense experience and of scientific thought by the light of those principles which all experience presupposes, after having traced them up to their highest source in the primitive synthesis of the consciousness. Thus in philosophy is reproduced, or rather indicated, in the forms of reflective thought, the core of the process of all reality.

If my analysis, as briefly outlined in the foregoing, be correct, we may trace, as already said, in the dialectical process which at once interpenetrates and embraces all reality, a double alogical element underlying the logical. Thus in ordinary »presentment,« or »perception,« we have the apprehending, feeling, »I,« negated in the form »feltness« (all perceiving is a sinking of the »I« in the object), reasserting itself as thinking – assigning to the »feltness« its own attribute – self-subsistence (being), but as over against itself; imparting to whatness a thatness – in other words, we have the synthesis subject-object. In ordinary perception, the play of thought-categories in the object defining and limiting, hides the element of mere apprehension, of pure aesthetics. Only on one plane of knowledge is thought-activity subordinated to the passivity of apprehension, of feltness, and that is in the art-consciousness. In the special form of contemplation implied in absorption in a work of art, which constitutes esthetic enjoyment, we have a suggestion of uncategorised »feltness,« in so far that the work of art, as such, abstracts from, and throws our consciousness into, a condition of abstraction from the antithesis of the one and the many – an antithesis wrought by that re-assertion of itself by the »I,« as thinking, over against itself as mere »feltness,« which is the first condition of concrete consciousness. Art has an ideal, in the sense of a presentative, content for which time, space, and the categories sink to the level of mere accidents. The demand (so to speak) of the »I« to find its own activity (thought) in its other self, in its limitation as »feltness,« is stilled. The »feltness,« the presentment, is not as in ordinary consciousness subordinated to the forms of thought. But here the content has an immediate meaning which we term beauty, and which (pace Burke, Shaftesbury, Hutchison, etc.) is untranslatable into the essentially mediate terms of the logical.

Let us sum up now in a few words the practical importance of philosophy in general research. Firstly, it indicates the method to which all reality conforms, and Which is its highest formula. The presentation of the dialectic of any plane of knowledge is the most comprehensive expression of its law, its supreme explanation. This method again shows us that the most developed category is that of reciprocity, or action and reaction, rather than that of cause and effect, and that in the last resort all reality turns upon this category. The relation of reciprocity can obviously only obtain between the elements or momenta of wholes or concretes, and not between wholes or concretes themselves as such, for it implies that the one element is as essential to the whole as the other, and that, therefore, the whole can only exist in so far as they maintain their interconnexion. For example, it is sometimes said that on the assumption of a law in history individual effort in the interests of progress would be useless; for if the individual is a product of economic and other surroundings, and if every event is determined by pre-existing conditions, individual initiation must be excluded. But the mistake here is in confounding a relation of reciprocity with one of cause. The fact that the economic conditions of an age mould the men of an age does not exclude the fact that men react on economic conditions. Each factor is inseparable from the other. History, or human development, is a self-contained and highly-involved synthesis, and as such, its salient category is »action and reaction.« Though there be a distinct law of economic and social development which affirms itself in the long run irrespective of individuals, this does not by any means render the exertions of the individual of no avail, for the following reason: The logic of human evolution, like the logic of every other synthesis throughout all reality, is in a sense independent of time and space, which latter fall primarily to the sphere of the sensuous, i.e., the alogical. Every logical process (assuming it to be correctly stated) must realise itself somewhere and somewhen, but the where and the when are undetermined. Now the determination of this where and when is a matter of chance, of unreason. The individual, this individual here and now, who, qua the totality of history, is a mere chance product [4], or any number of such individuals may therefore empirically determine this a priori undetermined fact, for they are working in their own element. The logical processes of social development, as of every other development (biological, for example), in so far as they are embodied in the time series as concrete, may be arrested or delayed at any stage. They must, of course, assert themselves in their completeness at some time or other, but not necessarily at any particular time or in any particular case. Individuals, as such, may therefore very easily accelerate or retard indefinitely the course of progress (since they are working in their own element, that of chance), in spite of the fact that progress is in the last resort logically determined in its main outlines. Intimately connected with the above is the fallacy at the root of the denial of any general law in history, on the ground of the chaotic character of the phenomena of history. Owing to the great complexity of the content of human society, history appears like a frothing sea, without law or aim. For instance, that the whole Greece-Roman civilisation passes away, giving place to a state of society resembling the Homeric in many important respects, and that the development has to begin over again, so to say, seems irreconcilable with any logical process until we reflect that this is merely an illustration of the struggle ever renewed of the logical to assert itself, to realise itself in the alogical.

The reason of the shrinking of philosophers from recognising the alogical (sense, being, etc.), as one of the momenta in reality is the consciousness which reflection, or discursive thought, the first-born of the logical, forces upon us that its own moment thought ought to absorb sense and being, that the real ought to be rational and nothing but rational. This conviction seems confirmed by the fact that the logical is always encroaching on the alogical, both in the physical and the psychical spheres, that mere blind being ever recedes before thought, chance before law, impulse before deliberation. But it is forgotten that this absorption of being by thought is only approximative and relative. Every sphere of being comes more and more under the sway of the logical – law invades the realm of chance. But yet the dark background of sense-quality and of mere subsistence still remains – thought never becomes thing, reason never absorbs feeling completely. Thought brings to light endless processes in reality, but there is the thatness and the whatness of reality which thought glances off. They remain immediate in consciousness and its abstracted form thought, the mediating principle, can never express them. This is the kernel of truth in the hackneyed and often abused phrase of mysticism respecting the inadequacy of thought and words to express our deepest experiences. »Feltness,« qua, feltness, can never be rendered in thought or a fortiori in words – we cannot explain what being is, nor expound what feeling feels. This also, as already pointed out, is the real meaning of art, which suggests a perception as far as possible removed from discursive thought. Reason, analysis, categorisation, is the antithesis of the art-consciousness. The very word aesthetic which is used to express it, indicates its essentially non-logical character. Only in philosophy where the abstraction of thought is carried out to its furthest limits does it transcend itself, and by enabling us to regard experience as an articulated whole, reveal itself as essential to that whole, yet as a derivative rather than an ultimate element. But if thought, or reason – the principle of definition, of formulation, of relation, in short – is not ultimate, but implies certain momenta in their nature infinite, it follows that the notion of finality in philosophy must be given up. Philosophy must be no longer regarded, as Hegel regarded it, as a closed circle, but rather as an endless spiral – a progressive conception becoming, it is true, more and more adequate to its content, but never furnishing a solution of the world-problem in a formula valid for all time. The basis of the conception remains the same, but its statement varies, and must vary from age to age. We cannot affirm, indeed, that the thought-forms or categories which go to make our present experience, the reality of our present consciousness, may not be superseded at an indefinitely later stage of time-development, or at least lose that leading position which they have now; just as our »world« must be a different world from that furnished by the consciousness – assuming such to be – of lower forms of life.

Philosophy, then, is the final pronouncement of thought on the great problem of life, reality, experience. If it is destructive it is also constructive. It is thought holding up to itself the mirror of reality, recognising itself therein, and also its opposite, the not-itself, its shadow, which it implies and without which it would have no meaning. It is also the science which furnishes us with the method to which the subject-matter of all other sciences in the last resort conforms. In the infancy and childhood of society, man vaguely felt his oneness with the world. The mythological and magical theory of Nature universal with primitive man, is the expression of this vague half-consciousness. Man has not begun to distinguish between self and not-self in abstract thought. Reflection has not attained to consciousness with him. He does not reflect in the strict sense of the word. He feels the substance of himself and things to be one and the same, hence fetishism and totemism. All things live like himself. But no sooner does reflection arise, no sooner does he acquire the power of Abstract thought, and his consciousness become definite, than the world and himself fall apart. Every department of experience splits up into two mutually opposing sides. Man is now as mind opposed to matter. Later on precision is given to this view and he becomes subject (in the psychological sense) as opposed to object. His soul is opposed to his body, just as God is opposed to the world. Science accentuates these antitheses. It necessarily adopts a one-sided materialism as opposed to theology and philosophy (which is as yet theology’s handmaid), and which found themselves on an impossible spiritualism or an abstract idealism, only varied by a dualism which unites the absurdities of both standpoints. Everything is here viewed under the category of cause and effect. But reflection itself forces us at length to recognise the insufficiency of these standpoints themselves, the products of reflection though they are, and points out the standpoint of the future to be a return to Monism, not the unreflective Monism of primitive man, but a consciously reasoned recognition of the metaphysical unity in difference, in reciprocity, of all things, inasmuch as all that is real is the object, the thought-feeling, the determination, of the basal element »I.«

E. Belfort Bax


1. The word reality is used throughout this article in its current philosophical connotation as synonymous with the synthesis of the concrete, and not as by Kant, and occasionally by more recent thinkers, as denoting the special element of quality or feeling within that synthesis, abstracted from the synthesis as a whole.

2. A good instance of Hegel’s attempt and failure to reduce what is per se alogical from the logical is his treatment of space and time, the leading points in which are to be found in the Encyclopidie (Ed. Rosenkranz, pp.208-219).

3. Thus the specific real or synthesis, human society, may be conceived as disappearing, while its mere material, the human animal, remains over. Evolution consists, of course, in the resolution or disappearance of one real synthesis into another, which we term higher as opposed to its resolution into its elements, which we term dissolution. But in evolution the general synthesis of the logical universum remains in its concreteness as the basal element through all its forms – e.g., medieval society disappears, its reality is gone just as thoroughly as in dissolution, but the general synthesis, society, remains realising itself in other forms.

4. I may here make the general observation that a sum of contingencies can never give necessity. One can trace back the chain of antecedents of a particular event, but each link is determined by something which might have happened otherwise.


Last updated on 15.1.2006