Belfort Bax

Analysis of Reality


Source: “Analysis of Reality” by Belfort Bax from Contemporary British Philosophy, Vol. II, edited by J.H. Muirhead, pp. 57–81.
All italics and punctuation have been strictly transcribed from the original 1924 edition even if they do not always appear perfectly consistent.
Transcriber: Ted Crawford.
Proofreader: Einde O’Callaghan (October 2014)

My early philosophic days were cast in Mid-Victorian times, and as was natural to a Mid-Victorian student of philosophy I began my speculative career as a zealous Empiricist. “The Associational School” represented to my youthful mind the quintessence of philosophic wisdom. I swore by Lewes, Bain, Mill, and their colleagues in the popular philosophy of the day. A little later Herbert Spencer captivated me as he did most of my contemporaries; although his reference to Time and Space as products of psychological evolution in a sense puzzled me with the thought what sort of consciousness – what sort of a world – it was that was going on before time and space had evolved or while they were in process of evolution. Spencer’s confusion here between the percept of sense with its form and the concept based thereupon by reflection, I was too unsophisticated to grasp at the time. But a hopeless misunderstanding of Kant was characteristic of British Mid-Victorian Empiricism. I next took to the study of Kant at first hand, my chief acquaintance with whom previously had been in the pages of Lewes’s History of Philosophy. My thoroughgoing Empiricism suffered a shock, but not sufficient to upset it completely. I nevertheless began to see in Erkenntnisstheorie a “discipline” distinct from the empirical psychology to which I had been accustomed. Newer movements in philosophy of what would be termed an Idealist character now sprang up. They chiefly took the form of expositions of the Kantian and the post-Kantian movement in Germany centering round the so-called “Young Hegelian” school, which at this time (the early eighties) became popular at the English and Scotch Universities. My studies in this direction and my independent thought combined convinced me of the essential superficiality of the empirical view of the Associational School. I saw that mid-nineteenth century Empiricism failed to grasp the fundamental question – What is Reality and what is its meaning?

The grand principle of so-called Idealism in philosophy – to wit: that all that is and appears, that all reality, is in and for Consciousness meant that, critically viewed, to speak of aught as obtaining outside the fundamental principle of consciousness, was to use a meaningless phrase. For it was clear that the very words we employed to express this or any other thought indicated nothing but immediate determinations of consciousness or their relations. It was plain to me that outside the determinations of consciousness there could be no Reality, no existence in any intelligible sense whatever. This is, of course, a commonplace position to those at all versed in philosophic thought at the present time, but to a mid-nineteenth century British Empiricist, when stated in so many words, it often sounded either unintelligible or as a revelation. The man of the period in question knew nothing, of course, of the “New Realism,” which had not then been invented, but he was commonly unable to divest his mind of Locke’s primary qualities of matter as existing in themselves. Of course, the doctrine of Idealism in one or another form runs implicitly through the whole history of philosophy before Idealism was explicitly formulated by Berkeley and subsequently, with a new and wider connotation, by Kant and his successors in Germany. As regards myself, I began to see in the early eighties that it was the only basis possible of any coherent of the Universe regarded in its deepest and widest aspects.

What is termed then in general the idealistic position in philosophy became henceforth for me the presupposition of all my thought in metaphysic. Apart from suggestions, more or less indirect, in the Introductions to my translations from Kant and Schopenhauer, published in “Bohn’s Library,” also in my Handbook to the History of Philosophy (First Edition, 1886) in the same series, my first statement by way of a philosophical formulation of my own is contained in a little book published in the early nineties entitled The Problem of Reality. This, I may say, was a very slight and imperfect sketch. The view therein put forward was next embodied with much greater elaboration and further development in a larger work, The Roots of Reality (Grant Richards, 1906). The last and most complete form in which I have given my philosophical position to the public is The Real, the Rational, and the Alogical (Grant Richards, 1920).

As already stated, the so-called philosophic Idealism which for me formed the bed-rock of any rational view of the Universe was the basis of my interpretation of Reality. But while accepting the Idealist position as my basis, I was by no means satisfied with the form it had assumed in its statement by most of its academic exponents. In their expositions I found they assumed that Absolute Idealism meant the hypostatization of thought or the relational element in knowledge, while the other element in conscious experience, the immediate data, the terms of the whole synthesis, was ignored or treated in the manner of Hegel himself as an imperfect form of thought-relation. The result seemed to me to be that the Universe was interpreted as a Pan-logical [1] abstraction. The Hegelian system was in my view vitiated by this fallacy. The primordial synthesis of “consciousness-in-general” I found to consist in (1) a subject which feels, (2) a somewhat felt, a sensum, and the reciprocal relation termed thought, i.e. the reaction of the former on the latter, and vice versa. The interrelation of the two primary data in this original synthesis of consciousness per se thus gives us three elements, two immediate data, and their connecting form of mediating relation. This interrelation between them is what we term Thought, or the Logical. I found that this primordial synthesis, consisting of thesis, antithesis, and the relational activity uniting them, constituted the original framework of all Reality, or, in other words, the basal synthesis of all concrete experience. I found, further, that in this synthesis, which practically embodies the essential features of the Hegelian method, has for its foundation the first mentioned: i.e. the that which feels, the Ego which becomes conscious; for the second element the somewhat felt is seen to be no more than the projection or inversion of the feeling or sensating Ego. It has no meaning save as a determination of a conscious subject. This primary synthesis, it may be noticed, which embraces all actual or possible knowledge, furnishes me with my ultimate test of truth – namely, the self-consistency of consciousness. It gives us, I maintain, the clue to truth throughout the whole range of Reality.

I have stated it above, of course, in its most abstract form as a synthesis of metaphysical elements.

Analysing further Reality or Experience in its more concrete aspects, we find new elements corresponding to those of the original abstract synthesis. In the latter it is easy to distinguish the first two elements from the third, i.e. Feltness (Sensum) and the That or Subject which feels from the logical activity that relates these elements. In this way we arrive at the antithesis of Alogical and Logical as at once the deepest and most wide-reaching antithesis in conscious experience. This antithesis, it is necessary to bear in mind, in no sense amounts to a dualism as implying mutual independence of its terms. It is the antithesis of the elements constituting the synthetic unity of conscious experience itself. The very relating activity, the outcome of which is the thought-form, is the activity of the per se alogical subject of consciousness, while it is only relatively and not absolutely distinct from the discrimination of agreement and difference within the region of feltness or of objective sensation.

In order to make my fundamental position unmistakably clear, it is necessary here to formulate at greater length what I contend are the basal postulates of consciousness on which all our knowledge is founded. When I use the word Alogical I include under it all that element in our consciousness which is not embraced under the term thought or reason. Thus it connotes the purely sensuous element in perception, also feeling per se in all its modes together with the element of Nisus, or impulse, as such, apart from the definiteness given it by thought. Again, as regards the primitive synthesis – i.e. the basis of all Reality viewed as the determination of conscious experience – the expression Alogical covers the “pure ego” and its self-contained opposition, the “moi premier et eternel” of Jaures with the “Anstoss” of Fichte, unified by thought as the original synthesis of Consciousness-in-general and hence of Reality. I have emphasized the fact that although in the concrete world of our real experience there is no such thing as a purely alogical element any more than a purely logical element, yet in some phases of Reality the alogical is predominant and in others the logical. It is noticeable that the two terms correlate themselves to a large extent with the Aristotelian antitheses of matter and form and potential and actual – matter and potentiality always falling to the alogical side, while form and actuality are usually identified with the logical in every real synthesis. It is further to be remarked that all change, movement, evolution, etc., has as its driving force that which is primarily alogical. Speaking generally, we may say that the alogical side of Reality is dynamic, and the logical side, that of thought-determination, is static. It is the recognition of the above which forms the basis of Schopenhauer’s system. Schopenhauer saw that the “urge” of things could not be furnished by thought. Hence as against the Idee of Hegel, he postulated his alogical Will as the prius of reality.

In the antithesis of alogical and logical in its application to concrete experience I found four main Modes of its manifestation. These four modes are: Particular and Universal; Being and Appearance; Infinite and Finite; and Chance and Cause or Law. There are, of course, numberless minor antitheses within the system of experience, but they are all of them, I think, reducible to one of the four pairs in question, either directly or indirectly. These last will be found to form the main framework into which the cardinal antithesis of the Alogical and Logical falls in the world of real experience.

Let us briefly examine them in the order given. (1) In the case of Particular and Universal we may notice that one element of the antithesis – to wit, the Particular – is itself double-sided It has an intensive or qualitative and an extensive or quantitative character. As intensive Particularity it is identical with the this-ness of intuition – with the absolute self-centered uniqueness of the content of any given moment of actual consciousness The intensiveness of this Particular knows no limit as such. But there is also another and opposed aspect of particularity its quantitative aspect, which consists in a potentially infinite repetition in Time and Space. This is what mediates the particular with its antithesis the universal. Nevertheless the Particular remains through and through alogical just as the Universal remains through and through logical. Hence the Universal, as a purely logical element in Reality, however may approach the concrete, can never per se, i.e. except it conjunction with the Particular, reach the concrete. It always remains abstract. (2) The Second Mode of the antithesis of the alogical and logical in the real world has given rise to much confusion in philosophical discussion, the terms being used in various senses. When I employ the word being I merely mean the that of the object in contradiction to the what. On the other hand, the term existence with me connotes not being per se but the synthesis of being and appearance of the that and the what. “Being,” as I have pointed out in my book, The Real the Rational, and the Alogical (p. 75), really means the imputation of the principle of subjectivity to the object. In other words it imputes an ego to the object. This may have its bearing on the animism of primitive man. It is noteworthy also that the materialism of modern science would attribute a “subjective side” to all matter. The expression often heard, “blind unconscious matter,” opens up a further point of interest – the distinction between the un-conscious and the extra-conscious. Consciousness and unconsciousness are both alike within the world of subjectivity – in other words, of possible consciousness. Unconsciousness is not extra-consciousness in the sense that an abstract idea or a bare quality is extra-conscious. The latter is extra-conscious as having no principle of subjectivity in itself but as being merely the appanage or object of the conscious being in whose consciousness it appears. A stone, on the other hand, is assumed as having a being in itself. This is at least the assumption of the ordinary or common-sense consciousness whether valid or not from the point of view of philosophy.

In the infinite and finite we have our third of the salient Modes into which the all-embracing antithesis of the Alogical and Logical falls. Infinity in itself is always alogical. This statement may surprise some readers who have been accustomed to regard the logical Universal as representing the “true” Infinite. Critically viewed, it will be seen, I think, that the Infinity attributed to the logical Universal falls, correctly speaking, to the side of the “limitless repetition of instances” for which the Universal stands, but is not. In other words, it falls to the Particular in its quantitative aspect. The Universal as such is purely connotative. It excludes as necessarily as it includes. Infinity can only be given in the potentiality of particular instances it covers. It will be observed from this that I do not disdain the current usage of the word Infinite as meaning a possible limitless repetition in Time or Space or both of any given content of time and space.

Our fourth Mode of the cardinal antithesis of the Alogical and Logical, that of Chance and Law (or cause), has entered into popular thought more than the others. We commonly hear the remark that there is no such thing as chance in the world, chance being merely a term which covers our ignorance. But it must here be observed that we are dealing with the quantitative aspect of the Particular, that is, we are dealing with infinite time and the infinite collocations of the content of time. The popular notion is that an omniscient being might conceivably grasp the whole content of past, present, and future time in an “eternal glance.” Now, an “eternal glance” may mean the immediate apprehension of the content of an infinite time, or it may conceivably mean an intelligible apperception that has nothing to do with time or its content. Since, however, we are dealing with particular happenings in a time-process it is quite clear that it cannot be used here in the latter sense. It must mean, therefore, in connection with chance and law the immediate apprehension as this-ness of an infinite time content: But an immediate and actual apprehension of an infinite time-series is clearly self-contradictory. A limitless time-content plainly requires limitless time for its apprehension. Such is the Particular in its quantitative aspect which is the realm of chance. Chance is the element of flux in the reality of change. It is irreducible to the category of true cause or law. Every fact, every happening in time is conditional as consequent on an infinite series of other happenings in time, each of which might not have happened or might have happened otherwise. Hence, in tracing back any event we are confronted with an infinite regressive series of circumstances or events without the occurrence of any of which the event in question would not have happened and each of which other events is equally and similarly conditioned by antecedent events without which it would not have happened, and so on to infinity. There is an element of law or true cause in each of these events, but the actual happening, when, where, and how it did, is not reducible to cause or law per se, but merely to immediate antecedent and consequent – in a word, to pure chance. This element of pure chance is as much part of the total reality of any happening as its antithesis, that of cause or law. [2]

Though literary and philosophical convenience may necessitate breaking up our subject into sections, it must never be forgotten that there is, strictly speaking, no break in the conscious process which is the subject of our analysis. From the ultimate metaphysical elements to the concrete consciousness here and now, the process is unbroken. The elements constituting the lowest terms to which analysis can reduce the conscious synthesis – to wit: pure subject, object and the interrelational thought-activity – reappear in a transformed guise at every more concrete stage of the conscious process. Each stage of reality may be analysed into a synthesis of a double alogical and a logical (the connective activity of thought). I can find, however, no tendency anywhere for the thought-relation to absorb the terms related, or such tendency, even if there be such, certainly never realises itself. For the Panlogists at the head of whom in modern times stands Hegel, the alogical is a mere sich selbstaufhebendes Moment of the logical. But were this the case it must ultimately be absorbed without remainder over in the logical, which it certainly is not.

In the timeless “transcendental process” (as the classical philosophy of Germany had it) there is no break. In metaphysics, theory of knowledge and analytical psychology we have, au fond, the same subject-matter before us. We cannot trace any sharp line separating analytic psychology from theory of knowledge, or either from metaphysic as the word is used in Modern Idealism. The world as given in common-sense consciousness, the reality of the ordinary man, is the primary subject of investigation proper alike to metaphysic, to theory of knowledge, and to abstract psychology. To common-sense perception it appears complete in itself. All the aspects it assumes over and above the bare perception of “common sense” are attributed to the individual mind apprehending it, and are not supposed to reside in the object itself. Such aspects at once assume the form, therefore, of psychological additions. This distinction, good and useful as it is from the standpoint of common sense, largely loses its justification from that of philosophy as understood by Modern Idealism. But in any case the distinction between what is below the level of minimum common-sense consciousness and what is above it certainly obtains, and is valid even though not amounting to a separation or distinction in kind. The true distinction between conscious experience in its lowest and barest form – to wit: the world as ordinary common-sense perception – and higher forms is that in analysing the former we are confronted with mere elements, whereas in analysing any more concrete department or object above the primitive conscious synthesis the elements into which we analyse it are not merely elements, but are themselves otherwise viewed concrete wholes. As Aristotle pointed out, that which is at one stage of experience a synthesis of matter and form assumes the rôle of bare matter regarded as element in a higher stage, though in itself it remains none the less a real synthesis.

The specially psychological superstructure which in its later developments becomes Consciousness in its higher scientific or philosophic aspects is, at least in its elementary stages, closely interwoven with the mere consciousness of common-sense perception. A familiar illustration may be taken from the difference between the aspect of a town on first entering it (common-sense consciousness) and after we have resided there for a length of time, and have become familiar with it (psychological addition to sense-perception). After residence in it the streets of the town are no longer the same to us as they were at the beginning of our sojourn. In other words, the individual psychological consciousness has modified the raw material of the original common-sense consciousness. The whole of what is termed the higher consciousness, the æsthetic, the ethical, and even philosophical, although based on the original common-sense consciousness, implies a modification of the latter, increasing in its higher phases to a complete transformation of its primitive basis. The intellectual side of the higher consciousness is concerned with the transformation of the reality of ordinary perception into the scientific or philosophical “value” we term Truth. The æsthetic side is concerned primarily not with logical values, but with the alogical values of a consciousness dominated by feeling or immediate apprehension, which we term, in general, Beauty. The ethical consciousness again has to do with values as regards social relations and has as its standard what is termed “Goodness” – that is, a principle of conduct which has as its aim the negation of the opposition between the interest of the individual as a separate entity and the community into which he enters.

The higher consciousness, though -starting from the consciousness of common sense, nevertheless, as already said, transforms the Reality of common-sense perception into values which give it a new meaning having a new reality of its own. The problem of the higher consciousness, concerned as it is specially with values rather than with facts or (except in science or philosophy) with abstract relations, has always been to disengage the quantitative particular, the mere many-ness of the world, from the essence of its reality. This is the real sense of human culture in all its three great branches – philosophic, æsthetic and ethical – notwithstanding that the value of each is different. Philosophy and science strive to accomplish its aforesaid aim by the reduction of the world’s many-ness to the unity of abstract thought; art, to the unity of potentiated feeling (aesthetic emotion); a similar aim appears in the practical department of human-culture – namely, ethics. The goal here is the reduction of the many-ness of particular, independent, contradictory human interests, to the universal common interests of humanity. Here also, therefore, the problem is the disengaging of the aim of human conduct from the quantitative particularity of countless individual aims and its reduction to the unity of a common standard. As already said, the general term for the specific value of philosophy (and science) is comprehended under the term Truth; for value in art or æsthetics the most general term is Beauty, understanding thereby the object of æsthetic emotion generally; in conscience or ethics such specific value is covered in general by the term Goodness.

But all these three specific values for the higher consciousness may be resumed under the phrase Harmony – that is, self-consistency or satisfaction within the synthesis of the higher consciousness. It may be observed that even the respective terms used for the three values above mentioned may be interchanged. Thus we often speak of truth in art or goodness in art, when to be strictly accurate the most adequate expression would be Beauty. Again, we often hear the expression “beauty of moral character,” when the more correct phrase would be goodness. But the interchangeable usage of these terms in this connection may be excused or even justified when we consider that they are all three resolvable into Harmony or adequate achievement of end within the synthesis of the higher consciousness in the sense of Plato’s Agaqou. This is the undoubted common ground uniting our old friends “le vrai, le beau et le bien,” and constituting them into a true trinity in unity.

And now let me be permitted a word on the significance of that much abused expression and its corresponding notion – to wit: the Absolute. Among the données common to all systematic thinkers of the present day, outside the “new realist” school, the principal is the conception of Reality as connoting a complete synthesis. This again, as commonly interpreted, culminates in the conception of the Absolute as final expression of content of all kind. Such is the position, as I take it, of the late Bernard Bosanquet, of Professor Pringle-Pattison and of most present-day thinkers of the Academic School. As stated by them, it is, I think, substantially identical with what I term Panlogism, and as such it is obnoxious to the criticism contained in my book The Real, the Rational, and the Alogical, and also to that of Bergson and his followers. The Absolute of the Academic thinkers in question is undoubtedly au fond the hypostatized form of Thought or the Concept as we find it in varied modifications from Plato to Hegel. Like all Panlogists, these thinkers will have nothing to do with the notion of the Pure Subject (in contradiction, of course, to the individual Ego as empirical fact). Thus Professor Pringle-Pattison [3]: “It was the substantiation of the logical form of consciousness ... which led to the idea of the universal subject which thinks in all thinkers.” The writer goes on to object to this “unification of consciousness in a single self” as he terms it.

To the above it may be replied that the primal Subject of all consciousness, the Ego as first principle, does not mean, as Professor Pringle-Pattison asserts, “the substantiation of the logical form of consciousness,” but, on the contrary, is a recognition of the Alogical matter as the basis of “consciousness-in-general” (Bewusstsein überhaupt). It is strange that though, like the other exponents of his school, objecting to this “unification of consciousness in a single self,” Professor Pringle-Pattison is insistent on the Absolute being regarded as a self-contained experience, at once the primal postulate and final result of philosophic thought. But these thinkers nowhere explain how they arrive at an all-embracing whole of experience without a that which experiences, i.e. the experiencing centre of the whole – or, otherwise put, the common Subject of this complete experience. We surely have here a circumference without a centre. It is an experience which, so to say, hangs in mid-air. Now, of such experience I contend we can have no possible notion.

If the word “experience” or “consciousness” is to retain any meaning at all, it can only be that of the modification of an experiencing Subject. Hence, granting their assumption of the Absolute as the self-contained and completed totality of all experience (an assumption which, for other reasons, I cannot accept), it could only be related to us finite conscious foci in so far as it is identical with ourselves as experiencing – in short, with the ultimate Subject of our conscious life. To retain the Absolute as universal consciousness, while denying it as universal Subject of consciousness, is surely in effect a contradictio in adjecto. If conscious experience is in the last resort one, then its Subject must necessarily be one. The present writer would reverse this procedure of our academic metaphysicians. Abandoning the notion of completeness or wholeness in the Absolute, he would treat the latter not as finished experience in itself, but rather as the eternal principle of experiencing or knowing – that is, as being the eternal Subject of all concrete consciousness whatever. This problem is crucial for a constructive metaphysic. Are we to postulate the Absolute as a definite, so to say, wound-up, sum-total of all reality, transmuted or otherwise, or are we to think of it as an eternally completing yet never complete process of the self-realization of the ultimate Subject of our consciousness and of all possible consciousness? Here we have the true issue. If we regard the Absolute as in the last resort a statically complete synthesis, we necessarily have a dualism, since it resolves itself into a somewhat, not as a basis of, but as over against, our present consciousness. The Absolute, so far from being the unchangeable eternal, is, on the contrary, for me, the eternal principle of change. It is eternally realizing itself under ever new forms to which we can assign no finality. Viewed, if we will, time apart (sub specie eternitatis), it is surely, as far as metaphysical analysis is concerned, a bare principle and no more. But this question as to the ultimateness of time – as to the validity of the introduction of time-considerations into the deeper problems of metaphysics – is a problem in itself.

The question is, can we eliminate Time as a mode of the Absolute? M. Bergson apparently would say emphatically No. The writers just criticized would say as emphatically Yes. M. Bergson’s durée is in fact difficult to distinguish in his writings from the Absolute itself. On the other hand, the complete elimination of time from the Absolute would seem to land us in the hopeless impasse of Panlogism. One recalls in this connection the remark attributed to the late Professor Sidgwick when he was dying: “I have never been able to understand the relation of Time to the Absolute!” Time would seem the inseparable condition of the Alogical side of Reality. As such, the Alogical, as we have endeavoured to show, being the basis of all reality considered as determination of consciousness, it is difficult to envisage the Absolute otherwise than as in some way directly involving, or, shall we say, giving birth to, time – (M. Bergson’s durée).

As already stated, for my part, while getting rid of the idea of completeness or wholeness in the Absolute, I would treat it, not as in itself a finished and exhausted experience, but rather as the eternal principle of experiencing or knowing, or, in other words, as the eternal Subject of all consciousness. This problem of constructive metaphysic I cannot but regard as crucial for the immediate future of serious philosophic thought. Are we to conceive the Absolute – I must repeat the question – as a definite sum-total of an reality “transmuted” or not, or shall we think of it as an endless completing yet never completed process of realization of the Subject at the root of our consciousness as of all possible consciousness? Turn the matter as we may, there can be no whole in the content of Time any more than in the form of time, and yet the Absolute admittedly unfolds itself in infinite Time. All things considered, Schopenhauer’s “Will,” while doubtless open to criticism, is perhaps a better expression for the Absolute than any other single word. It seems to indicate that the will-striving, the urge of life, or the evolutionary process, is never lost in the full fruition to which, nevertheless, notwithstanding Schopenhauer, it unceasingly approximates. The conclusion arrived at by the famous pessimist is, as a very little consideration will show, quite unessential to the metaphysical formula itself. It should be recognized that in deprecating the attempt to conceive the Absolute as involving a static completeness of actual perfection, and in contenting ourselves with its postulation as potential merely, treating perfection, all-embracing Harmony, etc., as for us simply asymptotic tendencies, we are accounting for all that with which the analysis of our conscious experience can furnish us. What lies beyond belongs to the region of the unknown. Its consistent statement even, let alone its solution, is unattainable in the formulae of reflective thought. We here neither affirm nor deny the possibilities of its solution in terms of the æsthetic or ethical consciousness. We merely maintain the invalidity of any other view than that given, either as postulate or result of philosophical analysis itself.

The foregoing considerations naturally lead us up to the question of the meaning and character of human destiny as implied in the process of social evolution. From the period when civilization began to break down the primitive group society of early man the tendency of human thought-aspiration has been in the direction of what may be termed the mystical ideal, which has seen the telos of human existence in a direct relation between the finite soul of the individual and the infinite world-consciousness. The evolution of this notion has passed through many stages between the crude animism of primitive man and the visions and half-inarticulate conceptions of the full-blown mystic of the later period of antiquity and of the Middle Ages. But the direction has been there all the time from the earlier periods, and may be traced in the mystery-cults of India and of the already decaying ancient world of the Greco-Roman period before its definite formulation by the Neoplatonic thinkers, and later in the esoteric forms of the Christian religion. The mystical tendency spoken of manifests itself in the department of ethics, as what I have termed the “introspective morality” for which the standard of conduct does not imply a reference to social welfare or happiness, or if it does, only does so indirectly, in the last resort basing itself not upon the individual in his capacity as part of a corporate social entity, but as standing in a special relation to a Divinity with whom he has a direct inner connection as “a searcher of hearts.” The ultimate standard of conduct is the God supposed to be revealed to the inner consciousness of the individual personality. The supreme end of life for early man, on the other hand, had nothing to do with a personal relation of the individual to any author or soul of the universe, but presented itself socially as the glory of clan, tribe, or people thought of as a continuity of deified ancestors, living tribesmen, and their descendants. The individual member of the social group had, as such, little significance in himself. His importance consisted mainly in his relation to the social Whole. Accordingly his ethical standard of conduct as a rule was exclusively social, concerning the life and welfare of his group-society and his attitude towards it.

What we have called the mystical religious ideal has, together with its introspective ethical standard, more or less dominated the serious thought of the later periods of civilization. In our day, however, we find another and a different notion of human destiny gradually supplanting the one in question with its introspective individualism. This newest conception of human destiny and the ethical standard based upon it, is, in a sense, a reversion on a higher plane – a reversion with an enormous difference of course – to the naïve attitude of primitive man in the matter.

Early society itself constituted the highest end of life to the individual members constituting it, a view gradually supplanted by the notion of a spiritual side of the individual in direct relation to a more or less mystical God. The growing modern view spoken of, on the other hand, reverts in a manner to the early view of society and its welfare as the ultimate standard and telos of individual personality. This to me seems to indicate a real advance. The ultimate barrenness of the older introspective attitude, with its cardinal doctrine of the direct rapport between the individual soul and the world-principle (whether personified or not) as the salient feature of human life in its relation to the telos of Reality, is written on the history and present fortunes of this line of thought. The traditional religious systems embodying it are, one and ail, tending to become crystallized, and to lapse consciously or unconsciously into mere politico-economical agencies for the maintenance of the status quo, while with some of those who attempt to galvanize them, the old standpoint is explained away in accordance with the newer attitude of thought in these matters. Thus the social side of Christianity generally, especially in the alleged teachings of Jesus, is deliberately exaggerated, and introspective precepts, presented with a social colouring which there is every reason to believe did not originally belong to them.

Unlike the mystical attitude with its introspective ethics, the newer view spoken of does not claim to state the ultimate world-purpose within the limits of any formula. Its Ideals have not the hall-mark of finality attaching to them. Once attained they are seen to lead to something beyond themselves, which something cannot be foreseen save in the vaguest outline. Thus he for whom Socialism is the ideal will, if he is a clear thinker, recognize that any form of Socialism he can envisage, though it may be an end for the present generation, is in itself but the opening of possibilities beyond itself. Nevertheless, as I have pointed out elsewhere, happiness, if not per se a concrete ideal or the telos itself, is at least so per aliud, i.e. it must necessarily enter as integral element into any possible ideal. Now, happiness to endure as happiness we have seen cannot be a finality, it cannot be a something fixed once for all and unchanging. What applies to happiness as element of the telos, applies also to the telos itself viewed as concrete, and to the Absolute, of which it may be conceived as the highest expression. Pursuing the above line of thought, the question arises as to whether we can arrive at any formulation of the summum bonum as the telos of the process of Experience or Reality. Our whole discussion, I think, shows we cannot. We have already pointed out the fallacy into which all our theorizing has hitherto been apt to fall; i.e. hypostatization of one side of an antithesis, which side by itself and out of relation to its correlate, is but an abstraction. Pleasure or happiness viewed per se is an unrealized abstraction. As such, i.e. as an abstraction, it cannot become a telos of Experience, but only as entering into a concrete synthesis involving elements other than itself. Thus we see in every-day life that the man who attains happiness does so by postulating his end in life as something irrespective of happiness or pleasure which seems to enter it merely as incidental to it.

We find thus the same principle here in this question of Reality Considered as end-value that presents itself in our analysis of the other departments of reality. Reality we have found as such always presents itself as involving at least two antithetic elements and their reciprocal connection, the elimination of either of which leaves us with an abstraction and no Reality, and which abstraction, when closely viewed, evinces itself as practically meaningless; “the light that never was on land or sea,” a light without darkness, which would indeed be a light that was indistinguishable from darkness. A good which had completely absorbed evil, and with which no evil was to be contrasted, could not enter into consciousness as a real good. A God “too pure to look upon iniquity” would be a caput mortuum no better than a “bloodless category.” A beauty with no shadow of ugliness, actual or potential, to set it off would not enter into any conscious synthesis as beauty. Similarly, an absolute truth out of all relation to falsehood or error would be a colourless and worthless platitude, and would forfeit its higher character of truth in any intelligible sense. [4] Most of our Ideals are, at least as traditionally presented, little more than hypostatized abstractions.

In discussing the nature and conditions of the supreme end of life and a fortiori of Reality itself we are confronted with the rival theories of Optimism and Pessimism. Here also the foregoing remarks have their significance. The Optimist, if he is thorough-going, contends that Human destiny involves the ultimate realization of complete perfection. In so far as this is the case he renders his position obnoxious to the above criticism. On the other hand, the Pessimist is equally and perhaps more one-sided in his denunciation of life as regards value. Though we fully recognize that mere abstract happiness, albeit it does not by itself constitute any telos, yet undoubtedly enters as necessary element into every telos, and therefore affords us a touchstone by which we may guess the value of any telos, proximate or ultimate. Now, the Pessimist contends that the sum of misery in the world not merely outweighs the actual sum of happiness, but tends to do so in an increasing ratio. But it should be noted here that even if we concede this assumption in itself, as an argument it involves three questions which are begged. (1) It is assumed that happiness and misery can be stated in the form of a hedonic calculus, and that the question can be treated indeed adequately from that standpoint alone. (2) That the problem can be formulated in terms of individual feeling as though the individual were exclusively concerned therein. (3) Human evolution during the historical period, a period during which civilization has been developing from its beginning to the present time, is assumed as the absolute Norm for all further developments. Now, with regard to the first point mentioned, happiness is regarded abstractly as per se an independent Reality rather than the element of a synthesis. It is regarded as a somewhat fixed once and for all, whereas as realized happiness is continually subject to change as regards quality, this being determined by the general content of the synthesis into which it enters. It is a common observation that the animal cravings, which constitute the lowest form of happiness, once satisfied, are normally succeeded by a craving for a happiness involved in the satisfaction of the higher interests.

With regard to this distinction of quality in happiness, the conviction we have, that what we term the higher interests are higher, namely, nearer the assumed ultimate telos of consciousness than the lower, and their happiness correspondingly higher, seems to be an ultimate postulate, i.e, an assumption involved in the last resort in the self-consistency of consciousness. But if the element of happiness or pleasure runs through all momenta of the life-process, no concrete end can be conceived as such in which it is not included. The second fallacy referred to is based on the assumption that the organic individual, the particular human being as unit, is the sole and ultimate natural form in which self-consciousness may be embodied. Now, this is a pure assumption, and I have ventured to suggest a speculation based on the trend of evolution in the past as to the possibility of a new social persona emerging in the fullness of time, having for constituent basis the individual personality, just as the latter has for basis the cell as constituent of his animal (human) body. [5] The third of the points mentioned is the assumption of the Pessimist that progress, or, if you will, change, must proceed in the future on exactly the same lines as in the past, and that seeing that hitherto different periods of historic development have seemed to show rather a shifting in the distribution of happiness and misery than alteration in their relative amount, so it must be in the future. For this assumption, founded as it is on the short period of civilization and history, short that is as compared with that of the existence of man on this earth, we have, I submit, no warrant whatever. It may well be that the period of development of civilization throughout all its stages can only be properly judged by that which succeeds civilization, and this may show us quite different results and a quite different trend from that which the known past exhibits.

The antithesis of good and evil, in general including happiness and its reverse, seems one of those ultimate oppositions lying deep down in the nature of Reality which cannot be transcended in itself. But admitting this does not alter the fact that the evil as particularized in the concrete, i.e. as realized as “this evil thing,” must necessarily pass away, perishing no less than arising being inseparable from the world of particulars which form the time-content. [6] The term “good” means any content of consciousness that suggests or makes for the ultimate telos of life of which pleasure or happiness is an essential element. All pleasure or happiness is good in the abstract and per se, but not necessarily in the synthesis including other elements than itself. It is the whole in which it is realized that determines the true value of happiness, and therewith the question of preference as embodied in the old query anent the hog happy and Socrates miserable. We said above that evil as particularized must necessarily pass away as being a part of the time-content, but the same remark also with equal necessity applies to the “good” when realized as part of the time-content. All particularized good is therefore in a way no less transitory than particularized evil, but this does not necessarily imply, as might seem at first sight, merely a perpetual see-saw of Ormuzd and Ahriman. For though concrete good and concrete evil may in themselves be equally transient, yet as elements of the time-process in its general movement there is a difference. In the dialectic of this movement the concrete evil appears as the first term of any process of evolution, the good, on the other hand, acquired by elimination or transformation of this evil evinces itself as the End or fulfilment of the cycle in question. This is the principle of progress. It means that a “point” is always realized on the side of the good in the sense that all concrete evil issues in a concrete good and not conversely. Thus the trend of all evolution is towards the “good,” notwithstanding that we cannot conceive “good” in general ever exhausting all possibility of “evil” in general. The potentiality of “evil” as of “good” always remains. It is undeniable also that out of the very realized good itself, which has overcome the precedent evil, a new and different evil may arise which in its turn has to be transformed or eliminated by a new Ideal issuing in the manifestation of a new realized “good.” Hence the tendency of evolution is always in favour of the good, though the tendency may never reach its goal in the final conquest of evil, i.e. evil as potential or as general principle. The good then would appear as never reaching “full” fruition, notwithstanding its eternal approach thereto.

The foregoing is fully in accordance with the principle elaborated in connection with the theory of Knowledge in its metaphysical aspect and otherwise. The principle enunciated from a metaphysical viewpoint in the abstract applies mutatis mutandis throughout the whole range of conscious Reality. Every department shows us a pair of alogical antitheses realized in a synthesis by the formal logical activity of thought. In reflective thought, the abstract thought of psychology, we have seen the alogical element of consciousness-in-general never enters. This is the basis in psychology, of its radical distinction between subjective and objective. In the object, i.e. the determination of consciousness in its “first intention” (to employ the old scholastic phrase), the alogical element enters directly, while in the consciousness of reflection it can only be indicated indirectly by means of a conceptual symbol. This is the crucial distinction between the mental or ideal (in the psychological sense) and the real – between Reality as immediately given and its reflection in the individual mind. It is hence the basis of all abstract thought whatever.

I have already pointed out that there is no side of our conscious experience that is exclusively alogical, or exclusively logical, or exclusively potential, or exclusively actual. But the fact remains that there are some sides which are predominantly alogical in their character and others which are predominantly logical, or again, as we may formulate the matter in the present connection, some in which potentiality is predominant and others in which actuality is the leading element. Speaking generally, we say that in reality as apprehended immediately, i.e. in reality as experience given, the alogical element by a long way out-balances the logical. In all that concerns life, organic, animal, or social, it is the alogical in the sense of the potential which is of importance, the actual is quite subordinate. This point has been abundantly emphasized in other terms in the philosophy of Henri Bergson. In fact it is not too much to say that while in all first-hand reality the alogical in some sense is dominant, that life as life is alogical (in the sense of potential) par excellence. It is not any given actual moment in life, but its ceaseless becoming, its infinite possibility, which is its essential point and gives to it its character and value.

On the other hand, in all knowledge as knowledge, it is the logical with which almost exclusively we have to do. Knowledge is concerned almost entirely with what I have elsewhere termed the frozen actuality of logical generalization with its concept forms. Its aim and end is not reality or life with its ceaseless becoming, but logical completeness and coherence. Its material is not Sensibility, Will or Feeling, in a word the Alogical, but thought-forms and their relative articulation. Knowledge which is not directly perceptive or equivalent to experience immediately apprehended, but knowledge as the highest result of the function of reflective thought, is never identifiable with reality. Reflective thought interprets reality in its own medium, and in so doing transforms it into something other than its original self. In itself reality is, as we have seen, predominantly alogical. As transformed by reflective thought into knowledge or truth it has become predominantly logical.

We have to give up as far as philosophy is concerned the notion of finality. The idea of infinity based on the alogical side of our consciousness gives us our only clue to the Reality we have been endeavouring to analyse. Many cosmological theorists have made shipwreck on their unwillingness to recognize the notion of infinity. Herbert Spencer, for instance, seems to conceive the evolutionary process of the material universe as change in a determinate quantum of matter in motion, this system of change having a definite beginning and a definite ending in time and occupying definite position in space. The necessary conclusion from Spencer’s utterances is that though the successive steps of the evolutionary process may take untold aeons to accomplish themselves – since Spencer regards evolution as a process starting and finishing and followed similarly by the contrary process, that of dissolution – we are bound to postulate a never-ending recurrence of the same evolutionary cycle. This banal result of Spencer’s cosmological theory is only to be got rid of on the hypothesis of the infinity in space of such world systems as ours. On this assumption the evolutionary process will not simply repeat itself but will always be modified by systems outside itself, just as within our own cosmic system the evolution of individual objects, be they suns, planets, animal bodies, or what not, is determined by objects outside themselves and ultimately by the whole cosmic system of which they form part.

In the foregoing I have merely attempted to give a bare sketch, in its fundamental points, of what analysis discloses of the inner process and the inner meaning of that consciousness which is the raw material of the system of its determinations we call Reality.

I will conclude by quoting the final paragraph of The Real, the Rational, and the Alogical (p. 244).

“If there be one thing that we must learn to give up, it is the notion of finality. Yet eternal process can never be formulated in thought. It can be dimly apprehended in feeling, that is all. The notion of direction, of tendency, must take the place of actualization. Full realization is not, for us, even as ideal, in that stadium of consciousness in which we, finite individuals, with an animal body basis, live and move and have our being. The suggestions given us by our higher consciousness with its ideal values of a ‘something beyond’ must for us ever remain merely glimpses of possibilities, passing echoes, indicating direction. This should never seduce us into futile attempts at a dogmatic construction of the nature of the final goal of all things. So far as this goal is concerned, for us at least, beyond these passing echoes ‘the rest is silence.’“


Translation with Introduction of Kant’s Prolegomena and Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft. Bell.

Handbook to the History of Philosophy. Bell, 1886.

Translation of Schopenhauer’s Essays (with Introduction) (Bohn’s Library).

The Religion of Socialism. Sonnenschein, 3rd ed., 1891.

The Ethics of Socialism. Sonnenschein, 1902.

Outlooks from the New Standpoint. Sonnenschein, 1891.

Reminiscences and Reflections of a Mid and Late Victorian. George Allen & Unwin, 1918.

Problems of Men, Mind, and Morals. Richards, 1912.

The Roots of Reality. Richards, 1907.

The Real, the Rational, and the Alogical. Richards, 1920.


1. I use this form in deference to the editor, though the analogy of palleukos suggests pallogical, pallogism, etc.

2. This antithesis of chance and law will be found more fully discussed in The Real, the Rational, and the Alogical (pages 79–89), where instances are given in illustration of the main thesis.

3. The Idea of God, pp. 389–390.

4. See The Real, the Rational, and the Alogical, pp. 73–74.

5. See The Real, the Rational, and the Alogical, pp. 110–117.

6. See The Real, the Rational, and the Alogical, pp. 183–185.

Last updated on 18 October 2014