Studies in Hegelian Cosmology. John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart 1901
4. Experience teaches us that there exist in the Universe finite personal spirits. I judge myself, in the first place, to be such a finite personal spirit – to be something to which all my experience is related, and so related, that, in the midst of the multiplicity of experience, it is a unity, and that, in the midst of the flux of experience, it remains identical with itself. And I proceed to judge that certain effects, resembling those which I perceive myself to produce, are produced by other spirits of a similar nature. It is certain that this last judgment is sometimes wrong in particular cases. I may judge during a dream that I am in relation with some person who does not, in fact, exist at all. And, for a few minutes, an ingenious automaton may occasionally be mistaken for the body of a living person. But philosophy, with the exception of Solipsism, agrees with common sense that I am correct in the general judgment that there do exist other finite personal spirits as well as mine.
These spirits are called selves. And the problem which we have now to consider is whether there is a point in time for each self after which it would be correct to say that the self had ceased to exist. If not, it must be considered as immortal, whether as existing throughout endless time, or as having a timeless and therefore endless existence.
5. Hegel’s own position on this question, as on so many other questions of cosmology, is not a little perplexing. He asserts the truth of immortality in several places, and he never denies it. But his assertions are slight and passing statements, to which he gives no prominence.
And in the case of a doctrine of such importance, a merely incidental assertion is almost equivalent to a denial.
When we pass to the applications of the dialectic, the perplexity becomes still greater. For the doctrine of immortality is quietly ignored in them. Hegel treats at great length of the nature, of the duties, of the hopes, of human society, without paying the least attention to his own belief that, for each of the men who compose that society, life in it is but an infinitesimal fragment of his whole existence – a fragment which can have no meaning except in its relation to the whole. Can we believe that he really held a doctrine which he neglected in this manner? On the other hand we have his explicit statements that immortality is to be ascribed to the self. To suppose these statements to be insincere is impossible. There is nothing in Hegel’s life or character which would justify us in believing that he would have misrepresented his views to avoid persecution. Nor would the omission of such casual and trifling affirmations of the orthodox doctrine have rendered his work appreciably more likely to attract the displeasure of the governments under which he served.
6. The real explanation, I think, must be found elsewhere. The fact is that Hegel does not appear to have been much interested in the question of immortality. This would account for the fact that, while he answers the question in the affirmative, he makes so little use of the answer.
It is the fundamental doctrine of his whole system that reality is essentially spirit. And there seems no reason whatever to accuse him of supposing that spirit could exist except as persons. But – rather illogically – he seems never to have considered the individual persons as of much importance. All that was necessary was that the spirit should be there in some personal form or another. It follows, of course, from this, that he never attached much importance to the question of whether spirit was eternally manifested in the same persons, or in a succession of different persons.
No one, I imagine, can read Hegel’s works, especially those which contain the applications of the dialectic, without being struck by this characteristic. At times it goes so far as almost to justify the criticism that reality is only considered valuable by Hegel because it forms a schema for the display of the pure Idea. I have tried to show elsewhere that this view is not essential to Hegel’s system, and, indeed, that it is absolutely inconsistent with it. But this only shows more clearly that Hegel’s mind was naturally very strongly inclined towards such views, since even his own fundamental principles could not prevent him from continually recurring to them.
Since Hegel fails to emphasise the individuality of the individual, his omission to emphasise the immortality of the individual is accounted for. But it remains a defect in his work. For this is a question which no philosophy can be justified in treating as insignificant. A philosopher may answer it affirmatively, or negatively, or may deny his power of answering it at all. But, however he may deal with it, he is clearly wrong if he treats it as unimportant. For it does not only make all the difference for the future, but it makes a profound difference for the present. Am I eternal, or am I a mere temporary manifestation of something eternal which is not myself? The answer to this question may not greatly influence my duties in every-day life. Immortal or not, it is equally my duty to pay my bills, and not to cheat at cards, nor to betray my country. But we can scarcely exaggerate the difference which will be made in our estimate of our place in the universe, and, consequently, in our ideals, our aspirations, our hopes, the whole of the emotional colouring of our lives. And this is most of all the case on Hegelian principles, which declare that existence in time is inadequate, and relatively unreal. If we are immortal, we may be the supreme end of all reality. If time made us, and will break us, our highest function must be to be the means of some end other than ourselves.
7. To determine the true relation of Hegel’s philosophy to the doctrine of immortality, we must go into the matter at greater length than he has thought it worth while to do himself. We must take Hegel’s account of the true nature of reality, and must ask whether this requires or excludes the eternal existence of selves such as our own. Now Hegel’s account of the true nature of reality is that it is Absolute Spirit. And when we ask what is the nature of Absolute Spirit, we are told that its content is the Absolute Idea. The solution of our problem, then, will be found in the Absolute Idea.
8. We are certain, at any rate, that the doctrine of the Absolute Idea teaches us that all reality is spirit. No one, I believe, has ever doubted that this is Hegel’s meaning. And it is also beyond doubt, I think, that he conceived this spirit as necessarily differentiated. Each of these differentiations, as not being the whole of spirit, will be finite. This brings us, perhaps, nearer to the demonstration of immortality, but is far from completing it. It is the eternal nature of spirit to be differentiated, into finite spirits. But it does not necessarily follow that each of these differentiations is eternal. It might be held that spirit was continually taking fresh shapes, such as were the modes of Spinoza’s Substance, and that each differentiation was temporary, though the succession of differentiations was eternal. And, even if it were established that spirit possessed eternal differentiations, the philosophising human being would still have to determine whether he himself, and the other conscious beings with whom he came in contact, were among these eternal differentiations.
If. both these points were determined in the affirmative we should have a demonstration of immortality. But the conclusion will be different in two respects from the ordinary form in which a belief in immortality is held. The ordinary belief confines immortality to mankind – so far as the inhabitants of this planet are concerned. The lower animals are not supposed, by most people, to survive the death of their present bodies. And even those who extend immortality to all animals commonly hold that much of reality is not spiritual at all, but material, and that consequently neither mortality nor immortality can be predicated of it with any meaning. But if we can deduce immortality from the nature of the Absolute Idea, it will apply to all spirit – that is to say to all reality – and we shall be led to the conclusion that the universe consists entirely of conscious and immortal spirits.
The second peculiarity of the conclusion will be that the immortality to which it refers will not be an endless existence in time, but an eternal, i.e., timeless existence, of which whatever duration in time may belong to the spirit will be a subordinate manifestation only. But this, though it would separate our view from some of the cruder forms of the belief, is, of course, not exclusively Hegelian but continually recurs both in philosophy and theology.
We have to enquire, then, in the first place, whether our selves are among the fundamental differentiations of spirit, whose existence is indicated by the dialectic, and, if this is so, we must then enquire whether each of these differentiations exists eternally.
9. The first of these questions cannot be settled entirely by pure thought, because one of the terms employed is a matter of empirical experience. We can tell by pure thought what must be the nature of the fundamental differentiations of spirit. But then we have also to ask whether our own natures correspond to this description in such a way as to justify us in believing that we are some of those differentiations. Now our knowledge of what we ourselves are is not a matter of pure thought – it cannot be deduced by the dialectic method from the single premise of Pure Being. We know what we ourselves are, because we observe our selves to be so. And this is empirical.
Accordingly our treatment of the first question will fall into two parts. We must first determine what is the nature of the differentiations of spirit. This is a problem for the dialectic, and must be worked out by pure thought. And then we must apply the results of pure thought, thus gained, by enquiring how far our selves can or must be included in the number of those differentiations.
10. Hegel’s own definition of the Absolute Idea is, “der Begriff der Idee, dem die Idee als solehe der Gegenstand, dem das Objekt sie ist." This by itself will not give us very much help in our present enquiry.
But, as Hegel himself tells us, to know the full meaning of any category, we must not lie content with its definition, but must observe how it grows out of those which precede it. We must therefore follow the course of the dialectic to see how the Absolute Idea is determined. It would be too lengthy to start with the category of Pure Being, and go through the whole chain of categories, and it will therefore be necessary to take some point at which to make a beginning. This point, I think, may conveniently be found in the category of Life. There seems to be very little doubt or ambiguity about Hegel’s conception of this category as a whole, although the subdivisions which he introduces into it are among the most confused parts of the whole dialectic. And it is at this point that the differentiations of the unity begin to assume those special characteristics by which, if at all, they will be proved to be conscious beings. For both these reasons, it seems well to begin at the category of Life.
According to that category reality is a unity differentiated into a plurality, (or a plurality combined into a unity) in such a way that the whole meaning and significance of the unity lies in its being differentiated into that particular plurality, and that the whole meaning and significance of the parts of the plurality lies in their being combined into that particular unity.
We have now to consider the transition from the category of Life to that of Cognition. We may briefly anticipate the argument by saying that the unity required by the category of Life will prove fatal to the plurality, which is no less essential to the category, unless that plurality is of a peculiar nature; and that it is this peculiarity which takes us into the category of Cognition.
11. The unity which connects the individuals is not anything outside them, for it has no reality distinct from them. The unity has, therefore, to be somehow in the individuals which it unites. Now in what sense can the unity be in the individuals? It is clear, in the first place, that it is not in each of them taken separately. This would be obviously contradictory, since, if the unity was in each of them taken separately, it could not connect one of them with another, and, therefore, would not be a unity at all.
12. The common-sense solution of the question would seem to be that the unity is not in each of them when taken separately, but that it is in all of them when taken together. But if we attempt to escape in this way, we fall into a fatal difficulty. That things can be taken together implies that they can be distinguished. For, if there were no means of distinguishing them, they would not be an aggregate at all, but a mere undifferentiated unity. Now a unity which is only in the aggregate cannot be the means of distinguishing the individuals, which make up that aggregate, from one another. For such a unity has only to do with the individuals in so far as they are one. It has no relation with the qualities which make them many. But, by the definition of the category, the whole nature of the individuals lies in their being parts of that unity. Consequently, if the unity does not distinguish them, they will not be distinguished at all, and therefore will not exist as an aggregate.
In the case of less perfect unities there would be no difficulty in saying that they resided in the aggregate of the individuals, and not in the individuals taken separately. A regiment, for example, is not a reality apart from the soldiers, neither is it anything in each individual soldier, but it is a unity which is found in all of them when taken together.
But here the differentiations are not entirely dependent on the unity.
Each man would exist, and would be distinguishable from the others, if the regiment had never been formed. In the category of Life, however, no differentiations can exist independently of the unity. And therefore the unity must be found in them, not only in so far as they are not taken as differentiated, but also in respect of all their differentiation. The unity cannot, indeed, as we saw above, be in each individual as a merely separated individual. But it must, in some less crude way, be found in each of the united individuals, and not merely in the sum of them. For those separate characteristics which differentiate the individuals can have no existence at all, unless the unity is manifested in them.
13. It might be suggested that we could overcome this difficulty by the idea of mutual determination. If each individual is in relation with all the rest, then its character is determined by these relations, that is, by the unity of which the individuals are parts. Thus, it may be said, the unity will be manifested in the separate nature of each individual, since that nature will be what it is by reason of the unity of all the individuals.
But this is only going back to the category of Mechanism, and the same difficulties which compel us to regard that category as inadequate will recur here. Are we to regard the individuals as possessing any element of individuality which is not identical with their unity in the system? To answer this question in the affirmative is impossible. Such an inner reality, different from the external relations of the individual, though affected by them, would take us back to the Doctrine of Essence. And therefore it would be quite incompatible with our present category, which demands, not only that the individuals shall not be independent of their unity, but that they shall have no meaning at all but their unity. And therefore there cannot be any distinct element of individuality. On the other hand, if we answer the question in the negative, our difficulties will be as great. The individuals are now asserted not to possess any elements of individuality, which are not identical with their unity in the system. But this, while it is no doubt the true view, is incompatible with the conception that the unity in question is simply the unity of the mutual determination of the individuals. As we saw when Absolute Mechanism transformed itself into Chemism, “the whole nature of each Object lies in the relation between it and the other Objects. But each of these relations does not belong exclusively, ex hypothesi, to the Object, but unites it with the others. The nature of wax consists, for example, partly in the fact that it is melted by fire. But this melting is just as much part of the nature of the fire. The fact is shared between the wax and the fire, and cannot be said to belong to one of them more than the other. It belongs to both of them jointly. The only subject of which the relation can be predicated will be the system which these two Objects form. The qualities will belong to the system, and it will be the true” individual. “But again, two Objects cannot form a closed system, since all Objects in the universe are in mutual connexion. Our system of two Objects will have relations with others, and will be merged with them, in the same way that the original Objects were merged in it – since the relations, which alone give individuality, are found to be common property. and so merge their terms instead of keeping them distinct.
The system, in which all the Objects, and all their relations, are contained, becomes the reality – the only true Object, of which all the relations contained in the system are adjectives. The individual Objects disappear.”  This explanation also, therefore, must be rejected. For it destroys the individual in favour of the unity, while our category asserts that the individuality and the unity are equally essential. And such a victory would be fatal to the unity also, since it converts it into a mere undifferentiated blank, and therefore into a nonentity.
The impossibility of taking the connection required by the category of Life to be the mutual determination of individuals comes, it will be seen, from the intensity of the unity in that category. Any individuality not identical with the unity is incompatible with it. And in mutual determination the individuality is not identical with the unity. Each individual has qualities which are not part of its relations to others, and which are.
therefore not the unity between them. (From one point of view it may be said that this ceases to be true when mutual determination becomes perfect.
But then it ceases to be mutual determination, and we return once more to the difficulties, quoted above, of Chemism.)
14. We are forced back to the conclusion that it is necessary that in some way or another the whole of the unity shall be in each individual, and that in no other way can the individuals have the requisite reality.
Yet, as we saw above, to suppose that the unity exists in the individuals as isolated, is to destroy the unity. The unity must be completely in each individual. Yet it must also be the bond which unites them. How is this to be? How is it possible that the whole can be in each of its parts, and yet be the whole of which they are part? The solution can only be found by the introduction of a new and higher idea. The conception which, according to Hegel, will overcome the difficulties of the category of Life, – is that of a unity which is not only in the individuals, but also for the individuals. (I am here using “in” and “for” rather in their customary English meanings than as the equivalents of Hegel’s technical terms “an” and “für.”) There is only one example of such a category known to us in experience, and that is a system of conscious individuals.
Accordingly Hegel calls his next category, to which the transition from Life takes us, Cognition (Erkennen). This does not seem a very fortunate name. For the category is subdivided into Cognition Proper and Volition, and Cognition is scarcely a word of sufficient generality to cover Volition as a sub-species. If the category was to be named from its concrete example at all, perhaps Consciousness might have been more suitable.
15. If we take all reality, for the sake of convenience, as limited to three individuals, A, B, and C, and suppose them to be conscious, then the whole will be reproduced in each of them. A, for example, will, as conscious, be aware of himself; of B, and of C, and of the unity which joins them in a system. And thus the unity is within each individual.
At the same time the unity is not in the individuals as isolated. For the whole point of saying that the unity is for A, is that it exists both out of him and in him. To recur to our example, the essence of consciousness is that the contents of consciousness purport to be a representation of something else than itself. (In the case of error, indeed, the contents of consciousness have no external counterpart. But then it is only in so far as consciousness is not erroneous that it is an example of this category.) Thus the unity is at once the whole of which the individuals are parts, and also completely present in each individual. Of course it is not in the individuals in the same manner as the individuals are in it. But this is not to be expected. The dialectic cannot prove that contraries are not incompatible, and, if it did, it would destroy all thought. Its work is to remove contradictions, and it succeeds in this when it meets the demand that the unity shall be in the individuals, and the individuals in the unity, by showing that both are true, though in different ways.
The unity is now, as it is required by the category to be, the whole nature of each individual. In so far as we regard the individual as merely cognitive, and in so far as his cognition is perfect (and both these conditions would be realised when we were judging him under the category of Cognition), his whole nature would consist in the conscious reproduction of the system of which he is a part. This does not involve the adoption of the view that the mind is a tabula rasa, and that it only receives passively impressions from outside. However the cognition may be produced, and however active the part which the mind itself may take in its production, the fact remains that the cognition, when produced, and in so far as perfect, is nothing but a representation of reality outside the knowing self.
16. We must, of course, remember with Cognition, as with Mechanism, Chemism, and Life, that the dialectic does not profess to deduce all the empirical characteristics of the concrete state whose name is given to the category, but merely to deduce that pure idea which is most characteristic of that particular state. But the case of Cognition has a special feature. We can recall and imagine instances of the categories of Mechanism and Life outside the spheres of Mechanics and Biology, and this helps us to realise the difference between the concrete state and the category which Hegel calls after it. But of the category of Cognition there is no example known to us, and, as far as I can see, no example imaginable by us, except the concrete state of cognition. We cannot, I think, conceive any way in which such a unity should be for each of the individuals who compose it, except by the individuals being conscious.
This introduces a danger which does not exist in so great a degree with the other categories of Mechanism, Chemism, and Life – namely, that we should suppose that we have demonstrated more of the characteristics of cognition by pure thought than in fact we have demonstrated.
And great care will be needed, therefore, when we come to apply the conclusions gained in this part of the dialectic to cosmological problems.
17. The pure idea of Cognition, to which the process of the dialectic has now conducted us, is free from any empirical element either in its nature or its demonstration. It is true that it is suggested to us by the fact that there is part of our experience – the existence of our own consciousness – in which the category comes prominently forward. It is possible that we might never have thought of such a category at all, if we had not had such an example of it so clearly offered us. But this does not affect the validity of the transition as an act of pure thought. The manner in which the solution of a problem has been suggested is immaterial, if; when it has been suggested, it can be demonstrated.
Is the transition from Life to Cognition validly demonstrated? It will have been noticed, no doubt, that, though these two categories form the Thesis and Antithesis of a. triad, the passage from one to the other resembles closely the transition to a Synthesis. Certain difficulties and contradictions arise in the category of Life, which forbid us to consider it as ultimately valid, and the claim of the category of Cognition to validity lies in the fact that it can transcend and remove these contradictions.
But this gradual subordination of the triadic form to a more direct movement is a characteristic to be found throughout the Logic, and one which by no means impairs its validity. The transition must therefore be judged as a transition to a Synthesis.
Now the evidence for such a transition is always in some degree negative only. We have reached a category to which the dialectic inevitably leads us, and which we cannot therefore give up, but which presents a contradiction, and which we cannot therefore accept as it stands.
The contradiction must be removed. Now the necessity of the proposed Synthesis lies in the fact that it can do this, and that no other idea can, so that our choice lies between accepting the Synthesis in question and asserting a contradiction. So far, therefore, the proof of the validity of the Synthesis is in a sense incomplete. For it is never possible to prove that no other idea could be proposed which could remove the contradiction.
All that can be done is to consider any particular idea which may be put forward for that purpose.
So, in this case, our justification in asserting the claim of Cognition to be a category of the Logic lies in the belief that no other solution can be found for the difficulties of the category of Life. But, until some other solution has been found, or at least suggested, it would be futile to doubt the validity of the transition because of such a bare possibility. It is abstractly possible that there is some simple logical fallacy in the fifth proposition of Euclid, which has escaped the notice of every person who has ever read it, but will be found out to-morrow. But possibilities of this sort are meaningless. We must remember, too, that any idea which involves any of the previous categories of the Logic, except in a transcended form, can be pronounced beforehand inadequate to solve the problems offered by the category of Life, by which all such categories have themselves been transcended. And this confines the field, in which an alternative solution could appear, to very narrow limits.
18. We may sum up the argument as follows, putting it into concrete terms, and ignoring, for the sake of simplicity of expression, the possibility of the category of Cognition having other examples than consciousness – examples at present unknown and unimagined by us. The Absolute must be differentiated into persons, because no other differentiations have vitality to stand against a perfect unity, and because a unity which was undifferentiated would not exist.
Any philosophical system which rejected this view would have to adopt one of three alternatives. It might regard reality as ultimately consisting partly of spirit and partly of matter. It might take a materialistic position, and regard matter as the only reality. Or, holding that spirit was the only reality, it might deny that spirit was necessarily and entirely differentiated into persons. Of each of these positions it might, I believe, be shown that it could be forced into one of two untenable extremes.
It might not be in earnest with the differentiation of the unity. In that case it could be driven into an Oriental pantheism, referring everything to an undifferentiated unity, which would neither account for experience nor have any meaning in itself. Or else – and this is the most probable alternative at the present time – it might preserve the differentiation by asserting the existence, in each member of the plurality, of some element which was fundamentally isolated from the rest of experience, and only externally connected with it. In this case it would have fallen back on the categories of Essence, which the dialectic has already shown to be untenable.
19. Lotze, also, holds the view that the differentiations of the Absolute cannot be conceived except as conscious beings. His reason, indeed, for this conclusion, is that only conscious beings could give the necessary combination of unity with change. This argument would not appeal to Hegel. But he also points out that we can attach no meaning to the existence of anything as apart from the existence of God, unless we conceive that thing to be a conscious being. Here, it seems to me, we have the idea that consciousness is the only differentiation which is able to resist the force of the unity of the Absolute. Lotze, however, destroys the Hegelian character of his position (and, incidentally, contradicts the fundamental doctrines of his own Metaphysic) by treating the individuality of the conscious beings as something which tends to separate them from God, instead of as the expression of their unity with him.
20., The subdivisions of the category of Cognition do not concern us here. The transition from Cognition to the Absolute Idea itself is simple. In Cognition we had a harmony – a harmony of each part with the whole, since the nature of each part is to reproduce the nature of the whole. Now harmonies are of two different kinds. One side may be dependent on the other, so that the harmony is secured by the determining side always being in conformity with the determining side. Or, again, neither side may be dependent on the other, and the harmony may be due to the fact that it is the essential nature of each to be in harmony with the other, so that neither of them needs any determination from without to prevent its divergence.
The harmony which we have found to be the nature of reality must be of the latter kind. The nature of the whole is not determined by the nature of the individuals, nor the nature of the individuals by the nature of the whole. For if either of these suppositions were true then the determining side – whether the whole or the individuals – would be logically prior to the other. If; however, the whole was logically prior to the individuals, we should be back in the category of Chemism. And if the individuals were logically prior to the whole, we should be back in the category of Mechanism. Both of these categories have been transcended as inadequate. In the category of Life we saw that the two sides implied one another on a. footing of perfect equality. The plurality has no meaning except to express the unity, and the unity has no meaning except to unify the plurality. The passage from Life into Cognition contained nothing which could destroy this equality of the two sides, which, therefore, we must still regard as true. And thus we must consider the harmony produced in Cognition to be one in which the two sides are harmonious, not by the action of one or the other, but by the inherent nature of both.
Knowledge and will cease therefore to be adequate examples. For harmony is secured in knowledge when the content of the individual is in accordance with the content of the whole. And the harmony of will is produced when the content of the whole harmonises with that of the individual. But here the subordination of one side to the other must disappear.
21. This brings us to the Absolute Idea. And the meaning of that idea may now be seen in greater fulness than in Hegel’s own definition.
Reality is a differentiated unity, in which the unity has no meaning but the differentiations, and the differentiations have no meaning but the unity. The differentiations are individuals for each of whom the unity exists, and whose whole nature consists in the fact that the unity is for them, as the whole nature of the unity consists in the fact that it is for the individuals. And, finally, in this harmony between the unity and the individuals neither side is subordinated to the other, but the harmony is an immediate and ultimate fact.
It will be noticed that there is nothing in the transition to the Absolute Idea which can affect our previous conclusion that reality must be a differentiated unity, and that the unity must be for each of the individuals who form the differentiations. The transition has only further determined our view of the nature of the relation between the individuals and the whole. It still remains true that it is that particular relation of which the only example known to us is consciousness.
This is as far as pure thought can take us. We have now to consider the application of this result to the question of the immortality of the selves which are known to each of us, in himself and others.
22. Taken by itself; our conclusion as to the nature of Absolute Reality may be said to give some probability to the proposition that our selves are some of the fundamental differentiations of the reality. For we have learned that those fundamental differentiations must be of a certain nature. We know nothing which possesses that nature except our selves, and we cannot even imagine anything else to possess it except other selves.
That this gives a certain presumption in favour of the fundamental nature of our selves cannot, I think, be fairly denied. For the only way of avoiding such a conclusion would be either to suppose that selves like our own were fundamental, while our own were not, or else to take refuge in the possibility of the existence of other ways in which the whole might be for the part – ways at present unimaginable by us. And neither of these seems a very probable hypothesis.
But, after all, they are both possible. It is possible that the fundamental differentiations may be some unimaginable things other than selves, or that they may be selves other than our own. In that case our selves would be degraded to an inferior position. They would have some reality, but they would not be real as selves, or, in other words, to call them our selves would be an inadequate expression of that reality. The case would only differ in degree, from that, for example, of a billiard ball.
There is some reality, of course, corresponding to a billiard-ball. But when we look on it as material, and bring it under those categories, and those only, which are compatible with the notion of matter, we are looking at it in an inadequate way. It is not utterly and completely wrong, but it is only a relative truth. It is possible that this is the case with our selves. The view of the universe which accepts the reality of me and ‘you may be one which has only relative truth, and practical utility in certain circumstances. The full truth about the reality which I call me and you may be that it is not me and you, just as the full truth about what we call a billiard-ball would be that it was not a piece of matter.
23. We must look for a more positive argument. We have shown so far, if we have been successful, that our selves have certain characteristics which they would have if they were some of the fundamental differentiations of reality. What is now required is to show, if possible, that our selves have characteristics which they could not have, unless they were some of the fundamental differentiations of reality. And something, I think, can be said in support of this view.
24. One of the most marked characteristics of our selves is that they are unite, in the ordinary sense of the word. There are few things which appear so certain to the plain man as the fact that he is not the only reality in the universe. Yet when I enquire as to the division which exists between myself and any other reality, I find it quite impossible to draw the line. If I am to distinguish myself from any other reality, then, obviously, I must be conscious of this other reality. But how can I be conscious of it without it being in me? If the objects of consciousness were outside me, they would make no difference to my internal state, and, therefore, I should not be conscious of them. And, also, if they were outside me, I should not exist. For the pure I, though doubtless an essential moment of the self; is only a moment, and cannot stand alone. If we withdraw from it all its content – the objects of cognition and volition – it would be a mere abstract nonentity.
25. The common-sense solution of the difficulty is that the objects which exist outside me, and not in me, produce images which are in me and not outside me, and that it is these images which I know. But this theory breaks down. No one, of course, would assert that something I knew – my friend, for instance – existed in my mind in the same way that he existed for himself. But it is equally untenable to assert that he exists exclusively outside me, and that I only know an image of him which exists exclusively in me. For then I should only know the image – not him at all – and therefore should not know it to be an image, since nothing can be known to be a copy unless we are aware of the existence of its archetype. Now we are aware of the existence of images in our minds; we recognize them as such; we distinguish them from the reality that they represent; and we make judgments about the latter. I say that I have an image of my friend in my mind, and also that he really exists. The subject of this second assertion is clearly not an image in my mind. For the second assertion is additional to, and contrasted with, a statement about such an image. It can only be taken as a statement about my friend himself. Let us assume it to be true (as some such statements must be, except on the hypothesis of Solipsism). Then its truth shows that my friend exists, and not merely as my mental state, that is, that he exists outside me. And yet he is an object of my consciousness.
And how can he be that, unless he is also inside me? Thus the theory that we only know images refutes itself, for, if it were so, we should never know them to be images. It is possible – the question does not concern us here – that we only know reality other than ourselves through inferences based on images. which are simply in our minds. But that we do know something more than images is proved by the fact that we know images to be such. And this something more must be outside us to make our knowledge true, and inside us to make our knowledge possible.
26. Again, while the self can never say of any reality that it is only outside it, it is equally impossible for it to say of any reality that it is only inside it. By the very fact of saying “I know it,” I make a distinction between the I who know, and the thing which is known. The only reality of which it could be asserted that it was not separated from the self by the self’s consciousness of it is the pure I. And this is a mere abstraction. Without it the self would not exist. But taken by itself it is nothing.
This discrimination of the self from the object of knowledge increases with the increase of knowledge. In proportion as I know a thing more completely, I may, from one point of view, be said to have it more completely in myself. But it is equally true to say that, as I more thoroughly understand its nature, it takes more and more the form of a completely and clearly defined object, and, in proportion as it does this, becomes more emphatically not myself. The same course may be traced with will and emotion. My will can only find satisfaction in anything in proportion as it appears a distinct, though harmonious, reality. If it should become something which I could not distinguish from myself; the sense of satisfaction would vanish into a mere emptiness. And, in the same way, while nothing draws us so close to others as intense emotion, nothing enables us to appreciate more clearly the fact that those others exist in their own right, and not merely as phenomena subordinate to our own reality.
27. Thus the nature of the self is sufficiently paradoxical. What does it include? Everything of which it is conscious. What does it exclude? Equally – everything of which it is conscious. What can it say is not inside it? Nothing. What can it say is not outside it? A single abstraction.
And any attempt to remove the paradox destroys the self. For the two sides are inevitably connected. If we try to make it a distinct individual by separating it from all other things, it loses all content of which it can be conscious, and so loses the very individuality which we started by trying to preserve. If; on the other hand, we try to save its content by emphasising the inclusion at the expense of the exclusion, then the consciousness vanishes, and, since the self has no contents but the objects of which it is conscious, the content vanishes also. Locke tried the first alternative, and left the fact that we know anything inexplicable.
Green, on the other hand, came very near to the second alternative, and approached proportionally nearly to the absurdity of asserting knowledge without a knowing subject.
28. The idea of the self need not be false because it is paradoxical. Hegel has taught ‘us that the contradictions which the abstract understanding finds in an idea may be due to the idea being too concrete, that is, too true, to be adequately measured by the abstract terms of merely formal thought. But a contradiction is very far from being a sign of truth. On the contrary, as Hegel fully recognized, an unreconciled contradiction is a sign of error. The abstract understanding would pronounce the category of Life and the idea of a four-sided triangle to be equally contradictory. Hegel would agree with the non-speculative understanding in taking this as a sign of error in the idea of the triangle. But of the, category he would say that the contradiction only showed it to be too deep and true for the abstract understanding to comprehend.
How is the distinction to be explained? The explanation is that no idea which is contradictory, according to the canons of the understanding, is to be accepted as true unless the idea can be deduced in such a way as to explain and justify the contradiction. It is in this manner that we gain the right to believe in the successive Syntheses of the dialectic, each of which is contradictory to the abstract understanding, since each of them unites two contradictory extremes – a union which the understanding declares to be contradictory. The dialectic starts from a beginning, the validity of which the understanding cannot deny. From this it is led into a contradiction, when it is seen that the truth of this first Thesis involves the truth of the contradictory Antithesis. From this it proceeds to a Synthesis, which unites and reconciles the two sides. This reconciliation is a paradox and a contradiction to the non-speculative under standing, because it unites contradictions. But the understanding has lost its right to be regarded in this matter. For the course of the triad has shown that if we trust to the understanding alone we shall be left with an unreconciled contradiction – since we shall have to acknowledge the truth both of the Thesis and the Antithesis, and they contradict each other.
The Synthesis is the only way out of the unreconciled contradiction to which the course of thought inevitably leads us, and if we adhered to the canons of the non-speculative understanding, which would reject the Synthesis, our result would not be less contradictory from the standpoint of those canons, while we should have lost the reconciliation of the contradiction which a higher standpoint gives us. The understanding has no right to reject the solution when it cannot escape the difficulty.
But with the four-sided triangle the case is very different. There is no course of reasoning which leads us up to the conclusion that four-sided triangles must exist, and therefore we take the contradictory nature of the idea as a proof; not of the inadequacy of the understanding to judge of the matter, but of the falseness of the idea.
The idea of the self is paradoxical – contradictory for the understanding. Then we have two alternatives. We may treat it like the idea of the four-sided triangle, and consider it as completely erroneous, and to be got rid of as soon as possible. Or else we shall have to justify it by showing that the necessary course of thought leads us to it, that it is the only escape from an unreconciled contradiction, and that it must therefore be considered as too deep a truth to be judged by the understanding.
Whether it is to be taken as a relative or as the absolute truth would depend on whether it did or did not develop contradictions which, in their turn, needed transcending by a fresh idea.
29. To dismiss the idea of self as completely erroneous – as a pure and simple mistake – would be the course which Hume would take. Such a course would necessarily conduct us to a scepticism like his. It would be too great a digression to recapitulate here the arguments to prove that such a scepticism is untenable, and that the idea of the self cannot be summarily rejected in this way. Nor is it necessary to do so. For we are now endeavouring to determine what must be thought of the self on Hegelian principles, and it is certain that, on those principles, or on those of any idealistic system, it would be impossible to treat the idea of the self as a mere delusion, even if it is not considered as an adequate expression of reality.
30. The only remaining course is to justify the idea of the self by showing that the characteristics by which it offends the laws of the abstract understanding are the result of the inevitable nature of thought, and are therefore marks, not of the error of the idea, but of the inadequacy of the laws. If we take the selves to be the fundamental differentiations of reality, which the dialectic, as we saw, requires, we have obtained the necessary explanation. For each of those differentiations was shown to contain in itself the content of the whole, though, of course, not in the same way that the whole itself contains it. Thus if we ask what is contained in each individual differentiation, the answer is Everything.
But if we ask what is contained in each differentiation in such a way as not to be also outside it, the answer is Nothing. Now this is exactly the form that the paradox of the self would take, if we suppose a self whose knowledge and volition were perfect, so that it knew and acquiesced in the whole of reality. (I shall consider later on the objection that the knowledge and volition of the actual selves which we know are by no means so perfect.) And thus the paradox of the self would be justified. But how is it to be justified on any other view? If we are to take the idea of the self; not as a mere error, yet as less than absolute truth, we must find some justification of it which will show that the necessary course of thought leads up to it, and also over it – that it is relatively true as transcending contradictions which would otherwise be unreconciled, but relatively false as itself developing fresh contradictions which must again be transcended.
Can such a deduction be found? We cannot say with certainty that it never will be, but at any rate it does not seem to have been suggested yet. Most attempts to deal with the self endeavour to get rid of the paradox by denying one side or the other – either denying that the self includes anything which is external to it, or denying that it excludes what it includes. Mr Bradley, who fully recognizes the paradox, and does not admit the absolute validity of the idea, gives no explanation which will enable us to see why the idea is to be accepted as having even relative truth.
To sum up – the self answers to the description of the fundamental differentiations of the Absolute. Nothing else which we know or can imagine does so. The idea of the self has certain characteristics which can be explained if the self is taken as one of the fundamental differentiations, but of which no explanation has been offered on any other theory, except that of rejecting the idea of the self altogether, and sinking into complete scepticism. The self is so paradoxical that we can find no explanation for it, except its absolute reality.
31. We now pass on to the second branch of the subject. If we are to accept the selves that we know as some of the fundamental differentiations of the Absolute, does this involve that the selves are eternal? The Absolute, no doubt, is eternal, and must be eternally differentiated. But is it possible that it should be differentiated by means of an unending succession of individuals, each of whom has only a limited existence in time? There are, I think, two objections to the possibility of this. In the first place it does not seem possible that the differentiations in question should change at all, and, secondly, if they did change, it would still be impossible that any of them should cease completely, and be succeeded by others.
32. Can we then conceive the selves – which we have now identified with the fundamental differentiations – as changing at all? The content of each, we learn from the dialectic, is simply a reproduction of the content of the whole. It will, therefore, be impossible for any individual self to suffer any change, unless the Absolute itself likewise changes.
Can the Absolute change as a whole? The Absolute, as I have pointed out elsewhere, must be considered as having two moments in it. One of these is pure thought, the nature of which is determined in the dialectic process, and described in the Absolute Idea. The other is the unnameable but equally real element, which is the immediate which thought mediates, the existence of which makes the difference between the still partially abstract Absolute Idea and the completely concrete Absolute Spirit.
33. Now, of these two elements, the element of pure thought cannot possibly change. If the dialectic has proved anything, it has proved that nothing can be an adequate description of reality but the Absolute Idea.
But if the element of pure thought in reality should change, then something more, or less, or at any rate different from the Absolute Idea would be, at one time, an adequate description of reality. This would destroy the whole of Hegel’s Logic. The dialectic process from category to category is not one which takes place, or is reflected, in time. For the point of each transition to a Synthesis, the only thing which makes the transition valid at all, is the demonstration that, as against the Thesis and Antithesis, the Synthesis is the only reality, and that these terms, in so far as they differ from the Synthesis, are unreal and erroneous. Thus to suppose that the dialectic process advanced in time would be to suppose that at one time – indeed till the end of the process was reached – the unreal existed, and gradually produced the real, which would be obviously absurd. The element of pure thought in absolute reality, then, cannot change.
But would it not be possible that absolute reality should change in respect of the other element? All that the dialectic tells us about this is that it must be such as to be mediated by the element of pure thought, and to embody it. May not several different states of this element answer to this description, and in this case would not a change in absolute reality be possible, in so far as the element of immediacy passed from one of these stages to the other? We must however remember how completely and closely the two elements are connected. They are not two separate things, out of which absolute reality is built, but two aspects which can be distinguished in absolute reality. And while, on the one side, pure thought has no existence except in so far as it is embodied in the element of immediacy, on the other side the. element of immediacy has no existence, except in so far as it embodies pure thought. It is not like the material with which an artist works, which, while it embodies an artistic idea, has yet an independent existence, with various qualities irrelevant to the idea embodied.
A block of marble has a certain commercial value, a certain legal ownership, a certain temperature, a certain history. But all these qualities might vary, without making it less fit to express the sculptor’s purpose.
The element of immediacy, on the other hand, only exists in so far as it embodies the element of pure thought.
Now if this element were to change – say from XY to XZ – while the element of pure thought, of course, remained the same, it would mean that the difference between XY and XZ was immaterial to the embodiment of pure thought, since the unchanged pure thought would be equally embodied in both of them. And this would be contrary to what we had previously determined – that the element of immediacy had reality only in so far as it embodied the pure thought. Of course, in ordinary life we often see a thing change its qualities, and yet, by means of those very changing qualities themselves, continue to embody some purpose or meaning. But in all these cases, we have to conclude that the difference between those changing qualities is irrelevant to what is manifested.
And here we have a union between the two sides which is so close that we are forbidden to think anything in the one irrelevant to its relation to the other. The conclusion would seem to be that the element of immediacy can change no more than the element of pure thought, and that therefore absolute reality as a whole must be regarded as unchanging.
Another difficulty is that if we conceive change without causation we reduce the universe to chaos – which is certainly not compatible with the Absolute Idea. But, if change in to be determined, it must be either from without or from within. Now there is nothing outside the whole of reality to determine it to change. But we know by the Absolute Idea that all reality must be conceived as absolutely harmonious. In that case, can there be a cause inside it to determine it to move to another state, even if another could be found which was equally harmonious? 34. But even if it were possible for the selves to change, would it be possible for any of them to perish? It is not sufficient that the unity should be, in a general way, differentiated into some selves. The nature of the unity consists simply in its differentiation into the parts which, compose it, and, as it has a definite nature, that nature must determine the precise nature of the individuals. Or, to put it the other way round, the nature of the individuals is simply to embody the unity. And, therefore, if the nature of the unity did not determine the precise nature of the individuals, the nature of the individuals would not be determined at all, and the individuals would not exist.
Each individual, then, has its definite nature, by means of which it manifests the unity. If one perished, then another must take its place.
Now can we conceive, even if we allow the possibility of change, that one self could in this way take the place of another? For, although they might resemble one another in certain ways, still, by the hypothesis, they are different individuals. They differ then in respect of their individuality.
And here there is a complete break between the two. For, if there was not, there would not be the death of one individual, and the creation of another. Such a breach in the continuity of the manifestation must imply a similar breach in the continuity of what is manifested.
Now this reduces the supposition to an absurdity. For, supposing the Absolute to be able to change at all, it must at any rate change continuously.
If there was a breach in the continuity of the Absolute, it would have to be an absolutely complete one – for there is nothing behind the Absolute to bridge over the separation. Reality would be divided into two unconnected parts – which is impossible, since they would not then both be reality. And this necessary continuity in the Absolute, involving a similar continuity in the manifestation, will, therefore, forbid us to suppose that any of the selves who form that manifestation can ever perish.
35. It may be objected to this that a breach of continuity in the manifestation need not mean a breach of continuity in what is manifested.
One king dies, and another succeeds him. Here then is a break between the one person and the other, but the same sovereignty passes from one to the other without a break. But in such a case as this the transfusion of manifested and manifestation is not complete. A man is a king only in respect of certain aspects of his nature. And these he may have in common with his successor, although they are different people.
But the selves have no existence except in so far as they manifest the unity of the Absolute. All their characteristics do this, and therefore there can be no breach in the continuity of any of the characteristics without a breach in the continuity of what is manifested. On the other hand, to suppose that one self could succeed another without a breach in the continuity of characteristics, would be to reduce the self to a mere Ding an sich, which would be entirely incompatible with what we have already determined about it.
Of course this line of argument would not hold with such a view of the Absolute as Lotze’s. For there the Absolute is to be taken as something more and deeper than the unity of its differentiations, so that, while there is nothing in them which is not in it, there is something in it which is not in them. In that case a breach in the unity of the differentiations would not necessarily imply a breach in the unity of the Absolute, because the unity might be preserved by that part of the Absolute which lay behind the differentiations. But then this is not Hegel’s view. He reaches in the category of Life a result from which he never departs in the subsequent categories – that the unity and plurality are in an absolutely reciprocal relation, so that, while the plurality is nothing but the differentiation of the unity, the unity is nothing but the union of the plurality.
In many cases in ordinary life we find that, although a. sudden and simultaneous change of all the parts of the whole would destroy its continuity, yet, if they change successively, they may all have their continuity broken without the continuity of the whole suffering. But these are cases in which every part is not necessary to manifest the whole, but it is possible for the manifestation to vary within certain limits. A regiment, for example, cannot exist without soldiers. But each soldier does not fulfil a definite and unique function without which the regiment would cease to be a regiment. Thus the breach of continuity between any one soldier and his successor does not mean a breach in the continuity of the regiment because the other soldiers, who are not discharged at the same moment, are sufficient to keep up the continuity. But with the differentiations of the Absolute it is different. For it is the nature of the Absolute to be manifested in precisely those differentiations in which it is manifested, and so a breach in the continuity anywhere could not be compensated for by unbroken continuity elsewhere. The Absolute requires each self, not to make up a sum, or to maintain an average, but in respect of the self’s special and unique nature.
36. Up to a certain point indeed, it is a mark of relatively high reality when anything can change, and yet remain the same. In the lowest categories of all – those of Quality – there is no such thing as change possible. For, so long as we confine ourselves to them, a thing must either remain exactly the same, or cease to exist. The moment the slightest variation is introduced, the previously existing thing is destroyed, and a quite fresh thing substituted in its place. For reality is not yet separated into moments in such a way that one vanes while the other remains the same, and till then we can have no change, but only the substitution of one reality for another. The first possibility of true change comes in with the categories of Quantity. And that possibility develops as we reach the categories of Essence, while it is greatest, perhaps, in the category of Matter and Form.
But, although the dialectic starts below the possibility of change, it reaches, towards the end, a point above that possibility. Change only became possible when the first anticipations of Essence intruded themselves into Being. It ceases to be possible as the last traces of Essence die out of the Notion. For change, as has been said, we require to look at the reality as consisting of moments, of which one may change without affecting the other. Now this independence of the two sides is the mark of Essence. When we reach the final subdivision of Teleology, we have at last left this fully behind. This we saw at the beginning of this chapter, while defining the category of Life, which has the same content as the last form of Teleology. The unity has no meaning except its expression in the plurality, the plurality has no meaning except its combination in the unity. The independence of the two sides has gone, and with it the possibility of change.
If we consider what are the cases in which we can say that a thing changes and yet remains the same, we shall find that we regard them all from the point of view of Essence. Either the manifestation, or what is manifested, or both of them, must be taken as having something in it which is not concerned with the relation between the two sides, and which can consequently change while the other side is constant, or be constant while the other side changes. In the instance which we considered above, when the sovereignty passes unchanged through different kings, the kings were conceived as having characteristics other than their royalty, so that the men were different, while manifesting themselves in the same sovereignty. In technically Hegelian language, this is a case of Essence as Appearance, since we disregard the change in what is manifested, and only regard the manifestation, which does not change.
On the other hand, when we say that a man is the same man as he was yesterday, though he may be thinking quite different thoughts, and doing quite different things, we are at the stand-point of Essence as Ground.
For here our answer depends on the unchanged state of what is manifested, and the change in the manifestation is disregarded. Both alike are cases of Essence, and both therefore are inapplicable to our present subject-matter.
37. The view that selves are manifestations of the Absolute, in such a way that they change and perish while the Absolute remains unchanged, is one which has always had an attraction for mystics. It is especially prominent among Oriental thinkers. The most frequent metaphors by which this thought is expressed are those of a drop of water returning to the ocean, and of a ray of light returning to the sun. They show that the relation which was conceived to exist between the Absolute and the self was substantially that of Matter and Form. The Absolute was formless – or relatively formless – itself, but a part of it assumed form and limitation and became a self. At death, or in the mystic vision of true wisdom, the form disappeared, and the matter dropped back into the undifferentiated mass of the Absolute. Such a view involves the indifference of the Absolute to the form it assumes. For all the changes in the forms do not affect the changelessness of the Absolute.
It is unnecessary to repeat here Hegel’s demonstration of the inadequacy of Matter and Form, since it is quite clear that such a category could never apply to the selves which we are now considering. These selves we have determined as the fundamental differentiations of the Absolute, and we know that the Absolute is not indifferent to the nature of these differentiations – on the contrary, that its whole nature consists in manifesting itself in just these differentiations.
Such a view moreover is incompatible with what we know of the self by observation. For it would compel us to regard each self as the form of a certain amount of matter, which would continue to exist when the form was destroyed, and the self, as a self, had ceased to exist.
This conception, as applied to the self, seems to be meaningless. The self, no doubt, can be differentiated into parts. But they are parts of such a nature that they would cease to exist when the self ceased to exist. To regard the self as built up of parts, which could exist after it, and be recombined like the bricks from a house which has been pulled down, is to render it impossible to explain consciousness.
38. It may be objected to the preceding arguments that in order to identify the selves which we know with the fundamental differentiations of the Absolute, we have given to them a perfection which those selves notoriously do not possess, and so reduced our arguments to an absurdity.
We have proved that they must he changeless, while in point of fact they do continually change. We have identified their consciousness with the manner in which the whole exists for each of the fundamental differentiations.
But, if this is so, it would seem to follow that every self must be in complete and conscious harmony with the whole of the universe.
This is not in accordance with facts. Our knowledge is limited, it is often erroneous, and when we do know facts, our desires are often not in harmony with the facts which we know.
39. The difficulty is no doubt serious enough. But it is not, I think, any objection to our interpretation of Hegel, because it is a difficulty which applies equally to all idealistic theories, however interpreted. It is nothing less than the old difficulty of the origin of evil. And for this, as I have tried to show elsewhere, idealism has no definite solution. All that can be done is to show that the difficulties are as serious if we deny reality to be perfect, as they are if we affirm it, and to point out a direction in which it is not altogether unreasonable to hope for the advent of some solution at present unimaginable by us. This is certainly not much, but it does not seem that we are entitled at present to any more.
The Absolute, according to Hegel, is timeless and perfect. In this conclusion most idealistic systems would agree. We find around us and in us, however, a world which changes in time, and which is far from perfect. Yet the Absolute is the only reality of this world. How, then, are we to account for the change and the imperfection? It is in this form that the problem of evil presents itself to idealism.
If we take the selves to be the fundamental differentiations of the Absolute, and therefore timeless and perfect, the question will of course be raised why, in that case, the selves appear as changeable and imperfect.
And to this question no answer has been given. But we shall not avoid the difficulty by giving up our theory. For the selves, whether fundamental or not, still exist, and have to be accounted for. The only reality is the Absolute, which is timeless and perfect. The question will now take this form – Why does a timeless and perfect Absolute appear as changeable and imperfect selves? And it is as impossible to return any answer to this question as to the other. The gap between the perfect and imperfect has to come in somewhere. The difficulty is the same whether we place the true nature of the selves on the side of perfection, and find the gulf between that and their appearances, or whether we take the selves as imperfect, and then find the gulf between them and the Absolute.
Since this difficulty, then, applies to any idealist theory, it can be no special reason against ours. And we can therefore rest, as before, on the considerations that the selves, if they perfectly realised the nature which they possess, would correspond to the differentiations of the Absolute, which nothing else that we know or can imagine does, and also, that the selves, in spite of their imperfections, show characteristics which are inexplicable if they are not among those differentiations. And thus our proper conclusion would seem to be that all selves are timeless and perfect, as the Absolute is, but that they, like the Absolute of which they are the differentiations, appear under the forms of time and imperfection.
40. Another difficulty which may be raised is that the activities most prominent in ourselves are knowledge and will. Now neither of these, it may be said, are examples of the Absolute Idea at all, but rather of the previous category which Hegel names Cognition. For in the Absolute Idea the harmony is not produced by the subordination of one side to the other. It is the essential nature of each side to be in such a harmony, and the idea of subordination becomes meaningless. This is not the case with knowledge and will. In knowledge we condemn our thought as false if it does not correspond to the reality outside it, and the harmony is thus produced by the subordination of the individual to the whole. In will, on the other hand, we condemn the reality as unsatisfactory if it does not correspond to our desires, and the harmony is thus produced by the subordination of the whole to the individual.
To this it may be answered, in the first place, that, besides knowledge and will, emotion is also an activity of the self, and that it may be plausibly maintained that in a harmony produced by emotion neither side is subordinated to the other, but the harmony is the essential nature of each. But, besides this, the dialectic demonstrates, by the transition from Cognition to the Absolute Idea, that, if the whole does exist for any individual; it must be by means of that reciprocal and equal harmony which is expressed by the Absolute Idea. We may therefore reasonably infer, since our souls show on observation a harmony under the category of Cognition, that they are really in harmony in the deeper manner characteristic of the Absolute Idea.
41. The results we have reached may throw some light on the difficult question of personal identity. The self is not, as sceptics maintain, a mere delusion. Nor is it a mere collection of adjectives, referring to no substance except the Absolute. It is, on the contrary, itself a substance, existing in its own right. This does not mean, of course, that any self could exist independently, and in isolation from all others. Each self can only exist in virtue of its connection with all the others, and with the Absolute which is their unity. But this is a relation, not of subordination, but of reciprocal dependence. If each self is dependent on the others, they in turn are dependent on it. If the self has no meaning, except as manifesting the Absolute, the Absolute has no meaning except as manifested in that self. The self is not an isolated substance but it may be properly called a substance.
In the identity of the substance lies, it seems to me, the personal identity. This is a rather unfashionable mode of expression, and it will be necessary to remember that we are speaking of the substance as it really is, and not of any abstraction of substantiality, and, moreover, that we are speaking of the personal identity itself, and not of the signs by which we may infer its existence.
42. It would be absurd to place personal identity in the imaginary identity of substance regardless of any continuity of attributes. The substance taken apart from its attributes could never be the basis of personal identity. For all substances., if abstraction were made of their attributes, are absolutely indistinguishable, and the distinction between persons would be non-existent. And, indeed, we may go further, for a substance without attributes is inconceivable, and if personal identity rested in this it would vanish. But when we talk of an identity of substance we do not mean any such imaginary Ding an sich. Substance is nothing apart from its attributes, as the attributes are nothing apart from the substance, and when we place personal identity in the identity of the substance, we speak of a substance manifesting itself in its attributes.
Why, then, emphasise the substance? The reason for this is as follows – all attributes must be referred to some substance. But, according to some idealistic systems, a self is merely a bundle of attributes, whose substance is the Absolute. The self has no substance of its own, but is merely a phenomenon of the Absolute. On this view the identity of the self could not be an identity of substance, as all selves are attributes of the same substance. We have taken a view which puts the self higher, and makes each self, not an attribute of one sole self-subsistent substance, but itself a self-subsistent substance, though not an isolated one.
(True self-subsistence is incompatible with isolation. We can only get self-determination by means of determination by others.) This view is brought out by calling the personal identity an identity of substance.
Since substance and attributes are only two aspects of the same reality, the identical substance will have identical attributes. It might seem at first sight as if identity of attributes was not a condition of personal identity. For the whole question of that identity can only arise when there is change of some sort, and, if a thing changes, how can its attributes be identical? In all the changes, however, which the character of a thing or a person may undergo, there is an aspect which is permanent and unchanging, and it is on that aspect that our attention is fixed when we speak of identity of attributes through change. For example, a man who was honourable in his youth meets with certain temptations, and becomes a scoundrel in old age. From one point of view this is a considerable change in his attributes. But from another they are unchanged.
For, while he was still an honourable man, it was part of his character that, under certain circumstances, he would become a scoundrel.
And, after that has occurred, it is still part of his character – still a predicate which may be applied to him and may help to describe him – that, before those circumstances occurred, he was an honourable man.
It is this identity of attributes which is involved, I think, in personal identity. There is a very real difference, certainly, between a potential and an actual characteristic, and the permanent element which persists all through change does not explain that change away, or render it less perplexing. But the permanent element does exist, and it is in respect of that element that, in spite of the change, we ascribe personal identity to the changed person. The question presents itself – unfortunately without an answer – how a permanent and changeless character comes to develop itself in time and change. But this is only part of the larger problem – equally insoluble – how change of any sort is possible, when the ultimate reality is a timeless Absolute.
43. This view seems to avoid several difficulties which stand in the way of the theory that personal identity consists in memory. Personal identity, no doubt, is the identity of a conscious being, but it does not at all follow from this that it must be an identity of which the possessor is conscious. Such a theory, to begin with, makes personal identity something which continually fluctuates. I may have completely forgotten some.
past episode in my life, and then be vividly reminded of it by discovering an old letter. If identity lies simply in memory, we must bold that I had ceased to be identical with the person who had taken part in those events, and that, after I had found the letter, I became identical with him again.
We do not only forget what is insignificant. We often forget events which make a profound difference to the whole of our future lives, because we were too young or too dull to appreciate their significance.
And no man could possibly remember all the acts or forbearances, each by itself trifling, which helped to form his character. And yet it was surely he who did them. If the man who instinctively acts unselfishly in an emergency were not the same man whose forgotten choices of unselfishness have determined that instinctive action, would personal identity have any meaning at all? And if the past cannot form part of our personal identity unless it is remembered, what about a past that is remembered, but has never taken place? George the Fourth said, and apparently in good faith, that he remembered that he had fought at Waterloo. Similar delusions can be produced by hypnotism. The belief in the patient’s mind is exactly the same as if it were a case of truthful memory. If, then, it is this belief on which personal identity hangs, it would seem that personal identity must be admitted here. And yet would any one be prepared to say that, if A could be made by hypnotism to “remember” B’s past, he would thereupon become identical with B? Nor does personal identity seem to have much meaning if it loses its connection with the special and unique interest which we feel in our own future as distinguished from that of anyone else. Our interest in the well-being of others may be as real as our interest in our own, it may even be stronger, but it is never the same. Now suppose a man could be assured that in a short time he would lose for ever all memory of the past. Would he consider this to be annihilation, and take no more interest in the person of similar character who would occupy his old body than he would in any stranger? Or would a man approaching the gate of hell lose all selfish regret for his position if he was assured that memory, as well as hope, must be left behind on his entrance? It is not, I think, found that believers in transmigration are indifferent to their fate after their next death. And yet they believe, in the majority of cases, that the next death will, for the time at least, break the chain of memory as completely as the last did.
44. Another theory which has been held on this subject is that personal identity consists simply in continuity of character. We must hold a and ß to be successive states of the same person, if the effect of the circumstances in which a occurred would be to change a into ß by the time we observe ß. This theory is prominent in Buddhist metaphysics.
Its practical results are the same as those of the theory I have advocated above – that is, it would affirm and deny personal identity wherever the other theory affirmed or denied it. For identity of substance, we saw, was only the other side of identity of attributes, and identity of attributes must reveal itself in time as an ordered succession of changes, of which each determines the next. So that, admitting that personal identity lay in identity of substance, our way of determining whether two states belonged to the same person would be to endeavour to trace a causal relation between them. The difference between the two theories is one of explanation, not of application. The theory as held by Buddhists is involved in all the difficulties of extreme sensationalism. For it denies the existence of all substance, and makes the self into a bundle of attributes, which are attributes of nothing.
45. In attempting, as I have attempted, to demonstrate the immortality of the self as a consequence of an idealist system, it is impossible to forget that the latest idealist system considers immortality to be improbable.
Mr Bradley’s authority on this point is very great. He does not call himself a Hegelian. But few professed Hegelians, if any, understand the secret of Hegel’s philosophy so well. And few professed Hegelians, I will venture to say, are so thoroughly Hegelian in spirit.
His definition of the Absolute, too, has much resemblance to Hegel’s. It is therefore of the greatest importance to us that he should have come to a negative decision about immortality. His main reason for doing so is his belief that the idea of the self cannot be considered as an adequate representation of reality. He discusses, from this point of view, several meanings which may be given to the word self. With regard to all of these meanings but one, few people, I think, would disagree with his conclusion that they are too confused and contradictory to be accepted as adequate to reality. But when we come to the self as the subject of knowledge, the reasons given for rejecting it do not seem so satisfactory.
He objects that we cannot find in the self any content which is always subject and never object. Or, if we can, at most it is the pure I, which, taken by itself, is completely trivial, indeed unmeaning, and cannot be accepted as a key to the nature of all reality. Whatever is object, however, is not-self, and thus the self dwindles away on examination. If we take what is pure self only, we have an unmeaning abstraction. If we take in any content, we find that it is – at any rate potentially – not-self. 
46. All this is doubtless quite true. The only element in self which is self and nothing else is an abstraction, which, taken by itself, is a nonentity.
And the self had only reality by including in itself that which is just as much not-self. But it is not clear why this should be considered as affecting the adequacy of the idea of self.
If any person, indeed, were to assert that the self was an adequate representation of reality, and at the same time to identify the self with the pure I, taken in abstraction from anything else, his position would be absolutely untenable. But the knowing self is not at all identical with the pure I, which, if taken in abstraction, neither knows anything nor is anything. The knowing self is a concrete whole of which the pure I is one abstract element. It is doubtless an indispensable element. It is doubtless meaningless when taken in abstraction. But between these two facts there is no contradiction. Whenever one element of a concrete whole is taken in abstraction the same thing recurs. Taken by itself it is meaningless, for it is only an element, and can only exist in combination with the other element. But it is also essential, for, if it is withdrawn, it leaves nothing but another abstract element, and this by itself would also be meaningless.
The other element, besides the pure I, which is found in the knowing self is the not-self. Why should this not be so? It is doubtless paradoxical in the highest degree, as has been pointed out above. The self can only exist in so far as its content is both in and outside it. By the very act of knowledge it at once accepts the content as part of itself, and repels it as an independent reality. And thus no limits can be put to the self. For if we exclude whatever is not self, the self shrinks to a point, and vanishes altogether. On the other hand, if we include all that is self, it includes all of which we are conscious, and, in the ideal self, would include the whole of reality.
But is there any reason why this should induce Mr Bradley to reject the idea of self as inadequate? His own idea of the Absolute is highly paradoxical, and yet he rightly declines to see in this any objection to its truth. And if the idea of the Absolute is paradoxical, it is surely to be expected that, if we are able to arrive at an adequate idea of the differentiations of the Absolute, that idea will also be paradoxical. If the abstract understanding cannot accept the truth about the unity, is it probable that it will be able to accept the truth about the plurality which adequately expresses that unity? It would seem that it is rather the absence of paradox than its presence that should be looked upon with suspicion here.
The adequacy of the idea, of course, is not in the least proved by its paradoxical nature. It could only be proved by a detailed deduction from the nature of the Absolute, of the kind which I have attempted above.
What I contend here is, that the idea is not proved to be false because it is paradoxical.
47. Treating more directly of immortality, Mr Bradley points out that our desire for immortality affords no reasonable ground for believing in it. This cannot be denied. An idealistic theory of the universe may perhaps justify us in believing that the fundamental nature of spirit will eventually gain its full realisation, and that all desires which really express that fundamental nature will be gratified. But then what human desires do really express the fundamental nature of spirit? That could only be settled by an investigation into the nature of reality so thorough that it would probably settle the question of immortality in a less circuitous fashion by directly deducing its necessity or impossibility. Our field of observation is too small to make induction of the least value. A large proportion of the western world, no doubt, desire immortality. But even if the whole human race had done so from the beginning of history (and this is notoriously not the case), this would have no more force than the desire entertained by a certain proportion of them that the wicked should spend their eternal life in everlasting torment.
48. Mr Bradley seems to doubt if immortality would give the relief for the sake of which it is demanded. He says, with profound truth, that the partings made by life are harder to bear than those made by death. But are not the partings of life one of those troubles for which the help of immortality is most passionately demanded? In proportion as love has prospered on earth, its cessation at death seems less intolerable.
For in such fruition, however short, there is an element of eternity, which, so far as it goes, makes its cessation in time irrelevant. It is when the mischances either of life or death have interfered between the birth and the fulness of emotion that our longing for another chance is strongest and deepest. These however are questions which philosophy can presume neither to neglect nor to discuss at length. And would immortality help us? On this point, also, Mr Bradley seems doubtful. Much depends, no doubt, on whether we are to hold that time, taking reality as a whole, brings progress with it. The point is too large to be discussed in passing. Of course, on Hegel’s system, we cannot regard progress as ultimately real. But then neither can we, on that system, regard time or imperfection as ultimately real. And the more probable conclusion seems to be that progress is as real as the imperfection for the removal of which it is needed. Even, however, if this were not so, and we had reason to suppose the world not to be progressing in time, but to be on a dead level, that dead level, I think, would be higher if selves were immortal than if they were not. For the deepest longings of our nature are also the most persistent.
It is easy enough, as experience shows, for unfavourable circumstances to thwart them for the space of a single life. But it would be far more improbable that the circumstances should never become favourable to them throughout a duration indefinitely prolonged. And, in matters of this kind, gain, once achieved, is not altogether cancelled by a subsequent loss.
49. Lotze adds another to the list of the idealists who consider that we have no evidence for immortality. We have only “this general idealistic conviction; that every created thing will continue, if and so long as its continuance belongs to the meaning of the world; that everything will pass away which had its authorised place only in a transitory phase of the world’s course. That this principle admits of no further application in human hands hardly needs to be mentioned. We certainly do not know the merits which may give to one existence a claim to eternity, nor the defects which deny it to others."
50. Lotze’s philosophy, as has been generally admitted, bears a resemblance on many points to Hegel’s. His opinion, however, need not inspire any doubts in us as to the Hegelian character of a belief in immortality, for he differs from Hegel on the very point which is of cardinal importance for this belief, namely the relation of the differentiations of the unity to the unity itself.
In his Metaphysic he demonstrates that the universe must be fundamentally one. But what he does not demonstrate is that it is also fundamentally many. In demonstrating its fundamental unity he started from the point of view of common sense and physical science which regards the universe as a manifold only externally connected. And he seems to have assumed that so much of this view was true as made the universe a manifold, and to have thought it only necessary to correct it by showing that it was equally really a unity. But it is not safe to trust in metaphysics to the uncritical beliefs of common life. They must in a sense be our starting-point, but only to be criticised, not to be accepted in their own right. And as Lotze had just been proving that half of the common-sense view, the merely external connection of the manifold, was erroneous, it is curious that he should not have seen that the other half, if it was to be retained, would require demonstration. Thus the result of his treatment in the Metaphysic is that the unity is in a position of greater importance and security than the differentiation. For it has been demonstrated that the universe must be fundamentally one, but not that it must be fundamentally many.
When we pass to Lotze’s treatment of the Philosophy of Religion we find this unity changed in its character. In the Metaphysic it had no name but M. It was scarcely suggested that it was spiritual. Its main function was to permit interaction between its various manifestations.
But now it has been transformed into a personal God. There is no reason to doubt that Lotze’s mature judgment held this transition to be valid. His fullest treatment, indeed, of the unity as a personal God, is in the Microcosmus, which is earlier than the Metaphysic. But the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion take the same line as the Microcosmus. And we must therefore take the M of the Metaphysic as only a provisional stage in the process of determining all reality as a personal God.
This change in the nature of M rendered it very desirable that Lotze should be able to consider the unity as deeper than its plurality of manifestations, and as not exhausted by them. It might be possible to consider a unity as personal, even if it was completely manifested in a system of persons. (It must be remembered that Lotze held that we could not conceive the finite manifestations of the Absolute except as conscious.) But it is clear that it would he much easier to conceive it as personal, if it were taken as being more than could be expressed in such manifestations, and as being logically prior to them, instead of being simply their complement. Moreover, for ethical and religious reasons Lotze was anxious to make his God something higher than the world of plurality, and, therefore, something more than the unity of that plurality.
This he was enabled to do, because, as we have seen, he had, in his determination of M in the Metaphysic, left, perhaps unconsciously, the unity in a much stronger position than the plurality, having proved the necessity of the one, and not of the other. And, now, when M had developed into a personal God, the same characteristic was preserved. His God is not quite the God of ordinary theology. For he is not merely the highest reality, but the only reality, and (in spite of various occasional expressions to the contrary) Lotze appears still to take the finite world as God’s manifestation rather than his creature. But there is no logical equality between the unity which is Lotze’s God and the plurality which is his world. The plurality is dependent on the unity, but not the unity on the plurality. The only existence of the world is in God, but God’s only existence is not in the world.
51. We have not to enquire if this theory is tenable. It is sufficient that it is Lotze’s theory, and that it would make any demonstration of immortality quite impossible. Our only guarantee of the immortality of a self would be a demonstration that the existence of that self was essential to the Absolute. And this could only be the case if it were a necessity for the Absolute to manifest itself in that particular self. Now the personal God who is Lotze’s Absolute has no such necessity as part of his nature. He exists otherwise than as he is manifested. And from this Lotze is justified in drawing the conclusion that he could exist with different manifestations from those which he at present has. For the present manifestations could cease without God being changed. And it is only his nature of whose permanence we are assured.
But all this is based on one of the points where Lotze differs from Hegel, – the elevation of the unity of the Absolute above its differentiation as more fundamental. And consequently Lotze’s rejection of immortality cannot give us the least reason to suppose that a similar rejection would be consequent on, or compatible with, Hegel’s philosophy.
For with Hegel the unity and the plurality are strictly correlative. The plurality has no meaning except to be combined into the unity,. But the unity has no meaning except to be differentiated into the plurality. And not into some plurality or the other, but into that particular plurality.
And so we must reject the foundation of Lotze’s argument – the possibility of changing the plurality without affecting the unity.
52. Lotze has another objection to immortality. He is considering the argument for immortality which might be derived from the view of the soul as a “stable atom” in a world whose unity is only external. Of this reasoning he says, “we might be glad to accept its guarantee for immortality.. .but the other conclusion which is forced on us at the same time, the infinite pre-existence of the soul before the life we know, remains, like the immortality of the souls of all animals, strange and improbable.”  The conception of the self as a stable atom is not, of course, the one which we have put forward. But our view also seems to involve the pro-existence of the self in time. The universe was certainly manifesting itself in time before I was born. And to suppose that parts of reality could be in time, while other parts were not, scarcely seems compatible with the unity of all reality. The more probable hypothesis is that the whole of reality, in itself timeless, is manifested throughout the whole of time. The infinite pre-existence of the self would not necessarily follow from this. For, at any rate, there is no greater contradiction in supposing time to have begun, than in supposing that an infinite series has elapsed. But its pre-existence throughout time would be a fair inference.
Nor is there anything about the present existence of each of us which would suggest the view that it was, in each case, the first of a series destined to be indefinitely prolonged.
53. Our lives indeed are so fragmentary that, in trying to explain them, we are almost tied down to two alternatives – either they mean nothing, or they are episodes in a long chain. That they should mean nothing – or at least nothing except as a means to something else – is not compatible with the view of the self which we have been led to adopt. And any attempt to give them meaning would seem to require that they should not be the only manifestations in time of the selves which experience them, but should form part of a longer process, stretching before as well as after.
Neither this nor any other hypothesis can explain for us the ultimate mystery why any evil or unhappiness exists. But this hypothesis might at any rate enable us to see some possibility of an explanation why they seem to us, who can only see one life of each self at once, to he so unequally distributed. The evidence which we could gain by such empirical observation, indeed, could never by itself be strong enough to give any reason for belief in our pre-existence. But what little weight it has, will be on that side.
Lotze calls this belief strange and unsatisfactory. If he means by its strangeness that it is unusual, he has made no very serious objection.
And it is only unusual if we limit ourselves to the western world. For its strangeness, if strangeness means extravagance, and for its unsatisfactoriness, he does not give any arguments. And till some are given, the mere assertion is not of much importance. There seems to be an implication that the idea of pre-existence is one that we should not accept willingly. But this would prove nothing against its truth. A system of idealism, indeed, may lay claim to so much optimism as to believe that the universe is bound to honour all the demands made on it by the true nature of the human spirit. But the present and past desire of most, or even of all people, who now exist on this earth, or are known to us through history, would not necessarily be an inevitable and permanent demand of the human spirit.
54. But why should the belief in pro-existence be held to be unsatisfactory? Mainly, I think, for this reason. We do not now remember anything of any previous life, and if, nevertheless, we have lived previously, there seems no reason to expect that we shall be able to remember our present lives during subsequent lives. And an existence thus cut up into comparatively isolated lives, none of which can remember anything but itself, may be thought to have no value from a practical standpoint. We might as well be mortal, it may be maintained, as immortal without a memory beyond the present life.
It is quite true that a life which remembers so small a part of itself must be rather fragmentary. But then this is an objection to all life in time, whether it could all be remembered or not, for all life in time declares itself, by that very fact, to be imperfect. If time is itself a transitory form, and one with which eternity will some day dispense, then the reality which now forms a time-series will be timelessly present in a way which would render memory quite superfluous. But if time is to continue in a never-ending duration, then an infinite series of lives forgetful of the past would not be more meaningless, and would certainly be less dreary, than a single unending life cursed with a continually growing memory of its own false infinity. If we can get rid of time, we can dispense with memory. If we cannot get rid of time, memory would become intolerable.
55. If each life had no effect on its successors, then, indeed, there would be little point in calling them all lives of the same person. But no one has suggested that this would be the case. If the same self passes through different lives, it is certain that whatever modifications in its nature took place in one life would be reproduced in the next. For this is involved in that continuity of attributes, which, as we have seen above, is the form which personal identity takes sub specie temporis. Death and rebirth, no doubt, are in themselves facts of sufficient importance to modify a character considerably, but they could only work on what was already present) and the nature with which each individual starts in any life would be moulded by his actions and experiences in the past.
The different lives of each self, too, must be regarded not only as bound together in a chain of efficient causality, but as developing towards an end according to final causality. For all change in time, for the individual as well as for the universe, must be taken as ultimately deter mined by the end of developing as a series the full content of the timeless reality, with no other incompleteness or imperfection than that which is inseparable from the form of a series in time. The steps of such a process would surely form more than a merely nominal unity.
56. To such a view as this the objection has been made that the rebirth of a self without a memory of its previous life would he exactly equivalent to the annihilation of that self, and the creation of a new self of similar character. Now, it is argued I should not regard myself as immortal, if I knew that I was to be annihilated at death, even if I knew that an exactly similar individual would then be created. And therefore, it is urged rebirth without memory cannot be considered as real immortality of the self.
But the objection supposes an impossibility. There could not be another self of exactly similar character to me. For the self is not a Ding an sich, which can change independently of its qualities. The self is a substance with attributes, and the substance has no nature except to express itself in its attributes. If, therefore, the attributes were exactly the same, so would the substance be, and I should not be annihilated at all. But if there were a new self, there must be a breach in the continuity of the attributes, caused by the annihilation and the creation. Then the new self would not be exactly similar to me, and the parallel to rebirth fails, since with rebirth there is no interruption whatever in the continuity of the attributes. Thus the continuity of the attributes is always sufficient to preserve personal identity, not because it would be sufficient if the substance changed, but because it proves that the substance remains unchanged.
But can we, it may be asked, suppose that a series of lives, under different circumstances and with different surroundings, could ever form a continuous development? There is no reason that I know of for supposing that successive lives should show sudden and discontinuous variations, even in their outer circumstances. But, if they did, they might yet be part of a continuous development. For such outer circumstances are only of significance as means and expressions for the growth of the persons who live in them, and a continually developing end may avail itself of discontinuous variations of the means. What could be more irrationally discontinuous than the movements of the members of an orchestra would seem to a deaf man? And yet the music which they produce may be a living unity revealing itself in a continuous scheme.
If indeed we suppose that the circumstances of our successive lives are determined by chance, or by laws. of merely efficient causation, the probability that they could be made subservient to a continuous development would be infinitesimal. But, if the dialectic has taught us anything, it has taught us that chance does not exist, and that efficient causation is a category of merely relative truth, which must he transcended when we seek to know reality adequately. The circumstances of our respective lives can only be determined by the true nature of the Absolute, and can therefore afford no hindrance to the development of the true nature of the Absolute. Nor, since the whole is perfectly in every part, can they afford any hindrance to the development of the true nature of each self. For any hindrance to the development of any self would be a hindrance to the development of the Absolute.
Thus we may lay down a general principle as to the continuity of external circumstances from life to life. In so far as it is necessary to the continuous development of the self, it will be present. In so far as it is not present, we may be sure that it is not required for the continuous development of the self.
57. The true nature of reality has been shown to be the manifestation of the Absolute in individuals, or the unity of individuals in the Absolute – in other words, the relation of self to self. But, if the relations between selves are the only timeless reality, and the establishment of these relations the only progress in time – how, it may be asked, can progress be made in a series of separate lives? If what is experienced before each death is forgotten after it, how can any personal relation survive? Shall we not be for ever limited to the amount which can be developed in a single life, and be doomed continually to form fresh relations to be continually swept away by death? We are certain of this, at any rate – that the personal relations of one life must have much to do in determining the personal relations of the next. The relations which men form with one another depend ultimately on two things – on their characters, and on the circumstances into which they are born. Now a man’s character at rebirth would be clearly influenced by the personal relations he had previously formed.
With regard to the causes that would determine rebirth we could only know that they would proceed from the nature of the Absolute in so far as it was manifested in that individual at that time. The personal relations he had formed immediately previously would certainly be a part of the way in which the Absolute was manifesting itself just then in that individual. On our theory, indeed, they would be by far the most important and significant part, since in them alone would the true meaning of reality become more or less explicit. It is clear then that they would have much to do in determining the circumstances of rebirth.
58. “And yet,” it may be replied, “though they might be determined by them, they would be different from them. The new relations would not be the old ones, and thus it would still be true that the continuity was broken at each death.” Of course, without memory the relations could not be known to be the same. But they might, nevertheless, be the same.
At all events, the more intimate of our relations have a depth of significance which is often absurdly disproportionate to those causes of which we are conscious. These relations, ultimate facts as they doubtless are sub specie aeternitatis, must, as arising in time, have antecedents. Is it rash to suggest that the most probable antecedent to love is love, and that, if our choices appear unreasoned, it is only because the memories which would justify them have condensed into an instinct which despises justification? Analogous cases may be found in the power to diagnose a disease, or to pronounce on the authenticity of a picture. These powers are often gained by long practice, and yet their possessors are often unable to give any reasons for perfectly correct decisions, because – in this case without the break of death – the memory of past experience has ceased to be memory, and has become an instinct.
Whether this be so or not, we may at any rate expect that a relation, once established, would not only determine the course of future lives, but would be reproduced in them. For we have seen that the only eternal reality is related persons. And if a personal relation exists in time, it would seem difficult to account for it except by supposing that that very relation between those very persons was ultimate and eternal – though of course in far greater perfection than is possible in its temporal manifestation.
 And if its significance is ultimate and eternal, its appearance in time must be persistent, or at least recurrent. For how could the individual develop in time, if an ultimate element of his nature was destined not to recur in time? The length of the intervals which may elapse between two recurrences does not, of course, admit of prediction. But we know that nothing can be lost. And we know that personal relations cannot be transcended, because there is nothing higher. They must therefore be preserved as themselves, and preservation, sub specie temporis, means persistence and recurrence.
59. Thus everything is not lost with the loss of memory. We may go further. Can anything be eventually lost? If the only reality is an eternal system of personal relations, then any event can only be an inadequate way of expressing part of that system. And so, in such a system of personal relations, all the meaning and all the value of every event would exist – synthesised, transcended, but not lost.
Something closely analogous to this does unquestionably exist within the limits of a single life, and can be perceived by direct observation.
When a personal relation has existed for many years, many of the events which formed its temporal content, and had importance and significance at the time, are completely forgotten. But we do not regard them as lost, for we recognize that each of them has done its part in moulding the relationship which exists at present. And so they are preserved – preserved indeed far more perfectly than they could be in memory. For, in memory, each of them would be a mere potentiality, except in the moment when it was actually thought of, while, as factors of disposition, they are all permanently real.
60. I am not denying – it would certainly be useless to deny – that, to a man who is living a particular life in time, the prospect that he will cease to remember that life – even by transcending memory – will always appear a loss and a breach of continuity. Arguments may convince him that this is a delusion, but they will not remove the feeling. Nor is it to be expected that this should be otherwise. A Synthesis can only be seen to preserve the true value of its terms in so far as we have attained to the standpoint of the Synthesis. And so a process towards perfection can never be perfectly painless. For the surrender of imperfection could only be quite painless to the perfect individual, and till the process is completed he is not perfect.