Appearance and Reality/Appendix/Note A

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Note A. Contradiction, and the Contrary.[1]

If we are asked “What is contrary or contradictory?” (I do not find it necessary here to distinguish between these), the more we consider the more difficult we find it to answer. “A thing cannot be or do two opposites at once and in the same respect”—this reply at first sight may seem clear, but on reflection may threaten us with an unmeaning circle. For what are “opposites” except the adjectives which the thing cannot so combine? Hence we have said no more than that we in fact find predicates which in fact will not go together, and our further introduction of their “opposite” nature seems to add nothing. “Opposites will not unite, and their apparent union is mere appearance.” But the mere appearance really perhaps only lies in their intrinsic opposition. And if one arrangement has made them opposite, a wider arrangement may perhaps unmake their opposition, and may include them all at once and harmoniously. Are, in short, opposites really opposite at all, or are they, after all, merely different? Let us attempt to take them in this latter character.

“A thing cannot without an internal distinction be (or do[2]) two different things, and differences cannot belong to the same thing in the same point unless in that point there is diversity. The appearance of such a union may be fact, but is for thought a contradiction.” This is the thesis which to me seems to contain the truth about the contrary, and I will now try to recommend this thesis to the reader.

The thesis in the first place does not imply that the end which we seek is tautology. Thought most certainly does not demand mere sameness, which to it would be nothing. A bare tautology (Hegel has taught us this, and I wish we could all learn it) is not even so much as a poor truth or a thin truth. It is not a truth in any way, in any sense, or at all. Thought involves analysis and synthesis, and if the Law of Contradiction forbade diversity, it would forbid thinking altogether. And with this too necessary warning I will turn to the other side of the difficulty. Thought cannot do without differences, but on the other hand it cannot make them. And, as it cannot make them, so it cannot receive them merely from the outside and ready-made. Thought demands to go proprio motu, or, what is the same thing, with a ground and reason. Now to pass from A to B, if the ground remains external, is for thought to pass with no ground at all. But if, again, the external fact of A’s and B’s conjunction is offered as a reason, then that conjunction itself creates the same difficulty. For thought’s analysis can respect nothing, nor is there any principle by which at a certain point it should arrest itself or be arrested. Every distinguishable aspect becomes therefore for thought a diverse element to be brought to unity. Hence thought can no more pass without a reason from A or from B to its conjunction, than before it could pass groundlessly from A to B. The transition, being offered as a mere datum, or effected as a mere fact, is not thought’s own self-movement. Or in other words, because for thought no ground can be merely external, the passage is groundless. Thus A and B and their conjunction are, like atoms, pushed in from the outside by chance or fate; and what is thought to do with them but either make or accept an arrangement which to it is wanton and without reason,—or, having no reason for anything else, attempt against reason to identify them simply?

“This is not so,” I shall be told, “and the whole case is otherwise. There are certain ultimate complexes given to us as facts, and these ultimates, as they are given, thought simply takes up as principles and employs them to explain the detail of the world. And with this process thought is satisfied.” To me such a doctrine is quite erroneous. For these ultimates (a) cannot make the world intelligible, and again (b) they are not given, and (c) in themselves they are self-contradictory, and not truth but appearance.

Certainly for practice we have to work with appearance and with relative untruths, and without these things the sciences of course would not exist. There is, I suppose, here no question about all this, and all this is irrelevant. The question here is whether with so much as this the intellect can be satisfied, or whether on the other hand it does not find in the end defect and self-contradiction. Consider first (a) the failure of what is called “explanation.” The principles taken up are not merely in themselves not rational, but, being limited, they remain external to the facts to be explained. The diversities therefore will only fall, or rather must be brought, under the principle. They do not come out of it, nor of themselves do they bring themselves under it. The explanation therefore in the end does but conjoin aliens inexplicably. The obvious instance is the mechanical interpretation of the world. Even if here the principles were rational intrinsically, as surely they are not, they express but one portion of a complex whole. The rest therefore, even when and where it has been “brought under” the principles, is but conjoined with them externally and for no known reason. Hence in the explanation there is in the end neither self-evidence nor any “because” except that brutally things come so.

“But in any case,” I may hear, “these complexes are given and do not contradict themselves,” and let us take these points in their order. (b) The transition from A to B, the inherence of b and c as adjectives in A, the union of discretion and continuity in time and space—“such things are facts,” it is said. “They are given to an intellect which is satisfied to accept and to employ them.” They may be facts, I reply, in some sense of that word, but to say that, as such and in and by themselves, they are given is erroneous. What is given is a presented whole, a sensuous total in which these characters are found; and beyond and beside these characters there is always given something else. And to urge “but at any rate these characters are there,” is surely futile. For certainly they are not, when there, as they are when you by an abstraction have taken them out. Your contention is that certain ultimate conjunctions of elements are given. And I reply that no such bare conjunction is or possibly can be given. For the background is present, and the background and the conjunction are, I submit, alike integral aspects of the fact. The background therefore must be taken as a condition of the conjunction’s existence, and the intellect must assert the conjunction subject in this way to a condition. The conjunction is hence not bare but dependent, and it is really a connection mediated by something falling outside it. A thing, for example, with its adjectives can never be simply given. It is given integrally with a mass of other features, and when it is affirmed of Reality it is affirmed of Reality qualified by this presented background. And this Reality (to go further) is and must be qualified also by what transcends any one presentation. Hence the mere complex, alleged to be given to the intellect, is really a selection made by or accepted by that intellect. An abstraction cuts away a mass of environing particulars, and offers the residue bare, as something given and to be accepted free from supporting conditions. And for working purposes such an artifice is natural and necessary, but to offer it as ultimate fact seems to me to be monstrous. We have an intellectual product, to be logically justified, if indeed that could be possible, and most certainly we have not a genuine datum.

At this point we may lay down an important result. The intellect cannot be reduced to choose between accepting an irrational conjunction or rejecting something given. For the intellect can always accept the conjunction not as bare but as a connection, the bond of which is at present unknown. It is taken therefore as by itself appearance which is less or more false in proportion as the unknown conditions, if filled in, less or more would swamp and transform it. The intellect therefore while rejecting whatever is alien to itself, if offered as absolute, can accept the inconsistent if taken as subject to conditions. Beside absolute truth there is relative truth, useful opinion, and validity, and to this latter world belong so-called non-rational facts.[3]

(c) And any mere conjunction, I go on to urge, is for thought self-contradictory. Thought, I may perhaps assume, implies analysis and synthesis and distinction in unity. Further the mere conjunction offered to thought cannot be set apart itself as something sacred, but may itself properly and indeed must become thought’s object. There will be a passage therefore from one element in this conjunction to its other element or elements. And on the other hand, by its own nature, thought must hold these in unity. But, in a bare conjunction, starting with A thought will externally be driven to B, and seeking to unite these it will find no ground of union. Thought can of itself supply no internal bond by which to hold them together, nor has it any internal diversity by which to maintain them apart. It must therefore seek barely to identify them, though they are different, or somehow to unite both diversities where it has no ground of distinction and union. And this does not mean that the connection is merely unknown and may be affirmed as unknown, and also, supposing it were known, as rational. For, if so, the conjunction would at once not be bare, and it is as bare that it is offered and not as conditional. But, if on the other hand it remains bare, then thought to affirm it must unite diversities without any internal distinction, and the attempt to do this is precisely what contradiction means.

“But,” I shall be told, “you misrepresent the case. What is offered is not the elements apart, nor the elements plus an external bond, but the elements together and in conjunction.” Yes, I reply, but the question is how thought can think what is offered. If thought in its own nature possessed a “together,” a “between,” and an “all at once,” then in its own intrinsic passage, or at least somehow in its own way and manner, it could re-affirm the external conjunction. But if these sensible bonds of union fall outside the inner nature of thought, just as much as do the sensible terms which they outwardly conjoin—the case surely is different. Then forced to distinguish and unable to conjoin by its own proper nature, or with a reason, thought is confronted by elements that strive to come together without a way of union. The sensible conjunctions remain for thought mere other elements in the congeries, themselves failing in connection and external to others. And, on the other hand, driven to unite without internal distinction thought finds in this attempt a self-contradiction. You may exclaim against thought’s failure, and in this to some degree I am with you; but the fact remains thus. Thought cannot accept tautology and yet demands unity in diversity. But your offered conjunctions on the other side are for it no connections or ways of union. They are themselves merely other external things to be connected. And so thought, knowing what it wants, refuses to accept something different, something which for it is appearance, a self-inconsistent attempt at reality and truth. It is idle from the outside to say to thought, “Well, unite but do not identify.” How can thought unite except so far as in itself it has a mode of union? To unite without an internal ground of connection and distinction is to strive to bring together barely in the same point, and that is self-contradiction.

Things are not contrary because they are opposite, for things by themselves are not opposite. And things are not contrary because they are diverse, for the world as a fact holds diversity in unity. Things are self-contrary when, and just so far as, they appear as bare conjunctions, when in order to think them you would have to predicate differences without an internal ground of connection and distinction, when, in other words, you would have to unite diversities simply, and that means in the same point. This is what contradiction means, or I at least have been able to find no other meaning. For a mere “together,” a bare conjunction in space or time, is for thought unsatisfactory and in the end impossible. It depends for its existence on our neglecting to reflect, or on our purposely abstaining, so far as it is concerned, from analysis and thought. But any such working arrangement, however valid, is but provisional. On the other hand, we have found that no intrinsical opposites exist, but that contraries, in a sense, are made. Hence in the end nothing is contrary nor is there any insoluble contradiction. Contradictions exist so far only as internal distinction seems impossible, only so far as diversities are attached to one unyielding point assumed, tacitly or expressly, to be incapable of internal diversity or external complement. But any such fixture is an abstraction, useful perhaps, but in the end appearance. And thus, where we find contradiction, there is something limited and untrue which invites us to transcend it.

Standing contradictions appear where the subject is narrowed artificially, and where diversity in the identity is taken as excluded. A thing cannot be at once in two places if in the “at once” there is no lapse, nor can one place have two bodies at once if both claim it in their character as extended. The soul cannot affirm and deny at a single time, unless (as some perhaps rightly hold) the self itself may be divided. And, to speak in general, the more narrowly we take the subject, and the less internal ground for diversity it contains, the more it threatens us with standing or insoluble contradictions. But, we may add, so much the more abstractedness and less truth does such a subject possess. We may instance the presence of “disparate” qualities, such as white, hard and hot, in a single thing. The “thing” is presented as one feature of an indefinite complex, and it is affirmed as predicate of a reality transcending what is given. It is hence capable in all ways of indefinite addition to its apparent character. And to deny that in the “real thing” can be an internal diversity and ground of distinction seems quite irrational. But so far as for convenience or from thoughtlessness the denial is made, and the real thing is identified with our mutilated and abstract view of the thing—so far the disparate qualities logically clash and become contradictory.[4]

The Law of Contradiction tells us that we must not simply identify the diverse, since their union involves a ground of distinction. So far as this ground is rightly or wrongly excluded, the Law forbids us to predicate diversities. Where the ground is merely not explicit or remains unknown, our assertion of any complex is provisional and contingent. It may be valid and good, but it is an incomplete appearance of the real, and its truth is relative. Yet, while it offers itself as but contingent truth and as more or less incomplete appearance, the Law of Contradiction has nothing against it. But abstracted and irrational conjunctions taken by themselves as reality and truth, in short “facts” as they are accepted by too many philosophers, the Law must condemn. And about the truth of this Law, so far as it applies, there is in my opinion no question. The question will be rather as to how far the Law applies and how far therefore it is true.

But before we conclude, there is a matter we may do well to consider. In this attempt to attribute diversity and to avoid contradiction what in the end would satisfy the intellect supposing that it could be got? This question, I venture to think, is too often ignored. Too often a writer will criticise and condemn some view as being that which the mind cannot accept, when he apparently has never asked himself what it is that would satisfy the intellect, or even whether the intellect could endure his own implied alternative. What in the end then, let us ask, would content the intellect?

While the diversities are external to each other and to their union, ultimate satisfaction is impossible. There must, as we have seen, be an identity and in that identity a ground of distinction and connection. But that ground, if external to the elements into which the conjunction must be analyzed, becomes for the intellect a fresh element, and it itself calls for synthesis in a fresh point of unity. But hereon, because in the intellect no intrinsic connections were found, ensues the infinite process. Is there a remedy for this evil?

The remedy might lie here. If the diversities were complementary aspects of a process of connection and distinction, the process not being external to the elements or again a foreign compulsion of the intellect, but itself the intellect’s own proprius motus, the case would be altered. Each aspect would of itself be a transition to the other aspect, a transition intrinsic and natural at once to itself and to the intellect. And the Whole would be a self-evident analysis and synthesis of the intellect itself by itself. Synthesis here has ceased to be mere synthesis and has become self-completion, and analysis, no longer mere analysis, is self-explication. And the question how or why the many are one and the one is many here loses its meaning. There is no why or how beside the self-evident process, and towards its own differences this whole is at once their how and their why, their being, substance and system, their reason, ground, and principle of diversity and unity.

Has the Law of Contradiction anything here to condemn? It seems to me it has nothing. The identity of which diversities are predicated is in no case simple. There is no point which is not itself internally the transition to its complement, and there is no unity which fails in internal diversity and ground of distinction. In short “the identity of opposites,” far from conflicting with the Law of Contradiction, may claim to be the one view which satisfies its demands, the only theory which everywhere refuses to accept a standing contradiction.[5] And if all that we find were in the end such a self-evident and self-complete whole, containing in itself as constituent processes the detail of the Universe, so far as I see the intellect would receive satisfaction in full. But for myself, unable to verify a solution of this kind, connections in the end must remain in part mere syntheses, the putting together of differences external to one another and to that which couples them. And against my intellectual world the Law of Contradiction has therefore claims nowhere satisfied in full. And since, on the other hand, the intellect insists that these demands must be and are met, I am led to hold that they are met in and by a whole beyond the mere intellect. And in the intellect itself I seem to find an inner want and defect and a demand thus to pass itself beyond itself. And against this conclusion I have not yet seen any tenable objection.

The view which to me appears to be true is briefly this. That abstract identity should satisfy the intellect, even in part, is wholly impossible. On the other hand I cannot say that to me any principle or principles of diversity in unity are self-evident. The existence of a single content (I will not call it a quality) which should be simple experience and being in one is to me not in itself impossible intrinsically. If I may speak mythologically I am not sure that, if no diversity were given, the intellect of itself could invent it or would even demand it. But, since diversity is there as a fact, any such hypothesis seems illegitimate. As a fact and given we have in feeling diversity and unity in one whole, a whole implicit and not yet broken up into terms and relations. This immediate union of the one and many is an “ultimate fact” from which we start; and to hold that feeling, because immediate, must be simple and without diversity is, in my view, a doctrine quite untenable.[6] That I myself should have been taken as committed to this doctrine is to me, I must be allowed to add, really surprising. But feeling, if an ultimate fact, is not true ultimately or real. Even of itself it is self-transcendent and transitory. And, when we try to think its unity, then, as we have seen, we end in failure. For thought in its own nature has no “together” and is forced to move by way of terms and relations, and the unity of these remains in the end external and, because external, inconsistent. But the conclusion I would recommend is no vain attempt either to accept bare identity or to relapse into a stage before thinking begins. Self-existence and self-identity are to be found, I would urge, in a whole beyond thought, a whole to which thought points and in which it is included, but which is known only in abstract character and could not be verified in its detail.

And since I have been taken to build on assumptions which I am unable to recognize, I will here repeat what it is that I have assumed. I have assumed first that truth has to satisfy the intellect, and that what does not do this is neither true nor real. This assumption I can defend only by showing that any would-be objector assumes it also. And I start from the root-idea of being or experience, which is at once positive and ultimate. Then I certainly do not go on to assume about being that it must be self-contained, simple or what not?—but I proceed in another manner. I take up certain facts or truths (call them what you please) that I find are offered me, and I care very little what it is I take up. These facts or truths, as they are offered, I find my intellect rejects, and I go on to discover why it rejects them. It is because they contradict themselves. They offer, that is, a complex of diversities conjoined in a way which does not satisfy my intellect, a way which it feels is not its way and which it cannot repeat as its own, a way which for it results in mere collision. For, to be satisfied, my intellect must understand, and it cannot understand by taking a congeries, if I may say so, in the lump. My intellect may for certain purposes, to use an old figure, swallow mysteries unchewed, but unchewed it is unable in the end to stomach and digest them. It has not, as some opponents of Hegel would seem to assume, any such strange faculty of sensuous intuition. On the contrary my intellect is discursive, and to understand it must go from one point to another, and in the end also must go by a movement which it feels satisfies its nature. Thus, to understand a complex AB, I must begin with A or B. And beginning, say, with A, if I then merely find B, I have either lost A or I have got beside A something else, and in neither case have I understood. For my intellect cannot simply unite a diversity, nor has it in itself any form or way of togetherness, and you gain nothing if beside A and B you offer me their conjunction in fact. For to my intellect that is no more than another external element. And “facts,” once for all, are for my intellect not true unless they satisfy it. And, so far as they are not true, then, as they are offered, they are not reality.

From this I conclude that what is real must be self-contained and self-subsistent and not qualified from the outside. For an external qualification is a mere conjunction, and that, we have seen, is for the intellect an attempt of diversities simply to identify themselves, and such an attempt is what we mean by self-contradiction. Hence whatever is real must be qualified from itself, and that means that, so far as it is real, it must be self-contained and self-subsistent. And, since diversities exist, they must therefore somehow be true and real; and since, to be understood and to be true and real, they must be united, hence they must be true and real in such a way that from A or B the intellect can pass to its further qualification without an external determination of either. But this means that A and B are united, each from its own nature, in a whole which is the nature of both alike. And hence it follows that in the end there is nothing real but a whole of this kind.[7]

From the other side—Why do I hold reality to be a self-contained and self-consistent individual? It is because otherwise, if I admit an external determination and a qualification by an other, I am left with a conjunction, and that for the intellect is a self-contradiction. On the other hand the real cannot be simple, because, to be understood, it must somehow be taken with and be qualified by the diversity which is a fact. The diversity therefore must fall within and be subordinate to a self-determined whole, an individual system, and any other determination is incompatible with reality. These ideas may be mistaken, but to my mind they do not seem to be obscure, nor again are they novel. But if I may judge from the way in which some critics have taken them, they must involve some great obscurity or difficulty. But, not apprehending this, I am unfortunately unable to discuss it.[8]

We have found that nothing in itself is opposite and refuses to unite. Everything again is opposite if brought together into a point which owns no internal diversity. Every bare conjunction is therefore contradictory when taken up by thought, because thought in its nature is incapable of conjunction and has no way of mere “together.” On the other side no such conjunction is or possibly could be given. It is itself a mere abstraction, useful perhaps and so legitimate and so far valid, but taken otherwise to be condemned as the main root of error.

Contradiction is appearance, everywhere removable by distinction and by further supplement, and removed actually, if not in and by the mere intellect, by the whole which transcends it. On the other hand contradiction, or rather what becomes such, as soon as it is thought out, is everywhere necessary. Facts and views partial and one-sided, incomplete and so incoherent—things that offer themselves as characters of a Reality which they cannot express, and which present in them moves them to jar with and to pass beyond themselves—in a word appearances are the stuff of which the Universe is made. If we take them in their proper character we shall be prone neither to over-estimate nor to slight them.

We have now seen the nature of incompatibles or contraries. There are no native contraries, and we have found no reason to entertain such an idea. Things are contrary when, being diverse, they strive to be united in one point which in itself does not admit of internal diversity. And for the intellect any bare conjunction is an attempt of this sort. The intellect has in its nature no principle of mere togetherness, and the intellect again can accept nothing which is alien to itself. A foreign togetherness of elements is for the intellect, therefore, but one offered external element the more. And, since the intellect demands a unity, every distinguishable aspect of a “together” must be brought into one. And if in this unity no internal connection of diversity natural to the intellect can be found, we are left with a diversity belonging to and conjoined in one undistinguished point. And this is contradiction, and contradiction in the end we found was this and nothing but this. On the other hand we urged that bare irrational conjunctions are not given as facts. Every perceived complex is a selection from an indefinite background, and, when judged as real, it is predicated both of this background and of the Reality which transcends it. Hence in this background and beyond it lies, we may believe, the reason and the internal connection of all we take as a mere external “together.” Conjunction and contradiction in short is but our defect, our onesidedness, and our abstraction, and it is appearance and not Reality. But the reason we have to assume may in detail be not accessible to our intellect.


  1. Reprinted with omissions from Mind, N.S., No 20.
  2. This addition is superfluous.
  3. I use “validity” much in the sense in which it was made current, I believe, by Lotze, and in which it has been said, I presume, with some truth, partly to coincide with δόξα. For my own purposes I have tried elsewhere to fix the meaning of the term, and I think it would have been better if Mr. Hobhouse, in his interesting and most instructive volume on The Theory of Knowledge, had remembered, when concerned with myself, that what is self-contradictory may also for me be valid. I should find it in general very difficult to reply to Mr. Hobhouse’s criticisms on my views, because in so many places I have to doubt if I can have apprehended his meaning. I understand him e.g. to urge that a judgment must be categorically true, if its content can be shown to be “contained” in reality. But the question was, I supposed, not in the very least as to whether the content is contained in reality or not, but entirely as to how, being contained there, it is contained, i.e. whether categorically or otherwise. Again Mr. Hobhouse seems to assume that, if a complex (such as the inherence of diverse adjectives or the union of continuity and discretion) is “fact,” it therefore cannot be self-contradictory for thought. But surely the view he is engaged in controverting, holds precisely that to be false here which he, as far as I have seen, without any discussion assumes to be true. So that it is better that I should admit that I must have failed to follow the argument. If Mr. Hobhouse has in general understood the main drift of the view he criticises, I have not been able for the most part to understand his criticism, and I do not doubt that I am the loser.
  4. Of course the real thing or the reality of the thing may turn out to be something very different from the thing as we first take it up.
  5. On this and other points I would refer to Mr. McTaggart’s excellent work on Hegelian Dialectic.
  6. Feeling is certainly not “un-differentiated” if that means that it contains no diverse aspects. I would take the opportunity to state that this view as to feeling is so far from being novel that I owe it, certainly in the main, to Hegel’s psychology.
  7. And hence it follows also that every “part” of this whole must be internally defective and (when thought) contradictory. For otherwise how from one to others and the rest could there be any internal passage? And without such a passage and with but an external junction or bond, could there be any system or whole at all which would satisfy the intellect, and could be taken as real or possible? I at least have given my reason for answering this question in the negative. We may even, forgetting other points of view, say of the world,
    “Thus every part is full of vice,
    Yet the whole mass a paradise.”
  8. The Law of Identity, I may be allowed to note in this connection, is the denial that truth, if true, is alterable from the outside. For, if so, it would become either itself conjoined with its own absence, or itself conjoined with a positive other; and either alternative (to take them here as alternatives), we have seen, is self-contradictory. Hence any mere context cannot modify a truth so far as it is true. It merely adds, we must say, something more which leaves the truth itself unaffected. Truth cannot be modified, in other words, except from within. This of course opens a problem, for truth seems on the one hand to be abstract, as truth, and so incomplete, and on the other hand, if true, to be self-contained and even self-existent. For the Law of Identity the reader is further referred to the Index.