Appearance and Reality/Chapter IX

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Our facts, up to the present, have proved to be illusory. We have seen our things go to pieces, crumbled away into relations that can find no terms. And we have begun, perhaps, to feel some doubt whether, since the plague is so deep-rooted, it can be stayed at any point. At the close of our seventh chapter we were naturally led beyond the inanimate, and up to the self. And here, in the opinion of many, is the end of our troubles. The self, they will assure us, is not apparent, but quite real. And it is not only real in itself, but its reality, if I may say so, spreads beyond its own limits and rehabilitates the selfless. It provides a fixed nucleus round which the facts can group themselves securely. Or it, in some way, at least provides us with a type, by the aid of which we may go on to comprehend the world. And we must now proceed to a serious examination of this claim. Is the self real, is it anything which we can predicate of reality? Or is it, on the other hand, like all the preceding, a mere appearance—something which is given, and, in a sense, most certainly exists, but which is too full of contradictions to be the genuine fact? I have been forced to embrace the latter conclusion.

There is a great obstacle in the path of the proposed inquiry. A man commonly thinks that he knows what he means by his self. He may be in doubt about other things, but here he seems to be at home. He fancies that with the self he at once comprehends both that it is and what it is. And of course the fact of one’s own existence, in some sense, is quite beyond doubt. But as to the sense in which this existence is so certain, there the case is far otherwise. And I should have thought that no one who gives his attention to this question could fail to come to one preliminary result. We are all sure that we exist, but in what sense and what character—as to that we are most of us in helpless uncertainty and in blind confusion. And so far is the self from being clearer than things outside us that, to speak generally, we never know what we mean when we talk of it. But the meaning and the sense is surely for metaphysics the vital point. For, if none defensible can be found, such a failure, I must insist, ought to end the question. Anything the meaning of which is inconsistent and unintelligible is appearance, and not reality.

I must use nearly the whole of this chapter in trying to fix some of the meanings in which self is used. And I am forced to trespass inside the limits of psychology; as, indeed, I think is quite necessary in several parts of metaphysics. I do not mean that metaphysics is based upon psychology. I am quite convinced that such a foundation is impossible, and that, if attempted, it produces a disastrous hybrid which possesses the merits of neither science. The metaphysics will come in to check a resolute analysis, and the psychology will furnish excuses for half-hearted metaphysics. And there can be really no such science as the theory of cognition. But, on the other hand, the metaphysician who is no psychologist runs great dangers. For he must take up, and must work upon, the facts about the soul; and, if he has not tried to learn what they are, the risk is very serious. The psychological monster he may adopt is certain also, no doubt, to be monstrous metaphysically; and the supposed fact of its existence does not prove it less monstrous. But experience shows that human beings, even when metaphysical, lack courage at some point. And we cannot afford to deal with monsters, who in the end may seduce us, and who are certain sometimes, at any rate, to be much in our way. But I am only too sensible that, with all our care, the danger nearest each is least seen.

I will merely mention that use of self which identifies it with the body. As to our perception of our own bodies, there, of course, exists some psychological error. And this may take a metaphysical form if it tries to warrant, through some immediate revelation, the existence of the organism as somehow the real expression of the self. But I intend to pass all this by. For, at the point which we have reached, there seems no exit by such a road from familiar difficulties.

1. Let us then, excluding the body as an outward thing, go on to inquire into the meanings of self. And the first of these is pretty clear. By asking what is the self of this or that individual man, I may be enquiring as to the present contents of his experience. Take a section through the man at any given moment. You will then find a mass of feelings, and thoughts, and sensations, which come to him as the world of things and other persons, and again as himself; and this contains, of course, his views and his wishes about everything. Everything, self and not-self, and what is not distinguished as either, in short the total filling of the man’s soul at this or that moment—we may understand this when we ask what is the individual at a given time. There is no difficulty here in principle, though the detail would naturally (as detail) be unmanageable. But, for our present purpose, such a sense is obviously not promising.

2. The congeries inside a man at one given moment does not satisfy as an answer to the question what is self. The self, to go no further, must be something beyond present time, and it cannot contain a sequence of contradictory variations. Let us then modify our answer, and say, Not the mass of any one moment, but the constant average mass, is the meaning of self. Take, as before, a section completely through the man, and expose his total psychical contents; only now take this section at different times, and remove what seems exceptional. The residue will be the normal and ordinary matter, which fills his experience; and this is the self of the individual. This self will contain, as before, the perceived environment—in short, the not-self so far as that is for the self—but it will contain now only the usual or average not-self. And it must embrace the habits of the individual and the laws of his character—whatever we mean by these. His self will be the usual manner in which he behaves, and the usual matter to which he behaves, that is, so far as he behaves to it.

We are tending here towards the distinction of the essential self from its accidents, but we have not yet reached that point. We have, however, left the self as the whole individual of one moment, or of succeeding moments, and are trying to find it as the individual’s normal constituents. What is that which makes the man his usual self? We have answered, It is his habitual disposition and contents, and it is not his changes from day to day and from hour to hour. These contents are not merely the man’s internal feelings, or merely that which he reflects on as his self. They consist quite as essentially in the outward environment, so far as relation to that makes the man what he is. For, if we try to take the man apart from certain places and persons, we have altered his life so much that he is not his usual self. Again, some of this habitual not-self, to use that expression, enters into the man’s life in its individual form. His wife possibly, or his child, or, again, some part or feature of his inanimate environment, could not, if destroyed, be so made good by anything else that the man’s self would fail to be seriously modified. Hence we may call these the constituents which are individually necessary; requisite for the man, that is, not in their vague, broad character, but in their specialty as this or that particular thing. But other tracts of his normal self are filled by constituents necessary, we may say, no more than generically. His usual life gets its character, that is, from a large number of details which are variable within limits. His habits and his environment have main outlines which may still remain the same, though within these the special features have been greatly modified. This portion of the man’s life is necessary to make him his average self, but, if the generic type is preserved, the special details are accidental.

This is, perhaps, a fair account of the man’s usual self, but it is obviously no solution of theoretical difficulties. A man’s true self, we should be told, cannot depend on his relations to that which fluctuates. And fluctuation is not the word; for in the lifetime of a man there are irreparable changes. Is he literally not the same man if loss, or death, or love, or banishment has turned the current of his life? And yet, when we look at the facts, and survey the man’s self from the cradle to the coffin, we may be able to find no one average. The usual self of one period is not the usual self of another, and it is impossible to unite in one mass these conflicting psychical contents. Either then we accept the man’s mere history as his self, and, if so, why call it one? Or we confine ourselves to periods, and there is no longer any single self. Or, finally, we must distinguish the self from the usual constituents of the man’s psychical being. We must try to reach the self which is individual by finding the self which is essential.

3. Let us then take, as before, a man’s mind, and inspect its furniture and contents. We must try to find that part of them in which the self really consists, and which makes it one and not another. And here, so far as I am aware, we can get no assistance from popular ideas. There seems, however, no doubt that the inner core of feeling, resting mainly on what is called Cœnesthesia, is the foundation of the self.[1]

But this inner nucleus, in the first place, is not separated from the average self of the man by any line that can be drawn; and, in the second place, its elements come from a variety of sources. In some cases it will contain, indivisibly from the rest, relation to a not-self of a certain character. Where an individual is such that alteration in what comes from the environment completely unsettles him, where this change may produce a feeling of self-estrangement so severe as to cause sickness and even death, we must admit that the self is not enclosed by a wall. And where the essential self is to end, and the accidental self to begin, seems a riddle without an answer.

For an attempt to answer it is baffled by a fatal dilemma. If you take an essence which can change, it is not an essence at all; while, if you stand on anything more narrow, the self has disappeared. What is this essence of the self which never is altered? Infancy and old age, disease and madness, bring new features, while others are borne away. It is hard indeed to fix any limit to the self’s mutability. One self, doubtless, can suffer change in which another would perish. But, on the other hand, there comes a point in each where we should agree that the man is no longer himself. This creature lost in illusions, bereft of memory, transformed in mood, with diseased feelings enthroned in the very heart of his being—is this still one self with what we knew? Well, be it so; assert, what you are unable to show, that there is still a point untouched, a spot which never has been invaded. I will not ask you to point this out, for I am sure that is impossible. But I urge upon you the opposite side of the dilemma. This narrow persisting element of feeling or idea, this fixed essence not “servile to all the skyey influences,” this wretched fraction and poor atom, too mean to be in danger—do you mean to tell me that this bare remnant is really the self? The supposition is preposterous, and the question wants no answer. If the self has been narrowed to a point which does not change, that point is less than the real self. But anything wider has a “complexion” which “shifts to strange effects,” and therefore cannot be one self. The riddle has proved too hard for us.

We have been led up to the problem of personal identity, and any one who thinks that he knows what he means by his self, may be invited to solve this. To my mind it seems insoluble, but not because all the questions asked are essentially such questions as cannot be answered. The true cause of failure lies in this—that we will persist in asking questions when we do not know what they mean, and when their meaning perhaps presupposes what is false. In inquiries about identity, as we saw before in Chapter viii., it is all-important to be sure of the aspect about which you ask. A thing may be identical or different, according as you look at it. Hence in personal identity the main point is to fix the meaning of person; and it is chiefly because our ideas as to this are confused, that we are unable to come to a further result.

In the popular view a man’s identity resides mainly in his body.[2] There, before we reflect much, lies the crucial point. Is the body the same? Has it existed continuously? If there is no doubt about this, then the man is the same, and presumably he has preserved his personal identity, whatever else we like to say has invaded or infected it. But, of course, as we have seen, this identity of the body is itself a doubtful problem (p. 73). And even apart from that, the mere oneness of the organism must be allowed to be a very crude way of settling personal sameness. Few of us would venture to maintain that the self is the body.

Now, if we add the requirement of psychical continuity, have we advanced much further? For obviously it is not known, and there seems hardly any way of deciding, whether the psychical current is without any break. Apparently, during sleep or otherwise, such intervals are at least possible; and, if so, continuity, being doubtful, cannot be used to prove identity. And further, if our psychical contents can be more or less transformed, the mere absence of an interval will hardly be thought enough to guarantee sameness. So far as I can judge, it is usual, for personal identity, to require both continuity and qualitative sameness. But how much of each is wanted, and how the two stand to one another,—as to this I can find little else but sheer confusion. Let us examine it more closely.

We should perhaps say that by one self we understand one experience. And this may either mean one for a supposed outside observer, or one for the consciousness of the self in question, the latter kind of unity being added to or apart from the first kind. And the self is not one unless within limits its quality is the same. But we have already seen that if the individual is simply viewed from outside, it is quite impossible to find a limit within which change may not come, and which yet is wide enough to embrace a real self. Hence, if the test is only sameness for an outside observer, it seems clear that sometimes a man’s life must have a series of selves. But at what point of difference, and on what precise principle, that succession takes place seems not definable. The question is important, but the decision, if there is one, appears quite arbitrary. But perhaps, if we quit the view of the outside observer, we may discover some principle. Let us make the attempt.

We may take memory as the criterion. The self, we may hold, which remembers itself is so far one; and in this lies personal identity. We perhaps may wish also to strengthen our case by regarding memory as something entirely by itself, and as, so to speak, capable of anything whatever. But this is, of course, quite erroneous. Memory, as a special application of reproduction, displays no exceptional wonders to a sane psychology, nor does it really offer greater difficulties than we find in several other functions. And the point I would emphasize here is its limits and defects. Whether you take it across its breadth, or down its length, you discover a great want of singleness. This one memory of which we talk is very weak for many aspects of our varied life, and is again disproportionately strong for other aspects. Hence it seems more like a bundle of memories running side by side and in part unconnected. It is certain that at any one time what we can recall is most fragmentary. There are whole sides of our life which may be wanting altogether, and others which will come up only in various degrees of feebleness. This is when memory is at its best; and at other times there hardly seems any limit to its failure. Not only may some threads of our bundle be wanting or weak, but, out of those that remain, certain lengths may be missing. Pieces of our life, when we were asleep, or drugged, or otherwise distempered, are not represented. Doubtless the current, for all that, comes to us as continuous. But so it does when things go further, and when in present disease our recollection becomes partial and distorted. Nay, when in one single man there are periodic returns of two disconnected memories, the faculty still keeps its nature and proclaims its identity. And psychology explains how this is so. Memory depends on reproduction from a basis that is present—a basis that may be said to consist in self-feeling. Hence, so far as this basis remains the same through life, it may, to speak in general, recall anything once associated with it. And, as this basis changes, we can understand how its connections with past events will vary indefinitely, both in fulness and in strength. Hence, for the same reason, when self-feeling has been altered beyond a limit not in general to be defined, the base required for reproduction of our past is removed. And, as these different bases alternate, our past life will come to us differently, not as one self, but as diverse selves alternately. And of course these “reproduced” selves may, to a very considerable extent, have never existed in the past.[3]

Now I would invite the person who takes his sameness to consist in bare memory, to confront his view with these facts, and to show us how he understands them. For apparently, though he may not admit that personal identity has degrees, he at least cannot deny that in one life we are able to have more than one self. And, further, he may be compelled to embrace self-sameness with a past which exists, for him only sometimes, and for others not at all. And under these conditions it is not easy to see what becomes of the self. I will, however, go further. It is well known that after an injury followed by unconsciousness which is removed by an operation, our mental life may begin again from the moment of the injury. Now if the self remembers because and according as it is now, might not another self be made of a quality the same, and hence possessing the same past in present recollection? And if one could be made thus, why not also two or three? These might be made distinct at the present time, through their differing quality, and again through outward relations, and yet be like enough for each to remember the same past, and so, of course, to be the same. Nor do I see how this supposition is to be rejected as theoretically impossible. And it may help us to perceive, what was evident before, that a self is not thought to be the same because of bare memory, but only so when that memory is considered not to be deceptive. But this admits that identity must depend in the end upon past existence, and not solely upon mere present thinking. And continuity in some degree, and in some unintelligible sense, is by the popular view required for personal identity. He who is risen from the dead may really be the same, though we can say nothing intelligible of his ambiguous eclipse or his phase of half-existence. But a man wholly like the first, but created fresh after the same lapse of time, we might feel was too much to be one, if not quite enough to make two. Thus it is evident that, for personal identity, some continuity is requisite, but how much no one seems to know. In fact, if we are not satisfied with vague phrases and meaningless generalities, we soon discover that the best way is not to ask questions. But if we persist, we are likely to be left with this result. Personal identity is mainly a matter of degree. The question has a meaning, if confined to certain aspects of the self, though even here it can be made definite in each case only by the arbitrary selection of points of view. And in each case there will be a limit fixed in the end by no clear principle. But in what the general sameness of one self consists is a problem insoluble because it is meaningless. This question, I repeat it, is sheer nonsense until we have got some clear idea as to what the self is to stand for. If you ask me whether a man is identical in this or that respect, and for one purpose or another purpose, then, if we do not understand one another, we are on the road to an understanding. In my opinion, even then we shall reach our end only by more or less of convention and arrangement. But to seek an answer in general to the question asked at large is to pursue a chimera.

We have seen, so far, that the self has no definite meaning. It was hardly one section of the individual’s contents; nor was it even such a section, if reduced to what is usual and taken somehow at an average. The self appeared to be the essential portion or function, but in what that essence lies no one really seemed to know. We could find nothing but opinions inconsistent with each other, not one of which would presumably be held by any one man, if he were forced to realize its meaning.

(4) By selecting from the individual’s contents, or by accepting them in the gross, we have failed to find the self. We may hence be induced to locate it in some kind of monad, or supposed simple being. By this device awkward questions, as to diversity and sameness, seem fairly to be shelved. The unity exists as a unit, and in some sphere presumably secure from chance and from change. I will here first recall our result which turned out adverse to the possibility of any such being (Chapters iii. and v.). And secondly I will point out in a few words that its nature is most ambiguous. Is it the self at all, and, if so, to what extent and in what sense?

If we make this unit something moving parallel with the life of a man, or, rather, something not moving, but literally standing in relation to his successive variety, this will not give us much help. It will be the man’s self about as much as is his star (if he has one), which looks down from above and cares not when he perishes. And if the unit is brought down into the life of the person, and so in any sense suffers his fortunes, then in what sense does it remain any longer a unit? And if we will but look at the question, we are forced to this conclusion. If we knew already what we meant by the self, and could point out its existence, then our monad might be offered as a theory to account for that self. It would be an indefensible theory, but at least respectable as being an attempt to explain something. But, so long as we have no clear view as to the limits in actual fact of the selfs existence, our monad leaves us with all our old confusion and obscurity. But it further loads us with the problem of its connection with these facts about which we are so ignorant. What I mean is simply this. Suppose you have accepted the view that self consists in recollection, and then offer me one monad, or two or three, or as many as you think the facts call for, in order to account for recollection. I think your theory worthless, but, to some extent, I respect it, because at least it has taken up some fact, and is trying to account for it. But if you offer me a vague mass, and then a unit alongside, and tell me that the second is the self of the first, I do not think that you are saying anything. All I see is that you are drifting towards this dilemma. If the monad owns the whole diversity, or any selected part of the diversity, which we find in the individual, then, even if you had found in this the identity of the self, you would have to reconcile it all with the simplicity of the monad. But if the monad stands aloof, either with no character at all or a private character apart, then it may be a fine thing in itself, but it is mere mockery to call it the self of a man. And, with so much for the present, I will pass away from this point

(5) It may be suggested that the self is the matter in which I take personal interest. The elements felt as mine may be regarded as the self, or, at all events, as all the self which exists. And interest consists mainly, though not wholly, in pain and pleasure. The self will be therefore that group of feelings which, to a greater or less extent, is constantly present, and which is always attended by pleasure or pain. And whatever from time to time is united with this group, is a personal affair and becomes part of self. This general view may serve to lead us to a fresh way of taking self; but it obviously promises very little result for metaphysics. For the contents of self are most variable from one time to another, and are largely conflicting; and they are drawn from many heterogeneous sources. In fact, if the self means merely what interests us personally, then at any one time it is likely to be too wide, and perhaps also to be too narrow; and at different times it seems quite at variance with itself.

(6) We are now brought naturally to a most important way of understanding the self. We have, up to the present, ignored the distinction of subject and object. We have made a start from the whole psychical individual, and have tried to find the self there or in connection with that. But this individual, we saw, contained both object and subject, both not-self and self. At least, the not-self must clearly be allowed to be in it, so far as that enters into relation with the self and appears as an object. The reader may prefer another form of expression, but he must, I think, agree as to the fact. If you take what in the widest sense is inside a man’s mind, you will find there both subject and object and their relation. This will, at all events, be the case both in perception and thought, and again in desire and volition. And this self, which is opposed to the not-self, will most emphatically not coincide with the self, if that is taken as the individual or the essential individual. The deplorable confusion, which is too prevalent on this head, compels me to invite the reader’s special attention.

The psychical division of the soul into subject and object has, as is well known, two main forms. The relation of the self to the not-self is theoretical and practical. In the first we have, generally, perception or intelligence; in the second we have desire and will. It is impossible for me here to point out the distinct nature of each; and still less can I say anything on their development from one root. What seems to me certain is that both these forms of relation are secondary products. Every soul either exists or has existed at a stage where there was no self and no not-self, neither Ego nor object in any sense whatever. But in what way thought and will have emerged from this basis—this whole of feeling given without relation—I cannot here discuss.[4] Nor is the discussion necessary to an understanding of the crucial point here. That point turns upon the contents of the self and the not-self; and we may consider these apart from the question of origin.

Now that subject and object have contents and are actual psychical groups appears to me evident. I am aware that too often writers speak of the Ego as of something not essentially qualified by this or that psychical matter. And I do not deny that in a certain use that language might be defended. But if we consider, as we are considering here, what we are to understand by that object and subject in relation, which at a given time we find existing in a soul, the case is quite altered. The Ego that pretends to be anything either before or beyond its concrete psychical filling, is a gross fiction and mere monster, and for no purpose admissible. And the question surely may be settled by observation. Take any case of perception, or whatever you please, where this relation of object to subject is found as a fact. There, I presume, no one will deny that the object, at all events, is a concrete phenomenon. It has a character which exists as, or in, a mental fact. And, if we turn from this to the subject, is there any more cause for doubt? Surely in every case that contains a mass of feeling, if not also of other psychical existence. When I see, or perceive, or understand, I (my term of the relation) am palpably, and perhaps even painfully, concrete. And when I will or desire, it surely is ridiculous to take the self as not qualified by particular psychical fact. Evidently any self which we can find is some concrete form of unity of psychical existence. And whoever wishes to introduce it as something (now or at any time) apart or beyond, clearly does not rest his case upon observation. He is importing into the facts a metaphysical chimera, which, in no sense existing, can do no work; and which, even if it existed, would be worse than useless.

The self and not-self, as discoverable, are concrete groups,[5] and the question is as to the content of these. What is that content, if any, which is essentially not-self or self? Perhaps the best way of beginning this inquiry is to ask whether there is anything which may not become an object and, in that sense, a not-self. We certainly seem able to set everything over against ourselves. We begin from the outside, but the distinguishing process becomes more inward, until it ends with deliberate and conscious introspection. Here we attempt to set before, and so opposite to, self our most intimate features. We cannot do this with all at any one time, but with practice and labour one detail after another is detached from the felt background and brought before our view. It is far from certain that at some one time every feature of the self has, sooner or later, taken its place in the not-self; but it is quite certain that this holds of by far the larger part. And we are hence compelled to admit that very little of the self can belong to it essentially. Let us now turn from the theoretical to the practical relation. Is there here anything, let us ask, which is incapable of becoming an object to my will or desire? But what becomes such an object is clearly a not-self and opposed to the self. Let us go at once to the region that seems most internal and inalienable. As introspection discloses this or that feature in ourselves, can we not wish that it were otherwise? May not everything that we find within us be felt as a limit and as a not-self, against which we either do, or conceivably might, react. Take, for instance, some slight pain. We may have been feeling, in our dimmest and most inward recesses, uneasy and discomposed; and, so soon as this disturbing feature is able to be noticed, we at once react against it. The disquieting sensation becomes clearly a not-self, which we desire to remove. And, I think, we must accept the result that, if not everything may become at times a practical not-self, it is at least hard to find exceptions.

Let us now, passing to the other side of both these relations, ask if the not-self contains anything which belongs to it exclusively. It will not be easy to discover many such elements. In the theoretical relation it is quite clear that not everything can be an object, all together and at once. At any one moment that which is in any sense before me must be limited. What are we to say then becomes of that remainder of the not-self which clearly has not, even for the time, passed wholly from my mind? I do not mean those features of the environment to which I fail to attend specially, but which I still go on perceiving as something before me. I refer to the features which have now sunk below this level. These are not even a setting or a fringe to the object of my mind. They have passed lower into the general background of feeling, from which that distinct object with its indistinct setting is detached. But this means that for the time they have passed into the self. A constant sound will afford us a very good instance.[6] That may be made into the principal object of my mind, or it may be an accompaniment of that object more or less definite. But there is a further stage, where you cannot say that the sensation has ceased, and where yet it is no feature in what comes as the not-self. It has become now one among the many elements of my feeling, and it has passed into that self for which the not-self exists. I will not ask if with any, or with what, portions of the not-self this relapse may be impossible, for it is enough that it should be possible with a very great deal. Let us go on to look at the same thing from the practical side. There it will surely be very difficult to fix on elements which essentially must confront and limit me. There are some to which in fact I seem never to be practically related; and there are others which are the object of my will or desire only from occasion to occasion. And if we cannot find anything which is essential to the not-self, then everything, it would appear, so far as it enters my mind, may form part of the felt mass. But if so, it would seem for the time to be connected with that group against which the object of will comes. And thus once again the not-self has become self.

The reader may have observed one point on which my language has been guarded. That point is the extreme limit of this interchange of content between the not-self and the self. I do not for one moment deny the existence of that limit. In my opinion it is not only possible, but most probable, that in every man there are elements in the internal felt core which are never made objects, and which practically cannot be. There may well be features in our Cœnesthesia which lie so deep that we never succeed in detaching them; and these cannot properly be said to be ever our not-self. Even in the past we cannot distinguish their speciality. But I presume that even here the obstacle may be said to be practical, and to consist in the obscurity, and not otherwise in the essence, of these sensations.[7] And I will barely notice the assertion that pleasure and pain are essentially not capable of being objects. This assertion seems produced by the straits of theory, is devoid of all basis in fact, and may be ignored. But our reason for believing in elements which never are a not-self is the fact of a felt surplus in our undistinguished core. What I mean is this: we are able in our internal mass of feeling to distinguish and to recognise a number of elements; and we are able, on the other side, to decide that our feeling contains beyond these an unexhausted margin.[8] It contains a margin which, in its general idea of margin, can be made an object, but which, in its particularity, cannot be. But from time to time this margin has been encroached upon; and we have not the smallest reason to suppose that at some point in its nature lies a hard and fast limit to the invasion of the not-self.

On the side of the not-self, once more, I would not assert that every feature of content may lapse into mere feeling, and so fuse itself with the background. There may be features which practically manage never to do this. And, again, it may be urged that there are thought-products not capable of existence, save when noticed in such a way as must imply opposition to self. I will not controvert this; but will suggest only that it might open a question, as to the existence in general of thought-products within the feeling self, which might further bewilder us. I will come to the conclusion, and content myself with urging the general result. Both on the side of the self and on the side of the not-self, there are, if you please, admitted to be features not capable of translocation. But the amount of these will be so small as to be incapable of characterizing and constituting the self or the not-self. The main bulk of the elements on each side is interchangeable.

If at this point we inquire whether the present meaning of self will coincide with those we had before, the answer is not doubtful. For clearly well-nigh everything contained in the psychical individual may be at one time part of self and at another time part of not-self. Nor would it be possible to find an essence of the man which was incapable of being opposed to the self, as an object for thought and for will. At least, if found, that essence would consist in a residue so narrow as assuredly to be insufficient for making an individual. And it could gain concreteness only by receiving into its character a mortal inconsistency. The mere instance of internal volition should by itself be enough to compel reflection. There you may take your self as deep-lying and as inward as you please, and may narrow it to the centre; yet these contents may be placed in opposition to your self, and you may desire their alteration. And here surely there is an end of any absolute confinement or exclusive location of the self. For the self is at one moment the whole individual, inside which the opposites and their tension is contained; and, again, it is one opposite, limited by and struggling against an opponent.

And the fact of the matter seems this. The whole psychical mass, which fills the soul at any moment, is the self so far as this mass is only felt. So far, that is, as the mass is given together in one whole, and not divisible from the group which is especially connected with pleasure and pain, this entire whole is felt as self. But, on the other side, elements of content are distinguished from the mass, which therefore is, so far, the background against which perception takes place. But this relation of not-self to self does not destroy the old entire self. This is still the whole mass inside which the distinction and the relation falls. And self in these two meanings coexists with itself, though it certainly does not coincide. Further, in the practical relation a new feature becomes visible. There we have, first of all, self as the whole felt condition. We have, next, the not-self which is felt as opposing the self. We have, further, the group, which is limited and struggles to expand, so causing the tension. This is, of course, felt specially as the self, and within this there falls a new feature worth noticing. In desire and volition we have an idea held against the existing not-self, the idea being that of a change in that not-self. This idea not only is felt to be a part of that self which is opposed to the not-self,—it is felt also to be the main feature and the prominent element there. Thus we say of a man that his whole self was centred in a certain particular end. This means, to speak psychologically, that the idea is one whole with the inner group which is repressed by the not-self, and that the tension is felt emphatically in the region of the idea. The idea becomes thus the prominent feature in the content of self. And hence its expansion against, or contraction by, the actual group of the not-self is felt as the enlargement or the restraint of myself. Here, if the reader will call to mind that the existing not-self may be an internal state, whose alteration is desired,—and, again, if he will reflect that the idea, viewed theoretically, itself is a not-self,—he may realize the entire absence of a qualification attached to, and indivisible from, one special content.

We have yet to notice even another meaning which is given to “self.” But I must first attempt at this point to throw further light on the subject of our seventh chapter. The perception by the self of its own activity is a corner of psychology which is dangerous if left in darkness. We shall realize this danger in our next chapter; and I will attempt here to cut the ground from beneath some blind prejudices. My failure, if I fail, will not logically justify their existence. It may doubtless be used in their excuse, but I am forced to run that risk for the sake of the result.

The perception of activity comes from the expansion of the self against the not-self, this expansion arising from the self.[9] And by the self is not meant the whole contents of the individual, but one term of the practical relation described above. We saw there how an idea, over against the not-self, was the feature with which the self-group was most identified. And by the realization of this idea the self therefore is expanded; and the expansion, as such,[10] is always a cause of pleasure. The mere expansion, of course, would not be felt as activity, and its origination from within the self is of the essence of the matter.

But there are several points necessary for the comprehension of this view. 1. The reader must understand, first of all, that the expansion is not necessarily the enlargement of the self in the sense of the whole individual. Nor is it even the enlargement of the self as against the not-self, in every meaning of those terms. It is the expansion of the self so far as that is identified with the idea of the change. If, for example, I wished to produce self-contraction, then that also would be enlargement, because in it the idea, before limited by the fact of a greater area, would transcend that limit. Thus even self-destruction is relative expansion, so long as the activity lasts. And we may say, generally, the self here is that in which it feels its chief interest. For this is both indivisible from and prominent in its inmost being. No one who misses this point can understand what activity means.

2. This leads us to a difficulty. For sometimes clearly I am active, where there is no idea proper, and, it might be added, even no limiting not-self. I will take the last point first. (a) Let us, for argument’s sake, imagine a case where, with no outside Other, and no consciousness of an empty environment, the self feels expansion. In what sense can we discover any not-self here? The answer is simple. The self, as existing, is that limit to itself which it transcends by activity. Let us call the self, as it is before the activity, A, and, while active, AB. But we have a third feature, the inner nature of A, which emerges in AB. This, as we saw, is the idea of the change, and we may hence write it b. We have, therefore, at the beginning not merely A, but in addition A qualified by b; and these are opposite to one another. The unqualified A is the not-self of A as identified with b; and the tension between Ab and A is the inner source of the change, which, of course, expands b to B, and by consequence, so far, A. We may, if we like these phrases, call activity the ideality of a thing carrying the thing beyond its actual limit. But what is really important is the recognition that activity has no meaning, unless in some sense we suppose an idea of the change and that, as against this idea in which the self feels its interest, the actual condition of the self is a not-self, (b) And this, of course, opens a problem. For in some cases where the self apprehends itself as active, there seems at first sight to be no idea. But the problem is solved by the distinction between an idea which is explicit and an idea not explicit. The latter is ideal solely in the sense that its content is used beyond its existence.[11] It might indeed be argued that, when we predicate activity, the end is always transferred in idea to the beginning. That is doubtless true; but, when activity is merely felt, there will never be there an explicit idea. And, in the absence of this, I will try to explain what takes place. We have first a self which, as it exists, may be called Ac. This self becomes Acd, and is therefore expanded. But bare expandedness is, of course, by itself not activity, and could not be so felt. And the mere alteration consequently, of Ac to Acd, would be felt only as a change, and as an addition made to the identical A. When these differences, c and d, are connected before the mind by the identical A—and for the perception of change they must be connected—there is, so far, no action or passivity, but a mere change which happens. This is not enough for activity, since we require also δ, the idea of d, in Ac; and this idea we do not have in an explicit form. But what, I think, suffices is this. Ac, which as a fact passes into Acd, and is felt so to pass by the perception of a relation of sequence, is also previously felt as Acδ. That is, in the A, apart from and before its actual change to d, we have the qualification Acδ wavering and struggling against Ac. Ac suggests Acδ, which is felt as one with it, and not as given to it by anything else. But this suggestion Acδ, as soon as it arises, is checked by the negative, mere Ac, which maintains its position. A is therefore the site of a struggle of Acδ against Ac. Each is felt in A as belonging to it and therefore as one; and there is no relation yet which serves as the solution of this discrepancy. Hence comes the feeling that A is, and yet is not, Acd. But when the relation of sequence seems to solve this contradiction, then the ensuing result is not felt as mere addition to Ac. It is felt as the success of Acd, which before was kept back by the stronger Ac. And thus, without any explicit idea, an idea is actually applied; for there is a content which is used beyond and against existence. And this, I think, is the explanation of the earliest felt activity.

This brief account is naturally open to objections, but all that are not mere misunderstanding can, I believe, be fully met. The subject, however, belongs to psychology, and I must not here pursue it. The reader will have seen that I assume, for the perception of change, the necessity of connecting the end with the beginning. This is effected by redintegration from the identical A, and it is probably assisted at first by the after-sensation of the starting-place, persisting together with the result. And this I am obliged here to assume. Further, the realization of Acd must not be attached as an adjective to anything outside A, such as E. This would be fatal to the appearance of a feeling of activity. A must, for our feeling, be Acd; and, again, that must be checked by the more dominant Ac. It must be unable to establish itself, and yet must struggle,—that is, oscillate and waver. Hence a wavering Acδ, causing pleasure at each partial success, and resisted by Ac, which you may take, as you prefer, for its negative or its privation—this is what afterwards turns into that strange scandalous hybrid, potential existence. And δ, as a content that is rejected by existence, is on the highway to become an explicit idea. And with these too scanty explanations I must return from the excursion we have made into psychology.

(7) There is still another meaning of self which we can hardly pass by, though we need say very little about it at present.[12] I refer to that use in which self is the same as the “mere self” or the “simply subjective.” This meaning is not difficult to fix in general. Everything which is part of the individual’s psychical contents, and which is not relevant to a certain function, is mere self to that function. Thus, in thinking, everything in my mind—all sensations, feelings, ideas which do not subserve the thought in question—is unessential; and, because it is self, it is therefore mere self. So, again, in morality or in aesthetic perception, what stands outside these processes (if they are what they should be) is simply “subjective,” because it is not concerned in the “object” of the process. Mere self is whatever part of the psychical individual is, for the purpose in hand, negative. It, at least, is irrelevant, and it may be even worse.

This in general is clearly the meaning, and it surely will give us no help in our present difficulties. The point which should be noticed is that it has no fixed application. For that which is “objective” and essential to one kind of purpose, may be irrelevant and “subjective” to every other kind of purpose. And this distinction holds even among cases of the same kind. That feature, for example, which is essential to one moral act may be without significance for another, and may therefore be merely myself. In brief, there is nothing in a man which is not thus “objective” or “subjective,” as the end which we are considering is from time to time changed. The self here stands for that which, for a present purpose, is the chance self. And it is obvious, if we compare this meaning with those which have preceded, that it does not coincide with them. It is at once too wide and too narrow. It is too wide, because nothing falls essentially outside it; and yet it is too narrow, because anything, so soon as you have taken that in reference to any kind of system, is at once excluded from the mere self. It is not the simply felt; for it is essentially qualified by negation. It is that which, as against anything transcending mere feeling, remains outside as a residue. We might, if we pleased, call it what, by contrast, is only the felt. But then we must include under feeling every psychical fact, if considered merely as such and as existing immediately. There is, however, here no need to dwell any further on this point.

I will briefly resume the results of this chapter We had found that our ideas as to the nature of things—as to substance and adjective, relation and quality, space and time, motion and activity—were in their essence indefensible. But we had heard somewhere a rumour that the self was to bring order into chaos. And we were curious first to know what this term might stand for. The present chapter has supplied us with an answer too plentiful. Self has turned out to mean so many things, to mean them so ambiguously, and to be so wavering in its applications, that we do not feel encouraged. We found, first, that a man’s self might be his total present contents, discoverable on making an imaginary cross section. Or it might be the average contents we should presume ourselves likely to find, together with something else which we call dispositions. From this we drifted into a search for the self as the essential point or area within the self; and we discovered that we really did not know what this was. Then we went on to perceive that, under personal identity, we entertained a confused bundle of conflicting ideas. Again the self, as merely that which for the time being interests, proved not satisfactory; and from this we passed to the distinction and the division of self as against the not-self. Here, in both the theoretical and again in the practical relation, we found that the self had no contents that were fixed; or it had, at least, none sufficient to make it a self. And in that connection we perceived the origin of our perception of activity. Finally, we dragged to the light another meaning of self, not coinciding with the others; and we saw that this designates any psychical fact which remains outside any purpose to which at any time psychical fact is being applied. In this sense self is the unused residue, defined negatively by want of use, and positively by feeling in the sense of mere psychical existence. And there was no matter which essentially fell, or did not fall, under this heading.


  1. I may refer here to a few further remarks in Mind, 12, p. 368 and foll. I am not suggesting that ideas may not form part of the innermost self. One thinks here naturally of the strange selves suggested in hypnotism.
  2. In the Fortnightly Review, ccxxviii., p. 820, I have further discussed this question.
  3. Compare here once again the suggested selves of hypnotism.
  4. On this and other kindred points, compare my articles in Mind, Nos. 47 and 49. And see below (Chapters xix., xxvi., xxvii.)
  5. I am not saying that the whole soul is divided into two groups. That is really not possible. See more below.
  6. Another instance would be the sensations from my own clothes.
  7. Notice that our emotional moods, where we hardly could analyse them, may qualify objects aesthetically.
  8. How the existence of this margin is observed is a question I cannot discuss here. The main point lies in our ability to feel a discrepancy between our felt self and any object before it. This, reflected on and made an object—as, of course, in its main vague type is always possible with past feeling—gives us the idea of an unreduced residue. The same ability to feel discrepancy is the ground of our belief as to difference or identity between past and present feeling. But the detail of this discussion does not belong to metaphysics.
  9. I may refer the reader hereto Mind, 43, pp. 319-320; 47, pp. 371-372; and 49, p. 33. I have not answered Mr. Ward’s criticisms (Mind 48, pp. 572-575) in detail, because in my opinion they are mere misunderstandings, the removal of which is not properly my concern.
  10. For a further distinction on this point see Mind, 49, pp. 6 and foll.
  11. Mind, 49, p. 23. And see below, Chapter xv., p. 163.
  12. See Chapter xix.