Appearance and Reality/Chapter X

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In the present chapter we must briefly inquire into the self’s reality. Naturally the self is a fact, to some extent and in some sense; and this, of course, is not the issue. The question is whether the self in any of its meanings can, as such, be real. We have found above that things seem essentially made of inconsistencies. And there is understood now to be a claim on the part of the self, not only to maintain and to justify its own proper being, but, in addition, to rescue things from the condemnation we have passed on them. But the latter part of the claim may be left undiscussed. We shall find that the self has no power to defend its own reality from mortal objections.

It is the old puzzle as to the connection of diversity with unity. As the diversity becomes more complex and the unity grows more concrete, we have, so far, found that our difficulties steadily increase. And the expectation of a sudden change and a happy solution, when we arrive at the self, seems hence little warranted. And if we glance at the individual self, as we find it at one time, there seems at first sight no clear harmony which orders and unites its entangled confusion. At least, popular ideas are on this point visibly unavailing. The complexity of the phenomena, exhibited by a cross section, must be admitted to exist. But how in any sense they can be one, even apart from alteration, is a problem not attempted. And when the self changes in time, are we able to justify the inconsistency which most palpably appears, or, rather, stares us in the face? You may say that we are each assured of our personal identity in a way in which we are not assured of the sameness of things. But this is, unfortunately, quite irrelevant to the question. That selves exist, and are identical in some sense, is indubitable. But the doubt is whether their sameness, as we apprehend it, is really intelligible, and whether it can be true in the character in which it comes to us. Because otherwise, while it will be certain that the self and its identity somehow belong to reality, it will be equally certain that this fact has somehow been essentially misapprehended. And our conclusion must be that, since, as such, it contradicts itself, this fact must, as such, be unreal. The self also will in the end be no more than appearance.

This question turns, I presume, on the possibility of finding some special experience which will furnish a new point of view. It is, of course, admitted that the self presents us with fresh matter, and with an increased complication. The point in debate is whether at the same time it supplies us with any key to the whole puzzle about reality. Does it give an experience by the help of which we can understand the way in which diversity is harmonized? Or, failing that, does it remove all necessity for such an understanding? I am convinced that both these questions must be answered in the negative.

(a) For mere feeling, to begin the inquiry with this, gives no answer to our riddle. It may be said truly that in feeling, if you take it low enough down, there is plurality with unity and without contradiction. There being no relations and no terms, and yet, on the other side, more than bare simplicity, we experience a concrete whole as actual fact. And this fact, it may be alleged, is the understanding of our self, or is, at least, that which is superior to and over-rides any mere intellectual criticism. It must be accepted for what it is, and its reality must be admitted by the intelligence as a unique revelation.

But no such claim can be maintained. I will begin by pointing out that feeling, if a revelation, is not exclusively or even specially a revelation of the self. For you must choose one of two things. Either you do not descend low enough to get rid of relations with all their inconsistency, or else you have reached a level where subject and object are in no sense distinguished, and where, therefore, neither self nor its opposite exists. Feeling, if taken as immediate presentation, most obviously gives features of what later becomes the environment. And these are indivisibly one thing with what later becomes the self. Feeling, therefore, can be no unique or special revelation of the self, in distinction from any other element of the universe. Nor, even if feeling be used wrongly as equivalent to the aspect of pleasure or pain,[1] need we much modify our conclusion. This is a point on which naturally I have seen a good many dogmatic assertions, but no argument that would bear a serious examination. Why in the case of a pleasant feeling—for example, that of warmth—the side of pleasure should belong to the self, and the side of sensation to the not-self (psychologically or logically), I really do not know. If we keep to facts, it seems clear that at the beginning no such distinction exists at all; and it is clear too that at the latest stage there are some elements within the not-self which retain their original aspect of pleasure or pain. And hence we must come to this result. We could make little metaphysical use of the doctrine that pleasure and pain belong solely to the self as distinct from the not-self. And the doctrine itself is quite without foundation. It is not even true that at first self and not-self exist. And though it is true that pleasure and pain are the main feature on which later this distinction is based, yet it is even then false that they may not belong to the object.

But, if we leave this error and return once more to feeling, in the sense of that which comes undifferentiated, we are forced to see that it cannot give the knowledge which we seek. It is an apprehension too defective to lay hold on reality. In the first place, its content and its form are not in agreement; and this is manifest when feeling changes from moment to moment. Then the matter, which ought to come to us harmoniously and as one whole, becomes plainly discrepant within itself. The content exhibits its essential relativity. It depends, that is to say—in order to be what it is—upon something not itself. Feeling ought to be something all in one and self-contained, if not simple. Its essence ought not to include matter the adjective of, and with a reference to, a foreign existence. It should be real, and should not be, in this sense, partly ideal. And the form of immediacy, in which it offers itself, implies this self-subsistent character. But in change the content slips away, and becomes something else; while, again, change appears necessary and implied in its being. Mutability is a fact in the actual feeling which we experience, for that never continues at rest. And, if we examine the content at any one given moment, we perceive that, though it presents itself as self-subsistent, it is infected by a deep-seated relativity. And this will force itself into view, first in the experience of change, and later, for reflection. Again, in the second place, apart from this objection, and even if feeling were self-consistent, it would not suffice for a knowledge of reality. Reality, as it commonly appears, contains terms and relations, and indeed may be said to consist in these mainly. But the form of feeling (on the other side) is not above, but is below, the level of relations; and it therefore cannot possibly express them or explain them. Hence it is idle to suppose, given relational matter as the object to be understood, that feeling will supply any way of understanding it. And this objection seems quite fatal. Thus we are forced beyond feeling, first by change, and then further by the relational form which remains obstinately outstanding. But, when once more we betake ourselves to reflection, we seem to have made no advance. For the incompleteness and relativity in the matter given by feeling become, when we reflect on them, open contradiction. The limitation is seen to be a reference to something beyond, and the self-subsistent fact shows ideality, and turns round into mere adjectives whose support we cannot find. Feeling can be, therefore, no solution of the puzzles which, so far, have proved to be insoluble. Its content is vitiated throughout by the old inconsistencies. It may be said even to thrust upon us, in a still more apparent form, the discrepancy that lies between identity and diversity, immediate oneness and relation.

(b) Thus mere feeling has no power to justify the self s reality, and naturally none to solve the problems of the universe at large. But we may perhaps be more fortunate with some form of self-consciousness. That possibly may furnish us with a key to the self, and so also to the world; and let us briefly make an attempt. The prospect is certainly at first sight not very encouraging. For (i.) if we take the actual matter revealed by self-consciousness, that (in any sense in which it pleases us to understand self) seems quite inconsistent internally. If the reader will recall the discussions of the preceding chapter, he may, I think, convince himself on this point. Take the self, either at one time or throughout any duration, and its contents do not seem to arrange themselves as a harmony. Nor have we, so far, found a principle by the application of which we are enabled to arrange them without contradiction, (ii.) But self-consciousness, we may be told, is a special way of intuition, or perception, or what you will. And this experience of both subject and object in one self, or of the identity of the Ego through and in the opposition of itself to itself, or generally the self-apprehension of the self as one and many, is at last the full answer to our whole series of riddles. But to my mind such an answer brings no satisfaction. For it seems liable to the objections which proved fatal to mere feeling. Suppose, for argument’s sake, that the intuition (as you describe it) actually exists; suppose that in this intuition, while you keep to it, you possess a diversity without discrepancy. This is one thing, but it is quite another thing to possess a principle which can serve for the understanding of reality. For how does this way of apprehension suffice to take in a long series of events? How again does it embrace, and transcend, and go beyond, the relational form of discursive intelligence? The world is surely not understood if understanding is left out. And in what manner can your intuition satisfy the claims of understanding? This, to my mind, forms a wholly insuperable obstacle. For the contents of the intuition (this many in one), if you try to reconstruct them relationally, fall asunder forthwith. And the attempt to find in self-consciousness an apprehension at a level, not below, but above relations—a way of apprehension superior to discursive thought, and including its mere process in a higher harmony—appears to me not successful. I am, in short, compelled to this conclusion: even if your intuition is a fact, it is not an understanding of the self or of the world. It is a mere experience, and it furnishes no consistent view about itself or about reality in general. An experience, I suppose, can override understanding only in one way, by including it, that is, as a subordinate element somehow within itself. And such an experience is a thing which seems not discoverable in self-consciousness.

And (iii.) I am forced to urge this last objection against the whole form of self-consciousness, as it was described above. There does not really exist any perception, either in which the object and the subject are quite the same, or in which their sameness amid difference is an object for perception. Any such consciousness would seem to be impossible psychologically. And, as it is almost useless for me to try to anticipate the reader’s views on this point, I must content myself with a very brief statement. Self-consciousness, as distinct from self-feeling, implies a relation. It is the state where the self has become an object that stands before the mind. This means that an element is in opposition to the felt mass, and is distinguished from it as a not-self. And there is no doubt that the self, in its various meanings, can become such a not-self. But, in whichever of its meanings we intend to consider it, the result is the same. The object is never wholly identical with the subject, and the background of feeling must contain a great deal more than what we at any time can perceive as the self. And I confess that I scarcely know how to argue this point. To me the idea that the whole self can be observed in one perception would be merely chimerical. I find, first, that in the felt background there remains an obscure residue of internal sensation, which I perhaps at no time can distinguish as an object. And this felt background at any moment will almost certainly contain also elements from outer sensation. On the other hand, the self, as an object, will at any one time embrace but a poor extent of detail. It is palpably and flagrantly much more narrow than the background felt as self. And in order to exhaust this felt mass (if indeed exhaustion is possible) we require a series of patient observations, in none of which will the object be as full as the subject.[2] To have the felt self in its totality as an object for consciousness seems out of the question. And I would further ask the reader to bear in mind that, where the self is observed as in opposition to the not-self, this whole relation is included within that felt background, against which, on the other hand, the distinction takes place.

And this suggests an objection. How, I may be asked, if self-consciousness is no more than you say, do we take one object as self and another as not-self? Why is the observed object perceived at all in the character of self? This is a question, I think, not difficult to answer, so far at least as is required for our purpose here. The all-important point is this, that the unity of feeling never disappears. The mass, at first undifferentiated, groups itself into objects in relation to me; and then again further the “me” becomes explicit, and itself is an object in relation to the background of feeling. But, none the less, the object not-self is still a part of the individual soul, and the object self likewise keeps its place in this felt unity. The distinctions have supervened upon, but they have not divided, the original whole; and, if they had done so, the result would have been mere destruction. Hence, in self-consciousness, those contents perceived as the self belong still to the whole individual mass. They, in the first place, are features in the felt totality; then again they are elements in that inner group from which the not-self is distinguished; and finally they become an object opposed to the internal background. And these contents exist thus in several forms all at once. And so, just as the not-self is felt as still psychically my state, the self, when made an object, is still felt as individually one with me. Nay, we may reflect upon this unity of feeling, and may say that the self, as self and as not-self all in one, is our object. And this is true if we mean that it is an object for reflection. But in that reflection once more there is an actual subject; and that actual subject is a mass of feeling much fuller than the object; and it is a subject which in no sense is an object for the reflection. The feature, of being not-self and self in one self, can indeed be brought before the present subject, and can be felt to be its own. The unity of feeling can become an object for perception and thought, and can also be felt to belong to the self which is present, and which is the subject that perceives. But, without entering into psychological refinements and difficulties, we may be sure of this main result. The actual subject is never, in any state of mind, brought before itself as an object. It has that before it which it feels to be itself, so far at least as to fall within its own area, and to be one thing with its felt unity. But the actual subject never feels that it is all out there in its object, that there is nothing more left within, and that the difference has disappeared. And of this we can surely convince ourselves by observation. The subject in the end must be felt, and it can never (as it is) be perceived.

But, if so, then self-consciousness will not solve our former difficulties. For these distinctions, of self and of not-self in one whole, are not presented as the reality even of my self. They are given as found within it, but not as exhausting it. But even if the self did, what it cannot do, and guaranteed this arrangement as its proper reality, that would still leave us at a loss. For unless we could think the arrangement so as to be consistent with itself we could not admit it as being the truth about reality. It would merely be an experience, unintelligible or deceptive. And it is an experience which, we have now seen, has no existence in fact.

(c) We found the self, as mere feeling, gave us no key to our puzzles, and we have not had more success in our attempt with self-consciousness. So far as that transcends mere feeling, it is caught in, and is dissipated by, the old illusory play of relations and qualities. It repeats this illusion, without doubt, at a higher level than before; the endeavour is more ambitious, but the result is still the same. For we have not been taught how to understand diversity in unity. And though, in my judgment, the further task should now be superfluous, I will briefly touch upon some other claims made for the self. The first rests on the consciousness of personal identity. This may be supposed to have some bearing on the reality of the self, but to my mind it appears to be almost irrelevant. Of course the self, within limits and up to a certain point, is the same; and I will leave to others the attempt to fix those limits by a principle. For, in my opinion, there is none which at bottom is not arbitrary. But what I fail to perceive is the metaphysical conclusion which comes from a consciousness of self-sameness. I quite understand that this fact disproves any doctrine of the self’s mere discreteness. Or, more correctly, it is an obvious instance against a doctrine which evidently contradicts itself in principle. The self is not merely discrete; and therefore (doubtless by some wonderful alternative) we are carried to a positive result about its reality. But the facts of the case seem merely to be thus. As long as there remains in the self a certain basis of content, ideally the same, so long may the self recall anything once associated with that basis. And this identity of content, working by redintegration and so bringing up the past as the history of one self—really this is all which we have to build upon. Now this, of course, shows that self-sameness exists as a fact, and that hence somehow an identical self must be real. But then the question is how? The question is whether we can state the existence and the continuity of a real self in a way which is intelligible, and which is not ruined by the difficulties of previous discussions. Because, otherwise, we may have found an interesting fact, but most assuredly we have not found a tenable view about reality. That tenable view, if we got sight of it, might show us that our fact had been vitally misapprehended. At all events, so long as we can offer only a bundle of inconsistencies, it is absurd to try to believe that these are the true reality. And, if any one likes to fall back upon a miraculous faculty which he discovers in memory, the case is not altered. For the issue is as to the truth either of the message conveyed, or of our conclusion from that message. And, for myself, I stand on this. Present your doctrine (whatever it is) in a form which will bear criticism, and which will enable me to understand this confused mass of facts which I encounter on all sides. Do this, and I will follow you, and I will worship the source of such a true revelation. But I will not accept nonsense for reality, though it be vouched for by miracle, or proceed from the mouth of a psychological monster.

And I am compelled to adopt the same attitude towards another supposed fact. I refer to the unity in such a function as, for instance, Comparison. This has been assumed to be timeless, and to serve as a foundation for metaphysical views about the self. But I am forced to reject alike both basis and result, if that result be offered as a positive view. It is in the first place (as we have seen in Chapter v.) psychologically untenable to take any mental fact as free from duration. And, apart from that, what works in any function must be something concrete and specially relevant to that function. In comparison it must be, for instance, a special basis of identity in the terms to be compared.[3] A timeless self, acting in a particular way from its general timeless nature, is to me, in the first place, a psychological monster. And, in the second place, if this extraordinary fact did exist, it would indeed serve to show that certain views were not true; but, beyond that, it would remain a mere extraordinary fact. At least for myself I do not perceive how it supplies us with a conclusion about the self or the world, which is consistent and defensible. And here once again we have the same issue. We have found puzzles in reality, besetting every way in which we have taken it. Now give me a view not obnoxious to these mortal attacks, and combining differences in one so as to turn the edge of criticism—and then I will thank you. But I cannot be grateful for an assertion which seems to serve merely as an objection to another doctrine, otherwise known to be false; an assertion, which, if we accepted it as we cannot, would leave us simply with a very strange fact on our hands. Such a fact is certainly no principle by which we could solve the riddle of the universe.

(d) I must next venture a few words on an embarrassing topic, the supposed revelation of reality within the self as force or will. And the difficulty comes, not so much from the nature of the subject, as from the manner of its treatment. If we could get a clear statement as to the matter revealed, we could at this stage of our discussion dispose of it in a few words, or rather point out that it has been already disposed of. But a clear statement is precisely that which (so far as my experience goes) is not to be had.

The reader who recalls our discussions on activity, will remember how it literally was riddled by contradictions. All the puzzles as to adjectives and relations and terms, every dilemma as to time and causation, seemed to meet in it and there even to find an addition. Far from reducing these to harmony, activity, when we tried to think it, fell helplessly asunder or jarred with itself. And to suppose that the self is to bring order into this chaos, after our experience hitherto of the self’s total impotence, seems more sanguine than rational.

If now we take force or cause, as it is revealed in the self, to be the same as volition proper, that clearly will not help us. For in volition we have an idea, determining change in the self, and so producing its own realization.[4] Volition perhaps at first sight may seem to promise a solution of our metaphysical puzzles. For we seem to find at last something like a self-contained cause with an effect within itself. But this surely is illusory. The old difficulties about the beginning of change and its process in time, the old troubles as to diversity in union with sameness—how is any one of these got rid of, or made more tractable? It is bootless to enquire whether we have found a principle which is to explain the universe. For we have not even found anything which can bear its own weight, or can endure for one moment the most superficial scrutiny. Volition gives us, of course, an intense feeling of reality; and we may conclude, if we please, that in this lies the heart of the mystery of things. Yes, perhaps; here lies the answer—for those who may have understood; and the whole question turns on whether we have reached an understanding. But what you offer me appears much more like an experience, not understood but interpreted into hopeless confusion. It is with you as with the man who, transported by his passion, feels and knows that only love gives the secret of the universe. In each case the result is perfectly in order, but one hardly sees why it should be called metaphysics.

And we shall make no advance, if we pass from will proper where an idea is realized, and fall back on an obscurer revelation of energy. In the experience of activity, or resistance, or will, or force (or whatever other phrase seems most oracular), we are said to come at last down to the rock of reality. And I am not so ill-advised as to offer a disproof of the message revealed. It is doubtless a mystery, and hence those who could inform the outer world of its meaning, are for that very reason compelled to be silent and to seem even ignorant. What I can do is to set down briefly the external remarks of one not initiated.

In the first place, taken psychologically, the revelation is fraudulent. There is no original experience of anything like activity, to say nothing of resistance. This is quite a secondary product, the origin of which is far from mysterious, and on which I have said something in the preceding chapter.[5] You may, doubtless, point to an outstanding margin of undetermined sensations, but these will not contain the essence of the matter. And I do not hesitate to say this: Where you meet a psychologist who takes this experience as elementary, you will find a man who has not ever made a serious attempt to decompose it, or ever resolutely faced the question as to what it contains. And in the second place, taken metaphysically, these tidings, given from whatever source, are either meaningless or false. And here once again we have the all-important point. I do not care what your oracle is, and your preposterous psychology may here be gospel if you please; the real question is whether your response (so far as it means anything) is not appearance and illusion. If it means nothing, that is to say, if it is merely a datum, which has no complex content that can be taken as a principle—then it will be much what we have in, say, pleasure or pain. But if you offered me one of these as a theoretical account of the universe, you would not be even mistaken, but simply nonsensical. And it is the same with activity or force, if these also merely are, and say nothing. But if, on the other hand, the revelation does contain a meaning, I will commit myself to this: either the oracle is so confused that its signification is not discoverable, or, upon the other hand, if it can be pinned down to any definite statement, then that statement will be false. When we drag it out into the light, and expose it to the criticism of our foregoing discussions, it will exhibit its helplessness. It will be proved to contain mere unsolved discrepancies, and will give us therefore, not truth, but in the end appearance. And I intend to leave this matter so without further remark.

(e) I will in conclusion touch briefly on the theory of Monads. A tenable view of reality has been sought in the doctrine that each self is an independent reality, substantial if not simple. But this attempt does not call for a lengthy discussion. In the first place, if there is more than one self in the universe, we are met by the problem of their relation to each other. And the reply, “Why there is none,” we have already seen in Chapter iii., is no sufficient defence. For plurality and separateness without a relation of separation seem really to have no meaning. And, from the other side, without relations these poor monads would have no process and would serve no purpose. But relations admitted, again, are fatal to the monads’ independence. The substances clearly become adjectival, and mere elements within an all-comprehending whole. And hence there is left remaining for their internal contents no solid principle of stability.[6] And in the second place, even if this remained, it would be no solution of our difficulties. For consider: we have found, so far, that diversity and unity can not be reconciled. Both in the existence of the whole self in relation with its contents, and in the various special forms which that existence takes, we have encountered everywhere the same trouble. We have had features which must come together, and yet were willing to do so in no way that we could find. In the self there is a variety, and in the self there is a unity; but, in attempting to understand how, we fall into inconsistencies which, therefore, cannot be truth. And now in what way is the monadic character of the self—with whatever precise meaning (if with any) we take this up—about to assist us? Will it in the least show us how the diversity can exist in harmony with the oneness? If it can do this, then I would respectfully suggest that it should do it. Because, otherwise, the unity seems merely stated and emphasized; and the problem of its diverse content is either wholly neglected or hidden under a confusion of fictions and metaphors. But if more than an emphasis on the unity is meant, that more is even positively objectionable. For while the diversity is slurred over, instead of being explained, there will be a negative assertion as to the limits within which the self’s true unity falls. And this assertion cannot stand criticism. And lastly the relation of the self to its contents in time will tend to become a new insoluble enigma. Monadism, on the whole, will increase and will add to the difficulties which already exist, and it will not supply us with a solution of any single one of them. It would be strange indeed if an explanation of all sides of our puzzle were found in mere obstinate emphasis upon one of those sides.

And with this result I will bring the present chapter to a close. The reader who has followed our discussions up to this point, can, if he pleases, pursue the detail of the subject, and can further criticise the claims made for the self’s reality. But if he will drive home the objections which we have come to know in principle, the conclusion he will reach is assured already. In whatever way the self is taken, it will prove to be appearance. It cannot, if finite, maintain itself against external relations. For these will enter its essence, and so ruin its independency. And, apart from this objection in the case of its finitude, the self is in any case unintelligible. For, in considering it, we are forced to transcend mere feeling, itself not satisfactory; and yet we cannot reach any defensible thought, any intellectual principle, by which it is possible to understand how diversity can be comprehended in unity. But, if we cannot understand this, and if whatever way we have of thinking about the self proves full of inconsistency, we should then accept what must follow. The self is no doubt the highest form of experience which we have, but, for all that, is not a true form. It does not give us the facts as they are in reality; and, as it gives them, they are appearance, appearance and error.

And one of the reasons why this result is not admitted on all sides, seems to lie in that great ambiguity of the self which our previous chapter detailed. Apparently distinct, this phrase wavers from one meaning to another, is applied to various objects, and in argument is used too seldom in a well-defined sense. But there is a still more fundamental aid to obscurity. The end of metaphysics is to understand the universe, to find a way of thinking about facts in general which is free from contradiction. But how few writers seem to trouble themselves much about this vital issue. Of those who take their principle of understanding from the self, how few subject that principle to an impartial scrutiny. But it is easy to argue from a foregone alternative, to disprove any theory which loses sight of the self, and then to offer what remains as the secret of the universe—whether what remains is thinkable or is a complex which refuses to be understood. And it is easy to survey the world which is selfless, to find there vanity and illusion, and then to return to one’s self into congenial darkness and the equivocal consolation of some psychological monster. But, if the object is to understand, there can be only one thing which we have to consider. It does not matter from what source our principle is derived. It may be the refutation of something else—it is no worse for that. Or it may be a response emitted by some kind of internal oracle, and it is no worse for that. But for metaphysics a principle, if it is to stand at all, must stand absolutely by itself. While wide enough to cover the facts, it must be able to be thought without jarring internally. It is this, to repeat it once more, on which everything turns. The diversity and the unity must be brought to the light, and the principle must be seen to comprehend these. It must not carry us away into a maze of relations, relations that lead to illusory terms, and terms disappearing into endless relations. But the self is so far from supplying such a principle, that it seems, where not hiding itself in obscurity, a mere bundle of discrepancies. Our search has conducted us again not to reality but mere appearance.


  1. I think this confined use wrong, but it is, of course, legitimate. To ignore the existence of other uses is, on the other hand, inexcusable.
  2. The possibility of this series rests on the fact that sameness and alteration can be felt where they are not perceived. Cp. p. 93.
  3. There are some further remarks in Mind, Nos. 41 and 43.
  4. I have discussed the nature of will psychologically in Mind, No. 49.
  5. I have touched the question only in its general form. As to the special source from which come the elements of this or that perception of activity, I have not said anything. This is a matter for psychology.
  6. The attentive reader of Lotze must, I think, have found it hard to discover why individual selves with him are more than phenomenal adjectives. For myself I discern plainly his resolve that somehow they have got to be more. But I do not find that he is ever willing to face this question fairly.