Appearance and Reality/Chapter XV

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There is a natural objection which the reader will raise against our account of the Absolute. The difficulty lies, he may urge, not in making a statement which by itself seems defensible, but rather in reconciling any view with obvious inconsistencies. The real problem is to show how appearance and evil, and in general finite existence, are compatible with the Absolute. These questions, however, he will object, have been so far neglected. And it is these which in the next chapter must begin to engage our serious attention. Still it is better not to proceed at once; and before we deal with error we must gain some notion of what we mean by truth. In the present chapter I will try to state briefly the main essence of thought, and to justify its distinction from actual existence. It is only by misunderstanding that we find difficulty in taking thought to be something less than reality.

If we take up anything considered real, no matter what it is, we find in it two aspects. There are always two things we can say about it; and, if we cannot say both, we have not got reality. There is a “what” and a “that,” an existence and a content, and the two are inseparable. That anything should be, and should yet be nothing in particular, or that a quality should not qualify and give a character to anything, is obviously impossible. If we try to get the “that” by itself, we do not get it, for either we have it qualified, or else we fail utterly. If we try to get the “what” by itself, we find at once that it is not all. It points to something beyond, and cannot exist by itself and as a bare adjective. Neither of these aspects, if you isolate it, can be taken as real, or indeed in that case is itself any longer. They are distinguishable only and are not divisible.

And yet thought seems essentially to consist in their division. For thought is clearly, to some extent at least, ideal. Without an idea there is no thinking, and an idea implies the separation of content from existence. It is a “what” which, so far as it is a mere idea, clearly is not, and if it also were, could, so far, not be called ideal. For ideality lies in the disjoining of quality from being. Hence the common view, which identifies image and idea, is fundamentally in error. For an image is a fact, just as real as any sensation; it is merely a fact of another kind and it is not one whit more ideal. But an idea is any part of the content of a fact so far as that works out of immediate unity with its existence. And an idea’s factual existence may consist in a sensation or perception, just as well as in an image. The main point and the essence is that some feature in the “what” of a given fact should be alienated from its “that” so far as to work beyond it, or at all events loose from it. Such a movement is ideality, and, where it is absent, there is nothing ideal.

We can understand this most clearly if we consider the nature of judgment, for there we find thought in its completed form. In judgment an idea is predicated of a reality. Now, in the first place, what is predicated is not a mental image. It is not a fact inside my head which the judgment wishes to attach to another fact outside. The predicate is a mere “what,” a mere feature of content, which is used to qualify further the “that” of the subject. And this predicate is divorced from its psychical existence in my head, and is used without any regard to its being there. When I say “this horse is a mammal,” it is surely absurd to suppose that I am harnessing my mental state to the beast between the shafts. Judgment adds an adjective to reality, and this adjective is an idea, because it is a quality made loose from its own existence, and is working free from its implication with that. And, even when a fact is merely analysed,—when the predicate appears not to go beyond its own subject, or to have been imported divorced from another fact outside—our account still holds good. For here obviously our synthesis is a re-union of the distinguished, and it implies a separation, which, though it is overridden, is never unmade. The predicate is a content which has been made loose from its own immediate existence and is used in divorce from that first unity. And, again, as predicated, it is applied without regard to its own being as abstracted and in my head. If this were not so, there would be no judgment; for neither distinction nor predication would have taken place. But again, if it is so, then once more here we discover an idea.

And in the second place, when we turn to the subject of the judgment, we clearly find the other aspect, in other words, the “that.” Just as in “this horse is a mammal” the predicate was not a fact, so most assuredly the subject is an actual existence. And the same thing holds good with every judgment. No one ever means to assert about anything but reality, or to do anything but qualify a “that” by a “what.” And, without dwelling on a point which I have worked out elsewhere,[1] I will notice a source of possible mistake. “The subject, at all events,” I may be told, “is in no case a mere ‘that.’ It is never bare reality, or existence without character.” And to this I fully assent. I agree that the subject which we mean—even before the judgment is complete, and while still we are holding its elements apart—is more than a mere “that.” But then this is not the point. The point is whether with every judgment we do not find an aspect of existence, absent from the predicate but present in the subject, and whether in the synthesis of these aspects we have not got the essence of judgment. And for myself I see no way of avoiding this conclusion. Judgment is essentially the re-union of two sides, “what” and “that,” provisionally estranged. But it is the alienation of these aspects in which thought’s ideality consists.

Truth is the object of thinking, and the aim of truth is to qualify existence ideally. Its end, that is, is to give a character to reality in which it can rest. Truth is the predication of such content as, when predicated, is harmonious, and removes inconsistency and with it unrest. And because the given reality is never consistent, thought is compelled to take the road of indefinite expansion. If thought were successful, it would have a predicate consistent in itself and agreeing entirely with the subject. But, on the other hand, the predicate must be always ideal. It must, that is, be a “what” not in unity with its own “that,” and therefore, in and by itself, devoid of existence. Hence, so far as in thought this alienation is not made good, thought can never be more than merely ideal.

I shall very soon proceed to dwell on this last consideration, but will first of all call attention to a most important point. There exists a notion that ideality is something outside of facts, something imported into them, or imposed as a sort of layer above them; and we talk as if facts, when let alone, were in no sense ideal. But any such notion is illusory. For facts which are not ideal, and which show no looseness of content from existence, seem hardly actual. They would be found, if anywhere, in feelings without internal lapse, and with a content wholly single. But if we keep to fact which is given, this changes in our hands, and it compels us to perceive inconsistency of content. And then this content cannot be referred merely to its given “that,” but is forced beyond it, and is made to qualify something outside. But, if so, in the simplest change we have at once ideality—the use of content in separation from its actual existence. Indeed, in Chapters ix. and x. we have already seen how this is necessary. For the content of the given is for ever relative to something not given, and the nature of its “what” is hence essentially to transcend its “that.” This we may call the ideality of the given finite. It is not manufactured by thought, but thought itself is its development and product. The essential nature of the finite is that everywhere, as it presents itself, its character should slide beyond the limits of its existence.

And truth, as we have seen, is the effort to heal this disease, as it were, homœopathically. Thought has to accept, without reserve, the ideality of the “given,” its want of consistency and its self-transcendence. And by pushing this self-transcendence to the uttermost point, thought attempts to find there consummation and rest. The subject, on the one hand, is expanded until it is no longer what is given. It becomes the whole universe, which presents itself and which appears in each given moment with but part of its reality. It grows into an all-inclusive whole, existing somewhere and somehow, if we only could perceive it. But on the other hand, in qualifying this reality, thought consents to a partial abnegation. It has to recognise the division of the “what” from the “that,” and it cannot so join these aspects as to get rid of mere ideas and arrive at actual reality. For it is in and by ideas only that thought moves and has life. The content it applies to the reality has, as applied, no genuine existence. It is an adjective divorced from its “that,” and never in judgment, even when the judgment is complete, restored to solid unity. Thus the truth belongs to existence, but it does not as such exist. It is a character which indeed reality possesses, but a character which, as truth and as ideal, has been set loose from existence; and it is never rejoined to it in such a way as to come together singly and make fact. Hence, truth shows a dissection and never an actual life. Its predicate can never be equivalent to its subject. And if it became so, and if its adjectives could be at once self-consistent and re-welded to existence, it would not be truth any longer. It would have then passed into another and a higher reality.

And I will now deal with the misapprehension to which I referred, and the consideration of which may, I trust, help us forward.[2]

There is an erroneous idea that, if reality is more than thought, thought itself is, at least, quite unable to say so. To assert the existence of anything in any sense beyond thought suggests, to some minds, the doctrine of the Thing-in-itself. And of the Thing-in-itself we know (Chapter xii.) that if it existed we could not know of it; and, again, so far as we know of it, we know that it does not exist. The attempt to apprehend this Other in succeeding would be suicide, and in suicide could not reach anything beyond total failure. Now, though I have urged this result, I wish to keep it within rational limits, and I dissent wholly from the corollary that nothing more than thought exists. But to think of anything which can exist quite outside of thought I agree is impossible. If thought is one element in a whole, you cannot argue from this ground that the remainder of such a whole must stand apart and independent. From this ground, in short, you can make no inference to a Thing-in-itself. And there is no impossibility in thought’s existing as an element, and no self-contradiction in its own judgment that it is less than the universe.

We have seen that anything real has two aspects, existence and character, and that thought always must work within this distinction. Thought, in its actual processes and results, cannot transcend the dualism of the “that” and the “what.” I do not mean that in no sense is thought beyond this dualism, or that thought is satisfied with it and has no desire for something better. But taking judgment to be completed thought, I mean that in no judgment are the subject and predicate the same. In every judgment the genuine subject is reality, which goes beyond the predicate and of which the predicate is an adjective. And I would urge first that, in desiring to transcend this distinction, thought is aiming at suicide. We have seen that in judgment we find always the distinction of fact and truth, of idea and reality. Truth and thought are not the thing itself, but are of it and about it. Thought predicates an ideal content of a subject, which idea is not the same as fact, for in it existence and meaning are necessarily divorced. And the subject, again, is neither the mere “what” of the predicate, nor is it any other mere “what.” Nor, even if it is proposed to take up a whole with both its aspects, and to predicate the ideal character of its own proper subject, will that proposal assist us. For if the subject is the same as the predicate, why trouble oneself to judge? But if it is not the same, then what is it, and how is it different? Either then there is no judgment at all, and but a pretence of thinking without thought, or there is a judgment, but its subject is more than the predicate, and is a “that” beyond a mere “what.” The subject, I would repeat, is never mere reality, or bare existence without character. The subject, doubtless, has unspecified content which is not stated in the predicate. For judgment is the differentiation of a complex whole, and hence always is analysis and synthesis in one. It separates an element from, and restores it to, the concrete basis; and this basis of necessity is richer than the mere element by itself. But then this is not the question which concerns us here. That question is whether, in any judgment which really says anything, there is not in the subject an aspect of existence which is absent from the bare predicate. And it seems clear that this question must be answered in the affirmative. And if it is urged that the subject itself, being in thought, can therefore not fall beyond, I must ask for more accuracy; for “partly beyond” appears compatible with “partly within.” And, leaving prepositions to themselves, I must recall the real issue. For I do not deny that reality is an object of thought; I deny that it is barely and merely so. If you rest here on a distinction between thought and its object, that opens a further question to which I shall return (p. 174). But if you admit that in asserting reality to fall within thought, you meant that in reality there is nothing beyond what is made thought’s object, your position is untenable. Reflect upon any judgment as long as you please, operate upon the subject of it to any extent which you desire, but then (when you have finished) make an actual judgment. And when that is made, see if you do not discover, beyond the content of your thought, a subject of which it is true, and which it does not comprehend. You will find that the object of thought in the end must be ideal, and that there is no idea which, as such, contains its own existence. The “that” of the actual subject will for ever give a something which is not a mere idea, something which is different from any truth, something which makes such a difference to your thinking, that without it you have not even thought completely.

“But,” it may be answered, “the thought you speak of is thought that is not perfect. Where thought is perfect there is no discrepancy between subject and predicate. A harmonious system of content predicating itself, a subject self-conscious in that system of content, this is what thought should mean. And here the division of existence and character is quite healed up. If such completion is not actual, it is possible, and the possibility is enough.” But it is not even possible, I must persist, if it really is unmeaning. And once more I must urge the former dilemma. If there is no judgment, there is no thought; and if there is no difference, there is no judgment, nor any self-consciousness. But if, on the other hand, there is a difference, then the subject is beyond the predicated content.

Still a mere denial, I admit, is not quite satisfactory. Let us then suppose that the dualism inherent in thought has been transcended. Let us assume that existence is no longer different from truth, and let us see where this takes us. It takes us straight to thought’s suicide. A system of content is going to swallow up our reality; but in our reality we have the fact of sensible experience, immediate presentation with its colouring of pleasure and pain. Now I presume there is no question of conjuring this fact away; but how it is to be exhibited as an element in a system of thought-content, is a problem not soluble. Thought is relational and discursive, and, if it ceases to be this, it commits suicide; and yet, if it remains thus, how does it contain immediate presentation? Let us suppose the impossible accomplished; let us imagine a harmonious system of ideal contents united by relations, and reflecting itself in self-conscious harmony. This is to be reality, all reality; and there is nothing outside it. The delights and pains of the flesh, the agonies and raptures of the soul, these are fragmentary meteors fallen from thought’s harmonious system. But these burning experiences—how in any sense can they be mere pieces of thought’s heaven? For, if the fall is real, there is a world outside thought’s region, and, if the fall is apparent, then human error itself is not included there. Heaven, in brief, must either not be heaven, or else not all reality. Without a metaphor, feeling belongs to perfect thought, or it does not. If it does not, there is at once a side of existence beyond thought. But if it does belong, then thought is different from thought discursive and relational. To make it include immediate experience, its character must be transformed. It must cease to predicate, it must get beyond mere relations, it must reach something other than truth. Thought, in a word, must have been absorbed into a fuller experience. Now such an experience may be called thought, if you choose to use that word. But if any one else prefers another term, such as feeling or will, he would be equally justified. For the result is a whole state which both includes and goes beyond each element; and to speak of it as simply one of them seems playing with phrases. For (I must repeat it) when thought begins to be more than relational, it ceases to be mere thinking. A basis, from which the relation is thrown out and into which it returns, is something not exhausted by that relation. It will, in short, be an existence which is not mere truth. Thus, in reaching a whole which can contain every aspect within it, thought must absorb what divides it from feeling and will. But when these all have come together, then, since none of them can perish, they must be merged in a whole in which they are harmonious. But that whole assuredly is not simply one of its aspects. And the question is not whether the universe is in any sense intelligible. The question is whether, if you thought it and understood it, there would be no difference left between your thought and the thing. And, supposing that to have happened, the question is then whether thought has not changed its nature.

Let us try to realize more distinctly what this supposed consummation would involve. Since both truth and fact are to be there, nothing must be lost, and in the Absolute we must keep every item of our experience. We cannot have less, but, on the other hand, we may have much more; and this more may so supplement the elements of our actual experience that in the whole they may become transformed. But to reach a mode of apprehension, which is quite identical with reality, surely predicate and subject, and subject and object, and in short the whole relational form, must be merged. The Absolute does not want, I presume, to make eyes at itself in a mirror, or, like a squirrel in a cage, to revolve the circle of its perfections. Such processes must be dissolved in something not poorer but richer than themselves. And feeling and will must also be transmuted in this whole, into which thought has entered. Such a whole state would possess in a superior form that immediacy which we find (more or less) in feeling; and in this whole all divisions would be healed up. It would be experience entire, containing all elements in harmony. Thought would be present as a higher intuition; will would be there where the ideal had become reality; and beauty and pleasure and feeling would live on in this total fulfilment. Every flame of passion, chaste or carnal, would still burn in the Absolute unquenched and unabridged, a note absorbed in the harmony of its higher bliss. We cannot imagine, I admit, how in detail this can be. But if truth and fact are to be one, then in some such way thought must reach its consummation. But in that consummation thought has certainly been so transformed, that to go on calling it thought seems indefensible.

I have tried to show first that, in the proper sense of thought, thought and fact are not the same. I have urged, in the second place, that, if their identity is worked out, thought ends in a reality which swallows up its character. I will ask next whether thought’s advocates can find a barrier to their client’s happy suicide.

They might urge, first, that our consummation is the Thing-in-itself, and that it makes thought know what essentially is not knowable. But this objection forgets that our whole is not anything but sentient experience. And it forgets that, even when we understand by “thought” its strict discursive form, our reality does not exist apart from this. Emphatically the Absolute is nothing if taken apart from any single one of its elements. But the Thing-in-self, on the other hand, must exist apart.

Let us pass to another objection against our view. We may be told that the End, because it is that which thought aims at, is therefore itself (mere) thought. This assumes that thought cannot desire a consummation in which it is lost. But does not the river run into the sea, and the self lose itself in love? And further, as good a claim for predominance might be made on behalf of will, and again on behalf of beauty and sensation and pleasure. Where all elements reach their end in the Absolute, that end can belong to no one severally. We may illustrate this principle by the case of morality. That essentially desires an end which is not merely moral because it is super-moral. Nay, even personality itself, our whole individual life and striving, tends to something beyond mere personality. Of course, the Absolute has personality, but it fortunately possesses so much more, that to call it personal would be as absurd as to ask if it is moral.[3]

But in self-consciousness, I may be told, we actually experience a state where truth and being are identical; and here, at all events, thinking is not different from reality. But in our tenth chapter we have seen that no such state exists. There is no self-consciousness in which the object is the same as the subject, none in which what is perceived exhausts the whole self. In self-consciousness a part or element, or again a general aspect or character, becomes distinct from the whole mass and stands over against the felt background. But the background is never exhausted by this object, and it never could be so. An experiment should convince any man that in self-consciousness what he feels cannot wholly come before him. It can be exhausted, if at all, only by a long series of observations, and the summed result of these observations cannot be experienced as a fact. Such a result cannot ever be verified as quite true at any particular given moment. In short consciousness implies discrimination of an element from the felt mass, and a consciousness that should discriminate every element at once is psychologically impossible. And this impossibility, if it became actual, would still leave us held in a dilemma. For there is either no difference, and therefore no distinction, and no consciousness; or there is a distinction, and therefore a difference between object and reality. But surely, if self-consciousness is appealed to, it is evident that at any moment I am more than the self which I can think of. How far everything in feeling may be called intelligible, is not the question here. But what is felt cannot be understood so that its truth and its existence become the same. And, if that were possible, yet such a process would certainly not be thinking.

In thinking the subject which thinks is more than thought. And that is why we can imagine that in thinking we find all reality. But in the same way the whole reality can as well be found in feeling or in volition. Each is one element in the whole, or the whole in one of its aspects; and hence, when you get an aspect or element, you have the whole with it. But because, given one aspect (whichever it may be), we find the whole universe, to conclude that in the universe there is nothing beyond this single aspect, seems quite irrational.

But the reader may agree that no one really can believe that mere thought includes everything. The difficulty lies, he may urge, in maintaining the opposite. Since in philosophy we must think, how is it possible to transcend thought without a self-contradiction? For theory can reflect on, and pronounce about, all things, and in reflecting on them it therefore includes them. So that to maintain in thought an Other is by the same act to destroy its otherness, and to persist is to contradict oneself. While admitting that thought cannot satisfy us as to reality’s falling wholly within its limits, we may be told that, so long as we think, we must ignore this admission. And the question is, therefore, whether philosophy does not end in sheer scepticism—in the necessity, that is, of asserting what it is no less induced to deny. The problem is serious, and I will now attempt to exhibit its solution.

We maintain an Other than mere thought. Now in what sense do we hold this? Thought being a judgment, we say that the predicate is never the same as the subject; for the subject is reality presented as “this” (we must not say as mere “this”). You can certainly abstract from presentation its character of “thisness,” or its confused relatedness; and you can also abstract the feature of presentation. Of these you can make ideas,[4] for there is nothing which you cannot think of. But you find that these ideas are not the same as the subject of which you must predicate them. You can think of the subject, but you cannot get rid of it, or substitute mere thought-content for it. In other words, in practice thought always is found with, and appears to demand, an Other.

Now the question is whether this leads to self-contradiction. If thought asserted the existence of any content which was not an actual or possible object of thought—certainly that assertion in my judgment would contradict itself. But the Other which I maintain, is not any such content, nor is it another separated “what,” nor in any case do I suggest that it lies outside intelligence. Everything, all will and feeling, is an object for thought, and must be called intelligible.[5] This is certain; but, if so, what becomes of the Other? If we fall back on the mere “that,” thatness itself seems a distinction made by thought. And we have to face this difficulty: If the Other exists, it must be something; and if it is nothing, it certainly does not exist.

Let us take an actual judgment and examine the subject there with a view to find our Other. In this we at once meet with a complication. We always have more content in the presented subject than in the predicate, and it is hence harder to realize what, beside this overplus of content, the subject possesses. However, passing this by, we can find in the subject two special characters. There is first (a) sensuous infinitude, and (b) in the second place there is immediacy.

(a) The presented subject has a detail which is unlimited. By this I do not mean that the actual plurality of its features exceeds a finite number. I mean that its detail always goes beyond itself, and is indefinitely relative to something outside.[6] In its given content it has relations which do not terminate within that content; and its existence therefore is not exhausted by itself, as we ever can have it. If I may use the metaphor, it has always edges which are ragged in such a way as to imply another existence from which it has been torn, and without which it really does not exist. Thus the content of the subject strives, we may say, unsuccessfully towards an all-inclusive whole. Now the predicate, on its side, is itself not free from endlessness. For its content, abstracted and finite, necessarily depends on relation to what is beyond. But it lacks the sensible and compulsory detail of the subject. It is not given as one thing with an actual but indefinite context. And thus, at least ostensibly, the predicate is hostile to endlessness.

(b) This is one difference, and the second consists in immediacy. The subject claims the character of a single self-subsistent being. In it the aspects of “what” and “that” are not taken as divorced, but it is given with its content as forming one integral whole. The “what” is not sundered from the “that,” and turned from fact into truth. It is not predicated as the adjective of another “that,” or even of its own. And this character of immediacy is plainly not consistent with endlessness. They are, in truth, each an imperfect appearance of individuality.[7] But the subject clearly possesses both these discrepant features, while the predicate no less clearly should be without them. For the predicate seeks also for individuality but by a different road.

Now, if we take the subject to have these two characters which are absent from the predicate, and if the desire of thought implies removal of that which makes predicate and subject differ—we begin to perceive the nature of our Other. And we may see at once what is required in order to extinguish its otherness. Subject and predicate alike must accept reformation. The ideal content of the predicate must be made consistent with immediate individuality; and, on its side, the subject must be changed so as to become consistent with itself. It must become a self-subsistent, and that means an all-inclusive, individual. But these reforms are impossible. The subject must pass into the judgment, and it becomes infected with the relational form. The self-dependence and immediacy, which it claims, are not possessed by its content. Hence in the attempted self-assertion this content drives the subject beyond actual limits, and so begets a process which is infinite and cannot be exhausted. Thus thought’s attempt wholly to absorb the subject must fail. It fails because it cannot reform the subject so as to include and exhaust its content. And, in the second place, thought fails because it cannot reform itself. For, if per impossibile the exhausted content were comprised within a predicate, that predicate still could not bear the character of immediacy. I will dwell for a little on both points.

Let us consider first the subject that is presented. It is a confused whole that, so far as we make it an object, passes into a congeries of qualities and relations. And thought desires to transform this congeries into a system. But, to understand the subject, we have at once to pass outside it in time, and again also in space. On the other hand these external relations do not end, and from their own nature they cannot end. Exhaustion is not merely impracticable, it is essentially impossible. And this obstacle would be enough; but this is not all. Inside the qualities, which we took first as solid end-points of the relations, an infinite process breaks out. In order to understand, we are forced to distinguish to the end, and we never get to that which is itself apart from distinction. Or we may put the difficulty otherwise thus. We can neither take the terms with their relations as a whole that is self-evident, that stands by itself, and that calls for no further account; nor, on the other side, when we distinguish, can we avoid the endless search for the relation between the relation and its terms.[8]

Thus thought cannot get the content into a harmonious system. And in the next place, even if it did so, that system would not be the subject. It would either be a maze of relations, a maze with a plan, of which for ever we made the circuit; or otherwise it would wholly lose the relational form. Our impossible process, in the first place, would assuredly have truth distinguished from its reality. For it could avoid this only by coming to us bodily and all at once, and, further, by suppressing entirely any distinction between subject and predicate. But, if in this way thought became immediate, it would lose its own character. It would be a system of relations no longer, but would have become an individual experience. And the Other would certainly have been absorbed, but thought itself no less would have been swallowed up and resolved into an Other.

Thought’s relational content can never be the same as the subject, either as that subject appears or as it really is. The reality that is presented is taken up by thought in a form not adequate to its nature, and beyond which its nature must appear as an Other. But, to come at last in full view of the solution of our problem, this nature also is the nature which thought wants for itself. It is the character which even mere thinking desires to possess, and which in all its aspects exists within thought already, though in an incomplete form. And our main result is briefly this. The end, which would satisfy mere truth-seeking, would do so just because it had the features possessed by reality. It would have to be an immediate, self-dependent, all-inclusive individual. But, in reaching this perfection, and in the act of reaching it, thought would lose its own character. Thought does desire such individuality, that is precisely what it aims at. But individuality, on the other hand, cannot be gained while we are confined to relations.

Still we may be told that we are far from the solution of our problem. The fact of thought’s desiring a foreign perfection, we may hear, is precisely the old difficulty. If thought desires this, then it is no Other, for we desire only what we know. The object of thought’s desire cannot, hence, be a foreign object; for what is an object is, therefore, not foreign. But we reply that we have penetrated below the surface of any such dilemma. Thought desires for its content the character which makes reality. These features, if realized, would destroy mere thought; and hence they are an Other beyond thought. But thought, nevertheless, can desire them, because its content has them already in an incomplete form. And in desire for the completion of what one has there is no contradiction. Here is the solution of our difficulty.

The relational form is a compromise on which thought stands, and which it developes. It is an attempt to unite differences which have broken out of the felt totality.[9] Differences forced together by an underlying identity, and a compromise between the plurality and the unity—this is the essence of relation. But the differences remain independent, for they cannot be made to resolve themselves into their own relation. For, if so, they would perish, and their relation would perish with them. Or, otherwise, their outstanding plurality would still remain unreconciled with their unity, and so within the relation would beget the infinite process. The relation, on the other side, does not exist beyond the terms; for, in that case, itself would be a new term which would aggravate the distraction. But again, it cannot lose itself within the terms; for, if so, where is their common unity and their relation? They would in this case not be related, but would fall apart. Thus the whole relational perception joins various characters. It has the feature of immediacy and self-dependence; for the terms are given to it and not constituted by it. It possesses again the character of plurality. And as representing the primitive felt whole, it has once more the character of a comprehending unity—a unity, however, not constituted by the differences, but added from without. And, even against its wish, it has further a restless infinitude; for such infinitude is the very result of its practical compromise. And thought desires, retaining these features, to reduce them to harmony. It aims at an all-inclusive whole, not in conflict with its elements, and at elements subordinate to a self-dependent whole. Hence neither the aspect of unity, nor of plurality, nor of both these features in one, is really foreign to thought. There is nothing foreign that thought wants in desiring to be a whole, to comprehend everything, and yet to include and be superior to discord. But, on the other hand, such a completion, as we have seen, would prove destructive; such an end would emphatically make an end of mere thought. It would bring the ideal content into a form which would be reality itself, and where mere truth and mere thought would certainly perish. Thought seeks to possess in its object that whole character of which it already owns the separate features. These features it cannot combine satisfactorily, though it has the idea, and even the partial experience, of their complete combination. And, if the object were made perfect, it would forthwith become reality, but would cease forthwith to be an object. It is this completion of thought beyond thought which remains for ever an Other. Thought can form the idea of an apprehension, something like feeling in directness, which contains all the character sought by its relational efforts. Thought can understand that, to reach its goal, it must get beyond relations. Yet in its nature it can find no other working means of progress. Hence it perceives that somehow this relational side of its nature must be merged and must include somehow the other side. Such a fusion would compel thought to lose and to transcend its proper self. And the nature of this fusion thought can apprehend in vague generality, but not in detail; and it can see the reason why a detailed apprehension is impossible. Such anticipated self-transcendence is an Other; but to assert that Other is not a self-contradiction.

Hence in our Absolute thought can find its Other without inconsistency. The entire reality will be merely the object thought out, but thought out in such a way that mere thinking is absorbed. This same reality will be feeling that is satisfied completely. In its direct experience we get restored with interest every feature lost by the disruption of our primitive felt whole. We possess the immediacy and the strength of simple apprehension, no longer forced by its own inconsistencies to pass into the infinite process. And again volition, if willed out, becomes our Absolute. For we reach there the identity of idea and reality, not too poor but too rich for division of its elements. Feeling, thought, and volition have all defects which suggest something higher. But in that higher unity no fraction of anything is lost. For each one-sided aspect, to gain itself, blends with that which seemed opposite, and the product of this fusion keeps the riches of all. The one reality, we may say from our human point of view, was present in each aspect in a form which does not satisfy. To work out its full nature it has sunk itself into these differences. But in each it longs for that absolute self-fruition which comes only when the self bursts its limits and blends with another finite self. This desire of each element for a perfection which implies fusion with others, is not self-contradictory. It is rather an effort to remove a present state of inconsistency, to remain in which would indeed be fixed self-contradiction.

Now, if it is objected that such an Absolute is the Thing-in-itself, I must doubt if the objector can understand. How a whole which comprehends everything can deserve that title is past my conjecture. And, if I am told that the differences are lost in this whole, and yet the differences are, and must therefore be left outside—I must reply to this charge by a counter-charge of thoughtless confusion. For the differences are not lost, but are all contained in the whole. The fact that more is included there than these several, isolated, differences hardly proves that these differences are not there at all. When an element is joined to another in a whole of experience, then, on the whole, and for the whole, their mere specialities need not exist; but, none the less, each element in its own partial experience may retain its own speciality. “Yes; but these partial experiences,” I may be told, “will at all events fall outside the whole.” Surely no such consequence follows. The self-consciousness of the part, its consciousness of itself even in opposition to the whole—all will be contained within the one absorbing experience. For this will embrace all self-consciousness harmonized, though, as such, transmuted and suppressed. We cannot possibly construe, I admit, such an experience to ourselves. We cannot imagine how in detail its outline is filled up. But to say that it is real, and that it unites certain general characters within the living system of one undivided apprehension, is within our power. The assertion of this Absolute’s reality I hope in the sequel to justify. Here (if I have not failed) I have shown that, at least from the point of view of thinking, it is free from self-contradiction. The justification for thought of an Other may help both to explain and to bury the Thing-in-itself.


  1. Principles of Logic, Book I.
  2. The remainder of this chapter has been reprinted, with some alterations and omissions, from Mind, No. 51.
  3. See further, Chapters xxv. and xxvii.
  4. Principles of Logic, pp. 64-69.
  5. On this point see below, Chapters xix. and xxvi.
  6. This sensible “infinite” is the same as the finite, which we just saw was in its essence “ideal.”
  7. Compare here the doctrine of Chapters xix. and xxiv.
  8. For this see above, Chapter iii.
  9. On this point see Chapter iii.