Appearance and Reality/Chapter XX

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It may be well at this point perhaps to look back on the ground which we have traversed. In our First Book we examined some ways of regarding reality, and we found that each of them contained fatal inconsistency. Upon this we forthwith denied that, as such, they could be real. But upon reflection we perceived that our denial must rest upon positive knowledge. It can only be because we know, that we venture to condemn. Reality therefore, we are sure, has a positive character, which rejects mere appearance and is incompatible with discord. On the other hand it cannot be a something apart, a position qualified in no way save as negative of phenomena. For that leaves phenomena still contradictory, while it contains in its essence the contradiction of a something which actually is nothing. The Reality, therefore, must be One, not as excluding diversity, but as somehow including it in such a way as to transform its character. There is plainly not anything which can fall outside of the Real. That must be qualified by every part of every predicate which it rejects; but it has such qualities as counterbalance one another’s failings. It has a superabundance in which all partial discrepancies are resolved and remain as higher concord.

And we found that this Absolute is experience, because that is really what we mean when we predicate or speak of anything. It is not one-sided experience, as mere volition or mere thought; but it is a whole superior to and embracing all incomplete forms of life. This whole must be immediate like feeling, but not, like feeling, immediate at a level below distinction and relation. The Absolute is immediate as holding and transcending these differences. And because it cannot contradict itself, and does not suffer a division of idea from existence, it has therefore a balance of pleasure over pain. In every sense it is perfect.

Then we went on to enquire if various forms of the finite would take a place within this Absolute. We insisted that nothing can be lost, and yet that everything must be made good, so as to minister to harmony. And we laid stress on the fact that the how was inexplicable. To perceive the solution in detail is not possible for our knowledge. But, on the other hand, we urged that such an explanation is not necessary. We have a general principle which seems certain. The only question is whether any form of the finite is a negative instance which serves to overthrow this principle. Is there anything which tends to show that our Absolute is not possible? And, so far as we have gone, we have discovered as yet nothing. We have at present not any right to a doubt about the Absolute. We have got no shred of reason for denying that it is possible. But, if it is possible, that is all we need seek for. For already we have a principle upon which it is necessary; and therefore it is certain.

In the following chapters I shall still pursue the same line of argument. I shall enquire if there is anything which declines to take its place within the system of our universe. And, if there is nothing that is found to stand out and to conflict, or to import discord when admitted, our conclusion will be attained. But I will first add a few remarks on the ideas of Individuality and Perfection.

We have seen that these characters imply a negation of the discordant and discrepant, and a doubt, perhaps, may have arisen about their positive aspect. Are they positive at all? When we predicate them, do we assert or do we only deny? Can it be maintained that these ideas are negative simply? It might be urged against us that reality means barely non-appearance, and that unity is the naked denial of plurality. And in the same way individuality might be taken as the barren absence of discord and of dissipation. Perfection, again, would but deny that we are compelled to go further, or might signify merely the failure of unrest and of pain. Such a doubt has received, I think, a solution beforehand, but I will point out once more its cardinal mistake.

In the first place a mere negation is unmeaning (p. 138). To deny, except from a basis of positive assumption, is quite impossible. And a bare negative idea, if we could have it, would be a relation without a term. Hence some positive basis must underlie these negations which we have mentioned. And, in the second place, we must remember that what is denied is, none the less, somehow predicated of our Absolute. It is indeed because of this that we have called it individual and perfect.

1. It is, first, plain that at least the idea of affirmative being supports the denial of discrepancy and unrest. Being, if we use the term in a restricted sense, is not positively definable. It will be the same as the most general sense of experience. It is different from reality, if that, again, is strictly used. Reality (proper) implies a foregone distinction of content from existence, a separation which is overcome. Being (proper), on the other hand, is immediate, and at a level below distinctions[1]; though I have not thought it necessary always to employ these terms in a confined meaning. However, in its general sense of experience, being underlies the ideas of individuality and perfection. And these, at least so far, must be positive.

2. And, in the second place, each of them is positively determined by what it excludes. The aspect of diversity belongs to the essence of the individual, and is affirmatively contained in it. The unity excludes what is diverse, so far only as that attempts to be anything by itself, and to maintain isolation. And the individual is the return of this apparent opposite with all its wealth into a richer whole. How in detail this is accomplished I repeat that we do not know; but we are capable, notwithstanding, of forming the idea of such a positive union (Chapters xiv. and xxvii.). Feeling supplies us with a low and imperfect example of an immediate whole. And, taking this together with the idea of qualification by the rejected, and together with the idea of unknown qualities which come in to help—we arrive at individuality. And, though depending on negation, such a synthesis is positive.

And, in a different way, the same account is valid of the Perfect. That does not mean a being which, in regard to unrest and painful struggle, is a simple blank. It means the identity of idea and existence, attended also by pleasure. Now, so far as pleasure goes, that certainly is not negative. But pleasure is far from being the only positive element in perfection. The unrest and striving, the opposition of fact to idea, and the movement towards an end—these features are not left outside of that Whole which is consummate. For all the content, which the struggle has generated, is brought home and is laid to rest undiminished in the perfect. The idea of a being qualified somehow, without any alienation of its “what” from its “that”—a being at the same time fully possessed of all hostile distinctions, and the richer for their strife—this is a positive idea. And it can be realised in its outline, though certainly not in detail.

I will advert in conclusion to an objection drawn from a common mistake. Quantity is often introduced into the idea of perfection. For the perfect seems to be that beyond which we cannot go, and this tends naturally to take the form of an infinite number. But, since any real number must be finite, we are at once involved here in a hopeless contradiction. And I think it necessary to say no more on this evident illusion; but will pass on to the objection which may be urged against our view of the perfect. If the perfect is the concordant, then no growth of its area or increase of its pleasantness could make it more complete. We thus, apparently, might have the smallest being as perfect as the largest; and this seems paradoxical. But the paradox really, I should say, exists only through misunderstanding. For we are accustomed to beings whose nature is always and essentially defective. And so we suppose in our smaller perfect a condition of want, or at least of defect; and this condition is diminished by alteration in quantity. But, where a being is really perfect, our supposition would be absurd. Or, again, we imagine first a creature complete in itself, and by the side of it we place a larger completion. Then unconsciously we take the greater to be, in some way, apprehended by the smaller; and, with this, naturally the lesser being becomes by contrast defective. But what we fail to observe is that such a being can no longer be perfect. For an idea which is not fact has been placed by us within it; and that idea at once involves a collision of elements, and by consequence also a loss of perfection. And thus a paradox has been made by our misunderstanding. We assumed completion, and then surreptitiously added a condition which destroyed it. And this, so far, was a mere error.

But the error may direct our attention to a truth. It leads us to ask if two perfections, great and small, can possibly exist side by side. And we must answer in the negative. If we take perfection in its full sense, we cannot suppose two such perfect existences. And this is not because one surpasses the other in size; for that is wholly irrelevant. It is because finite existence and perfection are incompatible. A being, short of the Whole, but existing within it, is essentially related to that which is not-itself. Its inmost being is, and must be, infected by the external. Within its content there are relations which do not terminate inside. And it is clear at once that, in such a case, the ideal and the real can never be atone. But their disunion is precisely what we mean by imperfection. And thus incompleteness, and unrest, and unsatisfied ideality, are the lot of the finite. There is nothing which, to speak properly, is individual or perfect, except only the Absolute.


  1. Compare here p. 225, and for the stricter meaning of some other phrases see p. 317.