Page:Blackwood's Magazine volume 044.djvu/556

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An Introduction to the Philosophy of Consciousness.

sonality is his true and proper being.

Having divided existence, then, into two distinct kinds, the next question is—to what account do we propose turning the discrimination? If it is of no practical use in removing difficulties and in throwing light upon the obscurer phenomena of man, it is worthless, and must be discarded as a barren and mere hair-splitting refinement. What application, then, has it to the subjects we are engaged in discussing; and, in particular, what assistance does it afford us in clearing up the great fact of Human Liberty—that key-stone in the arch of humanity, without which all our peculiar attributes, morality, responsibility, law, and justice, loosened from their mighty span, would fall from their places, and disappear for ever in the blind abysses of Necessity?

In availing ourselves, then, of the assistance of this distinction, and in applying it to our purposes, the first circumstance connected with it which attracts our attention is the following fact, deserving, we may be permitted to say, of very emphatic notice; that while the one of these species of existence precedes the act of consciousness, the other of them follows that act. Our existence for others is antecedent, but our existence for ourselves is subsequent to the act of consciousness. Before a child is conscious, it exists for others; but it exists for itself only after it is conscious. Prior to consciousness, or in the absence of that act, man is a one-sided phantasmagoria; vivid on the side towards others with all the colours, the vigorous ongoings, the accomplishments, and the reality of existence; but on the other side, the side where he himself should be, but is not yet, what is there? a blank—utter nothingness. But, posterior to consciousness, and in consequence of it, this vacuity is filled up, new scenery is unfolded, and a new reality is erected on the blank side behind the radiant pageant. The man himself is now there. The one-sided existence has become doubled. He no longer exists merely for others; he exists also for himself—a very different and, for him, a much more important matter.

Existence for one's self, then, personal existence, or, in other words, that species of Being which alone properly concerns man, is found not to precede, but to follow the act of consciousness; therefore the next fact of humanity to which we beg to call very particular attention is this: that man, properly speaking, acts before he exists; for consciousness is, as we have already shown, and will show still further, a pure act, and partakes in no degree of the nature of a passion. At the same time, the proof that consciousness is of this character will convince us that it cannot have its origin in the first-mentioned and given species of existence, which we have called existence for others, or existence without consciousness. But this is not the place for that proof. It will be attempted by-and-by.

This fact, that man acts before he truly and properly exists, may, perhaps at first sight appear rather startling, and maybe conceived to be at direct variance with what are called "the laws of human thought;" for it may be said that these laws compel us to conceive man in Being before we can conceive him in act. But if it should be really found to be thus at variance with these laws, our only answer is, that facts are "stubborn things," and that we do not care one straw for the laws of human thought when they contradict the facts of experience; and a fact of experience we maintain it to be (let people conceive or not as they please or can), that man's true Being follows and arises out of man's act—that man, properly speaking, cannot be said to be until he acts—that consciousness is an act, and that our proper existence, being identical and convertible with our personality, which results from consciousness, is not the antecedent but the consequent of that act.

Need we say anything further in enforcement and illustration of this very extraordinary fact? Every man will admit that his true Being is that which for him is "I." Now suppose no man had ever thought himself "I," would he ever have become "I," or possessed a proper personal Being? Certainly not. It is only after thinking oneself "I," and in consequence of thinking oneself "I," that one becomes "I." But thinking oneself "I" is an act—the act of consciousness. Therefore the act of consciousness is anterior to the existence of man, therefore man is in Act before he is truly and properly in Being; or, in other words, he performs an act before he has an existence (i.e., a standing out) for himself.