Updated: Sep 18
Watson, John. “The Absolute and the Time-Process.”The Philosophical Review 4 and 5, (1895): 353- 370 and 486-506
THERE are, I think, clear indications that the reign of Agnosticism is almost over. That phase of thought, which is based upon the fundamental contradiction that we know the Absolute to be unknowable, has drawn its main support from a rejection of the preconceptions of traditional theology and an affirmation of the validity of the scientific view of the world as under the dominion of inviolable law. Agnosticism, however, has itself been the victim of a preconception, the preconception that the scientific view of the world is ultimate, or at least that it is the ultimate view of which man, or man at the present stage of his knowledge, alone is capable. It is therefore a hopeful sign that there has recently been so much speculation upon the nature of that Absolute which Agnosticism declares to be unknowable. Such discussions as those of Mr. McTaggart on "Time and the Hegelian Dialectic," 1 with the criticisms which they have called forth, and, above all, the publication of Mr. Bradley's Appearance and Reality, show that she who was " of old called the Queen of the Sciences," still exercises her fascination over men's minds.
Mr. Bradley, if I rightly understand him, starts from the conviction that the world must be a self-consistent Unity, and must therefore somehow be the reconciliation of all the contradictions which beset our various ways of viewing the world. He is unable to accept as ultimate the self-contradictory categories of common sense and science; he rejects the absolute opposition of feeling, thought, and will, though he does not see how we are to reconcile them; he cannot admit that from an ultimate point of view either Science or Art or Religion has expressed the true nature of Reality; and he maintains that in the Absolute all these oppositions "must be laid to rest." In this conviction Mr. Bradley agrees with all who believe that the world is essentially rational; and he differs from such thinkers as Hegel mainly in his vigorous defense of the proposition that we cannot actually reconcile the oppositions which we find in our experience, though we have valid grounds for maintaining that they are reconciled in the Absolute; he holds, in other words, that while we cannot see things from an absolute point of view, we yet can state positively what the absolute point of view must be. I do not think it would be fair to Mr. Bradley to say that he falls back upon 'feeling' or intuition,' as distinguished from 'thought.' What he rather does is to suggest that, in the Absolute, 'feeling' or ‘intuition' and 'thought' must be reconciled in a higher unity, though we cannot see how this reconciliation takes place, since in us they always fall apart. It is thus evident that one main difficulty which Mr. Bradley cannot see his way to solve is how the Absolute can be grasped by thought. And in point of fact we cannot take a step in the solution of the problem as to the knowability of the Absolute until we have settled whether, and in what sense, thought is capable of comprehending the Absolute.
There can be no thought whatever, whether it takes the form of conception, judgment, or inference, unless thought is itself a principle of unity. This unity, however, must not be conceived as working by the method of abstraction, but as manifesting itself in the distinction and combination of differences. We can, no doubt, fix our attention upon the unity which is implied in every act of thought, but we cannot affirm that thought is a unity which excludes differences. Thought is thus the universal capacity of combining differences in a unity. Now, if thought is by its very nature a unity, there can be no absolute separation between the various elements which it combines no separation, that is, within thought itself. It is perhaps not impossible that there are real elements which thought cannot reduce to unity, but within thought itself there can be no such elements: elements which are not combined are not thought. We cannot therefore regard the organism of thought as made up of a number of independent conceptions or ideas having no relation to one another; the whole of our conceptions taken together form the unity which thought by its activity constitutes. Conception is thus the process in which the distinguishable aspects of the real world, or what we believe to be the real world, are combined in the unity of a single system. This process may be viewed either as a progressive differentiation or as a progressive unification. And these two aspects are essentially correlative: conception reaches a higher stage according as it unites a greater number of differences, and it cannot unite without distinguishing. It is of great importance to keep hold of this truth. To neglect it is to make a consistent theory of knowledge impossible. If conception is a process of abstraction, thought can by no, possibility comprehend reality. The importance of the subject will excuse a few remarks upon the nature of ‘conception,' and its relation to judgment.
Conception may be regarded as the termination or as the beginning of a judgment, according to our point of view. In the former case conception condenses, or holds in a transparent unity, the distinguishable elements which have been combined in a prior judgment, or rather it is the synthetic unity of a number of prior judgments. Thus the conception ‘light’ comprehends the prior judgments by which the object ‘light’ has entered into the world of our thought. Hence it is that judgment has been supposed to be merely the analysis of a given conception. But no analysis of a conception can yield more than has previously been combined. The name 'light' stands for more or fewer judgments according to the stage of thought of the individual who employs it. A so-called analytic judgment is simply the explicit statement of judgments already made, and adds nothing to the wealth of the thought-world. It is true that the resolution of a conception into the judgments which it presupposes may be the occasion of a new judgment. It is so, when we for the first time observe that a conception does presuppose a number of judgments; but in this case we have done more than merely analyze the conception into its constituent elements: we have brought to light the nature of conception and its relation to judgment.
It is characteristic of every real judgment every judgment which is more than the reproduction of a judgment formerly made that it combines in a new unity elements not previously combined. Can we then say that judgment is the combination of conceptions? Not if we mean by this that the conceptions remain in the judgment what they were prior to the judgment. A conception being the condensed result of prior judgments in which distinguishable elements of realityhave been united, it forms the starting-point for new judgments, but each of these new judgments is the further comprehension of the real, and therefore the conception grows richer in content with each judgment. Thus if, starting from the ordinary conception of 'light,' we go on to judge that it is "due to the vibration of an aether," we do not simply add a new predicate to the subject, but the conception is itself transformed and enriched. Judgment is thus conception viewed as in process, and a conception is any stage in that process. The distinction is purely relative. In judgment thought unifies the elements which it discriminates; in conception the elements are viewed as united even while they are discriminated. For it must be observed that thought never unifies without discriminating: the whole process of thought is concrete throughout, and, as knowledge develops, becomes more and more concrete. We are therefore entitled to say that for the thinking subject reality is in continual process, and we are also entitled to say that there is neither thinking subject nor thought reality outside of the process of thought. A real world which is not a capable of being thought is for the subject nothing, and a subject which is not capable of thinking the real world is also nothing.
If this view is correct, it is misleading to say, with Mr. Bradley, that "in judgment an idea is predicated of a reality." For the reality of which we judge is a reality which exists only for thought, and it has no content except that which it has received in the process by which it is constituted for thought. Mr. Bradley tells us that whatever we regard as real has two aspects, (a) existence, (b) content, and that "thought seems essentially to consist in their division." Now, it is no doubt true that, if we suppose the real to be something which exists apart from thought, we shall have to divide or separate the 'what' from the 'that.' But there is for us no real in addition to the real which is thought. Such a real is a pure abstraction, and means no more than the empty possibility of the real. We cannot separate in this hypothetical real between the 'that' and the 'what,' because, having no content, it is neither a 'that' nor a 'what.' The real only comes to be for us in so far as there has gone on a process of discrimination and unification within a single reality by means of which the real has been constituted as a thought or ideal reality. What Mr. Bradley calls the 'that ' seems to me merely a name for the unity which is involved in every phase of the process by which reality is thought; and what he calls the 'what' is a name for the elements which thought distinguishes and combines in the unity of the real. The 'that' has therefore no determinateness when it is separated from the 'what'; it is simply pure being, or the bare potentiality of a thought reality. Mr. Bradley allows himself to speak of the 'what' as if it were first 'presented' in unity with the 'that,' and of judgment as if it consisted in the 'division' of the 'what' from the 'that.' But surely there is no 'what ' except that which thought has already made its own. The subject of any judgment has already a content, it is true, and this content we may express in the form of a series of judgments; but these judgments will merely reproduce the judgments formerly made: they will add nothing to knowledge. Every new judgment, on the other hand, determines the conceived reality from which we start: it transforms the reality for thought, and thus enriches it by a new determination. There would be no reason for judging at all if judgment consisted merely in detaching a 'content' from ‘existence’ and then proceeding to attach it to 'existence.' The ‘existence’ and the (‘content' are one and indivisible, and, as the one grows, so also does the other. Mr. Bradley says that "an idea implies the separation of content from existence." And no doubt in every judgment the 'content' is held suspended in thought before it is predicated of the subject. But, in the first place, so long as it is so held, there is no judgment: judgment consists in determining the subject by the predicate. And, in the second place, the content which is thus predicated of the subject is not the content which is already involved in the subject, and therefore we cannot say that judgment consists in the separation of the 'what' from the 'that.' When the scientific man affirms that light is clue to the vibration of an aether, he does not separate the 'content' already involved in the conception of the luminous object, and then predicate this 'content' of the subject; what he does is to determine the already qualified subject by a totally new 'content' which it did not previously possess, and in this determination of the subject the judgment consists. It thus seems to me that Mr. Bradley gives countenance to two fallacies: first, that the subject is a mere ‘that’ instead of being the condensed result of the whole prior process of thought; and, secondly, that judgment consists in the separation of a given content from the 'that,' a content which is then attributed to the 'that'; whereas judgment consists in the predication of a new content, which develops and enriches the ‘that.’ Whatever difficulty attaches to this view arises, as it seems to me, from the assumption that reality exists apart from the process by which it is thought. And, no doubt, reality is not made by thought in the sense of being the creation of the individual thinking subject, but it is made for the subject in the sense that nothing is or can be real for him which is not revealed to him in the process by which he thinks it as real.
When Mr. Bradley says that "the subject has unspecified content which is not stated in the predicate," he is evidently confusing "the subject" with reality, as it would be could it be completely determined by thought. But such a subject is not the 'that ' which is distinguished from the 'what,' for the 'that' is merely the abstraction of reality, the abstract idea of reality in general which is no reality in particular. Such a subject has no "unspecified content," because it has no content whatever. But if by the "subject" is meant the complete system of reality, it is no doubt true that it has "unspecified content which is not stated in the predicate." No single judgment can express the infinite wealth of the totality of reality. And not only is this true, but no single judgment can express the wealth of reality even as it exists for the subject who frames the judgment. We can only express the nature of reality in the totality of judgments which express the nature of reality as known to us, and it is manifestly an inadequate or partial view which seeks to limit known reality to that aspect of it which is expressed in a single judgment. But we must go still further: not only is known reality not expressed in any single judgment, but it is not expressed in the whole system of judgments which embody the knowledge of man as it exists at any given time. Our knowledge is not complete, and I do not see how it ever can be complete. In that sense Reality or the Absolute must always be unknown. But unless reality in its true nature is different in kind from the reality which we know, it must be thinkable reality. Any other reality than that which is thinkable can have no community with thought reality, but must be absolutely unknowable. It is not maintained that there is no reality which is not thought by us, but only that the reality which we know is thought reality. This reality enters into our thought and forms its content, and as the content continually expands for us so the reality continually expands. Reflecting upon this characteristic of knowledge, we get the notion of a completely determined reality, a reality which would be present to thought if thought were absolutely complete. Such a reality we do not possess, and it is therefore natural to say that there is a defect in the character of our thought which prevents us from grasping reality in its completeness. This explanation seems to me to rest upon the assumption that reality cannot be thought because thought deals only with abstractions. But, as I have maintained above, thought is never abstract; it contains within itself the whole wealth of reality so far as reality is known to us. The defect is not in the character of thought, as distinguished from feeling or intuition, but in the very nature of man as a being in whom a knowledge is a never-ending process. What I contend for, then, is not that man has complete knowledge of reality, a contention which is manifestly absurd, but that reality in its completeness must be a thinkable reality. Any other view seems to me to lead to the caput mortuum of the thing-in-itself, the reality which cannot be thought because it is unthinkable. When, therefore, Mr. Bradley says that it is an untenable position to maintain that "in reality there is nothing beyond what is made thought's object," I agree with a caveat. That there is nothing which is not made "thought's object," is manifestly untrue, if the "thought" here spoken of is thought as it exists for man. But, if it is meant that there is in reality something which cannot be made the object of thought, because it is unthinkable, I do not see what sort of reality this can be; to me it seems to be merely a name for a metaphysical abstraction. Reality that cannot be thought is a sort of reality to which I find myself unable to attach any meaning, and until I find some one who can give a meaning to it I refuse to admit its possibility. But I feel certain that such a person cannot be found, for the obvious reason that if this supposititious reality had a meaning, it would no longer be unthinkable.
If these considerations are at all correct, the only reality which has any meaning for us is reality that is capable of being thought. And this reality is not for us stationary, but grows in content as thought, which is the faculty of unifying the distinguishable elements of reality, develops in the process by which those elements are more fully distinguished and unified. The reality which thus enters into and constitutes our thought is therefore not abstract but infinitely concrete. For, as we have seen, the process of thought is not the mere transition from one conception to another, but it is the internal development of conception, which is at the same time the development of the conceived world. The reality therefore which thus arises for us in the process of thought is a system, in which there is revealed an ever greater diversity brought back into an ever more complete unity. And this reality is the Absolute, so far as the Absolute enters into and constitutes our known world. To seek for the Absolute beyond the thought reality, which alone exists for us, is to seek the living among the dead; if the Absolute is not revealed to us in the reality that we know, it is for us nothing. On the other hand, reality does not completely reveal itself in our knowledge, and therefore in a sense the Absolute is unknown. But the Absolute cannot be unknown in the sense that its nature is unthinkable; and hence we are entitled to deny of it any predicate which conflicts with the possibility of its being thought. This simple criterion seems to me to rule out certain views of the Absolute which are not without supporters.
The first view to which reference may be made is the conception of the Absolute attributed to Hegel by a recent writer. The Absolute or the universe, it is said by Mr. McTaggart, is defined by Hegel to be perfectly realized Reason. Now, such a Reason cannot be gradually realized in a temporal process; in other words, the universe as a whole cannot be regarded as passing from lower to higher stages, corresponding in some way to the successive categories of the Hegelian Logic. For, as the temporal process is still going on, the Absolute must in that case be regarded as not yet completely rational, but as on the way to a complete rationality, which will be realized only when the process is complete. Moreover, the Absolute must pass through all its phases in a finite time, (1) because infinite time is rejected by Hegel as a "false infinite," and (2) because the Dialectic has a beginning and an end. But if the Absolute does not pass through a process, but is eternally complete, we must regard time as merely phenomenal or unreal. This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that Hegel does not defend his principle that "the real is rational" by saying that it is not present but future reality which is rational. The universe we must therefore supposed to be eternally realized, or to be eternally rational. But the universe is not known by us to be completely rational. Now, if we are right in thinking that it is not perfect, then the universe is not perfect; and if we are wrong in thinking that it is not perfect, we are not perfect, and so the universe cannot be perfect. Moreover, if the universe appears to us to be imperfect, our thought fails of its end, and, as we must in that case be imperfect, the complete rationality of the world is destroyed.
I am anxious to avoid all disputes in regard to the interpretation of Hegel's doctrine. The writings of Hegel are apt to be treated like the Bible, in which "every one finds what he seeks." In one point I agree entirely with the writer: the categories which appear in successive pages of Hegel's Logic do not correspond to successive phases in the temporal development of the world. How any one could ever have supposed that they do, it is hard to understand. Hegel found, or believed that he found, a certain ideal subordination in the categories, or fundamental points of view from which men interpret the facts of experience; and, in order to determine how far these are adequate ways of conceiving the real universe, he separated the categories from the confused mass of detail in which they are ordinarily imbedded, and sought to show that, as they are all connected by a single principle, they may be arranged in the order of their approximation to the complete consciousness of that principle. The idea which dominates his whole treatment is that in human reason there operates the principle which is actually implied in the universe, and that, in setting forth clearly the organism of human reason, we are at the same time revealing the nature of real existence. In man, reason is always present, but it is hardly ever made a direct object of study. And as man can only know what is implicit in his reason by putting his reason into exercise; as, moreover, his mind is occupied with the practical interests of life before it turns back upon itself, it is only natural that a knowledge of its functions should be late of discovery. Hegel certainly supposes that he has discovered all the main functions of reason, and in particular that the supreme function is that in which the universe is interpreted as self-originating and self-conscious. Whether this is a true or a false theory is not at present in question; but, at any rate, it has no kinship with the doctrine that the universe has grown up in time in the order of the categories. One has only to read the opening pages of Hegel's Logic, where he distinctly says that Being is no more thinkable than Nothing, to see that he was not dealing with a temporal process. Is it supposed that the proof of the unthinkability of this abstract way of conceiving the universe is a proof that the universe actually existed in some remote point of time in this unthinkable form? Mr. McTaggart need not have displayed such remarkable subtlety in proving what he who runs may read.
Before passing to more important matters, I must record my protest against the writer's incidental contention that Hegel regards "infinite time" as a "false infinite." The "never ending process" of which Mr. McTaggart speaks is no doubt an instance of the "false infinite"; but Hegel, as I understand him, does not identify time with it, but only a false way of regarding time: what he maintains is that time is infinite in the sense that like space it is a pure abstraction of unity-indifference. Hence time is neither finite, nor non-finite (which is simply another finite), but infinite, i.e., self-identical in all its differences. The moments of time do not limit but continue it; hence it is infinite.
And this brings us to the central point in the writer's interpretation of Hegel. The Absolute or the universe is eternally complete, and therefore the time-process must be an illusion. Now, the universe does not appear to us to be completely rational, and therefore it cannot be completely rational.
Mr. McTaggart gives many ingenious reasons in support of this fundamental contradiction in the Hegelian theory, as conceived by him. I should not have thought that one needed to waste words on so obvious a contradiction. What the writer represents Hegel as maintaining is that the Absolute is self-complete apart from the time-process. If this is so, it is merely an identical proposition to say that the Absolute is not in the time-process. To be self-complete apart from the time- process, and not to be in the time-process, are precisely the same thing. We may ring the changes on the Absolute and the time-process in as many ways as we please, but there is no way of holding both that the Absolute is not in the time-process and that it is in the time-process. Now, it would be strange if Hegel had overlooked so very obvious a contradiction as this, nor do I believe that he did overlook it. He did not overlook it, because he never held that the Absolute was self-complete apart from the time-process; what he held was that the time-process has no existence apart from the Absolute. An Absolute apart from the world, and the world apart from the Absolute, are for him equally unthinkable. This is no doubt a "hard saying," but it is what Hegel does say, and what he has repeated in an infinite variety of ways.
Before going further, I should like to dwell for a little upon the contradictions which affect any theory which holds that the Absolute is self-complete apart from the time-process. If the Absolute is self-complete apart from the time-process, the time-process is a pure illusion. For, the Absolute comprehends all reality, and hence there is no reality left over to constitute the time-process. But the time-process comprehends, among other things, all finite thinking beings. Hence all thinking beings are pure illusion. But some of them at least think the Absolute, and upon the strength of their thought they affirm that the Absolute is self-complete. But their thinking is an illusion, and the product of their thought an illusion. Hence there is no Absolute apart from the temporal process. The Absolute must therefore be in the temporal process. But the temporal process is an illusion, and therefore the Absolute is an illusion in an illusion. But this is nonsense; and therefore the Absolute is not in the temporal process, but beyond it. Surely, we can in this way create as many dialectical absurdities as we please. The reason is perfectly obvious: we are affirming the self-contradictory proposition, that the Absolute, which by definition includes all reality, is apart from all the reality which we know as manifested in the time-process, including ourselves; in other words, that the self-complete is not self-complete. The inference from this surely is, that the Absolute can only be self-complete if it is manifested in the time-process. We may therefore, I think, dismiss as self-contradictory the doctrine which Mr. McTaggart has ascribed to Hegel. If we can only retain the Hegelian doctrine by swallowing a palpable contradiction, I think we had better abandon the Hegelian doctrine to those who can be satisfied with the maxim: Credo quia impossibile.
The Absolute must, as it seems to me, be manifested in the time-process, unless we are to regard the time-process as an illusion. It is important, however, to determine more precisely what we mean by the ‘manifestation' or 'appearance' of the Absolute in the time-process. The term ‘appearance’ is a dangerous weapon to play with. Perhaps no term in philosophy is a more potent source of confusion. For it may mean either (a) pure illusion, or (b) an incomplete manifestation of reality. It is upon this confusion, as it seems to me, that the difficulties which Mr. McTaggart finds in the idea of the Absolute mainly turn. Take, for example, the following sentence. "However much we may treat time as mere appearance, it must, like all other appearance, have reality behind it." What does "mere appearance" here mean? It ought to mean "pure illusion" since "appearance" is qualified as "mere" appearance. But if time is a pure illusion, it is nothing at all: it is an Unding, a something which must be denied to have any being. Hence we cannot talk of it as "having reality behind it." How can "reality" be "behind" nothing? We must suppose therefore that time is an "appearance," not in the sense that it is "pure illusion" or nothing, but in the sense that it is an incomplete form of reality. But if it is reality at all, it cannot be separated from reality in its completeness; and hence we cannot say that reality is "behind" it. To speak of reality as "behind" reality is nonsense: reality cannot be "behind" itself, it can only be "within" or "continuous with" itself. The metaphor implied in the use of the term 'behind ' rests upon the idea that reality exists in itself outside of or apart from time and all that is temporal. Thus we have here simply the same conception of a reality apart from the time-process, which we have already seen to be self-contradictory. It cannot therefore be surprising that the writer finds it impossible to explain how this reality should appear in time. "The reality, it may be answered," he continues" is in this case the timeless Absolute." In other words, the only real is reality which is outside of the temporal process. "But this reality will have to account, not merely for the facts which appear to us in time, but for this appearance of succession which they do undoubtedly assume." How can a reality which is outside of the temporal process account for anything which is within the temporal process? And what need is there to account for "the facts which appear to us in time"? If these "facts" are "mere appearance" in the sense of pure illusion, there is nothing to account for; and if they are "appearance" in the sense of a certain aspect of reality, reality is not separable from them any more than they from it. "What reason can be given," the writer proceeds, "why the eternal reality should manifest itself in a time-process at all?” No reason whatever: no intelligible answer can be given to a nonsensical question. If all reality is "eternal" in the sense of being outside of the time-process, to ask why this "eternal reality" should "manifest itself" in the time-process, is to ask why that which is outside of the time-process should be inside of it. It is needless to follow the writer further. The questions which he asks, and which might be multiplied indefinitely, all resolve themselves into the one question: How does the Absolute, which is self-complete apart from the time-process, manifest itself in the time-process? The question cannot be answered because it is absurd. If the Absolute is self-complete apart from the time-process, it cannot be manifested in that process; if it is manifested in the time-process, whether it is self-complete or not, at least it cannot be self-complete apart from the time-process, but the time-process is essential to its self-completeness.
Now, when we reject as self-contradictory the conception of the Absolute as self-complete apart from the time-process, we are immediately confronted by the difficulty that a world which is in process does not seem to be self-complete. And it may be urged that the facts of experience show that the world has passed through successive phases, in which it has advanced from a lower to a higher form. These facts we have no right to set aside in favor of any a priori theory, which assumes that reality cannot develop, but must be always perfect. Theory ought to conform to fact, not fact to theory; and the theory which conforms to fact would seem to be that the world is continually in process, or is progressing towards a goal which it has not yet reached.
I do not think that we can escape from the difficulties connected with the admission that the time-process is real, by affirming that the universe is in process of development from a lower to a higher form. It is no doubt true that, when we follow the history of finite beings, we discover that there has been on the whole an advance from less to more perfect forms, and that this process applies also to the human mind. But the admission that the Absolute is inseparable from the time-process and that there is an historical evolution of finite beings, does not imply that the Absolute itself develops from lower to higher. The origination of ever higher forms of being is conceivable so long as the totality of these beings is regarded as implying a Being from whom they originate, but which is not itself originated. But, if we suppose the process of development to be explicable without any reference to an original Being, we must either say (1) that the lower originates the higher, or (2) that the higher originates itself, or (3) that the higher originates for no reason whatever. The first view makes the cause contain less than the effect, the second manifestly absurd, and the third is simply another way of saying that the world is given over to pure chance. The only way of escape from these alternative absurdities is to recognize that ultimately the world and the whole temporal process of the finite presupposes a single principle which is self-determining and which manifests itself in the temporal process. On the other hand, this self-determining principle cannot be separated from the time-process. That supposition, as we have seen, leads to the contradiction of an Absolute which is self-complete apart from its manifestations. But to identify the Absolute, the complete totality of reality, with its manifestations in time, is to identify it with a partial or limited manifestation of itself. It may be said that, on this view, we cannot tell what the Absolute in its completeness is, since the temporal process is never complete. This is so far true, that an exhaustive knowledge of the Absolute is possible only to omniscience. But, though a complete knowledge of the Absolute is impossible for us, we yet can state what its essential nature must be. We are compelled to regard all finite or dependent being as presupposing a self-determining principle. The consciousness of the finite presupposes the consciousness of the infinite. This ultimate principle, while it is manifested in every phase of the temporal process, cannot itself be originated, nor can it be destroyed. To talk of the source of all reality as passing from lower to higher, or from higher to lower phases seems to me unmeaning. Beyond the reality which is required to explain the whole inexhaustible process by which finite reality comes to be, there is no reality. The very fact that the time-process is never complete compels us to refer it to a principle which is complete.
If it is asked why the Absolute reveals itself gradually in the finite, I should answer that the question is absurd: we cannot go behind reality in order to explain why it is what it is: we can only state what its nature, as known to us, involves. The actual process of the finite demands explanation, because the finite does not explain itself; but there is no conceivable way of explaining the ultimate principle of reality except by showing that reality as known to us presupposes it. And what reality as known to us presupposes is, "a principle which is unlimited and undetermined, in the sense that it limits and determines itself." Nothing short of this will explain the time-process. For the time-process is not a mere alternation of phases, each of which displaces that which has preceded it, but it is the gradual unfolding of a unity which is present in each phase and yet exhausted in none. The phases are real, but they are not real except as phases. If there is no unity through all the phases, but merely an alternation of states, there is no time-process. Such an "unconnected manifold" could never be known: it is a pure abstraction in which the principle of unity, which serves to bind together all the phases, is left out.
What, then, is the nature of this self-determining principle? We can only answer by considering the nature of knowable reality. Now, the fundamental distinction which is implied in all knowledge is the distinction of subject and object. There is no consciousness of self which does not presuppose the consciousness of not-self. But this distinction cannot be absolute, unless we are prepared to divide reality into two antithetical halves, and so to divide our consciousness into two halves. The whole process of our intellectual life consists in a return upon ourselves from the outward world, and the whole process of our practical life in the realization of ourselves in the outward world. There is no possibility of isolating either of these elements without reducing it to an unthinkable abstraction. Now, if the only reality which we ever know always involves these two correlative aspects, and if neither can be separated from the other without the reduction of reality to an unmeaning abstraction, it seems obvious that we cannot define the Absolute, which is the principle of all reality, without predicating of it the inseparable unity of both elements; the Absolute, in other words, must be the perfect unity of subject and object. Nor can this unity be of such a nature that in it the distinction of subject and object is eliminated; for of such a reality we can have no knowledge. The Absolute, in other words, must be self-distinguishing and yet self-relating. We are therefore entitled to say that no process of knowledge or action can ever bring the human mind to a stage in which reality will present itself as other than that of the unity of subject and object, which is the only reality we are capable of knowing.
I am well aware that the view which has here been roughly sketched of an Absolute which manifests itself in the time-process, and yet is self-complete, is open to many objections. With some of these I hope to deal in another article.
IN a former article an attempt was made to show (1) that there can be no absolute opposition between reality as it is in itself and reality as it is for thought, and (2) that the exclusion of reality from the time-process converts the time-process into an illusion, while at the same time it makes reality itself unthinkable, and therefore unreal. In support of the former proposition it was urged that we cannot, as Mr. Bradley seems to do, separate the 'what' from the 'that,' and thus oppose the ideal to the real. The ideal is the only real of which we can have any knowledge; in other words, reality is constituted for us in the continuous process by which it is determined as a thought reality. Judgment we must conceive, not as broken up into separate judgments, but as a single living self-conscious process, in which the real constitution of the world is revealed in its differentiation and integration.
To this view an objection may be raised, which may be dealt with here. It was admitted that the reality which is thought by us, and which alone we know, is not reality in its completeness, i.e., reality in the fullness of its detail; and it may obviously be objected that, since our knowledge is not complete, we have no guarantee that a further extension of knowledge would be in harmony with what we at present affirm to be reality. In answer to this objection I have already suggested that it ultimately rests upon the assumption that reality may be unintelligible, or, what is the same thing at bottom, that our intelligence may be incompetent to grasp reality. Such an assumption seems to me to be self-contradictory, since the only basis upon which it can be claimed that reality may be in its ultimate nature unintelligible must be that very intelligence the impotence of which is virtually assumed. To this general reply it may be added that the objection assumes that there are no universal principles, which implicitly contain an infinity of detail as yet unknown. But it is just the characteristic of thought that it grasps certain universal factors or aspects of reality, which are infinite so far as their appropriate particulars are concerned. To determine the nature of a straight line is to determine the nature of all possible straight lines; to grasp the principle of causal connection in a given change is to grasp the principle which applies in all possible changes. It must further be observed that the universal factors of knowledge are in a sense independent of one another. The physical determination of the world does not wait upon the complete mathematical determination of it, the biological upon the physical, or the philosophical upon all the others. If it were so, no progress could be made in the one until the other had completed its task. On such a view there would obviously be no problem for philosophy until all the other sciences had rounded into perfect spheres: which is the same as saying that philosophy would never begin at all. If, on the other hand, we admit that each science rests upon a principle which develops within itself, we leave room for philosophy as the science which shows the relation of the various principles involved in the other sciences, when these principles are regarded from the point of view of an intelligible reality which is an organic unity. There is therefore one principle which all others presuppose, and without which they cannot be principles of reality, namely, that reality is rational; and whatever is in conflict with it may confidently be pronounced false.
Now, if it is admitted that there is a rational or intelligible system of things, it is obvious that with this single system all the sciences must deal. Reality is one, and to suppose it split up into bits by the concentration of attention upon one phase of it is to be the victim of an abstraction. When in geometry we define a point or line, we are not dealing with a 'mere idea,' but with a fixed relation holding for every subject for whom there is any reality whatever. Similarly, all the judgments of geometry affirm that there are unchanging relations in the one system of reality which alone is or can be known, and these unchanging relations constitute the objectivity of that system, so far as it comes within the view of geometry. This does not mean that there is a world constituted of nothing but geometrical relations, but it does mean that a world from which all geometrical relations are eliminated is unthinkable. If geometrical relations are not determinations of the real world, all the sciences of nature are made impossible, and, as a consequence, the whole of the philosophical sciences as well. What is said of spatial relations, of course, holds good of temporal relations. And when we pass from the mathematical determination of reality to the dynamical from space and time to matter and motion the same principle of explanation still applies. For dynamical relations are real aspects of the one system of reality, while yet they do not exhaust its nature. It is as great a mistake to deny that those relations are determinations of the Absolute as to affirm that in them we have reached an exhaustive definition of it. A world of matter and motion is real in the same sense that a world of space or a world of time is real; without dynamical 1 relations there could be no reality whatever, but a reality consisting of these relations alone a world of pure matter and motion is as impossible as a world of pure space or pure time. They are real unchangeable aspects of existence, but they are no more than aspects. For, though there would be no real world were the relations or laws of dynamics not unchangeable, there are other aspects of reality which still further define existence. Certain of these aspects are brought to light by physics, chemistry, and biology. Here again we may say that what the sciences affirm they affirm of the Absolute, but we cannot say that now at last we have reached the ultimate or complete determination of it. All the sciences, from mathematics to biology inclusive, are abstract in this sense, that there are other aspects of reality which they presuppose. These new aspects of the one single system of reality form the subject-matter of the philosophical sciences, which again presuppose Logic or Metaphysic as the science which deals directly with the interrelation of all the principles upon which the other sciences are based. These very general remarks may perhaps be enough to indicate what seems to me the true point of view from which we must regard the relation of the Absolute to the temporal process. To conceive of the Absolute as beyond the temporal process at once makes the latter an illusion, and destroys the very possibility of knowledge. On the other hand, it may be maintained that an Absolute which is in process is a self-contradiction, and that it is better to sacrifice the temporal process than to sacrifice the Absolute. One way of escape from the difficulty is to regard time as not an ultimate or true determination of reality, but a 'mere appearance.' Two main lines of reasoning are urged in support of this doctrine. The first is that upon which Kant relies, who maintains that when time is regarded as a determination of reality as it is in itself, the result is that we fall into self-contradiction; the second is the view of Mr. Bradley, who places the self-contradiction in time itself. I confess to a certain reluctance to enter upon this old and well-worn question. To me it has long seemed that a way of escape from what Leibnitz calls the "labyrinth of the continuous," and Dr. Stirling "a boy's puzzle-box," was discovered by Aristotle, Leibnitz, and Hegel; but as such eminent authorities as Mr. McTaggart and Mr. Bradley are of a different opinion, it is only courteous that some attention should be paid to it. I shall first consider the Kantian view.
It is one of Lotze's many acute remarks that the Critical doctrine of time, as merely a form of human perception, is based rather upon the contradiction which is held to arise when time is predicated of reality as it is in itself than upon the reasons assigned by Kant in the Aesthetic. In the first antinomy, Kant seeks to show that, assuming the world as known to us to be the world as it is in itself, we fall into an antinomy, since we are forced to hold, on the one hand, that it must have a beginning in time, and, on the other hand, that it cannot have a beginning in time; and to escape this contradiction he maintains that time is merely a form of our perception, not a determination of reality. Now, this antinomy has been subjected to a searching criticism by Hegel, who maintains that Kant's so-called 'proof,' both of thesis and antithesis, is a mere petitio principii. As there is reason to suspect that Hegel is sometimes condemned by those who have not taken the trouble to read what he has to say, perhaps 'I may be allowed to quote his remarks on the first antinomy of Kant, so far as they bear upon the nature of time.
Hegel makes the general remark that the supposed antinomy does not arise from the application of the idea of time to the world, but is really based upon the idea of time itself, or rather upon the idea of time as a pure quantity. Waiving this objection, however, he goes on to maintain that the thesis is simply the unproved assertion of the limited duration of the world. Kant's argument is as follows: "Assume that the world has no beginning in time. Then, up to any given point of time, an eternity must have elapsed, and hence an infinite series of states of things must have passed away, one after the other, in the world. Now, the infinity of a series just consists in this, that the series can never be completed in a successive synthesis. Hence an infinite series of states cannot have passed away in the world, and therefore a beginning of the world is a necessary condition of its existence."
Here is Hegel's comment: "It is not hard to see that there was no need to state the proof in an indirect form, or indeed to give any proof at all, for it contains nothing but the direct assumption of what it pretends to establish. For, a 'given point of time' is assumed, 'up to which an eternity has elapsed.' . . . Now a ' given point of time is simply a fixed limit in time. It is therefore taken for granted in the proof that actual existence is limited in time. But this is precisely what should have been proved. For the thesis is, that the world has a beginning in time. The only difference is, that the limit of time which is assumed in the proof is the end of the time which has elapsed, while the limit of time which is affirmed in the thesis is the beginning of a future. But this is of no importance. The important thing is that a given point of time is assumed, which is an end of the infinite series supposed to have passed away, and therefore a qualitative limit." A quantitative limit is by its very nature in flux, and hence at any given point of time an infinite series has not passed away, but the series flows on. Were the point of time really viewed as a quantitative limit, the whole argument would fall to the ground. What is assumed is, therefore, a qualitative limit to the past. But such a limit is equally a beginning of the future, for a point of time, by its very nature, is the relation of past and future, and it is, moreover, an absolute or abstract beginning of the future, which was the very thing to be proved. It is irrelevant that prior to the given point of time there is already a past, for the limit is qualitative, as is implied in speaking of the series as 'completed' or 'passed away,' expressions which imply that it is non-continuous or interrupted.
"The truth is that time is a pure quantity. To assume, as is done in the proof, that there is a point of time where it is broken off, is to deny a ' now' altogether, for a ‘now,’ by its very nature, annuls its supposed independence. What the proof really does is to represent time as if it were complete at a given point; but this view has no other basis than the sensuous imagination, which misconceives the true nature of a quantitative limit."
Time, in other words, is a pure continuous quantity; whereas Kant's proof assumes that it is discrete, or made up of discontinuous elements; a view which converts a quantitative into a qualitative limit, and thus contradicts the very idea of quantity.
The proof of the "antithesis" is thus stated by Kant: "Assume that the world has a beginning. Then, as nothing can begin to be which has not been preceded by a time in which the thing that begins was not, we must hold that there was a time antecedent to that in which the world began to be, that is, an empty time. But nothing whatever can come into being in an empty time, for no part of an empty time has in it any condition of existence rather than of non-existence, which distinguishes it from any other part. Hence, although many series of things may begin in the world, the world itself can have no beginning, and is therefore infinite as regards time."
"This indirect proof," says Hegel, "contains, like the other, the direct and unproved assertion of that which ought to be proved. It assumes that, beyond the existing world, there is an empty time; then it supposes this existing world to be continued beyond itself into this empty time, and thus denies that time is empty, or, in other words, asserts that the duration of the world must be continued to infinity. The world is a definite reality; the proof assumes that this reality comes into being, and that what brings it into being exists prior to it as its condition. But this is just what the antithesis asserts; for what it asserts is, that there is no unconditioned reality, no absolute limit, but that every reality requires a condition which precedes it. Thus what was to be proved is assumed. And as this condition is sought in empty time, it is tacitly assumed to be temporal and therefore to be a limited reality. The general assumption, therefore, is, that the world as a particular reality presupposes another particular reality, this another, and so on to infinity.
"The thesis and antithesis, with their proofs, are therefore simply the contradictory assertions (1) that there is a limit, (2) that this limit is negated; in other words, that beyond the limit there is something to which it is related; but that, when we go beyond the limit, there arises a new limit which is no limit."
Kant, in other words, has based his antinomy upon the progressus ad infinitum. But, in Hegel's view, the progressus ad infinitum rests upon the false conception of quantity as non-continuous or discrete. Time, therefore, is absolutely continuous, i.e., its limits do not break it up into parts, but continue it. The supposed contradiction in the conception of the world as in time, rests upon a false separation of the moments of time from one another. No argument for the unknowability of the real can be drawn from the nature of time. Whether reality is adequately characterized when it is determined as temporal, is an entirely different question, which will depend upon the adequacy of the category of quantity. To this question we shall immediately return. Meantime we shall consider the contradictions which Mr. Bradley finds in the idea of time itself.
Time, Mr. Bradley holds, is a "contradictory appearance." Take time as "presented." "Presented time must be time present, and we must agree, at least provisionally, not to go beyond the 'now.' ... Is the 'now' simple and indivisible? We can at once reply in the negative. For time implies before and after, and by consequence diversity; and hence the simple is not time. We are compelled, then, so far, to take the present as comprehending diverse aspects. . . . There is, therefore, process within the 'now.' Now, process destroys the 'now' from within. Before and after are diverse, and their incompatibility compels us to use a relation between them. . . . The aspects become parts, the 'now' consists of 'nows,' and in the end these 'nows' prove undiscoverable. For, as a solid part of time, the 'now' does not exist." I cannot but think that the whole of this reasoning is based upon a misconception. Mr. Bradley asks us to start from "presented time." What is "presented time"? It must, I presume, be time which excludes all but that which is 'presented'; in other words, it must be an individual image. This image must have parts, and as these are 'presented,' they must co-exist. Accordingly, Mr. Bradley tells us that the 'now' is not 'simple'; it implies 'before' and 'after.' But 'before' and 'after,' if they are distinguishable aspects of the image 'now,' must co-exist; which is a manifest contradiction, for what is 'before' or 'after' cannot co-exist with 'now.' We must therefore separate the image into its constituent elements, and again we have ' before,' ' now,' ' after.' But, with this separation, the 'now' is no longer an image. But it must be an image, and hence we find in it again 'before,' 'now,' and 'after,' as co-existent parts. And so on to infinity. Now, the sufficient answer to this subtle dialectic seems to be that it rests upon the false assumption that time can be 'presented' or imaged. One might as well talk of presenting an image of a point. Mr. Bradley, assuming that an image or state of time is possible, has no difficulty in showing that such an image or state is inconsistent with the character of time. By identifying the 'now ' with an image, we exclude time. If we carry out Mr. Bradley's view of the presentation of the 'now ' in an image, we must say that we have three images an image of 'now,' an image of 'before,' and an image of 'after.' What we have, then, is an image of 'before,' which is replaced by an image of 'now,' which, again, is replaced by an image of 'after.' But three images which follow one another will not yield the consciousness of time. And obviously there will be no consciousness of time if the three images are co-existent. All this simply shows that time cannot be imaged at all. Time is a relation, and no relation can be imaged. But though it cannot be imaged, it can be thought, and indeed nothing is more easy. A 'now' is thought as relative to a 'before' and 'after': it is nothing in itself, any more than a point without a line, or a centre without a circumference. It is the thought of pure succession, and there can be no wonder that we cannot think any element of pure succession as statical, or, in Mr. Bradley's phraseology, as a "solid part of time "; if we could so think it, we should indeed have a contradiction.
Now, if time is just the thought of pure succession, it is obvious that we cannot speak of thought as limited by time. The only limit to thought is that which is unthinkable, and nothing can be more easily thought than time. Kant's doctrine that time can only be presented in a successive synthesis rests upon the idea that moments of time are given in one image after another. If it were so, we should have merely a succession of images, but no thought of succession. In reality, the thought of time is the idea of distinguishable elements in the continuous, each element being itself continuous. Time is always the same thought of continuous succession, so that the repetition of the thought adds nothing to it. What is taken as a limit in time really continues it. We cannot add one moment of time to another, because we cannot think of a moment as separable from the whole. We have, therefore, in time one of the simplest forms in which the unity of the real is thought. The real is a single process, and this process, thought simply as a process without further determination, is what we mean by time. Mr. Bradley's hypothesis of a number of distinct time-series rests upon an abstract view of time, as if there might be a number of different realities. But time has no independent reality: it has no meaning except as an aspect of the one reality that reality which manifests itself in each and every change. What this shows is that time, as the thought of an order of succession in all change, presupposes a fixed order in which all changes take place. In other words, the thought of time is implicitly the thought of causal connection. If we separate the idea of time from all the more concrete relations by which the real is constituted, there is no reason why events should not occur in any order. The thought of time therefore presupposes the thought of a fixed order in events.
Now, if time is just the conception of every possible succession, it is obvious that to speak of the Absolute as in time is meaningless. This mode of speech is based upon the idea that time constitutes a persistent whole, which exists apart from all the changes of events. But, in the first place, time has no persistence or permanence; it is simply that aspect of the real in which it is viewed as continually changing its modes, but so changing that those modes follow, but do not co-exist. To say that events are in time can only mean that events are phases of the one reality which are so related to each others that there is no break in their continuity. We can only talk of the persistence of time in the sense that there is a continuous process of change in the particular aspects of the real. And, secondly, time is not separable from the changing states of the real, and therefore these states cannot be said properly to be in time: viewed by reference to each other they are related as successive, but time is simply that aspect of them in which they are viewed apart from their particular content. Now, if time is merely a name for this universal aspect of the states of the real, we cannot say that the real or Absolute is in time: what we must say is, that one of the modes in which the Absolute is manifested is time. But the Absolute cannot be said to be successive, because it is the principle of unity which is presupposed in all succession. The Absolute does not come into being, but is the source of all being, and therefore the source of all change. To speak of the Absolute as in time, is to assume that we can adequately define it as a succession of events. On the other hand, it is true that, were there no succession of events, there would be no Absolute. For time is a real aspect of the knowable world, and no real aspect of the world can be eliminated without the destruction of the whole fabric of knowledge. While, therefore, we cannot say that the Absolute is nothing but a succession of changes, it is none the less true that such a succession is essential to the adequate definition of the Absolute. The idea that time is merely a form of our consciousness, and not a form of real existence, has its source ultimately in the supposition that time is a necessary limitation. Now, we have seen that, even for our thought, time is not a limitation. To think time is to be beyond it, because the thought of time as continuous succession contains all that it involves. The wonderful power of thought is exhibited in a striking way in its grasp of time as the universal possibility of all succession. It is not possible to have an image of time, but it is possible to think it. No doubt we can have a series of images, but, apart from the relation of these to one another, we have no consciousness of them as a series. Thus the relation of time is involved in the most elementary form of knowledge, and, when it is made an explicit object of reflection, thought merely brings to clear consciousness what is already involved in perception. To suppose, therefore, that time can be a limit to the Absolute is an extraordinary delusion. A limit which our minds have no difficulty in transcending can be no limit to the Absolute.
But, although the real must certainly be determined as exhibiting a continuous succession of changes, such a determination of it is very superficial and inadequate. The conception of the world as quantitative is not untrue, but it is abstract or partial. So far as the various phases of the real are regarded purely as successive, it is overlooked that they have deeper relations than the relation of succession. Now, it is obviously of supreme importance, in seeking to determine the real, that we should not take one aspect of it as if it were the whole. But to conceive of the real as simply a series of events is utterly inadequate. A mere series of events is an abstraction, in which all the differences of events are treated as if they were non-existent. And this abstraction is pure time. If, therefore, we suppose pure time to be real in itself, we necessarily fall into contradiction, for in pure time there is no distinction of one event from another, and therefore no succession. The contradiction arises from taking an abstract possibility as if it had an independent reality. Time is really the conception of all possible events, and obviously all possible events cannot properly be treated as if they had an actual existence. Pure time is no more real than any other possibility. The only sense, therefore, in which we can affirm time to be 'real' is as the universal possibility of events. And obviously all possible events do not form a totality. There can be no totality in a series. On the other hand, reality implies succession, and hence we must say that there is no conceivable reality which does not present the aspect of succession or process. But it is fatal to substantiate this aspect of reality as if it were a complete definition of it. There is no world of pure events, but neither is there a world in which there are no events. A world in which there are no events, a non-temporal world, would be a world without change, and therefore without distinction, and such a world is inconceivable and therefore unreal. Temporal process is therefore a necessary condition of reality: "dead, processless being" is simply nothing. But a mere series of events is equally unthinkable: there can be no change where there is no identity: as Kant says, "only the permanent changes."
The impossibility of conceiving the real as a mere series of events may be shown in another way. So conceived, reality would be but the perpetual substitution of one event for another. Now, if all reality may be characterized as a series of events, including the conscious subject, there would be no consciousness of events. A subject perpetually flowing away could not bring together in consciousness any two events, and therefore would not be conscious of a succession of events. But, even granting the subject to be conscious of a series, we should not have the conception of a real world. There is nothing in the consciousness of a mere series of states which implies that what so appears in consciousness has any objective reality. States which occur in succession, supposing them to have no other determination, are perfectly indifferent to one another. Such mutual indifference, in fact, is characteristic of the elements in any object which is viewed merely as a quantity; for it is the very idea of quantity that in it all differences are eliminated, or are treated purely as units which are all exactly alike. Time, as a pure quantity, is of this nature, and hence it supplies no criterion by which one phase of reality may be distinguished from another. So far as events are viewed merely as events, they have no order in their occurrence: where we have a number of homogenous units, it is a matter of indifference whether they are taken in one order rather than another. Now, in the idea of a succession of events, we always include the idea of 'before,' 'now,' and 'after.' This conception, therefore, presupposes that events have a certain order; in other words, in the idea of succession we tacitly think of events as related to one another in such a way that under the given conditions one event must precede and another follow. As we have seen, this order of succession is not involved in the conception of time as a pure quantity. It is this fact which gives plausibility to Mr. Bradley's contention that time might flow back; and, on the same ground, there is no reason why it might not flow round or flow spirally, or in any other way we please. Nor, again, is there in pure time any condition of unity, and hence, as Mr. Bradley also urges, there might be any number of times flowing apart from one another. The proper inference from this indifference of time^ to unity or order, does not seem to be that which Mr. Bradley draws, namely, that time is not a true determination of reality; the true inference surely is this, that time presupposes order in time, or, in other words, that all successions of events imply necessary or causal succession. Time, as such, does not determine the succession of events, but there is in events themselves something which determines them as occurring in the order of succession. To suppose that reality may be reduced to an arbitrary succession of events is to make all knowledge of reality impossible. A fixed order of events is implied in the consciousness of events as real; or, in other words, reality implies the relation to each other of all possible events as determined by necessary laws of causation. We have, therefore, to correct our first inadequate view of the real as a mere temporal process, by conceiving of it as a connected system in which each element implies all the others. The category of quantity presupposes and rests upon the category of causality or necessary connection. Nothing is real except as part of a connected system of reality.
From the point of view now reached, the independent reality of events is shown to be false. But even the conception of events as mutually dependent is not a conception in which we can rest as an ultimate determination of the real. To refer one event to another as its explanation, this second event to a third, and so on to infinity, still leaves reality without any principle of unity. A true principle of unity can be found only in a reality which is self-dependent or self-explanatory. But there is no reality which fulfills this demand except that which is self-caused or self-determined. The totality of dependent being presupposes independent being, and the only independent being is that which is self-dependent. Such a self dependent being does not pass over into its effect, but maintains itself in its effect. Now, such a self-dependents being we find partly realized in life, for all living beings maintain themselves by a process in which they turn the environment into a means of self-realization. Thus the inorganic world is a factor in the process of life. It is only, however, when we find that the real includes not only living but self-conscious beings, that we reach the conception of a unity which is, in the absolute sense, self-determining. So far as any being is self-conscious, it not only maintains itself in what at first seems external to it, but it is just because it can oppose what is not-self to itself that it can consciously make the not-self the means of developing itself. Now, if in ourselves we find a principle of unity by reference to which, and alone by reference to which, we can explain the unity of all reality, our search for unity is at last satisfied. A self-conscious, self-determining unity is an ultimate conception, because no other conception of reality can be suggested which will not be found to be identical with one of the lower conceptions which have already been found inadequate. At the same time, in defining the Absolute as such a unity, we must be careful to remove from it all elements which are inconsistent with its purity. In what follows, I shall endeavor to effect this elimination, so far as that can be done in a general, and therefore inadequate way.
(1) The Absolute is very inadequately conceived when it is defined simply as Substance. This view is the inevitable result of opposing mind and nature, or thought and reality, to each other as abstract opposites. For, if mind excludes nature and nature mind, we are compelled to seek for the unity of both in that which is neither, but is something beyond both. This ‘something’ however, cannot be further defined, and hence it remains for knowledge absolutely indeterminate. Now, it is strangely supposed that such an elimination of the distinction of nature and mind is the logical result of the idealistic conception of the Absolute. When it is maintained that there can be no absolute separation of mind and nature, subject and object, it is argued that mind and nature are identified, and hence it is said that we must fall back upon a unity which is manifested indifferently in both. This objection seems to me to rest upon a misconception of what Idealism affirms. What is really maintained is that the conception of nature as an independent reality is a conception which, if taken in its strict sense, contradicts itself. If nature is an independent reality, it can have in it no principle of unity. For the highest principle by which it can be determined is that of the interdependence of its parts, and this principle still leaves the parts external to one another, while it explains the process of nature as the changes which are produced in each part by the action upon it of the others. But such a conception does not take us beyond the idea of an aggregate of parts, only externally or mechanically related to one another. On the other hand, when mind is separated from nature, it can only be conceived as an abstract unity, which, as having no differences within itself, must forever remain in its abstractness. Now, Idealism refuses to admit that nature and mind are thus separated. It regards nature as the manifestation of mind, and mind as the principle of unity implied in nature. Hence, for the mechanical conception of nature as a system of interdependent parts undergoing correspondent changes, is substituted the organic idea of nature as a system which develops towards an end. This view transforms the conception of nature, not by denying that it is a system, but by regarding it as a system which is rational, and therefore is intelligible to all beings in whom reason operates. Now, if we have to interpret nature from the point of view of reason, the key to nature is to be found in mind. Hence the Absolute cannot be adequately conceived merely as the unity which is beyond the distinction of nature and mind, but only as the unity which is implicit in nature and explicit in mind. When, therefore, we seek to determine the relation of particular forms of being to the Absolute, the question is how far each is the explicit manifestation of rationality. No form of reality can be regarded as ' mere appearance but only as the more or less adequate manifestation of the principle which is the source and explanation of all reality. When, therefore, we speak of an 'individual' reality, we must remember that its individuality is constituted by its relation to the whole. On the other hand, an individual reality cannot be defined as nothing but the sum of its relations to other individual realities. The conception of reality as determined purely by the relations of one thing to another, overlooks the principle of unity which is present in all alike. This is true even of inorganic things. Each atom of oxygen or hydrogen is nothing apart from its relations, but each participates in the universal, so that an atom of each is always determined by the relations into which it is capable of entering, while yet it manifests the character peculiar to all atoms of its own kind. The individuality in this case is of a very simple character. Much more obvious is the principle of individuality in the case of living beings, which do not persist in the same unchangeable relations, but exhibit a whole series of relations to the environment. Hence we can only describe the nature of a living being by pointing out the cycle of changes through which it passes. The living being is thus distinguished from the non-living by the greater complexity of its relations, and by the more express exhibition of its individual unity. But it is especially in self-conscious beings that individuality and universality reach their higher stage. Speaking generally, we must therefore say that a being is more truly individual, the more perfectly it contains within itself the principle of the whole. We cannot, therefore, say that the Absolute is manifested equally in all beings; indeed, strictly speaking, it is only in self-conscious beings that the true nature of the Absolute is revealed. Now, if it is true that only as reason is developed in a being does it express what is the true principle of the whole, it is manifest that the Absolute cannot be realized, as it truly is, in beings lower than man, and that even in man it is not realized in its absolute completeness. By this conception of the immanence of the Absolute in all forms of being, together with the recognition that in man at his best the Absolute is most fully manifested, we are enabled to see that the conception of the Absolute as merely the unchanging substance which persists in all forms of changing existence is quite inadequate. Such a conception, on the one hand, abolishes all the distinctions of one being from another, making them all equally unreal; and, on the other hand, it denies that the Absolute is a self-revealing subject, immanent in all forms of being, but manifested truly only in those that are self-conscious.
(2) The Absolute is inadequately conceived when it is defined as the Power which is manifested in all particular forms of reality, or, in other words, simply as the First Cause or Creator of the world. The conception of Power or Force is that of a negative activity which manifests itself in overcoming some other power which is opposed to it. The mechanical conception of energy is the 'power of doing work,' and is always explained as manifested in opposition to that which resists it. All energy is therefore by its very nature limited. When, therefore, we speak of infinite power, we virtually transcend the conception of energy, for infinite power must be the energy which includes in itself all forms of energy. Such a conception takes us beyond the conception of Power altogether. The only kind of power which can be called infinite is that power which is self-determinant, and such a power is found only in self-conscious energy, which is truly infinite because it returns upon itself or preserves its unity in all its manifestations. In self-conscious energy, object and subject are identical. In man this energy of self-consciousness is not complete, because man is not completely self-conscious. But in the Absolute there must be complete self-consciousness. Now, if we are compelled to conceive of the Absolute as complete self-consciousness, there is in the Absolute the perfect unity of subject and object. And, as such a unity admits of no degrees, there can be no absolute origination of reality, for this would mean the absolute origination of some phase of the Absolute. The ordinary conception of creation as the origination of the world out of nothing conveys a truth in the form of a self-contradiction : it expresses the idea of self-determining activity in the imaginative form of a transition from nothing to reality as taking place in time. A blank nothing is imagined, which is at bottom merely the abstraction from all determinate reality, and then it is imagined that this blank nothing is succeeded by determinate reality. The conception of causality, as it is employed in determining the relation of one phase of reality to another, is transferred to the relation between the Absolute and determinate reality. Now, as we have seen, the conception of causal connection has no meaning except as expressing the dependence of particular phases of reality upon one another, and ultimately we are compelled to recognize that such interdependence of particular phases of reality presupposes a self-determining principle. When we have reached this point of view, we have transcended the category of causality, and it is therefore inadmissible to employ it in seeking to explain the relation of the parts to the whole. But this is what is done in the ordinary conception of creation, though the inadequacy of the conception is virtually admitted when the creation of the world is figured as the origination of it from nothing. For 'nothing' is represented as if it were a material to which a definite form was given by the action upon it of an external cause. It is obvious that this crude way of conceiving the relation of the world to the Absolute must be discarded. The world cannot be separated from the Absolute, but must be regarded as the manifestation or objectification of the Absolute, or, in other words, as the Absolute itself regarded in its abstract opposition to itself. This opposition, however, is merely a distinction; for that which is opposed to the Absolute is the Absolute itself.
(3) The Absolute is not adequately conceived as a Person, although no doubt the conception of Personality is much more adequate as a predicate of the Absolute than that of Power. By a 'person' we mean a being that is an individual, and, further, an individual who is capable of conceiving himself as a self. But personality emphasizes the exclusive aspect of self-activity, and thus one person is separated and opposed to another. On this basis of exclusive self-hood all rights are based, a right being the expression of the self in that which has no self. Now, so far as the Absolute is affirmed to be a Person, the main idea is that the Absolute is self-conscious, and to this extent it is true that the Absolute is a Person. But the Absolute is not properly conceived as a Person, in the sense of being an exclusive self-centred individual. The conception of personality is inadequate even when applied to man, for it is not true that man is merely a person. The first consciousness of exclusive or adverse relations to others must be supplemented by the conception of man as essentially spirit, that is, as a being whose true self is found in what is not self. Man is therefore not adequately conceived as an exclusive self, but only as a self whose true nature is to transcend his exclusiveness and to find himself in what seems at first to be opposed to him. In other words, man is essentially self-separative: he must go out of his apparently self-centred life in order to find himself in a truer and richer life. This conception of an opposing subject must be applied to the Absolute. The Absolute is not an abstract Person, but a Spirit, i.e., a being whose essential nature consists in opposing to itself beings in unity with whom it realizes itself. This conception of a self-alienating or self-distinguishing subject is the fundamental idea which is expressed in an inadequate way in the doctrine of the Trinity. We can conceive nothing higher than a self-conscious subject, who, in the infinite fullness of his nature, exhibits his perfection in beings who realize themselves in identification with him.