The Problem of Transcendence

Bakewell, Charles M. “The Problem of Transcendence.” The Philosophical Review 20, no. 2 (1911): 113.

IN the year that has passed we have lost in the death of a former president of this Association, one who in the eyes of the world had come to stand for American Philosophy. Professor James was the most widely known, and at the same time the most universally beloved American philosopher. There was none who did not come under the spell of his personality, none who did not look forward eagerly to a work from his pen. There was such a sense of reality and life in all that he wrote that reading his works had, in a peculiar sense, the charm of personal intercourse. It was meeting the man himself and sharing in his life and outlook. He was not one of those who content themselves with reporting what someone else has said about what someone else has experienced and taken for reality. With marvelous skill he portrayed the situation as he himself confronted it, and in doing so enabled his reader the better to discover the facts of his own inner life.

I am reminded that when we met a year ago, we had to mourn the loss of another distinguished American philosopher. No two men could be temperamentally more unlike than William T. Harris and William James. The one lived serenely secure, on the heights, contemplating in the sweep of his vision all time and all existence, holding in his hand the golden key, the solvent formula, of all of life's problems; the other dwelt ever in the valleys, in the marketplace, in the bustle of finite things, seeking ever new experiences, his interest centered in the unique, the dramatic, the elusive, distrustful of all comprehensive formulas whether of science or of philosophy. Their very features marked the contrast, the marble-like placidity of the one, the eager, restless, mobile face of the other, the ascetic saint and the intensely human being. The ideal of one was peace, contemplation, the theoretic vision of truth absolute, or as he himself put it, ''speculative vision"; of the other, active efficiency in a world of finite facts and definite problems. The one could say “a whole I planned"; the other, the parts are more or less recalcitrant, they will not fit perfectly together, possibly they do not belong together. Each may be said to have possessed the defects of his virtues. If the one could not see the forest for the trees, the other at times could not see the trees for the forest. If the formulas of the one had at times a far-away echo, the other occasionally let his interest in the individual and unique, and his distrust of formulism, go so far as to make the whole problem of reason seem futile.

Doctor Harris deserves a conspicuous place in the annals of American Philosophy, not only because of his success in arousing interest in the subject throughout the country at a time when men, more absorbed even than at present in the struggle with the material environment, and in the more narrowly utilitarian view of life which that struggle suggests, were little given to reflection on the larger problems of the inner world, where ideals are the forces to be reckoned with; not only because of his success in applying philosophy to practical problems in the introduction of some semblance of order and rationality into our general educational situation; not only because of his services in interpreting to the English-speaking world the philosophical system of the greatest of the German philosophers; but also for the notable contributions which he himself made to that philosophy! And yet I think the fact remains, and can be frankly admitted without any disparagement, that he stands rather at the close of a chapter, if not of an era, in philosophical development, and that it may properly be said that, for us at least, Professor James opens another. There can in any case be no doubt that Professor James succeeded in putting new life into the issues of philosophy, and that he better represents the spirit of our own age.

When a philosophy is once enthroned and endowed with authority, thought crystallizes into formulas; that system then has had its day, though it may not have ceased to be. Later German idealism had achieved this somewhat unenviable position. Philosophus dixit began to be heard once more, the philosophizing now either Hegel or one of his tribe. Now, philosophic autoritaire and formulism go hand in hand. Professor James represents the protest against the complacent substitution of the parched formula for the living truth. There are times when in philosophy, as in politics, insurgency seems necessary for progress, and when the conservative is apt to be regarded as an old fossil who, clinging to the wisdom of the fathers, overlooks the needs of altered times. It is only human nature that one should exaggerate the novelty of the so-called new views and lose sight of the virtues of the older philosophies. A glance at the history of philosophy should, however, dispel our illusions. Turn to Descartes and Locke and Kant and read how they despaired of previous philosophies and expected by their own efforts, by the adoption of a new method and its consistent application, to avoid the snares and pitfalls of their predecessors. In the perspective of time we discover that their break with the philosophy which had gone before was by no means so complete as they supposed, their new methods neither so novel nor so perfect as they fondly believed. I have no doubt that every significant philosopher, every philosopher who has been a voice and not a mere echo, however scholastic and formal his reasoning may appear to us, set out from facts of experience, even as we all aim to do; that his interpretations emerged from the facts and were not simply foisted upon them; that his distinctions were significant. And yet they frequently are not the facts and distinctions that seem to us most important and interesting. They have grown cold and stale. The spirit of our times makes other problems pressing. Our eyes are not directed to some far-off divine event but to the definite tasks tumbling about at our feet. We are not primarily concerned with the heaven above where saints immortal reign, but with the now and the here-below, where the diabolic is painfully in evidence, and the next best is always the best we can do, and not perfection but progress is the watchword.

The present reactionary tendency in philosophy is part of the same spirit which finds expression also in modern social, ethical, and religious life. This protest is directed chiefly against the older idealism, or what the older idealism is supposed to be. That philosophy is charged with doing a wholesale, not a retail business; its advocates are said to be lost in verbalities; they have become mere artificers of soothing phrases. The wife of a distinguished Scottish philosopher once remarked that when she heard her husband expounding his philosophy she felt as if she were sitting up on a cloud with nothing on, with a Lucifer matching her hand, but no earthly way of striking it. A good deal of current criticism represents a similar estimate, only perhaps there would be more reluctance in admitting the presence of the Lucifer match. That older idealism is supposed to give us generalities which may inspire as well as glitter, but which lose themselves in the end in the limbo of the vague. And there is a demand made from many different quarters for a reformulation of philosophy’s problems. There are in quarters for a reformulation of philosophy’s problems.


There are in contemporary philosophical discussions three things constantly being insisted upon:

I. Philosophy must show more respect for the facts of ordinary finite experience than the older idealism did. No explanation which results in a substitution of something else, by whitebeam, for the facts as experienced, will suffice. Now it is one of the first discoveries of reflection that appearances are deceptive, and that it is necessary to distinguish what is from what seems, From the recognition of this necessity, from which there is indeed no escape either for science or philosophy, it was an easy and natural step for the naively uncritical philosopher to assume a complete separation between the real and the apparent, and then to discredit the apparent as the unreal. The first great idealist, or realist for he was surely something of both Parmenides, falls into this trap, and speaks with contempt of the opinions of mortals who trust the deliverances of experience rather than reason, "deaf and dumb and blind and stupid unreasoning cattle." The wise man, however, knows that things of sense are mere names which we mortals assign to the underlying and unchangeable reality. And the first great materialist, or realist, commits the same blunder, for Democritus makes the sense qualities of things unreal in calling them mere conventions. So Plato, in one of his moods (but only one), when Orphic tendencies are uppermost, follows the same path in teaching that philosophy is "a study of death and dying," dying to sense in order to live in the eternal world of ideas.

It is, I think, a significant fact that this blunder is made by idealists, realists, and materialists alike. The utter futility of such a position is, now-a-days at least, obvious to all of us. Even Plato freed himself from it. For we certainly do not explain experience by the persistent endeavor to turn our backs upon it, and no philosopher of any school who lands in this separation of the real from the apparent, has ever been able to show how any connection of any kind could ever be established between such disparate things. And the new realist and modern idealist are surely at one in their insistence that in the order of reality, whatever interpretation may be given to that phrase, the things experienced, with all their experiential qualities, have their definite place and value. How the idealist and realist respectively would accomplish this is indeed a long story, and fortunately does not concern us here. I would only suggest that the facile fashion of bringing the charge against idealism that it ignores this truth should give place to a serious attempt on the part of the critic to show how he himself avoids the snare.

2. Closely connected with the former, and indeed its corollary, is the insistence that the temporalistic character of experience is finally valid, and that, in fact, no meaning can be put into reality except in so far as it lives in a temporal process.

3. The third characteristic is the one with which I am in this paper chiefly concerned, and it lies in my judgment on the basis of the other two which have been mentioned. I refer to the pluralistic leanings of modern philosophy; the distrust of any view which attempts to round up all facts of experience as belonging to one systematic whole which is so closely interlocked that every item of experience is once for all fixed in precisely the place which the unity of the whole order demanded. This may properly be described as an insistence upon the recognition of-the transcendent. If there are many reals, then from the point of view of any one the others are transcendent. If the time processes are real, then from the point of view of the present the future is transcendent; it is not somehow locked up in the present so that the future is merely its unfolding. I use the word transcendent rather than a term which might seem to limit this view to some particular sect of philosophers, for the open or tacit recognition of a transcendent is found in philosophies most diverse, in panpsychism, with its insistence on the thing-in-itself, in every view that insists on the recognition of an alogical factor in reality, in realism, pragmatism, and certainly in some forms of idealism.

The reasons which incline men to a pluralistic view are many and diverse, and I suppose that the most influential are due to what might perhaps be called external reflection. There is in the first place the horror of the alternative view. This seems to have been particularly potent with Professor James, as is manifest in almost every essay in the Will to Believe series. The individual is lost in any monistic scheme, and whether vortex or Logos would devour us, the process is not one to which we propose to submit. Again, if the monism take an idealistic turn, then, in the face of all the reckless waste and actual misery which the world presents, the problem of evil is appalling; one is in the sad dilemma of affirming either that the hand of the potter was palsied and the clay that he made and used most unfitted to his purpose, or else that his purposes were far from being benign or even coherent. It is with a sense of relief that we discover that experience does not warrant the inference to such monistic conclusions. If we lean on experience for authority we can say with James, "Ever not quite."

Again, certain things seem clearly to be within our own power; others as clearly not. Feeling our own independence in the former case, we ascribe equal independence in the latter to things.

Finally, all social and moral valuations lose their significance unless we assume that in spite of their social interdependence each of the units entering into such relations possesses a unique inner life and expresses a will and purpose all his own. If each is merely a phase or a partial manifestation of a larger inclusive life, these relations certainly seem to lose the precise meaning which they possess for you and for me.

I am well aware that such reflections are not the discovery of recent thought, but there is a widespread, and I think a well-grounded conviction, and that in all schools of contemporary thought, that in the traditional absolutistic idealism, these things, upon which after all the significance of our daily life depends, have been in the end explained away.

Transcendent, then, of my experience would seem to be: (I) Those facts which collectively taken I call the world, and (2) the individual lives of my fellows.

The reasons so far adduced for inclining to a pluralistic view are no doubt not thought-compelling, in spite of the fact that common sense lends its support at every turn. And all reasons are lightly pushed aside by Bradley, who has a short and easy way of banishing any pluralism. If the reals are many, he tells us, then obviously the many must be either in relation to one another or not. If they are not, then it helps us not at all to assume the existence of a many; if they are, then the relation limits and makes the terms relatively unreal. This attempt to force one by an inner dialectic to a monistic view does not carry conviction, however, for it begs the whole question at issue. It is by no means obvious that limitation spells unreality. If so, nothing but the indefinite would be real. Moreover, it is by no means self-evident that in all cases relation means limitation. If one can ever say, "Blest be the tie that binds," it is because of a very genuine experience that a certain kind of binding sets free, makes more real and not less so. And, on the other hand, if by accepting the Bradleyan position one is driven in the end to the conception of an absolute which can be characterized as "a gigantic automatic bankrupt bank," it would seem as if we had in such a concept the very quintessence of unreality, or to put it more accurately, as if that philosophy had been brought to ruin by its own immanent dialectic.

To one who would catch the pluralist in the dialectic net, the only effective reply consists in showing that the alternative or monistic view can be shown up by the same method. The difficulty of putting positive content into the notion of the absolute has often been recognized, and by none more clearly than by some of those philosophers who feel in the end driven to such monism. But the root difficulty appears when one reflects that being who is supposed to be one and all-inclusive could have no real relations of any kind, since there is by hypothesis no other to whom he, or it, could be related. Or, to put it in other words, he would be confined to relations with fragments of himself and would certainly be limited by that necessity. Whatever limitations attach to the finite would seem to cling to the absolute. If, on the other hand, one attempt to escape this conclusion by holding that in the life of the absolute all finite facts appear, but that the absolute sees them in their totality, then it would follow that he simply does not see them at all as they are for us. Today, as some absolutists do, that God suffers in the suffering of the finite, is a meaningless position if one take this back in the next breath by asserting that he not only suffers but triumphs, for to him all things are present, for him there is no before and after. The absolute at any rate could have no sense of humor, for there could be no real surprises in his world. An American was walking down the street one day with an Indian Swami when they were suddenly confronted by a ludicrous situation; the American commented on the funny character of the incident, whereupon the solemn wise man at his side remarked: "There is nothing funny in this universe," quite as the walking edition of an absolute should.


There is, however, very clearly a problem of transcendence. The very term suggests inaccessibility, a mere beyond to one’s experience. Can the term be given any positive significance, and if so, how?

No doubt many of our perplexities in philosophy, as in life generally, are of our own making. We state a problem in terms which make the problem insoluble. Our most baffling perplexities come from the acceptance of certain distinctions which arise naturally enough in the course of experience as if they were equivalent to a segregation of objects. Thus, mind is distinguished from body. But it by no means follows from the pertinence this distinction that mind could have being, or even meaning, apart from the experiences grouped as bodily, or the latter have a being and meaning apart from mind. Once make a separation of realities corresponding to this distinction, and then try to establish relations between the realities we have thus put asunder, and we run either into the absurdities of interactionism, or the fantastic doctrine of parallelism, or the futilities of epiphenomenalism. And similarly, if the problem of transcendence is stated as the problem how the mind can know things, how the ego can escape itself to reach the object, or, as seems with some the fashion, how the knowing relation can be eliminated and intelligible objects remain, one has stated the problem soaps to make it forever insoluble.

I am ready to premise that the whole business of philosophy is to make things intelligible, and that if we humans have other functions besides the function of making things intelligible (eating, drinking, loving in short living), these things must be parts of that order of experience which we seek to make intelligible. So far at least I see no escape from the inclusiveness of the knowledge standpoint.

If, however, it be urged that thinking never reaches reality, that it can only classify, and always misses the unique value of the fact it seeks to explain, and can consequently never be a substitute for life, I reply that thinking never seeks to be a substitute for life, or for any fact thereof, but merely its interpretation And if its business were merely to classify, to enumerate universal traits, we should be led in the end to the curious position that thought's whole business consisted in classifying, and that it had nothing to classify but other classifications. No, the interpretation must in every case emerge from the fact, and the fact with all its unique values must persist in the interpretation, or it were best not to try to think at all. Surely the vicious abstractionism is here on the side of him who would divorce life from its interpretation.

Waiving the consideration of temporalism, transcendence is commonly supposed to refer either to physical objects or to other selves. Now it is generally assumed that so far as other selves are concerned the matter is simple enough. Experiences more or less like my own are supposed to be possessed by the other person. Our experiences exist in duplicate, so to speak; these feelings, sensations, ideas, etc., have their counterpart elsewhere. And our several groups of experiences then may or may not be supposed to represent in consciousness a third something, namely, an order which these inner experiences more or less imperfectly copy. But while it may be useful enough for certain purposes so to view the matter, it is obviously a highly abstract and artificial construction. This comes out the moment we try to appropriate any object of experience. Two boys may be struggling for the possession of a cherry. Each, by this view, possesses in his own unassailable inner world the cherry experience, the color, appearance, fragrance; but only one gets possession of the cherry and enjoys its flavor. Yet the flavor is bound up with the other qualities which are supposed to be privately-owned by each of the contestants. In other words, the qualities and the thing cannot be separated, and the thing with its qualities does not repeat itself. My feelings, sensations, etc., do not hanging the air; they cluster about and inhere in the object which is supposed, as all our social life presupposes, to be not an experience of such and such a kind of which there might be many replicas, but a single, unique object, the identical and simultaneous possession of both experiencers. And similarly if the physical objects are supposed to be transcendent, and if this is merely taken To mean that they have an independent being, that they exist whether or not any one experiences them, and unaffected by the fact of experiencing, we are then confronted by the double difficulty (I) of giving any positive content to the object when thus regarded, and (2) of giving any reality to the experience which is superadded. In short, this interpretation of the independence of the object makes the knower and his experience once more as a sort of ghostly double of reality.

To understand how the belief in transcendent reality arises, and what meaning we as a matter of fact do ascribe to such being, it is necessary to get behind those ready-made distinctions between mind and body, knower and known object, and turn directly to experience itself. What is it in experience which suggests the belief in the existence of mind as possessed of its own private inner life, and of physical objects and other selves as possessed of transcendent being; and what do we then mean by inner life and transcendent being?

We must, of course, begin each one of us with his own experience. That is, in the appeal to experience one is asking each person to observe for himself what he finds in the region of his own experience. This obvious and inevitable reflection is usually, however, given a quite misleading interpretation. For it by no means follows that one begins with observing anything merely private, subjective, a supposed "world within, "of sensations, feelings, as these are found in an isolated consciousness. No, this is precisely what, in attempting to solve any problem whether in science or in philosophy, we never are concerned with. The initial attitude is wholly object-minded. The distinction between subject and object is one that supervenes upon this primitive attitude. One may reflect that he is having these experiences, and that all that he can say about them is couched in terms of his own feelings, sensations, etc., yes all but the unique existential value which this experience and no other possesses, which leads him to regard it as belonging to an order of experience which is also there for the other fellow. But in order to make this distinction, one has already introduced the concept of the transcendent.


This primitive experience of the unreflective but object-minded experiencer, at first undifferentiated into subject and object, becomes thus differentiated through the consciousness of the thwarted will. If one could conceive of a being whose every desire, met with prompt and full satisfaction, without any planning, without any striving, there would seem to be nothing that could introduce into the life of such a being the distinction between subject and object. Life would be one placid dream, and the dreamer and his dream undistinguished; there would be no transcendent being, nothing to contend against, nothing to rely upon; no other to oppose or to support. For us, however, consciousness of our own desires and of their frustration breaks experience into a world of cross-purposes. My purposes are crossed by the physical order and its regularity. My purposes are also crossed by certain irregularities manifest in the same order. And as I ascribe the collision in the latter case to another will, so in the former I ascribe it to a transcendent being which is at first conceived after the analogy of the will, as a sort of purposive agent, and later as a sort of super-personal and invariable will. Further experience shows that it is precisely the invariability of nature's workings that makes possible the fulfillment of any of my plans; and that furthermore it is the same impartial uniformity of nature that makes possible my relations with other finite wills. Then the notion of a will behind nature gives place to the conception of an order which is indifferent to purpose but bound by necessary laws. The natural order is then still regarded as transcendent, but now no longer because it expresses the purpose of another will than my own, but rather because it is supremely indifferent. Or better, because, as far as it goes, it expresses at least the basic purpose of us all, the purpose, namely, to make our purposes definite, and to cooperate with our fellows in the pursuit of common aims.

To get at the real significance of these notions of the transcendent and see how far they are justified, one must look a Littlemore closely into experience itself. Everyone must have had the experience of being utterly absorbed in some object of contemplation that all consciousness of self has vanished even from the background of one's thinking. One is, so to speak, all there where the object is, his identity is merged in the object of his contemplation. And then all of a sudden, this experience, which seemed so objective, flashes forth, because of its very intensity, as something highly subjective. It is just as when gazing steadily at an intaglio it may suddenly jump forth into relief. This phenomenon of alternating reference has not been given sufficient consideration. It is, I think, because of this that the term experience possesses its peculiar kind of ambiguity, now meaning something private, individual, subjective, all my own; and anon the objective common world of facts, yet all the while remaining the same in content, save for the single difference of reference. But however, this may be, when one finds oneself in this condition one must run for the other fellow and borrow his vision to assure oneself that one has not been dreaming. Or else one must collect one's self, as the saying goes. This always means getting the immediate experience, however wide its spread, in its larger experiential context. But the immediate experience loses nothing in being thus interpreted. It merely gains standing in a more abiding order of experience. Now, as a matter of fact, one never for a moment supposes that when he has accomplished this result the object has merely been put in its place in relation to other private experiences of his own. His attitude is still wholly object-minded. He supposes that he has found its place in an order of experience which includes the experiences of other men, and also all that no one has experienced, but that might have been experienced, granting the principle of uniformity, if certain preliminary conditions had been fulfilled. And one also further supposes that if the fact has once been established in such an order it must henceforth be reckoned with. No matter what your private purposes, they cannot budge this now known fact. One thus comes to view that order of experience as transcendent of one's own inner life because one's own plans, one's likes and dislikes, must all submit to its domination. And the transcendency remains, and will continue, until this collision disappears.

At first it may be physical facts that seem thus transcendently objective, but it does not require much reflection to see that mathematical and logical objects are in the same case; and that moreover it is thought alone which succeeds in holding the physical fact tight in its moorings. In any case one reaches the conception of an order of experience, where all one's own experiences belong, which is transcendent of one's purely personal aims and strivings.

But the curious thing is that one has not escaped from one's own experience, but has merely interpreted it, and in such wise that it now seems to belong to an order that moves independently of one. Looking at the matter more closely, it is as if one were all the while referring his experience to an impartial spectator who stands ever in the shadow, observing all and assessing all values. Of course, such an impartial assessor is a fiction, or better, he is my own other. I never think he is an impartial spectator unless I can make his judgments mine. Yet candor compels me to admit that I have private prejudices. The impartial spectator is then simply myself trying my level best tube intellectually honest. But in this tacit reference to an impartial spectator in the interpretation of my own experience, I am also tacitly assuming that he is assessing values for other minds as well. The point is that in trying to reach objectivity, to introduce order and coherence into my own experience, I am always assuming that my own thinking is typical, what any intelligent observer would in like situation affirm.

What really dominates my thinking is thus my belief in other intelligent beings, and in my ability to think for them as well as for myself, whenever I succeed in actually thinking for myself; to interpret their experience just insofar as I succeed in interpreting my own. And so, I never rest content until my impartial spectator has been adopted by my fellow worker in the spontaneity of his own inner self. Thus, the only real transcendent being is the free inner life of my fellow men, and the impartial spectator is our go-between. He is, if you please, our social self. But such a self clearly has no independent being. It gets its reality solely through its free adoption by the independent beings who accept its authority. Is it not plain, however, that the acceptance of such an authority implies the possession on the part of those who accept it at once of an identical fund of experience and of common purposes or ideals? Or, putting tithe other way round, failure to possess a common fund of experience and common ideals would make agreement (a common order of experience with its impartial observer, or social interpreter) an impossibility.


In the first instance, our common fund of facts is just our physical experiences as natural science has taught us to interpret them, running quality into quantity, and fixing facts once for all in a rigidly mechanical order which is one and the same for all experiencers. And, again in the first instance, the common ideal is found in those organizing principles of the understanding, such as space, time, and causality, which serve us as the fixing solutions of fleeting experiences.

Yet such an order is painfully unlike our rich and varied and growing qualitative world, and such an ideal woefully inadequate to express the purpose of beings with a future. And progress, in knowledge as in culture, is marked by the inclusion in the common order of facts of ever more and more qualitative distinctions; and by the adoption of ever larger and more comprehensive and more dynamic ideals. Sympathy broadens. One’s individual life becomes more and more one with that ozone’s fellows as one's purposes widen. The absolute, if you choose to use the expression, is not the ends realissimum but simply the impartial spectator, the social self, who is progressively being brought to realization through the free activity of finite, purposive, progressive beings.

Stated in this condensed form, I fear that what I have said may appear more remote and recondite than it actually is. Aim after all but reporting the plainest fact of every-day experience. The truth is, we live most of the time behind, or above, the distinction of subject and object, mind and things; or, if you prefer, we are ourselves on the object side as well as the subject side of the subject-object relation, and in proportion to our interest and absorption in the matter in hand does the distinction between subject and object vanish. Nevertheless, in all of our activities (and thinking is an activity) we are trying to work over and remold experience in accordance with a more or less definite plan, which is in turn determined by our interests and desires, so that even the objective order is, in so far, made what it is by our interests and desires. Now whenever this reflection arises, forthwith the interpreter of experience draws into his shell and pulls the world of experience in after him. It is again the case of the phenomenon of alternating reference to which I have referred above. But no one long remains a Protagorean dreamer. Each task, if it be only the task of making his own desires definite and effective, sends him forth into the common objective order of experience. This, as we have seen, is equivalent to a reference to the social interpreter, that is, to the independent spontaneity of other individual egos, and the transcendent remains in the purposive lives of other selves.

But, as we have seen, the existence of a common world of experience implies the possession on the part of each interpreter of this order of an identical fund of experience, and common ideals or purposes. Now if there are any common elements, either of content or form, such that their very denial involves their affirmation, we must at least presuppose their objective validity.

Idealism, as I understand it, simply means that the thing (anything you please) always is what one is forced to think it as, and this means that necessities of thought, in determining what the thing must be thought as, determine in so far at the same time what the thing must be thought to be. There are, however, and in the nature of the case can be, no necessities of thought that come merely as empirical data since such data could at best do no more than justify particular judgments.

Now no one, however radical his empiricism, does, as a matter of fact, confine himself in the statement of his own view to particular judgments. We have surely a right to expect that a philosophy which proposes to be purely empirical should state its case without violating that principle. However, even if one should attempt to state his case wholly in the form of particular judgments, he could not in so doing deal with a single concrete individual object. He would be confined to the passing experience in its pure and ineffable immediacy, for to identify this experience, and give it its setting in an objective order, means not merely comparing it with other present experiences, but also recognizing these as memories, that is, as pointing to actual occurrences in a past that is no more but once was real. It may be objected that the test in such a case is always pragmatic. Whether true or not this is irrelevant, for whatever the test, the conclusion is, if the test holds good, that what is verified is an actual past experience with its place in that order of experience, where all experiences are supposed somehow to find their resting place, but which, in its entirety, no man has ever directly experienced.

In other words, the world is for any one objective precisely in so far as he is one with himself, in so far as the unity of his self-consciousness is preserved, and the identity of the functioning of that consciousness presupposed.

I shall no doubt be reminded that this is simply a case of getting one's self into what Professor Perry has called the "egocentric predicament." Well, one cannot live without breathing, but this constitutes no predicament save for him who attempts to get along without air. And so, the fact that our human ways of thinking will haunt us to the end in all our attempts to make experience intelligible is only a predicament for him who kicks against the pricks of the inevitable.

The above propositions, in spite of their condensed forms, will be readily recognized as familiar. I name no names to avoid entangling alliances. I am, moreover, well aware that they have frequently been challenged in recent discussions. 'While I think the challenge can be met, this is not the place to undertake a defense of idealism. For what I am here primarily concerned with is to show that, granting its main contentions, idealism has too readily passed from the inevitable recognition of the unity of self-consciousness as it is manifest in our own lives to the unity of a single all-inclusive and over-individual self-consciousness. The reason for this is apparent enough. Objects must be grasped not only in the unity of my experience, but in the unity of a single experience, one and the same for all. It is precisely at this point, as it seems to me, that idealism has been over-hasty in its conclusions. The unity of experience, and the parallel unity of self-consciousness, is in the first instance the unity of my experience and of my self-consciousness. But as this seems to be insufficient to account for an objective world, I am led to posit the continuity of my self-consciousness with a universal self-consciousness. In doing this I am launched on the way to an absolute where all terms lose their meaning, excepting so far as I bring them back and interpret them in terms of my own experience.

I submit that in the first instance what I mean by the objective world is nothing more and nothing less than my own experience locked fast in the principle of identity, and therein, and thereby, being recognized as literally one with the experience of any other conscious being that can plan and strive, or even define its own aims. It is simply the unitary world of science. It is nature run down to mathematics, dealt with quantitatively, and stated in terms of permanence and identity. The philosopher accepts the results of the work of the scientists with as much docility as any layman. There is no collision between science and philosophy. But I insist that the world when thus viewed has been deprived of certain characters, which are nonetheless real and of which philosophy must take account. If it be said that the unitary world of science is a construct of human intelligence, and that it presents the objective world not in its full concrete reality, and that consequently it is in so far abstract, this is not in any wise to condemn the scientist. On the contrary, it is to commend him for sticking to his last, for doing precisely what he set out to do. For every scientist begins his work by the adoption of certain points of view toward that region of experience with which he is concerned and the elimination of others which are nonetheless present, though they do not concern him.


I confess to being very much perplexed when I hear a critic solemnly refuting what he calls idealism by arguing that physical objects retain all their qualities as physical objects whether or not the knowing relation is established between those objects and any individual knower. Was there ever an idealist reached by this criticism? Must I as an idealist suppose that, for example, when I entered this hall this evening and experienced the presence of this desk, this desk suddenly gave a quiver, gained or lost in weight, changed, or acquired its color or shape? To be sure the desk acquired this added character, that henceforth it has a definite place in my knowledge of the physical order, which it did not have before, and its fate may be determined by that fact. But surely it has been clear to every idealist since the days of Kant that physical objects have their place and their definite character in a single unitary world of experience.

But, nonetheless, if, when regarding any experience as objective, I ask what it is that confirms me in that conviction, what it is that I regard as its common or universal character, I at once see that it is not simply the immediate impression that one gets, as we say, in the presence of that object. That simple and immediate impression taken just at its face value turns out to be what is most subjective and private. It is thus perhaps that physical objects might appear to the placid and doubt-free mind of the ruminating cow. In truth, experience is public and common only insofar as it is significant, and it becomes such by reference to other experience, by being fixed in a context, conceived in a network of thought relations. When we refer to physical occurrences to a common order of experience, the common or public character of these occurrences is wanting when they are taken apart from their ideal significance. When we try to take the object out of its thought context, and to regard it simply as an immediate or direct datum of sense, we can never be sure that any two of us are having precisely the same experience. We are then as near as we can get to the region of sheer subjectivity. But when by means of scientific investigation we have got the particular experience in its larger experiential context and fixed its meaning there; we can no longer regard the now significant object as belonging merely to private experience. We fully count upon and demand the agreement of our fellow workers with our own clearly established results.

And thus, it would seem that what is truly common in the realm of experience is just its real ideal significance, that experiences transfused with thought. Does this mean that the reality of the common objective world is wholly exhausted in its ideal or universal meaning? Certainly not, if form be divorced from content, for this ideal meaning is ever the ideal meaning of precisely those facts of immediate and direct experience which we have found to be our nearest approach to the purely subjective.

Natural science, by eliminating so far as possible the personal and purposive, locks each fact in a fixed order. When our common world of experience is conceived in these terms, its order is fixed in such wise that the whole is given at a stroke in the full definition of any one of its parts. The Laplacean calculator has here taken the place of the impartial spectator. And yet it is clear that in viewing experience in this fashion ones conceive it in static terms. There could be no genuine progress in a world thus conceived. Past and future alike are locked in the present. This is, however, our common world precisely in so far as we need or choose to describe it in terms of the primary qualities and of these exclusively.

One may endeavor to escape from the common, and therefore conceptualized, order of experience by plunging into the current of life, drifting with the tide of feeling. He may call this life rich and real, in comparison with the days of his bondage to the cold demands of imperious reason. And yet he cannot define his own interests and reach his own ends, nor even mark the contrast between such living and that state of bondage, without returning to that common order of experience and fixing his purposes and his meanings there. The trouble with the conceptualized experience is not that it is conceptualized, but that the concepts one has been using are inadequate. Now although it be necessary to conceive our common world of experience as a mechanical order if we are to depend upon it and accomplish any definite task, it seems none the less equally obvious that we do as a matter of fact, and all of us, break away from the all-inclusiveness of this standpoint, wherever other purposive beings are in evidence, or wherever we view our own experience as aiming at ends not realized. When, however, we do thus breakaway from the interpretation of the common order of experience, we are driven to construct a new and more inclusive unitary world of our common experience, and this we succeed in doing in so far as we are able to read the meaning of our experience in terms of categories at once personal and purposive, and thus genuinely dynamic.


Now it is not necessary to introduce at this juncture the conception of an absolute consciousness to whom all facts of experience are simultaneously present and whose interest in them gives them their reality. Such a conception seems useless. It merely doubles the facts to be explained. Neither is it necessary, on the other hand, to conceive of happenings in remote times as merely "possible experiences," any more than it is necessary so to conceive facts that at the present time no one is actually experiencing. If I think of the center of the earth, or of the other side of the moon, as real at the present time, I do not mean that some absolute consciousness is having certain experiences which I might have if I succeeded in digging down into the bowels of the earth, or in flying round the moon; nor yet do I conceive of these as merely possible experiences. They get their present actuality because they are locked with certain facts of present experience as being necessary to complete their meaning. Those remote or inaccessible experiences, therefore, have their being in the reality of any experience which calls for them in order that it may itself find its place in a single order of experience.

The view which I am suggesting is, then, that there are many centers of conscious experience, egos if you will, each leading its own life, determined by its own ideals, yet making itself effective in a common order of experience and doing this by building up jointly with other intelligent agents a common world of ever-increasing richness and complexity. On the background is an affixed and unalterable framework of experience, which in baldest terms is mathematical and quantitative. Yet each of these centers of consciousness possesses its private appreciations and is directed by private purposes. Growth in intelligence, as in civilization and culture, is marked by the extent to which each individual is able to enter into the experience of others precisely as it is for them in their own inner lives. Thus, the root of ignorance, as well as of evil, is selfishness; the basis of wisdom as well as of virtue, sympathy.

There is at the present time a curious aversion to the term ego. First the term soul ceased to be a respectable term in philosophical discussions and gave place to the more inoffensive ego. This in turn was banished in favor of consciousness, and now some are making the effort to banish consciousness also. And yet the ego, or soul, is the one ontological concept that should survive all others, for it is the one to which all others are in the last analysis referred. It is, moreover, the one by means of which we escape the static interpretation of experience and at the same time keep our hold upon reality, for it is the one by means of which we succeed in grasping not only variety in unity, but also change in identity. Moreover, it seems to be unescapable. If you throw it out by the window it creeps in again by the door. I have never found any writer who has repudiated the notion who has not forthwith brought it in again by some other name, and who has not continually referred to himself and his reader in terms that imply that they at least are exceptions to his rule. The reason the concept is not in good odor is because one will insist upon erecting distinctions into separations, separating the knower from the world that he is supposed to know, the ego from its experience. And then, of course, either the ego vanishes, as a sort of ghost or supernumerary, or else the world, for truth to tell, the whole is found on either side.

This may, if you please, be called a sort of monadology; I care not for the name. At any rate these are not windowless monads mirroring a common world. They are rather monads whose lives are interpenetrating to such an extent that they all possess in their several experiences an identical world. But possessing also private appreciations, private purposes, and private ideals ; collision between them is inevitable in so far as they try to realize their several purposes in this common identical world, and in so far as at the same time these purposes do not reckon with the purposes of other independent monads. There is therefore no "pre-established harmony," but only so much harmony as there actually is at any given time. Complete harmony remains an ideal which may or may not ever be realized, but which never can be realized except insofar as each monad freely wills that it shall be.

If it be asked, must there not be one ego-world in which all find their place, the answer must undoubtedly be in the negative, if one conceives of such an order in any wise after the analogy of

the physical order with its conceptual fixity. The only meaning that can be put into unity where persons are in question is precisely the sort of unity which is even now discoverable in our human relations. We work at cross purposes except in so far as we are brought into unity by the free adoption of a common ideal. But again it should be observed that the only kind of unity in social relationships which is either held to be desirable, or found to be enduring, is one in which the affirmation of the common ideal goes hand in hand with the possession of a unique individuality on the part of those who thus unite. Each must-have his own independent contribution which no other could give.

Thus, what I have to propose is little more than a tentative program for an idealism which would reckon with present-day interests. What is needed is, if there be any foundation for such a personal interpretation of life and experience as I have suggested, that one should accept frankly the principle of the primacy of the practical reason and should deduce the categories of social life therefrom, and ultimately in terms of these categories ground the principles of interpretation which lie at the basis of theoretical reason as well, including even the so-called laws of logic. Or, reversing the process and starting with the mechanical interpretation of experience as itself the expression, the embodiment, of the practical reason in its barest immediacy, and therefore with the maximum of abstraction, proceed to show how this interpretation of our common world develops with the progress of civilization by the successive employment of categories ever more and more adequate to express the social life of independent and free individuals with a task and a future.