The Relativity of Knowledge


Watson, John. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy (1867-1893); St. Louis Vol. 11, Iss. 1, (Jan 1877): 19


The doctrine of the Relativity of Knowledge has found in Mr. Herbert Spencer its most vigorous and most persuasive advocate. The author of First Principles cannot be justly accused of an excess of speculative subtlety, or of a criminal terseness of expression: he generally seizes upon the obtrusive aspects of the object he is contemplating and allows the more delicate features of it to rest in unrelieved shadow; and what he sees himself he is determined that others shall also see at whatever cost of words. This wide-awake vision and this command of language, impart to the writings of Mr. Spencer an air of declamatory dogmatism that is apt to offend men of finer but perhaps weaker fibre, who recoil from anything like intellectual arrogance or superfluity of language. To them it seems as if an attempt were made to intimidate their reason by the parade of logical puzzles, and to capture their assent by a steady pour of verbal grapeshot. But whatever estimate may be formed of his philosophical speculations, or of the way in which he presents his thoughts, at least there cannot be denied to Mr. Spencer the merit of relative consistency, as well as of great intellectual fairness and breadth of information. He may, and we believe he has, failed to profit as he might have done by the history of modern philosophy; but he has developed a fairly coherent system of thought from the presumptions with which he starts, and he always displays a genuine love of truth. The denial of any knowledge of the Absolute is an instance in point; for it is a mistake to regard this doctrine, as Mr. Lewes, for example, does, (See Problems of Life and Mind, first series. Vol. I., p. 183, If. Am. Ed.) as an unessential and separable part of a general theory that would only be improved by its absence. To affirm the subjectivity of thought, and yet to maintain that real knowledge is possible, is to cut off the whole tree at the root under the delusion that only a rotten branch has been removed. The doctrine of relativity is the logical outcome of that imperfect analysis ofc knowledge which conceives of thought as an abstract universal, and therefore thrusts out the three great objects of thought, the mind, the world and God, into the outer darkness of unconsciousness; and any attempt to preserve the reality of one of these objects, while rejecting the others, is as futile as the attempt to construct a triangle with only one side. If consciousness is conceived as the isolated thinking of the individual, none of the predicates applied to its objects can have any validity as expressions of their real nature; and hence Mr. Spencer, when he tells us that things cannot be known as they really are, is only saying what an inexorable logic compels him to say.


To the higher merit of absolute consistency, no advocate of the relativity of knowledge can lay claim. The doctrine is either the product of arrested development, or it is a return to a point of view that has historically demonstrated its own imperfection. It may be reached by either of two paths that diverge from a common Centre, and end in a common skepticism. Empiricism and Dogmatic Idealism alike begin by accepting the common-sense assumption that Thought, Nature, and Deity, are existences that -stand apart from each other in complete independence; and when -in their character of philosophy, they attempt to bring these isolated objects into relation, their explanation is necessarily beset by an inherent self-contradiction that must sooner or later result in their own disruption and annihilation. If with Empiricism, we start with the conviction that thought is related to the world and to God as ectype to archetype, image to reality, effect to cause, we are compelled to suppose that these existences are shut out from the realm of consciousness and are only manifested to the individual thinker in and through his own sensations or passive states. The result is that any knowledge we may be supposed to have, is a knowledge not of reality but of appearance. A halt may be temporarily made at this point; but a thinker like Hume, who follows the lead of thought in its dialectical movements regardless of consequences, is hurried on to absolute Skepticism, the last resting-place of Empiricism. That this is the logical issue of Empiricism is a historical fact which is hidden only by the blindness of men's eyes. The fate of Dogmatic Idealism has been somewhat different. Setting out from the subject instead of the object and attempting to unite by violence what it had virtually assumed to be incapable of union, it did not succeed in accomplishing its own destruction so rapidly as the rival system and was quietly superseded by a philosophy that began by subjecting to criticism the presuppositions which had not before been called in question. Still the success of Dogmatism was considerable: for if under its skillful treatment knowledge was not completely extinguished, it at least dwindled to the feeblest spark: and if it still supposed itself to be the champion of knowledge, it allowed to the object of knowledge at best only a quasi-reality.


Thus, Empiricism in its penultimate stage and Dogmatic Idealism in the last phase it historically reaches, coincide in the denial of real knowledge and in the affirmation that knowledge is relative or phenomenal. And this explains why Mr. Spencer, who has grown up in the traditions of the former school of thought, has borrowed the weapons for his assault upon absolute knowledge from the armory of the rival school. Going back to the last dogmatic phase of Empiricism, he finds himself practically at the standpoint that had been independently reached by the different route of Dogmatism. It would be interesting to follow out the diverging paths which thus at last converge, but we have only space to indicate in the most hurried way the less familiar stages by which Dogmatism has been led to form a coalition with its antagonist against their common enemy.


The keynote of Dogmatic Idealism is the universality of thought. This is the one position to which, throughout the whole of its course, it always remains true. It relapses into self-contradiction by inconsistently allowing an independent realty to the outer world, or by placing the universality of thought solely in the Absolute, but it never wittingly proves faithless to its central idea, that thought is a universal which cannot possibly be resolved into a particular. In the tenacity with which it holds fast by this position lies its contrast to Empiricism; for although Empiricism begins with the self-evidencing power of consciousness, it tacitly asserts that thought is particular by identifying it with individual sensation.


The fault of Dogmatic Idealism is not that it gives too much importance to thought, but that it gives too little to the world. And this injustice rebounds upon itself by making real knowledge an impossibility. The first position of the Dogmatic Idealist is that thought is an abstract universal, having in itself its own immediate evidence. Thought is identical with being, but thought has no concrete reality within itself, and therefore being is the antithesis of real existence. Sensation is competent only to a knowledge of the particular, and the particular as self-contradictory is the negation of reality. Thought and sensation are thus absolutely opposed in their nature, not only as higher and lower, but as truth and error. By no possibility can sensation be converted into thought_, because the one is the abstract opposite of the other. But when the relation of the two is conceived in this abstract way, not only is sensation reduced to a chaos of independent particulars that cannot possibly constitute a coherent whole, but thought is emptied of all concreteness, and becomes simply the pure abstraction of universality^ while the objective world is cast out of thought as that which is inherently inharmonious with it. From a pure universality no definiteness can be extracted, and hence the only reality is that of the abstract self.


It must not however be supposed that Dogmatic Idealism in its initial stage has any proper appreciation of the consequences of its own position. Only half awakened from the peaceful slumber of naive and unreflective consciousness, it does not see that in its endeavor to preserve intact the absoluteness of thought it has failed to apprehend thought in its completeness. For this one-sidedness it must pay the penalty annexed to all intellectual transgression and become assumptive and therefore self-contradictory. Accordingly, the concrete reality which it sees is necessary to any knowledge worthy of the name, it must seek outside of thought, in defiance of its fundamental principle that thought must be its own evidence. The assurance of reality cannot be obtained in the external world, which is thrown out of court from being the peculiar province of sense, but it may be found in the nature of the Absolute or Infinite. The Infinite comprehends in itself all perfection and is therefore the only absolutely real existence. The world comes from the Infinite, and therefore partakes of the reality of its source. Although thought is the opposite of concrete existence, the reality of the latter is none the less certain. Thus stated, the assumptive and self-contradictory character of Dogmatic Idealism cannot be hidden. For.in the first place, the reality of the objective world cannot be made good for thought by being thrown out of thought: in this way its truth is assumed, not accounted for. So long as thought is assumed to be an abstract universal, just so long it must exclude the particular, and the knowledge of individual concrete remains unthinkable. And, in the second place, an assumption is not made good by being doubled. If thought, as abstract, excludes particularity, it also excludes the Infinite, which is defined to be the sum of all particularity: and that which is the negation of thought cannot serve as a basis upon which to rearrange superstructure of real knowledge. It is impossible to show that thought is capable of knowing things as they actually are. without presupposing that real knowledge is attainable: the truth of the objects of thought cannot be established from the nature of the Infinite, seeing that the Infinite is one of its objects.


Descartes is the representative of this first phase of Dogmatic Idealism. In the initial proposition of his philosophy, Cogito ergo sum, there is already implied the identification of thought with pure being, and the consequent exclusion from thought of concrete existence. The result is that mind and matter, soul and body, are so absolutely opposed as to be mutually exclusive of each other, while deity is brought in as a Deus ex Machina to account for the possibility of real knowledge. And as Descartes, while conceiving of God as entirely outside of both thought and nature, yet defines Him to be the only absolute reality, Spinoza only followed out one side of the Cartesian Philosophy, when, in his attempt to get rid of the contradictions implicit in it, he carried over all reality into the Absolute.


As neither thought nor nature has any reality in itself, the Absolute is now held to be alone real. Embracing within itself all existence, it necessarily comprehends both thought and nature. These have therefore no independent reality whatsoever. They do not fall outside of the Absolute, for in that case the Absolute would lose its perfection. Nor do they express the real essence of the Absolute, for all difference is limitation and therefore imperfection. They are at once within and without the Absolute: they neither express its true nature nor conceal it but are manifestations of it in the finite intelligence of man. And as the Absolute has no imperfection or unreality, but is always complete in itself, it must reveal itself as fully in nature as in thought; for otherwise, having different degrees of reality, it would lose its all-embracing completeness. Thought and nature are thus two different, but equally complete, manifestations of the Absolute.


In this second phase of Dogmatism, it is the Absolute instead of thought which is conceived as an abstract universal. Ostensibly the Absolute is declared to embrace within itself all reality; but as its inner nature is not communicable to us, it is only known as a purely identical substance that repels from it all difference as a limitation of its infinity. In relation to our intelligence this pure substance is concrete, but this avails nothing, as all concrete existence is hopelessly marred by negation or unreality. Thought and nature are manifestations of the Absolute, but manifestations that do not reveal it as it really is. The attempt to bring within the sphere of knowledge any reality other than that of pure being has so far proved unavailing. It seemed as if nature and thought might get reality in the Absolute, but with the effort to apprehend that reality, all concrete existence disappears. Thought seems to have moved without progressing; apparently not the least advance has been made beyond the identity of abstract thought and pure being. And in a sense, there has been no advance, for the abstract identity of the Absolute is implicit in the conception of thought as an abstract universal. Nevertheless, philosophy has not been stationary, for in the form that Dogmatism has now assumed, we have, in almost everything but name, an apprehension of the doctrine of relativity. So long as it was assumed that the three realms of thought, nature and the Absolute, only differ in the degree of their reality, the impossibility of real knowledge was necessarily conceded; but when it is held that the Absolute as known is not the Absolute as it really is, the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge has begun to take shape and is ready to be developed into an explicit form.


Dogmatism has now reached a point in its development in which it seeks to become conscious of its own method. In its first phase, while it tacitly assumes that thought is an abstract universal, and thus virtually isolates nature and the Absolute from thought, it nevertheless supposes that each of these three spheres is equally real. But as thought has no concreteness in itself, reality cannot be made to depend upon consciousness, but has to be sought either in nature or in the Absolute. Hence in its second phase, all reality is carried over into the Absolute, which is conceived as an abstract substance or substratum: while all concreteness as relative to our intelligence is supposed to borrow a kind of reality from its supposed connection with the Absolute. But if all determination involves negation, thought in so far as it is determinate is incompetent to apprehend real existence: the unconditioned is alone real, and determinate thinking, as conditioned, falls outside of the unconditioned. Real knowledge, therefore, must be limited to the apprehension of that which is absolutely indeterminate and unconditioned: in other words, it goes no further than to the apprehension that the immediate is. Thus, Dogmatism in its third phase has come to the conclusion that real knowledge is only possible by the exclusion of all definite thought, or that it is absolutely immediate. So far as the Absolute is concerned, this view lies ready to hand in the conception of the Absolute as pure identity. But a like inference must be drawn in reference to thought and to nature. If all true knowledge is of the indeterminate, all that can be known of mind is that it is: any definiteness it might be supposed to have must be regarded as destructive of its purity and reality. Nature in like manner must be freed from its limitations, and be grasped purely in itself, i. e., as mere identity. All definite knowledge, therefore, is relative: things as they really are in themselves are unknown and unknowable: the only kind of knowledge that reveals absolute reality is immediate, indeterminate knowledge, or the simple belief that the unconditioned in its three forms exists.


This is the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge as developed by Sir Wm. Hamilton upon the basis of the philosophy of Jacobi. A return is made to the position of Descartes that mind, nature, and the Absolute, are each real and self-dependent; but the abstract conception of thought, with its corollaries the abstract identity of nature and of the Absolute, has now been explicitly set forth, and is maintained to be the true account of knowledge and the only account that will preserve the absolute reality of things. The dualism of Descartes has gone as far as it can go without annihilating itself and becoming absolute skepticism. There is a complete separation of mind, of nature, and of God, of neither is there anything absolutely known except that it is, and what is definitely known of each is not real but phenomenal knowledge. That mind, matter, and the Absolute in themselves really exist; we know what either is in its essence we do not and cannot know.


That this doctrine is a skepticism in disguise, it should not take many words to show. It has but to be pointed out that to the unconditioned cannot even apply the predicate of "being," except by relation to consciousness, to prove that a purely indeterminate thinking is a chimera. Distinction or relativity is the necessary condition of consciousness and the unconditioned as assumed to be out of all relation is absolutely unknowable, and therefore, cannot be even known to exist. That which is defined as the absolute negation of consciousness must be rejected as absolutely unreal. What remains? The salvation of knowledge has been staked upon the one cast of the unconditioned, and the hazard of the die must be accepted. The unconditioned is the non-existent because the unknowable, and no other refuge is prepared for a theory which has denied the reality of all determinate objects of thought. There is no real knowledge of anything whatsoever, and we must either give up the presupposition of the abstract identity of thought or accept the inevitable corollary of absolute skepticism.


This third phase of Dogmatism is in its essential features the doctrine to which Mr. Spencer has committed himself. The historical connection of his system with Sir Wm. Hamilton's is well-known; and Hamilton is Jacobi made explicit, as Jacobi is Descartes developed through Spinoza. We are therefore not surprised to find, in the system of Mr. Spencer, the abstract separation of the three spheres of mind, nature and the Absolute, the denial of the reality of these as known, and the assertion that they nevertheless exist and are real. There are in his philosophy elements that are connected historically with Empiricism rather than with Dogmatism, and there are details in it that are the peculiar property of Mr. Spencer himself; but in its main outlines it coincides with developed Cartesianism. In what follows we shall first consider the connection of the doctrine of relativity with Mr. Spencer's psychological theory and conclude by a brief examination of the line of argument relied upon to establish that doctrine.


It has appeared from our historical survey that the denial of absolute knowledge results from the presupposition that thought and nature, subject and object, are mutually exclusive and independent. That Mr. Spencer endorses this assumption leaves us in no manner of doubt. In his First Principles he tells us that before stirring a step towards its goal, philosophy has to assume the validity of certain primary data of consciousness, and that of these data the most fundamental is the conception of subject and object as "antithetically opposed divisions of the entire assemblage" of things. And in his Psychology an attempt is made to establish the proposition, that "when the two modes of being which, we distinguish as subject, and object have been severally reduced to their lowest terms, any further comprehension is negatived by the very distinction of subject and object, which is itself the consciousness of a difference transcending all other differences. This dualistic conception of things Mr. Spencer supports by a ''negative" and a "positive “justification. By the former is meant a proof that Realism rests on evidence having a greater validity than the evidence on which any counter-hypothesis rests". Tested by the criteria of priority, simplicity and distinctness, Realism is found to be superior to Idealism, which is based upon the assumption that "we are primarily conscious only of our sensations." People are conscious of external existence long before they frame the hypothesis that the knowledge of external existence is obtained mediately through sensation. Neither the subject nor the predicate of the proposition—I have a sensation, can be separately framed by a child, much less put together." The realistic belief is therefore not only prior in time, but it is the condition of the construction of the idealistic hypothesis. Realism is also superior to Idealism in simplicity. For, in the first place. Idealism always begins by showing that Realism is inferential, and to make good this assertion it has to employ many inferences in place of one; and, in the second place, the supposed proof of Idealism involves in addition a number of new inferences. "Hence, if the one mediate act of Realism is to be invalidated by the multitudinous acts of Idealism, it must be on the supposition that if there is doubtfulness in a single step of a given kind, there is less doubtfulness in many steps of the same kind." And not only is Idealism subsequent in time to Realism, and supported by elaborate inferential reasoning, but it is expressed in "terms of the extremes indistinctness," while Realism is expressed in "terms of the highest possible distinctness."


These arguments Mr. Spencer enforces with the greatest earnestness, and with every appearance of conviction; nor do we for a moment suppose that he is guilty of any conscious disingenuousness, though the tedious length at which he sets them forth suggests that he has himself some suspicion of their cogency. To us they have not the very smallest significance, except as illustrations of their framer's method of seeking for real knowledge by the elimination of all definite relations to thought. This is what the setting up of priority, simplicity and distinctness really amounts to, and anyone who has once apprehended that the very possibility of consciousness is dependent upon the existence of relations, is not for a moment confused by reasoning that assumes the exact opposite. Moreover, as the tests by which Idealism is shown to be inferior in evidence to Realism, would, if valid, establish the superiority of the primary, simple and distinct preconceptions of the unscientific mind over the infinitely more complex and more indistinct conceptions of physical science, we may 'safely leave Mr. Spencer to fight out his battle with other antagonists and upon another arena. The only other remark that seems called for here is that, even granting the validity of the criteria, the question is not fairly argued: for on the one hand the philosophical theory of Realism is identified with the common-sense belief in an external world, and thus assumed to possess a priority, simplicity and distinctness not justly its due; and on the other hand, Idealism is confused with Sensationalism, in which alone the knowledge of the external world is sought in "sensations" or "subjective states." For these if for no other reasons, the "multitudinous mediate acts" by which Mr. Spencer tries to show that all mediate acts destroy knowledge, is mere shooting in the air.


Idealism has been weighed successively in the balances of priority, simplicity and distinctness and has been found wanting. But its advocates are given to subterfuge, and we must make sure that we have cut off every possible way of escape. “It is not enough to be clear that a doctrine is erroneous: it is not enough even to disentangle the error from its disguises: it is further requisite that we should trace down the error to its simplest form and find its root." What we want evidently is some universal criterion of truth, to which even the Idealist must assent, and by which he may be convicted out of his own mouth. This absolute criterion or "universal postulate" Mr. Spencer believes he has found in the formula: "the inconceivableness of its negation is that which shows a cognition to possess the highest rank. An "inconceivable" proposition, it must be noted, is not simply a proposition that is "unbelievable,"' but one "of which the terms cannot by any effort be brought before consciousness in that relation which the proposition asserts between them." Thus, the negation of the proposition, "whatever resists has extension," is not only unbelievable but unthinkable, for the subject and the predicate cannot be thought of together.


The first suggestion that occurs to one in regard to this "universal postulate," is that it wears a very familiar aspect; and the second is that it is identical with the well-known logical law of non-contradiction. An examination of the instance cited by Mr. Spencer in illustration of it places this supposition beyond dispute. The proposition, "whatever resists has extension," when fully expressed becomes, we presume, "the material thing which resists has extension." That this must be what is meant seems clear from the fact that we cannot say, "the man who resists (good advice) has extension." Now that a "material thing," i. e.an extended thing "has extension" is certainly a proposition of which the terms cannot by any possibility be separated in thought, for the simple reason that they are identical. We may frame as many propositions of this type as we please, and all of them will conform to the "universal postulate." The proposition, “a hippogriff is an imagined object," is one which bears the test of the postulate without flinching, since it is a proposition the negation of which is not only "unbelievable" but "unthinkable." It is therefore difficult to see how the "Idealist" is to be brought to his senses by such an innocent device as that of asking him to admit that what is in consciousness is in consciousness. The mere analysis of a conception, as Kant has once for all pointed out, only results in an explicit statement of what the conception means; it does not carry us beyond itself to objective truth.


It is quite possible that Mr. Spencer would reply that the proposition, ‘whatever resists has extension," asserts not only that an extended thing is extended," but that "resistance" and "extension “cannot be separated in thought and therefore exist together in reality. And no doubt this is so: but it is because “resistance" and "extension" are correlative conceptions that involve manifold relations to thought, whereas the "universal postulate “is expressly brought forward to prove the truth of a proposition immediately. The conjunction of these conceptions in our knowledge is the result of a long process of mediation, and the justification of their connection can only be found in the truth of each step in this process. In the language of Kant, the proposition, "whatever resists has extension," is a "synthetical “judgment, obtained by a reference to experience. The question therefore comes to this: either the "universal postulate" only calls upon us to state explicitly what is in our consciousness and thus affords no criterion of objective truth, or it admits that immediate knowledge has no objective validity. As the latter alternative is exactly what Mr. Spencer is trying to disprove, we are compelled to adopt the former.


That the "universal postulate" is merely a law of formal thought is further implied in the setting up of a new criterion to help the imperfection of the old. It is not to every proposition, Mr. Spencer admits that the postulate is applicable, but only to those that are "simple" or "undecomposable.” Now, in the first place, it is evident that if we go on analyzing or "decomposing “a proposition into its elements, we shall only have completed the process when we have got back to the very beginning of knowledge. The absolutely primary judgment can alone be called "undecomposable" in any strict use of terms: and when we have got this proposition; the virtue of the postulate has evaporated. Into the proposition, "something is in my consciousness," as the simplest, and therefore as the only "undecomposable “judgment that can be framed, any proposition we choose to name must ultimately be analyzed, and to this proposition alone the "universal postulate" can be applied. In other words, the criterion of truth set up by Mr. Spencer is but the logical law of identity, or (what is practically the same thing) of noncontradiction, which simply formulates the condition of knowledge, that consciousness postulates itself, but is utterly useless as a test of objective truth. But, in the second place, there is no absolutely simple proposition embodying any real knowledge. Even the simplest judgment that can be conceived, "something is a real object to me," involves the relation of subject and object, and is therefore so far complex, although in relation to all other judgments it may be called simple. The only proposition which is not complex is one in which subject and predicate are identical, and such a proposition is merely verbal. And in point of fact this is the only proposition to which the "universal postulate “properly applies, if as is supposed it is a test of no knowledge except that which excludes all relation to thought. The postulate is therefore not only practically useless, but it simply formulates the abstraction of relation to consciousness, and therefore, falsifies even the initial judgment of knowledge, which is not immediate but mediate.


That the supposed criterion of truth is indeed the negation of real knowledge becomes apparent the moment an attempt is made to apply it in support of Realism. The application is made at great length, but in the end, it amounts to this: the immediate deliverance of consciousness is that the object is independent of the subject, and this proposition alone conforms to the "universal postulate."(See especially Psychology, Vol. II., §438). But this is simply to say that the postulate only allows for the verbal or identical propositions: "the subject is the subject," and "the object is the object." Bring the object into relation with the subject, and the mutual independence of each at once disappears. On the other hand, as the very existence of knowledge implies the relation of the object to a conscious self, the immediate deliverance of consciousness i. e. of the unreflective consciousness, and the postulate which endorses it, destroy the very possibility of knowledge. The attempt to find reality in the absence of all relation has once again, as it must ever do, resulted in the complete negation of reality, and Mr. Spencer, in his attempt to cover the Idealist with confusion, has only succeeded in demonstrating the instability of his own position- It is really curious to find anyone maintaining that subject and object are in absolute independence of each other because they are given in relation to each other: that what is in relation to consciousness is out of relation to consciousness. Such a self-contradictory position must necessarily lead its advocate into innumerable incoherencies of thought; and some of these incoherencies we shall now point out.


The arguments hitherto employed by Mr. Spencer; derive whatever apparent force they have from the tacit identification of Realism with the common-sense belief that objects exist exactly as they are known. But as in the endeavor to preserve the assumed immediateness of knowledge a criterion is proclaimed which is applicable only to "simple" propositions, or propositions that exclude all relation, we are not surprised that for the ordinary view which assumes that the object as completely qualified is directly apprehended, there should be substituted the very different view that the object as known is absolutely unqualified; but we are surprised that Mr. Spencer should not have marked his divergence from common sense by deleting all the reasoning which presupposes agreement with it. We are now told that the Realism which can be established is not the "Crude Realism" of common sense but a more refined theory to which the name of “Transfigured Realism" is given. The object is known to us through subjective affections or relations, and no relation to consciousness can "resemble, or be in any way akin to," its source beyond consciousness. Nevertheless, there exist "beyond consciousness conditions of objective manifestation which are symbolized by relations as we conceive them." Our knowledge of the object as it really exists is thus limited to a direct apprehension of its bare existence.


Here we see the dialectic by which the common sense assumption of the independence of the object converts itself into a denial of all definite knowledge, going on before our eyes. When’re. S. speaks of the distinction of subject and object as the "consciousness of a difference transcending all other differences" he does not see that he is really affirming the non-independence of the object; but he does see that as all definite knowledge is constituted by relations to consciousness, the unqualified object is not known at all. Hence, he tries to combine Idealism and Realism by maintaining at once that the object is independent of consciousness and that it is in relation to consciousness; the result being the compromise called "Transfigured Realism which carries over the concreteness of the object into thought, and yet maintains the independence of the purely abstract substratum that alone remains. Two absolutely incongruous theories of knowledge are thus combined, or rather set side by side: the one that knowledge is mediate or made up of relations to consciousness, and the other that it is absolutely immediate or free from relation. Here then we have the doctrine of relativity as applied to the nature of the object. Its validity evidently depends upon the possibility of an independent object being known in a purely immediate consciousness. Now the object as assumed to be independent is altogether beyond the sphere of consciousness, and therefore, cannot be known to exist. To say that it is independent of consciousness and to say that it is unrelated to consciousness, is for knowledge exactly the same thing. And, on the other hand, to speak of a consciousness that is absolutely immediate, is equivalent to a denial that consciousness has any object before it; for an object, as Mr. Spencer admits, is only given in distinction to a subject. Thus, if the object is beyond consciousness, it cannot even be known to exist, and a consciousness that excludes all relation is an unthinkable abstraction. In the attempt to preserve its independence, the object has been reduced to the maximum of indefiniteness and the subject to the minimum of relation, and after all the definiteness implied in the bare relation of an unqualified thing to a pure subject has to be assumed under the disguise of immediate knowledge, or subject and object alike disappear. The first contradiction involved in the Spencerian doctrine of relativity is thus the contradiction between the affirmation of the existence of the object and the denial of its relation to consciousness. There is an inconsistency, as we shall see, in the account of the subject.


The process by which the subject is doubled so as to be distinguished as real and as phenomenal, is strictly correlative to that by which the real object is pushed out beyond consciousness. Beginning with the assumption of common sense that the completely qualified object exists in complete independence of consciousness, it is at once seen that the subject is merely an empty capacity without any content or determinateness. Thus, when the concreteness is supposed to belong to the object, the subject is necessarily perfectly abstract. Accordingly, all that can be said of it is that it exists, and hence it can only be known in a purely immediate act of knowledge. But it is soon perceived that the object, at first supposed to be completely determined apart altogether from relations of thought, is really known only through such relations, and hence the concreteness of the object is drawn into consciousness and falls away from the object, leaving it perfectly abstract. What before was regarded as qualities of the external object is now conceived as relations of consciousness. It is the subject that is now concrete and the object that is abstract, as before the object was concrete and the subject abstract. But the determinate subject is not the real subject, for its relations while they are its own are yet borrowed from the object: in itself it is, like the real object, a pure substance of which we can only predicate existence. The only real knowledge is that which is absolutely immediate, and knowledge that involves relations is relative or phenomenal. Hence, we only know that the mind is: what it is we do not and cannot know. In this matter what supposition we set out with, we are forced to conclude that the "substance of mind" is unknowable. If we say with Hume that feelings are "the only things known to exist, and that mind is merely a name for the sum of them—the expression ‘substance of mind' can have no meaning except as applied to each and any feeling individually. Whence it follows that there are as many different substances of mind as there are different feelings; and this amounts to the conclusion that there is no substance of mind in the sense implied. If again we yield to the necessity of regarding feelings as forms or modes of a continually existing something—there can be no state of mind in which the unmodified substance of mind is present."


It would be merely a waste of time, after the remarks already made, to say more than that we have here a repetition of the contradiction pointed out in regard to the object: that the mind as absolutely "unmodified" is out of all relation to consciousness, and therefore, cannot even be known to exist, since nothing can be in consciousness that is not in relation to it. Merely noting this, let us select some of the more striking of the contradictions that now crowd thick and fast upon us. "We have seen how Mr. Spencer bandies the determinateness of things backwards and forwards, now throwing it over to the object and again bringing it back into the subject, as occasion demands. But he now attempts the more difficult feat of making it appear that the very same determination belongs at once to the object and to the subject, and yet is the exclusive property of each. The trick by which this clever illusion is accomplished is not the invention of an idle moment, but has been evolved under the pressure of necessity. To say that the objective world as known is resolvable into a series of feelings, as the assumed independence of the unqualified object logically necessitates, is an admission that an Empiricist, concerned above all things for the safety of physical science, cannot bring himself to make. And hence Mr. Spencer, notwithstanding his theory of "Transfigured Realism,” comes back to ''Crude Realism" when he begins to speak of subject and object as they are known. The objective world is now maintained to be concrete and yet independent, and as its concreteness and independence would be destroyed if brought into relation with consciousness, we must suppose that it is known in an immediate act of knowledge. From this point of view therefore the mind is perfectly indeterminate. But, on the other hand, consciousness must be itself concrete, if it is to be known at all and it can only get its concreteness from the object it knows, and hence the determination that before was external now becomes internal. What therefore from one point of view belongs to the object, from another point of view belongs to the subject. Nevertheless, the qualified object is quite distinct from the determinate subject. How are we to explain this riddle? By holding, is the answer, that while mind as known is absolutely distinct from matter as known; each is symbolical of the other. Let us hear Mr. Spencer himself: "See, then, our predicament. We can think of matter only in terms of mind. We can think of mind only in terms of matter. When we have pushed our explorations of the first to the uttermost limit, we are referred to the second for a final answer; and, when we have got the final answer of the second, we are referred back to the first for an interpretation of it. We find the value of x in terms of y; then we find the value of y in terms of x; and so on we may continue forever, without coming nearer to a solution.


There is here such a web of contradictions that it is difficult, in attempting to unravel it, to know where to begin. In the first place, two different and opposite accounts of knowledge are implied. When the determination of the object is to be preserved, it is assumed that there is an immediate knowledge of the object and a mediate knowledge of the subject; and conversely, when the subject is to be conceived as concrete, it is supposed to be immediately known while the object is known mediately. Secondly, if we can "think of matter only in terms of mind," it is evident that matter, so far as it is qualified, must be unknown, and can at the most only be known to exist. But on the other hand, it is expressly held that matter as qualified is actually in knowledge. Again, if we can "think of mind only in terms of matter," the determinations of mind become unknown, although they have before been explicitly declared to be known and to stand in contrast to the "unmodified substance of mind." Lastly, the states of mind and the qualities of matter as known must both be contained in the same consciousness; while on the other hand each is the symbol of the other, and therefore each is alternately in consciousness and out of consciousness, known and unknown. And not only so, but as a symbol has no meaning excepting relation to that which it symbolizes, both must be in consciousness at the same time, and therefore be determinations of thought, while on the contrary matter as symbolical is assumed to be independent of mind, and therefore out of consciousness. We cannot therefore regard the device by which that which is constituted only by relations to thought is shown to be at once in and out of relation to thought, as at all a success.


Nor can we regard the next phase of Mr. Spencer's dualism as anything but a still deeper plunge into the mire of self-contradiction. Not only is there an absolute opposition of mind and matter as pure substances; not only is the determinate subject as known set-in uncompromising contrast to the qualified object as known but sensations or "internal phenomena'' are absolutely exclusive of nerve-vibrations or ' 'external phenomena." There is a correspondence between subjective activities and objective activities but no community. An impassable gulf is thus supposed to lie between sensations in consciousness and nerve-vibrations, and each is regarded as symbolical of the other. The matter is made even more complicated by the fact that Mr. Spencer speaks in some places as if sensations were not in consciousness at all, while his theory requires him to assume that they are in consciousness. But here again, if nerve-vibrations are only known through sensations, and sensations through nerve-vibrations, each becomes in turn reduced to a de jure identity, of which we can only predicate bare existence. Accordingly, Mr. Spencer attempts to show that the internal phenomena and the external phenomena are alike reducible to a simple or indistinguishable unit. Sensations and nerve-vibrations, which at first sight appear to be "simple, homogeneous and unanalyzable,” are really composite, and are resolvable into nervous shocks or taps, by the integration of which sensations properly so called are produced. “All existence distinguished as subjective is resolvable into units of consciousness, similar in nature to those which we know a nervous shocks.'' Still "a unit of feeling has nothing in common with a unit of motion": we may speak in term§ of either, but after all we never get beyond our symbols. In other words, nerve-vibrations, as external to consciousness, are supposed to be apprehended immediately, and hence we are compelled to suppose that as related to consciousness they are not known as they really exist. Abstract from all the differences by which they are revealed to us, and a pure indistinguishable unit is obtained, which we must regard as alone real. In like manner sensation, when purified of all relation, is equivalent to pure being. Meantime, the nerve-vibrations and the sensations corresponding to them, as distinguished from each other, must be brought into relation in consciousness, and thus we have the contradiction of two existences, which are assumed to be independent of consciousness and of each other, existing in relation to consciousness and to each other.


One other step towards the complete destruction of real or objective existence has to be made before a halt is called to prevent absolute skepticism. Not only is nature isolated from thought, but individual consciousness is separated from universal consciousness. "Each individual is absolutely incapable of knowing any feelings but his own: that there exist other sensations and emotions is a conclusion implying, in the first place, the reasonings through which he identifies certain objects as bodies of like nature with his own body; and implying, in the second place, the further reasonings which convince him that along with the external actions of these bodies, there go internal states of consciousness like those accompanying such external actions of his own body.”


It is here supposed that the individual can only directly know his own feelings. But if so, it is manifestly impossible for him ever to get beyond the charmed circle within which he has been imprisoned. As the knowledge of what is called external is reducible, in this theory, to a series of feelings as they are for the individual subject of them, everything external to feeling must be explained as a fiction that has got into the individual's consciousness in some inexplicable way. Mr. Spencer gets over this difficulty to his own satisfaction by attributing to feeling a knowledge of the body of the person experiencing it. But a man’s body can, on the hypothesis, be nothing more than a series of feelings in consciousness, which reveal nothing but themselves. Much more untenable therefore is the reasoning by which the individual is supposed to infer the feelings of another from the similarity of the bodies of others to his own. Mr. Spencer, if he so chooses, may see the skeptical consequences that follow from the denial of the universality of consciousness fully set forth by Hume, by whom it is proved with a completeness that admits of no evasion, that the attempt to base knowledge upon the feeling of the sensitive individual results in the negation of the subject as well as of the object, and in the reduction of knowledge to a number of unconnected feelings, which there is no mind to know and which could not be known even if there were. The doctrine of relativity at last proves its claim to the title of absolute skepticism.


We have endeavored to trace the theory which denies the possibility of absolute knowledge back to its preconceptions, to mark the various contradictions into which it is pushed in its attempt to preserve knowledge, and to show that its ultimate issue is the denial of all knowledge. Any further examination of it may perhaps be deemed superfluous; but even at the risk of being tedious, it seems advisable to say something upon the special reasoning relied upon by Mr. Spencer to establish the central doctrine of his whole system.


There are two distinct senses among others in which we may speak of the Relative, both of which are employed by Mr. Spencer without being carefully distinguished; and it is by this confusion of thought and expression that the inconclusiveness of his reasoning is partially concealed. In the first place, by the Relative may be understood that which as an object of thought involves a relation or series of relations to thought. The condition of any consciousness, whatever being the opposition of subject and object, and the condition of definite thinking being the apprehension, identification and classification of differences in the object, knowledge is always a knowledge of relations. The Relative as thus understood does not of itself necessitate the assumption of an absolute or non-relative beyond consciousness: all that is required to constitute the relation is an object having more or fewer differences, and a subject which is more or less determinate. And when these two correlatives are taken together the law that contradictories imply each other is satisfied. Secondly, the Relative may mean that which is known, as distinguished from the Absolute which exists beyond knowledge. The Relative in this sense of the term evidently presupposes the independent existence of the Absolute: for if there is no Absolute beyond the bounds of knowledge, there will be no Relative within the bounds of knowledge. The Relative is in fact simply the non-absolute, as the Absolute is definable as the non-relative. Take away the Absolute, and the Relative as Relative disappears take away the Relative and the Absolute as its correlative likewise disappears.


Examining Mr. Spencer's arguments in the light of the distinction here pointed out, it will be found that each and all of them receive their apparent force from a confusion between the Relative as implied in the very nature of consciousness, and the fictitious Relative that results from the assumption of the independent existence of a non-relative beyond consciousness. But so far from the one Relative implying the other, it is evident that just in proportion as the one is established the reality of the other becomes precarious. The more stringently it is proved that knowledge is in all cases a knowledge of relations—in other words, that only that which is an object of thought can be known at all—the more apparent it becomes that a Relative which has no meaning apart from a non-relative that by definition can never be known, is disproved and rendered incredible. It is apparently from a confused apprehension that he is guilty of this ignoratio elenchi, that Mr. Spencer after laboriously removing the ground from under his own feet by enforcing in a variety of ways the proposition that the non-relative cannot beknown, attempts to regain some sort of footing by distinguishing between a knowledge of the Absolute and a "consciousness" of it—as if there were a kind of knowledge that excluded consciousness.


"Human intelligence is incapable of absolute knowledge. The relativity of our knowledge is demonstrable analytically. The induction drawn from general and special experiences, may be confirmed by a deduction from the nature of our intelligence. Two ways of reaching such a deduction exist. Proof that our cognitions are not, and never can be, absolute, is obtainable by analyzing either the product of thought, or the process of thought. “This statement of the general doctrine, clear as it seems, really confounds together the two meanings of the Relative, discriminated above. When it is said that the human mind is not capable of "absolute knowledge," but only of relative knowledge, it is implied that that which is known is known as connected with an Absolute Reality beyond knowledge and related to it as reality to appearance. But this evidently is only true if there exist such a reality: for if there is no reality outside of consciousness, knowledge will not be of appearances, but of reality. If Mr. Spencer had said, as he ought to have done to be strictly accurate, not that there can be no "absolute knowledge," but that there can be no knowledge of the Absolute (a very different thing)it would have been at once apparent that to prove the "relativity of knowledge," in the sense that knowledge always implies relations of an object to a subject, does not carry with it the implication of the existence of an Absolute beyond consciousness, button the contrary is the negation of that existence. If there is no knowledge of the Absolute, we have no right to predicate the existence of the Absolute; and if all knowledge involves relations, the Absolute, as devoid of all relations—as, in other words, not an object of thought—cannot be known to exist. A confusion between a knowledge of relations and the relativity of knowledge being thus made at the very threshold, it is only to be expected that the same confusion will vitiate the reasoning that follow it. And this is actually the case.


"Reason," we are told ,leads to the conclusion that the sphere of Reason is limited. This conclusion expresses the result of mental analysis, which shows us that the product of thought is in all cases a relation, identified as such and such; that therefore Being in itself, out of relation, is unthinkable, as not admitting of being brought within the form of thought."


A little reflection will suffice to bring out into clearness the paralogism implicit in this reasoning. On the surface, all that seems to be maintained is that, as the product of thought is always a relation, the Absolute being out of relation is not thought at all. Thus far nothing is asserted but the identical proposition: "that which is out of relation to thought is not in relation to thought." But the natural inference from this conclusion surely is that no such Absolute exists, or, if it does, that at least it cannot be known to exist. If every attempt to think ''Being out of relation" results in failure, why not give up the attempt, and conclude that there is no "Being out of relation" to think of. Any effort to make that an object of thought which is assumed not to be an object of thought must result in failure, from the very fact that thought will not surrender the very law of its existence at our bidding. This conclusion however is not the one to which Mr. Spencer comes; on the contrary, he infers that “Being in itself, out of relation" exists because it cannot be known. For to say that "the sphere of Reason is limited" is to say, in other words, that beyond that sphere there exists "Being in itself “out of relation” and the only reason given for this assumption is that “Being in itself, out of relation" is not and cannot, be known; whence it follows that "Being in itself, out of relation’ ‘is proved to exist for the sole reason that it cannot beknown. This seems such a new and unexampled style of reasoning that one is tempted to suspect a flaw in the objection rather than in the reasoning itself. And yet there appears to be no way of escape from the dilemma: if "Being in itself" is beyond thought, it cannot be known to exist; if it is within thought, and so known to exist, it is no longer ''Being in itself."


The contradiction here evolved is manifestly but a special instance of the general contradiction arising from an interchange of the two antithetical meanings of the Relative already distinguished. The product of thought is in all cases a relation, and hence knowledge may correctly enough be said to be knowledge of the Relative. But with the Relative as thus understood is identified the Relative in the sense of that which is the negation of the Absolute, and which as such implies a relation to the Absolute—the relation of dependence or phenomenal manifestation. For knowledge of the Relative is substituted relative knowledge, and thus, it is secretly assumed that there is no absolute knowledge because there is no knowledge of the Absolute. But acknowledge is in all cases a relation; the true inference is that that which is out of all relation is unknowable for the very sufficient reason that to define it as that which is out of relation is tacitly to assert its unknowability. Knowledge is only relative or phenomenal, in the sense required for Mr. Spencer's argument, upon the supposition that the Absolute exists beyond knowledge: and to assert that the Absolute is beyond knowledge is to take away the only ground upon which knowledge can be shown to be phenomenal, and therefore to establish its absoluteness. If there is no Absolute beyond the sphere of consciousness, knowledge is not phenomenal but real; if there is an Absolute beyond the sphere of consciousness, knowledge can never be known not to be real; so that in either case the phenomenal character of knowledge can never be proved, and what cannot be proved no one has a right to assume.


The negation of the Absolute, defined as Mr. Spencer defines it, is the only legitimate conclusion to be drawn from the fact that thinking is in all cases relating. An attempt is however made to avoid this conclusion by distinguishing between the definite consciousness of which Logic formulates the laws," and an ''indefinite consciousness which cannot be formulated." The Absolute, although it cannot be apprehended by definite thinking, is yet given in a consciousness which though undefined is not negative but positive. "Observe that every one of the arguments by which the relativity of our knowledge is demonstrated, distinctly postulates the positive existence of something beyond the relative. To say that we cannot know the Absolute, is, by implication, to affirm that there is an Absolute. In the very denial of our power to learn what the Absolute is, there lies hidden the assumption that it is and the making of this assumption proves that the Absolute has been present to the mind, not as a nothing, but as a something. Clearly, then, the very demonstration that a definite consciousness of the Absolute is impossible to us, unavoidably presupposes an indefinite consciousness of it.


Is it possible, one cannot help exclaiming, that anyone should be deceived by reasoning so flimsy? We have here evidently our old enemy under a new disguise. The proof of the '"relativity of knowledge, it is said, implies that the Absolute exists. That depends, is the manifest retort upon what is meant by the phrase "the relativity of our knowledge." If it means, as alone has been proved, that thinking involves relations, the existence of an Absolute beyond the limits of thought, so far from being established cannot possibly be established, unless thought can believe its very nature, and have an object at once in relation to it and out of relation to it. If. on the other hand, by the expression relativity of our knowledge,"' we are to understand that knowledge is not of the real but of the phenomenal, the Absolute is no doubt "postulated," but it is postulated in defiance of every one of the arguments by which the relativity of our knowledge is demonstrated. If the “Absolute has been present to the mind “not as a nothing, but as a something as a real existence, that is, and not as an abstraction—it follows either that thought has violated its own laws, according to which it can only think under relations, or that the Absolute is not devoid of all relations. In the former case, the decisions of thought are necessarily worthless: in the latter, the Absolute must be sought within and not without consciousness; and thus, the Spencerian doctrine of the relativity of knowledge breaks down, either because it is founded upon falsehood or because of its inadequacy. Thus far there seems to be no ground for the assertion of a consciousness of the Absolute, but very strong grounds for its denial. And here we come to consider the nature of that "indefinite consciousness which is somehow to preserve the existence of an Absolute lying beyond the confines of thought.


"Thinking being relationing, no thought can ever express more than relations. What now must happen if thought, having this law, occupies itself with the final mystery? Always implying terms in relation, thought implies that both terms shall be more or less defined; and as fast as one of them becomes indefinite, the relation also becomes indefinite and thought becomes indistinct. What must happen if one term of the relation is not only quantitatively but also qualitatively unrepresentable? Clearly in this case the relation does not cease to be thinkable except as a relation of a certain class, but it lapses completely. That is to say, the law of thought that contradictories can be known only in relation to each other, no longer holds when thought attempts to transcend the Relative; and yet, when it attempts to transcend the Relative, it must make the attempt in conformity with its law—must in some dim mode of consciousness posit a non relative, and, in some similarly dim mode of consciousness, a relation between it and the Relative.


The first part of this argument is: Given two concrete objects of thought with definite relations of quantity and quality to each other: take away the quantity of one, and the quantitative relations of the two disappear; take away the qualities left, and there is no relation whatsoever between them. The conclusion reached is undoubtedly correct: between two objects from which all inter-relations have been removed, there is no relation whatsoever, for if there were, all the inter-relations would not have been removed: correlative terms are no longer correlative, when the relation between them is eliminated. True: but when the relation between them is destroyed, although they are no longer thought of as correlatives, each may still be an object of thought. The term which has been purified of all relations to its correlative term, is no longer thought of as a correlative of that term, but it may still be in consciousness as an object—indefinite of course, but still an object. This is clearly implied in the application made of the argument. What Mr. Spencer has to show that the Absolute, while devoid of all relations, is yet known in a "dim mode of consciousness"; and however dim the consciousness may be, there must be an object of it or there will be no consciousness. "There is," says Mr. Spencer, "something which alike forms the raw material of definite thought and remains after the definiteness which thinking gave to it has been destroyed." That is to say, the elimination of all relations of one object to another still leaves each object as an object of consciousness; the thing that has been deprived of all its definiteness, and so taken out of relation to the thing with which it was at first correlated, does not vanish altogether, but remains as an indefinite "something," we know not what. Now when it is remembered that the Absolute, the existence of which Mr. Spencer is trying to prove that Being in itself, out of all relation, and therefore out of relation to consciousness, the essential weakness of the argument is at once apparent. What has been shown is that a thing from which all the properties are removed is not thought of as in relation to any other thing; but from the very nature of the argument, it is implied that this indefinite “something “is an object of consciousness. But as an object of consciousness, it is in relation to the subject conscious of it. Its relations to the object with which it was at first correlated have been taken away, but not its relation to the self by which it is known. If then the Absolute is in relation to a conscious self, it cannot be identified with "Being in itself, out of relation,'' and therefore, is no longer an Absolute but a Relative. The same conclusion of course follows if, without taking advantage of the admission that the elimination of all definiteness may still leave, as an object of consciousness, an indefinite something that is not anything in particular, we suppose that upon the removal of all relations to another object, there remains no object of consciousness whatever, but a pure blank, the negation of all consciousness. For upon this supposition, the Absolute is not brought within consciousness at all, but is to consciousness pure nothing, and therefore, cannot be shown to exist. Thus, again we come round to the dilemma: if the Absolute is an object of consciousness, it does not exist; if it does exist, it is not an object of consciousness.


It may perhaps be thought that the second part of the argument cited above affords a way of escape from this dilemma. The reasoning seems to be that it is not necessary to suppose that the Absolute itself is actually an object of consciousness; all that is required is a "dim mode of consciousness," which represents or is symbolical of the Absolute, and which thus gives assurance of the existence of the Absolute, while keeping it outside of consciousness. That this is the correct interpretation of the reasoning is confirmed by the remark immediately following the passage quoted: "Just as when we try to pass beyond phenomenal manifestations to the Ultimate Reality manifested, we have to symbolize it out of such materials as the phenomenal manifestations give us: so we have simultaneously to symbolize the connection between this Ultimate Reality audits manifestations, as somehow allied to the connections among the phenomenal manifestations themselves. “Assuming, then, that the