Creighton, J. E. “The Standpoint of Experience.” The Philosophical Review 12, no. 6 (1903): 593. https://doi.org/10.2307/2176979
THERE is perhaps no word more frequently employed in the philosophical literature of the present day than 'experience. ‘On taking up a new book, one not infrequently finds the author eager to acknowledge the sins of his predecessors and the discredit they have brought on philosophy by following the high priori road, while at the same time announcing his own intention of founding his conclusions on the impregnable rock of concrete experience. Now I neither wish to deny that there are sometimes grounds for such criticism, nor that these resolutions have often borne good fruit. At the present day, the proposition that philosophy must derive its results from experience would undoubtedly command almost universal assent. We all claim tube empiricists, in the sense that we seek to base our philosophical arguments and results upon the facts of experience. But what is often overlooked is the fact that this agreement is only verbal, a mere profession with the lips that carries with it no real unanimity of opinion. For experience, far from being a clear and transparent medium that presents to us facts in unambiguous and unmistakable form, is rather something so many-sided and complex, in some relations so shifting and unstable, as to be capable of yielding various and even contradictory readings. Not only is this true as a matter of fact, but from the very nature of the case it must a large extent remain true. For the standpoints from which we view experience vary indefinitely with the nature of the ends and purposes that lead us to consult it. Any object of experience, a loaf of bread, for example, may be variously defined from the standpoint of experience as an object in space possessing certain physical and chemical properties, as a complex of sensations, or as an object of desire and will.
The ambiguity which arises regarding the standpoint of experiences as a whole is, of course, much more serious, and more difficult to avoid than that which obtains where only a single term or element of experience is concerned. However strongly we insist that we propose to deal only with 'facts,' the result always shows that we have approached our facts with conceptions and presuppositions which have determined in large measure our selection and reading of the facts. In setting out to give an account of experience, one may assume, for example, that we are dealing merely with mental states, with a stream of psychical processes which are related to objects beyond themselves only in secondary and external way. One may further go on to assume, employing more or less consciously Hume's dictum, that whatever is distinguishable is separable, and whatever is separable is distinct and individual, that these psychical processes have no internal principle of connection, but simply become associated and fused together in a mechanical way through the fact of their contiguity in time. We see, then, that the so-called empirical philosophy, far from being a plain historical and unequivocal account of experience, is based on very definite assumptions about the general character of experience. In Hume's system, we see these assumptions carried through by a master mind. And the result, as is well known, seemed to Hume himself in the highest degree artificial and unsatisfactory, though he saw no way of reaching a different conclusion.
Kant's significance in the development of philosophical theories arises from the fact that he questioned the assumptions of his predecessors regarding the nature of experience. As against Hume, he insisted that the mind is an active principle of synthesis which unites the various parts of experience and is the source of the relations that give it significance. The defects of Kant’s philosophy, as is now generally admitted, were due to the fact that his questioning of Hume's presuppositions was not sufficiently thoroughgoing. If we take merely the letter of his writings, we have to acknowledge that experience, as he describes it, is still an affair of mental representations, and also that the elements of which it is composed stand apart from each other and are only operated upon externally by the principle of synthesis. Without considering these defects further at present, I wish hereto would urge that Kant, like Hume, is giving an account of experience. In spite of his constant reference to the a priori conditions of experience, his real problem is to describe the nature of experience. His account differs from that of the so-called 'empirical school 'just because he approached his task with conceptions and presuppositions which were different from theirs. It must not be forgotten, however, that Kant's system is at least as empirical, i.e. as closely based upon the facts of experience, as is the philosophy of the English school.
These introductory remarks may serve to illustrate the statement that experience is no unambiguous term to which one can appeal in uncritical and confident fashion. The truth seems to be that the definition and determination of the true standpoint of experience is, in a certain sense, the essential and all-inclusive problem for philosophy. In discussing the question, therefore, what I shall mainly try to do is to offer some general reflections regarding the nature of experience, and to bring together some conclusions with reference to this topic that appear to have been established by historical criticism and the discussions of the present-day.
In the first place we may ask: What test of the adequacy of any description of experience can be laid down? What general conditions must be fulfilled by any account which professes to be true and adequate to the facts? It will not be sufficient to say simply that the account must be true to the facts; for, as we have already seen, the nature and correct reading of the facts is the very point at issue. Here as everywhere, I think, we can only apply the general criteria of intelligibility. What our intelligence demands is completeness and consistency, both of fact and relations. In other words, that account will be most satisfactory which exhibits most fully and consistently at once the distinctions and relationships which obtain among the various parts of our experience. Philosophy has to render experience intelligible, and to this end it must bring to light its manifoldness and unity, its complete differentiations, and integrations.
This implies, of course, that experience must be apprehended through intelligence. And the truth of this at once makes obvious the contradiction involved in the conception of a 'pure ‘or presuppositionless experience. That experience involves a knowing mind is overlooked by those who propose to begin with a 'pure' experience as something that is directly given, and thus unspoiled by any conceptions or introjections of thought. Every attempt to determine the nature of experience in its so-called purity, before it is corrupted and transformed by the influence of thought, must prove futile, just because experience always exists for a mind, and to be a mind is to meet the object with conceptions and practical purposes. From the first, we may say, experience is in the clutches of thought molded by the mind's conceptions and presuppositions. Since, then, it is impossible to deal with experience without these presuppositions and conceptions, it follows that the only possible procedure is to test and criticize these as we proceed in order to eliminate their contradictions and correct and supplement their inadequacies. The true nature of experience, therefore, can be discovered, if discoverable at all, only at the end of the process of philosophical reflection and criticism. It is, of course, true that philosophy must start from experience, i. e., from what is already known and established regarding experience. But any such standpoint, however elementary and presuppositionless it may seem, is one that has been already touched by thought, and is no simple datum that is passively reflected in consciousness. We must give up once for all the notion of experience as a mere lump or matter, upon which thought works ab extra, as upon something foreign and external to itself. There is no experience in itself, and there is no thought in itself standing as a merely subjective principle in independence of its content. Experience at every stage contains within itself, as an integral part, the moving principle of thought as its dynamic and integrating factor. From this it follows that experience is no static thing, no permanent storehouse where facts exist in changeless form, but that it is essentially a process of transformation and adjustment, a process that aims both at logical determinateness and consistency, and at the realization of practical ends.
The question which I wish more directly to raise at this point: Where may the philosophical reflection of the present-day strike into this process? What, in other words, is the standpoint of experience for the philosophy of our time? The obvious answer would seem to be that we should begin with what we know, with the standpoint that has been gained through the reflection of the philosophers of the past and the labors of our own generation. This is regarded as the essential condition of further progress in the other sciences, and it is difficult to understand why it should not be equally important in philosophy. Nevertheless, in philosophical discussions one still hears frequent reference to the standpoint of the plain man. I do not assert that this is in no case justifiable. But very frequently it is certainly misleading; and, in addition, to appeal to an uncritical and unreflective reading of the facts seems to betray a fatal misunderstanding of the achievements of philosophy, and a lack of confidence in its results which almost renders impossible any further progress. The astronomer and the physicist would hardly feel that the plain man was competent to speak regarding the facts of experience within their sciences. They would very properly object, if such an appeal were proposed, that their standpoint was the outcome of centuries of intellectual toil, and that the verdict of the plain man could consequently have no weight. Now it seems to me that the same thing is true in an even higher degree in philosophy, where the all-important thing is to understand the form in which questions may legitimately be put. Such knowledge comes only from insight into the way in which the conceptions that form the framework of the science have grown up. The standpoint of experience which we must adopt at the present day is that which has been wrought out and defined by the history of philosophy. One must follow the history of philosophy, not merely mastering its external details, but also gaining insight into the evolution of ideas that it exhibits, before one can hope to contribute in any fruitful way to the solution of its problems. The history of philosophy thus furnishes the indispensable propaedeutic through which one is raised to the philosophical point of view, the necessary discipline through which one attains the ability to define one's problems and give them intelligible form.
To answer our question regarding the standpoint of experience, then, it is necessary to make an attempt to bring together what has already been established on this point by the teachings of the past. Perhaps everyone would readily admit that much fruitless effort has been expended, and much time wasted, in philosophical discussions, from a failure to understand adequately the significance of the historical movement as exhibited in the great systems of the past. Not only do we often go on thrashing over old straw, but not infrequently we also continue to employ methods and conceptions which have clearly been discredited and superseded in the evolution of philosophical ideas. The result is that our labors are rendered useless. Nor is this all. Through such unmeaning and anachronistic controversies, the standing of philosophy is seriously injured in the scientific world. It is of the utmost importance, then, to ask ourselves what may fairly be said to have been established as to the philosophical standpoint of experience through the reflection of the past and the discussions of our own day. In approaching the facts of experience, what conceptions are likely to prove most fruitful for philosophy?
It would doubtless be vain to expect that complete agreement on all points can be reached in answering this question. But an effort to formulate an answer may perhaps lead us to see the exact problems involved, as well as to perceive some underlying basis of agreement. In attempting, on the present occasion, to outline my own view, I shall be obliged to confine my attention to certain general notions that seem to me of fundamental importance. To render the discussion more definite, I shall state my conclusions somewhat dogmatically in a number of negative propositions, adding, in each case, a short discussion of the point involved. The logical relation of these propositions, will, I hope, appear as we proceed.
I. Experience is not a stream of subjective processes, existing as mental modifications in a particular thing called mind. Such a view is inadequate, whether, with the empiricists, we think of mind as a passive receptacle, or with Kant, as an activity capable of functioning as a principle of synthesis. It is doubtless true, as I shall have occasion to acknowledge more fully hereafter, that for certain purposes it is useful and necessary to look at consciousness from this point of view. But the proposition which I would now urge is that this is not the view of experience itself, and that, above all, it can never serve as a basis for philosophical construction. If we begin with mental processes, our philosophy must end with mental processes. The only way of avoiding the conclusion of Berkeley is by denying the proposition which forms the real sum and substance of his argument: 'We never know anything except our own ideas. Nor do we get a satisfactory account of experience by simply accepting Kant's new insight that, through the activity of the mind, thought enters as a principle of synthesis into experience, so long as we regard this activity as a merely subjective principle, a principle whose function is exhausted in bringing order and unity into our representations. For although the deeper spirit of Kant's philosophy doubtless leads beyond this conclusion, what he terms experience never really deserves the name, but remains a thing of representations and never attains to real objectivity.
Subsequent philosophy, however, largely through the criticism and development of Kant's doctrine, has led us to see that it is not sufficient to assume merely the activity of consciousness. In order to render experience possible, it is necessary that this functioning shall be of such a character as to connect the mind with objects. In other words, we have been led to see that amore adequate account of experience does not find the subject here and the object there, the mind on one side and the things which it knows on the other. Experience is not the resultant of a mechanical interplay of two independent things, but the concrete expression of rational life, having subject and object as organic, though distinguishable members of its essential unity. Not only is there no object without a subject, but it is also equally true that there is no subject without an object. There is no independent object outside of thought, and there is no ‘thought in itself,' standing apart and in abstraction from the contents of experience and entering into only occasional and external relations to this content. We do not first have a mind and then become conscious of our relations to objects, but to have a mind is just to stand in those self-conscious relations to the objective realities. As Hegel has remarked, it is the very nature of thought 'to shut us together with things;’ and we may add that it is the very essence of things to exist necessarily in relation to thought. In stating the matter thus, we are, of course, using the term 'thought' in its broad sense, as inclusive of the volitional and emotional aspects of the life of a rational being, as well as of his merely theoretical or cognitive relations.
2. The relation of subject and object in experience cannot be adequately expressed in terms of cause and effect.
This proposition follows immediately from what has been already said, as it is obvious that the application of the causal category presupposes the mind as a consciousness-thing, receiving impressions from an extended object, upon which, it may be, it in turn reacts. It is not altogether superfluous, however, to consider by itself this corollary of our general position. For the causal standpoint is so strongly entrenched in the assumptions of common sense, and so firmly rooted in the metaphors of language, that it still seems to retain its influence in the discussion of special doctrines upon the minds of many writers who have perhaps clearly perceived its general inadequacy. There seems, then, to be some justification for stopping to point out that, when we abandon the causal standpoint and admit that subject and object are related in a more essential and intimate way, we have thereby left behind both the interaction view of the relation of body and mind, and the copy or representative theory of knowledge. However obvious this truth may appear; it is not always regarded in practice. It seems to me that there are many illustrations, in recent philosophical literature, of a tendency to abandon well-established philosophical positions, and to fall back to the plane of common-sense dualism. This, of course, is to operate with conceptions which have been tried and found wanting by historical criticism, and, as a result, seriously to lessen, if not entirely to destroy, the value of one's conclusions.
The relation of consciousness and its object cannot be represented as that of a consciousness-thing, shut up within itself, to other independently existing physical things. I have spoken of the interaction theory as condemned by this assumption. Boutin so far as parallelism is based on the same presuppositions, insofar as it simply denies, from the same standpoint, what interaction affirms, it is equally an anachronism at the present-day. The truth in parallelism consists in its insight that the relation of body and mind is no external and occasional relation of two separate entities, but is so close and intimate, so essential and organic, that it cannot be adequately described by means of the mechanical notion of action and interaction. Those who uphold this theory, however, are not always conscious of the real bearing of their doctrine and understand it as a denial from the common-sense standpoint of any real interconnection between the physical and psychical.
The representative or copy theory of knowledge is based essentially on the same presuppositions, and its breakdown forms one of the most instructive chapters in the history of modern philosophy. According to this view, the object in some way gives rise to a copy or image of itself in the mind. But as the mind is a mere 'consciousness-thing,' shut up in itself, the objects never directly presented in consciousness at all. A number of insoluble problems, then, at once result: What test can the mind find within- its own states (to which by hypothesis it is strictly limited) to determine whether or not the copy corresponds to the object? How is it possible for such an external object to impress its image on the mind? And, finally, what evidence is there within experience of the existence of any such external object at all? These and other difficulties with which the history of philosophy has made us familiar have compelled us to revise our presuppositions regarding the function of subject and object in experience, and to adopt a new view of the nature and relations of these terms. The view of experience, then, to which it seems to me historical criticism leads may be further enforced and defined by means of a third proposition:
3. The mind is not one particular thing, separated from other things, but as a true individual it contains within itself the principle of universality.
This is shown by the fact that it is able in one indivisible act to differentiate itself from things and to relate them in the unity of its own life. As Aristotle remarked, 'reason is the potentiality of all things,' not a particular kind of existence separated off from other things. To be a mind at all, is just to stand inessential relation to objects which are not thus left standing without it, but which enter as a real and constitutive element into its nature. Its center of gravity, so to speak, falls outside of what is taken to be the limits of its real nature, so long as it is viewed from the standpoint of an external spectator as a mere mode of existence. In other words, when we take our stand within experience, as philosophy must do, the difficulties regarding the relation of subject and object which seem so persistent and insoluble fall away and lose their meaning. The problem of the interpretation of experience no longer requires us to perform the impossible feat of uniting elements which are eternally and absolutely separate; but, from the internal standpoint, it requires only that we shall render more determinate and precise the relation of two inseparable elements within experience itself.
Before passing on from the general propositions which we have here been considering to any attempt to define more exactly this relation, it seems necessary to say a few words regarding the standpoint of the special sciences in its contrast to that view of experience which we have just insisted must form the basis for philosophy. From the external point of view, experience appears to be made up of a variety of objects of different kinds. These objects are then parceled out into groups among the different sciences for investigation. In this division, the first and fundamental distinction is between consciousness-things or minds, and extended things or physical objects. The former class of objects is frequently analyzed into distinct elements like sensation and affection, while the latter is divided into organic and inorganic physical things; the limits of division being determined in each case partly by the satisfaction of the logical demand for distinction and interrelation, and partly by practical considerations of convenience in carrying on investigations. There thus arises the attitude of the special sciences toward experience. This, as we have seen, is always the attitude of one looking at experience from without. Experience is consequently always a collection of objects (in the literal sense of the word) or things over against the scientific observer, upon which his thought has to operate in an external way. This attitude is, of course, demanded by the purposes that the special sciences have set themselves to carry out, and within its own field has proved abundantly fruitful. Philosophy, on the other hand, has its own purpose, and its own standpoint with regard to experience. It has to deal with the world in its immediate relations to the knowing and willing subject, i.e., with experience as we actually live it. When we take this internal point of view, the objects are not viewed in isolation from the subject as a foreign content upon which the thought of the latter has to work, but rather as representing certain situations with which the life of the subject is essentially connected. This, as history has shown, is the only starting point from which it is possible for philosophy to advance. And I may add that it is just the possession of this concrete standpoint that makes philosophy preeminently the science of experience, and differentiates it from the special sciences, which, from the standpoint of an external observer, investigate the various groups of objects of which experience is composed. Indeed, if the latter were the only legitimate way of viewing experience, there would, I think, be no possible answer to the demand, so often urged, that philosophy should give way to the special sciences.
It is now time to attempt to make more precise our view of the relations between the subjective and objective elements of experience as these exist from the internal point of view of the philosopher. As we have already seen, the process of experience from this point of view includes and embraces thought as its immanent principle of life and movement. The philosopher's businesses not, as an internal observer, to investigate the nature of objects and their outer relations, but to interpret from within the experience which is at once both subject and object, a living process of thought and the being of the world. Now, in the first place, it is important to notice that the relation to objects, which is the very essence of the mind, is an eminently practical relation. In thus defining it, however, I am not opposing in any sense the practical to the theoretical, but rather using the term practical to denote that complete and concrete relation of the mind to objectivity which includes the theoretical as one of its elements. The objects are not indifferent to the mind, things that appeal merely to its theoretical interests as subjects of calm and disinterested contemplation, but they rather represent the means for the satisfaction of its complete interests and the realization of the ends of its complete life. The possession of a mind on the part of the individual denotes just this total practical relation to objects. Ageing with merely theoretical ends, and without feelings and practical desires, if such a thing were conceivable, could not be said to have experience in the human sense at all. Objects are thus bound up with our feelings and practical purposes, as well as related to us through ideas. Indeed, there is a distinct advantage in interpreting even the ideational relation of the mind to objects by means of the teleological category, so long as this category is not regarded in such a narrow and one-sided way as to subordinate the theoretical life to what is merely externally practical.
We may say, then, that the world is not merely my cognitive idea. It is rather that through which I am able to find satisfaction for my desires, and to obtain the realization of my ends. Among these ends the intellectual demand for comprehension occupies a real and important place. But it exists always in close and organic connection with other ideals of my nature, such as the demand for practical control and for ethical and aesthetical realization. All of these ends, as elements of a concrete totality, constitute the reason or complete mind of a rational being. It consequently follows that all of these sides must contribute something to a complete interpretation of experience. To assign to each of these factors its proper place and determine its significance, to discover the categories that will preserve the truth and lead to the most complete harmony of these various ideals, is the task of philosophical reflection.
It must never be forgotten that this total attitude of the mind toward experience is not simply a complex of functions that exist in isolation from one another. They are rather to be regarded as a system of ends that expresses the organic and essential unity of the experiencing subject in its complete and concrete attitude toward the world. The synthetic unity of apperception, that which gives significance and unity to experience, is something more than a merely theoretical or logical principle. In order really to perform its function, there must also enter into it the practical and emotional factors which constitute our rational human life. Only by regarding these various elements as a system of functions existing in relation to objects do we reach the view of a concrete totality of mind.
There still remain two points which seem to demand further consideration in this connection.
I. In the first place, it may be objected that we do not escape subjectivism by interpreting the world in terms of purpose instead of in terms of sensation and idea. If I construe reality as a set of means for the realization of my purposes, as an instrument for the realization of my will, its real objective character seems to be lost. ' The world is my oyster,' is even less satisfactory as a philosophical principle than, ‘Die Welt its mine Foretelling.' Now this objection, though possessing force against a certain external view of purpose, does not apply to the view of experience we have been attempting to outline. The objection, in short, rests upon and presupposes the abstract separation of subject and object, of knowledge and will, against which our whole view is directed. It would be a false view of experience to suppose that the subject confronts reality with fully defined and unyielding purposes as fixed standards by which its nature is to be determined. The truth is rather that the purposes of the subject are only real through their relation to the concrete situation in experience. So far from being fixed standards, according to which facts must be ruthlessly construed, the concrete process of experience is constituted by the organic interplay of those two factors.
On the one hand, we see the purposes of the subject becoming progressively limited, corrected, and defined through the stubborn character of the ' facts ' before they can reach fulfillment. We learn by the hard discipline of the real world what we really want and intend, what exact content is essential to the realization of our purposes in a given concrete situation. The mind’s purposes just because they are the purposes of a mind are never merely subjective purposes or internal meanings. For quite apart from things they would have no meaning. As they at first appear, however, this reference to things is vague and indeterminate. But in the concrete development of experience new facts and situations come to light that give definiteness and content to these purposes. The objects which, as stubborn external facts, seem to annihilate and bring to naught our purposes, in reality correct and supplement them in such a way as to afford the true fulfillment and embodiment that they demand.
On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that the objects are not external realities which exist and operate upon the mind apart from its interests and purposive ideas. It is our reason itself which, as a thinking will or a willing thought, goes on to define and determine more adequately its own meanings and purposes. And it does this by selecting through active attention the objects it wants, those which stand in the required relation to its own ends and ideas. Facts, then, gain their significance in the development of experience only insofar as they become ideas; that is, only insofar as they are selected by our thinking-will as fulfilling and defining its own meanings and purposes. Without being thus chosen, so to speak, no ' fact in itself’ if such a term has any meaning, has power over our purposes and ideas, either to fulfill them or to overthrow them. The object that leads the mind beyond subjectivity is the object that the attention selects as just that which is demanded by the mind's purposes and ideas. Thus, we may say that the evolution of experience is the mind's own process of self-determination. In this process it becomes progressively aware of its own meaning through its commerce with the objects which it has itself selected as the necessary means for the embodiment and fulfillment of its own demands.
II. Proceeding now to our second point, we may ask if it is necessary to subordinate the real to the ideal element in experiences our account has done. Instead of interpreting the objecting terms of the subject, we must accept these elements, it may be urged, as simply existing in mutual coordination in experience. Or the question might be raised whether it would not be more truly scientific to construe the mind as a function of the object. These questions are of the utmost importance, and I realize that my treatment of them here must necessarily be very summary and far from complete. It seems necessary to refer to them briefly, however, in order to render reasonably complete the view of experience we have been occupied in outlining.
Once again, we must defend the results we have reached by insisting that the standpoint of philosophy is that of internal experience itself. From this point of view, the subject is seen to include the object, the ideal to furnish the system within which the real falls. Both of the objections which call in question this interpretation draw their support, I think, from a consideration of experience from an external standpoint. When we attempt, for example, to understand man and man's life from the point of view of biology, it is natural to take as our starting-point the bodily organism, and to interpret the mental life as a set of functions that ministers to its wants. From this standpoint, it is possible to regard consciousness as a variation which possesses survival value, and its content and constitution as determined by the biological needs that have arisen during the life of the physical organism. Such an account might for biology be useful and true. It must not be forgotten, however, that this standpoint is abstract, and consequently that the account cannot be accepted as philosophy, i.e., as a complete and adequate reading of the facts of experience.
Among certain philosophical writers of the present day, however, it is more common to insist on the exact coordination of the subjective and objective factors in experience. The direct view of experience, it is said, shows us subject and object together in fundamental or organic unity. We cannot, then, so long as we are true to experience, subordinate one of these terms to the other. Indeed, when once we give up the ontological view, which regards subject and object as entities, and recognize that these are simply functions within experience, we see that there is no necessity for such a subordination. The account of experience, then, cannot rightly be couched either in terms of idealism or in those of materialism. The relation between the subjective and objective elements is rather to be regarded as that of two coordinate factors that derive their meaning from their functional interplay and interaction.
I must certainly apologize for attempting to criticize, in a paragraph, a theory which has not even been fully stated. Buti venture to refer to it here because I think its essential defect has been already indicated in the course of my paper. Perhaps we may get at the root of the matter most quickly, if we examine the concept of function which plays such a large part in the discussions to which I have referred. Outside of mathematics, where the term indicates merely a constant ratio between two quantitative expressions, function denotes an activity of some part or member of an organic unity. Thus, we can speak of the function of the blood in the body, or of the legislature in a state. That which functions is always a member of an organism, and the end of the function always includes a reference to the whole of which this member is a part. Now it seems pertinent to ask: What is the whole of which the subjective and objective factors in experience are functions? We do not get a true totality by simply adding together the two sides. If it be said that the concrete experience itself is the true totality, the real organic whole of which subject and object are functions, I reply that experience is only known in this way when apprehended from within. When looked at from an objective point of view, as when I regard the experience of another individual, it appears as a complex of separate parts entirely without organic unity. In other words, it is only by virtue of self-consciousness that we are able to speak of experience as an organic unity. And self-consciousness shows itself as the concrete unity of subject and object which we have been seeking. It is not a particular fact, alongside of and coordinate with other facts, but a universal principle which interpenetrates all the particulars, and comes to a consciousness of itself just through forming and expressing the nature of all these particulars. Without the object there could be no self-consciousness, just as without self-consciousness there could be no object. Very true. But this does not imply that these two correlated terms are at the same time coordinate. We might say that without the various members of a plant or animal there would be no life, and yet not regard life as another fact to be coordinated with these members. But doubtless I shall be reminded that organic life is nothing over and above the functional relation of the parts that life is not a thing but a relation. Carrying out this analogy, it may be further urged, we consequently cannot impute to experience any principle of unity over and above the functional interplay of parts that are actually found there. To do so would be to hypostatize a system of relations.
It would be foreign to my purpose to enter into any discussion of the adequacy of this conception of organic life, and it is by no means necessary for our argument. For the analogy between any physical organism and experience breaks down. In experience this unity not only exists as a fact for an outside spectator but comes to a knowledge of itself in self-consciousness. And self-consciousness cannot properly be regarded as just an additional characteristic of the experience process to which no more special importance attaches than to any other characteristic. Self-consciousness, in other words, is unique and all-important. It transforms the whole process by reducing all the objective relations into terms of its own life. By becoming conscious of the objective relations, and of its own life in connection with these relations, it thus raises itself above the mere process of experience. Now it is essential to see that it is only in the light of this central principle of self-consciousness that we can regard the various elements in experience as related functionally. Functions, as we have already maintained, imply a central unity which is something more than the mere togetherness of parts. Or, to put the same thing in a different form, the fact of functional relationship implies the existence of an inner pervading identity running through the parts. In experience this principle of identity comes to consciousness of itself by distinguishing itself from the objects in which its nature is expressed and embodied. Andin this act of discrimination and recognition there is to be found the central principle in the light of which the whole process of experience gains significance and the possibility of interpretation.
It is in this sense that the mental may be said to overlap the physical, the ideal to include the real. And if the existence and position of such an ideal principle be admitted, it would seem to directly follow that to give a philosophical interpretation of experience is to show its relation to the ideals and purposes of a rational self-consciousness.