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Book I Chapter 2 - 1

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« on: January 06, 2023, 06:13:26 am »

The Metaphysical Criterion and the Metaphysical Method

1. If we are, in the end, to attach any definite intelligible meaning to the distinction between things as they really are and things as they merely appear to be, we must clearly have some universal criterion or test by which the distinction may be made. This criterion must be, in the first place, infallible; that is, must be such that we cannot doubt its validity without falling into a contradiction in our thought; and, in the next, it must be a characteristic belonging to all reality, as such, and to nothing else. Thus our criterion must, in the technical language of Logic, be the predicate of an exclusive proposition of which reality is the subject; we must be able to say, "Only the real possesses the quality or mark X." The argument of our last chapter should already have suggested that we have such a criterion in the principle that "what is real is not self-contradictory, and what is self-contradictory is not real." Freedom from contradiction is a characteristic which belongs to everything that is real and ultimately to nothing else, and we may therefore use it as our test or criterion of reality. For, as we have seen in the last chapter, it is precisely our inability, without doing violence to the fundamental structure of our intellect, to accept the self-contradictory as real which first leads to the drawing of a distinction between the real and the merely apparent; on the other hand, where we find no contradiction in thought or experience, we have no valid ground for doubting that the contents of our experience and thinking are truly real. In every application, even the most simple and rudimentary, of the distinction between what really is and what only seems, we are proceeding upon the assumption that, if things as we find them are self-contradictory, we are not yet in possession of the truth about them; while, on the other hand, we may legitimately treat the results of our thinking and experience as fully true until they are shown to involve contradiction. Thus, in setting up the proposition "What is real is never self-contradictory" as a universal criterion, we are only putting into explicit form, and proposing to apply universally, a principle involved in all rational reflection on the course of things. Audacious as the attempt to make such a general statement about the whole universe of being appears, it is an audacity to which we are fully committed from the first moment of our refusing to accept both sides of a contradiction as true.

The principle that "Reality is not self-contradictory" at first sight might appear to be merely negative; we might object that it only tells us what reality is not, and still leaves us quite in the dark as to what it is. This would, however, be a serious misconception. As we learn from modern scientific Logic, no true and significant negative judgment is merely negative; all significant negation is really exclusion resting upon a positive basis. I can never, that is, truly declare that A is not B, except on the strength of some piece of positive knowledge which is inconsistent with, or excludes, the possibility of A being B.[1] My own ignorance or failure to find sufficient ground for the assertion A is B is never of itself logical warrant for the judgment A is not B; that A is not B I can never truly assert, except on the ground of some other truth which would be contradicted if A were affirmed to be B. Hence to say "Reality is not self-contradictory" is as much as to say that we have true and certain knowledge that reality is positively self-consistent or coherent; that is to say that, whatever else it may be, it is at least a systematic whole of some kind or other. How much further our knowledge about reality goes, what kind of a whole we can certainly know it to be, it will be the business of succeeding portions of this work to discuss; but even at the present stage of the inquiry we can confidently say that unless the distinction between the real and the apparent is purely meaningless, it is positively certain that Reality,[2] or the universe, is a self-consistent systematic whole.

[1] See Bosanquet, Essentials of Logic, Lect. 8. As an illustration we may take an extreme case: "The Jabberwock was not killed yesterday." What is the ground of this denial? At first sight it appears to be merely negative, "there are no such things as Jabberwocks to kill." But before I can say "there are no such things as Jabberwocks" with confidence, I must have enough positive information about the structure and habits of animals to be aware that the qualities ascribed to the Jabberwock conflict with the laws of animal life. Or, if I deny the existence of Jabberwocks simply on the ground that I have never come across a specimen, this involves a positive judgment as to the relation between the animal world and the part of it I have examined, such as, "if there were Jabberwocks, I should have come across one" ; or, "my acquaintance with the varieties of animals is sufficiently exhaustive to afford ground for a valid generalisation." The fact that symbolic Logic finds it convenient to treat the universal affirmative as a double negative must not mislead us as to its actual priority in thought.

[2] To meet the kind of criticism which finds it humorous to jest at the expense of those who "take consolation from spelling Reality with a big R," may I once for all say that when I spell Reality thus it is simply as a convenient way of distinguishing the ultimately from the merely relatively real?
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