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Book I Chapter 2 - § 5

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« on: January 06, 2023, 11:31:04 pm »

§ 5. Two points should be carefully noted if we wish to avoid serious misapprehension. It might be objected, by a disciple of Kant or of Mill, that a thing may be real without ever being given as actual psychical fact in immediate apprehension, so long as its nature is such that it would be psychical fact under known and specified conditions. Many, if not most, of the objects of scientific knowledge, it may be said, are of this kind; they have never entered, possibly never will enter, into the contents of any man's direct apprehension, yet we rightly call them real, in the sense that they would be apprehended under certain known conditions. Thus I have never seen, and do not expect that any one ever will see, the centre of the earth, or, to take a still stronger case, no one has ever seen his own brain. Yet I call the centre of the earth or my own brain real, in the sense that if I could, without ceasing to live, penetrate to a certain depth below the soil, I should find the centre of the earth; if an opening were made in my skull, and a suitable arrangement of mirrors devised, I should see the reflection of my own brain, A comet may be rushing through unpeopled space entirely unbeheld; yet it does not cease for all that to be real, for if I were there I should see it, and so forth. Hence the Kantian will tell us that reality is constituted by relation to possible experience; the follower of Mill, that it means "a permanent possibility of sensation."

Now, there is, of course, an element of truth in these arguments. It is true that what immediately enters into the course of my own direct perception is but a fragment of the full reality of the universe. It is true, again, that there is much which in its own nature is capable of being perceived by human beings, but will, as far as we can judge, never be perceived, owing to the physical impossibility of placing ourselves under the conditions requisite for perception; there are other things which could be perceived only if some modification could be effected in the structure of our perceptive organs. And it may therefore be quite sufficient for the purposes of some sciences to define these unperceived realities as "possibilities of sensation," processes which we do not perceive but might perceive under known or knowable conditions. But the definition, it will be seen, is a purely negative one; it takes note of the fact that we do not actually perceive certain things, without telling us anything positive as to their nature. In Metaphysics, where we are concerned to discover the very meaning of reality, we cannot avoid asking whether such a purely negative account of the reality of the greater part of the universe is finally satisfactory. And we can easily see that it is not. For what do we mean when we talk of the "possible"? Not simply "that which is not actual," for this includes the merely imaginary and the demonstrably impossible. The events of next week, the constitution of Utopia, and the squaring of the circle are all alike in not being actual. Shall we say, then, that the possible differs from the imaginary in being what would, under known conditions, be actual? But again, we may make correct inferences as to what would be actual under conditions suspected, or even known, to be merely imaginary, and no one will maintain that such consequences are realities. If I were at the South Pole I should see the Polar ice, and it is therefore real, you say, though no one actually sees it; but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, yet you do not say that the riding of beggars is real. Considerations of this kind lead us to modify our first definition of the "possible" which is to be also real. We are driven to say that, in the case of the unperceived real thing, all the conditions of perception except the presence of a percipient with suitable perceptive organs, really exist. Thus the ice at the South Pole really exists, because the only unfulfilled condition for its perception is the presence at the Pole of a being with sense-organs of a certain type. But once more, what do we mean by the distinction between conditions of perception which are imaginary and conditions which really exist? We come back once more to our original experiment, and once more, try as we will, we shall find that by the real condition as distinguished from the imaginary we can mean nothing but a state of things which is, in the last resort, guaranteed by the evidence of immediate apprehension. If we take the term "actual" to denote that which is thus indissoluble from immediate apprehension, or is psychical matter of fact, we may sum up our result by saying we have found that the real is also actual, or that there is no reality which is not at the same time an actuality. We shall thus be standing on the same ground as the modern logicians who tell us that there is no possibility outside actual existence, and that statements about the possible, when they have any meaning at all, are always  an indirect way of imparting information about actualities.[1] Thus "There really exists ice at the South Pole, though no human eye beholds it," if it is to mean anything, must mean either that the ice itself, as we should perceive it if we were there, or that certain unknown conditions which, combined with the presence of a human spectator, would yield the perception of the ice, actually exist as part of the contents of an experience which is not our own.[2]

The second point to which we must be careful to attend may be dismissed more briefly. In defining experience as "immediate feeling" or "the content of immediate feeling" or "apprehension,"[3] we must not be understood to mean that it is in particular sensation. Sensation is only one feature of immediate feeling or apprehension, a feature which we distinguish from others only by means of a laborious psychological analysis. A pleasure or pain, an emotion of any kind, the satisfaction of a craving while actually present, are felt or apprehended no less immediately than a sense-perception, I am aware of the difference between actually feeling pleasure or pain, actually being moved by love or anger, actually getting the satisfaction of a want, and merely thinking of these processes, in precisely the same way in which I am aware of the difference between actually seeing a blue expanse and merely thinking of seeing it. A real emotion or wish differs from an imagined one precisely as a real sensation differs from an imaginary sensation. How exactly the difference is to be described is a question, and unfortunately at present an unduly neglected question, for Psychology; for our present purpose we must be content to indicate it as one which can be experienced at will by any reader who will take the trouble to compare an actual state of mind with the mere thought of the same state. Of the epistemological or metaphysical interpretation of the distinction more will be said in the course of the next few paragraphs. As an instance of its applicability to other aspects of mind than the purely sensational, we may take Kant's own example of the hundred dollars. The real hundred dollars may be distinguished from the imaginary, if we please, by the fact that they can be actually touched and seen; but we might equally make the distinction turn on the fact that the real coins will enable us to satisfy our desires, while the imaginary will not.[4]

[1] For the modem logical doctrine of possibility consult Bradley, Principles of Logic, 192-201; Bosanquet, Logic, i. chap. 9.
[2] This is—apart from non-essential theological accretions—the principle of Berkeley's argument for the existence of God (Principles of Human Knowledge, §§ 146, 147).
[3] I should explain that I use "feeling" and "apprehension" indifferently for immediate and non-reflective awareness of any psychical content. The exclusive restriction of the term to awareness of pleasure and pain seems to me to rest on a serious mistake in psychology, and I therefore avoid it.
[4] In fact, we shall see in Bk. II. chap. 1 that in virtue of its unity with immediate feeling, all experience is essentially connected with purpose.
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