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Book I Chapter 2 - § 7

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« on: January 07, 2023, 03:49:55 am »

§ 7. The data or material of reality, then, are facts of experience, and nothing but facts of experience.[1] And experience, we have said, means for our purposes immediate feeling or apprehension. What immediacy means, as we have already seen, we cannot further explain in psychological terms, except by saying that it is what distinguishes an actual mental state from the mere thought of that state. The reason why, in Psychology, we have to be content with such an account is manifest. To characterise immediate feeling further, we should have to identify the qualities by which it is universally marked off from what is not immediate. We should, in fact, have to describe it in general terms, and before we can do this we must cease to feel or apprehend directly, and go on to reflect upon and analyse the contents of our apprehension. What our psychological description depicts is never the experience as it actually was while we were having it, but the experience as it appears from the point of view of subsequent reflection, interpreted in the light of all sorts of conscious or unconscious hypotheses about its conditions and its constituents. Thus our psychological descriptions depend for their very possibility upon the recognition of distinctions which are not present, as such, in the experience itself as directly presented to us, but created by later reflection about it. From the point of view of Metaphysics, however, it is possible to specify one universal characteristic of immediate feeling, which is of the utmost importance for our theories of reality and of knowledge. When we reflect upon any psychical fact whatever, we may distinguish within it two very different aspects. There is, in the first place, the fact that it does happen, that it is a genuine psychical occurrence,—the existence or that, as we may call it, of the piece of psychical fact in question; and there is also the peculiar character or quality which gives this mental occurrence its unique nature as distinguished from any other which might conceivably have been presented in its stead,—the content or what of the psychical fact. Thus a simple colour-sensation, say that of green, has its that,—it is actually present, and is thus distinguished from a merely remembered or anticipated sensation; it has also its what,—the peculiar quality by which it is distinguished, for example, from a sensation of blue. So again with an imagined sensation; it is actually imagined, the imagining of it is an actual occurrence with its particular place in the course of the occurrences which together make up my mental life; and again, it is the imagination of some content with qualities of its own by which it is distinguished from any other content.
The most striking illustration of the presence of these distinguishable aspects in all psychical occurrences is, of course, afforded by the case of error or illusion, the essence of which is the false apprehension of the what. Thus, when an ignorant villager sees a ghost, or a hypochondriac is tormented by "imaginary" symptoms of disease, the ghost or the malady is not simply non-existent; something is actually seen or felt, but the error consists in a mistake as to the nature of what is seen or felt. Now, the peculiarity by which direct and immediate apprehension is distinguished, for the metaphysician, from subsequent reflection about the contents of apprehension, is that in immediate apprehension itself we are not conscious of the distinction between these two aspects of psychical fact. The immediately experienced is always a this-what or process-content[2] in which the distinction of the this from the what does not enter into consciousness. In any act of reflection, on the other hand, the what is explicitly distinguished from the that, and then ascribed to it as something which can be truly said about it. The judgment or proposition, which is the characteristic form in which the result of reflection finds its expression, consists, in its most rudimentary shape, of the embodiment  of this distinction in the separation of predicate from subject, and the subsequent affirmation of the first about the second. The work of thought or knowledge in making our world more intelligible to us essentially consists in the progressive analysis of a content or what, considered in abstraction from the this to which it belongs. The this may, as in the singular  judgment or the particular judgment of perception, actually appear in our propositions as the subject to which the what is explicitly ascribed; or again, as in the true universals of science, both the predicate and the ostensible subject of the proposition may belong to the content analysed, and the this, or directly apprehended reality of which the content forms an attribute, may not appear in the proposition at all. This is why the true universal judgment has long been seen by logicians to be essentially hypothetical, and why, again, thought or knowledge always appears to the common-sense man to be dealing with realities which have previously been given independently of the "work of the mind." He is only wrong in this view because he forgets that what is given in this way is merely the that or existence of the world of real being, not its what or content in its true character as ultimately ascertained by scientific thought.[3]

[1] I take "fact" as equivalent to "what is directly apprehended in a single moment of consciousness." In a previous work (The Problem of Conduct, chap. I) I used the word in a different sense for "the contents of a true description of experience." This employment of the word, however, seems at variance with established philosophical usage, and I therefore abandon it as likely to lead to misapprehension.

[2] Of course, the apprehended "content" may itself be a "process," as is the case in all instances of the apprehension of change; but the apprehended process is always distinguishable from the process of apprehension.
[3] We shall see in Bk. II. chap i that the "that" of an experience implies relation to a unique individual interest or purpose.

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