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Book I Chapter 2 - § 8

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« on: January 07, 2023, 06:29:26 am »

§ 8. The fundamental characteristic of experience, then, for the metaphysician, is its immediacy: the fact that in experience as such the existence and the content of what is apprehended are not mentally separated. This immediacy may be due, as in the case of mere uninterpreted sensation, to the absence of reflective analysis of the given into its constituent aspects or elements. But it may also be due, as we shall have opportunities to see more fully later on, to the fusion at a higher level into a single directly apprehended whole of results originally won by the process of abstraction and reflection. There is an immediacy of experience which is below mediate reflective knowledge, but there is also a higher immediacy which is above it. To explain and justify this statement will be the work of subsequent chapters; for the present we may be content to illustrate it by a simple example. A work of art with an intricate internal structure, such, for instance, as a musical composition or a chess problem, as directly presented to the artistically uncultivated man, is little more than a mere succession of immediately given data in which the aspects of existence and content are as yet hardly separated; it has no significance or meaning, but merely is. As education in the perception of artistic  form proceeds, the separation becomes at first more and more prominent. Each subordinate part of the structure now acquires a meaning or significance in virtue of its place in the whole, and this meaning is at first something over and above the directly presented character of the part, something  which has to be grasped by reflective analysis and comparison of part with part. The individual part has now, through analysis of its content, come to mean or stand for something outside itself, namely, its relation to all the other parts. But with the completion of our ęsthetic education the immediacy thus destroyed is once more restored. To the fully trained perception the meaning of the composition or the problem, its structure as an artistic whole, is no longer something which has to be pieced together and inferred by reflective comparison: it is now directly apprehended as a structural unity. The composition has a meaning, and thus the results of the intermediate stage of reflection and comparison are not lost, but taken up into the completed experience. But the meaning is no longer external to the existence of the composition; it is what it means, and it means what it is.[1] We may subsequently see that what is thus strikingly illustrated by the case of artistic perception holds good, to a greater or less degree, of all advance in the understanding of reality. It is perhaps the fundamental philosophical defect of what is popularly called Mysticism that it ignores this difference between a higher and a lower immediacy, and thus attempts to restore the direct contact with felt reality which scientific reflection inevitably loosens by simply undoing the work of analytic thought and reverting to the standpoint of mere uninterpreted feeling.[2]

[1] Of course this is only partly true. As we shall see in the sequel, to "be what it means and mean what it is" is an ideal never fully realised in the structure of any finite piece of reality, precisely because the finite, as its name implies, is never a completely systematic whole.

[2] On the psychological processes by which meaning is acquired, see Stout, Manual of Psychology, bk. i. chap. 2 ; and on the apprehension of form, the same author's Analytic Psychology, bk. i. chap. 3. Much interesting discussion of the difference between "external" and "internal" meaning will be found in Royce, The World and the Individual, First Series.

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