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Book I Chapter 3 - § 2

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« on: January 08, 2023, 04:28:35 am »

§ 2. There are good and obvious reasons why we should adhere, in the form of our inquiry, to the main outlines of this traditional scheme. It is true that it is largely a question of simple convenience what order we adopt in a systematic metaphysical investigation. A genuinely philosophical survey of the general character of knowledge and experience would exhibit so complete a systematic unity, that you might start from any point in it and reach the same results, much as you may go round a circle equally well from any point of the periphery. But for the beginner, at any rate, it is advantageous to start with the general question what we mean by Being or Reality, and what character is to be ascribed to the whole of Being as such, before attacking the problem of the particular kind of Being which belongs to the various "realities" of common life and the special sciences. Thus we have to discuss in the first part of our programme such questions as the relation of Being in general to experience, the sense in which Being may be said to be inseparable from, and yet again to transcend, experience; the problem of the existence of different kinds or degrees of Being; the question whether Being is ultimately. one or many; the relation between Real Being and its appearances. All these problems correspond with reasonable closeness to the contents of what was traditionally known as Ontology.

It is only when we have reached some definite conclusion on these most fundamental questions that we shall be in a position to deal with the more special problems suggested by the various departments of science and common life; hence we shall do well to acquiesce in the arrangement by  which Ontology was made to precede the other divisions of the subject. Again, in dealing with the more complex special problems of Metaphysics, it is natural to recognise a distinction corresponding to the separation of Cosmology from Rational Psychology. Common language shows that for most of the purposes of human thought and action the contents of the world of experience tend to fall into the two groups of mere things and things which are sentient and purposive—Physical Nature on the one hand, and Minds or Spirits on the other. We must, of course, be careful not to confuse this division of the objects of experience with the distinction between an experienced object as such and the subject of experience. We are to start, in our critical investigation, not with the artificial point of view of Psychology, which sets the "subject" of presentations over against the presentations considered as conveying information about "objects of knowledge," but with the standpoint of practical life, in which the individual agent is opposed to an environment itself consisting largely of similar individual agents. It is not "Nature" on the one side and a "perceiving mind" on the other, but an environment composed partly of physical things, partly of other human and animal minds, that furnishes the antithesis on which the distinction of Cosmology from Rational Psychology is founded. There is no confusion against which we shall need to be more on our guard than this fallacious identification of Mind or Spirit with the abstract subject of psychological states, and of the "environment" of the individual with Physical Nature. Of course, it is true that we necessarily interpret the inner life of other minds in terms of our own incommunicably individual experience, but it is equally true that our own direct experience of ourselves is throughout determined by interaction with other agents of the same type as ourselves. It is a pure delusion to suppose that we begin by finding  ourselves in a world of mere physical things to some of which we afterwards come by an after-thought, based on "analogy," to ascribe "consciousness" akin to our own. Hence, to avoid possible misunderstandings, it would be better to drop the traditional appellations "Cosmology" and "Rational Psychology," and to call the divisions of applied Metaphysics, as Hegel does, the Philosophy of Nature and of Spirit or Mind respectively.[1]
 
In recognising this sub-division of applied Metaphysics into two sections, dealing respectively with Physical Nature and with Mind or Spirit, we do not mean to suggest that there is an absolute disparity between these two classes of things. It is, of course, a matter for philosophical criticism itself to decide whether this difference may not in the end turn out to be merely apparent. This will clearly be the case if either minds can be shown, as the materialist holds, to be simply a peculiar class of highly complex physical things, or physical things to be, as the idealist contends, really minds of an unfamiliar and non-human type. It is sufficient for us that the difference, whether ultimate or not, is marked enough to give rise to distinct classes of problems, which have to be treated separately and on their own merits. We may feel convinced on general philosophical grounds that minds and physical things are ultimately existences of the same general type, whether we conceive that type after the fashion of the materialist or of the idealist, but this conviction does not in the least affect the fact that the special metaphysical problems suggested by our experience of physical things are largely different from those which are forced on us by our interest in the minds of our fellows. In the one connection we have, for instance, to discuss the questions connected with such categories as those of uniform spatial extension, uniform obedience to general law, the constitution of a whole which is an aggregate of parts; in the other, those connected with the meaning and value of ethical, artistic, and religious aspiration, the concept of moral freedom, the nature of personal identity. Even the categories which seem at first sight most readily applicable both to physical things and to minds, such as those of quality and number, lead to special difficulties in the two contrasted cases. This consideration seems to justify us in separating the metaphysics of Mind from the metaphysics of Nature, and the superior difficulty of many of the problems which belong to the former is a further reason for following the traditional order of the two sub-divisions, and placing Rational Psychology after Cosmology. In so far as the problems of Rational Theology can be separated from those of general Ontology, the proper place for them seems to be that section of Rational Psychology which deals with the meaning and worth of our religious experiences.

[1] The fallacy of the assumption that our environment is directly given in experience as merely physical is best brought out by Avenarius in his masterly little work Der Menschliche Weltbegriff, which should be familiar to all students of Philosophy who are able to read German. The purely English reader will find many fruitful suggestions in Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, pt. iv., "Refutation of Dualism." Much confusion is caused in philosophical discussion by the unscholarly use of the epistemological term "object" (which properly signifies "object of cognition") instead of the more familiar "thing" to denote the constituent elements of our environment as it is actually experienced in practical life. In strictness the elements of the environment are "objects" only for an imaginary consciousness which is thought of as merely cognisant of presented fact, a point which Prof. Münsterberg has emphasised. For practical life the essential character of the environment is not merely that it is "presented," but that it interacts with our own purposive activity; it thus consists not of "objects," but of "things."

In including the minds of our fellows among the things which constitute our environment, we must not commit the mistake of supposing "minds" as factors in immediate experience to be "incorporeal realities," or "complexes of states of consciousness." The distinction between mind and body, and the concept of mind as "within the body," or again as a "function" of the body, are psychological hypotheses which arise only in the course of subsequent reflective analysis of experience. Of the worth of these hypotheses we shall have to speak later. At present it is enough to note that for direct experience a "mind" means simply a thing with individual purpose. What for my direct experience distinguishes my fellow-man from a stock or stone, is not the presence within him of an incorporeal  "soul" or "consciousness," but the fact that I must take account of his individual purposes and adapt myself to them if I wish to achieve my own. Here again the reader of German will do well to consult Prof. Münsterberg (Grundzüge der Psychologie, vol. i. chaps. 1-3). See also a paper on "Mind and Nature" by the present writer in International Journal of Ethics for October 1902.

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