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objectifying consciousness," a " self-conscious personality " or
briefly a " spirit."

"Realise or reproduce." The alternatives are rather
startling : so vast an issue apjDears to be left an open question
by the disjunction thus quietly suggested. For if we say
"realise," God and his complete knowledge, and Nature, the
single all-inclusive system of relations appear to lapse into
potential existence ; reality being restricted to finite spirits and
their partial and imperfectly understood experiences. We
should thus get an Idealism curiously correspondent to the
sensationalism of J. S. Mill ; possibilities of thought taking the
place of the latter's possibilities of sensation. Can we infer
from the alternative phrase that Green recognised this or some-
thing like this as a tenable metaphysical position ? I cannot
say : but one who has read the Prolegomena through can hardly
doubt that he decisively adopted the other alternative. The
conception of One Divine Eternal Spirit, who really is all that
the human spirit is capable of becoming, is essential to his ethics :
God is the ideal of the human spirit, but he is an ideal com-
pletely realised.

This then is Green's ' Spiritualism ' as distinguished from
his Idealism. There is, of course, an essential connexion
between the two : my point is that there is also, in a certain
sense, an essential opposition. The Spirit makes nature : but
it is and must be a non-natural principle. That is, it constitutes
nature by a system of relations which result from its action as
thinking : but for that very reason these thought-relations " are
not relations of it, not relations by which it is itself determined."
For, once admit it to be otherwise, once suppose that any of the
thought-relations resulting from its thinking activity are appli-
cable to it, then it becomes pro tanto a part of nature : its non-
naturalness can no longer be maintained, and the pivotal notion
of the whole system is removed.

We come, then, to the questions which I primarily offer


for discussion. Is this combination of Idealism and Spiritualism
— as I have distinguished them — really thinkable ? and does
Green really succeed in thinking it ? I am compelled to answer
both questions in the negative, but I shall devote my own dis-
cussion chiefly to the second question.

Let us first take Green's positive account of Spirit, and ask,
point by point, whether we can definitely think the qualities or
functions he attributes to it, without, in so thinking, predicating
of it some of the relations which, according to Green, result
from its combining and unifying activity, and are therefore not
properly predicable of it.

First, he conceives it as one and many : one Divine Mind and
many reproductions of it ; here we have relations of number.

Secondly, the human spirit is identical with the Divine : — the
latter is said to be a " spirit which we ourselves are " : yet again
it is a " reproduction " of it and a reproduction is different from
the original. Here we have a peculiar and difficult combination
of the relations of identity and difference.

Again, a Spirit is a " self-distinguishing " consciousness : that
means, I suppose, that it attributes to itself unity, identity,
difference from nature and, I suppose, from other spirits. But
again it is a " self-objectifying " consciousness : that is, it con-
ceives itself as an object : and therefore in a relation of similarity
with nature, so far as both spirit and nature must be thought as
having whatever attributes are connoted by the word " object.''
Finally, it is a " unifying '' and " combining " consciousness : but
by each of these terms its function is conceived in a relation
of similarity to processes that we conceive as occurring in
Nature ; Nature is continually presenting to us combinations
and unifications, as well as separations and divisions.

In short, taking Green's descriptive terms, and endeavouring
to think by means of them, we find that we are inevitably
conceiving Spirit as conditioned or determined by the very
same relations that we use in determining phenomena.

Turn now to the negative characterisation that he gives
of Spirit, to emphasise and impress on us its non-naturalness.
It is, he says, not in time, not in space, not a substance, not a
cause. But can he really think it thus ? Let us see.

First, the Spirit is " not in Time." If so, we are to under-


stand not merely that it does not change but that it does
not perdure ; since changing and perduring are equally time-
determinations. Hence when Green speaks of the Divine Spirit
as "eternal," we must understand him to intend to mean not
" everlasting," but merely the same as when he speaks of it as
"not in time." But can we conceive this to be his meaning
when he speaks of it as " a consciousness for which the relations
of fact that form the object of our gradually attained knowledge
already and eternally exist"; or when he speaks of the "best
state of man as already present to a divine Consciousness " ?
Must we not think of the divine Consciousness as " in time " if
we think of it as "already'' such and such. So again, when
speaking of the problem suggested by the constant spectacle of
unfulfilled human promise, he says " we may content ourselves
with saying that the personal self-conscious being, which comes
from God, is for ever continued in God " : — surely here God is
conceived as eternal in the sense of abiding "for ever." Again,
it is because the divine mind reproduces itself in the human
soul that that soul is said to have a " spiritual " demand for an
"abiding satisfaction of an abiding self " ; but how could this be
legitimately inferred unless the Divine Mind itself were con-
ceived as abiding and perduring through Time 1

But if "in time," why not a substance, since substance is for
Green the permanent correlate of change 1 and can we avoid
thinking of the Eternal Mind as the permanent correlate of the
processes of change and development essential to finite minds ?

Finally, can we conceive the Eternal Consciousness — following
Green's thought — as not a cause ? He tells us that it is a
" source " of the relations which constitute Nature ; that they
" result from " its combining and unifying action ; that it
"makes the animal organism its vehicle" ; that it "is operative"
throughout the succession of events which constitute the growth
of the individual mind; that it "acts on the sentient life of the
soul " and " uses it " as its organ. Are not these all terms
implying causality ? And yet he says — arguing against Kant —
that " causation has no meaning except as an unalterable con-
nexion between changes in the world of our experience."

Green ultimately sees the inconsistency, — though I think he
carries the exposition of the Metaphysics of Knowledge much


too far without hinting at it. But I will not digress on this
point. Let us rather try to understand the explanation that he
ultimately gives. It is, I think, the most difficult passage in
the Prolegomena : —

"When we transfer the term 'cause' from the relation
between one thing and another within the determined world to
the relation between that world and the agent implied in its
existence, we must understand that there is no separate particu-
larity in the agent, on the one side, and the determined world
as a whole on the other. . . . The agent must act absolutely
from itself in the action through which that world is — not as
does everything within the world, under determination by some-
thing else. The world has no character but that given it by
this action ; the agent no character but that which it gives itself
in this action." i

It should be added that the " action," in the same passage, is
stated to be " that inner determination of all contained in the
manifold world by mutual relation, which is due to the action
of the unifying principle."

It appears, then, that Green ultimately attributes to God
Causality : but endeavours to establish an essential difference
between Di^ane and Natural Causality : viz. that the Eternal
Consciousness, as unifying principle, has " no separate particu-
larity " apart from the manifold world, " no character but that
which it gives itself in ' its unifying ' action " — although it
" must act absolutely from itself in the action through which
the world is." Now I cannot myself conceive these character-
istics united : I cannot conceive anything " acting absolutely
from itself " and yet having " no character but that which it
gives itself in this action." But, waiving this objection now, I
admit that this negation of " character other than that which it
gives itself in the action " differentiates the Causality of the
Divine Mind profoundly from Natural Causality : but I think it
does this at great cost to the system as a whole.

For, first, if God is thus reduced to a mere unifying principle,

having no character except that which it gives itself in

synthesising the manifold of nature, I do not see how the

conception can be made to include the content which the ethical

^ Prolegomena, Metaphysics of Knoivledge, p. 81.


part of Green's doctrine requires. It is because there is a
Divine CoHsoiousness realising or reproducing itself in man that
the true good of man is argued to be not Pleasure, but Virtue
or Perfection, and Perfection is held to consist in the realisation
of capabilities already realised in the Divine Existence : briefly-
put, man's true good is development in the direction of becoming
liker to God. But this whole conception implies that God has
what Mr. Balfour calls a ' Preferential Will ' in relation to
human life and action ; and that this Will is realised in man's
choice of Virtue in a sense in which it is not realised in his
choice of sensual pleasure. Well, I do not see how this concep-
tion can be maintained if God is also conceived as having no
character except that self-given in unifying the manifold of
nature : for this unification is surely equally effected in the
lives of sinners and in the lives of saints, as both are equally
capable of being scientifically known. In short, this conception
of the relation of God to the world seems to me to constitute a
gulf between Green's Metaphysics and his Ethics which cannot
be bridged over.

If, on the other hand, we leave Ethics aside, and confine
ourselves to the conception of the Divine Spirit regarded as
belonging to the Metaphysics of Knowledge, it seems to me that
this eternal consciousness, characterless apart from its unifying
action, is a rather insignificant entity : whose existence is not
only difficult to establish logically, but not much worth estab-
lishing. The conception, indeed, of the world as a systematic
whole, having unity and order through the complex relations of
its parts, as well as infinite plurality and diversity ; and the
conception of the progress of knowledge as consisting in the
continual discovery of order, system, and unity in what at first
presents itself as an almost chaotic diversity — these are con-
ceptions of the highest value. But when they are grasped,
what is the further gain to knowledge in referring the unity and
system to a unifying principle as its source, if that principle is
to have no other character except what it gives itself in its
unifying action. Is there any hope that such a conception can
in any way help us to grasp the unity, the system of relations,
more fully and truly ? Nay, must not the notion of a Divine
Mind if reduced so far, inevitably dwindle still further, and


reveal itself as merely a hypostasised logical element or aspect
of tlie knowable world regarded as a systematic whole ?

And this view, I think, will be confirmed by a rigorous
examination of Green's main argument for establishing the
existence of a spiritual principle in nature. It is the source
of the relations that constitute experience a connected whole :
but where lies the logical necessity of assuming such a source ]
Green answers that the existence of the relations involves " the
unity of the manifold, the existence of the many in one. . .
But," he says, " a plurality of things cannot of themselves unite
in one relation, nor can a single thing of itseK bring itself
into a multitude of relations . . there must" — therefore —
" be something other than the manifold things themselves which
combines them." The argument seems to me unthinkable,
because, as Green has emphatically declared, I cannot even
conceive the manifold things out of the relations : and therefore
I cannot even raise the question whether, if I could so conceive
them, I should see them to require something other than them-
selves to bring them into the relations.

But [secondly] Green has another line of argument. He
can — he does — appeal to self-consciousness. " The action of
our own Mind in knowledge," he says, gives us a positive
conception of the action of the Divine Mind in the universe.
Now for myself, in attaining knowledge, I seem to find, not to
originate, truth. But, granting the human consciousness of
" action absolutely from itself " in knowledge, can we infer from
this the action of the Universal ]\Iind, consistently with Green's
theory of the human spirit ? For if my self-consciousness is to
be the causa cognoscendi of the causalitjf of the unifying principle
in the world, that self -consciousness must surely include an
indubitable cognition of the essential unity of the self : but in
trying to think Green's conception of the human spirit, I find
the notion of its essential unity vanishes. " Our consciousness,"
he says, " may mean either of two things : either a function of
the animal organism, which is being gradually made a vehicle of
the eternal consciousness ; or that eternal consciousness itself, as
making the animal organism its vehicle." He then assures us
that our consciousness is still " one indivisible reality " : and
that the two things just distinguished are merely two aspects of


it, the same thing regarded from two different points of view.
I cannot think myself thus ; I cannot think God as one aspect
of me, and my body as another aspect ; and it seems to me that
if I did succeed in thinking this, the essential unity of self
would have vanished. Green adduces the old simile of the
opposite sides of a shield : but it seems to me inapt. For I see
clearly that a shield not only may but must have two opposite
sides, united into a continuous surface by the rim : whereas I
cannot see how one indivisible self can possibly have as its two
sides an animal organism and a self-limiting eternal consciousness.

I have already detained you long, and yet treated too briefly
vast topics ; but before I conclude, I should like to say a word
on the polemical aspect of Green's Metaphysic. He does not
seriously trouble himself with Materialism, and Volitionism does
not seem to have come within his ken. Nor, again, is his
controversy in the main with Common Sense or Natural Dualism
— of which, indeed, his notions are so vague that he speaks of
good old Locke as a representative of the " traditional philosophy
of Common Sense." It is rather Sensationalism or Phenomen-
alism which Green regards as his natural opponent, and to the
refutation of which he directs much attention. And yet his
attitude towards that element of the knowable world which
either of these metaphysical ^dews is disposed to take as ultimate,
seems to me somewhat fluctuating and obscure.

He repeatedly speaks of Nature as merely a system of
thought-relations, and affirms that " if we exclude from what
we have considered real all qualities constituted by relations,
we find that none are left" — thus apparently resolves all
particular qualities in the manifold of experience entirely into
relations. Yet elsewhere he seems to admit that " we cannot
reduce the world of experience to a web of relations in which
nothing is related " ; and merely argues against the Sensation-
alist that in the world of knowable facts there is no such thing
as "mere sensation, a matter wholly unformed by intelligence."
"A fact consisting in mere feeling is an impossibility."

He is equally willing to admit that there is "no such thing
as mere thought " ; and in fact only to contend that feeling
and thought are inseparable and mutually dependent. And he
expressly affirms this mutual dependence of thought and feeling,


not only in the case of our empirical consciousness, but in the
case also of " the world-consciousness of which ours is a limited
mode." But if this be so, I do not see how Green is justified —
or thinks himself justified — in making the thought element so
prominent, and the feeling element so subordinate in his account
of Nature ; or in speaking of Nature as a system of relations,
instead of related feelings ; or in resolving — as we saw —
the particularity of a feeling entirely into relations. And
finally, if "mutual independence of thought and feeling has
no place in the world-consciousness," difficult questions arise
to which Green suggests no answer. For instance, if any feeling
is attributed to the world-consciousness, must not all feeling in
the world be so attributed ? or how are we to distinguish 1
Does God then feel the pleasure and the pain of the whole
animal kingdom 1 And if so, is not the ground cut from under
the anti-hedonistic positions of Green's Ethics 1 But I perceive
that this topic will introduce so great a wave of discourse — as
Plato says — that I must reluctantly abandon it, and apologise
for the extent to which I have already tried your patience.




In the lectures on Green I have endeavoured to characterise and
to criticise elements of actual philosophical thought derived from
Kant's Transcendental Philosophy viewed on its constructive side :
i.e. viewed as an attempt to exhibit systematically those factors
of our conception and knowledge of the empirical world which
are cognisable a priori, either as forms of sensibility or as forms
of intellectual synthesis, otherwise termed fundamental concepts
or categories.

But this is only one side or aspect either of the Kantian
system itself or of its influence on English thought ; nor is it
the side or aspect which was at first clearly the most prominent.
It is true that, as I say in my Outlines of the History of
Ethics} the thinker who in the first third of the nineteenth
century was commonly regarded as the representative of German
tendencies in philosophy — namely, Coleridge — transmitted the
influence ^ of Kant as apprehended through the medium of post-
Kantian thought and especially the thought of Schelling. Thus,
as I have said [Outlines, I.e.), "the Kant partially assimilated by
Coleridge was a Kant who could not be believed ' to have meant
more by his Noumenon or Thing in itself than his mere words
express ' ; * who, in fact, must be believed to have attained,

1 P. 271.

"- Cf. J. S. Mill's essay (1840), "Germano-Coleridgian doctrine," "Coleridge
and the Germans."

" Coleridge, Biogruphia Literaria, vol. i. pp. 145 f.



through his practical convictions of duty and freedom, that
speculative comprehension of the essential spirituality of human
nature which his language appeared to repudiate. Thus viewed
on its metaphysical side, the German influence obscurely com-
municated to the English mind through Coleridge was rather
post-Kantian than Kantian, though the same cannot be said of
its strictly ethical side." ^

But the Kantism transmitted through Coleridge was but
very partially assimilated. And in the more important examples
of Kantian influence in the second third, or rather more, of the
century, we find Kant's doctrine assimilated more on its nega-
tive and destructive than on its positive side. The two main
points of the doctrine so assimilated may be characterised respec-
tively as Agnosticism, or the unknowableness of the Absolute or
Unconditioned ; and Belatirism, that is, the ' relativity of human
knowledge.' The Agnosticism, however, in the case of the two
leading examples of this influence — Sir W. Hamilton and Dean
Mansel — was combined with theological orthodoxy ; and the
Eelativism is somehow reconciled with Natural Dualism.

Before I pass to examine the form which each of these two
doctrines assumes in the philosophy of Mr. Spencer, I will
explain them briefly in the form in which they are presented
by Hamilton — since the influence of Kant comes to Spencer
entirely through Hamilton and his disciple Mansel, and not
di^ectl3^ I begin with Hamilton's ' Philosophy of the Condi-
tioned ' as Mansel calls it. Briefly the 'Law of the Conditioned'
is : " All positive thought lies between two extremes, neither of
which we can conceive as possible ; and yet, as they are mutual
contradictories, we must recognise the one or the other as
necessary." ^ Or, as Hamilton more full}' explains, taking as an
illustration our quantitative notions of space and time, all that
we positively conceive lies bet\yeen two poles [the maximal and
the minimal], and at either pole — where our thought comes
upon the unconditioned — we find two pairs of contradictory
inconceivables, one of which must be true, though we can con-
ceive neither. So again, we cannot conceive the will to be free,
as that would involve an uncaused event, an absolute commence-

' I.e. p. 277.
^ [Hamilton's edition of Reid's Works, p. 91].]


ment of existence ; at the same time, we cannot conceive an
infinite regress from effect to cause.

Here we have obviously a reproduction of the three first of
Kant's cosmological antinomies ; but it is a reproduction with
important modifications. For Kant does not argue that infinite
time or infinite space is inconceivable. On the contrary, he
makes in the .<3ilsthetic the remarkable statement that space is
presented as an ' infinite given magnitude ' (unendliche ijegebene
Grosse) ; and in arguing the thesis of the first antinomy it is not
infinite time but infinite past time which he argues to be incon-
ceivable : for " the infinity of a series consists just in this, that
the series can never be completed in a successive synthesis," hence
we cannot conceive an " infinite series of states to have passed
away in the world." ^ Similarly, Kant argues — ingeniously — that
we must think the world limited in space, because "in order to
think the world which fills all space as a whole, we must suppose
the successive synthesis of the parts of an infinite world to be
completed." Finally, Kant never questions the infinite divisi-
bility of Space ; it is infinitely divisible Substance which seems to
him an unthinkable notion : because if we suppose that any
composite substance is not ultimately resolvable into simple
parts, "then, if we think all composition away, no composite
part will be left ; and as by hypothesis there is no simple part,
nothing at all will remain." -

The difference, it will be said, is that in the case of Substance
— as Kant with those he is arguing against assumes — the simple
is necessarily thought as prior to the composite ; but we cannot
similarly conceive the parts of Space as prior to the one Space
of which they are parts. So again Kant has no difficulty in
conceiving Infinity as an attribute of the Divine Being ; indeed
he thinks it an indispensable notion; what he questions is the
possibility of giving a speculative proof of the existence of such
a being.

Hamilton's Philosophy of the Conditioned, therefore, diverges
widely from Kant, in respect of the notion of the Infinite. And
here I agree with Kant : I find no difficulty in conceiving
Infinite Time or Infinite Space as such ; but there certainly is
a difficulty in conceiving a completed Infinite and therefore a
1 [Watson's Selections, pp. 158 f.] ^ lOp. cit. p. 160.]


past Infinite. It is partly true that, as Hamilton says, the
notion of Infinite Quantity is negative ; that is, when we try to
conceive Infinite Magnitude positively otherwise than negatively,
we can only conceive it as " greater than any assignable magni-
tude " ; and it is with that meaning that we employ the notion
in mathematical reasoning. The notion of Infinite, so far as it

Online LibraryHenry SidgwickLectures on the philosophy of Kant and other philosophical lectures & essays → online text (page 18 of 32)