John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart.

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harmony, which is the ultimate form of spirit.

The trouble has arisen from the fact that the self is unable,
in knowledge and volition, to regard the element of the not-self
except as something external and alien. I do not mean that
everything which is not-self appears entirely external and
ahen. If that were the case there could be no harmony at
all — and consequently no knowledge or volition — since all the
content of experience, except the abstract pure self, comes
under the not-self. But I mean that the characteristic which
experience possesses of being not-self — its "not-selfness," if the
barbarism is permissible, — will always remain as an external
and alien element.

If v/e are to discover the state of spirit in which the
harmony could be perfect, we must find one in which the


element of not-self does not give an aspect of externality
and alienation to the content of experience. In other words
we shall have to find a state in which we regard the not-self
in the same way as we regard the self.

294. Although we find it convenient to define the not-self
by its negative relation to the self, it is not entirely negative,
for then it would not be real. It must have some positive
nature. It is, of course, a differentiation of the Absolute.
Now we saw reason, in chapter ii, to believe that the only
fundamental difEerentiations of the Absolute were finite selves.
That, therefore, of which any self is conscious as its not-self,
is, from its own point of view, another self. And that which
appears to the observing self as the element of not-selfness
in its object, will, from the object's own point of view, be
the element of selfness.

We can now restate our problem. Can we find any state
of spirit in which A regards B in the same way as A regards
himself ?

295. Now I submit that, when A loves B, he is concerned
with 5 as a person, and not merely with the results of B on A,
and that therefore he does look on B as B would look on
himself. The interest that I feel in my own life is not due
to its having such and such qualities. I am interested in it
because it is myself, whatever qualities it may have. I am
not, of course, interested in myself apart from all quahties,
which would be an unreal abstraction. But it is the self
which gives the interest to the quahties, and not the reverse.
With the object of knowledge or vohtion on the other hand
our interest is in the qualities which it may possess, and we
are only concerned in the object's existence for itself because
without it the quahties could not exist. But in the harmony
which we are now considering, we do not, when it has been
once reached, feel that the person is dear to us on account
of his qualities, but rather that our attitude towards his
qualities is determined by the fact that they belong to him.

296. In support of this we may notice, in the first place,
that love is not necessarily proportioned to the dignity or
adequacy of the determining motive. This is otherwise in


knowledge and volition. In volition, for example, the depth
of our satisfaction ought to be proportioned to the completeness
with which the environment harmonises with our ideals, and
to the adequacy with which our present ideals express our
fundamental nature. If it is greater than these would justify
it is unwarranted and illegitimate. But a trivial cause may
determine the direction of very deep emotion. To be born
in the same family, or to be brought up in the same house,
may determine it. It may be determined by physical beauty,
or by purely sensual desire. Or we may be, as we often are,
unable to assign any determining cause at all. And yet the
emotion produced may be indefinitely intense and elevated.
This would seem to suggest that the emotion is directed to
the person, not to his qualities, and that the determining
qualities are not the ground of the harmony, but merely the
road by which we proceed to that ground. If this is so, it
is natural that they should bear no more necessary proportion
to the harmony than the intrinsic value of the key of a safe
does to the value of the gold inside the safe.

Another characteristic of love is the manner in which
reference to the object tends to become equivalent to reference
to self. We have seen above that all volition implies a self-
reference, that, however disinterested the motive, it can only
form part of our life in so far as the self finds its good in
it. Now here we come across a state of spirit in which the
value of truth and virtue for us seems to depend on the existence
of another person, in the same way as it unquestionably
depends for us on our own existence. And this not because
the other person is specially interested in truth and virtue, but
because all our interest in the universe is conceived as deriving
force from his existence.

297. And a third point which denotes that the interest
is emphatically personal is found in our attitude when we
discover that the relation has been based on some special
congruity which has ceased to exist, or which was wrongly
believed in, and never really existed at all. In knowledge
and volition such a discovery would put an end to the relation
altogether. To go on beUeving that a thing was rational or


satisfactory, because it was so once, or because we once believed
that it was so, would be immediately recognized as an ab-
surdity. If the cause of the harmony ceases, the harmony
ceases too. But here the case is different. If once the relation
has existed, any disharmony among the qualities need not, and,
we feel, ought not, to injure the harmony between the persons.
If a person proves irrational or imperfect, this may make us
miserable about him. It may make us blame him, or, more
probably, make us blame God, or whatever substitute for God
our religion may allow us. But it will not make us less
interested in him, it will not make us less confident that
our relation to him is the meaning of our existence, less
compelled to view the universe sub specie amati. As well
might any imperfection or sin in our nature render us less
interested in our own condition, or convince us that it was
unimportant to ourselves.

It often happens, of course, that such a strain is too hard
for affection, and destroys it. But the distinction is that,
while such a result would be the only proper and natural
one in knowledge and volition, it is felt here as a condemnation.
Knowledge and volition ought to yield. But love, we feel, if
it had been strong enough, might have resisted, and ought
to have resisted.

298. It would seem, then, that we have here reached a
standpoint from which we are able to regard the object as
it regards itself. We are able to regard the history and content
of the object as a manifestation of its individuality, instead of
being obliged to regard the individuality as a dead residuum in
which the content inheres. We are able to see the object from
within outwards, instead of from without inwards. And so
its claims to independence and substantiality become no more
alien or inharmonious to us than our own.

This recognition of the independence of the object is
absolute. In knowledge and volition that independence was
recognized to some extent. In volition, in particular, and
more especially in those higher stages in which vohtion be-
comes moral, we saw that our own satisfaction depends on
realising the independence and the rights of others, and


treating them, not as means, but as ends. But the reasons
why this was necessary were always relative to our own self-
reahsation. Even with virtue, the ultimate ground of each
man's choice of it must always be that he prefers it to vice.
And hence this recognition as end was itself a subordination
as means, and the absolute assertion of itself as end, which
the object itself made, continued to be something alien and

The position here is different. The subject is no longer
in the same position of one-sided supremacy. In knowledge
and volition it exists as a centre of which the world of objects
is the circumference. This relation continues, for without it
our self-consciousness and our existence would disappear. But
conjoined with it we have now the recognition of the fact that
we ourselves form part of the circumference of other systems
of which other individuals are the centre. We know of course
that this must be so. But it is only in love that it actually
takes place. We are not only part of someone else's world
in his eyes, but in our own. And we feel that this dependence
on another is as directly and truly self-reaHsation as is the
dependence of others on us. All through hfe self-surrender
is the condition of self-attainment. Here, for the first time,
they become identical. The result seems, no doubt, paradoxical.
But any change which made it simpler would render it, I
think, less correspondent to facts. And if, as I have en-
deavoured to show, knowledge and voHtion carry in them
defects which prevent our regarding them as ultimate, we
need not be alarmed for our formula of the Absolute, because
it appears paradoxical to them. It would be in greater danger
if they could fully acquiesce in it.

With such a formula our difficulties cease. Here we have
perfect unity between subject and object, since it is in the
whole object, and not merely in some elements of it, that we
find satisfaction. And, for the same reason, the object attains
its rights in the way of complete differentiation, since we are
able, now that we are in unity with the whole of it, to recognize
it as a true individual. Again, even unmeaning doubts of the
completeness and security of the harmony between subject and


object must now vanish, since not even an abstraction is left
over as alien, on which scepticism could fix as a possible centre
of discord.

299. There is a third line of argument which can lead us
to the same conclusion. We have seen that the nature of each
individual consists in certain relations to other individuals.
This view must not be confounded with that suggested by Green,
that "for the only kind of consciousness for which there is
reality, the conceived conditions are the reality^." For there is
all the difference possible between attempting to reduce one
side of an opposition to the other, and asserting, as we have
done, that the two sides are completely fused in a unity which
is more than either of them.

Experience can be analysed into two abstract, and therefore
imperfect, moments — the immediate centres of differentiation
and the relations which unite and mediate them. The extreme
atomistic view takes the immediate centres as real, and the
mediating relations as unreal. The view quoted by Green, as
extreme on the other side, takes the relations as real and the
centres as unreal. The view of the dialectic, on the contrary,
accepts both elements as real, but asserts that neither has any
separate reality, because each is only a moment of the true
reality. Reality consists of immediate centres which are
mediated by relations. The imperfection of language compels
us to state this proposition in a form which suggests that the
immediacy and the mediation are different realities which only
influence one another externally. But this ]s not the case.
They are only two sides of the same reahty. And thus we are
entitled to say that the whole nature of the centres is to be
found in their relations. But we are none the less entitled to
say that the whole nature of the relations is to be found in the

300. Now it is clear that each individual must have a
separate and unique nature of its own. If it had not, it could
never be differentiated from all the other individuals, as we
know that it is differentiated. At the same time the nature of
the individuals lies wholly in their connections with one another ;

1 Works, 11. 191.


it is expressed nowhere else, and there it is expressed fully. It
follows that the separate and unique nature of each individual
must be found only, and be found fully, in its connections with
other individuals — in the fact, that is, that all the other indi-
viduals are for it.

This must not be taken to mean that the connection is the
logical prius of the individual nature — that the latter is in any
sense the consequent or the result of the former. Nor does it
mean that the individual natures could be explained or deduced
from the fact of connection. Such views would be quite contrary
to Hegel's principles. His position is essentially that reality is
a differentiated unity, and that either the differentiation or the
unity by itself is a mere abstraction. And it would be contrary
to all the lessons of the dialectic if we supposed that one
moment of a concrete whole could be either caused or explained
by the other moment. It is the concrete reality which must be
alike the ground and the explanation of its moments.

What we have to maintain here is not that the characters
of the individuals are dependent on their connections, but, on
the contrary, that the characters and the connections are com-
pletely united. The character of the individual is expressed
completely in its connections with others, and exists nowhere
else. On the other hand the connections are to be found in
the nature of the individuals they connect, and nowhere else,
and not merely in the common nature which the individuals
share, but in that special and unique nature which distinguishes
one individual from another.

This completes our definition of the Absolute Idea. Not
only has the nature of each individual to be found in the fact
that all the rest are for it, but the nature which is to be found
in this recognition must be something unique and distinguishing
for each individual. The whole difference of each individual from
the others has to be contained in its harmony with the others.

We need not be alarmed at the apparently paradoxical
appearance of this definition. For all through the doctrine
of the Notion, and especially in the Idea, our categories have
been paradoxical to the ordinary understanding. Even if we
could find nothing in experience which exphcitly embodied this


category, we should not have any right, on that ground, to
doubt its validity. If the arguments which have conducted us
to it are vaHd, we shall be compelled to believe that this, and
this only, is the true nature of absolute reality. The only effect
of the want of an example would be our inability to form a
mental picture of what absolute reality would be like.

301. I believe, however, that we can find an example
of this category in experience. It seems to me that perfect
love would give such an example, and that we should thus find
additional support for the conclusion already reached.

It is clear, in the first place, that our example must be some
form of consciousness. For the nature of the individual is still
to have all reality for it, and of this idea, as we have seen, we
can imagine no embodiment but consciousness.

Knowledge, however, ^^dll not be what is required. We
want a state such that the individuals' recognition of their
harmony with one another shall itself constitute the separate
nature of each individual. In knowledge the individual recog-
nizes his harmony with others, but this is not sufiicient to
constitute his separate nature. It is true that knowledge
not only permits, but requires, the differentiation of the indi-
viduals. Nothing buo an individual can have knowledge, and
if the individuals were merged in an undifferentiated whole,
the knowledge would vanish. Moreover, in proportion as the
knowledge of a knowing being becomes wider and deeper,
and links him more closely to the rest of reality, so does his
individuality become greater. But although the individuality
and the knowledge are so closely linked, they are not identical.
The individuahty cannot lie in the knowledge. Men may, no
doubt, be distinguished from one another by what they know,
and how they know it. But such distinction depends on the
limitations and imperfections of knowledge. A knows X, and
B knows Y. Or else A believes X^ to be the truth, while B
believes the same of X2. But for an example of a category of
the Idea we should have, as we have seen above, to take perfect
cognition. Now if A and B both knew X as it really is, this
would give no separate nature to A and B. And if we took, as
we must take, X to stand for all reahty, and so came to the


conclusion that the nature of A and B hiy in knowing the same
subject-matter, knowing it perfectly, and, therefore, knowing
it in exactly the same way, we should have failed to find
that separate nature for A and B which we have seen to be

Nor can our example be found in volition. Perfect volition
would mean perfect acquiescence in everything. Now men can
be easily differentiated by the fact that they acquiesce in
different things. So they can be differentiated by the fact that
they acquiesce in different sides of the same thing — in other
words, approve of the same thing for different reasons. Thus
one man may approve of an auto da fe on the ground that
it gives pain to the heretics who are burned, and another
may approve of it on the ground that it gives pleasure to the
orthodox who look on. But there can only be one way of acqui-
escing in the whole nature of any one thing, and only one way,
therefore, of acquiescing in the whole nature of everything,
and the ground of differentiation is consequently wanting.

302. The only form of consciousness which remains is
emotion. To this the same objections do not seem to apply.
Perfect knowledge of X must be the same in A and B. Perfect
acquiescence in X must be the same in A and B. But I do
not see any reason why perfect love of X should be the same in
A and B, or why it should not be the differentiation required
to make A and B perfect individuals. The object in love is
neither archetype, as in knowledge, nor ectype, as in volition,
and hence there is no contradiction in saying that love of the
same person is different in different people, and yet perfect in

303. We have thus been led by three lines of argument
to the same conclusion. The Absolute can only be perfectly
manifested in a state of consciousness which comphes with
three conditions. It must have an absolute balance between
the individual for whom all reality exists, and the reality
which is for it — neither being subordinated to the other, and
the harmony being ultimate. It must be able to establish
such a unity between the self and the not-self, that the latter
loses all appearance of contingency and alienation. And, finally,


in it the separate and unique nature of each individual must
be found in its connections with other individuals. We have
found that knowledge and volition comply with none of these
conditions. There remains only one other alternative at present
known to us — love. I have tried to show that in this case all
three conditions are fulfilled.

304. One or two points require further explanation. It is
no doubt true that love, as we now know it, never exists as the
whole content of consciousness. Its value, and indeed its
possibility, depends on its springing from, being surrounded by,
and resulting in, acts of knowledge and volition which remain
such, and do not pass into a higher stage. This however is
only a characteristic of an imperfect state of development. At
present there is much of reality whose spiritual nature we are
unable to detect. And when we do recognize a self-conscious
individual we can only come into relation with him in so far as
that other reality, still conceived as matter, which we call our
bodies, can be made instrumental to our purposes. And finally,
even when we have recognized reality as spirit, the imperfection
of our present knowledge leaves a large number of its qualities
apparently contingent and irrational. Thus every case in which
we have established a personal relation must be surrounded by
large numbers of others in which we have not done so. And
as all reality is inter-connected, the estabhshment and main-
tenance of this relation must be connected with, and dependent
on, the imperfect relations into which we come with the
surrounding reality. And, again, the same inter-connection
brings it about that the harmony with any one object can
never be perfect, till the harmony with all other objects is so.
Thus our relations with any one object could never be com-
pletely absorbed in love — leaving no knowledge and volition
un transcended — until the same result was universally attained.

But there is no reason why it should not be attained
completely, if attained universally. It is entitled to stand by
itself, for it is, as we have seen, self-contained. It does not
require a reference to some correlative and opposed activity to
make its own nature inteUigible, and it does not require any
recognition of the possibility of discord. It is the simple and


absolute expression of harmony, and, when once the harmony
of the whole universe has become explicit, it is capable of
expressing the meaning of the whole universe.

305. Before this ideal could be attained, it is clear that
sense-presentation, as a method of obtaining our knowledge of
the object, would have to cease. For sense-presentation can
only give us consciousness of reality under the form of matter,
and in doing this, it clearly falls short of the perfect harmony,
since it presents reality in an imperfect and inadequate form.

There seems no reason why the fact of sense-presentation
should be regarded as essential to consciousness. Our senses
may be indispensable to knowledge while much of the reality,
of which we desire to be informed, still takes the shape of
matter, and the rest is only known to us in so far as it acts
through material bodies. But it seems quite possible that the
necessity, to which spirits are at present subject, of communi-
cating with one another through matter, only exists because
the matter happens to be in the way. In that case, when the
whole universe is viewed as spirit, so that nothing relatively
alien could come between one individual and another, the
connection between spirits might very possibly be direct.

306. Another characteristic of a perfect manifestation of
the Absolute is that it must be timeless. In this, again, I can
see no difficulty. If, in love, we are able to come into contact
with the object as it really is, we shall find no disconnected
manifold. The object is, of course, not a mere blank unity. It
is a unity which manifests itself in multiplicity. But the
multiplicity only exists in so far as it is contained in the
unity. And, since the object has thus a real unity of its own,
it might be possible to apprehend the whole of it at once, and
not to require that successive apprehension, which the synthesis
of a manifold, originally given as unconnected, would always

It is true, of course, that we cannot conceive the Absolute
as connection with a single other person, but rather, directly or
indirectly, with all others. But we must remember, again, that
all reality must be conceived as in perfect unity, and, therefore,
individuals must be conceived as forming, not a mere aggregate


or mechanical system, but a whole which only difiers from an
organism in being a closer and more vital unity than any
organism can be. The various individuals, then, must be con-
ceived as forming a difierentiated and multiplex whole, but by
no means as an unconnected manifold. It might therefore
be practicable to dispense with successive acts of apprehension
in contemplating the complete whole of the universe, as much
as in contemplating the relative whole of a single individual.
And in that case there would be no reason why the highest form
of spirit should not be free from succession, and from time.

I should be inclined to say, personally, that, even at present,
the idea of timeless emotion is one degree less unintelligible
than that of timeless knowledge and volition — that the most
intense emotion has some power of making time seem, if not

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Online LibraryJohn McTaggart Ellis McTaggartStudies in Hegelian cosmology → online text (page 27 of 28)