L. T. (Leonard Trelawny) Hobhouse.

The theory of knowledge; a contribution to some problems of logic and metaphysics online

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as the realised law of its atates — understanding this expression as he explains
it — in a concrete sense (see Metaphysics, bk. i. chap, iii., § 32 ff.). I only point
out that the total behaviour of the thing as partially dependent on other
"things" is a slightly different conception from its own law, as expressing
such element iu its behaviour as depends on itself from moment to moment.


renewed, then the bowl, and lastly the joint connecting them,
would present a still more knotty problem to this line of
thought. The question " Was it the same pipe ? " may be left
to those who interest themselves in the question, how much a
lot means, or at what moment you become a man.^

I conclude that the reference of contents to a substance is
a matter of intellectual necessity ; that a substance is a self-
determining continuum, and therefore maintains itself perpetu-
ally ; that it may be composite or elementary ; that in its inde-
pendence it may or may not be qualitatively identical in part
or altogether ; and that it presents many aspects in one space
at one time partly determined by its own nature and partly in
response to the action of other substances. Any whole ful-
filling these conditions is a substance ; and reference of a fact to
a substance is the assignment of it to such a whole. Whether
any such substance can be said to exist short of the whole of
reality is a question which can only be answered by experience.
But experience forms conceptions of things or substances which
deserve that name in so far as they contain the positive condi-
tions of their own persistence together with the further charac-
teristics above specified.

^ The sameness of the thing is as unimportant as the sameness of the person
■will be more and more clearly seen to demand more accurate definition.
Whether this is the same chair after it is mended matters to no one. "Whether
this is the same man, who was a criminal and is now a reformed character, is
a far more vital question, going to the very root of ethics and criminal law.
It is clear enough that responsibility goes along with identity, but how far do
these extend ? Ordinary common sense judges them by mere continuity, and this
the superficial physical continuity of the body. But within this continuance
not only may there be immense changes of qualitative character, but the
streams of causation may be so broken up that there appear to be rather two
' ' personalities " than one. The questions arising from this fact will be touched
on in the next chapter ; but their serious consideration is a pressing matter
rather for ethics and psychology than for our purposes.


The Conception of Self

From the problem of substance we pass to that of self. An
analogous set of experiences and a similar intellectual necessity
partly provoke and partly baffle each inquiry. In ordinary
thought we refer qualities presented to our five senses to this
or that material thing ; and in just the same way we attribute
feelings, emotions, ideas, beliefs, and the like, to the self. What,
then, is the self ? "What postulate of thought or what product
of experience is covered by that term ? Do feelings and the
like form any sort of intelligible whole ; and if so, is it a con-
nected, and is it a self-determining whole ? What answer can
experience give us to these questions ?

1. Before we attempt an answer to this question, we must
establish our right to ask it — to ask it, that is, in the terms
which we have used. The self, it may be said, is known, not by
or from experience, but as the postulate of all experience. Tor
when we speak of experiencing or, in detail, of apprehending,
remembering, inferring, this or that, what is it, we shall be
asked, which apprehends, remembers, and infers ? There
must be a subject which does all these things, which has
all these states just as truly as these things are done, as
these states have contents. To the object that we have been
treating aU along there must be a correlative subject, and
that subject is the permanent self. This conception, then,
is not learnt from experience, but is implied in experience

To this we have to reply that, so far as the conclusion of
the argument is concerned, we have little quarrel with it. We,
too, believe that there is in some sense or other a permanent
self which is the subject of all knowledge, and that this is im-
plied in the facts of knowledge themselves. But it must be
remembered that to find out what is in real truth implied by a
known fact is not always an easy matter, and whether easy or
difficult postulates in its turn certain methods of attaining


knowledge which must be sound if the result arrived at is to
be true. What is reaUy implied, say, by a given phenomenal
effect must really exist or have existed whether we know it or
not. But that we may know what it is, we must have certain
logical grounds to go upon. And so it is with the subject of
knowledge. If such a subject exists, from what data and by
what methods do we come to know it ? When we say it is
implied, what is the logical character of the implication ? How,
in short, do we prove it ? When we say, " there is a subject of
knowledge," the subject has pro hdc vice become object to us.
It is an asserted content in its turn, and on what grounds do
we assert it ? Here, in general, I can only adhere to the posi-
tion maintained throughout this work, that apprehension and
judgment or inference drawn from facts given in apprehension
constitute the only safe ground for this or any other assertion.
And I can only therefore conclude that the subject, if it is to be
apprehended at all, must in its turn be given as object. Whence
I conclude that any conception of the subject and its nature is
derived, as we said at starting, from experience. We might be
subjects of knowledge, and remain such to the ding of doom
without ever being aware of the fact. And we should be and
remain in that position if the fact of our subjective activity
never became matter of apprehension.

The view that the subject must also be object has seemed
to some people an inconceivability, and to others — perhaps, on
the credo quia ahsurdum principle, for that very reason — the
crowning mystery and sublimity of all that is. But the
mystery rests in the form of statement rather than in the
facts themselves. That this particular fact should be at once
subject and object at the same moment, and in the same relation,
would be, no doubt, a contradiction deep enough to bring joy
to those who take pleasure in such things. But that one act
of thought, itself a true " subject," i.e. an act of reference to an
object, should in turn be thought of and so become object to
another act, is no more a contradiction or a difficulty than that
this line, which is below the top of the page, should be above
the bottom. Let us briefly state the facts. I perceive a con-
tent — say, that foxglove. A moment after I may recollect either
(a) that the foxglove was there, or (^S) that / was looking at the
foxglove. In the first case, I remember the given content — the
object. In the second case, I remember an act of perceiving that
object. That act I call the act of a subject, a subjective act,
and I find that it stands in a definite relation, refers in a definite
way to its object. Thus I have now a second object which
includes in it the first plus that act which was in the first


instance the subject.^ I may, then, generally think of an
object and think of that thought. The first thought subject to
its own object is object to the second thought. But the two
thoughts remain two, and must not be confused. The thought
of the object is not the thought of itself. You may think of an
object, and then think of that thought, and then think of that
thought, and carry on this game ad infinitum if it amuses you,
but in every case the subject thought, when it becomes object,
requires another thought as its subject. There is never in this
sense a subject-object.

If, then, we agree that a subject is implied by knowledge,
we, for our part, rest this belief on the ground of experience.
The conception of object-for-subject is a conception found in
our experience, the two terms forming the correlative elements
which we analyse out of certain given wholes. And every
conception we have of our own knowledge, perception, beliefs,
etc., being formed on this basis, it is clear that the two con-
ceptions are implicitly contained when not clearly expressed
in the notion of knowledge.

But our present conclusion does not take us far enough.
Knowledge, it will be said (and here again we agree), involves
not merely a subject but a special kind of subject, namely, a
permanent subject, and this permanent subject will be the self
which we require. But here we must draw a distinction.
" Subject " and " self " are two very different conceptions, and
it is in connection with the fact of permanence that this
difference comes out. The subject, as we have seen it, is
constantly changing. It is now this thought and now that.
It differs from moment to moment as its object differs, and,
though its logical position is always similar, what right have
we to call it the same in every case ? Why, in short, do we
say that / was the subject of yesterday's feelings and of this
moment's mental activity, it being understood that by the
term " I " precisely this sameness is intended ?

The answer to these questions has been thought to be
supplied by the same broad facts of knowledge which we have
just been considering. I mean, that the permanence of the
subject has been taken as proved by the very nature of the

1 1 have spoken for simplicity as though the act of apprehending were first
given to memory. There seems no reason to deny that this may be the
case, and if so, we must admit that memory may give us, not merely facts given
in apprehension, but also the fact that we apprehended them. But a mental
act may itself prove the object of attention while it is present. I may think of
ray tea, and be aware that I am thinking of it while I ought to be intent on my
work. It is only a question of the " extent" of consciousness. The thought
which clearly comprenends a subject and object is necessarily one degree more
comple? than that comprehending the object alone.


cognitive act. In most acts of thought there is a degree of
complexity in the content. Different elements a and b are held
together in the act, and it is by holding them together that we
know their relation.^ And it does not matter how widely these
elements are separated in time or space or character. The
range of thought is limited only by the " bound which clips
the world with darkness round." My thought accordingly acts
as a bond of connection between most distant realities. It
is in this sense a " synthetic unity," seeing that it " puts
different facts together into one " content for consciousness.
But this is one thing. It is quite another to say that the
various acts of thought are acts of the same self. Each single
thought is a subject for its own object, and for the elements of
that object it acts as a bond of union if we like to call it such.
But this does not of itself prove that different thoughts,
different subjective acts, are also themselves united. Each
thought (if you like) "unites" or "holds together" the
element of content with which it is concerned. But what
holds together the different thoughts concerned with distinct
contents ? This is a further question to which we have now
to address ourselves, but it is not to be determined by the
mere analysis of the cognitive act itself. In short, the
synthesis of different elements in one thought must not be
compared with the permanence of one subject in many
thoughts as one continuous reaUty. Yet this confusion is
made when the "synthetic unity" of consciousness is
made a sufficient ground for the unity of the soul in all its

Just as the subject is not as such the permanent self,
but is any " passing thought " of that self, so the self is not
as such subject. That is to say, though it is continually
acting as subject in this or that intellectual activity, it is
also as constantly object — and object to other thoughts, other
phases of itself. The self in different times or in different
relations is indeed now subject and now object, and in them
the two ideas come together without contradiction. And by
becoming object the self does not cease to be self. That very
act of it which appears now as subject figures next moment
as object. Granting a single self in all acts of thought, this

' I am not able, for reasons before given, to go tie whole length and say
that it is by this process that we know them ; but I need not raise this question
here. I will take acts involving relation as typical of the thought process, and
discuss the question on that ground.

*I need not further labour a point which has been so well made by Professor
Seth {Hegelianism and Personality, chap. i. , etc. ) and Professor James {Principles
of Psychology, vol. i. chap. 2.).



possibility follows from those very facts by which we know of
the existence of a subject in the first place.

2. Our notions, then, of the "self" having to be derived
from experience, i.e. the analysis of observed facts and their
postulates, and there being no initial logical difficulty in the
way of such analysis, the conception of the self becomes at
least a possibility. It remains to ask what light experience
throws on it as an actuality. In what way does the self
appear to us when we analyse our experience ?

(i.) As with objects of sight and touch, so with feelings ;
apprehension gives us not only individual facts but totalities.
I am able to observe my own consciousness. How or why I
have that power may be inexplicable, but the fact remains
that I do so, and from that fact we start. This observation
reveals to me, not single perceptions, thoughts, or feelings
only, but a union, sometimes a complex union, of such states
of consciousness. That which is feeling hungry is also attend-
ing to certain written words, and at the same time has its
attention distracted by the crowing of a neighbouring cock.
All this — though the use of general terms involves strictly the
formation of qualitative judgments — is, as the subject of such
judgment, matter of immediate observation, just as is the union
of attributes in the material thing. The form of union, how-
ever, is not wholly the same. In the case of contents of
vision, touch, etc., the point of unity is occupancy of one
portion of space at one moment. In the present case the
contents considered occupy the same moment and vaguely the
same space — that is to say, they are referred in every case to
some portion or other of the body, and in many cases to the
head. But even in the last case the local reference is too
vague to be considered as constituting an apprehended unity
in the strictness required for our purpose ; it is rather the fact
of consciousness itself which is given to our self-observation
as a single fact. A single consciousness of a variety of objects
is the best general characterisation of the particular totality
under consideration.

(ii.) If we apprehend unity of consciousness in individual
moments, we are also directly aware of its continuity through
spaces of time.^ This knowledge is the fruit of a construction
of memory and of the present, but may be as clear as any
other memory synthesis. Thus I have a very vivid re-
membrance of the stream of my own consciousness in the pain
or pleasure that I have just passed through, in the train of
thought that I have just brought to a close, or even in the
^ Cf. on what follows, James, vol. i. chap. x. esp. pp. 334-336.


sequence of perceptions to which I have been attending. That
the unity so "constructed" is truly the unity of my
consciousness is definitely proved by the case where there are
breaches in the continuity of the contents of that consciousness
regarded in abstraction from myself as attending to them.
When sound and pause, or feeling and thought, are inter-
woven, it is only the thread of continuous attention collected
in memory as having run through all that gives them
for me any unity. The permanence of consciousness through
certain periods of time, therefore, is matter of memory and con-

(iii.) The life of consciousness is broken normally by sleep
and abnormally by various other forms of unconsciousness, so
that continuity of consciousness through life as a whole cannot
be directly given to our observation. What, then, does memory
mean by its asseveration that a fact of yesterday was a state of
my feeUng, a thought of my intelligence ? This judgment is
clear enough as long as the " me " is a definite given continuous
whole which, like any other whole, has states and conditions,
temporary or permanent, which stand to it in the relation
expressed in language in terms of possession. Clearly, the
memory-judgment extends this continuity and possession be-
yond the intervals of unconsciousness as far back as its own
powers reach. That is to say, I treat the consciousness of
yesterday as forming somehow one continuous whole with the
consciousness of to-day. On what ground do I do this ? In
what way do these different streams of consciousness form one
intelligible whole ?

First, all my conscious life has, after all, an element of
continuity. It is true that coTisciousness itself is discontinuous.
But the interval of sleep is not such as to break up the con-
tinuous serial order in which the facts of waking life are
arranged in my memory. Sleep, or at least dreamless sleep,
is in a way a mere blank, but it is a blank which memory
finds interpolated between two elements of the conscious series
parting them by a more or less definite interval, but preserving
them in a fixed temporal order. The last waking thought
before I went to sleep and the first glimpse of sunlight this
morning are for my memory related in time, separated by an
interval which seems to me of some length. That our measure
of the time we have slept is very inaccurate I am quite aware.
With some persons, or on some occasions, it is more accurate
than with other persons or on other occasions. But most
people, I take it, when they awake, have, if they think of it, a
certain " feeling of the time " that they have been asleep — a sense


of the duration that has elapsed. Now, with the degree of
accuracy of this measurement we are not concerned. Our
point is, that if we are to give a correct account of the memory
continuum we must think of it as an ordered series of facts — a
temporal continuum in which successive series of conscious
activities alternate with intervals of unconsciousness. This
total history of consciousness is the self as memory gives it me.
When I say that I did such and such a thing, I mean that the
activity in question finds a place in that series. This series of
facts is the " me," and it is the same, in the sense, at least, of
heing continuous with, the " I " which now thinks.

But have we not proved too much ? Surely in this series
every fact that has entered into my knowledge is contained.
All that I know or have heard of, from the motions of binary
stars to the bacon I had for breakfast, from palaeolithic man
to the advent of social democracy, all surely is included in
this vast vague series of my experiences. Now, it is true that
my consciousness has in a way to do with all these things, but
in what way ? Aristotle's ^ •4'u%i5 ra ovto, ttws san •ko.vtu, is im-
objectionable if we are allowed to define the little word tws
just as we like. But, in truth, any given . element of the
external world is a fact of our experience only in the sense that
it was once present to our consciousness, that our consciousness
was once aware of it. Our experience is an ambiguous ex-
pression. On the one hand, it means all that has been within
the scope of our apprehension ; if we extend this by inference,
all that has been within the scope of our thought. It is then
potentially -rk •:;6.ntt.. But in another sense it means the series
of our own apprehensions, thoughts, etc., regarded as states of
our consciousness. It is true, as we saw in our last chapter,
that these states are qualified, and qualified in accordance
with the facts with which they deal. The series of conscious
activities is not a row of conscious states in the abstract, but of
definitely qualified acts, each with a filling of its own. This
filling, however, is not its object but its content. Not paleo-
lithic man, but any thoughts I may have had about him, enter
into my memory series as my sdf. I remember the battle of
Waterloo and its date — I remember in the sense that havin^
once learned I can always assert as an objective fact that it
was fought on June 18th, 1815. I remember, perhaps, having
learned this as an experience of my conscious self in childhood.
Thus the external realities with which from time to time I have
been in contact are remembered, but, for reasons explained, are
referred to a substantial reality other than the series of con-


The conscious series, then, not the whole mass of facts
with which that series has had to deal, is the whole which
forms my self. But this series, we have seen, contains intervals
of unconsciousness, and hence we cannot take the fact of a per-
sistent, conscious activity, as equivalent to the self. .Not
conscious activity, but the history of consciousness as remem-
bered, its persistence in states of all kinds, its lapses and its
reappearance, form the primary self of memory. But if we
allow that consciousness is ever non-existent, is it not many
consciousnesses rather than one which our memory reviews ?
If we adopted that form of words we should still say that all
those consciousnesses together form myself. There is no
consciousness other than my own given in memory. By self
I mean the totality of consciousness with its lapses — all the
consciousness and all the unconsciousness — that I can re-
member. This is the history which prima facie forms the self.
But this, it may be objected, is a merely verbal answer.
The underlying question is not whether the self is a name for
a certain total stream of fact, but whether this whole is in any
real sense a unity. And here our dilemma seems serious. On
the one hand, the only constant intelligible feature to which we
are able to point as giving meaning to our term " self " is the
fact of consciousness. On the other hand, this fact cannot be
regarded as persisting unchanged. It changes in the vital and
complete way of totally disappearing at intervals. If, then,
consciousness is not continuous, but recurrent, there will be
many consciousnesses within our memory series ; and if con-
sciousness = self, there will be many selves. It is useless to
retort that there is a qualitative identity in the different
manifestations of consciousness. This is merely to cover up a
difficulty under a fallacy. Qualitative identity means complete
resemblance ; and points of complete resemblance there doubt-
less are through all phases of the conscious life. But
resemblance is found in many distinct, individual things, and
is no sufficient criterion of individual sameness. When we
think of the self as one we do not think of it as a number of
quite similar consciousnesses. We think of it as one persistent
individual ; and the question now is, whether we are entitled so
to think of it. It will appear at once that since consciousness
is not as such continuous, we can only be warranted in think-
ing of it as really one, if we have ground for taking it as an
element in a single persistent whole. There must be other
conditions really permanent to make up this whole. If there
is such a whole in which consciousness is a part, there is one
true self; and in thinking of myself as an unity I postulate


such a whole. We have now to consider on what this postulate

(iv.) So far we have exhibited the self as what we may-
call a de facto temporal continuum in which there is no single
sensible fact permanent throughout, but a rhythmic recurrence

^ In the above account I am the viotim of a double disagi-eement with Mr.
Bradley, from whose account of the self I have learned much. First, I cannot
agree with him there is no definite and intelligible fact, or set of facts, referred

Online LibraryL. T. (Leonard Trelawny) HobhouseThe theory of knowledge; a contribution to some problems of logic and metaphysics → online text (page 62 of 69)