Studies in Hegelian Cosmology. John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart 1901

Chapter IX: The Further Determination of the Absolute

265. The progress of an idealistic philosophy may, from some points of view, be divided into three stages. The problem of the first is to prove that reality is not exclusively matter. The problem of the second is to prove that reality is exclusively spirit. The problem of the third is to determine what is the fundamental nature of spirit.

The result of the second stage, though comprehensive, is still abstract, and is therefore defective even from a theoretical point of view. It does not enable us to see the ultimate nature of the universe, and to perceive that it is rational and righteous. We only know in an abstract way that it must be rational and righteous, because it fulfils the formal condition of rationality and righteousness – harmony between the nature of the universal and the nature of the individual. Such a skeleton is clearly not complete knowledge. And it is therefore, to some extent, incorrect and inadequate knowledge; for it is knowledge of an abstraction only, while the truth, as always, is concrete. The content of the universe has not been produced by, or in accordance with, a self-subsistent law. It is the individual content of the universe which is concrete and self-subsistent, and the law is an abstraction of one side of it, with which we cannot be contented. From a theoretical point of view, then, the assertion of the supremacy of spirit is comparatively empty, unless we can determine the fundamental nature of spirit.

266. The practical importance of this determination is not less. As a guide to life, the knowledge of the absolutely desirable end is, no doubt, not without drawbacks. A certain degree of knowledge, of virtue, and of happiness, is appropriate and possible for every stage of the process of spirit. By the aid of reflection we may perceive the existence of a stage much higher than that in which we are. But the knowledge that we shall reach it some day is not equivalent to the power of reaching it at once.

We are entitled to as much perfection as we are fit for, and it is useless to demand more. An attempt to live up to the Supreme Good, without regard to present circumstances, will be not only useless, but, in all probability, actually injurious. The true course of our development at present is mostly by thesis and antithesis, and efforts to become perfect as the crow flies will only lead us into some blind alley from which we shall have to retrace our steps.

Nevertheless, the knowledge of the goal to which we are going may occasionally, if used with discretion, be a help in directing our course. It will be something if we can find out which parts of our experience are of value per se, and can be pursued for their own sake, and which parts are merely subsidiary. For however long it may take us to reach the Absolute, it is sometimes curiously near us in isolated episodes of life, and our attitude towards certain phases of consciousness, if not our positive actions, may be materially affected by the consideration of the greater or less adequacy with which those phases embody reality.

And a more complete determination of the nature of spirit would not be unimportant with regard to its effect on our happiness. The position from which we start has indeed already attained to what may be called the religious standpoint. It assures us of an ultimate solution which shall only differ from our present highest ideals and aspirations by far surpassing them. From a negative point of view, this is complete, and it is far from unsatisfactory as a positive theory. But it is probable that, if so much knowledge is consoling and inspiriting, more knowledge would be better. It is good to know that reality is better than our expectations.

It might be still better to be able at once to expect the full good that is coming. If the truth is so good, our hopes may well become more desirable in proportion as they become more defined.

In other ways, too, more complete knowledge might conduce to our greater happiness. For there are parts of our lives which, even as we live them, seem incomplete and merely transitory, having no value unless they lead on to something better. And there are parts of our lives which seem so fundamental, so absolutely desirable in themselves, that we could not anticipate without pain their absorption into some higher perfection, as yet unknown to us, and that we demand that they shall undergo no further change, except an increase in purity and intensity. Now we might be able to show of the first of these groups of experiences that they are, in fact, mere passing phases, with meaning only in so far as they lead up to and are absorbed in something higher. And we might even be able to show of the second that they are actually fundamental, lacking so far in breadth and depth, but in their explicit nature already revealing the implicit reality. If we can do this, and can justify the vague longings for change on the one hand, and for permanence on the other, which have so much effect on our lives, the gain to happiness which will result will not be inconsiderable.

267. We have already found reason to hold that spirit is ultimately made up of various finite individuals, each of which finds his character and individuality in his relations to the rest, and in his perception that they are of the same nature as himself. In this way the Idea in each individual has as its object the Idea in other individuals.[139] We must now enquire in what manner those individuals will be able to express, at once and completely, their own individuality and the unity of the Absolute.

Human consciousness presents three aspects – knowledge, volition, and feeling, i.e., pleasure and pain. Knowledge and volition are correlative methods of endeavouring to obtain that unity between individuals which is the perfection of spirit, while feeling is not so much a struggle towards the goal as the result of the process, so far as it has gone.

Through knowledge and volition we gain harmony, and, according as we have gained it more or less completely, our feeling is pleasurable or painful. The absence of any independent movement of feeling renders it unnecessary, for the present, to consider it separately.

I shall first enquire what general aspect would be presented by spirit, if we suppose knowledge and volition to have become as perfect as possible. It will then be necessary to ask whether knowledge and volition are permanent and ultimate forms of the activity of spirit. I shall endeavour to show that they are not, that they both postulate, to redeem them from paradox and impossibility, an ideal which they can never reach, and that their real truth and meaning is found only in a state of consciousness in which they themselves, together with feeling, are swallowed up and transcended in a more concrete unity. This unity I believe to be essentially the same as that mental state which, in the answer to our first question, we shall find to be the practically interesting aspect of knowledge and volition in their highest perfection as such. This state will thus have been shown to be, not only the supremely valuable element of reality, but also the only true reality, of which all other spiritual activities are but distortions and abstractions, and in which they are all transcended. It will not only be the highest truth but the sole truth. We shall have found the complete determination of spirit, and therefore of reality.

268. Let us turn to the first of these questions and consider what would be our attitude towards the universe, when both knowledge and volition had reached perfection. To answer this we must first determine in rather more detail what would be the nature of perfect knowledge and volition.

In the first place we must eliminate knowledge as the occupation of the student. The activity and the pleasure which lie in the search after knowledge can, as such, form no part of the Absolute. For all such activity implies that some knowledge has not yet been gained, and that the ideal, therefore, has not yet been reached. The ideal must be one, not of learning, but of knowing.

And the knowledge itself must be greatly changed. At present much of our knowledge directly relates to matter; all of it is conditioned and mediated by matter. But if the only absolute reality is spirit, then, when knowledge is perfect, we must see nothing but spirit everywhere. We must have seen through matter till it has disappeared. How far this could be done merely by greater knowledge on our part, and how far it would be necessary for the objects themselves, which we at present conceive as matter, to develop explicitly qualities now merely implicit, is another question, but it is clear that it would have to be done, one way or another, before knowledge could be said to be perfect.

Nor is this all. Not only all matter, but all contingency, must be eliminated. At present we conceive of various spirits – and even of spirit in general – as having qualities for which we can no more find a rational explanation than we can for the primary qualities of matter, or for its original distribution in space. But this must disappear in perfected knowledge.

For knowledge demands an explanation of everything, and if, at, the last, we have to base our explanation on something left unexplained, we leave our system incomplete and defective.

Explanation essentially consists of arguments from premises; and it would seem therefore that such perfection could never be attained, since each argument which explained anything must rest upon an unexplained foundation, and so on, ad infinitum. And it is true that we can never reach a point where the question “Why?” can no longer be asked. But we can reach a point where it becomes unmeaning, and at this point knowledge reaches the highest perfection of which, as knowledge, it is susceptible.

The ideal which we should then have reached would be one in which we realised the entire universe as an assembly of spirits, and recognized that the qualities and characteristics, which gave to each of these spirits its individuality, did not lie in any contingent or non-rational peculiarity in the individual himself, but were simply determined by his relations to all other individuals. These relations between individuals, again, we should not conceive as contingent or accidental, so that the persons connected formed a mere miscellaneous crowd. We should rather conceive them as united by a pattern or design, resembling that of a picture or organism, so that every part of it was determined by every other part, in such a manner that from any one all the others could, with sufficient insight, be deduced, and that no change could be made in any without affecting all. This complete interdependence is only approximately realised in the unity which is found in aesthetic or organic wholes, but in the Absolute the realisation would be perfect. As the whole nature of every spirit would consist exclusively in the expression of the relations of the Absolute, while those relations would form a whole, in which each part, and the whole itself, would be determined by each part, it follows that any fact in the universe could be deduced from any other fact, or from the nature of the universe as a whole.

269. If knowledge reached this point, the only question which could remain unanswered would be the question, “Why is the universe as a whole what it is, and not something else?” And this question could not be answered. We must not, however, conclude from this the existence of any want of rationality in the universe. The truth is that the question ought never to have been asked, for it is the application of a category, which has only meaning within the universe, to the universe as a whole.

Of any part we are entitled and bound to ask “why,” for, by the very fact that it is a part, it cannot be self-subsistent, and must depend on other things. But when we come to an all-embracing totality, then, with the possibility of finding a cause, there disappears also the necessity of finding one. Self-subsistence is not in itself a contradictory or impossible idea. It is contradictory if applied to anything in the universe, for whatever is in the universe must be in connection with other things. But this can of course be no reason for suspecting a fallacy when we find ourselves obliged to apply the idea to something which has nothing outside it with which it could stand in connection. To put the matter in another light, we must consider that the necessity of finding causes and reasons for phenomena depends on the necessity of showing why they have assumed the particular form which actually exists. The enquiry is thus due to the possibility of things happening otherwise than as they did, which possibility, to gain certain knowledge, must be excluded by assigning definite causes for one event rather than the others. Now every possibility must rest on some actuality. And the possibility that the whole universe could be different would have no such actuality to rest on, since the possibility extends to all reality. There would be nothing in common between the two asserted alternatives, and thus the possibility of variation would be unmeaning. And therefore there can be no reason to assign a determining cause.

The necessity which exists for all knowledge to rest on the immediate does not, then, indicate any imperfection which might prove a bar to the development of spirit. For we have seen that the impulse which causes us even here to demand fresh mediation is unjustified, and, indeed, meaningless.

But we shall have to consider, in the second part of this chapter, whether the possibility of making even the unjustified demand does not indicate that for complete harmony we must go on to something which embraces and transcends knowledge.

270. Let us now pass on to the ideal of volition. We must in the first place exclude, as incompatible with such an ideal, all volition which leads to action. For action implies that you have not something which you want, or that you will be deprived of it if you do not fight for it, and both these ideas are fatal to the fundamental and complete harmony between desire and environment which is necessary to the perfect development of spirit.

Nor can virtue have a place in our ideal, even in the form of aspiration.

Together with every other imperfection, it must be left outside the door of heaven. For virtue implies a choice, and choice implies either uncertainty or conflict. In the realised ideal neither of these could exist.

We should desire our truest and deepest well-being with absolute necessity, since there would be nothing to deceive and tempt us away. And we should find the whole universe conspiring with us to realise our desire.

The good would be ipso facto the real, and virtue would have been transcended.

The ideal of volition is rather the experience of perfect harmony between ourselves and our environment which excludes alike action and choice. This involves, in the first place, that we should have come to a clear idea as to what the fundamental demands and aspirations of our nature are. Till we have done this we cannot expect harmony. All other desires will be in themselves inharmonious, for, driven on by the inevitable dialectic, they will show themselves imperfect, transitory, or defective, when experienced for a sufficiently long time, or in a sufficiently intense degree. And, besides this, the very fact that the universe is fundamentally of the nature of spirit, and therefore must be in harmony with us when we have fully realised our own natures, proves that it cannot be permanently in harmony with us as long as our natures remain imperfect. For such a harmony with the imperfect would be an imperfection, out of which it would be forced by its own dialectic.

And this harmony must extend through the entire universe. If everything (or rather everybody) in the universe is not in harmony with us our ends cannot be completely realised. For the whole universe is connected together, and every part of it must have an effect, however infinitesimal, upon every other part. Our demands must be reconciled with, and realised by, every other individual.

And, again, we cannot completely attain our own ends unless everyone else has attained his own also. For, as was mentioned in the last paragraph, we cannot attain our own ends except by becoming in perfect harmony with the entire universe. And this we can only do in so far as both we and it have become completely rational. It follows that for the attainment of our ends it would be necessary for the entire universe to have explicitly developed the rationality which is its fundamental nature. And by this self-development every other individual, as well as ourselves, would have attained to the perfection of volition. Moreover, looking at the matter more empirically, we may observe that some degree of sympathy seems inherent to our nature, so that our pleasure in someone else’s pain, though often intense, is never quite unmixed. And on this ground also our complete satisfaction must involve that of all other people.

271. We have now determined the nature of perfected knowledge and volition, as far as the formal conditions of perfection will allow us to go. What is the concrete and material content of such a life as this? I believe it means one thing, and one thing only – love. I do not mean benevolence, even in its most empassioned form. I do not mean the love of Truth, or Virtue, or Beauty, or anything else whose name can be found in a dictionary. I do not mean sexual desire. And I do mean passionate, all-absorbing, all-consuming love.

For let us consider. We should find ourselves in a world composed of nothing but individuals like ourselves. With these individuals we should have been brought into the closest of all relations, we should see them, each of them, to be rational and righteous. And we should know that in and through these individuals our own highest aims and ends were realised. What else does it come to? To know another person thoroughly, to know that he conforms to my highest standards, to feel that through him the end of my own life is realised – is this any thing but love? Such a result would come all the same, I think, if we only looked at the matter from the point of view of satisfied knowledge, leaving volition out of account. If all reality is such as would appear entirely reasonable to us if we knew it completely, if it is all of the nature of spirit, so that we, who are also of that nature, should always find harmony in it, then to completely know a person, and to be completely known by him, must surely end in this way. No doubt knowledge does not always have that result in every-day life. But that is incomplete knowledge, under lower categories and subject to unremoved contingencies, which, from its incompleteness, must leave the mind unsatisfied. Perfect knowledge would be different. How much greater would the difference be if, besides the satisfaction attendant on mere knowledge, we had realised that it was through the people round us that the longings and desires of our whole nature were being fulfilled.

This would, as it seems to me, be the only meaning and significance of perfected spirit. Even if knowledge and volition still remained, their importance would consist exclusively in their producing this result. For it is only in respect of the element of feeling in it that any state can be deemed to have intrinsic value. This is of course not the same thing as saying that we only act for our own greatest happiness, or even that our own greatest happiness is our only rational end. I do not deny the possibility of disinterested care for the welfare of others. I only assert that the welfare of any person depends upon the feeling which is an element of his consciousness. Nor do I assert that a quantitative maximum of pleasure is the Supreme Good. It is possible that there may be qualitative differences of pleasure which might make a comparatively unpleasant state more truly desirable than one in which the pleasure was far greater.

But this does not interfere with the fact that it is only with regard to its element of feeling that any state can be held to be intrinsically desirable.

272. Perfected knowledge and volition, taken in connection with the consequent feeling, not only produce personal love, but, as it seems to me, produce nothing else. There are, it is true, many other ways in which knowledge and volition produce pleasure. There are the pleasures of learning, and of the contemplation of scientific truth; there are the pleasures of action, of virtue, and of gratified desire. But these all depend on the imperfect stages of development in which knowledge and volition are occupied with comparatively abstract generalities. Now all general laws are abstractions from, and therefore distortions of, the concrete reality, which is the abstract realised in the particular. When we fail to detect the abstract in the particular, then, no doubt, the abstract has a value of its own – is as high or higher than the mere particular. But when we see the real individual, in whom the abstract and the particular are joined, we lose all interest in the abstract as such. Why should we put up with an inadequate falsehood when we can get the adequate truth? And feeling towards an individual who is perfectly known has only one form.

273. But what right have we to talk of love coming as a necessary consequence of anything? Is it not the most unreasoning of all things, choosing for itself, often in direct opposition to what would seem the most natural course? I should explain the contradiction as follows. Nothing but perfection could really deserve love. Hence, when it comes in this imperfect world, it only comes in cases in which one is able to disregard the other as he is now – that is, as he really is not – and to care for him as he really is – that is, as he will be. Of course this is only the philosopher’s explanation of the matter. To the unphilosophic object to be explained it simply takes the form of a conviction that the other person, with all his faults, is somehow in himself infinitely good – at any rate, infinitely good for his friend. The circumstances which determine in what cases this strange dash into reality can be made are not known to us. And so love is unreasonable. But only because reason is not yet worthy of it. Reason cannot reveal – though in philosophy it may predict – the truth which alone can justify love. When reason is perfected, love will consent to be reasonable.

274. Fantastic as all this may seem, the second part of my subject, on which I must now enter, will, I fear, seem much worse. I have endeavoured to-prove that all perfect life would lead up to and culminate in love. I want now to go further, and to assert that, as life became perfect, all other elements would actually die away – that knowledge and volition would disappear, swallowed up in a higher reality, and that love would reveal itself, not only as the highest thing, but as the only thing, in the universe.

If we look close enough we shall find, I think, that both knowledge and volition postulate a perfection to which they can never attain; that consequently if we take them as ultimate realities we shall be plunged into contradictions, and that the only way to account for them at all is to view them as moments or aspects of a higher reality which realises the perfections they postulate. This perfection lies in the production of a complete harmony between the subject and the object, by the combination of perfect unity between them with perfect discrimination of the one from the other. And this, as I shall endeavour to prove, is impossible without transcending the limits of these two correlative activities.

275. In the first place, is it possible that the duality which makes them two activities, rather than one, can be maintained in the Absolute? For, if it cannot be maintained, then knowledge and volition would both be merged in a single form of spirit. The object of both is the same – to produce the harmony described in Hegel’s definition of the Absolute Idea. What is it that separates them from one another, and is the separation one which can be considered as ultimate?

276. The most obvious suggestion is that volition leads directly to action, while knowledge does so only indirectly, by effecting volition. If however we look more closely we shall find that this is not a sufficient distinction. We may perhaps leave out of account the fact that a desire, however strong, does not provoke us to action if it is for something which we know is perfectly impossible, or for something which no action can effect. No action is produced by a desire that two and two may make five, or by a desire that the wind may blow from the west. But even in cases where the process of development is taking place, and the harmony between desire and reality is being gradually brought about, it is by no means always the case that it is brought about by action. There are two other alternatives. It may be brought about by a discovery in the field of knowledge, which reveals a harmony which had previously escaped observation. Discovery is itself, certainly, an action. But it is not the act of discovery which here produces the harmony, but the truth which it reveals, and the truth is not an action. We have not gained the harmony because we have changed the environment, but because we have understood it. And the act of discovery is the result of our desire to understand, not of our desire for the result discovered.

The other possible means of reconciliation is by the desire changing itself into conformity with the environment, either through an intellectual conviction that the previous desire was mistaken, or by that process of dialectic development inherent in finite desires.

Let us suppose, for example, that a desire that vindictive justice should exhibit itself in the constitution of the universe finds itself in conflict with the fact, known by empirical observation, that the wicked often prosper. Some degree of harmony between desires and facts may be obtained in this case by means of action as affecting the political and social environment. But this alone could never realise the demand. We have, however, two other possible methods of reconciliation. Philosophy or theology may assure us that there is a future life, and that in it our desires will be fulfilled. Or our notions of the desirable may develop in such a way as no longer to require that the universe should exhibit vindictive justice. In either case we should have attained to harmony without action following as a consequence of our volition.

277. Or, secondly, it may be suggested that the distinction lies in the activity or passivity of the mind. In knowledge, it might be said, our object is to create a picture in our minds, answering to the reality which exists outside them, and based on data received from external sources.

Since the test of the mental picture is its conformity to the external reality, the mind must be passive. On the other hand, in volition the mind supplies an ideal by means of which we measure external reality.

If the reality does not correspond to our desires, we condemn it as unsatisfactory, and, if the thwarted desires belong to our moral nature, we condemn it as wrong. Here, it might be urged, the mind is in a position of activity.

There is unquestionably some truth in this view. The greater weight is certainly laid, in knowledge on the external object, in volition on the consciousness of the agent. But we must seek a more accurate expression of it. For the mind is not passive in knowledge, nor purely active in volition. In considering the last argument we saw that the harmony may be produced, wholly or in part, by the alteration of the desires till they coincide with the facts. In so far as this is the case, the mind is in a more or less passive position, and is altered by external facts, whether the result comes from arguments drawn from the existence of those facts, or by reaction from the contact with them in actual life.

We may go further, and say, not only that this may happen in some cases, but that it must happen in all cases to some extent. For otherwise in the action of mind on the environment we should have left no place for any reaction, and by doing so should deny the reality of that member of the relation which we condemn to passivity. But if the as yet unharmonized environment was unreal, as compared with the as yet unembodied ideal, the process would cease to exist. If the environment has no existence our demands cannot be said to be realised in it. If it has real existence, it must react on our demands. Nor, again, can it be said that the mind is purely passive in knowledge.

The data which it receives from outside are subsumed under categories which belong to the nature of the mind itself, and the completed knowledge is very different from the data with which it began. Indeed if we attempt to consider the data before any reaction of the mind has altered them we find that they cannot enter into consciousness – that is, they do not exist.

278. Let us make one more effort to find a ground of distinction. I believe that we may succeed with the following statement – in knowledge we accept the facts as valid and condemn our ideas if they do not agree with the facts; in volition we accept our ideas as valid, and condemn the facts if they do not agree with our ideas.

Suppose a case of imperfect harmony. The first thing, of course, is to recognize that there is something wrong somewhere. But, when we have realised this, what can we do? Since the two sides, the facts and our ideas, are not in harmony, we cannot accept both as valid. To accept neither as valid would be impossible – because self-contradictory – scepticism and quietism. We must accept one and reject the other. Now in knowledge we accept the facts as valid, and condemn our ideas, in so far as they differ from the facts, as mistaken. In volition, on the other hand, we accept our ideas as valid, and condemn the facts, in so far as they differ from our ideas, as wrong. If, for example, it should appear to us that a rational and righteous universe would involve our personal immortality, while there were reasons to believe that we were not personally immortal, then we should have to take up a double position. On the one hand we should be bound to admit that our longing for immortality would not be gratified, however intense it might be. On the other hand we should be bound to assert that the universe was wrong in not granting our desires, however certain it was that they would not be granted.

Of course this assumes that every effort has been made to produce the harmony. We are not entitled to condemn the universe as evil on account of an unfulfilled desire, until we have carefully enquired if it is a mere caprice, or really so fundamental a part of our nature that its realisation is essential to permanent harmony. And we are not bound to condemn our ideas as untrue because the facts seem against them at first sight.

279. I am far from wishing to assert that any want of harmony really exists. Such a view would be quite contrary to Hegel’s philosophy.

But we must all acknowledge that in a great number of particular cases we are quite unable to see how the harmony exists, although on philosophical grounds we may be certain that it must exist somehow.

And, besides, even in some cases where we may intellectually perceive the harmony, our nature may not be so under the control of our reason, as to enable us to feel the harmony, if it happens to conflict with our passions. In all these cases it will be necessary to deal with an apparent want of harmony, and in all these cases we must give the facts the supremacy in the sphere of knowledge and the ideas the supremacy in the sphere of volition.

One of our most imperative duties is intellectual humility – to admit the truth to be true, however unpleasant or unrighteous it may appear to us. But, correlative, to this duty, there is another no less imperative – that of ethical self-assertion. If no amount of “ought” can produce the slightest “is,” it is no less true that no amount of “is” can produce the slightest “ought.” It is of the very essence of human will, and of that effort to find the fundamentally desirable which we call morality, that it claims the right to judge the whole universe. This is the categorical imperative of Kant. We find it again in Mill’s preference of hell to worship of an unjust deity. Nor is it only in the interests of virtue as such that the will is categorical. Pleasure is no more to be treated lightly than virtue. If all the powers of the universe united to give me one second’s unnecessary toothache, I should not only be entitled, but bound, to condemn them. We have no more right to be servile, than to be arrogant.

And while our desires must serve in the kingdom of the true, they rule in the kingdom of the good.

We must note in passing that we are quite entitled to argue that a thing is because it ought to be, or ought to be because it is, if we have once satisfied ourselves that the harmony does exist, and that the universe is essentially rational and righteous. To those who believe, for example, in a benevolent God, it is perfectly competent to argue that we must be immortal because the absence of immortality would make life a ghastly farce, or that toothache must be good because God sends it. It is only when, or in as far as, the harmony has not yet been established, that such an argument gives to God the things which are Caesar’s, and to Caesar the things which are God’s, to the embarrassment of both sides.

280. If we have now succeeded in finding the distinction between knowledge and volition, we must conclude that it is one which can have no place in the absolute perfection. For we have seen that the distinction turns upon the side of the opposition which shall give way, when there is opposition, and not harmony, between the subject and the object. In an Absolute there can be no opposition for there can be no want of harmony, as the Absolute is, by its definition, the harmony made perfect.

And not only can there be no want of harmony, but there can be no possibility that the harmony should ever become wanting. Everything must have a cause, and if it were possible that the harmony which exists at a given time should subsequently be broken, a cause must co-exist with the harmony capable of destroying it. When the harmony is universal, the cause would have to exist within it. Now when we speak of things which are only harmonious with regard to certain relations, or in a certain degree, we can speak of a harmony which carries within it the seeds of its own dissolution. Such is the life of an organism, which necessarily leads to death, or the system of a sun and planets, which collapses as it loses its energy. But when we come to consider a harmony which pervades objects in all their relations, and which is absolutely perfect, anything which could produce a disturbance in it would be itself a disturbance, and is excluded by the hypothesis. This will be seen more clearly if we remember that the harmony is one of conscious spirit. The consciousness must be all-embracing, and therefore the cause of the possible future disturbance must be recognized for what it is. And the possibility of such a disturbance must produce at once some degree of doubt, fear, or anxiety, which would, by itself and at once, be fatal to harmony.

It follows that, since not even the possibility of disturbance can enter into the Absolute, the distinction between knowledge and volition, depending as it does entirely on the course pursued when such a disturbance exists, becomes, not only irrelevant, but absolutely unmeaning.

And in that case the life of Spirit, when the Absolute has been attained, will consist in the harmony which is the essence of both knowledge and volition, but will have lost all those characteristics which differentiate them from one another, and give them their specific character.

281. Before passing on to further arguments, we must consider an objection which may be raised to what has been already said. This is that no trace of the asserted union of knowledge and volition is to be found in our experience. We often find, in some particular matter, a harmony which is, at any rate, so far complete that no want of it is visible, in which the self and the environment show no perceptible discordance.

And yet knowledge and volition, though in agreement, do not show the least sign of losing their distinctness. On the one hand we assert that a given content is real, and on the other that it is desirable.

But the difference of meaning between the predicates “true” and “good” is as great as ever.

But no harmony to which we can attain in the middle of a life otherwise inharmonious can ever be perfect, even over a limited extent. For the universal reciprocity which must exist between all things in the same universe would prevent anything from becoming perfect, until everything had done so. And a harmony between two imperfections could never be complete, since the imperfect remains subject to the dialectic, and is therefore transitory. Even supposing, however, that such a limited harmony could be perfect, it could never exclude the possibility of disturbance. The possibility was excluded in the case of a universal harmony, because the ground of disturbance could not exist within the harmony, and there was nowhere else for it to exist. But here such a ground might always be found outside. And while there is any meaning in even the possibility of a discrepancy between our ideas and the facts, there is no reason to expect the separation of knowledge and volition to cease.

282. Knowledge and volition, then, cannot remain separate in the Absolute, and therefore cannot remain themselves. Into what shall they be transformed? The only remaining element of consciousness is feeling, that is, pleasure and pain. This, however, will not serve our purpose.

It has nothing to do with objects at all, but is a pure self-reference of the subject. And this, while it makes it in some ways the most intimate and personal part of our lives, prevents it from ever being self-subsistent, or filling consciousness by itself. For our self-consciousness only develops by bringing itself into relation with its not-self. The definition of the Absolute Idea shows that the appreciation of an object is necessary to spirit. Feeling therefore is only an element in states of consciousness, not a state by itself. We are conscious of relations to an object, and in this consciousness we see an element of pleasure or pain.

But pleasure or pain by themselves can never make the content of our mind.

The one alternative left is emotion. For our present purpose, we may perhaps define emotion as a state of consciousness tinged with feeling, or rather, since feeling is never quite absent, a state of consciousness, in so far as it is tinged with feeling. Here we have all three elements of consciousness. We are aware of the existence of an object; since we are brought into relation with it, we recognize it as harmonising more or less with our desires; and we are conscious of pleasure or pain, consequent on the greater or less extent to which knowledge and volition have succeeded in establishing a harmony. This state of mind may be a mere aggregate of three independent activities. In that case it will be useless for us. But it may turn out to be the concrete unity from which the three activities gained their apparent independence by illegitimate abstraction. If so, it may not impossibly be the synthesis for which we are searching.

283. It is clear that no emotion can be the ultimate form of spirit, unless it regards all objects as individual spirits. For the dialectic shows us that, till we regard them thus, we do not regard them rightly. And the dialectic shows us, also, that we do not regard them rightly till we know them to be in complete harmony with ourselves, and with one another.

To regard all that we find round us as persons, to feel that their existence is completely rational, and that through it our own nature is realised, to experience unalloyed pleasure in our relations to them – this is a description to which only one emotion answers. We saw in the first part of this Chapter that the only value and interest of knowledge and volition, when pushed as far as they would go, lay in love. Here we go a step further. If anything in our present lives can resolve the contradictions inherent in knowledge and volition, and exhibit the truth which lies concealed in them, it must be love.

284. If this is to take place, love must transcend the opposition between knowledge and volition as to the side of the relation which is to be considered valid in case of discrepancy. Neither side in the Absolute must attain any pre-eminence over the other, since such pre-eminence has only meaning with regard to the possibility of imperfection.

Neither side has the pre-eminence in love. It is not essential to it that the subject shall be brought into harmony with the object, as in knowledge, nor that the object shall be brought into harmony with the subject, as in volition. It is sufficient that the two terms should be in harmony.

The subject refuses here to be forced into the abstract position of either slave or master. To conceive the relation as dependent on the conformity of the subject to the object would ignore the fact that the subject has an ideal which possesses its rights even if nothing corresponds to it in reality.

To conceive the relation, on the other hand, as dependent on the conformity of the object to the subject, would be to forget that the emotion directs itself towards persons and not towards their relations with us. When, as in volition, the harmony results from the conformity of the object to the subject, any interest in the object as independent can only exist in so far as it realises the end of the subject, and is so subordinate.

But here our interest in the object is not dependent on our interest in the subject. It is identical with it. We may as well be said to value ourselves because of our relation to the object, as the object because of its relation to ourselves.

This complete equilibrium between subject and object is the reason why love cannot be conceived as a duty on either side. It is not our duty to love others. (I am using love here in the sense in which it is used in every-day life, which was also Hegel’s use of it.[140]) It is not the duty of others to be loveable by us. In knowledge and volition, where one side was to blame for any want of harmony, there was a meaning in saying that the harmony ought to be brought about. But here, where the sides have equal rights, where neither is bound to give way, no such judgment can be passed. We can only say that the absence of the harmony proves the universe to be still imperfect.

And, as this harmony subordinates neither side to the other, it is so far qualified to express the Absolute completely. It needs for its definition no reference to actual or possible defects. It is self-balanced, and can be self-subsistent.

285. I now proceed to a second line of argument which leads to the same conclusion. Both knowledge and volition, I maintain, postulate an ideal which they can never reach, while they remain knowledge and volition. If this can be shown, it will follow that neither knowledge nor volition, as such, are compatible with the perfection of reality, but that, in that perfection, they will be transcended by some other state, which will realise the ideal of harmony which they can only demand.

286. It will be remembered that in Chapter II we came to the conclusion that our selves were fundamental differentiations of the Absolute because no other theory seemed compatible with the fact that a conscious self was a part which contained the whole of which it was part. In other words, the self contains much that is not-self. Indeed, with the exception of the abstraction of the pure I, all the content of the self is not-self, If we look at knowledge and volition, we see clearly that the element of the not-self is essential to them. To know implies that there is something known, distinct from the knowledge of it. To acquiesce implies that there is something in which we acquiesce, which is distinct from our acquiescence in it. Without the not-self, knowledge and volition would be impossible. But, with the not-self, can knowledge and volition ever be perfect? I do not think that they can ever be perfect, because they are incapable of harmonising the abstract element of not-self which, as we have seen, must always be found in their content. All the rest of the content of experience, no doubt, is capable of being harmonised by knowledge and volition. But what, as it seems to me, is impossible to harmonise is the characteristic of experience which makes it not-self – which makes it something existing immediately, and in its own right, not merely as part of the content of the knowing self.

This is, of course, only an abstraction. The pure not-self, like the pure self, cannot exist independently. It is a mere nonentity if it is separated from the other elements of experience – those which make the content of the, not-self. But though, like the pure self, it is an abstraction, it is, like the pure self, an indispensable abstraction. Without it our experience would not be not-self as well as self. And, if the experience was not as truly not-self as self, it could not, we have seen, be our experience at all.

287. What results follow from this element of the not-self? Let us first consider what happens in the case of knowledge, postponing volition.

The whole content of knowledge is permeated by an essential element which has only one characteristic – opposition to the self. It necessarily follows that a certain opposition seems to exist between the knowing self on the one hand, and the whole content of knowledge on the other.

But this opposition involves knowledge in a contradiction. For it is impossible to take them as really opposed. The knowing self is a mere abstraction without the content of knowledge, and the content of knowledge would not be knowledge at all without the knowing self. And yet, as was said above, it is impossible to get rid of the view that they are opposed. For the element of the abstract not-self, which is found in all the content of knowledge, is the direct contrary of the pure self.

288. It is to be expected that this contradiction will cause the mind, in the pursuit of knowledge, to encounter a difficulty which it at once sees to be unmeaning and yet cannot get rid of.

And this is what does happen. We have seen above[141] that when knowledge should have reached the greatest perfection of which it is capable, there would still remain one question unanswered, Why is the whole universe what it is, and not something else? We saw also that this question was illegitimate, as the possibility on which it rested was unmeaning.

For a possibility that the whole universe should be different from what it is would have no common ground with actuality, and is not a possibility at all. And yet this unmeaning doubt haunts all knowledge, and cannot be extirpated.

We are now able to see why this should be the case. The existence of the element of the not-self prevents a complete harmony between the self and the content of knowledge. The knowing self appears to stand on one side and the known universe on the other. And when the knowing self thus appears to be in a position of independence, there arises the delusion that in that self would be found an independent fixed point which would be the same, even if the whole known universe were different.

And then the possibility of a different known universe appears to be a real one. And, since no reason can, of course, be given why the universe is what it is, there appears to be a contingent and irrational element in reality.

We have seen that this is not a real possibility. And now we have another proof of its unreality. For the delusion that it is real is caused by the persistence of thought in considering its natural condition – the existence of the not-self – as its natural enemy. The existence of such a miscalled possibility, therefore, is no argument against the rationality of the universe. But it does tell against the adequacy of knowledge as an expression of the universe. By finding a flaw in perfection, where no flaw exists, knowledge pronounces its own condemnation. If the possibility is unmeaning, knowledge is imperfect in being compelled to regard it as a possibility.

289. It seems at first sight absurd to talk of knowledge as inadequate. If it were so, how could we know it to be so? What right have we to condemn it as imperfect, when no one but the culprit can be the judge? This is, no doubt, so far true, that if knowledge did not show us its own ideal, we could never know that it did not realise it. But there is a great difference between indicating an ideal and realising it. It is possible – and I have endeavoured to show that it is the fact – that knowledge can do the one and not the other. When we ask about the abstract conditions of reality, knowledge is able to demonstrate that harmony must exist, and that the element of the not-self is compatible with it, and essential to it. But when it is asked to show in detail how the harmony exists, which it has shown must exist, it is unable to do so. There is here no contradiction in our estimate of reason, but there is a contradiction in reason, which prevents us from regarding it as ultimate, and which forces us to look for some higher stage, where the contradiction may disappear.

290. An analogous defect occurs, from the same cause, in volition. The special characteristic of volition is, as we have seen, that it demands that the world shall conform to the ideals laid down by the individual. Volition, that is to say, demands that the content of experience shall be the means to the individual’s end. Unless this is so, volition cannot be perfect.

The assertion that perfect satisfaction requires us to consider everything else as a means to our own end may be doubted. Is there not such a thing as unselfish action? And in that highest content of satisfaction which we call moral good, is it not laid down by high authority that the fundamental law is to treat other individuals as ends and not as means? It is undoubtedly true that our satisfaction need not be selfish. But it must be self-regarding. Many of our desires are not for our own pleasure, – such as the desire to win a game, or to eat when we are hungry.

But these are still desires for our own good. If the result did not appear to us to be one which would be desirable for us, we should not desire it.

Put in this way, indeed, the fact that volition and its satisfaction are self-centred appears almost a truism. It is possible, again, that a sense of duty or a feeling of benevolence may determine as to unselfish action – to action painful to ourselves, which, apart from those feelings, we could not regard as our good. But such action implies that we do regard virtue, or the happiness of others, as our highest good. Even if we take Mill’s extreme case of going to hell, we must conceive that the following of virtue as long as possible, although the eventual result was eternal misery and degradation, presented itself to him as his highest good.

Self-sacrifice, strictly speaking, is impossible. We can sacrifice the lower parts of our nature. But if we were not actuated by some part of our nature, the action would cease to be ours. It would fall into the same class as the actions of lunacy, of hypnotism, of unconscious habit. The will is ours, and the motive which determines will must be a motive which has power for us. In other words our volition is always directed towards our own good, and has always ourselves for its end.

And this is not interfered with by the possibility and the obligation, which unquestionably exist, of regarding other individuals as ends. We may do this with the most absolute sincerity. But if we are asked why we do it, we do not find it an ultimate necessity. We insert another term.

We may perhaps ascribe our conduct to a sense of sympathy with others. In this case the reference to self is obvious. Or, taking a more objective position, we may say that we do it because it is right. Now the obligation of virtue is admitted by all schools to be internal. This is maintained alike by those who imagine it to be an empirical growth, and by those who suppose it eternal and fundamental to spirit. That virtue must be followed for its own sake is only another way of saying that we conceive virtue to be our highest good. Kant made the treatment of individuals as ends the primary law of morals. But the existence of morals depended on the Categorical Imperative. And the obligation of this on the moral agent – his recognition of it as binding – was equivalent to an assertion that he adopted it. The adoption must not be conceived as optional, or morality would become capricious; but it must be conceived as self-realisation, or it would be unmeaning to speak of the agent, or his motive, as virtuous.

291. Now the element of the not-self prevents volition from completely realising its ideal. For the whole significance of that element is that the experience into which it enters is not dependent on the self. (Not dependent must not be taken here as equivalent to independent. The true relation of the self and the not-self is one of reciprocal connection. And so it would be misleading, according to the common use of words, to say either that they were independent, or that either was dependent on the other.) It is not a mere means to the end of the self, it has its own existence, its own end.

292. The end of the self is not therefore, as such, supreme in the universe. Even if the universe is such as perfectly realises the self’s end, it does not do so because its purpose is to realise the self’s end, but because its own end and the self’s are the same. And this throws an appearance of contingency and sufferance over the satisfaction of the self which prevents it from being quite perfect.

As with the corresponding defect in knowledge, there is only an appearance of contingency. For the self and not-self are not isolated and independent. They are parts of the same universe, and the nature of each of them is to embody the unity of which they are both parts. Thus the relation of each to the other is not external and accidental, but of the very essence of both. And thus, again, the fact that the not-self realises the ends of the self is not contingent, but necessary to the very essence of the not-self.

The condemnation therefore does not fall on the nature of reality, but on volition, which is unable to realise the complete harmony, because it persists in regarding as a defect what is no defect. It is unable to realise the complete unity of the self with the not-self, and, since the not-self is not a mere means to the self, it can never get rid of the view that it is only accidentally a means, and so an imperfect means. Like knowledge, volition regards its essential condition – the existence of a not-self – as an imperfection. And therefore it can never realise its ideal.

293. To sum up. If this analysis has been correct, it will prove that neither knowledge nor volition can completely express the harmony of spirit, since their existence implies that spirit is in relation with a not-self, while their perfection would imply that they were not. At the same time the dialectic assures us that complete harmony must exist, since it is implied in the existence of anything at all. We must therefore look elsewhere to find the complete expression of the 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 alien. 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 we 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 differentiations 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 B 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 qualities, which would be an unreal abstraction. But it is the self which gives the interest to the qualities, and not the reverse. With the object of knowledge or volition 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 qualities 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 harmonizes 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 seem to depend on the existence of another person, in the same way as they unquestionably depend 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 believing 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 absurdity. 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 volition becomes 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-realisation. 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 inharmomous.

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-realisation as is the dependence of others on us. All through life 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 endeavoured to show, knowledge and volition 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."[142] 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 is not the case.

They are only two sides of the same reality. And thus we are entitled to say that the whole nature of the centres is to he 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 centres.

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; 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 individuals 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 completely 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 explicitly 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 valid, 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, will 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 recognizes his harmony with others, but this is not sufficient to constitute his separate nature. It is true that knowledge not only permits, but requires, the differentiation of the individuals. Nothing but 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 individuality 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 de ends on the limitations and imperfections of knowledge. A knows X, and B knows Y. Or else A believes X[1] to be the truth, While B believes the same of X[2]. 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 reality, and so came to the conclusion that the nature of A and B lay 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 necessary.

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 fé 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 acquiescing 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 both.

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 complies 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 establishment and maintenance 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 interconnection 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 completely absorbed in love – leaving no knowledge and volition untranscended – 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 intelligible, 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 communicating 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 be very possibly 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 require.

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 differs from an organism in being a closer and more vital unity than any organism can be. The various individuals, then, must be conceived as forming a differentiated 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 unreal, at any rate excessively unimportant, which does not belong to any other form of mental activity. But this is a matter of introspection which every person must decide for himself.

How such great and fundamental changes are to be made – how knowledge and volition are to pass into love, and a life in time into timelessness – may well perplex us. Even if we see the necessity of the transition, the manner in which it is to be effected would remain mysterious.

But all such transitions, we may reflect, must necessarily appear mysterious till they have taken place. The transition is from two relatively abstract ideas to a more comprehensive idea which synthesises them. Till the synthesis has taken place, the abstractions have not yet lost the false appearance of substantiality and independence which they acquired by their abstraction from the whole. Till the synthesis has taken place, therefore, the process by which the two sides lose their independence must appear something, which, though inevitable, is also inexplicable.

It is not till the change has been made that we are able to realise fully that all the meaning of the lower lay in the higher, and that what has been lost was nothing but delusion. So, in this case, we must remember that we are not constructing love out of knowledge and volition, but merely clearing away the mistakes which presented love to us in the form of knowledge and volition.

307. It may be said that the extent and intensity in which love enters into a man’s life is not a fair test of his perfection. We consider some people who have comparatively little of it as far higher than others who have much. And again – and this is perhaps a more crucial instance – we find cases in which we regard as a distinct advance a change in a man’s life which diminishes his devotion to individuals in comparison with his ardour for abstract truth or abstract virtue.

The existence of such cases cannot be denied, but need not, I think, be considered incompatible with what has been said. Any harmony which we can attain at present must be very imperfect, and postulates its own completion, at once because of its partial success and of its partial failure.

Now the principle of the dialectic is that spirit cannot advance in a straight line, but is compelled to tack from side to side, emphasising first one aspect of the truth, and then its complementary and contradictory aspect, and then finding the harmony between them. In so far, then, as the harmony is at any time imperfect, because it has not fully grasped the opposites to be reconciled, it can only advance by first grasping them, and then reconciling them. The difference must be first recognized, and then conquered, and between the first stage and the second the harmony will be impaired. The opposition may be between the abstract generality of religion and the abstract particularity of passion, it may be between the abstract submission of the search for truth and the abstract assertion of the search for good, it may be between abstract intensity deficient in breadth and abstract extension deficient in depth.

When any of these divisions happen the harmony will be broken, and yet the change will be an advance, since we shall have entered on the only path by which the harmony can be perfected. In that harmony alone we live. But here, as everywhere in this imperfect world, the old paradox holds good. Only he who loses his life shall find it.

308. The love of which we speak here cannot be what is generally called love of God. For love is of persons, and God, as we have seen, is a unity of persons, but not a personal unity. Nor can we say that it is God that we love in man. It is no more the merely divine than the merely human. The incarnation is not here a divine condescension, as in some religious systems. The abstractly universal is as much below the concrete individual as is the abstractly particular, and it is the concrete individual which alone can give us what we seek for.

Again, though differentiation has no right as against .the concrete whole, it is independent as against the element of unity. And, therefore, if we could come into relation with the element of unity as such, it would not connect us with the differentiated parts of the universe, and could not therefore be a relation adequately expressing all reality.

We can, if we choose, say that our love is in God, meaning thereby that it cannot, at its highest, be conceived as merely subjective and capricious, but that it expresses the order of the universe, and is conscious that it does so. It is more than religion, but it must include religion. But this is not love of God. The relation is between persons, and God is conceived only as the unity in which they exist.

309. If we cannot, properly speaking, love God, it is still more impossible to love mankind. For mankind is an abstraction too, and a far more superficial abstraction. If God was only an abstraction of the element of unity, at least he was an abstraction of the highest and most perfect unity, able to fuse into a whole the highest and most perfect differentiation. But mankind represents a far less vital unity. It is a common quality of individuals, but not, conceived merely as mankind, a living unity between them. The whole nature of the individual lies in his being a manifestation of God. But the unity of mankind is not a principle of which all the differences of individual men are manifestations.

The human race, viewed as such, is only an aggregate, not even an organism. We might as well try to love an indefinitely extended Post Office Directory. And the same will hold true of all subordinate aggregates – nations, churches, and families.

310. I have been using the word love, in this chapter, in the meaning which is given to it in ordinary life – as meaning the emotion which joins two particular persons together, and which never, in our experience, unites one person with more than a few others. This, as we have seen, was also Hegel’s use of the word.[143] At the same time we must guard against confounding it with the special forms which it assumes at present. At present it makes instruments of sexual desire, of the connection of marriage, or of the connection of blood. But these cannot be the ultimate forms under which love is manifested, since they depend on determining causes outside love itself. Love for which any cause can be assigned carries the marks of its own incompleteness upon it. For, when it is complete, all relations, all reality, will have been transformed into it. Thus there will be nothing left outside to determine it. Love is itself the relation which binds individuals together. Each relation it establishes is part of the ultimate nature of the unity of the whole. It does not require or admit of justification or determination by anything else. It is itself its own justification and determination. The nearest approach to it we can know now is the love for which no cause can be given, and which is not determined by any outer relation, of which we can only say that two people belong to each other – the love of the Vita Nuova and of In Memoriam.

311. No doubt an emotion which should be sufficient, both in extent and intensity, to grasp the entire universe, must be different in degree from anything of which we can now have experience. Yet this need not force us to allow any essential difference between the two, if the distinction is one of degree, and not of generic change. The attempt to imagine any communion so far-reaching – extending, as we must hold it to do, to all reality in the universe – is, no doubt, depressing, almost painful. [144]

But this arises, I think, from the inability, under which we lie at present, to picture the ideal except under the disguise of a “false infinite” of endless succession. However much we may know that the kingdom of heaven is spiritual and timeless, we cannot help imagining it as in time, and can scarcely help imagining it as in space. In this case the magnitude of the field to be included naturally appears as something alien and inimical to our power of including it. We are forced, too, since our imagination is limited by the stage of development in which we at present are, to give undue importance to the question of number, as applied to the individuals in the Absolute. If we look at it from this standpoint the most casual contemplation is bewildering and crushing.

But number is a very inadequate category. Even in everyday life we may see how number falls into the shade as our knowledge of the subject-matter increases. Of two points on an unlimited field we can say nothing but that they are two in number. But if we were considering the relation of Hegel’s philosophy to Kant’s or of Dante to Beatrice, the advance which we should make by counting them would be imperceptible. When everything is seen under the highest category, the Absolute Idea, this process would be complete. All lower categories would have been transcended, and all separate significance of number would have vanished.

And with it would vanish the dead weight of the vastness of the universe.

We must remember too, once more, that the Absolute is not an aggregate but a system. The multiplicity of the individuals is not, therefore, a hindrance in the way of establishing a harmony with any one of them, as might be the case if each was an independent rival of all the rest. It is rather to be considered as an assistance, since our relations with each will, through their mutual connections, be strengthened by our relations to all the rest.

312. The conclusions of this chapter are, no doubt, fairly to be called mystical. And a mysticism which ignored the claims of the understanding would, no doubt, be doomed. None ever went about to break logic, but in the end logic broke him. But there is a mysticism which starts from the standpoint of the understanding, and only departs from it in so far as that standpoint shows itself not to be ultimate, but to postulate something beyond itself. To transcend the lower is not to ignore it.

And it is only in this sense that I have ventured to indicate the possibility of finding, above all knowledge and volition, one all-embracing unity, which is only not true, only not good, because all truth and all goodness are but distorted shadows of its absolute perfection – “das Unbegreifliche, weil es der Begriff selbst ist.”