The Reality which thought posits and demands, then, is not 'unknowable.' For what thought thus demands is a character which in the developing syntheses of experience thought is progressively realising. The consummation of that development would be at once the realisation of the full nature of thought and the revelation of Reality. Thought and Reality are in the last resort one. And the thought that is one with Reality is not a thought divorced from the thought operative in our actual concrete experience, but simply the perfected development of that thought.
Now if this account has not been misleadingly brief, the point of the criticism to be here advanced will already be evident to the reader who has followed the contentions of the first chapter. I am entirely at one with the Idealist in insisting upon the substitution of 'identity in difference' for 'abstract self-identity' as the ideal of thought. But given this substitution, the Idealist supposes that there is now no barrier between the positive activity of thought, which consists in uniting differences, and the ideal of thought, which is unity or identity in difference. This assumption, so pregnant in metaphysical implications, it seems to me not possible to sustain. If I have been right, the manner in which thinking endeavours to unite differences is in principle incompatible with the ideal of unity in difference. In no thought-product can differences be united in the way in which they must be united in Reality. And the consequence is that Reality remains, as Kant held it to be, unknowable by thought: not, however, because thinking is unable to find expressed in its content the ideal of bare self-identity - the reason attributed to Kant - but because it cannot find expressed in its content the ideal of concrete unity in difference.
It follows that thought and Reality are not one, in any sense in which the term 'thought' can bear a significant meaning for finite experience. Thought's 'ideal' may be one with Reality.1 But thought's 'ideal' is one thing, its modus operandi is another. And it is by the latter alone that we are able to attach positive significance to the term 'thought.' This suggests a further criticism (one to which Bradley has of course given classic expression) of the doctrine of the identity of thought and Reality. Thought, as we know it, is judgment, an active process. It rests upon the recognition of an 'other' over against thought, and its function consists in the attempt to banish this 'otherness' by resolving it into unity with itself. If no 'otherness' were recognised, no element antagonistic to thought's unity with itself, then no activity of thought could be stimulated. But the 'thought' that is supposed to be one with Reality, cannot, ex hypothesi, recognise anything beyond itself, any element of otherness. Such a 'thought' therefore will have lost the distinctive character by which we know thought in judgment or predication. This is the same as to say, with Bradley, that thought, if it were to attain its ideal, would 'commit suicide.' Seeking to banish 'otherness,' thought aims at a goal in which it would itself cease to be. And if this is so, if the consummation of thought's ideal, which alone gives us ultimate reality, is a whole in which thought no longer preserves any assignable identity of nature with thought as we know it, then it cannot be proper to say, with Idealism, that thought is 'in principle' Reality, or that Reality and thought are 'ultimately' one.
1 In one sense of thought's' ideal': see Chapter I (The Epistemological Approach To The Supra-Rational Absolute. Section I. Introductory)., Section 4.
Otherness is, in my judgment, as essential an element in the nature of thought as unity is. And its admission in this capacity is amply sufficient to disqualify thought from claiming the status of the one principle of Reality. The Idealist prefers, as a rule, for reasons into which we need not here enter, to use the terms 'mind' or 'self-consciousness' rather than 'thought' for the supposed supreme principle of Reality. But precisely the same objections seem to attach to these terms. Their meaning involves relation to an 'other': and for the one Reality there can be no 'other'.
This latter difficulty has not, of course, passed unnoticed among Idealists. Bosanquet in particular has made heroic efforts to meet it, and has argued with much ingenuity that 'otherness' is not really an 'essential' feature of self-consciousness. I cannot find his argument in the end convincing. But the importance of what it claims for a right decision on the question of the legitimacy of interpreting the Absolute by finite analogies is so apparent that it is desirable to devote some space to indicating its nature and the difficulties which seem to attach to it.
The gist of Bosanquet's argument is this.1 Against the Idealist doctrine that in the self-conscious self we find a clue to the nature of ultimate reality, it is objected that the activity of selfhood is conditioned at every point by the recognition of an 'other' over against the self. But this objection, it is claimed, fails to take due note of our 'higher experiences.' It is in the higher experiences of the self that we are most likely to find its true nature revealing itself. And when we turn to these we find good reason to believe that the element of 'otherness' is a vanishing characteristic which becomes demonstrably less important as the self develops towards perfection. In these higher experiences the significant aspect is not 'self over against an other,' but 'self in other'; not discord, but unity. Take, for example, the mind's appreciation of great art - admittedly one of our 'higher' experiences. If we enter genuinely into the beauty of a noble picture, it is almost truer to say that we are, for the moment, the picture, than that we are spectators of it. We are scarcely conscious of our self as finite, as a self over against an 'other.' Unity is the dominating characteristic, 'otherness' all but negligible. And we shall find that the same thing is true (it is held) of the other experiences in which we suppose our self to be 'at its best.' Experience strongly suggests, therefore, that the importance of the element of 'otherness' in the life of the self decreases with the fuller realisation of selfhood. 'Otherness,' Bosanquet allows, never does completely vanish from the self as we know it. But its diminishing significance warrants the inference, it is claimed, that in perfectly rational selfhood 'otherness' will have altogether ceased to be. And if such an inference is sound, the chief objection to construing the Absolute (for which there can be no 'other') on the analogy of the self-conscious self is removed.
1 See especially Lecture VI, of Principle of Individuality and Value.