It does seem to me of great importance that we should recognise clearly that the experience of unity is not only a symptom of the self's strength and value. It is also a symptom of the self's impotence and disvalue. For it denotes a failure on the part of the self so far to realise that its experience is not in fact harmonious, but is, as it must be, shot through with contradiction. The experience of unity is a symptom of the partial conquest of the 'other,' a guarantee of the substantial Tightness of our direction. But just so long as we dwell in it we betray the limitations of our spiritual vision. The self which deludes itself into the belief that it has attained what it seeks, the self which acquiesces complacently in a supposed 'harmony,' gives us Error in the theoretical life and Immorality in the practical. Unconsciousness of 'otherness' is spiritual death, not realised selfhood.
I have appeared, perhaps, to elaborate unduly in these latter pages what may seem almost a digression from the main theme of the chapter. But the digression is more apparent than real. The question of the competence or incompetence of interpreting ultimate reality in terms derived from finite experience is fundamental to our thesis. I have been trying to show what seem to me the defects in Bosanquet's manner of meeting the objections against adopting for this purpose the category of self-consciousness. It is true, indeed, that Bosanquet does not go so far as to maintain that self-consciousness is a fully adequate category. But he does assert that we are entitled to take self-consciousness as a 'clue' to the nature of Reality, and speaks approvingly of 'a deeper conception of reality, framed at least on the analogy of self-consciousness.' 1 Or again he tells us that' the absolute or infinite should present itself to us as more of the finite, or the finite at its best'2 (adding, somewhat characteristically, as though this were the sole alternative, 'and not as its extinction'). But these more or less guarded expressions, 'clue' and 'analogy,' only serve to render the Idealism less clear-cut, without mitigating the fundamental difficulties. 'Clue' and 'analogy' imply an assignable identity of character between the terms of the comparison, else they are meaningless. And it is just this assignable identity of character which I hold to be lacking here. Self-consciousness is an experience which has inherent in it the reference to an 'other' beyond itself. The Absolute is a unity in which no reference to an 'other' beyond itself can obtain. The 'clue' therefore is a false clue. If we insist upon using it, we perforce distort Reality. But, I agree, it is natural to insist upon using it so long as we retain our faith in the essential 'intelligibility' of Reality.
1 Principle of Individuality and Value, p. 222.
2 Ibid., p. 255.
It would certainly be neither safe nor fair to adduce as weighty evidence for the incompetence of finite analogies the distressing embarrassments of the Idealist who ventures to close quarters with his Absolute and is obliged to offer a definite statement concerning the exalted mode of its activity. Yet, if an attempt were made to assemble any considerable number of these statements, I believe that the starkly paradoxical character of their language would astound Idealists themselves. The abiding value of Idealism - even of its Colossus, Hegel - is perhaps, after all, critical rather than constructive. The incompetence of categories such as Mechanism and Life to pose as ultimate principles of Reality is made out, as it seems to the present writer, with overwhelming force. But it does not follow that because the mind in its search for a true unity in difference is forced to pass beyond Mechanism, and beyond Life, the ultimate principle is therefore Mind or Spirit. It may be true that Mechanism has defects which Life has not, and that Life has defects which Mind has not; and again, that beyond Mind there is nothing higher that we can envisage. But this does not mean that Mind must be the ultimate principle, unless it is first presupposed that the ultimate principle is attainable by us. Where this presupposition is made it is, I think, entirely natural that in spite of the difficulties in the way of an even plausible presentation of the ultimate unity in terms of Mind, the actual adequacy of Mind to rank as the supreme principle should be taken to be virtually certain. But it may be that the difficulty of even plausible presentation is due just to the fact that no humanly accessible category, neither Mind nor any other, is adequate to the nature of the real - that every attempted presentation of the nature of the real is an attempt to express the inexpressible. Even Caird admits, when trying to expound the Hegelian doctrine of the Absolute, that Hegel 'seems to be breaking through the limits of language, by continual self-contradiction.'1 It is, I presume to think, more than 'seeming.' 'The reality is the universal, which goes out of itself, particularises itself, opposes itself to itself, that it may reach the deepest and most comprehensive unity with itself.' 2 We know why Hegel used these terms. He has argued that we must think Reality as related and determined, but not as externally related and determined, and therefore, it must be, as self-related and self-determined. And this is one attempt among others to express the nature of a 'self-determined and self-related whole.' Yet such language conveys no real meaning. How can the whole go out of itself} Mind may, just because it is not the Whole, but the Whole cannot, because there is no place but itself to go to! Hegel is wanting to retain for his Absolute both relation and the integrity of perfect unity, and it cannot be done. Relation involves at least partial externality; and 'self-relation,' accordingly, if it is to be taken absolutely, remains merely a form of words. What meaning it has in its present context is solely negative, consisting in the implied denial that Reality is either externally related or relationless. The whole statement is strikingly reminiscent (to speak somewhat anachronistically) of the description in Bradley of the kind of thought which could be pronounced immune from contradiction - 'a self-evident analysis and synthesis of the intellect itself by itself.' In each case there is an insistence by implication upon the removal of certain defects. But viewed as positive contributions to the interpretation of the character of ultimate reality they seem to mean (as Bradley without doubt was well aware) just nothing at all.
1 Hegel (Blackwood's Philosophical Classics), p. 181.
2 loc. cit.