In this last section I have been arguing, firstly, that the revision of the Kantian philosophy in the light of a truer conception of thought's ideal does not, as the Idealist contends, lead straight to the doctrine of the identity of Thought and Reality, but, on the contrary, leaves Reality 'unknowable' just as it was for Kant, although for different reasons: and secondly, that the Idealist's attempt to establish the claims of Mind to rank as the supreme principle of Reality by showing that the reference to an 'other' is not a fundamental characteristic of mind, must be adjudged to fail. The opposition of self and other, we have been maintaining, is not a diminishing factor in human experience, but rather ingredient in its very nature. The third, and last, Idealist position with which I wish to deal in this chapter concerns this opposition also, seeking to deny its ultimacy on somewhat different grounds from those already examined. Bosanquet's argument sought to show that we can in fact trace by observation a diminution of importance in the aspect of 'otherness,' as mind develops its true nature; which is taken to suggest that in the full reality of mind 'otherness,' as such, disappears. The present argument is more of the a priori variety. It asserts that whatever may be the difficulties in the way of envisaging the actual transcendence of this opposition, still it is absolutely certain on logical grounds that the opposition is transcended in the principle of self-consciousness. Let us see then what these grounds are.
The argument is a familiar one in the literature of Idealism. The significant thing about self-consciousness, it is pointed out, is that the self is here not merely opposed to an 'other,' but is conscious of itself as so opposed. And to be conscious of an opposition is in principle to transcend it. The apprehension of A as opposed to or distinct from, B, presupposes the apprehension of a unity within which the distincta fall. If we try to dispense with the apprehended unity of the terms, we find that they simply fall apart as unrelated atoms, and cannot possibly present themselves as opposed, or even different. Opposition is a relation, and relation is meaningless apart from unity. Thus we have to say that self-consciousness, in as much as it involves consciousness of the opposition of self and other, is possessed, in however inchoate and undeveloped a manner, of the unity within which the opposition falls. And this must mean that the opposition is not a final opposition for the self-conscious self. In self-consciousness the principle of reconciliation is present from the beginning. In the lower levels of experience it is there, as it were, only in the germ. But the course of experience is just the development of that germ. It is the process of rendering explicit what at first is merely implicit, viz. the unity underlying the opposition of self and other. No forced reading of actual experience is necessary to see that both in the theoretical field and in the practical the very essence of spiritual activity lies in the gradual overcoming of this opposition. In the self-consciousness which has fully realised itself the transcendence of the opposition will be complete. It follows that the claim of the category of self-consciousness to be adequate to ultimate reality is so far good, the duality of self and other being for self-consciousness a duality in unity.
Before proceeding to criticise this argument confirmation, and perhaps clarification, of the above statement of it may be offered in a citation from Edward Caird. The citation is characteristic, and has its fellow in a score of other passages in Idealist writers. '[Let us] consider,' says Caird, 'what the life of self-consciousness is. In the first place, self-consciousness presupposes consciousness - i.e. it is a consciousness of self in opposition, yet in relation, to a not-self. Yet in this distinction a higher unity is presupposed; for the self can be conscious of itself as so distinguished and related, only so far as it overreaches the distinction between itself and its object. Thus beneath the conscious duality of self and not-self there is an unconscious unity, which reveals itself in the fact that the whole life of an intelligence is an effort to overcome its own dualism - in knowledge to find itself, in action to realise itself, in an object or a world of objects, which at first presents itself as a stranger and even an enemy.' 1
The argument is not, I think, unplausible. But it appears to me, nevertheless, to rest upon a demonstrable fallacy. It is true that in the apprehension of objects we cannot pass from the apprehension of A to the apprehension of B as different from A, save in virtue of the recognition that B belongs to one order with A. Every such passage to apprehended difference implies logically prior recognition of the unity within which the differences fall. But the point is that in the apprehension of the opposition of self and its object there is no such 'passage' from one term to the other. We do not first apprehend self, and then pass to the apprehension of an object-world as distinct from, and opposed to, the self. Nor do we start with the object-world, and later apprehend the self. If we proceeded in either of these ways, then admittedly the 'second' apprehension would rest on the prior recognition of a unity to which both terms belonged. But the facts are otherwise. For our apprehension of our 'self' belongs to a quite different category from our apprehension of successive 'objects.' It obviously does not come to us as a differentiation of an objective continuum. One of the most immovably fundamental things that we mean by our 'self' is that it is that to which an 'objective continuum' is presented. And this consideration puts us on the track of the right solution. The truth is that there is no 'passage' at all, but that to apprehend the self is at the same time to apprehend an object-world over against it, and that to apprehend an object-world (in its character as such) is at the same time to apprehend the self as that to which the object-world is present or presented. A 'self which is not confronted with an object-world, and an 'object-world' which is not object for a self, are alike mere abstractions. Thus we do not, starting with one term, come to apprehend the second as opposed. The apprehension of the second as opposed is involved in the apprehension of the first. And if this is so, it is wrong to say that the second term must be recognised as belonging to one order with the first in order to be apprehended as opposed. No mediating condition is necessary, because the opposition of the second is given directly in the apprehension of the first.
1 Hegel (Blackwood's Philosophical Classics), p. 182.
Th//e root error lies, then, in treating the consciousness of the unique opposition of self and object as though it were analogous to the consciousness of particular oppositions within the objective continuum. When we do justice to their distinctness, the necessity of postulating a logically prior recognition of the unity underlying the former opposites vanishes.
It is true, indeed, that the whole development of experience bears witness to the fact that the self does postulate an ultimate unity behind the opposition of self and not-self. But to postulate that the opposites are ultimately one is not necessarily to have even the germinal knowledge of how they are one. True, the fact of the process itself, with its continuous character, proves that the idea of a 'how' is operative. But it may not be, and in fact it is not, the 'how.' The adoption of a 'how,' prescribing a definitive line of advance, is a patent fact of experience. We must recognise that the self-conscious self has its own characteristic way of seeking to bring about the reconciliation of self and otherness. But neither on grounds of logic nor of observation is there reason to suppose that its way is the way, that the type of unity which it progressively seeks after is the type of unity which would be adequate to the final end in view.