I turn now to a criticism of a much more searching character, one which opens up a problem demanding careful investigation. The criticism appears in a good many forms, but their common essence may perhaps be stated thus. 'You hold,' it is said, 'that ultimate reality is unknowable. But if it is, what exactly is the basis of your judgment that the world of experience is not ultimately real? Surely that judgment implies that you are already in possession of the standard of the ultimately real? And if so, reality cannot be beyond knowledge'.
Now in principle the proper answer is, I think, clear enough, although it leaves undeniable difficulties awaiting solution. To condemn the world of experience, I should reply, it is not necessary that we should know what reality is. It is enough if we know what reality is not. If we know that reality cannot have a certain character K, and we discover, on examination, that the world disclosed by the intellect does always necessarily have the character K, then it follows logically that the latter world is not the real world. That is how the case stands with us here. We do not know what reality is. But we do know that it cannot have a character involving self-contradiction, which is the character we find inherent in the world of intellectual experience.
But this answer will not satisfy the critic as it stands. I am claiming that we have negative, but no positive, knowledge of the nature of reality. And this opens up the whole question of the possibility of a merely negative knowledge. It will obviously be imperative to offer defences against the familiar logical doctrine that 'every negative implies a positive.' If this doctrine holds good universally, then there must be some, and it is desirable to know precisely what, positive or affirmative meaning in our professedly merely negative proposition about the nature of reality: a proposition which, for shortness' sake, we may express in the form 'reality is not relational'.
There are, I think, two distinct lines along which this particular criticism may proceed. I shall deal with each in turn.
In the first place, it may be pointed out that all significant speech proceeds within a 'universe of discourse.' There is always a general theme or subject which determines the meaning of our particular proposition, whether affirmative or negative. Thus, e.g. when I say 'the heart of this flower is not yellow,' I am interested in the general question of the colour of the heart, and the significance of the proposition lies in its excluding yellow from the competing possibilities in the way of colour. The proposition could quite properly take the alternative form 'the heart of this flower is a colour not-yellow.' And so with all negation which has point at all. The exclusion of the particular character implies the affirmation that the thing is of the general character of which the particular character is an instance.
It is fairly evident, however, that the objection in this form may be repelled. I should agree without hesitation that thinking always proceeds within a universe of discourse. In the case of the proposition 'reality is not relational,' the special 'universe' is the metaphysical or ultimate characteristics of the real. But the question of whether or not the 'universe' in any given case prescribes a significantly positive content to negation depends entirely, I submit, upon the question of whether the character negated is a particular instance of a more general character which is itself significantly positive. Now in our present case the character negated is clearly not of this sort. It is itself of ultimate generality; or, to put it otherwise, that of which it (relationality) is an instance is just 'character-in-general. 'The only positive form of which our proposition admits is 'Reality is of a character not-relational.' The element of affirmation which thus appears is obviously of no real moment - though it is quite enough to give our negation 'point.' It seems clear then that the dictum that 'every negative implies a positive' has, in this interpretation of it, no significant application to the case in hand.
The second form which the criticism may take concerns us more nearly. I may be reminded that, on my own showing, the intellect demands a 'ground' or 'rationale' for the connection of differences. Now this applies to negative judgments equally with affirmative judgments. The formula of the negative judgment is A(x) is not B. But does not this recognition of a ground for the connection imply the apprehension of some positive character in A? It is true, of course, that if we are asked why A is not B, we may be in a position to reply, because A is not C, and not-C implies not-B. We should thus remain, so far, within the circle of mere negation. But evidently this is only to push the difficulty further back. We should now have to ask what it is in A that warrants our exclusion of C. Sooner or later, it would seem, a positive character in A must come to light. Must it not be so also with 'reality' in the judgment 'reality is not relational'?
I think I can show that, and why, the necessity does not exist in this particular case. Suppose I am asked on what ground I assert that 'reality is not relational.' I reply, in the first place, 'because reality is non-contradictory, and non-contradictory involves non-relational (in that, as we saw in Chapter I (The Epistemological Approach To The Supra-Rational Absolute. Section I. Introductory)., it excludes the organisation of differences after the intellectual or relational pattern).' That is, my first reply takes the shape suggested in the preceding paragraph,' A is not B because it is not C, and not-C involves not-B.' Now the next question, we agreed, would be, 'But on what grounds do you maintain that A is not C?' Very well, let us apply this to the case in hand. But when we do, we find that what we are asking for is just the ground for maintaining that reality is non-contradictory. In other words, we have got back to a connection concerning which it is absurd to ask for a 'ground.' We know that the apprehension of this connection must be immediate, since it is the logical antecedent of all mediating processes. Here, then, we have a negative judgment which requires no ground, and which does not, accordingly, imply the recognition of positive content in the subject which the apprehension of a ground would entail.