The matter just touched upon at the conclusion of the last section - the metaphysical difficulties occasioned by the status of Error - is one the decision of which must have a good deal of weight in determining the Tightness or wrongness of the thesis that is to be maintained throughout this work. Is Bradley right in holding that there is an element in Error which makes it incapable of inclusion within an Absolute which is an 'intelligible' Whole? that Error cannot be apprehended as contributing to any kind of harmony that is analogous to'rational system' as we know it? If he is right, then here is confirmation of the position independently arrived at, that Reality is 'supra-rational.' Error must (like all else) belong to the Whole. But it discloses within itself, so it is claimed, a positive opposition to a Whole which is rationally continuous. Let us address ourselves then to a discussion of this important problem.
It is necessary to see clearly first of all what it is that the alternative metaphysics of Absolute Idealism must here maintain. For Idealism, every judgment is, in its logical character, partially true and partially false. It is true in so far as it attains to, false in so far as it falls short of, that systematic wholeness that is characteristic of Reality. But if we now view the judgment in its metaphysical rather than in its logical character, view it as a concrete actuality which belongs to the order of Reality, every judgment must, it is evident, be regarded by Idealism as an individual manifestation of the one animating principle of Reality, the Absolute Mind or Spirit which is the soul and the source of all that is. There can be no judgment, therefore, however misguided it may seem to us to be, which is not (for an ultimate vision) an expression of the Supreme Mind, and which does not ultimately contribute to its life as a necessary 'moment' or 'emphasis' of its self-expression. The 'irrationality' which we are apt to ascribe to such judgments we shall have to understand as consisting in an inadequacy of Reason, not in an antagonism to Reason. For a perfected view would reveal to us that the spirit of Logic, or - to use a favourite expression of Dr Bosanquet's - 'the spirit of non-contradiction 'is the all-pervading principle of the universe.
1 Appearance and Reality, p. 196 (my italics).
Now the question is as to whether we can really fit Error into this logical bed of Procrustes. Mr Joachim has in The Nature of Truth laid bare the difficulties of any such resolution with a detail and a candour that are the more impressive in view of the author's well-known philosophical sympathies. I am not able to go quite all the way with Mr Joachim in his treatment, but gratefully avail myself of some of the chief points which he brings out.
It is distinctive of Error in its proper nature, Mr Joachim urges, that the judging subject must not know he is in error. He must be making his assertion in the confidence of inviolable truth. A and B may make what is verbally the same judgment, 'the sun travels round the earth,' but these judgments must not be hastily labelled as alike 'erroneous' apart from consideration of the psychical conditions under which they are made. A, let us suppose, is fully aware of the limitations of his astronomical knowledge, and makes his assertion with the consciousness that it is no more than provisional, that it awaits supplementation and revision from a fuller experience of the relevant data. B, on the other hand, is completely free from misgivings, and judges without entertaining the faintest doubt that what he asserts is an ultimate truth. Only in the latter case, Mr Joachim points out, can we say that we have got Error proper. A is under no delusion. He 'knows that he may be mistaken: and with this knowledge the "mistake" (if so it prove) is not an "error"'.1 B, on the other hand, 'plunging into the wrong road with the untroubled certainty that it is right,' definitely misleads and deludes himself. A's state is one of ignorance. But in B we have 'that ignorance which poses, to itself and others, as indubitable truth.' This last is the mark of Error proper.
Now whatever we may say of the metaphysical status of A's judgment, there do seem to be insuperable difficulties in the way of understanding B's judgment, or Error proper, as a contribution to the harmonious self-expression of Absolute Reason. A's judgment, it is conceivable, does not positively collide with truth. The meaning it affirms is not antagonistic to a 'higher point of view.' But how can we maintain this in the case of B? Here we have a certain content which cannot as such be accepted by Truth, not held in suspense as a provisional hypothesis, but uncompromisingly asserted as un-shakably true. B's judgment, we seem therefore bound to say, is not just an inadequate manifestation of the Reason whose self-expression is Truth, but is a definitely hostile element which opposes itself to Reason. And with this we are left with the alternatives of either denying the existence of Error as diagnosed - which seems to be to fly in the face of facts - or of giving up our dogma that Reality is a systematic Whole every one of whose phases is a manifestation of the Reason which is its animating principle.
1 The Nature of Truth, p. 141.
This anti-rational aspect of Error proper appears with peculiar force when considered in the light of what was said in Section 2 on the nature of logical contradiction. We saw that the essence of contradiction was the connecting of differences without provision of a 'ground' for their union. But it further follows, since in practice every ground attainable fails to be an adequate ground, and but adds a fresh point of difference, that any assertion of a connection of differences through a ground, which takes that ground as final, is still a connecting of differences (although of different differences) without provision of a ground of union. Thus any connection of differences, however systematically mediated, is, if offered as final truth, a self-contradiction.