I want to conclude this chapter by indicating very shortly the general way in which the theory of freedom here maintained reacts upon the problem of the kind of individuality which belongs to finite selves. The problem is, of course, difficult and many-sided. No more will be attempted here than to make clear, by contrast with the doctrine of Absolute Idealism, the principle of what seems to me the more satisfactory doctrine which Supra-rationalist premises make possible.
In what sense, if any, can the finite self claim to possess genuine individuality? It is common ground that to be an 'individual' implies being, in some sense, a self-subsistent, self-maintaining, being. Is there, or is there not, in the finite self a self-subsistence sufficiently real to entitle it to be called in any true sense an 'individual'? That, in brief, is the issue to be considered.
1 On this point see Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics (6th ed.), p. 65.
The answer of Absolute Idealism is unambiguous. If the universe is indeed rationally continuous, then there can be no true self-subsistence short of the Whole. Finitude and self-subsistence are, for Idealist metaphysics, mutually incompatible. Selves, accordingly, are not individuals in any full sense. The Absolute alone has genuine individuality. Selves possess individuality only (to apply the old principle) in 'degree,' according to the adequacy with which they are able, by harmonious self-expression, to manifest in themselves that character of perfect, all-comprehending unity which belongs to the one real individual, the Absolute.
Now to this doctrine there is a very natural disposition to reply that, if true, it is at least an exceedingly unpalatable truth. If this is the only kind of self-subsistence which man can claim, then it certainly seems as if something of quite paramount value has gone out of human life. Not only does the ordinary man assume as a matter of course that there is a genuine discontinuity between his personality and the surrounding universe, he is also quite convinced that without this element of discontinuity he cannot be supposed to be in any proper or valuable sense the arbiter of his own destiny. Deny this discontinuity, he feels, and the 'adventure of living' loses all its significance and savour.
The Idealist, however, is not at all prepared to agree that his doctrine is destructive of human values. He has his answer ready. In depriving the finite self of that discontinuity which is the basis of its supposed independence, imperviousness, or exclusiveness, we are not, he tells us, really removing anything which man in his best moments deems of vital importance to his individuality. On consideration, do we not see it to be true that the kind of individuality which is most profoundly admired, which we most intensely wish for ourselves, is one not characterised by 'exclusiveness' at all, but by 'organised wholeness of being'? Thus we commonly speak of a man as possessing 'great individuality' not when he presents the appearance of being a self-contained and 'repellent' unit, but rather where everything that he says and does is bound together by, and bears the impress of, a single dominating principle of order. 'Unity in difference,' or 'concrete universality,' is the mark of the individuality which is really felt to matter most, not that ontological exclusiveness which, in any case, a sound metaphysics shows to be a barren hope. And so, the Idealist would persuade us, the individuality that is (in its varying degrees) permitted to men to enjoy on the Absolutist meta-physic, is not only all that we can have, but all that we most truly want to have.
This line of argument has often been developed with much subtlety and eloquence, as, for example, by Bosanquet in his Gifford Lectures. Yet I venture to suggest that it is only necessary to keep clearly before our minds one simple but incontrovertible fact, for the whole imposing fabric to crumble to pieces. When people eulogise the individuality of 'organised wholeness of being' they are not (as is implied in the argument) decrying as relatively unimportant the individuality which consists in being a genuinely independent centre of activity. On the contrary, they take it for granted that the organised or systematic character to which they pay tribute is achieved by a self which both was and is individual in the 'exclusive' sense, by a self which, although finite, is endowed with an independence which makes its progress one through genuinely 'open' possibilities. The assumption that this kind of individuality persists throughout is the very condition of the recognition of any value in 'organised wholeness of being.' Banish it, as the Idealist would do, to the realm of 'mere mythology,' and the self appears to itself as no better than a spiritual automaton. No amount of 'organised wholeness' will restore by one iota the vanished sense of the worthwhileness of human striving.
For our present purpose it is not necessary to go into the question of what precisely people do mean when they speak, as admittedly they do, of organised wholeness of being as constituting the truly valuable kind of individuality. All that our argument demands is the recognition that what they do not mean is to affirm, by implication, that the individuality which consists in being a single independent centre of activity is worthless or insignificant. There is no thought in their minds of contrasting the value of 'organised wholeness' with the value of 'finite exclusiveness,' whether to the detriment of the latter or not. On the contrary, the possession of individuality of the latter sort is simply assumed as a matter of course in any ascription of value to individuality of the former sort.
The individuality which the Idealist is prepared to concede to finite persons is then, I submit, no less incapable of satisfying the value postulates of human life than the unsophisticated mind takes it to be. In ruling out, on metaphysical grounds, the possibility of real discontinuity, the Idealist thereby rules out an essential condition of the worthwhileness of finite existence. His doctrine may be true - degrees of organised wholeness may represent the only kind of self-subsistence to which finite beings can aspire - but we should not permit ourselves to be deluded into supposing that it is also pleasant.
But is his doctrine true? Must we say that although this kind of individuality is certainly not all that man wants, it is yet all that he can have? Or is it perhaps possible to assign to finite persons a self-subsistence of a more significant character? It is at this point, as it seems to me, that the doctrine of freedom which has been expounded in this and the preceding chapter shows itself indispensable as the support of a genuine individuality in finite beings. Through it we can vindicate a real self-subsistence in finite selves in despite of their finitude. For, if I have been right, the self is wholly and absolutely 'self-subsistent' in one definite respect, namely, in so far as concerns the expenditure of will-energy in moral situations. In this respect the control lies solely within the private and exclusive self. As has been sufficiently pointed out, I admit without question the dependence of the finite self upon circumstances and agencies beyond its control for the actual range of possible courses of action which are presented to it in practice, and again for the relative strength of the competing tendencies - a consideration of the first importance when it is the external achievement, the visible success, of the act which is under review. But these are admissions which are entirely compatible with the plain man's reading of his own powers, and are rightly believed by him not seriously to jeopardise the value of his independent individuality. If only there can be retained for man the power of self-direction which is here defended, the significance of persona] strivings will be preserved, and moral judgments (a mockery for Absolute Idealism only less obviously than for crass Materialism) in principle vindicated.