No perception of objects will exhaust the sense of a living emotion.'4 But immediate experience is not confined to the phenomena of the emotional life. Careful analysis discloses, Bradley goes on, that it is a character of all of our mental states, cognitive as much as any other. Our experience can in no phase of it be reduced simply to 'consciousness' - if we mean by that the being of an object for a subject. 'Everything which is got out into the form of an object implies still the felt background against which the object comes, and, further, the whole experience of both feeling and object is a non-relational immediate felt unity.' 5
1 Appearance and Reality, p. 244.
2 A very full and detailed statement and criticism of the doctrine will be found in Ward's article 'Bradley's Doctrine of Experience '(Mind, N.S., No. 133).
3 Essays on Truth and Reality, p. 159.
4 Ibid., p. 159. 5 Ibid, p. 176.
It is this 'non-relational immediate felt unity' which specially concerns us here. The recognition of it Bradley considers to be of the first importance. The 'felt unity' environs, in a manner it includes, 'the entire relational consciousness.' 'It is the vital element within which every analysis still moves, while, and so far as, and however much, that analysis transcends immediacy.' 1 If we decline to recognise this unity given in feeling, Bradley insists, the continuity of our experience remains inexplicable. From the beginning of conscious life it is certain that everything that comes into the focus of thought out of the background of the felt is taken by us as continuous with what we have already got. Thinking starts not with a mere many, but with a many already taken to be somehow one. But since thought cannot be the source of a recognition of unity which thought itself presupposes, it is reasonable to infer that the unity is given in the immediate experience within which thinking falls: that thinking proceeds within, and responsive to the guidance of, a 'felt totality.' 2
Once granted this felt totality, Bradley's interpretation of the process of experience is able to proceed smoothly enough. In human experience we have, on the one hand, this unity given in feeling. But we have also, on the other hand, the mediate or relational consciousness, in which not unity but mutual externality, qualification from the outside, is characteristic. It may be that the earliest stage in the development of the individual and of the race was one in which experience was merely immediate, the relational consciousness being an outgrowth (the steps of which we can only conjecture) from the state of pure sentience.1 But whether this be so or not, it is certain that 'mere' immediacy is now in fact transcended in our experience. Immediate experience has not vanished. But 'the fact remains that feeling, while it remains as a constant basis, nevertheless contains a world which in a sense goes beyond itself.' 2 And with this transcendence, we find, there comes also conflict. 'The felt content takes on a form which more and more goes beyond the essential character of feeling, i.e. direct and non-relational qualification. Distinction and separation into substantives and adjectives, terms and relations, alienate the content of immediate experience from the form of immediacy which still on its side persists.' 3 Thus, feeling reality as one, we yet find ourselves confronted in thought with a many. And this discordance arouses unrest, and provokes thought to a ceaseless endeavour to reconstitute the broken unity by seeking, in its own way, to resolve its ideal manifold into unity. But the breach is not thus to be healed. The 'way of ideas' is incapable in principle of restoring a unity such as we immediately experience. On the other hand, the breach declines to allow itself to be ignored. We cannot find satisfaction in the 'given felt unity,' for this embraces now a content in patent antagonism to its form. The unity which can alone bring repose must be one which somehow includes within it the sphere of 'terms and relations.' And thus there arises in us the conception of that which answers to the demand for theoretical satisfaction as being a unity which has the same kind of immediacy as that which we experience in feeling, but which is supra-relational, not sub- or wow-relational.
1 Essays on Truth and Reality, p. 176.
2 This is, I think, Bradley's main ground for holding that a 'felt totality' is the primary datum of experience. I do not find the argument anywhere stated with ideal clarity. But on the other hand I have said nothing which may not reasonably be read into many of the passages on 'immediate experience.' Perhaps the reader's attention might be directed especially to the 'Supplementary Note' appended to chap. vi. in the Essays on Truth and Reality. It is noteworthy that Bradley there introduces his doctrine of the 'felt totality' (p. 200) in express contrast with those doctrines which, holding that experience begins with a 'many,' are unable logically (as Bradley believes) to advance to the 'one.' The implication intended seems clearly to be that only by the admission of the 'felt totality' can you give any explanation of the recognised unity of experience.
These are briefly the points relevant to our purpose in Bradley's doctrine of immediate experience. It is pretty clear how they bear upon the matter at issue. On this view we do already, in immediate experience, know what it is to apprehend 'the many in the one.' It is true that this 'felt unity,' the 'many felt in one'1 as Bradley also calls it, cannot serve as the perfect experience of Reality. For the relational world must be conceived by thought to be included (as it is not here) within the unity of Reality. But it may be said to furnish us with a clue to the kind of experience that we want. We may suppose that the attainment of Reality would be for us 'something like' the felt unity of immediate experience. And with this, perhaps, it is not unnatural to claim that Reality is 'of the nature of (immediate) experience'.
1 Essays on Truth and Reality, p. 173 ff. 2 Ibid., p. 190.
3 Ibid., p. 190, note.