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I. Realism versus Monism

Realism appears first, then, as a pluralistic doctrine or theory of independence; and this brings it into conflict with the monistic doctrine properly called Idealism, which denies independence to everything but the “Absolute” or one true Being. It is this question of independence which is the “cardinal” issue, and on which, though it may be convenient to discuss it with special reference to the question of knowledge, the settling of the dispute about knowledge really turns. This is what I tried to make clear in the paper I read to the Aristotelian Society, but it does not appear at all clearly in Professor Fox's “examination” of my argument. The following summary of what I said may therefore help readers to come to a conclusion.

Logically we are bound to recognise real differences (as opposed to the idealist doctrine of the “merely relative” nature of differences), since otherwise we could not distinguish between affirmative and negative propositions, or indeed make statements at all. If “when we say that A is not B, we are somehow also saying that A is B and B is A…discourse [will] be impossible”. But to recognise real differences, or, what comes to the same, different real things, is not to say that these things are unrelated. On the contrary, any relation has two terms, or holds between different things; and if these things are not “really” different, then there are not really two terms and there is really no relation. Hence there is no argument from relatedness to monism, quite the reverse.

Thus the recognition of the “subject-object” relation, or relation between knower and known, implies that each of these is an independent thing, or thing with an existence and characters of its own, and that it cannot be properly described in terms of the other thing or of the relation between them. This point I expressed (following Marvin; “The New Realism”, p. 473) by saying that the thing which is known, or the “object”, is not constituted by the knower or by being known, nor is the thing which knows, or “subject”, constituted by knowing or by the known. In other words, we cannot define the nature or character or constitution or “what is it” of a thing by saying what relations it has or what it is related to. Hence I concluded that we must reject the notions of “that whose nature it is to know”, or consciousness, and “that whose nature it is to be known”, or idea. The rejection of the theory of constitutive relations leads therefore to a criticism of those “realists” who inconsistently permit themselves to speak about consciousness or ideas, as well as of idealists.

It is as a consequence, then, of a consideration of relations that I put


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forward the statement, quoted by Professor Fox, that “nothing is constituted by knowing and nothing by being known”. To say that X has the relation R, or has the relation R to A (where R might, for instance, be knowing or being known), is not to say what sort of thing X is, and, if the above were all the information we had about X, we should not know X at all. The fact that we can in many cases come to a conclusion about X's character, when we are told that it has a certain relation, is due, I argued, to our having the additional information that only things of that character have that relation; but, as I said, we could not have this information unless we could distinguish the character from the relation. For example, we know that only men can be husbands. And it is owing to our having this additional information that we find ourselves, when we are told that X is a husband, knowing some of his own qualities. So far from attempting to meet these contentions Professor Fox does not even mention the question of relations in his criticism of my views.

On the question of being “constituted by knowing”, I contended that to say that A knows or that A knows X is not to give a description of A, and that, unless such an independent description is possible, there is no relation. Professor Fox thinks this is “obviously” false. “That Einstein knows (or believes he knows) certain things is precisely what makes him Einstein; and that I do not nor ever can know these things in the same manner is what hinders me from becoming the same sort of person.” It should be obvious from my exposition that I do not deny, but assert, that only beings of a certain sort have certain relations to other things, e.g., know certain mathematical theorems. But to say that they have these relations is not in the least to tell us what beings they are. We should never succeed in identifying Einstein if all that we knew of him was that he had certain beliefs; we could never find out what beings are mathematically gifted unless we could observe their qualities, as well as their relations to mathematical facts.

In fact, unless things had qualities of their own, there would be nothing to have relations to other things. What I have in effect maintained is that even those who support other views, do unwittingly concede, in the language they employ, the distinction between relations which hold between two things and qualities which belong to a thing itself. Professor Fox passes over this distinction when he says that “to possess human knowledge is (partly) identical with being a man”. All that the phrase “human knowledge” conveys is that there are certain things that only men know, but it does not tell us at all what men are. They do not possess the things they know as qualities; yet if the relation were part of what a man is, the things related to him would also have to be part of what he is. This is the doctrine that Berkeley tried, and failed, to maintain. It is contradicted by the admission of the distinction in the first place, e.g., between Einstein and the “certain things” which he believes. He is not his relation to these things.

What the idealist has, in fact, to show is that there is no real distinction, and the answer is that in that case there is no real relation. But we


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may also criticise the arguments used to show that the distinction is “unreal” or “not ultimate”. It is urged, as I pointed out in the paper referred to, that “there is no subject without an object, and no object without a subject. But this merely means that any ‘subject-object’ relation has two terms; it could not for a moment show that knower and known are not two different things, or that anything is to be regarded as in itself either a subject or an object.” It was here that I introduced Hume's “husband and wife” analogy, the point being that, although there is no husband without a wife and no wife without a husband, husband and wife are two different persons, just as cause and effect are two different things.

This, as I stated, is the importance of the analogy for my argument. But I introduced in a subsidiary way the point that was important for Hume. Although “every effect has a cause” and though it would be agreed that effects are events, this does not prove, Hume says, that every event has a cause, any more than it follows, from the facts that every husband has a wife and that husbands are men, that every man has a wife. Similarly, I argued, though every subject has an object, and even if it be granted that subjects or knowers are always minds, it is not proved that all minds know or that anything that can properly be called mental must have an object. Professor Fox translates this argument into the form that “we may believe a being to be a man in order that he may be a husband, but may not believe him to be a husband in order to be a man”, and thus loses the reference to implication, and makes the question only whether men (as he says, instead of minds) do in fact all know something or other. This I should not think of denying, but what I did, in accordance with the Freudian theory, deny in a later part of the paper is that every mental process knows. Professor Fox, however, does not refer at all to what I said was the important point, namely, that knower and known are different things; so that even if minds were always knowing, this constant relation would not constitute them, any more than causes are constituted by having effects or husbands by having wives.

On the question of being “constituted by being known”, Professor Fox proceeds more cautiously. He does not say, “That the moon is known by certain minds is precisely what makes it the moon”, though it is clear that he would desire finally to come to this conclusion. For a beginning he argues that the moon's being known by me (or my knowing the moon) contributes to making it the moon that it is, because, in knowing it, I affect and alter it. “I assume”, says Professor Fox, “that affecting and altering are modes of constituting, and if we can establish these minor modes, the way will be opened (should we desire to pursue it) to a demonstration that the literal constituting of things by some mind is a pre-condition of their knowledge by any mind.” The assumption, in fact, begs the question. Of course, there is just as strong reason for taking “altering” to be a constitutive relation as for holding that view about “knowing”; but no more. “X is altered by me” can no more be a statement of X's own qualities than “X is known by me”. That things should literally be some mind, in


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order that a mind may know them, and that a thing should be me (or I should constitute it) in so far as I affect it, are alike consequences that would follow from the view that to be related to a thing is somehow to be it; but on this view, as I said, discourse would be impossible.

In fact, the treatment of relations as forms of identity was definitely exploded by Hume, whose argument on causality is applicable to any other case. If there were in A a “power to produce B”, then B would be in A, and no production would take place. Similarly, as Berkeley saw, if there were in me a knowledge of the moon, then the moon would be in me, and, as Berkeley did not see, no relation of knowledge would hold. There is, as I argued, an identity in the case, namely, the particular state of affairs, “A causes B”, or “I know the moon”, or “Jack is married to Jill”. But this is not the slightest ground for identifying A with B, me with the moon, or Jack with Jill; nor, again, for regarding my identity or that of the moon as in any way inferior to that of my knowledge of the moon, or constituted by it. And the theory of partial identity is only an attempt to hold to the doctrine of identification while avoiding some of its consequences.

The case of Berkeley is instructive here. He argues that it is of the nature of whatever I know, to be known, but he concedes that such an “object” need not be known by me but may have its constitution kept up by other minds. But if I can know that which, however it is constituted, exists independently of my knowledge of it, the basis of the contention that there must be some other mind in whose knowledge it consists is removed. Either I can know things which, in spite of this relation, I do nothing to constitute (and Berkeley is compelled to admit this in the case of other minds and laws of nature), or I can know nothing but what I am — indeed, there is no difference at all between knower and known, and so there is no knowledge. More broadly, if the knowledge, say, of the moon by various minds were precisely what made it the moon, there would be nothing for these minds to know; the position would be that the minds know that the minds know that…To stop the regress, we have to say that they know the moon, and that it is not constituted by their knowing it. If I say, “The moon is made of green cheese”, that is a significant, though false, statement; but if I say, “The moon is made of someone's knowing it”, the unanswerable question arises, “What is it?”

This is aside from the question whether the moon is made by someone, or whether I can make a bit of it. As I have already pointed out, causality is on the same footing as other relations (the cause is not the effect), and the fact that I can cause or affect things does not imply that I “constitute” them. In the paper referred to, I said that “what exists because of me nonetheless exists, apart from or independently of me. The houses which would not have existed, had not men planned and built them (i.e., but for their minds and bodies), are physical and are not private to these men; they stand for other men to see them, and may remain when no one perceives them at all.”

Professor Fox's argument on alteration is therefore beside the point.


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If, when we know a thing, we alter it, that means that we cause it to have a character which it did not have before; i.e., its having that character now is an independent fact, and so is its not having that character before. Again, whether we say that “the moon terminates at the confines of its bodily mass” or that “the moon does not terminate at the confines of its bodily mass”, the fact remains that one of these propositions is true; and the moon's so terminating or not so terminating (whichever it does) is an independent fact, in the assertion of which nothing whatever is said about us or our knowing or our altering. It may be noted in passing that if we could not know the moon if it terminated at the confines of its bodily mass, it would follow at once that we could not know that bodily mass, which certainly has these confines. Yet apparently we talk about it; just as we talk about confines and differences in general, in spite of idealists.

Idealism, then, stands or falls with the doctrine of constitutive relations, and I have tried to show that it falls because that doctrine cannot even be consistently stated, because it is contrary to the fact of independence which we have all in some measure to recognise in our discussions. And this is not, as the idealist imagines, to take our modes of recognition as the determinant of fact; on the contrary, to do so would be to recognise them and we can recognise them only as facts, i.e., as having that independence of which we would illogically deprive other things. The doctrine of “principles of understanding”, or of “the world as intelligible”, defeats itself. If it is held, in a Kantian manner, that existence in Space and Time and subjection to categories are our ways of regarding things, the answer is that either things are not under these conditions and so our principles are principles of error — and in that case, moreover, we are wrong even about there being such principles, and in fact know nothing at all — or things are under those conditions, and, while we are right in thinking so, their being so is an independent fact. And this fact, which we do not constitute, we do not even cause; because that would imply that there was a time when things were not under these conditions, which, ex hypothesi, we cannot even imagine to have been the case. That is to say, we believe that everything that is acted upon is subject to these conditions; we recognise that that is so.

This is the answer to Professor Morris Miller who, in his exposition of “The Work of Henry Laurie”, takes exception to those who argue that what we know exists independently. “What we know, Laurie would reply, we know in relation; and what relates and recognises relations can only be the mind.” No realist will deny that what recognises relations, or anything else, can only be a recogniser, and, if it is only minds that are recognisers, that a mind must do so in the case of relations. But what is it that the mind recognises? That certain things are related in a certain way. Now, if they are not, the recogniser is simply mistaken. Otherwise, they are themselves, or independently, related in that way. And, similarly, if what we were recognising was a relation between us and things, we should recognise it, as well as the things, as having independent existence.

As I have argued, this independence would not be affected even if


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we ourselves had brought about all the relations we know; we should have brought about nothing, unless the relations proceeded to exist independently. But we all do distinguish between relations we cause (as when we drop a book on the floor) and relations we do not cause (such as the order of the words in the book), and, as I have shown, this distinction gives us no ground for supposing that the latter are caused by other minds. In fact, the idealist says nothing to show that the mind is responsible for the relations it knows, except that it recognises them; and thus Professor Morris Miller's “relates and recognises relations” is merely an attempt to have things both ways — to identify, while appearing to distinguish, the conditions of relation and the conditions of the recognition of relation.

The same confusion appears in Professor Fox's reference to vision. “In general, the moon would remain invisible were there no visual mechanism in the universe. But the fully constituted moon is a visible moon, so that the seeing of it does something even to constitute it.” On the contrary, when we speak of the moon's being as it is, we are referring to what is seen, i.e., to the actual characteristics of the moon, and not at all to anyone's getting to know them or to how he does so. Similarly, when Professor Morris Miller says that we cannot “even affirm the independence of what is real apart from the mind which is called on to assert the fact of the ‘independence’, and which cannot do so out of nothing” (i.e., apparently must do so out of its own resources), the sufficient answer is that there is here a confusion between the conditions of our asserting X and the conditions of X itself.

It may be added that it is the idealist who makes the mind “nothing”, by identifying it with its relations of assertion, just as he makes things nonentities by identifying them with their being asserted. That “the object for us can only exist as related to the experiencing mind” seems plausible only because “existing for us” is a common loose expression for “being known by us to exist”; and this is then translated into “being known by us to exist for us”. As I pointed out in “The Knower and the Known”, out of the identity, “What is known to us is known to us”, idealists construct the highly disputable assertion, “What is known to us is known as being known to us”. No evidence but the identity is ever offered for this view, but, even if it were true, being known to us would be different from being known as being known to us, and likewise from being. The “irrational use of abstraction”, which Professor Morris Miller deprecates, is simply the attempt to get idealists to realise what they are saying, and not “overcome” distinctions by smothering them in ambiguous phrases.

Such ambiguities lie at the root of all monistic theories, i.e., all theories which deny independence, or the “ultimate reality” of differences. The realist answer (stated similarly in “The Non-Existence of Consciousness”note) is that, if we say that differences are comparatively unreal, then “the comparative unreality of differences” is ultimately real.


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Yet it is not the ultimately real or Absolute; it must be an aspect or expression of the Absolute. But, in taking this view, we are admitting that it is really different from other aspects or expressions. Again, when we say that the Absolute is self-subsistent and its aspects are relatively existent, we are recognising the independent existence of “the self-subsistence of the Absolute” and “the relative existence of the aspects”; i.e., we are recognising, in spite of ourselves, a single way of being. It is seen, therefore, that Monism is not only a false doctrine but an incoherent one; that it implies a division, which it cannot sustain, between “higher” and “lower” orders of being, i.e., that it is dualistic or rationalistic. The realist has to supplement his assertion of real difference or independence with a rejection of the false distinction of any other way of being from existence, since only among existents can there be real relations.

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