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We are accustomed to think of Realism and Idealism as conflicting views about knowledge. In this paper I shall be concerned partly to bring forward arguments in support of the realist view of knowledge, but even more to indicate what I take to be important consequences, in regard not only to mind and knowledge but to philosophy in general, of accepting that position. While it may be conceded to Professor Montague that “the point at issue between realism and idealism should not be confused with the [point] at issue between empiricism and rationalism”,note in that the former has specially to do with knowledge while the latter has not, there are reasons, which I think conclusive, for holding that a realist can only be an empiricist. The question of the nature of relations is at any rate one issue between rationalists and empiricists, and, as the authors of The New Realism have shown, the basis of a realistic theory of knowledge can only be a certain theory of relations; which enables us to draw definite conclusions from the contention that knowledge is a relation. Thus, according to Professor Montague, “Realism holds that things known may continue to exist unaltered when they are not known, or that things may pass in and out of the cognitive relation without prejudice to their reality, or that the existence of a thing is not correlated with or dependent upon the fact that anybody experiences it, perceives it, conceives it, or is in any way aware of it.”1 And Professor Marvin makes the theory of relations here indicated still more explicit. “In the proposition ‘the term a is in the relation R to the term b’, aR in no degree constitutes b, nor does Rb constitute a, nor does R constitute either a or b.”1 Knowledge being taken as a relation, it is thus asserted that, when I know this paper, “I know” in no way constitutes this paper, nor does “know this paper” in any way constitute me, nor does “know” in any way constitute either me or this paper.

The view that knowledge is a relation implies that knower and known are two different things or that, in knowledge, the knower is not the known. It is indeed admitted on any view that there is a distinction between them, and if knowledge were not then called a relation, it would only be because relations were held to be comparatively unreal; but those who would say this would say the same about distinctions. The realist is thus found to be maintaining that distinctions are absolutely real. According to the opposing view, distinctions are “distinctions within identities”, and any relation is a “form of identity”. If a thing


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is really related in a certain way, the relation in question belongs to its “nature”, and since that to which it is related is thus not essentially separate from it, a certain “identity of nature” holds between the two. But this theory of natures or essences is precisely rationalism, and the realist, in denying that aRb asserts or implies any identity between a and b, is taking up an empiricist position.

He does not, of course, deny that there is a certain “identity” in the case, viz., the identity of aRb as a given situation or state of affairs. When it is argued that the distinction between subject and object must be “a distinction within an identity”, the reason alleged is 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. Hume points out that the facts that it takes a man to be a husband and that every husband has a wife do not imply that every man has a wife; similarly, to assert that it takes a mind to know or a thing to be known does not imply that every mind knows or every thing is known. But of more importance here is the fact that while we speak of a certain marriage, and agree that there is no husband without a wife and no wife without a husband, we find husband and wife in any marriage to be two different persons. The one is not the other. Those who argue that knower and known are in some way identical because they are in a certain relation, have also to maintain that any two different things are in some way identical, since any difference is a certain difference or since “A is different from B” is a certain state of affairs. So that when we say that A is not B, we are somehow also saying that A is B and B is A. On this basis discourse would be impossible.

It is thus seen to be logically necessary to hold that, in knowledge, “the knower is not the known”. It follows that to tell us what a man knows is not to give a description of that man (to state some character or quality which he has), any more than to tell us who knows it is to give a description of a thing. The fact that a man does know certain things may enable us to infer that he is a man of a certain character, but this inference would not be possible unless we had previously come to believe that only persons of that character knew these things, i.e., unless we had had previous opportunities of observing that character independently. But again, since knowledge is a relation, to tell us that a man knows is not to give a description of him, any more than to say that a thing is known is to say what sort of thing it is. We may believe that only beings of a certain sort do know, but that depends on our having recognised their character independently of their knowing. And, in general, in saying of any two related things that they are distinct, we must suppose each to have some character, or certain qualities, of its own. We must distinguish complete statements like “X is a man” from incomplete statements like “X is a husband”. The latter is, of course, used roughly to convey the fact that X has those characteristics which will be found in the first


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term whenever there is a true statement of the form “X is the husband of Y”. But those characteristics are understood to be discoverable by observing X alone, while we could not in that way find out what was meant by his being a husband.

Arguing then, as realists, that no thing or quality of a thing is constituted by the thing's relations, we have to assert that nothing is constituted by knowing and nothing by being known. The notion of “that whose nature it is to know” is expressed in the term “consciousness”; the notion of “that whose nature it is to be known” in the term “idea”. Realism is therefore concerned to reject these terms, as involving the attempt to take relations as qualities. If the term “conscious being” merely meant that sort of thing which can know, and “idea” that which can be known, they might be used in incomplete statements similar to “X is a husband”. But we must have some notion of what sorts of things these are, since we could never have supposed that nothing knew something or something knew nothing. Thus we must know what sort of thing a mind is, independently of terms like “consciousness” or “state of consciousness”; and we must be able to describe things independently of their being known or of their being known in some particular way, so that “sensa”, for example, cannot be a proper name for any species of things. A strictly realist theory must dispense with all expressions of these sorts, in order to be consistent with its empirical starting-point and logical basis.

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