Josiah Royce, The World and the Individual (1899)



IN the foregoing lecture, after naming four historical conceptions of Being, we undertook an exposition and comparison of two of these four conceptions. We indicated the general attitude towards life and towards the universe which is assumed on the one hand by Realism, on the other hand by Mysticism. Before proceeding with our list of the historical conceptions of what it is to be real, we may well pause to examine still further these two; both as to their inner consistency, and as to their adequacy to their task of expressing the problems which beset our finite thought.

The present lecture I shall devote to a critical study of the realistic conception of what it is to be. The next lecture will similarly be concerned with a study of Mysticism. Then only shall we be prepared to go still further in the effort to define true Being.


The realistic conception of Being is, as we saw, extremely familiar in metaphysical doctrine. It has won no small favor in popular discussion. It is the typical notion of socially respectable conservatism, whenever such conservatism begins to use the speech of technical philosophy. [92] But the task of critically analyzing Realism, to get at the essential meaning, is austere and intricate. Realism easily assumes its vast metaphysical responsibilities; yet an examination of the true state of its accounts with the truth proves to be a very baffling enterprise, The preparation of a balance sheet of these accounts, the definite presentation of the assets and the liabilities of Realism, has been repeatedly attempted by philosophers ever since Plato, and even before his time. Of the difficulty of the work let the proverbial obscurity of metaphysical treatises bear witness; for very much of that obscurity is due to just this problem. As a fact, all here depends upon finally simplifying the issue, upon leaving out countless non-essential problems, which have been discussed by this or that realistic system of doctrine, and upon reducing the central question of every realistic view of the universe to its lowest terms. Once thus separated from its historical setting, the mere intricacy of this problem indeed vanishes; and you find yourself at last in presence of a very precise issue. But then your difficulty only changes its shape; for hereupon the issue brought to light by Realism proves to be highly abstract; and the austerity of which I just spoke comes to be felt all the more as the crisis of the enterprise approaches. Nowhere in these lectures shall we have to undertake, in fact, a more abstract investigation than the one here immediately before us. May the magnitude of the interests at stake justify the inevitable hardships of just this day of our voyage!

Realism asserts, as I have said, that to be real means to be independent of ideas which, while other than a given [93] real being, still relate to that being. If you suppose a realist to be addressing yourselt, what he asserts may then be put into very much the following words: "The world of Fact," he tells you, "is independent of your knowledge of that world. This independence, and the very reality itself of the world of Fact, are one. Were all knowledge of facts to cease, the only direct and logically necessary change thereby produced in the real world, would consist in the consequence that the particular real fact known as the existence of knowledge, would, by hypothesis, have vanished. Since we men are not only knowers, but voluntary agents as well, it is true that the vanishing of our own knowledge would indirectly alter the fact-world in a negative and perhaps in a very important way, since all the real results that our will, in view of our knowledge, might have brought to pass, would be prevented from taking place. But this is a secondary matter. Primarily, the vanishing of our knowledge would make no difference in the being of the independent facts that now we know."

In brief, to sum up this whole view in a phrase, Realism asserts that the mere knowledge of any Being by any one who is not himself the Being known, "make no difference whatever" to that known Being.

Otherwise stated, Realism involves, as its consequence, a characteristic mental attitude towards the truth, -- an attitude celebrated in one of the best-known stanzas of Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyàm. Realism, at least in so far as it considers knowledge and does not add a special hypothesis to explain the active deeds of voluntary agents, submits. It accepts its realities as facts to which its own [94] knowledge makes "no difference," and so any group of so-called "merely knowing" beings, or of "pure ideas," can say to one another, concerning the whole world of facts beyond themselves, viewed precisely in its wholeness: --

"When you and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
Which of our Coming and Departure heeds,
As the seven seas should heed a pebble cut."

To be sure, as I have indicated, any individual realist may chance to deny altogether that in all this he himself means to be at all practically fatalistic. But in that case be needs a special hypothesis to explain how voluntary agents, according to his system, can use their knowledge to alter the independent facts. Primarily, knowledge shall make precisely what the characteristic phrase of Realism describes as "no difference" to fact. And so the realm of realistic Being that is real beyond your ideas or mine, is, in its wholeness, indeed like a sea, into which any of our ideas about its waves fall like pebbles. Wave and pebble are primarily to be viewed as mutually foreign facts. If the pebble itself creates new waves, that is at first sight something wholly non-essential. The sea is the sea, and Being is indifferent to our mere ideas.

This statement of the general realistic definition of what it is to be real may be set in a clearer light by a comparison with other more or less frequent efforts to state the same historical view. Sometimes Realism is defined as the doctrine that reality is "extra-mental" or is "outside of the mind." But this mode of definition involves a space-metaphor, and arouses the question as to what the [95] world "outside" is here literally to mean. Space, too, in its wholeness, may be viewed by a realist as "extra-mental." But space as a whole is obviously not in any literal and spatial sense "outside " of anything whatever; so that to call space "extra-mental" is to use a phrase that ipso facto needs further interpretation. Accordingly, "extra-mental" is often interpreted as meaning merely "other than" the knowing mind. From this point of view Realism would mean only that an object known is other than the idea, or thought, or person, that knows the object. But in this very general sense, any and every effort to get at truth involves the admission that what one seeks is in some way more or less other than one's ideas while one is seeking; and herewith no difference would be established between Realism and any opposing metaphysical view. Idealism, and even the extremest philosophical Scepticism, both recognize in some form, that our goal in knowledge is other than our effort to reach the the goal. Still, then, the realistic meaning of the phrase "outside of the knowing mind" would need an explanation.

But if this phrase is next taken to mean "different from or apart from, the contents of any or all minds," the phrase is inadequate to express what Realism has historically meant by the reality of the world. It is indeed true that in any realistic system there must be at least some real facts that find no place amongst the contents of any mind whatever. This is true, for any realistic view, at least, with regard to those supposed facts called the real relations between knowing beings and the "outside" objects which they know. For those real relations, [96] in any realistic system, are directly present to no consciousness whatever, and are thus absolutely different from the contents of any mind. But, on the other hand, it is not true that Realism need regard only such unconscious facts or beings as real in its sense of the word real. You, for instance, as a conscious mind, might be viewed by a realist as a being that he would call real in his sense. That assertion, if made by a typical realist, would simply mean that the contents of your mind, although present within your own consciousness, are real without regard to whether anybody else knows of your existence or not. It is true that some realists, namely, the extreme materialists have in their systems declared only matter to be real. It is also true that such a realist as Herbart, who was no materialist, still defined the real beings as in themselves absolutely simple, and therefore not conscious beings. But, on the other hand, many realistic systems have regarded conscious beings as in the realistic sense real; and it is historically possible for a realist to maintain that his world consists wholly of conscious beings, or even of mere states of mind, when taken together with the unconsciously real relationships existent amongst these beings. Whether such a theory can be consistently worked out, with a purely realistic sense of what it is to be real, is indeed another question. But one could be a realist in his definition of Being, and still insist that all Being is in its nature entirely psychological.

All these various interpretations of the phrase "outside of the mind," prove, then, inadequate to express the meaning of the realist. There remains as the one essential idea conveyed by the phrase, "outside of the mind " and [97] as the one mark of the realistic type of Being, the indifference of any real being to what you may, as knower, think about it, so long as you yourself are not the being that is known. The being, known by you, may be in itself a mere state of consciousness in the mental life of your neighbor. But it is a realistic being so long as it is supposed to be quite independent of your knowledge, and so undetermined by your knowledge. If you think the truth, so much the better for your knowledge. But if you or any other knower chance to think error, or chance even to vanish from the universe, the realistic realm is thereby modified only in respect of so much of its reality as you intelligent beings carry away with you when you blunder or vanish. To say just that, is to be realistic. This then is a general statement of the Realism which I mean in the present lecture to examine. This definition still needs, however, some further historical exemplification, to make sure that we have stated it not unfairly.


Historically speaking, this general realistic conception of what it is to be has been held with various degrees of consciousness and definiteness of conception. The early Greek thinkers soon learn to make a sharp distinction between what existed, as they said, "by nature," and what was merely believed from the point of view of human and of false "opinion." These two realms, the real and the false, they erelong not only distinguished, but sundered. It was this sundering that [98] made them realists, and not the particular sort of nature which they regarded as real. The changeless, although sensuous and materialistic Being of the Eleatics, is only one case of such sharp sundering of the real from the seeming. That true Being is, in some essential way, independent of false opinion, thus comes early to be regarded as a sort of obvious maxim. When Protagoras attacks this maxim, his extreme form of expression is a natural reaction from another extreme. Plato's theory of the incorporeal Ideas, in its more extreme form, rests upon the presupposition, that unless knowledge is founded upon the absolutely independent reality, nothing is known.{1} Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, spends a long time in trying to define what makes any real object, or substance, just itself, -- a being logically independent of other beings. That the definition of this essence or of any being also implies that a real substance is independent of the accident that it is known by another is, for Aristotle, rather a tacitly assumed and self-evident matter than a topic of frequent overt argument. But when, in [99] the fourth book of the Metaphysics, be has to deal with Protagorean scepticism, Aristotle uses, as one reductio ad absurdum, the consideration that, were this Protagorean doctrine true, "There would exist nothing in case beings with souls vanished from the world. For then," he says, "sense-perceptions would cease." "That," he continues, "perceivable objects and sense-percepts would then vanish, is perhaps true, for all this latter existence (i.e. as we should say, the existence of color, odors, etc.) is a state of a sentient being; but that the substrata upon which sense is based, should not persist, even were there no sense-perception, is impossible. For sense-perception is not a perception of itself, but there is some other over and above perception; and this other must necessarily be prior to perception. For what moves, is prior in nature to what is moved. And if one says that these two principles (subject and object, moved and mover) are related to each other, the same result still holds true." That in all this Aristotle admits interrelation, and recognizes no independence as absolute, is true, but here is one of the central difficulties of Aristotle's system.

Later Realism only makes this sundering of knowledge and object more express, as scepticism has to be faced, and as the idea of the individual Self gets more sharply contrasted with all ideas of outer things. The Cartesian dualism of extended and of thinking substance derives its extreme character from considerations with which the problem of knowledge has not a little to do. Occasionalism is an instance of the translation of a logical independence of essence into the assertion of a real causal independence.[100]

Locke states the realistic definition briefly when he says, of his primary qualities: "The particular bulk, number, etc., of the parts of fire, or snow, are really in them, whether any one's senses perceive them or no; and therefore they may be called real qualities, because they really exist in those bodies." As to the secondary qualities, as he goes on to say: "Take away the sensation of them . . . and all colors, tastes, odors, and sounds, as they are such particular ideas, vanish and cease." Here then is the realistic touchstone, the test of reality. Does the object stay when the knowledge vanishes? The converse of this test, however, also holds true for any realism. For erroneous ideas are possible. Hence, whether the object is or is not, any given idea may be held by anybody that you please. The idea might then persist when the object vanishes, or remain changeless when the object changes.{2}

It is of service to compare these familiar expressions of the classical realistic view with the speech used by an ancient Hindoo system of philosophy, the Sânkhya. The Sânkhya was a realistic doctrine, and very sharply dualistic. Its world consisted of matter and of soul, each of these sorts of realities being, in ultimate nature, totally different from the other. In fact, the salvation of the wise man depends, for the Sânkhya, upon his absolutely distinguishing himself as soul from all material objects, [101] states, and possessions. In a Sânkhya treatise translated by Garbe (a commentary upon the text called the Kârikâ), I find a statement of the realistic definition of Being, in a form abstract enough, but illustrated in characteristic Hindoo fashion.{3} I may first quote the statement of the commented Sânkhya text in question concerning the two types of Being of which this extreme dualism makes the world consist. On the one side, as this text tells us, there is the material world. On the other side, however, there is the soul, which the Sânkhya doctrine makes absolutely immaterial. Now both the matter and the soul are real beings. The text here describes them as to their essential metaphysical characters very briefly, and side by side. "The formed matter," it says, -- i.e., the matter of the physical world, "is composed of three constituents, -- is object, is common object for all knowers, is of non-mental character, and is productive. The materia prima also possesses these same characters. The soul is opposed to both; yet (being real) it has certain features in common with them."

The commentator explains this text at some length. "The word 'object,'" he says, "is used in opposition to those who say (as the Buddhistic metaphysicians had asserted) that there are only states of mind, such as joy, sorrow, confusion, tones, and the like. An object," he continues, "is that which is known as outside one's ideas. Therefore is the term 'common object' also used. For this term implies that material objects, such as pottery, for [102] instance, are known independently by many different souls. But if the objects were only the soul's state of mind, then, since states of mind, are affections of one individual only, the objects would be similarly limited, precisely as one man cannot observe another man's ideas, since the interior organ is invisible. That is what the text means. And so," continues the commentator, "it becomes comprehensible how very many men can bethink themselves of a single (i.e. of the same) coquettish glance of a dancing girl, while that otherwise (namely, upon the basis of subjective idealism) would not be possible." So much then for independent beings of the material sort. You see, their independence implies that these beings are out of all mind, and yet can become common objects for many minds at once.

The commentator then indicates, what he elsewhere developes more at length, namely, the features that the souls, as real beings, have in common even with their extreme opposite, matter. They too, he points out, are eternal; they are independent; and they are not the product of anything else. To be sure, unlike matter, they are not perceivable from without through sense. But they are utterly separate in being from matter, and, as thus separate, they are independent individuals. As we just saw, salvation, for the Sânkhya philosophy, depends upon coming to know precisely this utter independence of the true soul and the material world. In fact the soul is not only separated by a chasm from matter; it is even really unaffected by matter. What seem to be affections of the soul are, according to the Sânkhya psycho-physical theory, material states, which merely [103] appear to be in the soul, as, according to a favorite Sânkhya similitude, the red Hibiscus flower is reflected in a crystal that all the while remains inwardly unaltered by the presence of the flower. The result is a theory of a sort of psycho-physical parallelism, founded, to be sure, according to the Sânkhya, upon an illusion.

While the commentary just cited belongs, according to Garbe, to the twelfth century of our era, and the commented text of the Kârikâ itself is known to have existed not much before the fifth century, the metaphysical views here in question are no doubt of a very ancient date, and may well be quite independent of any but Hindoo origins. In any case the passage just quoted serves to give us, from a remote source, two or three very characteristic and universal features of realistic doctrines, -- features whose meaning becomes all the clearer for our attention by reason of their foreign dress. The whole may be summed up in a phrase: This realistic world is a world of Independent Beings.

Any real being, as you see, has to be essentially, and if possible absolutely, independent. The nature of the gulf that divides the independent beings from one another is peculiarly indicated, and in fact is typically exemplified, by a certain separation that is discoverable between knowledge and its material objects. What is known, if it is a physical thing, is outside of the knower. To this sundering of knower and physical object common sense bears witness. Moreover, a certain proof of the fact of the sundering, and at all events an explanation of what the sundering means, is furnished by the further fact that many knowers, while notoriously isolated from one [104] another, as our failure to read the ideas of our neighbors proves, can still know the same outer object. The sameness of the physical fact for all souls, is only explicable, in view of the mutual isolation of the souls, by the supposition of an equal isolation of the physical fact from the inner life of all who know it. Finally, if the material objects are independently real, the souls that know are also independently real. All is now independence and isolation. This is a world of chasms. The independence meant is intended to be a mutual relations

So much for our Sânkhya authors. They bring again to mind what I earlier mentioned about the social motives of realism. Our acceptance of our physical objects as topics of common knowledge for all men, stands side by side with an equally social assurance on our part that any man's knowledge is primarily a secret from all his neighbors. The mutual independence of the knowers requires their common separation from all their common objects. The independence of the objects makes possible their community for all the independent knowers. These social presuppositions have a great deal to do with the development of the whole realistic world, -- a world where an abstract reduction of the reality to a mysterious unity, such as the Eleatic One, has alternated with a tendency to create numerous gaps and separations. In this world, thought, as you see, first declares certain barriers absolute; and then proceeds, by immediate assurance, or by elaborate devices of reasoning, to transcend in knowledge these barriers, and to join in insight what Being is first said to have put forever asunder. The result is a struggle in which the unity sometimes [105] completely triumphs; but then the One becomes a mystery, or the many survive, and then where are the links?

Two features, frequent, but by no means universal, in realistic systems, I have in this whole summary deliberately kept in the background. Reality has often been regarded, by the realists who are of a more or less Eleatic type, as implying, essentially, the perrnanence and unchangeableness of the reals. So it was with Plato's Ideas ; so it was with Herbart's Reals; and Spinoza's Substance was eternal. A similar eternity the Sânkhya knew, although that doctrine also recognized a realm of real changes. Reality has also often been made, by these or by other Realists, to imply essentially the causal efficacy, the active potency, of the real entities. These two views, of course, cannot easily be harmonized. But regarding both these features of many realistic systems, I can here only observe that they are, to my mind, secondary features.

Historically, they are indeed not unimportant in the development of Realism. Permanence, in the first place, has always been regarded, -- and especially by the older forms of Realism, -- as a peculiarly strong evidence of independence; and often it has been conceived as, in the second place, a necessary condition of such independence. So it was, for instance, for Herbart. What lasts forever, wholly unchanged by anything, must of course be unchanged by the coming and going of knowledge. Hence the concept of the real as the absolutely Abiding, has played a great part, not only in the Eleatic doctrine, in Plato, and in Atomism, but also in modern, scientifically colored, speculations. [106] And just so, too, Power, Efficacy, Activity, seem to be evidences of independence. Plato associates them in the Sophist, with Reality. Yet, I insist, none of these predicates are essential to Realism.

Realism especially tends to sunder the what from the that, the essence from its existence. But permanence properly belongs to the what and not to the that of any being in a realistic world. And the same is true of activity, potency, effectiveness. One can define a mythical being, say Achilles, conceiving him as yellow-haired. To be yellow-haired belongs to the what of Achilles; to his essence, not to his existence. One can so conceive him while not asserting that he is, but while defining him as a myth. But just as easily one can conceive him as active, as pursuing Hector; and still one need not conceive him as anything but a myth. Activity and realistic existence are then certainly different ideas, just as much as yellow-haired and existence. Just so it is with permanence. Not all realists have asserted that permanence holds true of the Real. A world of events could be independently real for any Heraclitean thinker. The flashes of moonlight upon water may as well stand for independent realities as any other facts of experience. With the arguments used in special realistic systems, for the permanence of the reals, we have here nothing to do. Our concern is with the definition.

So there remains one more as the one essential historical mark of the realistic type of Being, its ontological independence of knowledge that refers to it from without. [107]


I have thus defined the realistic view (and have tried by historical examples both to elucidate and to justify the definition given at the outset) and above all I have tried to separate the one essential feature that lies at the basis of every realistic system from the countless accidental features, and from the more or less controversial consequences that, in this realistic system, or in that, distract our attention from the most fundamental issue. This issue is simply the problem whether any realistic definition whatever can be self-consistent, or can be adequate to what we seek when we look for true Being. Our problem, you see, is not here whether the real world contains one or another special type of beings, -- whether only states of consciousness and their real relations really exist, or whether only atoms have being, whether colors are real, or whether space has genuine being, or whether souls or angels are to be found in the outer universe. Our only present problem relates to the sense in which anything whatever can be called real at all. We wish to know whether this abstract an sundering of the what and the that can be consistently carried out.

But when the issue is thus simplified, the realistic definition stands before you as something that is on the one hand very plausible and familiar, and on the other hand very baffling and mysterious. As for its plausibility and familiarity, we hardly need here further dwell upon them. Is it not perfectly obvious that the very life of ordinary, socially colored common sense depends [108] upon tacitly admitting, or on occasion vigorously asserting that "whether or no" this or that observer, or this or that pupil at school, or a given doubter in faith, or a particular philosophical thinker, knows certain facts, those facts, whether physical or mental, whether God, or matter, or moonbeams, are what they are? This "whether or no " of ordinary common sense seems to be simply crystallized in a technically abstract expression in the fundamental definition of systematic realism as so far stated. On the other hand, so soon as one undertakes to formulate an exact account of the way in which Being is independent of knowledge, one discovers that nothing seems harder to carry out to its ultimate logical consequences than the definition of precisely that type of independence which is here in mind. Common sense knows, in the ordinary world of experience, very various grades and instances of relative independence amongst objects; but common sense also knows that often empirical objects which have been called mutually and even totally independent turn out to be, in other aspects, very closely linked. Yet the independence which Realism has in mind as characterizing the ultimate Being of things, must be something of a very fundamental and exact meaning and consequence. For it defines just what gives to things their whole Reality. Nevertheless realistic systems usually find it very much easier to assert or tacitly to assume the general definition of independent being just stated, than to give any precise account of the logical consequences to which the definition leads. As soon, however, as these consequences themselves are directly faced, they often become fairly [109] startling in their strangeness. And in what sense this last observation is true, a very moderate knowledge of the history of Realism will show. For the paradox of this history is that while the realistic metaphysic begins as the very voice of common sense, the more developed and thoroughgoing realistic systems show a character which has made realism, from the Sânkhya to Herbart, or to Herbert Spencer, the breeding place of a wholly marvellous race of metaphysical paradoxes. The Atoms and the Monads, the Ideas of Plato, the isolated Souls of the Sânkhya, the unknowable Things in Themselves of Kant, the transcendent Reals of Herbart, the Eleatic One, the Substance of Spinoza, and the Unknowable of Spencer, are beings far more remote from our ordinary experience and from common sense than are many views such as Realism vigorously opposes. Yet all these types of hypothetical realistic beings were invented in the very effort to make a realistic definition of what it is to be, consistent with itself, and adequate to the demands of life and of experience.

A definition whose union with common sense is at first so close, but whose consequences are subject to such remarkable and rapid transformations, is not indeed thereby discredited, but is at all events properly subject to a close scrutiny, to see whether we may not find out the reason of this tendency towards unexpected interpretations of Being. But if we indeed look yet more narrowly at the history of Realism, we find obvious motives running through the whole which make it seem in still other ways paradoxical. For upon such closer scrutiny we find that Realism has, as it were, vibrated between two historical [110] extremes, extremes suggested by the well-known question whether the real world contains One independently real Being, or Many such beings, all equally independent of any knowledge that, not belonging to their own nature, refers to them from without. It is just the problem of the One and the Many which, when it arises in a world defined in the realistic way, is the deeper source of those marvellous metaphysical hypotheses of which we just spoke. And it is when we consider this aspect of the history of Realism that we become at length fully awake to the gravity of the problems in hand.

Realistic systems have frequently, like the Sânkhya, taught that many different beings are real. The historical fate of such pluralistic forms of Realism is well known, and has already been mentioned. Again and again, with an uniformity that seems characteristic, such types of Realism, in order to assure the true multiplicity of their real beings, have defined these beings as in ultimate nature quite independent of one another, as essentially out of all mutual relations, as isolated. The result one sees in the Monads of Leibniz, or in the Reals of Herbart, or in the souls of the Sânkhya itself. Then, necessarily, there has arisen the question why, despite the isolation of the real Beings, this, our own world of experience, seems so full of interrelationships, of mutual connections, of laws that bind soul to soul, and sun to planet, and all things to space, to time, or to God. To meet such demands, Realism has in just such pluralistic systems resorted to various paradoxical secondary explanations. Preëtablished harmonies, illusory forms of unreal linkage, or assumptions of intermediating principles, [111] -- assumptions such as lead the philosopher into a hopeless, because unreasonable, complexity, -- such are the devices whereby Realism has in such cases sought to join again the sundered fragments of its disintegrated universe, like a careless child tearfully trying to mend a shattered crystal.

Or, on the other hand, some historical systems of Realism have been simply monistic, as the Eleatic doctrine was, or as, upon the realistic side of his ambiguous system, Spinoza's teaching appears. But in such cases, not only has common sense often revolted at the thought of making all the independently real beings into a single Being, but the realist's own logic has been easily turned against him. For, as an objector may then briefly sum up the case, addressing the merely monistic realists: "Our so-called false opinions, when we believe that the realities of the world are many, and are not One Being, -- are not these opinions themselves, viewed merely as opinions, still also psychical facts, as real in the mental world as is your One Being in its world. For you cannot even say that the opinions are false without admitting that, even as mere psychical facts, the opinions are in existence. But our false opinions, as you yourself also say, are many. Hence there is a real manifoldness in the world, and your simple One cannot be the whole truth." And this statement is, of course, conclusive as against any absolutely simple oneness about the independent reality.

Paradox has faced the realist, therefore, whenever he has attempted, during the history of thought, seriously to apply that idea of the fundamental definition of Being [112] which lies at the basis of his whole doctrine, to the development of a positive conception of a world that shall contain either One Being or Many Realities. Either all Unity, or else no linkages: such has been his historical alternative. Now is this fate of Realism a mere accident, due to the defects of individual realistic thinkers? Or is it somehow founded in the very nature of the realistic definition of what it is to be?

This question deserves to be considered more carefully, and upon its own merits. We have perhaps exhausted the aid that a merely historical survey can just at present give us. We must turn back to our realistic definition itself, and must directly consider, first, how best to state its exact logical force, and then how to test it by applying it to that famous problem as to whether the universe contains One real Being or Many real Beings. For, as I must insist, it is precisely the problem of the One and the Many which will prove to be the great test problem of realistic metaphysics.


And so we turn from the perplexing and varied history of the fortunes of realistic doctrine, to the even more forbidding task of reflecting upon the first principles of Realism. We lay aside for the time all thought of whether God, or the souls, or permanent matter, or the flashes of moonlight upon water, or the coquettish glances of our Sânkhya commentator's world of Oriental courts and splendors, are to be regarded as real beings. We ask only as to the most general theory of the constitution [113] of any realistic world. And here we shall restate the precise sense of the realistic definition, and next shall developer in a series of formal propositions, its inevitable consequences, until we see to what end they lead, both the realist himself, and all whose faith, whether in the world of science or in the realm of religion, depends upon realistic philosophical formulas.

As to the meaning of the realistic definition, we must take our realist seriously. Ile declares that whenever you know any being not yourself, your object is primarily and logically quite independent of your knowledge, so that whether your knowledge comes or goes, is true or is false, your object so far may remain whatever it was. He asserts, also, that in knowing the rest of the universe, you do, on the whole, know a being that is not your knowledge, and that is consequently independent of your knowledge. He asserts that this independence is the very means of defining the Being of any real object, when viewed in relation to any knowledge of this real object that is not itself a part of the object known. Now this definition turns upon the conception of independence. In just what sense is the reality to be independent of the knowing process?

In the Mathematical Theory of Probabilities, the conception of events that are said to be mutually independent is familiar. Two chance throws of dice, two drawings of a lottery, are such independent events. But the definition of such independence in the theory in question is always relative, and is limited to special aspects of the objects in question. One sometimes means, in such cases, that while both events, say both throws of the dice, are [114] indeed supposed to be connected in the general causal order of the universe, and so are not wholly independent, we happen not to know what this causal connection is. Or again, even if one talks of pure chance, and ignores causal linkage, one has indeed to observe that any two physical events are viewed as occurring in the same space, and in the same time, or perhaps in the case of the same dice. One has also to admit that all parts of space, and all moments of time, are, in a sense, conceptually interdependent. For you cannot conceive a cubic foot of space destroyed, without abstracting from all space; nor can you suppose this hour to vanish wholly from the time stream without abolisaing all time. But if space and time are thus Wholes of conceptually linked and mathematically interdependent parts, of course one hits to admit that, in a sense, no two objects, no two events, in space and in time, can be defined as through and through logically or essentially independent of each other; since in defining each as to its time and space relations, one has to take account of facts which can be recognized only as mathematically linked with the space and time aspects of the other object or event. Yet, nevertheless, in the theory of probabilities, one still calls two events that occur in the same space and time, or even in the repeated throwing of the same dice, independent events. Plainly then, one merely means that while these events are not wholly independent, there is an aspect in which they may be called independent, either because one does not know what the interdependence is, or because knowing, one ignores some aspect of the interdependence as insignificant.

Now Realism usually also admits, even while it speaks [115] of the object as independent of the knowledge, that various causal connections, nevertheless, bind this or that object to this or that state of knowledge. On the other hand, the independence here in question seems to mean something much more nearly absolute than the independence which the Theory of Probabilities has in mind when it speaks of the two throws of the dice as independent events. For the "whether or no" of custormary realistic phraseology means to sunder knowledge and object, taken in their deepest truth, more completely than any adjacent physical events, or even than any two merely physical facts can be sundered. For it is the very that of the object which is to be essentially and wholly sundered from the what of the object, in so far as the latter is expressed in any idea.

The only way to deal with a possibly ambiguous conception like this, is to view it first in its most extreme form, and to observe its consequences. Then later, if the conception is proposed in some modified form, the possibility of such modification may be considered. In this lecture, then, I shall henceforth take the realistic type of independence literally, and as a total independence. How alone a modified Realism can be stated, we shall see in connection with our Third Conception of Being. For the time, our realist shall be supposed to say, as many do, "Knowledge makes no difference to its real outer Object." What follows?

In brief, then, this realistic definition seems to imply two assertions: First, that even if your knowledge and its object are facts which when examined, say by a psychologist, appear to him to be causally connected, or [116] which, when externally observed, seem to agree, still any such linkage, where it exists, is no part of the essential nature, i.e. of the mere definition, either of your object in so far as it is real, or of your knowledge in so far as it consists of mere ideas. If your knowledge is true, is sound, is valid, it is indeed such as somehow to agree with the object. In other words, ideas depend for their truth upon objects. But then false opinion is just as possible in a realistic world as is truth. You cannot tell by examining a "mere idea" as an idea in a realistic world, whether its real object is or is not, any more than you can tell by merely considering an object, whether any particular idea external to that object does or does not rightly represent it. That is why a realist has to reject with Kant the well-known ontological proof for God's existence. God's existence cannot be proved from any mere idea about God. No "mere idea" is, as such, essentially linked to its independent object. The that in a realistic world never follows from the mere what. Nothing has real being merely by virtue of the fact that it is conceived by any knower. Conversely, nothing is conceived in idea merely by virtue of the mere fact that it is real. If, then, idea and object are linked, by ties of causation, or by the mere fact that the idea happens to be true, then such linkage, for a realist, is another fact, namely, just the fact that the causal connection itself exists, or that the idea, by good fortune, is true of its object. A cat may look at a king; and hereupon both cat and king may be viewed by a student of psychology or physics as facts in the interdependent world of space and time. But the cat's looking, viewed as knowledge, [117] makes "no difference " to the king; it is no part of the definition of the king's real being that he should be known or observed by a cat. On the other hand, the cat's idea of the king may be as false as you please. The "mere idea" in the cat's mind in no wise essentially determines the existence of the king. Just so, Realism asserts that existent causal or other linkage between any knower and what he knows is no part of the definition of the object known, or of its real being, or of the essence of the knowing idea if viewed in itself alone as a "mere idea."

In the second place, however, Realism, taken in its unmodified form, asserts that the independence here in question, namely, the logical or essential independence of object over against knowledge, is, indeed, in its own realm, absolute. For it is the whole Being of the object, spatial, temporal, inner, and outer, and all that is really true of it, that is independent of the fact that anybody knows this truth.

This view of Being may, for the sake of precision, receive still a little further development, and we may now afresh state the matter in the most general terms thus: --

Let there first be conceived any possible object, let us call it o. We want to know what would happen if this possible object o were real. To this end let there be conceived a second object, other than the first; and let this second object be called somebody's knowledge or idea or opinion, true or false, about the first object o. For brevity, let us simply name this second member of our pair "the idea of o." We sball first view it merely as a knowing process. We care in no whit whose idea [118] this is, or bow good or poor a representative of the first object it seems to be.

Next let us define the relation of the idea of o to its object o, the other member of the pair, -- the relation, namely, which unmodified Realism regards as essential. The definition in question is now, as a mere abstract statement, easy. Simply suppose the idea of o to change, in any way, becoming a good idea where it was formerly bad, or dim where it formerly was clear, or altering in the reverse of these ways, or in any other way. Let the idea of o be first one man's idea, and then another man's idea of o, or finally, let the idea of o, for the time, vanish altogether from the scene. Having tried all such changes in the idea of o, then arbitrarily define o as such an object that, as far as the nature of o and that of the idea of o are alone considered, there is no logical necessity that any change in o, or in the whole Being of o so far as o is real, need correspond to or follow from any of these variations of the idea of o. In other words, if o is later to be viewed as causally linked to the idea, some third and wholly external power, say somebody's will, must be also real, and must be supposed, if that be still possible, to cooperate with the idea and to induce such changes in the knowing object. This definition of o as such an object that by the definition of o itself no change in o logically need correspond to any variation in the idea of o, or even to the total vanishing of that idea, -- this definition, I say, will hereupon be the more fully developed statement of the proposition that the object o is independent of the idea or opinion of knowledge [119] which refers to it, or that essence and existence are mutually independent. Any causal or other linkage between o and the idea will have to be later added as a third fact, involved neither in the mere essence of o nor in that of the idea, in case any such linkage is to be found.

Moreover, the essential independence of object and "mere idea," in so far as each is first viewed by itself alone, will have to be a mutual independence. The idea will have to be, in its own separate essence, independent of the object. Otherwise, by merely examining the idea, taken by itself, you could prove something about the existence of its object. But, if so, then the that would follow from the what, and the independent existence of a thing from the presence of some mere idea of the thing. That, however, is forbidden by the whole spirit of realism. For that anything is, is a mere fact, to be wholly sundered from what anybody thinks it to be. So we can accordingly add that the object o also, when viewed in itself, might be supposed to change or to vanish without any change occurring in the idea of o. Of course if the idea is to remain true, it will indeed change when o changes, and so will be in that way dependent upon o. But then an idea might be false. That any given idea is true, or agrees with its object, is itself a further fact in a realistic world, a tertium quid. But this fact, like any other, may either be or not be. Mention to me a mere idea, define it as you will, and in a realistic world I have to say that this idea might be all that it now is whether or no any corresponding object exists in the real world.

And now suppose that o stands for any real object that you please, whether an angel, or a worm, or a Spencerian Unknowable ; and that o is, precisely thus, independent of any idea that you please, so long as this idea is not itself a part of o. Suppose, too, that the object o is consequently also independent even of the very ideas by which we just now declared it to be independent. Suppose just so that the ideas are, as mere ideas, definable independently of their objects. Then, finally, we have before us the unmodified realistic definition of the sense in which the object o is real. For Realism asserts simply that the real being of o is adequately defined by the supposed law that no change in either o or the mere idea of o primarily or essentially corresponds to any change or variation or vanishing of the other member of this pair, so long as that idea is not itself a part of o, and that any causal connection, or truthful agreement, or other such mutual dependence of o and the idea, if it ever came to exist, would be a third fact, external both to the primary nature of o and to that of the idea.

This abstract development of the sense of that "whether or no" which common sense so lightly utters when it speaks of an object as real "whether or no" you are aware of the fact, -- this development, I say, already serves to bring more clearly before us the extreme subtlety of the considerations upon which the realistic view depends. But the definition is now complete. Let us at once set it to work. It has defined a world. Let us enter that world, and see what is there. [121]


And so next I ask the formal question: In the realistic world whose Being is thus defined, could there exist Many different beings? And if they existed, in what relation to one, another would they stand? Or again, could a realistic world contain only One sole Being, to the exclusion of many beings?

These questions at once raise another question, viz., What are we now to mean by the term "One real Being," and what by the term "Many real Beings"? Some realistic systems have answered this question by saying at once that by calling a real Being One, we mean that this being is perfectly simple, having no parts or passions, no internal variety of nature, no complexity about it. This is what Herbart declares about each one of the many real beings of which his world is composed. A realist of Herbart's type would insist that wherever there is real variety, there must be many real beings, so that to assert that there is only one reality in the world, would be to assert that all variety is illusory. Since Herbart holds that variety is real, he has to say that the world consists of many different beings, while each separate being for him is absolutely simple.

The arguments usel for such views by realists like Herbart need not here concern us. In this general examination of Realism we may avoid altogether that issue, and may leave it a wholly open question, by arbitrarily defining the sort of difference between two beings which, if it were certainly known to be present, would be great enough to suffice to assure us that these beings were [122] really two, and were not mere parts or aspects of any single being. This characteristic difference which would suffice to assure us that two beings were different realities, may be defined without in the least attempting to pass upon the question whether any variety could afterwards be found, in a realistic world, within the bounds of a single being.

Accordingly, I shall here not at all either assert or deny that a single realistic being, if found, would be a simple being. For all that I now know, a single realistic entity may be as simple as Herbart wished, or as complex as the whole arch of the heavers. I shall only say that if, in the realistic world, we were to find two objects that were as independent of each other as, in our definition of the general realistic conception of what it is to be, the object of knowledge was independent of any knowledge of that object, then, and then only, we should call those objects two real beings, really different from each other. If, however, on the other hand, we should find that, within the realistic world, all the real objects there present were in any way linked together, so as not to be mutually independent, we should so far have, according to just the present definition, to regard them as parts or aspects of One real being.

This way of stating our present meaning for the terms "One" and "Many," as applied to the realistic world, is of course, if you please, an arbitrary way. But it has the advantage of leaving open all the questions as to whether any single being would also, upon examination, prove to be a simple being; and this definition of unity and multiplicity has also the advantage of exhaustively stating [128] a perfectly definite alternative. Let me restate then, in exact form, just this definition of the One and the Many.

Suppose then that, in the realistic world, we should find two real objects, a and b. Suppose that they were found to be such that if either of them changed in any way whatever, or vanished, the other of them might still consistently be conceived as undergoing no change whatever. That is, suppose that the presence or the absence, or any alteration of either of them, logically speaking, need make "no difference" to the other, in precisely the same sense in which Realism says that it now makes "no difference" to your object whether you know it or not. Suppose, in brief, the universal law that, so far as the nature of a and b is alone considered, no change in either a or b need correspond to any change in the other member of this pair. Then, by my present definition, a and b would be two different real beings; while if any less mutual independence than this existed, my present definition would regard a and b as parts of one complete Being. Upon this basis we could once more ask the realist: "Does your world contain in just this sense Many different, that is mutually independent beings, or does it contain only One real being, whose inner structure, perhaps simple, perhaps infinitely complex, still permits of no mutual independence of parts.

Two answers are, logically speaking, now open to the realist. He can decide for the One; be can decide for the Many. For the argument's sake, I suppose him first to decide for the Many. His world shall now contain various mutually independent beings -- beings such that, as they at first are defined, the existence and the nature of any [124] one of them is essentially indifferent to the presence, or absence, or alteration of any of the others. So far as the primary definition of any one of them goes, no change in that one need correspond to any change in the others. This is my realist's present hypothesis. I ask at once, what further consequences follow from this hypothesis? And in particular I want to know whether, when once the realist has defined his many beings as logically independent and as all in his sense real, he can ever afterwards define any way in which they can come to be linked, say by causation or space or time? In brief, I want to see him mend the broken crystal of the world of the Many, and make one world of it. In answer, I suppose that the realist may here at once counsel me to consult experience. What is more familiar than the existence of really independent beings? Yonder in the ocean there are drops of water. Here on the land is my desk. Both are real. Does any change in one of these beings just now need to correspond to any change in the other. If either were supposed to vanish, would the other thereby be changed? The unseen meteors in interplanetary spaces, are they not beings that are real, and that yet just now make no difference to your being or to mine? If we change or die, do they not move on unheeding? If their swarms disintegrate, do we therefore suffer? What then is more familiar than the empirical fact that the real world contains many mutually independent beings? In fact there are men in China or in Lapland who are beings utterly independent of me. They know me not, nor I them; and our lives make "no difference" to one another. Is this not the verdict of experience? [125]

But as to the consequences of such independence, why is not experience also again our guide? Beings, thus primarily independent, may later come to be linked by actual ties. These ties are then new facts in the world. But they are possible. The drop of water in the ocean, evaporated, may enter into the atmospheric circulation, may be carried, as moisture, to my desk, and may there help to warp the wood. The meteors, reaching the earth's neighborhood, may be seen and perhaps heard as they explode. The men in China or in Lapland may become my business correspondents, my enemies, or my neighbors. So then independence, first real, may later change to mutual dependence, and what were strangers may become linked. Is not all this obvious?

But if one thus urges upon me such considerations, I reply at once that all this is simply not obvious as any case of true independence or of its possible consequences. I have just abstractly defined an absolute type of mutual independence supposed to exist amongst many real beings. This independence, I suppose a realist hypothetically to assert as the truth about this world. I ask for the consequences of this hypothesis. But now I distinctly decline to admit that, in our concrete human experience, you can ever show me any two physically real objects which are so independent of each other that no change in one of them need correspond to any change of the other. On the contrary, the very cases mentioned are cases of objects such that certain changes of one do very really correspond to very precise changes in the other, and the very beings of each can only be defined by admitting the possibility of just such a change. The water, once [126] absorbed by the wood of the desk, changes the desk. But the absorption itself is due to certain changes occurring in the temperature, movement, density of the water or of its vapor. The man in China who may become my enemy or my neighbor is already such that certain changes in him, if they occurred, would not be indifferent to me. This possibility already makes part of his being. Furthermore, in our ordinary world of experience, beings like meteors and planets, water and wood, men and other men, viz. beings that on occasion may come into a very obvious connection, are already, even before their so-called actual linkage, truly related, yes, linked to one another, by space, by time, by physical and moral ties. What happens when we say that they pass from mutual independence to linkage, is really that we find them, in our experience, passing from relations whose importance is merely to us less obvious, into relations of more obvious human interest. But now the relations of an object in ordinary experience make parts of the object itself. A change in these relations would result from the change of other objects. Hence these empirical objects are never known as independent. If I am already related to the drops of water now in the ocean, to the meteors that might become visible to me, to men whom I might come to know, then you can never say that experience proves me to be independent of the existence of those as yet unobserved relations. What experience can show is only that a certain mutual dependence of objects may long remain unobserved by us men, until this or that meteor-flash in the heavens, or consequence of the damp weather, or meeting with a [127] man from far lands, shows us how important even the remotest and heretofore least obvious empirical relation may at any moment become.

Our human experience, then, never shows us how beings would behave if they were mutually independent, in the ideal sense of our exact definition. Unhampered, therefore, by empirical guidance, we turn back to the chill realm of the hypothetical many beings of our realist's hypothesis. These many beings are so far the creatures of an exact definition, whose consequences, purely hypothetical so far, we want to predetermine. We must do so solely upon the basis of our realist's supposed present assumption. And hereupon, assuming the real world now before us to contain many mutually independent beings, I will prove at once two tbeses: (1) The many different real beings once thus defined can never come to acquire or later to be conceived as possessing any possible real linkages or connections, binding those different beings together; and so these beings will remain forever wholly sundered, as if in different worlds. (2) The many real beings thus defined can have no common characters; they are wholly different from one another. Only nominally can any common characters be asserted of them.

As to the first thesis: If I am defining mere ideas, apart from reality, I can of course first define two objects as independent, and can later add a definition of something that then comes to link them together. But if first I define two objects as so far quite independent of one another in essence, and if I next define each of them severally as real, apart from and independently [128] of all ideas, I have, once for all, in my real world of objects, two beings, each so far quite separate from the other, and each, by hypothesis, a complete instance of a reality, so far as concerns its independence of the other. If hereupon there is later to appear in my real world any so-called link or tie between the two, -- any so-called causal linkage, or spatial connection, or temporal relation, then this so-called linkage will be a new fact, not logically involved in the definition of either of these real beings, in so far as they were first declared to be real. For, by hypothesis, neither of the two, as first defined and as then declared to be independently real, possessed, as far as the definition yet went, any character already involving a tie with the other. For each, consistently with its definite nature, might so far remain unchanged if the other wholly vanished. But then at once it follows, that the new real being, the so-called link, when it comes to light, is as truly and as much another being as the two beings were originally diverse from each other. For if before the link came to light the completely defined beings were real but not yet defined as linked together, the link, when it comes, will be another new being. Furthermore, the link will be a fact, logically independent of both of the original beings. For as another being, a new fact, it will be, by the very definition of what constitutes another being, as independent of them, as each of them is essentially independent of the other. It follows that the so-called link is no link except in name, and can never come to be one; it is simply a third being, independent of both of them, and not yet linked to either [129] of the two. This analysis holds of every possible link that is secondarily to bind together any two of the many beings that were declared to be primarily independent. Thus the many cannot be linked as even the most widely sundered empirical objects are always found to be linked, even at the very moment when you first observe their relations. The realist's many beings, as defined, are defined as wholly disconnected ; and they must remain so. You cannot first say of them, for instance, that they are logically independent, and then truly add that nevertheless they are really and causally linked. No two of them are in the same space; for space would be a link. And just so, no two are in the same time; no two are in any physical connection; no two are parts of any really same whole. The mutual independence, if once real, and real as defined, cannot later be changed to any form of mutual dependence.

And now for the second thesis. In our ordinary experience we often, as a fact, observe that two objects have some character, as we say, "in common." We call this the "same" character, quality or feature, present in both of them. Thus in experience, what is called the same redness can appear in two cherries. The old controversy about universals has made familiar the question whether that which is truly the same can ever really form part of two different beings. How this question is to be answered when it concerns the structure of that organic whole, that realm of mutual interdependence called our concrete experience, we shall later see. For the moment we have only to consider such a question as applying solely to the independent beings which the realist has defined. [130] Take any two such independent beings. Then, as I observe, these two beings can have no real quality or feature whatever that is actually common to both of them, or that is, apart from name and from seeming, the same in both of them, beyond the mere fact that each exists.

For suppose that they are first said to possess in common a quality. Suppose, namely, that, to an onlooker, they both seem red, or round, like two cherries, but that as a fact they are independent beings. Call this apparently common quality Q. Then let one of the two beings be destroyed. By hypothesis, no change whatever need occur in the other being. And this means, as we now know, that no character or relation, visible or invisible, which is in any wise essential to the first definition of the being that is supposed to remain, is in the least altered when its fellow vanishes. Q, then, the quality supposed to be the same in both beings, survives unchanged in the being that does not vanish.

But now, if one man survived a shipwreck in which another was drowned, could you then call the survivor the same as the drowned man? But by hypothesis, the quality Q, together with all relationships essential to its reality, survives unchanged in the being that remains, while what is called the same quality in the other being has passed away.

But our realist, unwilling to concede this last consequence, may hereupon say that what he meant was that the quality Q in the two beings was partly the same, and partly not the same. This way of escape I meet, however, with the simple challenge: Leave aside that which is in part. Come to the ultimate fact. If something is only partly the same in your two independent beings, [131] then some part of the part, some aspect of the aspect must be really and ultimately quite the same. Name me any feature whatever in one of these two beings, -- any character sensuous or supersensuous of which you will say: It is a common feature, really the same in these two beings. Then in my turn I will show you that just that feature is not the same, for I will suppose one of the two objects destroyed, as by hypothesis I have a right to do. I will then find the other in all its featnres quite unchanged, as by hypothesis I can do. And so I will show that what was destroyed in the one object cannot be the same as what survives unchanged in the other, precisely as the survivors of a shipwreck cannot be the same as the drowned. All this, you must remember, I assert upon the one basis of the realistic hypothesis about the many independent beings as stated above.

It follows that, as was to be proved, the many entities of this realistic world have no features in common. If they appear to have, this is seeming, is "mere name and form," as the Hindoo philosophers would say. In brief, such sameness is not at all real. The appearance called "similarity" has no real basis except when we are dealing with the aspects or functions that may exist within what our present arbitrary definitions would call a single real being.

I sum up the results of these two inquiries concerning the world of the many independent reals by asserting simply: The real beings, if in the present sense many, namely, if real beings thus logically independent of one another, have no common features, no ties, no true relations; they are sundered from one another by absolutely impassable chasms; they can never come to get either ties [132] or community of nature; they are not in the same space, nor in the same time, nor in the same natural or spiritual order.


The doctrine of the Many, upon a basis of the arbitrarily assumed definition of many, thus becomes, in seeming, paradoxical enough. Historically, Realism has more than once assumed, however, almost this uncanny form; and the mere seeming of paradox is in itself no refutation of a philosophical doctrine. Yet before we press this very paradox to its final extreme, we must first see whether the realist is in any way forced to persist in defining his real Beings as in this sense many at all. Have we not ourselves admitted the possibility that, in one real Being, unity and multiplicity, for all that yet we see, can be reconciled? The Many, if once irrevocably defined as real, and as essentially independent, can never again be linked by external ties. They indeed thenceforth remain strangers. "But surely," one may say, "the realist is not forced to remain in so scattered a world. He can still pass over to the other hypothesis. He can say: 'My world is One Being, a single, real, but perhaps an internally complex, yes an infinitely wealthy Being, whose various aspects and functions are not logically independent, but are linked in a system, so that fully to define one part or region would be to define something of the essence of all, and so that no portion can indefinitely alter or wholly vanish without some implied change, however minute, in all the other parts. Diversity there is in my world, but no sundering of entities.' Why may [183] not a realist take refuge in this modified monism, -- not in the Eleatic Being, or even in the Substance of Spinoza, but in the assurance that the All, however manifold and full of contrast, is still an interrelated whole?"

Why not, indeed? Ah, -- but just as we are about to enter, with the realist, to explore this harbor of refuge, we suddenly observe that the realist has long since carefully closed the channel of entrance with a wholly impassable blockade. For let us remember that, as we observed before, there are already at least Two genuinely and absolutely independent real Beings in the realistic world.

For now comes a single proposition to which I have already made reference. Consider that "idea of o," of which any object o was to be independent. Let that idea be the realist's own idea, when he talks of any independent object. I ask the realist: "Is not your own idea itself a real being, or at least a part of one? Come let us reason together. If you, the realist, are a being independent of my idea of you, then are not your own ideas a part of your own independent being? Are not your ideas then real? If, therefore, your object o yonder is independent of your ideas, are not your ideas, in so far as they also are parts of an entity and so have being, independent of o itself? If o vanished, could not your idea consistently be conceived as remaining, as a psychical fact, just what it now is? Yes, ideas, even the most false ones, are facts in the mental world. The realist must call them real in his sense, or abandon his system. And by the very first hypothesis of the system, since independence is a mutual relation, the idea and its object o are mutually [134] and typically a pair of independent beings. Now the thesis that, if reality means independence, the ideas too, of anybody you please, are themselves existent entities, or are parts of an entity existent and independent, constitutes what I may call the Forgotten Thesis of most realistic systems. The whole present argument depends upon simply declining to countenance that forgetfulness. An idea has Real Being if anything has Being. And whatever existence means, that an idea also possesses.

A knowing process and its independent object, constitute then the irreducible minimum of the realistic world. But herewith I propose a perfectly simple and final procedure. I propose to treat this pair of entities precisely as we have just treated any two independently real beings in general. For this pair are not only the so-called idea and object; they are also a pair of mutually independent entities. We must not forget this aspect. The two theses just proved are now merely to be applied to them. The crisis of the realist's destiny is reached. The doom of his world is at hand.

Object and idea, viewed as entities, are twain. Realism began by saying so. So much is nominated in the bond. The realist shall have his pound of flesh, although we can grant him indeed not one drop of blood for all his world. By the original hypothesis either any individual idea, or o, the object of that idea, could without contradiction be conceived as changing, or as vanishing, without any logically necessary change in the other member of the pair. Therefore, according to what we have now shown to be the case with any two independent realities, the idea of o and o, as real beings, not only [135] have, as first defined, no connection with each other, but they can never get any possible linkage or relation. All their connections are nominal. As idea, the idea was said to have o for its object. But the idea is an entity. It can have nothing to do with the other entity o. These two are not in the same space, nor in the same time, nor in the same natural order, nor in the same spiritual order. They have nothing in common, neither quality nor worth, neither form nor content, neither truth or meaning. No causality links them. If you say so, you again use mere names. No will genuinely can relate them. That they appear to have connections is simply a matter of false seeming. Our original definition called the one of them an idea relating to the object o. We now know that such an expression was a mere name. The idea has assumed as idea an obligation that as independent entity it cannot pay. It has no true relation with o, and o has no community with the idea. To speak of any being not o itself as if it were really an idea of o, is as if you spoke of the square root of an odor, or of the logarithm of an angel. For idea and object are two real beings. Their irrevocable sundering no new definition of their essence can now join again. For reality, in this doctrine, is independent of all definitions that could be made after the fact. Relations that could link the two entities would merely prove to be new independent beings other than either of them.

Nor is this all. The idea here in question is any idea or opinion. o is any object. Now a realist's own theory is an idea or opinion. And the world was to be [136] his object. Our perfectly general result, true of all ideas, applies of course to the group of ideas called the realistic theory. As an entity, the realist is an independent being. His ideas, as part of his being, can have nothing to do with any object that exists independently of himself or themselves. The realistic theory, then, as we now know, by its own explicit consequences, and just because its real objects are totally independent of its ideas, has nothing to do with any independently real object, and has no relation to the independent external world that its own account defines. Nor can it ever come to get such a relation. No realist, as he himself now must consistently maintain, either knows any independent being, or has ever, in idea, found himself related to one, or has ever made any reference to such a being, or has ever formed or expressed an opinion regarding one, or, in his own sense of the word "real," really believes that there is one.


And thus, suddenly at one stroke, the entire realistic fabric, with all those "suns and milky ways" to which Schopenhauer, in a famous passage, so prettily referred, vanishes, -- leaving not a wreck, not even a single lonely Unknowable, behind. For an Unknowable, too, would be an independent real object. Our present idea of it would have to refer to this object, if it were real; and no idea, as we know, can refer to any independent reality, since in order for such reference to be itself real, two irrevocably sundered beings would have to destroy [137] the chasm whose presence is determined by their own very essence.

In brief, the realm of a consistent Realism is not the realm of One nor yet the realm of Many, it is the realm of absolutely Nothing. This judgment is not due to us. The consistent realist merely happens to remember that his ideas too are, by his own hypothesis, existences; that also, by his own hypothesis, the objects of his ideas are other existences independent of his ideas; that this independence is a mutual relation; and finally, that two beings once defined, in his way, as independent, are wholly without inner links, and can never afterwards be linked by any external ties. The consistent realist remembers all this. And then he at once observes that if this be true, his own theory, being an idea, and at the same time an independent entity, has no relation to any other entity, and so no relation to any real world of the sort that the theory itself defines. He observes then that his whole theory has defined precisely a realm of absolute void. Nothing can be real merely in his sense.

But what then is left us, if the realistic definition of Being simply and rigidly applied, destroys its own entire realm, denies its own presuppositions, and shows us as its one unquestionable domain the meaningless wilderness of absolute Nothingness. Where, then, is our real world?

There is left us, I reply, just this world of our daily experience, with precisely its stars and milky ways, with its human life and its linkages -- this world, only given already a deeper meaning by this very study. For now [138] we already begin to see, as from afar, the realm of truth that is not independent of, but the very heart and life of this fragmentary finite experience of ours. We begin to see what later we sball view nearer by, -- tbe realm of truth where indeed nothing, not the least idea, not the most transient event, is absolutely independent of the knowledge that relates to it, or of any other fact in the entire universe. In this realm it does, then, in the long run, make a difference to all objects, divine or material, whether they are known or not, by any being. That a relative independence, and that both individuality and freedom have their concrete meaning in this truer realm, we shall indeed in due season learn. But what we now learn is that any definition of absolutely independent beings, beings that could change or vanish without any result whatever for their fellows, is, in all regions of the universe, natural or spiritual, a hopeless contradiction. There are no such mutually indifferent beings. But this other realm, where no fact, however slight, transient, fleeting, is absolutely independent of any of its fellow facts, this is the realm where when one member suffers others suffer also, where no sparrow falls to the ground without the insight of One who knows, and where the vine and the branches eternally flourish in a sacred unity. That is the city which hath foundations, and thither our argument already, amidst these very storms of negation, is carrying us over the waves of doubt.


{1} Any summary statement of the significance of the Platonic Ideas has to be, in a measure, unjust. I here follow what is, on the whole, Zeller's interpretation; and I lay stress upon the extremer form of the Platonic theory. Plato himself sometimes saw much deeper. Independence, in the abstract sense hereafter to be defined, seems indeed certainly to be implied in the famous expression (Sympos. p. 211, A and B): auto kath auto meth monoeises aei on, taken in its context as the climax of an effort to define the complete indifference of the Ideas to all beyond. But that the Plato of the Philebus and the Sophist recognizes other aspects of the situation is true. The argument (Sophist, p. 248) that our knowledge of Being is one of the proofs that the Real is both active and passive, and enters into relations, is identical in spirit with the criticism of Realism here to be given. [Back]

{2} Kant, in his criticism of the Ontological Proof for God's existence, emphasizes this expression of the realistic test of being. The being of fact, he says, never follows from any mere idea. The that never follows from the what. In other words, whether or no any object exists, your ideas about that supposed being may be whatever they happen to be. [Back]

{3} See Der Mondschein der Sânkhya-Wahrheit, in deutscher Uebersetsung von Richard Garbe, Abhandl. der Bayer. Akad. der Wiss. 1. Cl., Bd. XIX, Abth. III, p. 567. [Back]