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Thinking in Opposites
An investigation of the nature of man
as revealed by the nature of thinking

by Paul Roubiczek

Part III:

Chapter 11


Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Section 3


The names of these opposites are rather clumsy, and it would be useful to find other names for them to distinguish them more easily from the constructive concepts. This seems hardly possible, however, because their appearances in external and internal reality are so different that different names would be required, and it is only the concepts of the One and the Many which, in both realities, as we shall see, stress some of the essential points clearly. Their comparison with the constructive concepts will help sufficiently for us to get a distinct idea of them, despite their rather technical names.

subsection (a)

The One and the Many in external reality

We have said that we need repetitions to grasp external reality. These repetitions enable us, with the help of the constructive concepts the One and the Many, to apply numbers to this reality, and these, by forming the basis of mathematics, prove one of the most important means of getting a reliable hold of it. The constructive concepts are able to form the basis of numbers because they remain purely formal; we have to leave out all the particular aspects and characteristics of the single unit to make it one among many and thus to be able to count. We have seen that this is the process which enables us to apply the number 'five' to apples as well as to days. (See Chapter 3, Section 3, paragraph 12.) The Many, too, must then remain purely formal to be able to indicate quantity and nothing else. Mere numbers, however, are obviously not the basis of our apprehension of external reality, for they give us no idea of its nature (as space and time or necessity and freedom do); the interconnected opposites, therefore, must have a different meaning.

As our knowledge of external reality is dependent on repetitions and numbers, its fundamental concept is the Many. We apprehend this reality as a multitude of objects and events, and it is only because there is this multitude that we can grasp external reality at all. We describe objects by qualities, but no quality could be isolated and defined without comparing different objects; we understand events with the help of laws, but no law could be discovered and stated if there were not many events. This shows, too, that this multitude must not be considered as complete diversity; we have to see in it these similarities and repetitions—that is, the term the Many means both diversity and uniformity. It shows us the nature of external reality because it indicates a multitude which can never be summed up (even the number of electrons does not abolish the differences between houses and trees and animals and men) nor ever divided into completely disconnected units (there are common characteristics of everything external). Thus it also confirms that our knowledge is not simply derived from external reality, but that we have to apply the laws of thinking. We have seen before that the actual first impression we receive from this reality is 'the unrepeatable' and thus mere multitude and diversity; the idea of the Many, which allows us to grasp this reality, has to be introduced by us. (See Chapter 3, Section 2, paragraphs 7-10.)

The concept the One represents, as we shall see, the fundamental concept of internal reality, but nevertheless remains indispensable for our grasping of external reality too. The very nature of the idea of the Many shows that we cannot sever the interconnection between these two concepts. By pure logic, The Many consists of many single units, but this formal connection belongs once more to the constructive concepts; their interconnection is more than merely logical.

The transformation of a shapeless diversity into a multitude of definite similarities and repetitions can only be achieved if we gain a clear conception of the single unit. Things have to be perceived as limited units in space and events as limited single happenings in time; otherwise we could neither compare nor explain them. It is no accident that the other constructive concepts presuppose such units; there is no form without it and no content without form; cause and effect must be limited units too, and they must divide the constant flux of events to enable us to deal with it. Such a unit, however, must be more than a simple number; it must have certain qualities and characteristics, for only thus are the similarities and differences thrown into relief and the multitude made accessible to apprehension, organization and understanding. The Many consists, not of abstractions, but of units which we can recognize when we describe them; they have a one-ness distinguishing them from each other—that is, our thinking has also to supply the idea of that inner coherence of the form which we know only in internal reality. Even the electron, which represents both the nearest approach to pure mathematics and the attempt to overcome diversity completely, has particular qualities, special characteristics and this oneness, and we could not have discovered it without starting from an external reality seen as a multitude of more individual units with more distinct and complex forms which require the idea of inner coherence. How inescapable this demand of our thinking is can be recognized when the individuality of which we try to deprive the different objects, in order to arrive at a common denominator, reappears as a mysterious quality of the electron itself.

The difference between the constructive concepts and the interconnected opposites can also be seen when we apply the test of infinity. It is true that we can go on counting infinitely and also introduce infinity into mathematical calculations, but even the largest number is not the all-embracing infinity which this concept really suggests. But the interconnected opposites can be imagined as infinite; we are even forced to think of an all-inclusive unit representing the whole of the universe as the complete sphere of everything which exists; and as soon as we think, not of numbers, but of the different individual units, the sum total of the Many must produce the same wholeness and unity. Again, however, infinity remains beyond our reach and only shows that this opposition, too, cannot be overcome. We have seen that all attempts to establish such a comprehensive unity must fail; nor can we hope to sum up the Many. Modern physics having discovered the individuality of the electron, may succeed in finding some such sum totals for our universe; but, as we have mentioned, this only transforms 'the' universe into 'a' universe among many, in spite of all the necessary simplifications which distort external reality beyond recognition.

As external reality is grasped with the help of abstractions, the impossibility of excluding these opposites and of including infinity can be hidden in many ways. We use such concepts as quantity, quality, energy in a very general way which seems to establish an infinite unity, and forget that, if these concepts are applied, their dependence on the One and the Many must become obvious, and that they have no meaning apart from their application. It is this possibility of abstraction which accounts for the constant recurrence of futile attempts to create the all-embracing unity. There is one sphere, however, in which no such abstractons will ever be convincing, and it it this sphere which represents for us, at the same time, the most important embodiment of these opposites. We can never get away from the fact that we are single human beings among many such beings.

This sphere raises some special difficulties which we always encounter when approaching the human realm in external reality; we have met them before when discussing nationalism. (See Chapter 8, Section 1, paragraphs 5-6.) We cannot satisfactorily describe it as pure external reality, because, with man, neither the unrepeatable nor internal reality can be completely eliminated; but neither can we concentrate solely on internal reality, because society obviously represents a most important external factor. Yet just as the problems of nationalism could be solved once we reached the level of the absolute values, (See Chapter 8, Section 2, paragraph 24.) so these difficulties cease to be obstacles once we turn to the internal meaning of the One and the Many.

All this shows that these interconnected opposites belong to the most important concepts for the task of grasping external reality, but that in this reality they are, at least outside the human sphere, at the same time very clear and simple. Like the other opposites which we have discussed, however, and despite their apparently purely formal names, the One and the Many also represent essential and very real basic elements in internal reality, and their nature and meaning there are more complex.

Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

subsection (b)

The One and the Many in internal reality

The fundamental concept of internal reality is the One, for we could neither grasp external reality nor give form to the constant flux of thoughts, feelings and urges within us without being a definite and clearly circumscribed centre of a different kind. (See Chapter 2, Section 2, paragraphs 1-2.) Any development of personality always leads to the clearer awareness of being such a centre and of feeling and experiencing oneself as an 'Ego'. The ability to say 'I' is the condition of clear apprehension, knowledge, feeling and willing.

At the same time, we are once more unable to separate the One from the Many. No necessity for becoming such a centre would arise if man was not surrounded by objects and other men, and no development of personality could ever be thought of in complete isolation. (See H. H. Farmer, Towards Belief in God, p. 246. Cf. also the many reports about people growing up in complete isolation without developing a clear consciousness and language.) The One enables us to grasp the Many, but multitude and diversity have to be introduced from external reality, for without this opposition man and the world surrounding him would remain an undifferentiated and indefinable mass.

In internal reality, however, we approach and experience these concepts from inside, and so we can no longer be satisfied with this external description of their indispensability. We have to see how they come into being, what creates and constitutes them, and by what meaning they become real to us. We shall see once more that this transforms them into facts which are of the greatest importance for us.

The One can no longer be simply described as a unit characterized by certain qualities and boundaries; the emphasis shifts entirely to its one-ness; it is a unit by representing in itself an independent and indivisible, self-contained and self-sufficient whole.

The nature of this transformation can perhaps be best understood when we compare the nearest approach to such a unit in external reality—an organism—with other external units and with ourselves. Let us assume that a piece of wood, a house and an organism were smashed to pieces. The destruction of the piece of wood is not of much significance; the result is other and more pieces of different size and shape, but still of the same kind. It may mean destruction if we wanted to use the particular piece for a definite purpose; but this refers only to our concern with the wood; even as sawdust the wood itself remains wood. The house is destroyed as such because our purpose was, in this case, the main determining factor; but the material of the house also may not be fundamentally changed by being smashed; the 'wholeness' of the house is only a kind of external addition to it. The organism, however, is quite definitely destroyed and ceases to be an organism; its parts are completely transformed and become inanimate matter. There the 'wholeness' was something essential and could not be separated from the conception of the particular unit. But even this organic unity still does not give the full impression of the unity which we experience within ourselves, for there it is no external knowledge, but inner experience. We do not see ourselves as a combination of different limbs, organs, and other parts of the body, held together by serving a common purpose and by being directed from a centre which seems to evade definition; on the contrary, the centre and the the unity represent our actual experience, and all divisions remain later artificial additions. There the 'wholeness' is the basic reality. We may, of course, suffer by inner conflicts and the struggle of opposite tendencies within us, but the fact that this causes suffering confirms that the unity and the wholeness are fundamental and that their being threatened is a danger to our very existence. We may also accept modern psychological or old eastern doctrines and consider personality as a bunch of different and divergent tendencies or souls, but if our personality is really deeply split we become insane. The unity has to be felt underneath and beyond all conflicts and splits within us. It is this complete wholeness and unity which is the meaning of the One in internal reality.

How can we achieve this wholeness? The most obvious element which makes us recognizable as distinct separate units, different from others, is our individuality or our peculiarity. No person is ever exactly like any other, and it is this fact which divides humanity most conspicuously into different and unrepeatable units—which agrees with our previous statement that it is 'the unrepeatable' that allows us to grasp internal reality. On the other hand, this peculiarity can be only part of the truth, for we are human beings; to describe our unity correctly, we have also to see that which we have in common with others and which makes us human. We have to discover both what is peculiar to us and what is our share in the general nature of mankind and to establish the right relationship between the two.

The task of making the One real thus points in the same direction as the transformation of the form in internal reality. There we have to see what creates the form, so as to understand it as the expression of the content (See Chapter 7, Section 3, paragraphs 25-28.) Similarly, we achieve wholeness by making the particular the expression of the generally valid. We have to know both what we can consider as belonging to humanity within ourselves and what is our deviation from it, but we have to make the latter the expression of humanity, for a concentration on individuality alone would cut us off from the roots of our being and thus from achieving wholeness. It is true that the unrepeatable is the means of making internal reality real, but this it is only because the general basis is self-evident and existing and because it becomes clearer by constant new experiences; otherwise the unrepeatable would dissolve internal reality into innumerable disconnected particulars. To work out our own peculiarites is just as important, for this throws into relief what is of general validity within us; but it does so only if it is used for this purpose, for otherwise the stressing of the particular is bound to split our feelings and to make us eccentric. We have to use both our special individuality and the humanity within us to achieve personality—that is, to create that whole in which our person becomes the particular form and expression of humanity, so that the fact that no person is like any other makes clear all the facets of, and approaches to, this common humanity.

The conception of the Many undergoes a similar transformation. Number and quantity as such cannot be grasped in internal reality; the unrepeatable individualities and inner experiences are far too different to allow us to add them together; if we try this, we only destroy internal reality. There is, for instance, very much pain in the world, but we can never say that there is such and such an amount of pain; the different experiences of different persons can hardly be compared with each other and no quantity can ever be ascertained. The Many, therefore, can only be understood as pointing towards the individual and the unrepeatable. It stresses that there are great similarities between the units and that they have much in common, even in such a case as that of pain, but it remains a multitude which cannot be counted; it shows again that, to understand anything at all, we have to deal with the single case. Nevertheless, the Many remains the opposite of the One, for it does not allow us to forget that, despite all our experiences of one-ness and wholeness, we are still confronted with diversity.

This can also be seen when we approach diversity from inside, trying to base our knowledge, not on the external fact, but on the feeling it arouses, for our first experience is not one of differentiation, but of the internal reality which all of us have in common. It may be very painful to realize how different people are, but it is painful because we feel very strongly that the underlying unity should be the main experience. Clear differentiation is an effort because we first experience wholeness. (This can be seen in many reports about primitive peoples and the development of children.) This approach is so natural that even a clearly felt realization of the multitude of things and beings on earth and in the universe awakens this feeling for wholeness. But this feeling remains vague and is disturbed by the irreconcilable peculiarities of the individual men and things which we are bound to discover, and so it is the task of the Many to make it necessary for us both to understand individuality in order to clarify our feelings and to relate the individuals to the whole.

This transformation of the One and the Many could make it seem advisable to replace these words, in internal reality, by such opposites as 'the particular' and 'the general' or 'the part' and 'the whole'. Yet the One and the Many prove to be once more the better names, because they not only include these different oppositions but also state the real opposition more clearly, pointing a the same time to some further relevant facts.

(1) The opposition between 'the particular' and 'the general' has the disadvantage that it is not an inevitable opposition which forces itself upon us, but a distinction which we have to make. We cannot help seeing many single units, but, unless we are successful, we shall be unable to consider the particular as an instance of the general. Thus we stress too much our own endeavours and achievements. It is true that these are needed; the possibility of external impressions depends on our understanding; we have to strive for knowledge and to develop our personality. But, as always in the sphere of internal reality, which is the realm of freedom, success must not be seen as the simple effect, nor our striving as the determining cause. We understand the result only if we leave intact the mystery of the interaction between necessity and freedom.

That this also applies in this case at once becomes obvious when we think of such simple experiences as the understanding of a poem or a picture or a piece of music. We may understand them immediately, or hear or see them many times without ever understanding them, or suddenly understand them after we have seen or heard them many times without appreciating them. We cannot enforce this understanding; our greatest endeavours, even if they make us see the particular work as an embodiment of general ideas, may not help in the least to produce a real understanding. It is probable that the right kind of endeavour and interest will help us to find the right approach and make us accessible to such an experience, but it will be the right endeavour only if it is combined with patience, with the readiness to accept. We must not rely on the will to succeed, for to understand that a form entirely and unambiguously expresses a content we have to have the complete inner experience of a whole and this wholeness cannot be achieved or disclosed by analysis or by preconceived ideas, but must disclose itself to us. The real enrichment of our experience, however it may come about, is in any case not due to our endeavour but to the poem or picture or music; it has to be given to us. Works of art, moreover, though they are fruits of conscious striving, are essentially based on mystery—on the mystery of special talents and intuitions, on the inscrutable mystery of genius.

Or, to give another example—impressions made by nature, such as a beautiful sunset, may or may not awaken a strong response within us, and our sensitivity will not be the result of our striving. We cannot say to ourselves, 'Now I must enjoy the beauty of this sunset'; explanations will only destroy the experience of beauty; and is not the mystery behind such impressions even greater than that underlying works of art? (See H. H. Farmer, Things Not Seen, p. 49.)

Our striving never does more than make us accessible and susceptible to these influences, and it does so only if we remain aware that it cannot enforce them in that way in which a cause produces an effect. Internal reality becomes real because the inner meaning of the given facts impresses itself upon us; the final illumination must come from reality itself; the meeting with the absolute comes about when the absolute suddenly confronts us. Thus we need such opposites as 'the particular' and 'the general' to direct our striving and to interpret our experience, but it is important that they should remain subordinated to the less abstract and less logical opposition between the One and the Many, which, by representing both external and internal facts, makes us see that these experiences are fundamentally independent of ourselves.

(2) But does not 'the general', nevertheless, point more directly to that all-inclusive whole to which any final illumination and any meeting with the absolute lead? The opposites the One and the Many, though they make this unity accessible, also seem to hide it. So long as we are confronted with diversity and multitude, with the Many as such, internal reality has not become real, nor doe its unity lie in the One which is one among the single units constituting the Many. The whole has to include everything, and thus also the One and the Many.

Yet even here it seems better to say that we pass, with the help of the Many, from the units which constitute it to a different, all-inclusive unit, and to describe this new unit once more with the help of the opposition between the One and the Many. For this new experience which transcends the Many is not that of some general principle or common quality, of a feeling or a value, but definitely that of another unit; it becomes a full and significant experience only if we find ourselves confronted with another single unit which, by its compelling wholeness, obliges us to believe. Whenever external impressions or works of art or personalities become transparent and reveal to us the bond between ourselves and the whole of existence, they do so by their wholeness which makes us feel ourselves to be a complete whole; it is always essential that their unity should be felt. Certainly, they may embody a principle or a value, but these become convincing because they are embodied, because we feel that they can create such a unity. Thus the opposition between the One and the Many, by stressing and clarifying the nature of the One, once more emphasizes a fact which is of fundamental importance and which would be blurred by such terms as 'the general', for we experience, not something which has been abstracted from many units and which can be generally applied, but the inner unity of the One, made accessible by the experience of the Many.

This double aspect of the One is in accordance with a characteristic of internal reality which we have met before. Feeling, though it works in many different ways, always springs from the same source. Single forms embody different contents, but to be 'content' in our meaning of the word, they have to partake of internal reality—that is, of one common content. Freedom, though the opposite of necessity, is at the same time identical with the whole of internal reality. Single truths remain part of one and the same truth. Similarly, we grasp single units, but their wholeness is the expression of the all-inclusive unit which, in its turn, has again to be grasped as a single unit. This double aspect is always characteristic of those concepts which represent internal reality.

Nor is it therefore quite true, as the term 'the general' suggests, that the all-inclusive whole completely replaces the Many. We are bound to have many such experiences, for any all-inclusive unity which we can experience is still opposed by ourselves—that is, by the single unit which remains interconnected with the Many. This, however, is of great significance too, for it reminds us that we can never achieve perfection or a full knowledge of infinity or grasp the absolute once for all, but that internal reality has to be made real by the constant renewing of many such experiences.

(3) We have had to use again the term 'wholeness'; would not, therefore, the opposition between 'the part' and 'the whole' save us from underlining this rather complicated double aspect of the One? But these terms again are only useful so far as we try to direct our own striving; we have to describe the accomplished inner form, for instance, by saying that each single part has become a necessary expression of the content, and we have to experience in this form what is most easily described as 'wholeness'. Yet these concepts, too, do not do justice to the fundamental facts underlying them; they suggest too mechanical a division. The single unit, though part of the all-inclusive whole, is not a part, but itself represents a whole; we can distinguish parts of an accomplished form, but only as the result of a more or less artificial division; they cannot really be separated from the whole. (The whole is always the first impression and the parts have to be discovered afterwards; we first hear the tune, not the single sounds; we first see the wood and not the single trees. Cf. Köhler's Gestaltpsychologie.) The confrontation with the all-inclusive whole, moreover, increases our own 'wholeness'; we feel ourselves in unity and harmony with it and thus far more complete than before; the opposite 'the part' gives a quite wrong idea. We can use it, therefore, as a means of understanding and explaining the conception of a whole, but not to replace the One, whose double aspect truly expresses our experience.

(4) The names 'the One' and 'the Many' show best that these concepts are of the same order as 'space' and 'time', and this fact makes it impossible to discard them. But it also reveals a difference between these two pairs of opposites which will later help us to explain the difference between truth and beauty. Space and time are discovered with some difficulty as the fundamental concepts in external reality; they appear as the result of a search similar to that for truth, yet, at the same time, they confront us directly as powerful demands in internal reality. The One and the Many are the most obvious and simple facts in external reality, so much so that we all too easily forget them when looking for further explanations, even in mathematics which is based on them. But their meaning in internal reality is not at all obvious; we have to discover what they mean; but, once discovered, they prove to be the most essential of all these concepts. While space and time, because they are discovered in external reality and lead on to internal demands, introduce a never ending search and spur us to constant activity, the One and the Many, when they are finally discovered and fully understood, indicate the goal of this search.

(5) These opposites are the most essential, because they alone are applicable to that opposition which is the most important for us—to the fact that we are single human beings among many such beings. They prevent us from disregarding this fact and help us to understand it better.

We see here, first of all, a further implication of the Many. We are one among many human beings, but so long as we think of them as many, we miss the human in the single man. Each single unit is, in this case, an embodiment of internal reality, and we miss this content unless we confront it directly; general conclusions based on many experiences are necessarily logical and external and do not enable us to gain a knowledge of internal reality. Hence the danger of loving mankind, which so easily leads to the neglect of the single individual; we are driven by it to the belief in some abstract external ideal which makes us hate the men who seem to hinder its realization, and thus it destroys true love. (Dostoevsky remarks how much easier it is to love mankind than to share a room for two days with a stranger whom one does not like.) To do justice to our relationship to humanity, therefore, we have to see the opposition between two single units; the Many has to be replaced once more by another embodiment of the One. This time, however, it is not the all-inclusive whole, but a unit which, by being similar to ourselves, can be better understood. Thus this relationship provides us with a transition to the final experience of the absolute, which helps to make it accessible. But even there the concept of the Many as such does not disappear, for we remain one among many men, and we must not lose sight of this either, for it indicates, as we shall see, an essential gap in this relationship.

The opposition between two such units proves the utmost importance of these interconnected opposites, because it is here that the condition for making internal reality real can be fulfilled. To understand this, however, it is good to remember that this opposition has been called the 'I-Thou relationship', for the meeting between persons which we are now going to discuss has to be understood in that sense which is indicated by stressing the 'I and Thou'. The other person must not be seen merely from outside, which makes him similar to a thing, to an 'It', but we have to meet a person to whom we can appeal and who can appeal and respond to us. (The following is largely based on Martin Buber, I and Thou.) Everyone knows the great satisfaction of friendship, or that sharp feeling of disappointment which we experience when another person does not respond or wants to abuse our response; the meeting has to be so real as to be capable of evoking this particular positive or negative reaction. Or, in other words—the One has to be experienced as the internal opposite of the Many, as a single, indivisible and self-sufficient whole. It is when we see the meeting with the Thou in this light that we recognize why these opposites are so essential.

We have mentioned, for instance, that to make this reality real we have to concentrate entirely on the present. (See Chapter 3, Section 2, paragraph 18.) This demand can be fulfilled, on the one hand, by the meeting with another person. If this meeting is a personal meeting in the sense just stated, the concentration on the present is so inescapable and complete that this demand is met far more fully than in the other cases.

An impression produced by nature, by a work of art or literature, or brought about by our own activity, attracts our attention so far as we understand it; it leaves us free, so to speak, to make our own choice and to react to it in the way we are wont to react. It may evoke some feelings or thoughts which are very much against our wishes, or touch unknown layers of our personality or even develop it further, but reactions are forced upon us only so far as our sensitivity has been developed beforehand; we are able to escape the impact or some of its elements and thus the concentration on the present may remain incomplete. So long as we alone remain active, we also remain the determining force; moreover, as we are always concerned with the future, we are inclined to neglect the present, and all such impressions more or less allow us to do so. An external event which concerns us probably impresses us more forcefully, but no such event ever entirely hides the passing of time, and the present is only experienced as a fleeting and passing moment.

When we meet a person, he confronts us as an 'inescapable claim'; the mere existence of other persons has moral implications and means that we are confronted with claims which transcend our self-sufficient selves, and these claims become inescapable once we experience such a personal meeting fully. For we also meet another free will, which forces us to respond to his being, utterances and actions; we can no longer make our own choices nor escape whenever we like; our reactions are determined by what is confronting us. Fundamental demands, even if they have been deeply buried within us, are forced into the open, for as we experience the Thou as an undivided whole, we cannot help but react with our whole personality. The famous question, 'How do I know that other minds exist?' is completely meaningless, for I would hardly know that my mind exists unless I meet other minds. In any such meeting it is the other mind which is experienced with overwhelming certainty, and my immediate awareness of the other mind allows me no choice, but develops my mind by forcing me to react at once to his approach. I probably react first in my ordinary way, but if this reaction is inadequate I am hardly able to avoid noticing it for long. If I accept the claim which I undoubtedly feel, the presence of the other person does not allow me to wait or to retire, and if I do, I definitely feel that I am wrong.

To understand that this means a full experience of the present we need only remember that we can hardly avoid talking. If we speak to another person and listen to him, we must entirely concentrate on the present; as soon as our thoughts begin to float away we either cease talking or cease talking sense and no longer hear what the other person is saying. The language and the thoughts expressed by it have certainly been developed over a long period, and we can speak of past and future, but we can only speak in the present; this is so self-evident that to say so almost sounds like an absurd tautology. Thus, however, we are also kept within the present while we talk. If we follow a long conversation or explanation, our participation, to be real, has to force it to a point where we can react immediately, for otherwise we do not experience the meeting with a person. Listening to a lecture, for instance, is not sufficient to establish such a meeting; though the personality of the speaker makes itself felt, the lack of our own participation makes it rather similar to an external impression. Response, to be response at all, must be as immediate as talking to one another.

Even more important perhaps is the significance of such a meeting for the relationship between form and content.

We have said that, in internal reality, we first experience the content and have then to find the external form which expresses it. (See Chapter 2, Section 4, paragraph 18.) All impressions and experiences, with the sole exception of the meeting with a person, acquire content by making us aware of our own being, feeling and inner activities—that is, of our own content, and this enables us to understand them as the forms of a content or to create forms which express a content. When meeting another person, however, we experience first the content within him and learn to understand our own individuality as the necessary form of the content within us. It is the only time when external reality is excluded, when the content is presented to us from outside, and when our own being becomes understandable as the necessary form of internal reality.

We understand the other person in such a fully personal meeting so far as we stand on common ground—that is, when we experience humanity within him. His person is different from ours, but because we understand it as embodying humanity, we have also to see what our different individuality means in its relation to this humanity. We are forced to make ourselves understood, to develop language and means of awakening response, which once more means that we have to relate our particular being to the common ground. If we succeed in this, the response must further clarify this common ground, either by strengthening our experience by agreement or by correcting it by disagreement, and so again we have a clearer experience of the content and recognize some more of our peculiarities—which we have perhaps identified with the content—as deviations which have to be related to it. Any such reactions makes us see better both how far our own individuality deviates from the generally valid and how far it expresses common humanity. The fact that the content is given from outside gives us, therefore, a far deeper knowledge of the form than we could acquire otherwise, and this knowledge, in its turn, gives us the fullest possible grasp of the content.

The One which we experience in the Thou thus also helps us to understand the all-inclusive unity to which the Many points. We can meet the other person because there is something common which we feel in ourselves, and because this common humanity transcends both of us and provides a ground on which we can move. Humanity, however, is still too abstract a name for it and one which does not do justice to our actual experience; as we experience a meeting, that which unites us must still be capable of being met and cannot be properly described by generalizations. A meeting with a person, though its fullness also depends on our attitude, on our willingness to accept the inescapable claim and to act according to it, is again not the result of our endeavours, for it becomes a meeting only if the other addresses us. We experience a claim because we are being addressed—by the other and by something through him—and because something within us, whether we want it or not, responds to thus being addressed. But we cannot be addressed by a principle or by humanity or by some quality of general validity; even if a person makes himself the mouthpiece of such an abstract conviction, we respond more than abstractly if something personal is touched within us. It is one-ness and not a general principle which is confronting us.

The meeting both makes us aware of the limitations of our individuality and frees us from them. Our unity is not dissolved, but we feel free because we feel that we—and the other person meeting us—are partaking of a unity which is distinct form ourselves and which, by transcending both of us, makes us conscious of itself. The single unit has met with that comprehensive 'One' which we have described.

It is true that we rarely come to this conclusion to-day; mainly accustomed to abstract thinking, we seem to be satisfied if a meeting with other men enable us to see some abstract common quality which we can endow with a vague feeling. We have to make a reservation because of this fact; the fully personal meeting is not an everyday experience, but has become a rare event. But once this event really happens, we see that the conclusions just arrived at are not merely logical, which would be no proof in this sphere; any unprejudiced approach will confirm that this meeting with persons implies the meeting with a unity which, though mysterious in its infinity, can only be grasped as an indivisible whole, complete in itself.

But here the Many, indissolubly interconnected with the One, interferes again. Not in its external form; the difficulties of society disappear in any such personal meeting. But we do not understand the mystery of the many different individualities which we inevitably meet; and because of these, each meeting makes us see a different aspect of our own person and of the unity transcending it, but none can clarify all aspects of both. To understand the meeting fully, we have to experience the present, but we cannot remain in the present for long; we have to live, to be active, to be practical, and so the present must pass away. We can never transcend internal reality completely, and so we need these ever renewed experiences, none of which leads to a comprehensive knowledge. Any response awakened within us touches upon another aspect of the infinite absolute, and any such response, even the strongest, is bound to become paler and weaker and finally to die away. We ourselves may be transformed by it, but even then we need further such experiences to give meaning to this transformation, and we remain unable simply to preserve or collect them by translating them completely into thought.We can never by our own efforts overcome the barrier of the Many; drawn by the all-inclusive One, we are left groping in the dark, lit up from time to time—rarely for some, frequently for others—by mysterious illuminations.

Thus, however, the Many has also a further implication. If we want, not only the certainty of the moment, but final certainty, if we want to find a definite way through the maze of the many new experiences which, though continually disclosing new aspects, never discloses an all-inclusive order and the fundamental relationship between these aspects—in short, if we want full knowledge, we have not only to be addressed, we have to be told. We need revelation.

There is an element of revelation in all the experiences which we have discussed. We are enriched by the impression, by the poem, by the work of art itself; the beautiful sunset speaks to us; the other person reveals himself to us; the experiences have to be given, and we destroy this gift if we insist on discovering everything by our own efforts alone. But even in the meeting with another person, the revelation is never complete. We are confronted with the content, but do not fully understand the individuality and situation of the other person; he helps us to understand our own individuality, not his; this is one reason why we must not judge. What is revealed within us, on the other hand, still mysteriously transcends us; even our own individuality, though it helps us as a form to understand the content, remains a strange gift which we cannot quite understand. A full knowledge can only be founded on a self-revelation of the ultimate unity which is addressing us—that is, it can only be grounded on a religion based on revelation. As we can transcend neither the division into external and internal reality nor the interconnected opposites, we cannot know primary reality by our own power.

It is love—agape—which gives us the greatest strength to overcome all such obstacles and to have a full and unweakened experience of all that matters. But love is the most spontaneous feeling; if we try to demand it from another person or to force ourselves to love, we most certainly destroy it. "We may discover it as the most valuable principle and demand it in the name of a principle or value or law, but this can hardly make us love or be loved in the right way, for we then love not our neighbour, but our knowledge and conviction. Nevertheless, love is demanded from us. Yet love can be created only by love; it can be demanded only while love is addressing us and, by awakening the right response, is making the demand a spontaneous experience. As no love of the right kind is kindled by generalities, we are led once more to the One; love can be transformed into a demand only if we are not left dependent on our own feelings, but if the nature and meaning of it is quite distinctly revealed o us.

The One and the Many thus lead to the boundaries of pure thought and of philosophy, but they show that there are facts in man on which religion is based. They also help us to recognize those requirements which any religious revelation has to satisfy if it is to transform us, for none of these experiences can be brought about by external metaphysical statements. As we can never transcend internal reality completely, we have to be addressed; we need to be told what can awake a response. There is no use in telling us why God has created so many different individualities; this would only destroy the challenge of the Many; but it is essential to be told that God is Love. To be fully understood, revelation has also to be expressed in those opposites which help us to find access to inner experiences; it has to make use of, and we have to apply to it, those interconnected opposites which we have discussed and those created by our thinking. We shall see, when discussing the latter, that this is a correct description of the Christian revelation and the right way of understanding it. (See A. N. Whitehead, Religion in the Making, pp. 71-2.)

Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

subsection (c)


We have defined beauty as the complete agreement between form and content; it arises when we feel absolutely certain that the form expresses the content completely. (See Chapter 9, Section 1, paragraphs 15-16.) That it is based on the interconnected opposites the One and the Many has probably become clear already by the examples which we have given.

Beauty cannot be based on the opposition between space and time which drive us into a never ending search, for a perfect form has to confront us as a final result. We can strive to increase our sensitivity and understanding; but once beauty confronts us we search no longer. We have also had to mention that the external forms of space and time, though they cannot be divorced from a beautiful object, are of no help if we want to understand its beauty. (See Chapter 2, Section 4, paragraphs 10-11.)

Nor can necessity and freedom help us to understand it, for we experience beauty only if we are not concerned with actions as such and not bent on any purpose. When we have lost our way and desperately want to find it, we are hardly able to notice the beauty of the landscape or sunset. It is true that a beautiful form, especially in works of art, acquires an inner necessity by being determined by the content; but this necessity, unlike that of freedom, does not find expression in actions. On the contrary, it gives us the certainty that no further action, no correction or improvement, is required. Even if actions in, for instance, a drama are the subject of representation, they have become a finished form which invites, not further actions, but contemplation.

It is the opposition between the One and the Many which helps us to get a clearer idea of beauty. It makes us understand why beauty is the absolute value which is most directly experienced and yet most difficult to describe.

The main factor which helps us here is the difference between the two manifestations of the One to which the Many gives rise, for beauty comes into being when the single unit, the One originally opposed to the Many, becomes an expression of the other One at which the Many points—of the all-inclusive unit. There is no impression of beauty—if it is clearly seen as such and not identified with a merely pleasant impression—which is not felt to be created by a form of this general content.

We experience beauty on several levels, and most difficult to understand, perhaps, is that experience which seems, at the same time, simplest—the beauty of nature. But this is not surprising, for it is here that we confront the mystery of all existence; we confront, most immediately and directly, the all-inclusive unity which we can never fully express. Moreover, we confront it from outside, which makes it most difficult to translate it into other terms. The beauty of nature, therefore, is bound to make the most immediate impression; it seems hardly believable that any one should not experience this beauty at all; we feel quite definitely that we have met the absolute; but, at the same time, it must be well-nigh impossible to give it a clear meaning. If we have a definite belief concerning the absolute, we are confirmed in it; if not, we are still strongly impressed, but it seems easy to dispose of this impression. If we thus dismiss the absolute in this experience, we cannot account for the fact that its absoluteness is probably clearer, and also more commonly felt, than that of any other experience; but even if we accept the absoluteness, the all-inclusive unity appears less defined than in other and perhaps weaker experiences of beauty. (Hence the dangers of pantheism.) The confrontation with the all-inclusive unity is so direct that, of all our faculties, feeling alone can fully respond to it.

This difficulty must not be mixed up with another one&38212;that we cannot define which landscape is beautiful. What appears beautiful to us here and now may make quite a different impression upon people from other zones, or upon ourselves in different circumstances. But this only shows that beauty is a value. It is not simply in the landscape as such; our participation is an indispensable part of any value. We have mentioned that the name 'absolute value' can be misleading—that 'absloute' refers, not to the embodiment of the value, but to the fact that it makes us experience a meeting with the absolute. (See Chapter 9, Section 1, paragraph 17.)

Works of art and literature, because they are created by persons and intended to embody a content, are more easily seen as symbols of the all-inclusive whole, for they also transmit the personal experience which we can follow. But even here we should not try too hard to express the content in a different way, for it is the personal experience which discloses the absolute and creates its special form; beauty, therefore, is closely bound up with it and easily vanishes if we try to understand the meaning of the work to be able to have this experience. There are several particular characteristics of such works, however, which, when considered in the light of the opposition between the One and the Many, make it easier to see what beauty really means.

(1) There are times when art serves religion, and then the artist usually remains anonymous. The Many needs the opposition of the One; if the belief in the all-inclusive unit is firm and clear, this unit suffices to establish this opposition and the single unit loses its importance. As we know the One, we are no longer forced to follow the single individual to be able to understand at all; the Many appears as the many facets of the same unit, which is sufficient to give meaning to it.

(2) This anonymity seems also to contradict the demand for 'uniqueness' which is so much stressed when we consider works of art to-day. This uniqueness, however, has two meanings. On the one hand, it is a quality of both forms of the One, of the single individual and the all-inclusive unit which must needs be unique; if the knowledge of the latter uniqueness forms the basis, then once again we no longer need that of the single individual. On the other hand, as we ourselves are individuals and unable to grasp the whole as such, we still need the uniqueness of the single impression to make us aware that we have met the absolute. We cannot grasp it in a general way. This uniqueness, however, never disappears; it is there when we enter a mediaeval cathedral, when we look at its sculptures created by anonymous artists, and also when Shakespeare transforms subjects used before; in fact it is only the originality of the artist which we value differently to-day. This shows again that we always need the One to transform the Many; if the all-inclusive unit no longer clearly transcends it, the uniqueness of all the single individuals has to be stressed to replace it and to give some idea of its wholeness. Yet in this way we can also see that it is the unity of the all-inclusive whole which serves beauty best, for if we have to add to our own individuality that of the artist to be able to experience the uniqueness of the work, we cannot possibly have as clear a vision as if the whole shines through the work directly.

(3) We should like the great individual artist to be also a great moral example, an embodiment of pure humanity; but often he is not. Once the firm basis of the revealed all-inclusive unity is lost, its wholeness can only be expressed by transforming all the particularities of the individual into its expression. The artist, not concerned with other values, but only with this task, has to transform everything he finds within himself into a form which fits the content completely, and so he has to allow all his urges to contribute to his work. But we meet in his work the absolute which implies for us all the absolute values; to understand the work, therefore, we have to apply truth and goodness besides beauty. This frequently creates that painful tension between our appreciation of the work and the impossibility of accepting the personality of the artist with just as few reservations.

(4) If these particular units and qualities play such an important part, how can we ever claim that an artist is a great artist? We need only think of such names as Shakespeare or Bach or Leonardo to see that this is possible; but how can it be possible? Does not the fact that both the artist's and our own indiviualities are involved make beauty dependent on our personal taste?

As the work of the 'great' artist is unique, it need not be understood at once; we have to learn to understand this particular kind of expression before the work can disclose its meaning. The genius knows naturally more than we do; he is a contemporary of later generations. The uniqueness of the work of art, however, can have two sources. On the one hand, it can become unique because it is mainly related to the all-inclusive whole; on the other hand, its uniqueness can be mainly due to the individuality of the artist. If the work has become a perfect and accomplished form of the absolute unity, it represents a result of general validity; its understanding, therefore, can gradually lead to its recognition as truly great, for this experience is open to everybody and does not change. If, on the contrary, the uniqueness of the work remains linked up mainly with the individual and its particular situation, it will be understood so long as similar individuals experience this situation, but it will not withstand its change. Very similar individuals may appreciate the artist even later but then he will seem rather to be strange or interesting than great. Hence the importance of the passing of time for our judgment of the value of works of art. There remains, of course, a margin of uncertainty; the uniqueness of the artist's work may not yet have been understood, even after a long time, or the understanding may be lost and found again. This margin necessarily remains greatest with regard to contemporary art, for we can hardly free ourselves entirely from the present situation, and the artist may or may not have transcended it. But the man body of reliable judgments is undoubtedly large, and it can be so because of the relationship between the work of art and the all-inclusive unity.

Yet the Many does not disappear, and so we must neither neglect it nor be misled by it. The single work of art remains a single unit among many, and what matters is its singleness. Our judgments, therefore, to be justified, have always to refer to our experience of these single units, and the appreciation of art has to be built up in this way; we can never derive general principles from many works, nor, as we have seen before, can we rely merely on the number of such judgments. (See Chapter 2, Section 4, paragraphs 13-14.) The adjective 'great', though it can be applied with considerable certainty, cannot be defined; it has to be confirmed, in each single case, by our actual experience.

We have almost forgotten to apply the term 'beauty' to the inner qualities of persons and personal relationships, but it is here that we come nearest to an understanding of its full meaning.

Every experience of beauty has much in common with the meeting between persons which we have described. It is a meeting with an individual unit which reveals itself to us by addressing us, and it can address us because it points to a greater whole which we have in common with it and which helps us to understand it. It forces us to experience the present, for only so long as we are confronted with it do we experience beauty; even to remember beauty we have to imagine that we live through that present again. The expression has to be unique, as every person is, and it becomes clearer the more personal it is, though, just as with persons, we must not stress the individuality as such but see it as the particular form of the all-inclusive unit. We experience beauty most definitely, moreover, if the impression is so strong that we are no longer able to make our own choice and to interpret it arbitrarily, but are forced, whether we like it or not, to acknowledge a meeting with the absolute. This is the fundamental difference between a merely pleasant impression and a true experience of beauty, and it is always fulfilled in the meeting with a person, in the sense in which we have discussed it.

At the same time, personal relationships, personalities and personal actions undoubtedly can lead to the experience which we have described as that of beauty. It has become customary to limit this concept to its purely aesthetic meaning and to forget this application, but in fact it ought to be included. A perfect friendship, an overwhelming love between man and woman, a mother's love for her children, any great and costly sacrifice—these and innumerable other examples confirm that we experience, above all, beauty. Captain Oates, on Scott's Antarctic expedition, knew that his weakness was endangering the lives of his companions who had to carry him, and so he walked out of the tent into the blizzard and disappeared, sacrificing his life to save the others—are we not made to see that such a man's character is just as beautiful as a sunset or a work of art, or even that it is more beautiful? (Cf. also the discussion of this event in H. H. Farmer, Towards Belief in God, pp. 115-117.) The repentant sinner, the father who welcomes the returning prodigal, the man who has done wrong to another person and who succeeds in making up for it, not in a merely logical way, by money or external help, but by a unique deed of love which expresses his person fully and re-establishes love between him and his victim—is there any other concept but beauty which can do justice to the particular quality of these deeds? Many of them seem to contradict logic and justice and yet they all convey a deeper knowledge of what is good. The impression of such a deed is strongest when, in one way or another, it is unique, for this alone throws the acting person fully into relief; uniqueness, however, is a requirement, not of truth or goodness, but of beauty.

It is true that a similar impression of beauty can also be created by a strong vitality or by what is sometimes called 'the great criminal', but this only confirms what we have said. The impression made by a very natural or vital person, or even by a criminal whose deeds reveal a great strength which has not yet been broken by any scruples, appeals to us because we feel an inner unity and directness of expression which have been more or less lost in our world. But unless his personality is related to the comprehensive whole by a certain greatness (we admire the great conqueror, the great criminal) we look at him rather as we look at a beautiful animal; the beauty is very much of our own choice, due to our overlooking other aspects of his personality which we are unable to accept. Even in the case of greatness, it is usually admiration at a distance (the great man is admired by his subordinates or followers, or we read about him) which also allows us to concentrate only on some aspects of his character. An impression of beauty which allows us to choose, however, cannot be compared in importance with that of the examples mentioned before which force all our being to respond; the personal element and its relation to the all-inclusive unity, therefore, is clearly most important for our experience of beauty.

This can perhaps be best seen when we compare all these examples with the impression of beauty created by the external appearance of a person. A beautiful face, a beautiful appearance have something in them which is particularly moving, more moving probably that the beauty of a sunset or a work of art, because the meeting with a person offers to us the most direct access to the absolute. We are led to expect that the beautiful body corresponds to a beautiful soul. If we discover that we are mistaken, the impression of the beautiful face will hardly be different from any other beauty in nature; unless we are able to see it as such, the beauty will be mixed up with, or give way to, regret or irritation. The personal element proves to be the finally determining one. We soon discover that a face is beautiful because it expresses a personality, and that a face which does so, even though it conflicts with all the conventional standards of beauty, may be the most beautiful of all. There are also exceptional cases; an extremely beautiful face may correspond to so evil a character that we are unable to forget the very contradiction. But we shall experience it as a painful contradiction, or even as a terrifying one, for the great beauty necessarily evokes the meeting with the absolute and thus makes us aware of its hidden depths from which evil also may arise. It makes us fear that evil has a significance which transcends the powers of the good as we know it. (Cf., for example, the description of some of the famous figures of the Renaissance. There is great significance in the original myth that the devil is not, as in the Middle Ages, an ugly creature, but a fallen angel of outstanding beauty.)

We are entitled to say, therefore, that there is no clearer revelation of beauty than that through meeting personalities to whom we can fully respond because they present to us that content which gives meaning to our own persons. Beauty confirms the fact that a form reveals a content to us completely and perfectly; and it is in such a meeting that beauty, as any perfect form has to be, is a final result, for this experience is one of wholeness and leaves no further choice, no loose ends, which any other experience of beauty—and any dogma and teaching—still leave. We experience that unitary feeling which alone can make us know that, despite all the opposites which we still need and which are once more embodied in the persons who meet, the division into two realities has been overcome.

That there are many persons and many such experiences confirms again that, to understand what happens in such a meeting, revelation has still to be added to it. Otherwise we can hardly see—except by doubtful analogies—why it is the personal expression which comes nearest to the all-inclusive unit. But the experience shows, too, that revelation itself, to fulfil its task, is in need of beauty. It is only when beauty is added to truth that truth really shines in its own light and that our search is ended, and goodness has to be beautiful to make us see the realm of freedom from which it springs—that is, the fullness of internal reality by which it transcends us. Revelation has to appeal to our personalities in such a way that we can fully respond, and thus it is beauty, and particularly beauty in persons, which makes sure that the meaning of revelation really reveals itself to us.

go to CHAPTER 12

go to: Chapter 12, "The Creation of Further Interconnected Opposites"

back to beginning of Section 3