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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 I:

Chapter 2


Section 1


Our purpose is to investigate the way in which we apprehend reality. But 'reality' is a very vague concept whose meaning seems to be clear so long as we use it without paying special attention to it, but which, as soon as we try to define it more exactly, seems to evade us. All attempts to define it have only led to many contradictory definitions, with the result that, in the end, the concept has become ambiguous and misleading. This failure is mainly due to the fact that all such attempts are wrong in themselves, because 'reality' is one of those basic concepts which cannot be defined; for it is impossible to find any simpler or more fundamental concepts to use in their definition. But since these definitions have been given and since, through them, the concept has become ambiguous, we need, if we wish to use it at all, some description at least of what we consider as real. (Cf. F.R. Tennant, Philosophical Theology, I, pp. 371-2. He mentions there nine different definitions, but even this enumeration is not exhaustive. See, e.g., D.M. Emmet, The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking, p. 16. Tennant recommends avoiding this concept altogether. But this seems artificial and unsatisfactory, for we cannot really exclude it from our minds.)

There is, however, another reason to which very little attention has been paid, why it is hard to give even such a description. We are confronted, not with a single and coherent reality, but with two aspects of reality which are so different that they appear to us almost as two realities. This fact makes any general statement about reality impossible, for we have to think in two completely different ways if we want to apprehend both these aspects. We cannot, for instance, discover both the causal necessity and the moral value of an event by the same method of thinking. In science, we must avoid the application of values, but we have to apply them when judging our own actions. This fact, too, makes it impossible to find a definition; most of the usual definitions or descriptions are inadequate because, owing to our desire for a unitary explanation, they do justice only to one of these aspects of reality and thus neglect or suppress the other which we are nevertheless bound to consider as real.

We shall start from the second difficulty. We shall not enter into the question of how the concept 'reality' could be defined, but shall try instead to describe these two aspects of reality. We do so in the hope that the description will enable us to use this concept in its common meaning, without running the risks caused by using ambiguous concepts. We hope to prove that this distinction between the two aspects of reality makes any further definition superfluous, because, as it solves many hitherto baffling problems, it makes what we mean by 'reality' sufficiently clear, although it does not provide a comprehensive definition of it.

For the sake of convenience, we shall consider these two aspects different realities and call them 'external reality' and 'internal reality'. They are, in fact, so different that they seem to justify our considering them as two realities, but we do not imply such a separation. We shall try to show why reality appears to us under two aspects and describe them, and the very description will, we believe, confirm that there is but one indivisible reality, although its two aspects make it impossible for us to grasp it directly.

To indicate, moreover, that we do not assume that whatever exists is created by our thinking, but that there is a reality quite apart form our apprehension of it, a reality which is given to us and which we only transform by thinking, we shall use the term 'primary reality' whenever we want to refer to the reality underlying our apprehension. (I accept the fundamental theses of Kant as my starting point in this book. I do not doubt that there is a reality outside ourselves and that nevertheless our apprehension of it depends on the laws of our thinking. 'Knowledge is dependent on two condition: first on the concept through which any object at all is thought of (the category), and secondly on the perception by which it is given.'—'Thoughts without content are empty, perceptions without concepts are blind.' (Critique of Pure Reason, pp. 146 and 75 of the original 2nd ed.) I believe Kant to be right when he says that we cannot apprehend anything unless primary reality, the 'thing per se', affects us, but that by our dependence on the laws of thinking and the application of a priori concepts we are cut off from any absolute knowledge of it. I further accept Kant's distinction between two completely different kinds of knowledge; my distinction between external and internal reality is roughly similar to that between Pure and Practical Reason. But there are, as will be seen, great differences in the foundation and development of these ideas. In my consideration of external reality I follow at some length Kant's treatment of space, time, and several of his categories (though by no means accepting his lists), but diverge from his application and interpretation of them, and my view of the way we acquire knowledge of internal reality develops along totally dissimilar lines.)

Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Section 2


We are able to think because we can see a difference between ourselves and reality. We are part of reality, but a limited part which can be clearly separated from it; although we belong to reality, we can oppose ourselves to it. Only thus does thinking become possible; if we were completely submerged in reality, we could neither look upon it nor translate it into thought. Man's consciousness, the first condition of his thought, develops as he begins to differentiate himself from his surroundings and to see reality as an experience of his own. As soon as he becomes conscious of it, therefore, this reality is divided into two different spheres, and this division is inseparable from our consciousness, because consciousness depends on it.

This fundamental fact explains why there is a single concept of reality and why we yet know, not one, but at least two completely different realities. When we confront reality, we see that we are part of it; we are subject to the laws of nature; we are connected in manifold ways with things, plants and animals, and there are men like us within the reality which we are confronting. Thus we cannot exclude ourselves from it; there is a common basis which requires a unitary concept. But by the very act of confronting it we transform ourselves into another reality; in spite of the unitary concept, therefore, we have to acknowledge two different kinds of reality. We are able to think only when these two realities are clearly opposed to one another.

A mechanical division of reality into two parts of the same nature—that is, a simple distinction within one kind of knowledge—would not be sufficient; we have constantly to set them in opposition. We cannot merely consider man as one among other similar parts of reality, for we must develop activities of our own and use them to get at reality. If we want to think, we must transform ourselves into a centre of a different kind so as to be able to grasp the reality outside ourselves as something which is different from us. Man, it is true, remains part of reality, but his apprehension of it is the result of thinking, experiencing, feeling and willing, of activities, that is, which he has to exercise. He may exercise them intentionally or unintentionally, voluntarily or under some compulsion; they may give him a clear or a dim consciousness of what he is seeking, but in any case something must take place within ourselves which creates a distance and a difference between us and the rest of reality, so that our activities can be directed towards something foreign to them which they can grasp.

We can take our faculty of sight as a symbol of this opposition. We need our eyes in order to see the light, but the light and the eye are completely different. Yet we can only see the light and know that we see it because the light which is in movement meets a different body which is at rest, and because this body is equipped with nerves which produce sensations and inspire thoughts in a way which cannot even be compared with external events.

We shall investigate the nature of this opposition later. First we must make sure that we really cannot rely on a division within the primary reality, but have to create this distinction ourselves. This becomes evident when we try to define the boundaries between these two realities.

We must start to make this distinction from a realization of the difference between man and the other reality, a difference which can be easily recognized. With the development of life some kind of independent existence seems to begin for the single organism, and an increasingly clearer separation coincides with the development of its higher forms. We can discern the development of special organs, of the nerve-system and the brain, which make such an independence possible, and there is no doubt that highly developed animals possess intelligence which works in the same direction. But we can test this development in other beings only with great difficulty; we have to use analogies form our own experience and cannot be sure how far such conclusions are justified. In man, however, we clearly discern processes in his mind which distinguish him form any other reality and make him in certain respects independent of it. The most complete expression of this is his self-consciousness, but even if this is not yet fully developed, we know for certain that he thinks, feels and wills and that thus activities take place in his mind which separate him from the other reality.

Even with this clear differentiation, however, we cannot recognize the difference between the two realities which are created when we confront reality. It is impossible simply to allocate to these two realities two different spheres and to say that what we are gong to call 'external reality' is the reality outside man, and 'internal reality' the reality within him. For every impression and every experience can be included in either of the two realities.

If we see a picture, for instance, we see it as a thing outside ourselves. It ought to belong, therefore, to external reality, and we can consider it so, as a thing of a certain size and weight, consisting of a frame, of canvas and of pigments. But this external appearance is usually taken for granted; we shall be more interested in finding out whether the picture is beautiful or not. The impression of beauty, however, although evoked in us by the picture, is a value, belonging to internal reality, an in our judgment the picture is considered, not as a part of external reality, but in its relation to internal reality. It is in fact included in internal reality. Any part of the reality outside man can be seen in the same way under two aspects; when we look at the starry sky, we can do so because we are interested in astronomy, but we can also be overwhelmed by its beauty. The difference between the two realities is not inherent in primary reality, but created by our attitude.

Psychological processes, on the other hand, take place within ourselves and seem to belong, therefore, to internal reality. They do so if we pay attention to the content of the thoughts, to our experience of feeling, and to the purposes behind our actions. But we can also regard psychological processes scientifically, excluding our own participation in them, our personal experience and our intentions, and so consider them in the same way as we consider the fall of a stone. Instead of trying to discover what they are and the meaning they have for us, we try to find in them cause and effect and the natural laws connecting them. Psychology, after all, belongs to the natural sciences. Similarly, we can either consider them as belonging to internal reality and judge them morally, or pay attention only to their practical causes and effects. Once more, the division depends upon the way in which we think.

There are certain phenomena which seem to belong only to one reality, because we can hardly succeed in including them in the other without falsifying them. We are unable, as the failure of astrology shows, to establish a close contact between the stars and ourselves, and there are also inner experiences which cannot be comprehended scientifically. Psychology does not help us to define a moral value; evil remains evil even if we discover its psychological causes. Such extreme cases show that the division between man and the world outside him is the starting point of the opposition of the two realities, but they do not change the situation. On the contrary, they too show that we cannot identify external and internal reality with the spheres outside and inside man, for, to apprehend them at all, we need to think about them in entirely different ways, and this cannot be explained by a mechanical division. We have to be aware, moreover, of both methods to be able to apply either of them correctly and to prevent valuing from intruding into science or science into valuing.

We can never completely separate the two realities from each other, but have to oppose them to one another in every impression and experience. It is this which proves most conclusively that the two realities do not coincide with any of the usual subdivisions of primary reality.

We can, it is true, concentrate entirely on external reality and forget that it is we who are dealing with it, but this suppression of indubitable facts does not alter the position. Even in science we grasp reality with the help of our minds and remain dependent on their nature. So long as we pay no attention to the working of our minds, reality appears to us as a unity, but as soon as this working also is considered, as it must be when we want to understand how we apprehend reality, it becomes the expression of another reality, and the original unity is divided into the two realities. ('Laplace swept the heavens with his telescope, and by doing so could find no trace of God, or of a spiritual world. Had he looked at both ends of his telescope, taking into account the activity of the observer as well as his physically interpreted observation, the result would have been different.' J.S. Haldane, The Philosophical Basis of Biology, p. 7.) On the other hand, we can also enhance our spiritual life to such a degree that it seems to lose any connection with the reality represented by our bodies, but even then our thoughts have to be stimulated by something which is happening to our bodies and they cannot avoid remaining dependent on them. Just as the most impersonal knowledge of purely mechanical events cannot become independent of the laws of our thinking, so even the most abstract thinking or the complete self-surrender to mystical experiences cannot make thought independent of our material existence. I we investigate, honestly and without prejudice, how an impression or thought arises, we must find that both realities are involved in the process.

We are not confronted with two different worlds; the whole of reality, according to our attitude, is apprehended as external or as internal reality. Although we start, in the first case, from external impressions, and in the second form ourselves, we do not grasp two separate spheres. Natural laws and moral laws are valid, not in two different worlds, but in one and the same world, and the same reality is the subject of science and religion, of practical experience and of artistic representation, for all of them attempt to deal with the whole of reality. (J. Macmurray, The Structure of Religious Experience, p. 21.) External reality includes man, who is a material thing, and organism, and whose life depends on chemical processes. In internal reality, on the other hand, even the most personal feelings, if we develop and pursue them far enough, will lead us to ask the meaning of the universe. This unity of reality, however, does not alter the fact that we are unable to apprehend it as such; just because we always want to grasp the whole of reality, we must see it in the two ways we have described. The unity of reality only proves that it is our thinking which has to establish the opposition between the two realities.

The participation of both realities in any thought and the fact that both of them must thus be always present to our mind ins characteristic of all our thought, whether we are conscious of it or not. We cannot know nature as it is apart for our thinking, nor can we know a realm of the spirit independent of man; the material world is accessible to us only through our minds, and the spiritual world only through our bodies. It is as impossible to grasp reality as a unity as it is to separate the two realities entirely from one another.

We have to investigate, therefore, how the division into the two realities is brought about and how they are opposed to one another.

Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Section 3


The division into external and internal reality is not a primary one, but created by our thinking. In order to apprehend reality, therefore, we must transform it into external and internal reality. This division, without being itself conscious, arises simultaneously with our consciousness; if we are to think clearly, we must consciously repeat and develop this process.

Though external reality is the reality outside ourselves, this description must not be interpreted spatially, for it should be applicable to any part of reality whatsoever. We must therefore approach this reality form outside, so as to see it as external to us; it has to be external when compared with our own lives.

If we try, for instance, to grasp a thing as part of external reality, we try to apprehend it 'objectively', as it is in itself quite independent of our reaction to it. We compare different impressions to correct any mistake due to our senses or to our way of thinking; we try to apply measurements of general validity, so that we can measure and weigh it and exclude any personal factor in observations. We subordinate ourselves completely to the object, paying no attention to its meaning or importance for us, nor to the purposes for which we intend to use it; we exclude our feelings as well as our aims. We try only to apply concepts which do not appeal to any inner experiences, so that they can be understood by everybody in exactly the same way.

Similarly, if we try to grasp psychological processes scientifically, we endeavour to discover laws to which we are subordinated. We do not allow our investigation to be influenced by our wishes, judgments and interpretations, but try, on the contrary, to derive these from causes upon which we cannot exert any influence. We make all these processes as far as possible independent of ourselves, by seeing them as compulsions to which we have to submit. The introduction of the concept of the unconscious into psychology is one of the most characteristic features of this method. We assume that the conscious impulses, which we actually know, are based upon the unconscious, which we have to discover or even to assume, for it is thus that our impulses or actions can be regarded as out of our control and considered as the consequence of a necessity which is external to ourselves. We try to transform ourselves into an object which we can look at from outside, and although psychology cannot succeed completely in such an aim, it has been possible by this method to discover laws which govern some of our reactions in the same impersonal way in which external events are governed by natural laws. (For a fuller explanation of why this method works see J. Macmurray, The Boundaries of Science, pp. 227, 236-7.)

Any perfect apprehension of external reality has thus to fulfill the following three conditions, which can be considered as a definition of this kind of reality. External things or events (1) have to be independent of their relation to the person observing them; (2) they have to exist or take place in space and time; (3) they must be describable in terms of general validity, so that, if they are correctly described, everybody can recognize them.

If I see a tree, for instance, I know that my seeing it has no influence upon the tree; and only if I succeed in discounting all the particular circumstances of my vision of it do I see it as it actually exists, as a part of external reality. If I have a wrong impression of it, moreover, I can rectify it, because the tree exists in space and time, quite independent of myself. I can measure it and define its component parts. I know, too, that other people see the tree in the same way as I do, and that they will recognize it if I give them a correct description of it.

The same is true of events. The tree grows and loses its leaves in autumn; all such events are independent of my watching them and take place whether or not I notice them. I can verify them, in space and time, with the help of sense-impressions, and other people are able to see them and to describe them in exactly the same way as I do.

The definition remains valid even for events which seem to be of a fundamentally different kind, for the phenomena of sound, for example. Sounds seem more dependent on the observer, because they seem to come into being only if corresponding events take place in our organs, but they are, nevertheless, independent of us. We can be sure, for instance, that a stroke of lightning, in normal circumstances, will be accompanied by thunder, even if nobody happens to hear it. It is for this reason that science can observe sounds as mere motions, without considering our hearing. They seem connected with time alone, but they can only be heard if they cause spatial events in our body, and science has to concentrate upon the motions in space which cause these events; it has discovered motions of the same nature which we are unable to hear. We can also be sure that, if the organs of another person work normally and if neither of us are subject to delusions, this other person will hear the same sounds as we do. It is for this reason that language and music become possible.

Psychological processes, when considered as external reality, are grasped in the same way. Certainly, inner experiences cannot be completely ignored, but the scientist tries to connect them with changes in the body, which take place whether we notice them or not and which can be observed in space and time. He tries, moreover, to discover those inner experiences which are common to all of us, or those reactions which must result in all cases form the corresponding conditions, so that they can be described in terms of general validity and their description understood by everybody, whatever his special individual experiences may be.

In all these cases, however, we are not dealing with an external reality which is unequivocal presented to us, but have to choose between different impressions and thoughts which have been evoked in us by the primary reality; we do not pay attention to all our reactions, but only to some of them. The definition does not define reality as such, but rather the choice we have to make and the direction we have to follow to grasp the reality to which we oppose ourselves. We can achieve, to a high degree, what the definition demands, but we achieve it by concentrating upon those thoughts which fulfil the conditions stated in the definition, and by excluding those which contradict it. We transform the primary reality into external reality by restricting ourselves to a certain aspect of it.

We can describe this transformation best by saying that we set the outward form of reality in opposition to its content, and grasp external reality by concentrating upon the form alone.

These two concepts—form and content—will be used here in the meaning which they acquire when we derive them from our own experience. We can derive them form it, because we apprehend ourselves both from outside and inside.

On the one hand, we know the human body and we are able to look at psychological processes as if they were exclusively subject to an external necessity; we are able to concentrate on the changes in our organism or on the abstract laws connecting our different reactions. If we do so, we grasp the outward from of our being, for we discover only those connections which may belong to very different experiences. They are purely formal, because they indicate the shapes or relationships which different things or events can assume, without being affected by our feelings or by any meaning which they have for us—that is, they do not disclose the nature of this content. We can describe exactly, for instance, the wound which somebody received and the disturbances caused by it in his organism and nerve-system, without knowing in the least what the pain he experiences is like, or what this experience means to him. If we had never experienced pain, we would not even know what pain is, in spite of all such descriptions.

On the other hand, the pain which we suffer ourselves is not a process which develops in a certain way, but is experienced as such; we know what this special pain feels like and what it means to be wounded, and thus we get to know the content of this experience. Similarly, while the knowledge of the movements of the particles in our brain of of psychological laws does not reveal a single actual thought, ye when we think, we know first what we think; we know, not the process of thinking, but our thoughts. We can be interested either in how or in what we think; in the first case we try to grasp the form, in the second the content of thinking. (The position of thinking may seem somewhat ambiguous, for, as it is concerned with external and internal reality, it may concentrate either on the form or on the content. But a confusion only arises if we mix up the consideration of thinking with the apprehension of reality. The difference between form and content in the realm of reality becomes clear when we compare the different aspects of reality, the difference between form and content in thinking if we find out whether we grasp the process of thinking or what we think.)

It is in this sense alone that we apply these two concepts. They are mostly used in a more superficial way; one says, for instance, that the contents of pea pods are peas. In this investigation we speak of form if we know only the outline of a thing and its external structure, or some such connection as that between cause and effect, which can underlie very different events and have very different meanings; in short, anything which we grasp only fro outside and which is not necessarily connected with one special thing or event, but can be applied to many of them. The content, however, is neither the peas in the pod nor the material of which things are made, for even if we know exactly the position of the electrons and their movements, or the chemical elements of which these things consist, we still know only their external structure, without being able to grasp them from inside. We can only apprehend content when we turn our attention to our own lives.

Here the opposition of which we speak immediately becomes clear, for it is quite obvious that our experience discloses a living content which is utterly different from anything material and from any knowledge of the structure of matter or of psychological processes and laws. The restriction of the meaning of the conception of 'content' to this kind of content is founded upon the fact that is is only by our own experience of objects and events that they become more than mere examples of general categories and thus disclose a meaning which we cannot reach in any other way. (This opposition becomes very clear when we consider a work of art. Here we can distinguish between its form and technique on the one hand, and its content, meaning and artistic value on the other. But this example will be considered later, for it implies some more difficult problems.)

We shall have to deal with this content at greater length when we consider internal reality. It is quite clear, however, that we must acknowledge the existence of such a content even if we concentrate our attention on external reality.

Both form and content are already involved in the simplest sense-impressions, for the content is not the thing itself which always remains outside us and which we obviously cannot approach from inside, but the sensations, feelings and reactions which are evoked in us. If we see and feel a piece of iron, for instance, our mind grasps its shape and consistency, but the act of grasping may be easy or difficult, pleasant or painful, and the object beautiful or ugly. We apprehend external reality if we concentrate on shape or consistency, but we are only able to do this if we oppose them to the other elements, so that we can separate the form from the content and grasp the form alone. A shell-splinter which hurts us seems larger and heavier than a similar piece of steel lying on the ground in front of us; we can form an accurate picture of it only if we concentrate exclusively on those elements in our sense-impression which convey its form, and exclude everything which, as a content of our own lives, has importance and meaning for us. But we must be aware of the content to grasp the form, for only thus can we prevent ourselves form overrating the size of the piece of iron because of the magnitude of our pain. Otherwise we might even be induced to project our anger into the iron and to ascribe hostile intentions to it. Even if we remain indifferent, we have to be conscious of the possibility of such reactions, so as to be able to exclude them should they arise.

The apprehension of external reality is always brought about, whether or not we are conscious of it, by opposing form to content and by renouncing knowledge of the content. We know a thing only after the sense-impression has caused an activity within ourselves, and this activity is its special content for us; without it no sense-impression would be possible. But it is this activity which we have to eliminate from our apprehension; we have to find out how far it is involved in our impression and to exclude it. It does not matter that the content of the thing itself and of the greater part of external reality remains inaccessible to us and that what we know is quite a different content, namely, that of our lives; the general knowledge of what we have to consider as content enables us to isolate any form as its opposite and to separate the two in any impression. It would be hopeless, in the case of the piece of iron, to try to discern something which we could call 'content' in the sense we have just defined, and yet we grasp its form by opposing it to the content of our reactions.

This opposition determines the character of external reality. If we grasp a thing as a thing, we always know in what form it is presented to us and what happens to it, but even if we know the changes in its structure which these happenings imply, we still do not know whether or not this process has inner aspects for the thing itself. When the shell splinter flies through space to hurt us, we know neither what significance this act has for the piece of steel or for the world nor indeed whether it has such a significance at all. We can discover a meaning only so far as we ourselves are involved, for this is the only way in which a content becomes accessible to us, but we must exclude this content. We must make the same effort if we want to grasp psychological processes scientifically; to recognize general laws, we have to forget what it means to experience pain or happiness or misery as the unique experiences which they are in our own experience. Here it would not be hopeless to try to discover the content, but we must concentrate on the formal elements if we want to treat psychological processes as part of external reality.

This necessary concentration of form must not however mislead us; we must never deny the content altogether, though nowadays we often tend to. In contrast to previous ages when men endowed inanimate objects with a life or soul of their own, we endeavour to explain our very lives by purely material processes. Even to those who do not believe in such explanations, this attempt may seem to do justice to external reality and to endanger only the understanding of our own experience. Yet even this is not correct; any unprejudiced examination of external reality, too, shows quite clearly that to deny the content is fundamentally wrong. We cannot fully understand anything without opposing the form to the content; if we deny the existence of content in our own lives, we shall notice the lack of content even when we consider external reality alone. Even in the realm of the natural sciences we can see that this content is absolutely indispensable.

The natural sciences teach us systematically to exclude all feelings, all values and aims, and thus to renounce any knowledge of a content contributed by our own lives. Their immense success proves that the more we succeed in doing this, the better is our grasp of external reality, and this can lead us to overrate their methods and to think it impossible to grasp reality in any other way. This restriction, necessary for natural sciences, is no longer felt as a renunciation, but as a way of cutting out unnecessary thought and sentiments. Do no the explanations given by the natural sciences disclose a far more definite content within external reality itself? Although the knowledge of such a content, according to our definition, is purely formal, it makes it seem superfluous to pay any attention to internal reality at all. Yet such a conclusion is plainly superficial.

An explanation could be thought of as disclosing the content if something which cannot be understood was derived from something which we know and understand completely. We could say, for instance, that we knew the content of an event, if an effect which, as such, remains inexplicable were explained by a cause which we knew in all its details and aspects. We do not really know, however, the forces which explain the connection between external causes and effects, even if we call them electricity or gravity or by some more modern names; all these are mere names for something unknown. Nor do we know the nature of light, although it plays an increasingly important part in all physical explanations. At present we can only explain it by the two contradictory assumptions that it is a wave motion in which no matter is involved, and that it consists of material particles moving in a straight line across space. Nor do the explanations of the constitution of objects give us real knowledge; we divide molecules into atoms and atoms into electrons and shall probably continue this division still further; and then we gather them together again in quanta and fields, because, although we are able to restrict and limit the sphere of the unkinown, we are unable to eliminate it altogether.

The process of explanation is, in fact, just the opposite of what we usually assume it to be. We do not explain the unknown by the known but, on the contrary, derive something we know from something unknown. We explain the objects and events which we observe in terms of forces and particles, and in the end we have to attribute a mysterious and arbitrary behaviour to the electrons, in order to account for their inexplicability.

Nevertheless, these explanations help us to give an account of external reality. Yet they help us, not by disclosing the content, but by pushing the unknown content further back, so that we can extend our knowledge of the form. They make external reality ore and more external and thus we can describe it better and better. The separation of man from external reality is brought about gradually; we are inclined at first to endow it with a content and to judge it by analogies derived from our lives; we have to learn that we can grasp it more reliably when we give up any such attempt. We have learned, for instance, that we can protect ourselves against a stroke of lightning if we explain it, not as an instrument of gods or demons, but as a purely mechanical force. The real purpose of these explanations is to enable us to accept the form as such and to concentrate more and more on it, without being disturbed by the content; they push the content so far into the background that we can deal with external reality adequately although its content remains unknown. They help us, because they enable us to include and unknown content in our theories.

The correctness of this is shown by the fact that the progress of science is immediately endangered when we accept the concepts used in such explanations as the final content, that is as part of the reality which we really know. The sciences develop by destroying one theory after another; their development is not endangered if theories are treated as mere assumptions, but it is if these theories are prematurely accepted as final explanations. If, instead of endowing things with life, we believe that some of these forces or particles are the only content accessible, theories can neither be adjusted to fit in with new discoveries nor replaced. It is no accident that those sciences which are less exact because they cannot completely ignore the content, such as biology and psychology, are the most dogmatic. (It should not be overlooked that the consequences of the two opposite attempts—to endow matter with life and to reduce life to material processes—are very similar to each other. If nature is considered as being alive in a similar way to human beings, the greater part of it must be regarded as evil and hostile. Any consistent materialistic explanation of the world, such as Marxism, has also to see part of the driving forces as evil, but as it does not want to endow matter with life, it has to declare the representatives of one class of people to be wicked and to transform this wickedness into a natural law. Capitalist theory, less consistent, requires the belief in the struggle for the survival of the fittest, which is bound to be cruel, and forcibly identifies it with the good. In ass such cases personal intentions are attributed to impersonal forces, and the boundaries between external and internal reality are blurred in an unwarranted and confusing way.) The right use of such explanations, however, is only possible if we remain conscious of the real content, so that we neither deny it altogether nor look for it in the wrong place; for only thus shall we be able to accept external reality as mere form and therefore reliably without being forced to distort it by futile attempts to find some kind of content there.

Scientific explanations, it is true, are proved to be correct when the results of the theory agree with the observed events which were to be explained. It is for this reason that the concepts which in the explanation take the place of the unknown content seem to be the real content. But this need not disturb us, for, although science seems to start from its hypothesis and to lead up to the event, it starts in fact from the event, and the explanation is only accepted if it is successful in leading back to the event. We have said already that we explain the well known by the unknown. The fall of a stone, for instance, remains the same whether we explain it by the theory of gravitation or that of relativity, and all the theories agree with the actual fall; the theory therefore is clearly not the presupposition of, but an addition to, our apprehension of reality. Nor need it disturb us that theories make correct predictions possible, for the explanation of one event naturally enables us to explain similar events, even if we did not know them before. Theories can certainly also lead to technical inventions and thus create real objects, but these things become, in their turn, independent of the theory which was accepted at the time of their invention. Electric light is not affected by whether we believe that light consists purely of waves, or purely of particles, or of both. It does not even matter whether such explanations work with concepts derived from reality or with mere assumptions or constructions. Nobody claims that a model of the order of atoms in an organic molecule gives a true picture of that molecule, but it serves its purpose as satisfactorily as any other explanation. (See J. Macmurray, The Boundaries of Science, pp. 227, 236-7.) The fact that an explanation proves correct does not mean, therefore, that it discloses a hidden content, but on the contrary that we grasp the form; if it did disclose the content, the explanation of the same event could not be changed, nor could it be based on assumptions.

Thus even scientific explanations demonstrate once more that we cannot consider the two realities as separate spheres which are simply presented to us as such. The necessity of a content can be seen in external reality too, although such a content is accessible only in internal reality, because both realities are created by our attitude to them and by a special selection among the different elements of our apprehension and experience. We have first to establish the opposition between form and content, for only then are we able to concentrate upon the form alone and to grasp external reality as such.

Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Section 4


The difference between external and internal reality can perhaps be better understood if we think of the following example.

Physicists apply to an increasing extent the calculus of probability, and in this way they achieve reliable results, although this kind of calculation claims only approximate, and not absolute, exactitude. The same kind of calculation is applied by insurance companies, and their calculations of accidents and deaths, too, is so reliable that the premium payments they fix produce the profits they expect. Certainly, the results of the insurance companies are not so exact as those of the physicists, but this is only because men are not so numerous as electrons; the calculations of the insurance companies would reach the same degree of exactitude if they could investigate the same number of events. Apart from that, their calculations are sometimes upset by catastrophes, but so are those of the physicists; neither of them can predict the consequences of, say, earthquakes. In principle, the two calculations are of the same nature and of equal validity.

Nevertheless, we are bound to consider them as very different. We are able to accept the physicists' calculations as a satisfactory representation of reality, but we are quite unwilling to accept those of the insurance companies as giving a significant view of reality. Although they are undoubtedly an extraordinarily exact prediction of the future, we cannot consider them as prophecy. They are unable either to predict who will die, or to make any statement about the infinite variety of the causes and circumstances of these deaths, and as we are men, the calculation would only appear to us to represent reality if it told us these facts. In what we normally think of as inanimate nature we can be satisfied by purely formal numbers, but not where human lives are concerned, for we know that there the content should be accessible to us. We know that every single death finishes a human life with its varying fortunes in a different way, so that this reality is only grasped, therefore, when we know who dies, how he dies, and what effect his death has on other men.

On the one hand, this example shows how it is possible for us to grasp reality by restricting ourselves to the form. If such a purely external approach makes it possible to use even as complicated a process as men's deaths as a basis for accurate calculations, then it must be possible for such a formal simplification to do complete justice to reality wherever the content remains unknown, or wherever we are not interested in it. The only qualification is this condition that the content must be one that can be ignored. If we knew so little of man that his life and death appeared to us as the existence and the dissolution of atoms so much like one another that they could not be distinguished, then we would be convinced that here too this kind of calculation, in so far as its results are correct, does complete justice to reality.

On the other hand, it becomes clear that internal reality cannot be grasped in this way. As human lives have a content which makes them fundamentally different from external reality, we must apply to them a method which can take this content into account. The calculations of the insurance companies produce the expected profits; but even a person who seems exclusively interested in such dividends will refuse to think that these predictions are satisfactory as soon as he thinks of himself, of his family and of his friends.

Every object or event which we experience ourselves can be seen from two points of view. We can apprehend it as external reality, but this apprehension does not do justice to its other aspect, to internal reality, and therefore such an apprehension is bound to appear to us to be insufficient. If a falling stone hurts us, we can try to find out its weight, shape and consistency, or the laws governing its fall, yet what we experience is not these factors, but pain. We can also consider the pain as a psychological process which follows laws independent of us, but thus we once more fail to grasp the pain we experience. We can predict, not only that a stone falls if it is robbed of its support, but also that a man will be killed if he falls from a tower of sufficient height, but the latter statement will appear to us to be self-evident rather than important. The investigation of the laws of gravity, important as it is for our knowledge of external reality, is meaningless so far as internal reality is concerned. When we are stunned, so that the normal reactions of our body and consciousness cease, the natural laws alone are concerned with our fall; but normally, when we are not stunned, we do not enquire, while we fall or after we have fallen, what the natural laws of gravity are.

We can, of course, be interested also in the external course of the event, and we most probably shall be if we are hurt and if this experience influences our life in a surprising and unexpected manner. But even then we are not interested in natural laws; we ask rather why the stone had to fall just when we passed and not a second earlier or later; we ask why we alone had this accident while others passed by safely. We ask what this event means for us; we try to discover the connection between the external event and ourselves; we try to understand our fate. It is not the form of the event that matters but its content and value which have to be discovered. We may try once more to look for the content in external reality; but it remains impossible even in such a case to find the content here, and as this time its existence cannot be excluded, this attempt does not lead us to think about natural laws, but about problems of faith. If we want to cope with these, however, we have to apply quite a different way of thinking, one which can do justice to our inner experiences.

That we need a different way of thinking to grasp internal reality can be seen most clearly when we try to apply to it the definition which we gave of external reality. The main means by which we grasp internal reality are, as we shall see later, feelings, values and aims. All of them are undoubtedly real, we could not live without any of them; the mere fact that we live means that we feel and that we are forced to act, and we cannot act without applying values and striving for certain aims. (See H.H. Farmer, Towards Belief in God, pp. 136, 139-40, and Experience of God, pp. 119-20.) Yet feelings, values and aims flatly contradict each of the three conditions. (This chapter, section 3, paragraph 5 "External things or events (1) have to be independent of their relation to the person observing them; (2) they have to exist or take place in space and time; (3) they must be describable in terms of general validity, so that, if they are correctly described, everybody can recognize them.")

If we want to know what we actually feel, and not merely the abstract process of feeling as it is described by psychology, we cannot even think of feelings as being 'independent of the observer', for they exist and become intelligible only within our inner experience, and they express, if they are due to external objects, a special relationship between the object and the observer. External objects, it is true, play an important part in our feelings as well, which, although they belong to our inner experience, need at the same time an object in order to become intelligible. We enjoy something or suffer something; we love a person or a thing. We shall see that, to know our feelings, we must always know their direction or their cause. (See Chapter 6, paragraphs 15 and 16.) Certainly there are vague feelings without any conceivable connection with any object or cause, and we can revel in such feelings, but we do not clearly understand them, and sooner or later they will awaken in us the desire to find a way out of this state of vagueness which cannot be permanently satisfying. Every naturally developing feeling forces upon us the wish for clarity and thus refers us to an object. Yet to understand our feelings, we have to give up any attempt to subordinate ourselves to external reality; we must, on the contrary, impose upon external reality the relationship between it and ourselves. We cannot regard the object as independent of us, but must concentrate on its relation to us.

The first statement, therefore, cannot be applied to internal reality, and neither can the second. It is true that feelings take place in time and, owing to their connection with our body, in space, but these facts do not help us to understand the values to which clear feelings lead.

Let us return, for instance, to an example already used: our looking at a picture. (See this chapter, section 2, paragraph 8) If we consider a painting of a tree, the picture and its subject can easily be described as external objects. But we have said that the description of the picture as a material object is entirely irrelevant, and so is that of the tree; everything depends on how it is painted. We want to know whether the picture of the tree is beautiful or ugly or, in an aesthetic sense, good or bad. This once more invalidates the first statement, for beauty depends on the person who experiences it. The beholder can no longer be neglected or eliminated, for this special quality of the picture becomes accessible only if it awakens certain feelings in him. Beauty must be established by a judgment, and it can only be thus established when the picture is regarded as causing inner experiences. There is no such thing as beauty which exists somewhere in space and time, waiting for simple apprehension; for in order to come into being it presupposes the activity of the human mind. Thus, however, we cannot apply the second statement either. Space and time may have a secondary or accidental importance; spatial elements play their part in painting of sculpture, temporal elements in poetry and music, but neither can help us to find out what beauty is. It lies beyond their sphere, for the same elements, in different works, can be beautiful or ugly. We need other concepts than these if we are to describe beauty.

Nevertheless, in spite of these deviations from external reality, beauty is a real quality of the picture. We have to take into account the feelings of the beholder, but we cannot decide from his reactions alone whether it is good or bad, nor can we do so arbitrarily; it remains good even if we wrongly consider it to be bad. It is true that our conception of beauty has nowadays become so vague that we are inclined to assert that beauty is purely a matter of individual taste, but thought taste plays its part and leaves room for differences of judgment, it is quite impossible to accept this statement as a fundamental principle. If someone denies that Shakespeare's verse is beautiful, we do not believe merely that his taste is different, but that he has bad taste or that he does not understand poetry. Nor do we accept individual statements about goodness; if someone tells us that cruelty is good, we believe that he is wrong. Values, therefore, although they contradict the definition of external reality, are nevertheless real, but they belong to internal reality whose apprehension requires a different way of thinking.

The difference between the two realities can be seen best if we try to apply the third statement. If I am convinced that a picture is beautiful or a deed good, I claim general validity for my judgment, yet this, although we are using the same term, is not the kind of general validity asked for by the definition, but directly contradicts it.

If I am convinced that a picture is beautiful, I shall also be convinced that I am right, even if I am the only person to believe it, and even if I am unable to make anyone else discover the beauty which I clearly perceive. A correct description of beauty which makes all people see it cannot be given; it is possible for me to be the only person who discovers the beauty of the picture. Nevertheless, my conviction may be correct; many a great artist, even the old Rembrandt, was considered a bad artist by his contemporaries, but history has confirmed the judgment of those few who seemed wrong because they stood alone. My judgment can be of general validity, although it contradicts the general opinion, and although I am unable to describe beauty so that everybody recognizes it. General validity, in such a case, does not imply that everybody must come to the same conclusion. The same applies to goodness. Kant says that even if there had never been a sincere friend, yet pure sincerity in friendship would be required of every man. (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics, translated by T.K. Abbott, 3rd ed., pp. 24-5. —See also J. Oman, The Natural and the Supernatural, p. 312) But I shall be right only if I have the right inner experiences and if my feelings and thoughts correspond to reality. My feelings may be quite genuine and yet be wrong; neither their existence nor their intensity are a guarantee that my response to the qualities of the picture has been adequate or correct. We must establish the right relationship, and once again we need a different way of thinking to do so; we must be able to grasp internal reality.

The third statement, however, can also be completely contradicted. The process of valuing, it is true, always tends to drive us towards using some general terms. But my personal situation, my feelings, my difficulties are in many respects entirely my own; no individual is ever exactly like another. I am forced, therefore, to solve my problems in my own way, even if I am guided by values of general validity. When striving, for instance, for the common good, I stell have to choose my particular contribution.

Even the sciences, if we look at them as human activities, prove that internal reality contradicts all three statements. No science would have come into being without personal intentions, and these presuppose feelings, values and aims. It is true that we must exclude all of them from the processes of science, yet it owes its existence to them. All our activities, including science, exist because they serve certain aims, and it is because certain scientific aims appeal most to the feelings of the scientist and because he values them most highly that he devotes his life to them. It may be that he has no special aim, but merely wishes to find out certain facts, but he will do so because knowledge and truth are his aims and are of the highest value to him. In this case, whether or not he is conscious of it, his aim is an absolute value, a value, that is, which is called absolute because it cannot be defined in external terms at all. (See J. Macmurray, The Boundaries of Science, pp. 73-4.)

If we want to find terms in which to describe this internal reality, we have first to realize again that we cannot rely on any mechanical division of reality into two parts, but have to establish internal reality, too, by choosing between different impressions and experiences, leaving out some and stressing others. The choice which we have to make can once more be stated best by opposing form and content; while we had to restrict ourselves to the form to apprehend external reality, we must concentrate on the content if we want to know internal reality. We no longer neglect the content for the sake of the form, but, on the contrary, use the form to express the content and to make it intelligible.

All internal reality is characterized by the fact that the content is experienced first. In our own lives—which, as we have shown, are the necessary starting point for the consideration of this reality—we can see this on three different levels.

First, our lives are never really empty. Even in moments which seem completely void we remain dimly conscious of our faculties and of their activities. Some fleeting thoughts which we neither intended nor can follow to their conclusions flash through our minds. Sensations and feelings appear and disappear before we are able to grasp them. Instincts and intentions press upon us, without leading to any action. Even when we sleep, the presence of these faculties makes itself felt in dreams. The smallest impulses suffice t bring about a vague stirring of thinking, feeling and willing, and the mere fact of living is normally sufficient to provide these impulses.

Secondly when these faculties find a clearer expression, we do not at first know whether we grasp reality correctly nor whether we are thinking the right thoughts; but we do know that we think. We do not know whether or not our sensations and feelings correspond to their object or cause, but we do feel. Nor do we know whether we direct our wills towards a possible or an impossible aim, but we do know that we want something. The external or psychological description of these processes presupposes their artificial separation form ourselves, making an additional and conscious effort necessary. Only the content of all these activities is immediately experienced.

Thirdly, if we experience such a content, we need not make sure, as we do with external reality, that we really are grasping something. We know that the experience is undoubtedly present and real because of the immediacy of the content. Afterwards, we can try to find out whether we translated this content correctly into thought, and whether our feelings really correspond to their causes, but the experience as such is real in itself. In external reality, we have to find out if what we apprehend exists, but our apprehension, as part of internal reality, exists in any case, whether or not it really corresponds to external reality. If I feel pain, I do feel it, even if there is no reason for feeling it. We may find out that wwe were mistaken when we were frightened by some delusion, but this does not alter the fact that we were frightened. (Owing to our ignorance of feeling, it may sound strange that it can be correct or incorrect. But we do—or do not—feel in terms of the object. See J. Macmurray, Reason and Emotion, p. 25, and The Boundaries of Science, pp. 201-2.)

In spite of this immediate certainty with which we experience the content, however, we have to give it an external form. For only thus can we apprehend it distinctly and establish a reliable correspondence between our inner experiences and the reality they refer to. Our faculties are at first quite formless and vague; they cannot be recognized at all before they have been exercised; their content becomes accessible, clear and definite only by their being directed to, or determined by, a concrete object which is external to ourselves. Everything which takes place within us becomes a distinct experience by our finding an appropriate external expression for it.

We cannot think without thinking about some object or event; even if we want to think clearly of internal reality, we must either connect it with an object which is separated from us or partially transform it into external reality. We don not understand 'the good', for instance, without knowing a good person or some action which is good; nor can we think of love without knowing love between persons, or a person whom we love or who loves us. We have mentioned already that feelings, too, need an object. Abstractions can replace objects or events, but they are derived from them, and they frequently become dangerous because, owing to this need for an object, we are inclined to consider them as real things. Nor can we describe feelings without using some comparison with external events; if we have lost a person whom we love and if we want to describe our pain, we shall have to say something like 'it is heart-breaking'. Similarly, we have by nature a strong or a weak will, or our will may be strong in one respect and weak in another, but we shall not know which unless we actually try to do something.

As we are forced to identify the form with external reality, the search for the right form of internal reality means that we have to join external elements to it. In the sphere of external reality, we need explanations because we have to add to it an unknown content; in internal reality we need the external form to express the content, because it has itself no such form, and without form the content would remain vague. It is true that this adding of a form should not be overemphasized; as soon as we have ascertained the external elements, we must not concentrate our attention on them, but rather accept them as a way of expressing our thoughts or our feelings. The description of our pain by an external simile does not serve to describe the external event, but to express the feeling. We can grasp the content of such experiences only with the help of form, but it is the content and not the form which matters; the form must serve the content and make it intelligible. We do not grasp external reality as such, but in its relation to ourselves. Yet all this does not free us from the necessity of apprehending external reality and from joining it to internal reality; we must see the tree as beautiful, but we must see the tree.

Internal reality thus proves once more that the two realities cannot be completely severed from one another. They are not different sections of reality which we have simply to accept, but they have to be separated by our opposing them one to another and by our apprehending them in quite different ways. They are created by our two different attitudes towards reality.

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go to: Chapter 3, "The Main Characteristics of the Two Realities"

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