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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 3


Section 1


Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Before considering the laws of thinking in which the division into two realities finds its expression, we have still to describe internal reality in greater detail. A long tradition has forced us to concentrate on external reality, while the knowledge of internal reality is almost lost. It seems necessary, therefore, to elaborate the opposition between the two realities further, so that it becomes quite clear what we mean when we talk of internal reality.

When we are observing external reality, we have to try to eliminate all the personal peculiarities of our observations and to base our knowledge on those elements which can always be apprehended in the same way; our apprehension of this reality is only reliable if our observations can be repeated without the slightest alteration. External reality, therefore, appears to us as static and fixed; external events, even, are static in so far as we always presuppose that they follow laws which never change.

But it is impossible to exclude ourselves from internal reality; we must, on the contrary, establish a relationship between the objects and ourselves and concentrate on this relationship and on our own activities. In order to make internal reality accessible, we have to consider the activity of our minds and our influence upon the world, and as this internal reality is thus dependent on our actions, it becomes real to us only so far as we make it real. It cannot appear to us, therefore as being static and fixed; it must always be experienced as something new. Even inner experiences which we have had before, or which we expected, have to be assimilated by means of renewed activity; even those contents which we believe we know have to be experienced in some new way, so that they can give rise to a new activity within us. Exact repetition, in this case, is not a help but a hindrance; if one of our reactions is repeated too often, our activities become purely mechanical; they no longer disclose internal reality, but make us unable to experience it.

It does not follow from this difference that both elements are not present in each of the two realities; but a different element determines the character of each. Our knowledge of external reality is dependent on ever changing theories and we are aware of incessant changes, but each theory must try to discover what remains constant in all these changes. (This remains true in modern physics, too, for though it has abandoned the belief in an unchanging causality, the theory of relativity is based on the assumption that the speed of light is constant, and the quantum theory on the discovery that energy can only exist in multiples of a fixed minimum quantum.) On the other hand, our knowledge of some elements of internal reality is far more firmly established than any natural law we know. The ten commandments, for instance, pronounced thousands of years ago, or the Sermon on the Mount, are in essence still valid, while their contemporary world has completely disappeared and scientific theories and methods have changed again and again. But we cannot simply rely on this stability, important as it is, if we want to grasp internal reality; we can only rightly obey the ten commandments if we constantly experience and interpret them anew. (I think it is because of this that we so frequently overlook the stability of the moral world. We believe in scientific results as if they were unchangeable and are inclined to regard moral laws as dependent on circumstances of even on fashion. We overlook the fact that the bulk of unchangeable knowledge in morality, common to all ages, religions and nations, is far greater than that in science.)

It is possible, of course, to attain greater security in feeling and valuation and in the setting up of one's aims; we can grow mature and learn by repeated experiences how to give expression to our inner knowledge by certain rules and laws, and thus how gradually to grasp the content better and more comprehensively. There are means of translating our inner knowledge into thought, and we shall look very thoroughly for all such opportunities, for it is the main purpose of this investigation to find definite ways in which we can reliably grasp internal reality. But all these possibilities do not alter the fundamental fact that the results thus achieved are bound to become meaningless and to cut us off from internal reality, unless they lead us from one new experience to the next. To make this reality real, we must constantly renew our experience of it. Previous experiences are fully remembered and further developed only at the moment of a similar new experience, and they become fruitful only by such a renewal. Even when experiences seem merely to be repeated, they must be transformed into something new; thanks to the previous experience the new one can become more fruitful, but our knowledge as such does not remain fruitful; it must be made fruitful by further activity. If the renewal does not take place, the repetition only deadens our former knowledge or ability.

The necessity of making internal reality real does not imply, however, that it is created by us; it has as independent an existence as external reality. We apprehend external reality by separating it from us as far as possible, and we grasp internal reality by connecting it closely with our reactions and activities. But this is only a difference in method, and the latter is neither less reliable, nor 'subjective' in that usual sense which indicates doubtful knowledge based on individual bias. (For this rehabilitation of the word 'subjective' cf. also the the use made of it by Kierkegaard.) If we apprehend the content correctly, we soon discover that we grasp something which is independent of us, for our apprehension proves correct only if it is in accordance, not with our desires and purposes, but with the true nature of content. In making the content real for ourselves, we do not create it, but make it accessible; it confronts us; we recognize that it exists quite independently of ourselves, even though we must pay attention to our most personal reactions to disclose it. The division of reality alone is our own creation, but as soon as we apply the two different ways of thinking which thus become possible and necessary, we grasp in both cases, despite the differences in method, an aspect of primary reality.

That the content has an existence independent of ourselves can be seen clearly if we consider the relationship between our activities and their aims. So far we have paid less attention to aims than to feelings and values; but although these usually determine our choice of aims, it is the aim which is most important for what we actually do. We need activities to disclose the content, and it is the aims which give rise to and direct our conscious activities. We frequently talk of aimless activities, but this usually means that they serve and aim which we do not consider important or of which we do not approve; completely aimless activities, but this usually means that they serve an aim which we do not consider important or of which we do not approve; completely aimless activities are rare and almost always an expression of an abnormal or desperate state of mind. (People who sit in an office or work in a factory and do not like it probably talk of their aimless activity. But they want to earn their living, and so the office or factory serves some purpose. Even if we play a game of cards it is because we want pleasure, or at least to kill time. If we are very nervous, we may do something without knowing what we are doing; yet this is not normal activity, but an abnormal state of mind.)

Aims can either be imposed upon us or they can be chosen by ourselves. If they are our own choice, we ought to be satisfied when we achieve what we want, and disappointed when we fail. We can never predict, however, what an effect it will have on us if we reach, or fail to reach, our goal. The independence of internal reality is shown by the fact that it need not conform to our expectations at all and that we can yet do nothing but accept it as it presents itself to us. It is because of this independence that we so often experience painful disappointments when we achieve what we intended. We have exerted all our strength and put ourselves to exhausting trouble in order to reach the aim; we have pinned all our hopes on it; and yet, as we reach it, we meet a reality which destroys all our hopes. If we could alter this reality arbitrarily, according to our wishes, such disappointments would be impossible, but internal reality has to be accepted as it is.

We can strive, for instance, for external success, for money or fame. We may be extremely successful-and yet, how poor is the result for which we struggled with such expectations! It seems hardly possible to remain satisfied for long with such an aim, except by coming to take it for granted. Even the great industrialists or conquerors are driven restlessly onwards form one aim to the next, form one success to another. This shows that, as soon as they have reached their goal, they are suddenly forced to recognize that they have chosen an unsatisfactory aim; their activity as such was bound to make internal reality accessible, and they are eventually confronted with the fact that their aim does not do justice to this reality. Usually they are so completely absorbed in external reality that they cannot realize what has happened; they grow restless and go on tying to overcome their dissatisfaction by replacing their previous aims by others of the same kind which, surpassing the former in magnitude or difficulty, seem to promise better results and drive them once more in the wrong direction. They could only find satisfaction if they gave up their original intentions and used their success for different purposes, but then, too, the result would differ from their expectations. Their independent existence of the content makes itself felt; the aim, once reached, has a different meaning form that of the aim striven for; if we do not want to recognize what we really experience, we have to pay the price for not doing so.

Our surprising experiences, however, need not end there; the independence of the content can make itself felt in another way too. The pain and the suffering which we thus undergo, and which seem bound to depress or even to destroy us, need not have this effect, but can become fruitful experiences; they can disclose to us new aspects of internal reality and thus give us quite unexpected peace of mind. We may fail to make our fortune, for instance, and as a result discover pleasures which our struggle concealed form us; we may fail to attain a position of power and thus discover good quality is in other people which power could never call out. Our failure does not have the effects which we feared because the content, owing to its being independent of our will, has a meaning of its own; it can overcome our sufferings by showing us their meaning. If we no longer defend ourselves against our inner experiences, but accept them as they really are, neither the disappointing success nor the painful failure need necessarily break us; on the contrary, they can inspire us by opening up to us further aspects of internal reality.

All this does not happen only when we set ourselves external aims. We can naturally also strive for aims which are chosen according to our knowledge of internal reality; we can aim, for instance, at a good deed. This we may achieve; yet we shall probably have to recognize that it has not done justice to internal reality, either because we have to confess, in face of the new experience of this reality, that we did not do the deed for the sake of the good but to serve hidden egoistic motives, or because our previous conception of internal reality now appears inadequate and has to be corrected. If we are completely satisfied with a good deed and proud of it, we can almost safely assume that we are denying our real inner experience and that we have not grasped the content. On the other hand, the failure which we feared need not be disappointing; it can serve the good better, lead to important new experiences, and thus be more satisfying than the success which we desired. But it can only become fruitful if we do not cling to our preconceptions.

We can never predict how the results of our activities will affect us; as soon as internal reality has become accessible, we are confronted with an independent reality which forces itself upon us, even against our will and we can only cope with it if we acknowledge what we really experience.

This shows, and is due to, another important difference between the two realities—that between external and internal certainty. We can never, with the help of thinking alone, achieve complete certainty; what we gain is relative certainty in external reality and an incomplete absolute certainty in internal reality.

In external reality we aim at absolute certainty without being able to achieve it. We approach it gradually, by accumulating results and testing them again and again, but any certainty we may gain still remains open to further tests and corrections. We have seen that we must not even try to base our knowledge here upon any knowledge of the content; on the contrary, we must restrict ourselves to the form and eliminate the content as far as possible. We know how things are, but never what they are; we have to take into account an unknown content. To achieve any certainty at all, we must remain satisfied with the form alone; as we only know how to test our apprehension and our discoveries by means of our formal knowledge, we have to restrict ourselves to this sphere if we want to be able to test them. Yet whatever exists is determined by the content; our knowledge, therefore, can never be absolute. We remain dependent on further discoveries.

Internal reality forces itself upon us, even despite our intentions and preconceptions and aims. It is true that we constantly need new, and thus ever changing, experiences, but these changes only make us recognize, whenever we meet it, a reality which can no longer be changed. Then our certainty is absolute; neither our previous experiences nor the contradicting opinions of other people can shake it. (See Chapter 2, section 4, paragraphs 13-14) But we have to find the appropriate form to give expression to it, and as we do not find forms in internal reality, we have to use those forms which we have grasped in a different way in external reality. This is no obstacle; in the same way as the knowledge of the content of our lives was sufficient to isolate any form, these forms, even if originally foreign to the content, suffice to make it intelligible. But, to make up for their fundamental inadequacy, it is necessary constantly to apply them anew. As none of these forms is the necessary and complete form of the content, but only a means of enabling us to recognize it, we cannot find the final expression of the content, but must decide in each single case whether the form has really been completely filled by the content, so that each of the formal elements refers to it and makes it intelligible. If, for instance, we accept a religious teaching as a final embodiment of the content, we still have to make sure whether, in each particular case, we are filling the traditional forms with life or merely using them mechanically, thus depriving them of their meaning. If we apply the form correctly, we experience the content with absolute certainty; but it is only through such an immediate experience that we can decide whether or not the form has fulfilled its function. We remain unable, therefore, to transform our certainty into a comprehensive rational system of thought.

This difference between the two possibilities of gaining certainty corresponds exactly to the division into two realities. The content leads us to understand how the form is created and what it embodies, and the form enables us to grasp the content. If we were able to apprehend both simultaneously, our knowledge of external events would be absolute, because the knowledge of the content would give it an absolute foundation, and we could also grasp the content securely, because we could recognize the unique form which represents its final embodiment. By the division of reality we are cut off from such complete knowledge, for we must concentrate either on the form or on the content. Our certainty, therefore, is based either upon the form which cannot be fully understood, or upon an experience which is absolute, but which cannot definitely be embodied in any form. In external reality our knowledge of the form, not rooted in the content, remains purely formal and fits many different contents without disclosing them. In internal reality the content, whose form is never definitely grasped, has always to be experienced anew.

We are inclined to think that the certainty of our knowledge of external reality is greater than that of internal reality, because we can predict external events. We know that if we drop a stone it will fall, and the natural sciences have enormously enlarged the sphere of such reliable predictions. But we never know with certainty how we shall react to changed circumstances. The possibility and importance of predictions, however, make the difference between these two kinds of certainty still more clear.

To predict events in external reality, apart from the most common ones, is rather difficult and requires thorough investigation, because the sphere of our certainty is restricted; we have gradually to enlarge it and to make sure, at the same time, that we remain within its boundaries. But prediction is of the greatest importance; the unchangeable laws which we discover stand the test only so far as they enable us to predict; only thus far have we succeeded in penetrating to the static and fixed nature of this reality. We must endeavour, therefore, to make such predictions possible. But as the content is the determining factor, unforeseen events outside the sphere of our certainty may take place, and we can never exclude the possibility that they may require fundamental changes in our system of knowledge.

Prediction is in some ways very much easier in internal reality. As we experience absolute certainty, we know, too, that some aspects of the same content must be present in any new experience and that some elements of our previous experience will recur. We can be sure that our absolute certainty cannot be completely overthrown by unforeseen events, though we may be forced to develop or to re-interpret it. We have mentioned that our moral knowledge is far more static than our scientific knowledge. But this static element does not determine the character of internal reality, and for this reason the possibility of prediction is of no great importance here. Internal reality becomes real only so far as we experience it in a new way; whatever we can predict is known to us already; it cannot, therefore, directly serve to make this reality real. Even if we experience what we have predicted, the experience itself must in some important ways differ from our expectation; it will make the content accessible only if it becomes a new and unforeseen experience.

This peculiar nature of inner certainty, however, raises a further problem. We all know that we can succumb to wrong or even fatal beliefs and yet be firmly convinced that they are right; they can appear to us as absolutely certain. But the immediate experience of absolute certainty would become meaningless if we were unable to distinguish between what is correct and whaat is incorrect, between what is right and what is wrong in this sphere. This problem will occupy us later. First, to make the different nature of the two realities quite clear, we shall consider the two most important conditions of their apprehension which we are by now able to state.

Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Section 2


The first main condition of apprehending the two realities clearly is that of separating them completely from each other. This condition is in fact so important that clear thinking is made easier if we talk of two realities; even though we consider them only as the two aspects of one primary reality, for we have to transform these two aspects into independent entities and to make them complete in themselves.

We can see now why this condition, which we have had to stress again and again, is so essential. The difference between the two realities is not the only reason for it; indeed they can both be described by the same set of terms. But it is just because we have to use the same concepts to describe both realities, so that several of the concepts we have used recur in the description of both, that we must separate them completely. For the same concepts have a different meaning in each of the two realities; they lead us in opposite directions and must be used in different contexts; to apply them properly, therefore, we have to think in two different ways, which requires a complete division of reality. Otherwise the concepts themselves would become contradictory and could not be used properly at all.

Let us take, for instance, the concepts form and content. In external reality, both form and content must be understood in a purely formal way. All the concepts we need to describe the external form of an event such as the falling of a stone—its shape, weight, consistency, and the concepts of distance, motion, speed and time—can be applied to any similar event; they must be emptied of any special content so that they can enable us to formulate a general law. The explanation, it is true always assumes the existence of an unknown content, but the names we thus give to the different causes and forces are again purely formal; they replace the content by concepts which can again be applied on many occasions. It seems to us that we try to penetrate the external form which we first apprehend, and to find the content which is hidden; every new theory seems to lead deeper inside. But experience shows that the content is only being pushed further back; we must again and again suppress it for the sake of the form. Our endeavours are, in fact, directed towards grasping the form alone; we must try to get away from the content as far as possible.

In internal reality, we start from the content, and thus even the form loses its purely formal character. The experience of the content enables us to understand how the form is connected with it; one special form?a particular deed, a meeting with some person, and impression of a picture—becomes the expression or effect of one special experience of the content. The form, therefore, is no longer an abstraction; as the experience of the content must always be a new one—that is a unique event—the form can no longer be applied to many events, but is clearly linked with its content. It becomes, so to speak, an organic form; we see how it develops, why it takes the special shape which it has, and we see that the relationships between its different parts conform to certain aspects or qualities of the content. The content, also, cannot be apprehended in a formal way at all; since it becomes accessible in our lives, no abstraction or simplification can do justice to our real experience. It is true that the process of our apprehension once again appears different to us, for the content is experienced first and the form joined to it; it seems, therefore, that we try to find the form. In fact, however, the form has to be subordinated to the content; although we have to find it, the form has to serve the content. Our endeavours must be directed towards grasping the content.

Thus we need to separate the two realities completely. We have to direct our thought in opposite directions, suppressing the content in one case and subordinating the form in the other, and this changes the meaning of the concepts themselves. Only if we follow two entirely different ways of thinking can we hope to avoid confusing what must be clearly distinguished. The more so as we are apt to misunderstand the two ways of apprehension, owing to the strange contradiction between the appearance of our activities and their real nature—a special difficulty which we shall discuss later. (See this chapter, section 3)

There are many other concepts and principles which have to be applied differently to each of the two realities and which thus confirm the need for their complete separation.

We have mentioned that external reality is apprehended most reliably when our observations can be exactly repeated, while such exact repetitions threaten to cut us off from internal reality, which is all the better grasped the more experiences, even recurring ones, are transformed into new ones. But we have mentioned, too, that this does not mean that the unrepeatable is not present in external reality nor that repetition is unimportant in internal reality. (See this chapter, section 1, paragraph 5) On the contrary, both are so important for either reality that the process of apprehension may again seem to us to be the opposite of what it really is. We have to apply these principles once more in completely different ways.

External reality appears to us as static and fixed, but to apprehend it as such is a rather complicated process. We first meet single objects which are at rest and unrepeatable; as there can never be two objects in the same space, exact repetition seems impossible. But we are unable to understand these unique objects, for only the knowledge of the content could disclose their real nature to us. As we do not know it, we have to transform the objects into events which can be repeated, for these repetitions alone allow us to set up general laws upon which our knowledge of this static reality can be founded. Matter has to be explained by motion, because motion alone can be explained by general laws. We must get rid of whatever is unrepeatable; repetitions which confirm the same laws have to replace the knowledge of the unrepeatable content. Although we start from unique objects which are at rest, we attain to knowledge of their static nature only by transforming them into events which allow of constant and exact repetitions.

The reliability of the natural sciences, for instance, depends precisely on whether we are able to observe, or bring about, repetitions of the same events. Physics is the most reliable of all sciences, because, in its realm, there is almost always the possibility of numberless repetitions, but even physics occasionally loses in exactness, either if unique historical events such as the formation of new stars are to be considered, or in the spheres disclosed by its most recent developments, where inexplicable differences in behaviour of the same kind of particles make exact repetition uncertain. The less we are able to neglect the unrepeatable historical process and the differences of individual behaviour, the smaller the sphere of our reliable knowledge. Our biological knowledge in general is less certain, and it becomes particularly uncertain when dealing with the more developed organisms. In history we are faced with different interpretations without being able to decide which is the right one. In psychology, because we must pay attention to the many peculiarities of different men, several methods of explanation exist side by side, and we can neither reconcile them nor provide definite proofs for any of them.

Internal reality, on the other hand, is grasped by constant new experiences which exclude repetitions, but this process, too, is rather complicated, for repetitions play a most important part in it. One day of our lives may be very much like any other, and as our faculties and their functions remain fundamentally the same, even constant changes also involve repetitions, so that it might seem that this reality is characterized by repetitions. They also seem to be essential, for our senses with which we grasp external reality work the better the more often we have to perform a similar action. But the main source of our inner knowledge is feeling, because, though the content is accessible in internal reality, we are unable to find a definite form for it. We have seen that it remains linked with our activities, and as it becomes real to us only when we make it real, we cannot rely on results formulated as thoughts, but are dependent on our feelings to experience it. Owing to the nature of feeling, however, we do not grasp internal reality in the sphere of the repetitions which we meet first; we learn to understand it by finding an unrepeatable form for each single stage of these repetitions.

No feeling is ever entirely like another; we can neither preserve feelings, nor experience exactly the same feeling twice. Even if the same situation recurs, different feelings are bound to arise, for we ourselves have changed in the meantime. Observations of these repetitions would enable us to give a general description of feeling, but this only leads back into the sphere of psychology and external reality; for, as our special personal reactions cannot be repeated, general statements force us to make the feelings impersonal, and this means returning to external reality. Mere repetitions, moreover, are bound to blunt our feelings; only by its unique quality can each single feeling be fully felt and thus become a new experience which makes internal reality real. The good, for instance, always remains essentially the same, but it becomes real to us only by new and unrepeatable experiences; if a good deed is repeated over and over again it is performed more and more mechanically, so that the good gradually becomes a purely formal law without any content, very similar to the natural laws. We must use such repetitions, therefore, to develop new and unique forms. In external reality, repetitions are substituted for the unrepeatable and represent it; in internal reality, they must be used too, but at the same time overcome for the sake of the unrepeatable.

This difference between the two realities implies another difference, and again the same concepts—those of accident and of necessity—acquire different meanings and have to be used in different ways.

External reality seems, at first sight, to be characterized by the accidental. We do not know why the world is as it is, nor why single objects are as they are and where they are. We shall never discover, for instance, why the earth, this tiny speck among multitudes of enormous stars, has become the place where we live. But we do not understand this reality so long as we continue to see it as accidental; we understand it only when we are able to see it as subject to necessity. We must be able to be sure, for example, that our desk will remain standing on the floor and not suddenly jump into the air, and as our understanding grows we formulate more and more general laws which serve to describe a necessary relationship between the different causes and their effects. External reality, so far as it is understood, is the sphere of exact repetitions, because it is the sphere of necessity. Single accidents only force us to look for further general laws, extending the sphere of necessity; we must presuppose that we shall find the necessity underlying them. In so far as we cannot hope to discard accidents, we have to give up the hope of understanding external reality. (This seems to be the last position in physics. The more it leaves causality and necessity behind, the less able is it to establish reliable knowledge.)

In internal reality, we experience necessity, for only there do we really know what compulsion means and what it means to be forced to do something. This is very important, for, as we experience the content with immediate certainty, such an experience always establishes some kind of compulsion, and this fact helps us considerably to recognize the content. But necessity does not help us to understand internal reality; as we have always to experience it anew, we must pay attention to the unique and thus to the accidental elements of the single event. We have to discover, not any abstract general laws, but the personal character of our experience and the concrete peculiarities which determine our reactions. We have mentioned previously that, when we fall, we are not interested in the general laws of gravity; we are not helped by concentrating upon the necessity which we might discover even in such an event; we must concentrate on the accidental elements which characterize this special event. (See Chapter 2, section 4, paragraphs 6-7) It is the accidental which enables us to find a special form for each single experience; contingency is the means by which to grasp internal reality.

In external reality, accidents are the starting point for discovering necessity; in internal reality, we have to break through the chain of necessity and to discover where the single case is not governed by the general necessity which we acknowledge in external reality. We have even to restrict the feeling of compulsion, evoked by the content, to the single event which creates it, so as to be able to grasp the unique character of this event through its accidental elements. (Christians explain all events by the personal will of God, that is by a necessity which cannot be fully understood, but only becomes obvious in single events—thus paying regard to the nature of internal reality.)

This difference leads to another. In both realities, we are confronted with past, present and future, and have to grasp the present. But in external reality, we grasp it with the help of the past, and in internal reality with the help of the future. Once more we have to look in different directions.

We can apprehend a definite form only so far as it is finished and complete in itself; all formal knowledge, therefore, is based on events which have come to an end. Our knowledge of this reality is reliable only in so far as we can apply causality; we have to derive effects from causes which we must isolate in the past, and thus we explain the present by the past and include the past in it. We have to subordinate ourselves to external reality to apprehend it, and this we can only do when it already exists, that is when it has come into being in the past. We are able to predict because we know from the past what we are going to predict. Our biological knowledge is less certain because new forms arise which did not exist in the past and which, therefore, have to be explained by certain ends, that is by future causes; future results, instead of past events, become the cause of present events. This is so because we can no longer ignore the content completely, for the content can only be grasped with the help of the future.

To make internal reality real, we have to experience it in the present. In external reality we have to grasp the present too, but there it is only one instance of fundamentally static events or things which we apprehend as ever recurring. Internal reality, however, becomes real to us only so far as it is a new experience; we can never, therefore, consider the past as something finished; we must always have the possibility of giving a new meaning to the whole of our experience by a renewal of it in the present. But, at the same time, we cannot simply concentrate on the present. But, at the same time, we cannot simply concentrate on the present, for it is most difficult to experience the present at all; we cannot prevent it from slipping incessantly back into the past; if we were to try to bring external reality into relationship with us in the present only, we should always be late, for, while we are making the attempt, the present has itself become the past. We must, therefore, establish such a relationship in advance, and make sure that the meaning of our experience, which will disclose internal reality, is recognized as soon as it becomes an experience of the present. Thus we must include the future.

It is for this reason that aims are so important for our apprehension of internal reality, for they alone enable us to judge the meeting with external reality when it occurs. Aims establish between ourselves and external reality a connection which depends on the future, for only when we reach, or fail to reach, our aim can we really understand the meaning of this connection, and for this reason this meaning can also become immediately clear to us, at the very moment when the future for which we strove becomes the present. To achieve exact results in the sciences we must try to eliminate all ends and aims; but, just because they depend on the future, both of them are the most important means of preparing our future experience in such a manner that, when it becomes the present, it can disclose internal reality to us. We have said that, to experience internal reality, we have to impose upon external reality some relationship to ourselves, and this we can only do by forcing it to serve future ends, or by imposing upon it our future aims.

It is true that the experience of internal reality can also come about suddenly and surprisingly; we frequently realize that something is good or beautiful without any previous intention of doing so, and without having had any special aim which might lead up to this experience. The absence of any ends even seems to be the condition of beauty. This, however, is due to another strange contradiction which we shall have to discuss later. Although we get to know internal reality only in so far as we make it real, we must, nevertheless, anticipate it to be able to understand it at all. Our experience of something good may seem completely new and unexpected to us, and it has to be new to be fully felt, but we shall be able to recognize it only if we already possess some knowledge of the good. (This does not only mean that we need the concept 'good' to call something good. This concept, as part of our common language, can be used without any corresponding experience, and the good can also be experienced if we call it by another name. But the real meaning of goodness cannot be defined at all; it has a content which has to be experienced to be known, and it is this content which to a certain extent we must already know if we want to recognize it even in our very first experience of something good. Any experience of a value is a recognition of something we knew before, and the contradiction consists in the fact that we can recognize something which we meet for the first time, and which we can only get to know by meeting it. No explanation of internal reality can be convincing unless it accounts for this possibility of anticipation.) This need to anticipate, however, which alone explains such sudden experiences, does not deny the importance of aims, for when we recognize a positive value it becomes at the same time our aim. We experience such a value when it becomes valuable to us, and this means that it awakens in us the desire to strive for its realization; even if we try to deny this urge, we know that we ought to strive for it. The anticipation of a value, therefore, has a similar effect to the setting up of an aim. And while it is true that we can make values real only if we do not use them as means to other ends—we must not strive for the good for the sake of external reward, nor for the true or beautiful for the sake of usefulness or other advantages—this once more means, not that we have to renounce aims, but only that these values themselves must be accepted as aims without any reservations.

These examples all show how important it is to separate external and internal reality form each other completely. They are only a few instances, chosen rather arbitrarily to characterize the two realities; when we come to investigate the laws of thinking underlying their apprehension, we shall meet many more such concepts and principles. But there is another concept, that of the negative, which, though somewhat different in certain respects, is so important that it should probably be mentioned here.

In external reality, as we subordinate ourselves to whatever exists, complete negation is entirely meaningless. We know this reality only so far as we know something; nothingness remains an abstraction which does not correspond to any part of external reality. It would be embodied externally in complete emptiness, but emptiness can only be conceived in the framework of something which exists. In spite of the enormous enlargement of our universe, brought about by modern astronomy, physicists are extremely reluctant to admit the existence of empty spaces, for these indicate, above all, gaps in our knowledge; the limitation of our universe therefore leads immediately to the assumption that it is one among many. Negation, en external reality, has a purely logical function; it can help us to show what is incorrect or to limit what exists, but it has a meaning only when it refers to something positive. Any special emphasis on the negative involves the danger of losing sight of external reality, for it leads us away from it into the sphere of empty abstractions.

In internal reality, on the contrary, the negative has a meaning. It is one of the means by which we make this reality real, for this is done by any of our activities, including that of negation. We distinguish positive from negative values, and the negative values are neither meaningless nor unimportant; they correspond to certain feelings and represent internal reality in the same way as the positive values. Good and evil, friendship and enmity, love and hatred—any one of them has a content which it can disclose to us. The danger in considering internal reality is exactly the opposite of that in external reality; a special emphasis upon the negative values and feelings can make them so strong that they overwhelm us and cut us off from anything positive. But even then they are by no means abstract or empty, but rather so real that they may become for us the whole of internal reality. Even the idea of emptiness awakens such a strong feeling that it has become a very important symbol for the mystics.

Both dangers are increased if we mix up the two realities. We must not endow the negative in external reality with the strong feelings it can evoke in internal reality, for, as nothingness here really means nothing, this mistake is bound to destroy external reality altogether. This can be seen in many a metaphysical system. (Schopenhauer, for instance, who in this respect follows Buddhism, considers any activity of the Will (which for him represents external reality) as bad, and thus he must wish to overcome this world completely. As in Buddhism, we must strive, according to him, for nothingness, so that this world ceases to exist. In Christianity, the more one insists on the Devil, the more the fundamental doctrine of Incarnation is robbed of its meaning.) Nor must the negative be considered as meaningless in internal reality. It must be checked by positive values and feelings, but never ignored; it is so important an element in this reality that, by ignoring it, we are in great danger of succumbing to a superficial optimism which makes the experience of internal reality extremely difficult. (This is the particular danger of both Humanism and of conventional piety or goodness.) If we want to apprehend the two realities correctly, we must separate them as clearly as possible.

Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Section 3


The second main condition of our apprehending the two realities correctly is the recognition that they nevertheless cannot become entirely independent of each other. Although we must separate them so completely that it is best to call them two realities, we must never forget that they are only two interdependent aspects of a single primary reality. As we have mentioned before, we must always take into account the co-existence of the other reality.

The impossibility of any complete isolation of one of the two realities can be seen in the strange contradiction which we have pointed out—that our apprehension of each reality appears to us at first to be the opposite of what it really is. In external reality, we first met static objects which excluded the idea of exact repetitions, so that we seemed to grasp their static nature directly by means of what was unrepeatable; but in fact we have to dissolve the objects into events which are not static and can be repeated, and only these repetitions disclose its static nature. Internal reality, on the other hand, is not static, and as it appears to us first as a constant flux of repetitions, we could believe that this flux represents internal reality. But to grasp it correctly, we have to make use of these repetitions to discover what in it cannot be repeated, and only the constantly new experience of the unrepeatable helps us to make it real. This, however, ceases to be a contradiction if we recognize that the interdependence of the two realities is a further condition of our thinking.

In external reality, this necessity is shown by the fact that the main concepts which we need to grasp it are derived, not from our knowledge of this reality, but from inner experience.

Such, for instance, are the two concepts of cause and effect, which we need to describe an external event. The cause itself cannot be seen and it is usually difficult to discover it. A stone falls if it is robbed of its support. This is all we see; the cause of this fall can only be discovered by careful investigation. We may ascertain that the stone fell because of a strong wind, but this is only a secondary element and not the real cause; a feather, blown off its support by the same wind, does not fall, but sails away. The real cause of the fall is the weight of the stone, that is the force of gravity, which we cannot apprehend directly. We discover it only because we assume the concept of causality and automatically regard any event as an effect of a cause; only these seemingly natural assumptions lead us to look for a cause and to discover it. We therefore also consider as effects those events of which we cannot clearly recognize the cause, such as the growing of a tree or life in general. We assume that there are forces which cause all events, but the concept of force, too, as we have already said, (See Chapter 2, section 3, paragraph 23) is something quite incomprehensible; we obviously do not derive it from our knowledge of external reality, but discover it because we possess this concept beforehand and try to apply it.

In internal reality, however, all these concepts have a clear meaning for us; they are part of our experience and as such well known to us. Our life consists of activities; we are, that is, incessantly causing events. We need not even apply these concepts here, because the unity of willing and acting is quite self-evident to us. If we want to stretch our and arm, we normally do so; we are only forced to think about it if something goes wrong and our intention does not produce the normal effect. We know, too, without need of any investigation, what force means; we have to exert our strength to bring about certain actions, and we fail if the force we are able to produce is inadequate. The abstractions which we apply to make external reality accessible are, in internal reality, not abstractions at all, but part of our experience; we get to know their meaning, because we experience what they really mean. All these concepts are derived from our knowledge of internal reality and transferred to external reality.

The basic concept which enables us to connect causes and effects in such a way that they lead to a reliable knowledge of external reality is that of necessity, for only so far aw we are able to rely upon the same causes necessarily producing the same effects are we able to rely upon this knowledge. But this concept, too, cannot be derived from external reality; our external experience is too limited to justify the concept of a comprehensive necessity valid beyond our actual experience. (This has been sufficiently proved by Hume.) It is in internal reality alone that we know the meaning of inescapable compulsion and from this, with the help of abstraction, we derive the concept of necessity. It is also in internal reality alone that we know complete freedom, and only this knowledge enables us to create the concept of that comprehensive necessity which we cannot experience.

The fact that all these concepts are not abstractions from external reality, but part of the laws of our thinking and thus additions to our knowledge of this reality, has been proved by Kant so conclusively that it seems superfluous to enter into a further discussion here. Though differing from Kant in the deduction of these concepts, our investigation accepts this basis of his teaching. (Cf. especially Kant's Prolegomena and his Critique of Pure Reason, Part I and Introduction and first section of Part II. Also, see the note at end of Chapter 2, section 1.)

Our knowledge of internal reality depends in the same way on elements which we have to transfer from external reality.

We have already mentioned that to understand our feelings we must direct them towards certain objects, because we have to find a definite form for them. (See Chapter 2, section 4, paragraph 23) No objects, however, can be found in internal reality, nor can we apprehend forms there; we therefore have to connect external objects with these experiences to be able to give them form and thus to understand them. Who could explain beauty to anyone who had never felt that some impression made by nature or a person or a work of art was beautiful? We must have experienced love for somebody or love given by them before we are able to understand what the concept 'love' means, and only the knowledge of some good person or deed will tell us the meaning of 'the good'. Moral laws lose their meaning if they remain pure convictions without ever being exercised in our real lives, within the context of external reality. All such concepts remain empty words so long as we cannot connect them with some experience which includes external reality, for it is only there that we meet our fellow-men.

This is even true of those concepts which can only be understood with the help of inner experiences and for which we are unable to find an adequate form in external reality. Certainly, such concepts as 'God' and 'immortality' are falsified if we connect them too closely with external facts. But, to grasp what these concepts mean, we have to describe their meaning in some way, and any such description will contain such concepts as those just mentioned to which we give meaning with the help of external objects and forms. Love, truth, goodness, beauty—these alone help us to understand whatever we are able to understand of the supernatural. We must be very careful not to take them too literally, bu we must make use of these concepts to which we have given an external form to explain even those which acquire meaning only by corresponding to inner experiences.

The importance of this interconnection between the two realities is proved by the fact that our reliable knowledge of either of them is based upon the elements transferred from the other—the knowledge of external reality upon such concepts as cause and effect and particularly upon necessity, and the understanding of internal reality on the definite form which we create to embody it by means of external objects. We are confronted with the surprising fact that we grasp each reality best, not in those spheres where we seem to apprehend it directly, but on the contrary in so far as we are able to apply the laws of our thinking and to add to it elements which our minds provide by transferring them from the other reality.

In external reality the most reliable knowledge is achieved when mathematics, the most abstract laws of our thinking, can be applied. (This is usually taken for granted, but it is rather astonishing 'that as mathematics withdrew increasingly into the upper regions of ever greater extremes of abstract thought, it returned back to earth with a corresponding growth of importance for the analysis of concrete fact'. A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1946), p. 41. ) These abstract laws, however, cannot be explained as abstractions derived from external reality. They start from assertions based on numbers, and the problem of numbers alone is a most difficult one. It is not possible to arrive at them with the help of abstraction—no abstraction from the numbers 5 and 7, for instance, could ever produce the number 12, as Kant has shown, (Prolegomena, § 2, c.) nor was it originally a simple process of thought to apply the same numbers to different things, such as apples and days. (A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1946), pp. 25-6) Even if we abandon numbers, the relationship of mathematical laws to external reality remains puzzling, for they cannot be abstracted from this reality; no analysis of this reality can produce them. (Prolegomena, § 6) We shall see later that these processes of thinking are also based on, and explained by, concepts transferred from internal reality.

In internal reality our most reliable knowledge is that of the good, embodied in the moral laws. But these laws are always in danger of degenerating into mere formal rules which can be fulfilled mechanically or even for quite immoral reasons, to avoid difficulties, for instance, or to acquire a good reputation. Because they concern our behaviour in external reality, we can regard them in a purely external way, and if this happens they become very similar to natural laws; they can be followed on many different occasions without telling us anything about their content. This danger can only be avoided when we transfer external elements into internal reality, and in considering this, we can also see more clearly what this transferring means.

It is not sufficient merely to relate the moral law to the external world; this can be very misleading and cut us off from the content in the way we have just mentioned. We are obliged to include individual external elements in internal reality; only a specific external event—such as seeing a man, under a dictatorship, helping a political opponent of the régime at great personal risk—can acquire the special significance which will enable us to attain knowledge of the good. The special character of the event must make it one definite and particular form of the good, which it therefore helps us to understand. The event must embody it so completely that the two can no longer be separated; any deeper knowledge of the action, that is, any better understanding of the form—for instance that the man helped the other although he was of a different political opinion, or although he did not know or did not like him, or that he avoided his thanks, or that it meant risking his life despite all logical consideration—must lead to a better understanding of the good. Only such experiences of single good or bad actions can give a moral meaning and content to the moral laws and prevent them from becoming formal rules; these experiences alone secure that constant renewal of our feeling which makes internal reality real. In this way the good may even become so real that we do the good deed without any further need for laws. ('By their fruits ye shall know them.')[Matthew 7:16]

We are so dependent, therefore, on the second condition of our apprehending the two realities correctly—that is on their interdependence—that the reliability of our knowledge of one reality is always secured by contributions from the other reality.

It is this fact, too, which explains the strange contradiction between the first impression we gain from each reality and its correct apprehension. In external reality we have to dissolve the static objects which we meet first, for only their transformation into events enables us to apply the concepts on which our reliable knowledge depends; we have to transform our original impression so as to make room for the elements of the other reality which must be added. In internal reality we have to break away from the constant flux of repetitions which we experience first; for, to apprehend it clearly, we need those unrepeatable experiences which acquire a definite form with the help of accidental external objects. We have once more to abandon our original impression to be able to include elements form the other reality, and because these elements can only be included after our original impression has been transformed.

The second condition of our thinking, however, does not contradict the first. The elements from the other reality can be transferred without in the least impairing the complete separation of the two realities.

We have said before that we have to establish the opposition between external and internal reality in every impression and every experience. (See Chapter 2, section 2, paragraphs 11-14) By this process the elements which we transfer from the one reality acquire, before they are actually transferred, the character of the other reality, and thus they can be transferred without altering the character of the reality in which they are to be included. The transfer neither destroys nor lessens the difference between the two realities.

Our experience of cause and effect, of force and necessity is not included as such in external reality; on the contrary, we have to eliminate completely any meaning which these concepts may have for our own lives. We are able to do so because, in any inner experience, we oppose to the content which these experiences have for our lives the form which they take, thus deriving from them purely formal concepts which, unlike the content, fit many occasions. We think neither of our will nor of the stretching out of our arm when we talk of cause and effect, although these concepts originate in some such experiences. We transfer the concepts only after the abstraction has taken place. They have lost any personal meaning and represent that part of our inner experience which appears to us as its mere form. As they are won by abstraction, they can easily take their place among the abstractions which we are using in external reality, so easily that the difference between the two kinds of abstractions, which we shall discuss in a moment, is hardly ever noticed. Their inclusion in external reality, therefore, requires no effort and no change in the structure of this reality.

On the other hand, objects are not transferred unchanged into internal reality. We do not consider their external nature when they become causes or aims of inner experiences; we concentrate, in this case, on the meaning they have for us. We have already mentioned a few examples of this process. The falling stone which hurts us does not interest us as such; we do not ask what sort of stone or how heavy it is; we realize the impact of this event on us, and if we go on thinking we want to know the meaning of this event for our lives. If we see a picture, we are normally interested in its beauty and not in its weight; and its canvas, pigments and frame interest us only so far as they contribute to its beauty. Our interest in a good deed is governed by the conviction that it is good, and cause and effect are of interest only so far as they help us to understand what is good and how it can be achieve. We are no longer looking for impersonal abstractions, but for the manifestation of meaning, and though we must beware of seeing this meaning as part of external reality—values, for instance, do not exist somewhere in space and time, but are established by the relationship between external reality and ourselves—we are nevertheless bound to search for the meaning which objects and events have for us. For, to disclose internal reality, the form has to be used to make clear the content.

The process of abstraction and the search for a meaning—these two completely different methods of apprehension guarantee that the two realities remain completely separated and that, nevertheless, both realities can be taken into account simultaneously. But to apply these methods correctly, we must be aware of some frequent misunderstandings which tend to distort them and to blur the difference between the two realities.

We deal with external reality with the help of continuously progressing abstractions. The individual tree in front of our windows becomes 'the tree', consisting of 'trunk' and 'branches', of 'wood' and 'leaves', and we proceed from these abstractions to more general ones like 'plant' and 'life' which finally seem to allow us to derive general laws. But to be able to formulate these laws we need other concepts too, such as cause and effect, force and necessity, which, as we have seen, could never be won by abstraction from external facts, but have to be abstracted from internal reality. The failure to see this difference in the process of abstraction is one of the reasons why the influence of the laws of thinking is so easily overlooked; it leads us to believe that we can grasp external reality directly. We have seen that the division into two realities takes place automatically, and so does the transferring of the concepts from one reality to the other; we need not be conscious of all these processes in order to think. But we must become conscious of them if we want to judge our knowledge correctly.

This need to be conscious of them is especially important for our knowledge of internal reality. As we have to make use here of external objects and events, the knowledge of external reality must precede that of internal reality, and if we overlook the part played by our laws of thinking and thus by internal reality even in our knowledge of external reality, it may easily seem to us that external knowledge is direct and immediate, and therefore alone sufficient. Internal facts, then, appear as nothing but arbitrary and superfluous interpretations. We may, particularly in our age which stresses scientific knowledge so much, mistake what we emphasized as being two different methods of apprehension for the difference between 'objective' and 'subjective' in the usual sense. Or, if we do not want to dismiss internal facts altogether, we may make the opposite mistake; as abstraction from external reality alone seems to suffice for the formulation of laws, we may hope to discover the meaning of the universe by continuing with this abstraction. Whichever error we fall into, we shall never achieve an 'objective' knowledge of internal reality, nor shall we ever understand what we are able to know.

To avoid any such confusion, we shall in future call all the concepts which are transferred to one reality from the other 'constructive concepts'. This applies, in external reality, to those concepts which, although abstract, are not derived from this reality itself but from internal reality; in internal reality it applies to the concepts which help us to grasp the contribution of external reality. The latter are frequently the same as those used in external reality, but having a different meaning, as we have seen in the case of 'form' and 'content'; others are different as, for instance, 'means' and 'end' which are the internal equivalent of 'cause' and 'effect'. These distinctions will be discussed later. The term 'constructive concepts' has been chosen to stress the constructive part which the working of our minds plays in all our knowledge and to make sure that it is not overlooked. We are not originally conscious of it, but we must make it conscious if we are to think clearly. This, as we have mentioned already, is not a contradiction, for otherwise the automatic functioning of our mind tends to mislead us. (See Chapter 1, section 3, paragraph 2)

The correct separation of external and internal reality therefore depends on two conditions. The two realities must be completely separated from each other, and yet we must never forget that they are only two interdependent aspects of one primary reality and that, therefore, the co-existence of the other reality must always be taken into account. We cannot gain a reliable knowledge of one reality without transferring to it elements from the other. This transfer, however, can be done without impairing their complete separation, because we have to establish the opposition between the two realities in every impression and experience, and thus the constructive concepts acquire beforehand the character of the other reality.

These fundamental conditions which govern our thinking create the need for further opposites and determine their application.

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go to: Chapter 4, "The Need for Opposites"

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