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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 II:

Chapter 6


Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Among the human faculties it is feeling which is the main source of our knowledge of internal reality. Neither thinking nor willing need necessarily refer to that reality; thinking can serve the apprehension of external reality or purely practical purposes or make us conscious of inner experiences, and willing can be determined either by thinking or by feeling. Both will only disclose internal reality if feeling is the determining factor. It is true that feeling, in its turn, can be influenced by acts of thinking or willing which do not spring from feeling, but even then the participation of feeling will disclose internal reality. Feeling, moreover, is the decisive factor in value-judgements which, as we have seen, are our main help in making this reality real for us.

This is due to the fact which we have explained before—that, to disclose internal reality, external reality has to be subordinated to ourselves. A secure knowledge of external reality as such requires that the influence of the observer is eliminated so far as possible; but to know internal reality we must, on the contrary, establish the relationship with ourselves; here external reality has to become the form which helps us to make the content accessible. (See Chapter 2, Section 3, paragraphs 11-14; and Chapter 2, Section 4, paragraphs 8-9.) All impressions and experiences must, so to speak, force internal reality into the open; to be able to do this, they must most definitely be our own impressions and experiences, for only if our participation is complete can their full meaning for us become obvious. Yet it is feeling alone which secures such a participation, for only what has evoked feeling has really become our own. ('Allen gehört, was du denkst, dein Eigen ist nur, was du fühlst. Soll er dein Eigentum sein, fühle den Gott, den du denkst.' Schiller.)

This can be seen even in the most abstract thoughts. If we do not merely learn and accept them indifferently, but try to understand and acquire them thoroughly, so as to make them our own, they are bound to evoke at least interest, which is a feeling. This means that feeling inevitably takes part in all thoughts which are of importance to us. It is this fact which explains why the scientist so easily mistakes external knowledge as absolute and why negation, based on feelings, can be used to make this kind of knowledge appear comprehensive; his interest focuses his attention exclusively on external knowledge and, as feeling is already involved, contempt for all other kinds of knowing can also creep inin.

Thus, however, we also see once again how important it is to distinguish clearly between external and internal reality. That the scientist pays no attention to the positive support of his knowledge by feeling is correct in so far as feeling must not influence this kind of knowledge. But he is wrong when he considers interest as nothing but an unimportant accompaniment of his thinking which can in no way lead to any knowledge, for there are aspects of reality which can only be disclosed by the right kind of interest. ('Unconcerned detachment in matters of religion implies an a priori rejection of the religious demand to be ultimately concerned. It denies the object which it is supposed to approach "objectively".' P. Tillich, The Protestant Era, p. xi. See also H. H. Farmer, The World and God, p. 37.) It is because he does not understand his feelings that he remains unaware of the fact that he also makes use of the negative counterpart of his interest, of contempt. We must indeed exclude feeling entirely from our external knowledge, but to be able to do this we have to know it, to allot it its proper place and to develop it in accordance with its true nature—that is, we have to pay attention to internal reality and to use feeling to make it real for us.

Yet the mere concept 'feeling' already proves how insufficient our knowledge of internal reality is, for its meaning is extremely vague. If we want to use this concept properly, we have to be aware that it has at least three different meanings.

(1) Feeling as a human faculty. This needs no further explanation; we can use the word in the same way as 'thinking' and 'willing', to denote in general our ability to feel.

(2) Single emotions which arise on particular occasions. We talk of joy as a feeling, or of sorrow, or of love, and in such a case the word does not refer to our general faculty of feeling, but to single experiences of certain distinct feelings. The concept serves no longer to describe the common nature of man, but refers to a special state of mind of single individuals. (Unfortunately, the meaning of the concept 'emotion' is so little different from that of 'feeling' that we can only occasionally use it to make certain contexts clearer, but not in general to separate this second meaning of the concept 'feeling' from the others.)

(3) Feeling as an organ of knowledge. There is knowledge which can only be acquired with the help of feeling; our knowledge of values, for instance, such as good and evil, though it can be elaborated by thinking, is finally based on feeling. But this kind of feeling is neither identical with the general faculty, for it can be extremely weak in persons who feel passionately, nor with the emotions which arise on special occasions, such as joy and sorrow, for the knowledge of good and evil, if present at all, is lasting. Occasional single feelings, moreover, do not provide us with a knowledge of prickples as this kind of feeling obviously does.

This is a rather unexpected transition. Single emotions remain subjective in the usual sense of the word; if we are happy or in despair, we are inclined to see everything in the light of this mood; the whole world is probably seen in a rosy light or veiled in darkness. Though love or anger may sharpen our awareness, these emotions, on the whole, tend to distort our knowledge; we do not recognize things as such by love or anger, but have to control their influence. Yet, as an organ of knowledge, feeling suddenly reveals itself as cognitive; it leads directly to objective knowledge of general validity.

In a certain respect, the common name is justified. It is the peculiarity of feeling that the single emotions can never be completely separated from the general faculty of feeling; while single thoughts represent results to which we can give a definite form and which can be preserved in isolation, feelings cannot be preserved; they have to be actually felt to be real and understandable at all. This means that our force of feeling has to flow into them to keep them alive. The presence of our faculty of feeling is always felt as well; it is either so absorbed by one special emotion that we feel that our whole being is taken up in it, or we feel the single emotion does not occupy our faculty of feeling entirely. Every single feeling remains related to the whole power of feeling. Even such a knowledge as that of good and evil, though here principles can be stated, has to become, as we have seen, an actual feeling, for only thus is this knowledge kept alive and saved from degenerating into empty formulae. Even this different kind of feeling, therefore, is in this respect similar to all other feelings and related, as they are, to the general faculty of feeling. (For this and the following, see Chapter 1, Section 3, paragraphs 5-7; Chapter 2, Section 4, paragraphs 8-9, and paragraph 23; Chapter 3, Section 1, paragraph 3, and Section 3, paragraph 13.)

The importance of this common basis of all feelings is unquestionable and must always be taken into account. The distinction between the different kinds of feeling, however, is nevertheless of greater importance.

Unless we recognize that the general faculty of feeling is only the common denominator of two different kinds of feelings, the fact that they spring from the same source can all too easily be misused to blur the difference between them, and this makes it so simple to dismiss feeling from the realm of knowledge altogether. We have to see that the knowledge acquired by feeling is fundamentally different from subjective single emotions, for otherwise it must seem impossible to achieve, with the help of feeling, any objective knowledge of general validity at all. This, however, is an extremely serious loss, for it is feeling which opens the way to the most important knowledge we possess—to the values, including the absolute values, and to all those regions which we can only grasp with the help of faith. There is no access to absolute knowledge if we eliminate feeling as merely subjective. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, to distinguish between the different meanings of the concept 'feeling', for only if we separate them will the knowledge thus acquired be distinguished from the general faculty and protected from distortion by subjective emotions.

The importance of a better knowledge of our feelings can also be seen from another point of view. There has to be some kind of relationship between feeling and thinking, and here again three completely different possibilities exist, though we hardly ever distinguish between them.

(1) We can experience very many different single feelings, for whatever interests us, appeals to us or displeases us is bound to awaken a feeling. These feelings are different from each other, according to the occasion on which they arise; there are, in fact, far more differences between feelings than we usually realize. The names we give to them, such as 'interest', 'joy', 'sorrow', 'love', 'hatred', fall very short of the real wealth we actually experience. Each of the many emotions which we generally call joy, for instance, can be different, their difference being determined by the different objects or events to which they refer as well as by our state of mind. We talk of joy only, but the joy may be due to looking at a rose, or to a success, or to a good deed, and the actual feeling will be different in each case. Even the emotions of joy due to looking at a rose, or a sunset, or a work of art, are considerably different, and each of these felings will vary at different times. Feelings can never recur in exactly the same way or as exactly the same, even if our language suggests mere repetition.

As there is hardly any impression or experience which is not connected with feeling, these different feelings accompany our thought, influence it and are, in their turn, influenced by thinking. This interaction between feeling and thinking is natural, for every feeling, so long as it is not distorted, tries to force its way into consciousness; if we feel, we want to know what we feel and why we feel it. But this interaction is also of the greatest importance, for to understand a feeling we need, as we have seen, the help of external objects and events, and thus a feeling can become clearly conscious only with the help of thought. The participation of feeling forces us to establish the relationship between external reality and ourselves and thereby discloses internal reality, and as soon as this relationship has been established, every increase in such a knowledge of external reality must also develop our feelings and thus once more widen our knowledge of internal reality. If this interplay between feeling and thinking remains undisturbed, moreover, so that every feeling remains related to a corresponding experience which clarifies it, we shall also be able to distinguish between single subjective emotions due to actual impressions or experiences, and the knowledge which we can acquire through that kind of feeling which is constantly present within us.

To make feeling an organ of knowledge, therefore, we have to develop the wealth of feelings and the differentiation between them. We must learn to feel most exactly in terms of the object, partly to be able to relate the object entirely to internal reality, and partly to distinguish between right and wrong feelings and thus between internal reality and mere imagination, which has been misled by accidental emotions. The admiration frequently felt for warriors or great criminals show how easily a single emotion (admiration) can make us forget the gfacts (the killing of men or a brutal crime). The relationship to the object is particularly important in view of the fact that feelings, though real in themselves, can be created by delusion. (See Chapter 2, Section 4, paragraph 21.) If we feel in terms of the object, moreover, we shall also experience every feeling as a new feeling and so fulfil another of the conditions of making internal reality real—that every experience must in some sense be a new experience.

The development of the wealth of feelings, of course, also has its dangers. We can be too willing to follow up every impression and every impulse, so that we finally succumb to every impulse. In this case, the wealth of feelings is transformed into a maze which robs us of any possibility of finding a central position from which to govern our feelings and to lead the process of thinking to the right conclusions. But, so long as thinking plays its part properly, this danger is comparatively small, the more so as any knowledge acquired by feeling points towards the right central position. Yet this danger can become great if our feeling is developed with the help of the second way in which we can establish the relationship between feeling and thinking, for whis way excludes their fruitful interaction.

(2) This second way could perhaps be best described by saying that we stress the passive reactions instead of active feelings.

Every feeling, whether joy or love or hatred, is also pleasurable or painful, and it is this accompanying pleasure or pain, or similar purely subjective states of our minds like tension, excitement and relaxation, which we here understand by the term passive reactions. While active feelings—which can be of any of the three kinds just described—can become a clear experience with a definite content and thus enable us to grasp almost any part of reality, these merely passive reactions within the sphere of feeling have a far smaller range, because they only indicate whether our senses or nerves produce a positive or negative response, so that the same response can accompany very different feelings. This difference is difficult to define, (The German concepts 'Lust' and 'Unlust'—which denote only such reactions—make the distinction clearer than 'pleasure' and 'pain' which can also be active feelings.) but it can occasionally become very distinct, for the nature of the feeling and of the simultaneous reaction need by no means be the same. A great joy can be very painful, in so far as it disturbs our peace of mind; a new discovery which makes us us extremely happy will at first, like a dazzling light which blinds us, create pain, and the shock we experience may not be very different from that due to a catastrophe. Every strong impact, whether due to sudden happiness or to sudden misery, will at first be painful. On the other hand, we can enjoy experiences which make us unhappy, for instance when they free us from an activity or responsibility which we shun or if they secure pity and care for us.

It is true that it is not always easy to distinguish between the two; if we enjoy our pain, for instance, it is sometimes difficult to say which is the active feeling and which the passive reaction, and this becomes even more difficult if such a reaction accompanies a similar feeling; pleasure, joy; or pain, sorrow. As feelings are always linked with passive reactions, it is hardly possible to achieve their complete separation. Nevertheless, the distinction is not artificial nor meaningless, for we can quite clearly recognize that we are able to develop feeling in two different directions—either away from the passive reactions so that their importance decreases, or towards them so that their importance increases.

The way of developing our feelings which we have just described diminishes the influence of these reactions. So long as our feelings are vague, our reactions are the stronger of the two, for pleasure and pain are immediately and clearly experienced; but if feeling is directed towards the object and developed with its help, we forget our pleasurable or painful reactions, because our interest is focused upon reality and because the active feelings become clearer. We do not try to experience our feelings as such, which would direct our attention to our own state of mind and thus to the passive reactions which are its expression, but try, with the help of feeling, to grasp the object. This must push these reactions into the background, for as they are, so to speak, nothing but the private side of our feelings and cannot lead to any knowledge of objects, they can no longer help us. ('Suppose we are listening to the playing of a violin . . . these sounds we may be aware of as pleasing, but, when we are rapt in the music, we cease to be conscious of the pleasure of the sounds, and are conscious of the music only as continuous melodioius meaning.' J. Oman, The Natural and the Supernatural, pp. 174-5.) Feelings directed towards the object, moreover, serve the knowledge of internal reality, thus disclosing to us the meaning of all our experience, and this is so infinitely more important to us than our individual moods that we are bound to outgrow the sphere of mere reactions almost completely.

The development of feeling in this direction, however, is only possible if thinking is used in accordance with feeling—that is, when it takes internal reality into account. If, on the contrary, we accept external knowledge alone as knowledge and believe that the apprehending of external reality is the only way of thinking, then the danger of overemphasizing our passive reactions arise. External knowledge must, as we have seen, exclude feelings, and therefore the other kind of thinking which could help us to understand and develop our feelings is suppressed. Feeling and thinking can no longer be reconciled, no longer influence and stimulate each other, but must needs become hostile and conflicting forces.

This struggle can take two different forms. We can take sides with external knowledge and try to concentrate on it alone; in this case we must disregard feeling so far as possible and deprive it of its value, strength and importance. This is usually done by all those who try to adopt a purely practical or rational or scientific attitude. But then feeling does not simply disappear, and as we do not want to develop it, all our feelings remain vague and the passive reactions grow stronger. This leaves the two inextricably intermixed, so that we can no longer understand our feelings at all. On the other hand, we may want to preserve our feelings and emphasize them, despite the fact that we believe in external thinking alone. In this case we must separate feeling from thinking completely, interrupt the interaction between them, and secure for feeling a sphere of its own where thinking cannot interfere with it. This is characteristic of Romanticism and sentimentality, both of which we shall discuss in a moment. Though this time the feeling is not weakened but kept strong, the effect upon its character is very similar. In order to strengthen our feelings, even though we have cut off their natural development, we can only try to feel whatever we feel more strongly, and as there is no way of including our experience of reality, we can only do so by increasing the strength of our first reactions. The mixture of feelings and passive reactions is brought about, no matter how feeling is divorced from thinking, and again, although we now feel more strongly, we are unable to understand what we feel.

The transformation which our feelings thus undergo can be best seen in their relation to their object. There is, still, an object towards which the feeling is directed; there is no feeling without a cause, though it may frequently be difficult to recognize it. But now we do not try to discover it, to get to know it well and to make the object of feeling a definite form which would help us to grasp its content. On the contrary, as the knowledge of the object is left entirely to a way of thinking which contradicts feeling, we avoid this knowledge or weaken it as far as possible. We come to cherish the feeling which does not know its object, and even if the knowledge of the object cannot be entirely avoided, the connection with it is loosened or broken, so as to make the feeling independent of everything outside itself. As thinking seems bound to destroy feeling, feeling mus be saved from the influence of anything about which we could also think.

Examples of this way of dealing with the feelings abound. It is often astonishing, for instance, how easily scientists, outstanding in their field, accept evidence in other fields which they would scorn if it concerned their own research, merely so as to maintain this separation of thinking and feeling. On the other hand, if the main intention is to preserve feeling, its connection with the object is frequently artificially severed. What is usually called 'romantic love' is a good example of this kind of separation of thinking and feeling. This love is no longer love for somebody, but a vague feeling which cannot be destroyed (nor, moreover, developed) by any contact with reality. We do not love a person, but experience a pleasurable emotion. (See J. Macmurray, Reason and Emotion, pp. 31-2.) This romantic love is closely related to the characteristically romantic emotion of yearning or longing. Normally longing means longing for something and forces us to try to reach its goal. Thus it would bring us into contact with reality and, as reality is the realm of a hostile way of thinking, it would put an end to feeling. Therefore, the aim is suppressed; longing is transformed into a vague and aimless feeling which we can enjoy endlessly as a constant state of our mind—as melancholy if pain, or as enthusiasm if pleasure prevails.

This strengthening of a single emotion is very easy if it has no strong or obvious cause; we then merely strengthen pleasure and pain so as to make everything outside ourselves seem unimportant. If we cannot help acknowledging a cause, however, we accept whatever can be accepted without much thinking as appropriate thoughts and feelings on such an occasion, and once more strengthen pleasure and pain by dwelling on these conventional reactions, and even by adorning the object quite arbitrarily with qualities which are apt to justify and to increase these reactions. Romantic longing or love can be attached now to this, now to that object, but this does not really matter, for the object is seen in a certain light and adorned with certain preconceived qualitites, so that it can increase either the pleasure and pain which, in any case, we happen or want to feel, or a mixture of both which most successfully guarantees the sterility of the feeling. Our feelings serve to create moods which can underlie or replace or paralyse thinking; they can become, according to our state of mind, intoxication or despair; but they cannot possibly lead to any knowledge nor to any helpful experience of reality. Everything is done to enable us to enjoy our feelings and to revel in them, so as to save us from the necessity of thinking. (This seems to be the true nature of what is usually called sentimentality. See J. Macmurray, Freedom in the Modern World, p. 152.)

This divorce between feeling and thinking is so common to-day that hardly any of us can escape completely from it. Certainly we very often hardly notice how much we rely on moods and conventional formulae; do we know, for instance, what we really feel when we attend the funeral of a person whom we hardly knew or whom we disliked? Do we care to break through the conventions so as to experience the feeling which would really be genuine and appropriate?

(3) The third way of establishing the relationship between feeling and thinking is closely connected with the second. If there is hostility and struggle, the result need not be the defeat of feeling nor its separation from thinking; feeling can also overwhelm thinking. It can break into the realm of thought and subjugate even that kind of thinking which normally enables us to apprehend external reality.

The intrusion of feeling into the realm of thought is, as we shall see in a moment, very dangerous and must therefore be clearly distinguished from the fruitful interaction of the two. This, however, can be easily done, despite their superficial similarity, for this wrong and disastrous victory of feeling always has two characteristics. First, it is not due to a development of the wealth of many different feelings, but to one single emotion which either suppresses all the others or subjugates and transforms them. Secondly, thinking, once more, is not concerned with internal reality, but concentrates solely on external knowledge; it is used by the feeling to build up an elaborate external knowledge in support of it.

Let us take, for instance, the feeling of nationalism. This tends to become passionate, but even before real passion arises, the nation which is the object of the feeling is not only credited with qualities which justify nationalism; the national character—which, in fact, can only be described with the greatest difficulty and most unreliably—is elaborated in the greatest detail and becomes the basis of all valuations. All other values are appreciated only so far as they seem to agree with this character, or because they embellish it. (This element of embellishment explains why the Romantic Movement has played an important part in the development of modern nationalism. But the intrusion of nationalistic passion into thinking is very different from the romantic revelling in vague feelings.) 'Faithfulness' becomes German and 'fair-mindedness' typically English, and they are praised, not for their own sake, but because one wants to be a good German or a good Englishman. When the state of passion is reached, however, very complicated theories, dealing exclusively with external reality, are at once developed; a new kind of science, referring to external reality, but determined by feeling, sweeps away all proper thinking. A one-sided philosophy of history is supported by belief in race and blood or at least by the belief in a special mission, which makes the one nation infinitely more valuable and important than all others; thinking is exclusively used to support and to increase the passion.

There are innumerable examples of this relationship between feeling and thinking; every individual falling in love or overwhelmed by some new experience or taken in by some political creed or mass-movement is in danger of gong this way. Even mystics are inclined to translate their ecstasies either into complicated and purely intellectual theories or into another kind o external reality whose smallest detail they claim to know. (Compare, for example, the theology of late scholasticism or of late Buddhism, or Swedenborg's homely pictures of life in heaven. Or, to give a more recent example, Aldous Huxley's representation of life hereafter in Time Must Have a Stop.)

The dangers which arise are twofold. On the one hand, external knowledge becomes unreliable, for the influence of the observer is no longer excluded; on the contrary, external reality is made to support whatever error we choose to embrace. On the other hand, feeling does not disclose internal reality, but is split into irreconcilable opposites referring to external reality. The first danger is fairly obvious; it is, even if we are obsessed by a feeling, only thinly veiled; it does not need special consideration. But we must dwell for a moment on the second danger, because this kind of succumbing to feeling must not be mistaken for a realization of internal reality.

If we merely sever the connection between feeling and thinking, we are still able to enjoy our feelings in a positive way. But it is very conspicuous that, when feeling overruns thinking completely, this enjoyment almost always vanishes; passion tends to become a torture, and this negative counterpart usually becomes stronger than the passion itself. Nationalism and communism find a stronger expression in hatred than in love, and passionate love can be very near to hatred. (Only mysticism is usually free from this, because this kind of ecstasy must remain connected with internal reality.) This agrees with the nature of feeling in so far as we can never develop positive feelings in isolation; if we become more sensitive to beauty and goodness, our awareness of ugliness and wickedness is bound to increase as well. But it its this very quality of our feeling which is fundamentally distorted. Ugliness and wickedness normally evoke feelings which take their place among many others; they increase our faculty of discrimination and thereby contribute considerably to the development of the wealth of our feelings. But if passion creates hatred and hatred strengthens passion, the wealth of different feelings is destroyed; our entire ability to feel is now dominated by the opposition between positive and negative; it has either to support the passion or to attack whatever contradicts it. Every feeling which arises has, as it were, to take its place in one of these two camps and to accept the domination of the determining passion. We have become unable to feel naturally; every feeling is transformed either into passionate approval or passionate disapproval; instead of developing many feelings we are forced to collect them all into two groups, so that they can all be absorbed in this irreconcilable opposition. We shall see that this opposition has nothing in common with the true internal opposites, for feeling is forced to acquire the nature of the passive reactions and thus can no longer help us to understand our experience.

This effect of passion becomes understandable when we remember that single feelings remain closely connected with our faculty of feeling and that some of our entire force of feeling must always flow into each single emotion. The passion tries to absorb our power of feeling completely, but this remains impossible, for the passion is directed towards external reality and the feeling, however distorted, still represents internal reality; this reality, therefore, cannot be completely neglected. To occupy the force of feeling which is not absorbed, negation has to be summoned up; we can at least deny and attack what we cannot suppress. This denial of internal reality need not become obvious or conscious; in the same way as a part of external reality is adorned so as to be able to attract all our passion, a distorted part of external reality is adorned so as to be made to attract all our hatred. By this, however, we are forced to suppress the greater part of reality, for we must suppress all that in external reality which does not fall in with our passion and almost the whole of internal reality, and thus negation must also become stronger than the positive feeling.

This splitting up of feeling into violent acceptance and rejection usually starts by affecting only that range of feeling which determines actions which we regard as fundamentally important; minor likes and dislikes can exist unaffected. Nowadays we may be inclined to believe that the fully developed dominating passion belongs only to romance and legendary ages, conveniently forgetting that even a consistent bias shows that feeling has triumphed over thinking. But the effects of passion can be seen also in modern national and political creeds which always give great prominence to the embodied opponent and tend to diminish the range of feelings which can remain unaffected. The power of the negative element is so strong that the creation of such an opponent may even hide the lack of a real belief, while the feelings and thoughts which remain unbiassed become more and more insignificant.

Feeling, therefore, can also destroy every possibility of knowledge, instead of leading to the most important knowledge which we possess. We have always to remember that the mere strength of feeling or its dominating position by no means guarantee that it has been developed in the right way.

To escape all these distortions, feeling must be supported and protected by thinking. But it must be the right kind of thinking, a thinking which can help us to develop the natural wealth of our feelings and to distinguish between accidental emotions and the knowledge disclosed by feeling. In order to fulfil this task, thinking must be able to apprehend, not only external, but also internal reality—that is, we must apply not only external, but also internal opposites.

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go to: Chapter 7, "The Internal Opposites"

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