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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 8


Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Section 1


We have seen that the application of internal opposites, starting from the simple opposition between means and ends, can lead us from stage to stage, thus disclosing more and more of internal reality, until we reach the absolute values. This development can be interrupted and each single stage can become final by that intrusion of feeling which we have discussed. (See Chapter 6, paragraphs 29-37.) This interruption means, at the same time, that internal reality is either completely suppressed or dangerously distorted.

The intrusion of feeling can take place even if we only apply the simple opposites 'means' and 'end'. We can be obsessed by the wish for certain possessions or practical achievements, for instance by the desire for money as such or as a means of acquiring things or having comfort or security, we may be completely absorbed by some investigation which promises to lead to a particular invention or discovery. All such material aims can attract our feelings so strongly that we become almost blind to everything else. As they are dependent on the achievement of quite definite ends, this end will entirely dominate our valuations; all we experience or see and all that we or others do is only valued as a means to the end we have in mind; strong feelings force all our processes of thought to serve exclusively this particular obsession. We shall have, of course, some minor likes and dislikes too, as well as other impressions and other knowledge, but these are either valued in accordance with the dominating scale or not taken seriously. We are prevented from proceeding from this kind of valuation to any more fundamental values.

This kind of obsession, however, though it can be very strong, need not be considered as very dangerous, for its objects are so obviously limited that it may be comparatively easy to break their power. Some different and more serious experiences can easily show us how little such achievements mean, or we may also achieve what we so fervently wanted and thus become free and open-minded again. but the preoccupation with the purely material can take more dangerous forms too.

If we are so much interested in material things, we are apt to believe that material achievements are the only ones which matter. Instead of clinging to the single end, our feelings can be completely dominated by the idea of progress, especially in scientific and technical developments, or by that of creating the greatest material happiness for everybody. Here it becomes very clear indeed that further progress in valuation is cut off by feeling. Most of the forms of consistent materialism are based on further values; the wish to make life easier and healthier by scientific progress, the desire to secure the well-being of everybody presuppose love and a real appreciation of the human being; the wish for a better distribution of wealth springs from a sense of justice. But if feeling is mainly attracted by the material things as such, the question whether material things and technical progress really procure happiness or are in themselves sufficient to do so is not even asked; they are valued so highly that they are desired at any cost, even if, in fact, they destroy happiness or life or human freedom and dignity. Man merely has to accept this kind of happiness, and this shows that it is not happiness which determines the scale of values, but the material things. Although other values are involved, we are cut off from them; love and justice are not taken into account, but scorned. In order to suppress them, the mixture of external and internal negation which we have discussed is summoned up (See Chapter 3, Section 2, paragraphs 22-24, and Chapter 5, Section 3, paragraphs 7-15.) —external negation to exclude them logically and internal negation to ascribe a negative value to them and to endow the negative with feeling. The more genuine the original motives, the stronger the negation; thinking is forced to work out the most elaborate systems to justify and to increase the strength of feeling. Here already the breaking down of these barriers has become extremely difficult.

Concentration on external reality can also have a different effect. If we recognize that material things are not significant enough, but still remain under the spell of external reality, we can turn to the different forms of society, such as the nation, the state or the race, which we seem able to grasp like any other part of that reality and which are yet human at the same time. They too, as we all know, can prove most attractive for that feeling which seeks satisfaction outside; it is even easier to charge them with feeling.

States and nations are no longer quite so real in the material sense; they depend on human conceptions and limitations. This can be seen when we try to define them; there is no completely satisfactory definition of any such concept. If we treat nations and states as purely external, we cannot account for the human bonds which keep them in being, nor for the fact that the definition itself can exercise an influence upon them and alter their external appearance. If we stress the human element, we do not account for the different historical forms which they have acquired and by which they have become material facts. It is this very uncertainty, however, which proves so dangerously attractive for feeling, for if feeling turns towards external reality and finds facts which are not completely self-sufficient, it can most easily influence thinking and transform the meaning of the facts in accordance with its own desires. As the concepts defy any clear definition, they can be considered as mysterius or mystical, which is most fascinating for feeling. The basic doubts which can never be entirely overcome stimulate feeling too, for it has to cover them up by stronger and stronger emotions. Every nation or state, moreover, is all too obviously only a small part of external reality; if it has to satisfy all our feelings, negation must once more be summoned up and, to fulfil its task, exaggerated and used in the most false way possible; the small part of reality with which we are obsessed has to represent all the good and everything else, which is the greater part of our world, has to be considered as more or less bad; some part of it has even to be seen as extremely evil or wicked, for otherwise our obsession could not be upheld. The subjugation of thinking by feeling will then most probably become complete.

Both materialism in all it forms and nationalism are naturally dangerous in many different ways. A combination of the two, in particular, frequently leads to the striving for power, and this age-old and yet necessarily futile aim shows perhaps even more clearly how the intrusion of feeling works.

If a man's interests remain directed towards external reality alone, he has to consider himself as a material being and his values must, therefore, coincide with the external opposites. He has to replace the human qualities, which he is unable to appreciate, by size in space and duration in time; a greatness which can be measured will represent the highest value for him. Hence he tends to seek power, conquest and fame; deprived of the non-material relations with his fellow-men, his ambition has to concentrate on enlarging himself at the expense of others, or he will at least admire those who do so. Owing to human smallness and frailty, however, such an endeavour cannot lead very far; even if a man could conquer the whole earth, he would still remain infinitesimally small when compared with the universe, and the length of his life is but a moment in the eternal flux of time. No future fame can lengthen his actual life. To be able to overlook such obvious limitations, he must believe that the next step, the next deed or conquest, will make up for the shortcomings which he is bound to feel whenever he reaches one of his aims. He must be incessantly driven onwards, for if he were allowed to rest the vanity of his endeavours would make itself felt. Feeling has to invade thinking again and again to enable him to restrict all his valuations to external opposites, for if thinking could proceed to internal opposites, it would clear a way through all his different emotions and show him both the correct external proportions and the real internal values, and power and glory could no longer be enjoyed nor overrated. It is the very insecurity of such obsessions which constantly increases the strength of feeling and makes it so difficult to loosen its hold on thought.

The more we advance towards the more abstract values, the less dangerous the effects of the intrusion of feeling appear, for there fanaticism is less likely to develop. But these effects are just as important, because they destroy positive elements which otherwise could be very valuable for the progress of valuation. The intrinsic value of the elements which give occasion for the intrusion of feeling, moreover, makes it more difficult to discover that the possibility of their further development has been destroyed, and so this progress is as definitely interrupted as before.

Principles, for instance, have to be transformed into clear laws, for our intentions are too easily misled and our feelings not always acute enough to allow us to rely on intuitions right from the beginning. But the laws must not be more than guides; finally they have to give way to spontaneous reactions, for only these will allow us to find that full personal expression which alone makes internal reality completely real. If the law as such, however, becomes the object of feeling, we shall pin it down by connecting it definitely with corresponding external actions; external rules will smother all spontaneity, but allow us instead to obey them for the wrong reasons. ("The last temptation is the greatest treason; To do the right deed for the wrong reason." T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral, p. 44.) Or, to give another example—the technique of art has its important rules which can help the artist to find his own expression and to make himself understood. Yet if these rules become the main interest, the external form seems more important than the content, and a perfect but empty form is preferred to the form which, perhaps by its very imperfection or by its boldness, really discloses the content. The intrusion of feeling transforms principles, laws and rules, all of which could be a great help, into a great obstacle.

This danger can be seen particularly clearly if we think of such concepts as, for instance, duty. If feeling concentrates on such a purely formal concept which establishes a necessity and formal laws which have no connection with the content, but only require discipline as such, almost everything can be used to give a content to this form and to enable us to do our duty. Again, the idea of duty can be an important help; who can say that he will always want to do the good for its own sake without any compulsion? But if we forget that it is a mere form which has to have a good content to be good, not only the routine of bureaucracy, but even the worst cirmes in the service of any authority can be considered as sacred duties. Our obsession is the following of a law regardless of what it entails.We turn everything into its fulfilment, even if the very nature of the deed contradicts entirely the original intention which made us accept duty for moral reasons. The process is the same as with the empty artistic form, but infinitely more dangerous; the obsession with the mere form makes us overlook the fact that it remains senseless or is filled with a wrong or destructive content. As duty seems to justify them, even the worst crimes can no longer be morally attacked.

Something similar happens if ideals are used to support principles in the wrong way. We have seen that we need ideals too; we must aim at something which is better or more perfect than our present achievements, for otherwise we shall hardly be able to go on striving. Nor shall we be able to do so without a fairly clear notion of the aim to which this striving ought to lead, even if this aim in fact represents an ideal beyond our reach; indeed this is frequently necessary to make us strive at all. (See J. Oman, The Natural and the Supernatural, p. 397.) But if the ideal attracts all our feelings, its effect is exactly the opposite.

The ideal embodies internal reality; it should be understood as an imaginative construction which acquires meaning only through its relationship with this reality. All the details of the ideal should help us to grasp possibilities and shades of feelings. The description of an ideal state, as we have said, does not depict an external aim, for no state can be perfect, but makes clear what love and justice and neighbourliness mean and demand. (See Chapter 7, Section 3, paragraph 24.) In that way, the ideal can help us to bring about a better state. If feeling, however, concentrates on the ideal as such, no consideration is allowed to lessen its importance; all that represents inner meaning is accepted as externally possible and every detail matters, again not because of its meaning, but quite literally. We insist that nothing is to be altered or left out, and in this hopeless struggle for every detail the real task of the ideal is forgotten. Love will be turned into hatred or contempt for those who oppose us for very good reasons. We shall always believe that we know better and thus become unable to acquire knowledge. Every ideal, moreover, to fulfil its function of promoting clearer ideas, necessarily includes utopian elements which lift it above the level of everyday experience. If these are mistaken for real possibilities, they can even make us unable to cope with our actual experiences and opportunities. As we thus believe that an ideal perfection can be attained, we shall despise the necessary little steps and imperfect achievements which are within our reach.To mistake internal elements for external things and to invest them with feelings is as dangerous, therefore, as to attach feeling to the external aims themselves.

It is no help if the intrusion of feeling chooses instead elements of concepts which belong entirely to internal reality. We can also be completely dominated by the wish to enjoy our feelings, to have strong feelings at any cost, to feel that we are alive—that is, the intrusion of feeling can concentrate on itself. But if we look at our feelings in this way, we are not satisfied with the content which they, with the help of external objects, gradually disclose; the feeling as such has to be the content. We want either strong will and strong vitality, because they give rise to strong feeling, or experiences which strongly excite us. We forget that any inner activity can be of positive or negative value and that this depends on its inner content which cannot develop when we enjoy our feelings as such. We overrate the mere strength of feeling and underrate spiritual strength; without any scruples and any possibility of judging we merely accept as positive anything which can make us feel strongly, even if it be the worst adventure. Bombing can be more exciting than sitting in an office. Nor does it help to break the chain of external necessity by a complete concentration on the accidental, for if the accident is stressed as such and not as the unique form of internal reality, necessity is replaced by arbitrariness or licence which also cut us off from this reality. We follow every impulse, enjoy every impression or change, dramatize every situation, without knowing what they do or could mean or of what value they are, and without ever allowing any experience to bear its fruit. Here as elsewhere, the intrusion of feeling forces us to regress. (To avoid misunderstandings, it should perhaps be mentioned that this 'enjoying one's feeling' can also be very painful. Like any intrusion of feeling, this form, too, can be entirely independent of our will; we may be overwhelmed and haunted by our feelings and unable to combat them. Then, however, a new element enters—that of suffering—and this we shall discuss later.)

Intensity of feeling obviously becomes less dangerous as we reach those constructive concepts which belong to internal reality; for as these secure the right relationship between feeling and thinking, it is an advantage if our feelings are strong enough to make full use of their opportunities. But if an intrusion of feeling occurs, even the right values can become a source of dangers and distortions.

This can best be seen when we consider the intrusion of feeling due to its too strong attachment to a hierarchy of values. As such a hierarchy represents, in this field, the most comprehensive order which we are able to achieve, this kind of intrusion also shows the fundamental and most dangerous motive which always contributes to the overwhelming of thinking by feeling—the longing for an all-embracing unity.

Our examples have already shown why such a hierarchy is important. As so many scales of values have to be applied, we always need some kind of hierarchy to find our way through this maze; all the different wrong consequences of the intrusion of feeling could also be described as attempts to establish wrong hierarchies. Nevertheless, a hierarchy can also become danerous if feeling concentrates entirely on it. To safeguard its positive value, we have to make two restrictions; first, owing to the nature of the scales of values, no hierarchy can become all-embracing; second, it must remain dependent on the values themselves, for if it hardens into an external structure, it can become an empty form and filled with the wrong content. It is exactly these two restrictions, however, which are swept away by the intrusion of feeling.

The sweeping away of the first restriction shows that the desire to create an all-embracing unity is, in fact, the motive behind any intrusion of feeling. We have seen that even in external reality this attempt has to be supported by what we would call now an intrusion of feeling. In internal reality, the part played by feeling naturally becomes more obvious. As a feeling which is cut off from any further development can only become stronger, it must quite directly try—as again all we have discussed has shown—to create the all-embracing unity which justifies the complete concentration on this special feeling. The concentration on a hierarchy is only another attempt of this kind. It is less conspicuous, because any hierarchy has to include a great number of scales of values, but it is hardly less dangerous, as the sweeping away of the second restriction shows.

If our feelings are too subtle to succumb to the simpler temptations, a hierarchy can become their obsession, for it always represents a pattern of many degrees of positive and negative values which cannot be further reduced, as they can if we concentrate on a single scale, and thus passion need not become so obvious. Yet if a hierarchy has to embrace everything, it must also allot to any possible phenomenon its well defined rank. This task, however, cannot be fulfilled if the hierarchy remains dependent on the actual experience of the different values, for these always leave scope for unexpected changes; instead, the hierarchy hardens into a fixed external order, and such an order can all too easily degenerate into some kind of caste system which destroys all human value. But even if this does not happen and if we try to stick to the right values, the intrusion of feeling can make it seem natural that the higher and the lower ranks have to accept different kinds of morality, and if this is allowed to pass, there can be no doubt that it is not morality but the external order which establishes our scale of values. Morality itself cannot help hardening into a formal law which keeps the hierarchy in being, and the chance of any further development of values is as thoroughly destroyed as in any other case.

The distortions which we have discussed are still only a few general examples of the dangers connected with the wrong development of feeling. But as they are taken from different levels, they are probably sufficient to show that not only the motive but also the result of any intrusion of feeling is always the same. A wrong conclusion is endowed with a strength of feeling which seems identical with that certainty which we experience with the help of the absolute values. The difficulty which made us ask before how to test these values could also be expressed by the question of how to distinguish between the intrusion of feeling and the right kind of absolute certainty.

It is true that it does not always need an intrusion of feeling to interrupt the development of valuation; weakness of feeling can also lead to many of the results which we have tried to describe, from the pursuit of an external aim which may appear as the easiest way of living or merely occupy all our available strength, to the acceptance of the nation, of laws and duty and the recognized hierarchy, in order to avoid conflicts and difficulties. In this case, feeling does not overwhelm thinking, but is usually separated from it, and it will never lead to any knowledge which can be considered as absolute. Yet this needs no special discussion, for we have seen that in both cases feeling is being distorted in a similar way. (See Chapter 6, paragraphs 22-23.) The intrusion of feeling shows most clearly of all the dangerous consequences of any of its aberrations.

Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

Section 2


The intrusion of feeling into the realm of thought, as shown in the preceding examples, becomes dangerous for the following reasons:

(1) External reality as such, not transformed into an expression of internal reality, calls into play too great a part of our feelings.

We start with the application of internal opposites, for as we have to perform practical tasks, we cannot avoid establishing the opposition between means and ends, and we may also proceed to principles and abstract values or even to the constructive concepts, yet at some stage the external fact which should be transformed into an expression of internal reality is accepted as such, simply as a part of external reality. The internal opposites, so far as they have been applied, are hardened into external facts too, while the others are being suppressed. Feeling, attached to external reality, is forced to develop in the wrong direction; to preserve the external fact, it must not progress to any further knowledge conveyed by feeling, but instead become stronger. Thinking, instead of pursuing the internal opposites, returns to the external opposites. But these are now also distorted, for as feeling has become the determining factor they have to support whatever stage of knowledge feeling wants to preserve.

When nationality becomes our highest value, for instance, our thinking has usually been occupied before this with morality. But now the knowledge of our special national gifts is not used to enable us to grasp our own moral task better; on the contrary, moral development is arrested and our ideas of morality are further determined by those national characteristics which appeal to us. They determine our concepts of good and evil. This, however, also makes it impossible to apply the external opposites properly, for the subordination of morality makes the national characteristics appear the best and the most valuable.

(2) Internal knowledge is mistaken for an external fact.

We disclose the existence of internal facts by discovering the meaning of external ones. The duty of loving our neighbour, for instance, is an internal fact; it belongs to that reality which we experience within ourselves and yet as independent of ourselves; but, as we have seen, we understand it only if we learn to see the meaning of human relationships, if we love somebody or are loved by somebody, or if we experience what family, friendship, human society really mean. The existence of beauty is an internal fact, but we discover it when we understand this special kind of meaning of some external thing or event which is beautiful. The external fact does not represent the internal fact completely, for it remains necessarily limited and imperfect; our experiences allow us only occasionally to catch a glimpse of a greater perfection. But by understanding the meaning of these facts, we gradually get a clearer idea of what they imply and of the full scope of their meaning, and this enables us to grasp the internal fact better and better. We learn to imagine perfection, and it is thus that we grasp the internal fact more or less completely.

If, however, we mistake these experiences for external facts, we ascribe to these the perfection which we discovered with the help of their meaning., or we consider the ideal perfection which we can imagine as something which could have external existence. In both cases we transform the meaning into something external and, at the same time, deprive the external facts of their meaning. If we think that love means that the relationships in marriage, in family life, in society, must always be exactly like those which taught us love, or that beauty must follow those laws which agree with our special experience, love and beauty will most probably vanish. To follow certain rules in married life can spring from love, but, if insisted upon or enforced, it rather shows indifference or covers discord or hatred; and forms, originally beautiful, can produce ugliness if they are applied mechanically. At the same time, as conforming to these rules alone seems important, we miss the meaning of our actual experiences. When we try to reach, in external reality, the ideal which we imagine, we can only succeed in certain particulars which we then naturally overrate, and this and the struggle for the impossible perfection make us overlook whatever meaning our real experiences have. If feeling clings to externals, we are bound to destroy internal reality, even if we start from the meaning of external reality and if the external facts had originally represented, or are meant to represent, this meaning.

(3) External and internal negation are mixed up and internal negation is used in a wrong way.

We have discussed several times the mixing up of the two kinds of negation, but there is also a special use of negation in internal reality which we have not mentioned so far. If the different scales of values are to remain independent of each other, we must, within internal reality itself, use not only internal, but also logical negation—that is, external negation—so as to separate the scales from one another. If we do not want to evaluate the lighting of our rooms by moral standards, which would obviously be wrong, we have to exclude it from the moral scale without creating a negative moral value; (See Chapter 7, Section 2, paragraphs 31-33.) therefore we must negate it purely logically and not use internal negation which creates negative values. This, however, is not done if an intrusion of feeling forces us to accept only a single scale of values. If we then recognize that something lies outside the special scale we cherish—which means that we ought to exclude it by using logical negation—we do not exclude it, but use internal negation to make it seem worthless or evil or wrong, so that it can remain within the scope of the scale and does not require a further scale to be dealt with. We do not merely exclude moral values when deciding such questions as the lighting of our rooms, but say that moral values are a nonsensical prejudice because they do not help us to get on with practical tasks. The two kinds of negation are identified; what ought to be mere exclusion is taken for condemnation. This mistake can easily be overlooked because it may seem natural that, in internal reality, we should only use internal negation. But internal negation should be used exclusively within the different scales of values and not to subordinate everything to a single scale. Otherwise, as we have seen, even such a limited part of external reality as the nation can become the basis of an all-inclusive scale.

The process is very similar to that which we have described when discussing how external knowledge can claim to be the only knowledge we possess. (See Chapter 5, Section 3, paragraphs 13-15.) In both cases external negation is mistaken for, and mixed up with, internal negation. But this time the mistake is perhaps even more dangerous, because here we are concerned with values which always need internal negation. If we enslave people for the sake of their happiness or of ideal society, or if duty suppresses help and love and justifies hatred and murder, our whole ability to value is corrupted.

(4) Instead of separating external and internal reality, we try by mixing up external and internal opposites, to create an all-embracing unity.

It is the subordination of everything to a single scale of values which, in internal reality, represents the attempt to create an all-embracing unity. We can also use instead an all-inclusive hierarchy, but this, as we have seen, is not fundamentally different. To establish such a unity requires not only the mixing up of the two kinds of negation, but also that of the two kinds of opposites.

The attempt to create such a unity with the help of values is different from that which we have discussed when considering the wrong application of external opposites. When we concentrate on external reality alone, we can represent it as the only one and deny the existence of opposites and of internal reality altogether. When we start from internal reality, opposites have to be used; as the internal opposites are dependent on each other, we have to apply both their parts. We cannot find a unitary explanation, but have to establish the unity by a very strong emphasis upon the positive and the negative; we have to declare our highest values as overwhelmingly important and to denounce everything which contradicts their importance so violently that it appears negligible. If materialism or nationalism become all-embracing for us, liberty or equality or fraternity or all of them have to become, in Marx's words, 'lip-service to modern mythological gods'.

This unity, however, must remain fundamentally unstable, for mere denunciation does not abolish the contradictory facts, and this is why external and internal opposites have also to be mixed up. Positive and negative values have to be seen as something with an external existence, as something as solid as external objects or natural laws, for then a comprehensive unitary order is established which cannot be shaken by any creation of further values or any further inner experiences. Supported by such a consolidated external order which does not admit different value-judgements, we can accept mere denunciation as definite negation and exclusion.

This order is very powerful because it is based on the splitting-up of all our feeling into violent acceptance and violent rejection, which we have described before (See Chapter 6, paragraphs 31-35.) and because it inevitably makes this split final. If the values which help to bring this about are believed to have an unshakable external existence—they are usually embodied in 'the enemy' who, by his nature, is bound to be wicked—the split cannot be healed, for feelings are determined by their objects. But that this split results from the attempt to create a unity shows more clearly, too, why it is so disastrous, for it is feeling alone which can help us to experience unity.

We are easily able to experience different or even opposite emotions simultaneously. If the impact of a sudden joy is painful, or if sorrow reveals to us a new insight which makes us grateful and happy, the contradictory emotions are simply experienced as one. Awe is a feeling consisting of the two opposed emotions of admiration and fear. We have also seen that positive and negative feelings cannot develop independently of each other, and we can ask for the development of the wealth of feelings because, so long as their whole sphere is not split up, very different emotions, including negative ones, can grow together without finally destroying this unity of feeling. If we are frightened and shocked by ugliness or evil, we may, at the same time, feel more clearly the happiness conveyed by beauty and the redeeming power of goodness; it is on this quality of feeling that the poet relies when writing a tragedy. This power of reconciliation makes it possible for feeling to lead to the experience of unity. Love, as we shall see later, though we have to define it intellectually with the help of some such opposites as indifference or hate, can become independent of them and reconcile all opposites.

This power of reconciliation agrees with the fundamental fact which we have mentioned (See Chapter 6, paragraphs 31-35.) —that each single emotion draws its strength from our undifferentiated power of feeling and thus takes part in it. As the source is the same, the different results are not necessarily altogether separated. But again we must beware of identifying this unity with mere strength of feeling. Whether or not we attain the unity depends entirely on the development of feeling; the right development can lead to unity, the wrong must lead to sentimentality or to a complete split in our personality.

This unity can never be adequately translated into thought, for when we start thinking we are also confronted with the opposition of external and internal reality, and we can think correctly only if we acknowledge their opposition and thus use all the other opposites as well. Owing to the nature of feeling, moreover, such a unity must always be experienced anew; it cannot be transformed into a lasting edifice; any knowledge of it is based on the knowledge that we have had, and therefore can have again, such an experience. But thinking can either block or open the way to it. All the effects of the intrusion of feeling force thinking to bar the way; if we avoid them, thinking can go on in the right direction and this, as we hope to show, will finally help us to experience this unity in the realm of feeling. It is the only one which we can attain.

To ensure that thinking moves in this direction, we must concentrate on the values as such. All the dangers which we have discussed show that this is the common point which has always been missed.

Any intrusion of feeling is bound to suppress some further values which have already come in sight. Materialism does not acknowledge that it is based on love and justice; nationalism subjugates morality; duty suppresses love; laws and hierarchies, if hardened into external facts, prevent the development of the values from which they originated. The progress of thinking is interrupted artificially. If we concentrate on the values themselves, we free thinking from these unnatural fetters and it can develop in the right direction. We are attracted by, and in search of, these further values; we are able to defy the great attraction exercised by external reality and by short cuts to definite statements, because values are dependent on continuous new experiences, and thus we always want to understand them better and to experience them more fully. When we succeed, for instance, in performing a good deed, we are inclined to make the special form of this deed the model or law for future behaviour, or to see it as being in accordance with an existing law, and thus we lose sight of the good. If, on the contrary, we stress the value, if we see that what matters is that the deed is done for the sake of the good and because of love and the urge to help, we shall remain aware of the content and of our shortcomings. This shows us that it needs better forms to express it more fully, and these new forms will, in their turn, help us to grasp the content more and more completely.

If we are willing, moreover, to continue in the application of the internal opposites, we cannot stop, as we have seen, until we reach the absolute values, and it is with them that we find the only reliable safeguard. The absolute values can definitely help us to make sure that we do not succumb to any dangerous temptation, for as they are absolute they guarantee a complete fulfilment of the conditions which we have come to regard as essential for making internal reality real for us.

All the values need external reality and our experience of it, but relative values, though they ought to be experienced always anew, can be identified with the special form of such an experience which has become the embodiment of the value. Like the other values, we experience and recognize the absolute values by embodying them in a special external form. Yet as all our actual experience and all our knowledge of external reality must needs remain relative and limited, we realize at the same time that this form cannot possibly contain the whole value. Values become absolute—to this we shall return in the next chapter—when, by our activity of valuing, we meet something which stands over against us, something which we are forced to acknowledge as transcending our powers and our relative world, not because of an actual failure to influence or assimilate it, but because of its very nature. It becomes quite clear, therefore, that these values cannot be experienced once for all and that we are unable to make any conclusive statements about them; as we have to embody them in something relative to become aware of them, we see at once that we have to embody them again and again. Each embodiment is only a step toward a fuller experience of something which is so much beyond our reach that its experience can never become complete. Thus feeling always remains expectant and capable of further development; it cannot be definitely attached to anything, for each success in grasping such an absolute value necessarily becomes a stimulus to us to make it more and more real by further attempts to grasp it.

Nor is it possible to establish an all-inclusive scale of values which would prevent further thought, for each experience of an absolute value strengthens the readiness for other and unexpected experiences. Truth implies open-mindeness, for we must respect any fact which we may still happen to recognize and pay attention to any knowledge which may still be acquired; goodness makes violent denunciation impossible, for we may still discover good motives behind evil deeds and though we have to call the deed evil, we must refrain from judging the person; beauty is never exhausted, but can be conveyed by any experience or impression. If all the three absolute values have been recognized, moreover, we also recognize that their relationships are most intricate—is it necessary that truth and beauty agree with morals? Can morality remain independent of truth and beauty?—and this also does not allow us to subordinate all the values to a single scale.

The power of the absolute values can be seen when we remember that it proved impossible to give a clear definition of such concepts as nation, race and state, whether we approached them from the external or the human point of view. Any such approach leaves us in an uncertainty which, in practice, represents a grave problem. This problem disappears once we reach the level of the absolute values. Friendship and love can overcome all the differences of nations, races and creed; if we concentrate on the absolute values, especially on goodness, all these differences appear as minor and relative and we are also able to see the external facts in the right perspective. The grave difficulty is not that these problems are insoluble—they were solved the moment we really loved our neighbour and did the good which we usually profess to believe—but that too few of us live on the level of the absolute values. (See J. Macmurray, Reason and Emotion, pp. 103-4.)

It is the very importance of these values, however, which could support the claim that all valuation remains doubtful and that the investigation of the internal opposites leads to a result which is less satisfactory than that to which we were led by the external opposites. In external reality, we are unable to reach it, or if the few indications of an absolute knowledge which we reach remain completely meaningless, the knowledge acquired on the way remains valuable. It is true that it is purely external and so in many respects superficial, but for our dealing with external reality this is all we need. Yet in internal reality any reliable valuation presupposes the absolute values; only when we reach them can we know that all the other values—apart perhaps from the merely practical ones—are correct, that they are in accordance with internal reality and help to make it real. Otherwise all our values may be wrong and illusory.

We still have not solved the fundamental problem which we had to mention so often, though we have excluded many possible causes of error. How can we distinguish between the right certainty due to an experience of absolute values and the wrong certainty due to an intrusion of feeling? How can we recognize that we are not under the spell of an intrusion of feeling? To deal with these questions, we must consider the absolute values themselves.

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go to: Chapter 9, "The Absolute Values"

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