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Absolutism And Empiricism
by [?]

No seeker of truth can fail to rejoice at the terre-a-terre sort of discussion of the issues between Empiricism and Transcendentalism (or, as the champions of the latter would probably prefer to say, between Irrationalism and Rationalism) that seems to have begun in Mind.[1] It would seem as if, over concrete examples like Mr. J. S. Haldane’s, both parties ought inevitably to come to a better understanding. As a reader with a strong bias towards Irrationalism, I have studied his article[2] with the liveliest admiration of its temper and its painstaking effort to be clear. But the cases discussed failed to satisfy me, and I was at first tempted to write a Note animadverting upon them in detail. The growth of the limb, the sea’s contour, the vicarious functioning of the nerve-centre, the digitalis curing the heart, are unfortunately not cases where we can see any through-and-through conditioning of the parts by the whole. They are all cases of reciprocity where subjects, supposed independently to exist, acquire certain attributes through their relations to other subjects. That they also exist through similar relations is only an ideal supposition, not verified to our understanding in these or any other concrete cases whatsoever.

If, however, one were to urge this solemnly, Mr. Haldane’s friends could easily reply that he only gave us such examples on account of the hardness of our hearts. He knew full well their imperfection, but he hoped that to those who would not spontaneously ascend to the Notion of the Totality, these cases might prove a spur and suggest and symbolize something better than themselves. No particular case that can be brought forward is a real concrete. They are all abstractions from the Whole, and of course the “through-and-through” character can not be found in them. Each of them still contains among its elements what we call things, grammatical subjects, forming a sort of residual caput mortuum of Existence after all the relations that figure in the examples have been told off. On this “existence,” thinks popular philosophy, things may live on, like the winter bears on their own fat, never entering relations at all, or, if entering them, entering an entirely different set of them from those treated of in Mr. Haldane’s examples. Thus if the digitalis were to weaken instead of strengthening the heart, and to produce death (as sometimes happens), it would determine itself, through determining the organism, to the function of “kill” instead of that of “cure.” The function and relation seem adventitious, depending on what kind of a heart the digitalis gets hold of, the digitalis and the heart being facts external and, so to speak, accidental to each other. But this popular view, Mr. Haldane’s friends will continue, is an illusion. What seems to us the “existence” of digitalis and heart outside of the relations of killing or curing, is but a function in a wider system of relations, of which, pro hac vice, we take no account. The larger system determines the existence just as absolutely as the system “kill,” or the system “cure,” determined the function of the digitalis. Ascend to the absolute system, instead of biding with these relative and partial ones, and you shall see that the law of through-and-throughness must and does obtain.

Of course, this argument is entirely reasonable, and debars us completely from chopping logic about the concrete examples Mr. Haldane has chosen. It is not his fault if his categories are so fine an instrument that nothing but the sum total of things can be taken to show us the manner of their use. It is simply our misfortune that he has not the sum total of things to show it by. Let us fall back from all concrete attempts and see what we can do with his notion of through-and-throughness, avowedly taken in abstracto. In abstract systems the “through-and-through” Ideal is realized on every hand. In any system, as such, the members are only members in the system. Abolish the system and you abolish its members, for you have conceived them through no other property than the abstract one of membership. Neither rightness nor leftness, except through bi-laterality. Neither mortgager nor mortgagee, except through mortgage. The logic of these cases is this:– If A, then B; but if B, then A: wherefore if either, Both; and if not Both, Nothing.