Book I: Metaphysics of Knowledge.

Chapter I: The Spiritual Principle in Knowledge and Nature.

§ 37.

There are difficulties enough, no doubt, in the way of accepting such a form of idealism, but they need not be aggravated by misunderstanding. It is simply misunderstood if it is taken to imply either the reduction of facts to feelings--impressions and ideas, in Hume's terminology--or the obliteration of the distinction between illusion and reality. The reduction of facts to relations is the very reverse of their reduction to feelings. No feeling, as such or as felt, is a relation. We can only suppose it to be so through confusion between it and its conditions, or between it and that fact of its occurrence which is no doubt related to other facts, but, as so related, is not felt. Even a relation between feelings is not itself a feeling or felt. A feeling can only be felt as successive to another feeling, but the terms of a relation, as we have seen, even though the relation be one of succession, do not succeed one another. In order to constitute the relation they must be present together; so that, to constitute a relation between feelings, there must be something other than the feelings for which they are equally present. The relation between the feelings is not felt, because it is only for something that distinguishes itself from feelings that it can subsist. It is our cognisance of the successiveness or transitoriness of feelings that makes us object intuitively to any idealism which is understood to imply an identification of the realities of the world with the feelings of men. Facts, we are sure, are in some way permanent. They are not like the bubble on the fountain, a moment here, then gone, and for ever. But if they were feelings as we feel them, they would be so. They would not be stubborn things; for as each was felt it would be done with. They would not form a world to which we have to adapt ourselves; for in order to make a world they must coexist, which feelings, as we feel them, do not. (§ 37 ¶ 1)

But the idealism which interprets facts as relations, and can only understand relations as constituted by a single spiritual principle, is chargeable with no such outrage on common-sense. On the contrary, its very basis is the consciousness of objectivity. Its whole aim is to articulate coherently the conviction of there being a world of abiding realities other than, and determining, the endless flow of our feelings. The source of its differences from ordinary realism lies in its being less easily satisfied in its analysis of what the existence of such a world implies. The mere statement that facts are not feelings, that things are not ideas, that we can neither feel nor think except contingently upon certain functions of matter and motion being fulfilled, does not help us to understand what facts and things, what matter and motion, are. It does not enable us, when we seek to understand these expressions, to give them any meaning except such as is derived from experience, and, if from experience, then from relations that have their being only for an intelligent consciousness. (§ 37 ¶ 2)