Book I: Metaphysics of Knowledge.

Chapter I: The Spiritual Principle in Knowledge and Nature.

§ 9.

The question, Can the knowledge of nature be itself a part or product of nature? must not be confused with that commonly supposed to be at issue between the spiritualists and the materialists. It is one which equally remains to be put, in whatever way we understand the relation between body and mind. We may have admitted most unreservedly that all the so-called functions of the soul are materially conditioned, but the question how there come to be for us those objects of consciousness, called matter and motion, on which we suppose the operations of sense and desire and thought to be dependent, will still remain to be answered. If it could be admitted that matter and motion had an existence in themselves, or otherwise than as related to a consciousness, it would still not be by such matter and motion, but by the matter and motion which we know, that the functions of the soul, or anything else, can for us be explained. Nothing can be known by help of reference to the unknown. But matter and motion, just so far as known, consist in, or are determined by, relations between the objects of that connected consciousness which we call experience. If we take any definition of matter, any account of its necessary qualities, and abstract from it all that consists in a statement of relations between facts in the way of feeling, or between objects that we present to ourselves as sources of feeling, we shall find that there is nothing left. Motion, in like manner, has no meaning except such as is derived from a synthesis of the different positions successively held by one and the same body; and we shall try in vain to render an account to ourselves of position or succession, of a body or its identity, except as expressing relations of what is contained in experience, through which alone that content possesses a definite character and becomes a connected whole. (§ 9 ¶ 1)

What then is the source of these relations, as relations of the experienced, in other words, of that which exists for consciousness? What is the principle of union which renders them possible? Clearly it cannot itself be conditioned by any of the relations which result from its combining and unifying action. Being that which so organises experience that the relations expressed by our definitions of matter and motion arise therein, it cannot itself be determined by those relations. It cannot be a matter or motion. However rigidly, therefore, we may exclude from our explanations of phenomena all causes that are not reducible to matter and motion, however fully we may admit that the nature which we know or may know is knowable only under strictly physial laws, we are none the less in effect asserting the existence of something which, as the source of a connected experience, renders both the nature that we know and our knowledge of it possible, but is not itself physically conditioned. We may decide all the questions that have been debated between materialists and spiritualists as to the explanation of particular facts in favour of the former, but the possibility of explaining them at all will still remain to be explained. We shall still be logically bound to admit that in a man who can know a nature—for whom there is a cosmos of experience—there is a principle which is not natural and which cannot without a ὕστερον πρότερον be explained as we explain the facts of nature. (§ 9 ¶ 2)

§ 9, n. 1: I borrow the phrase from Mr. G. H. Lewes.