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'categories,' or 'logical constants,’ is by no means finally made up, there can be no doubt that there are such entities. In other words there are some terms that satisfy the condition of unlimited generality. And this fact alone would entitle absolutism to respectful consideration.
But absolutism demands much more. These general categories must be unified and proved all-sufficient. They must either form a systematic whole or be deduced from some supreme category; and this higher unity, in turn, must explain the facts of existence. Plato defined this systematic unity or supreme category as the "good." “When a person starts on the discovery of the absolute by the light of reason only, and without any assistance of sense, if he perseveres by pure intelligence, he attains at last to the idea of good, and finds himself at the end of the intellectual world.” What, in the last analysis, Plato meant by the good it is impossible to say, without falling into those equivocations which I am going to treat separately under the next heading. But confining ourselves for the present to the relatively logical aspect of Plato's conception, we may say that he meant by the good, the significant, the intelligible — that which has meaning. The categories, in their own inner “dialectical” relations give meaning to things, and so are not only " the author of knowledge in all things known, but of their being and essence" as well."
Now admitting that for logical reasons all things must be regarded as significant, or as having meaning, it is no less clear that an ultimate principle, such as this, in which every concession has been made to generality, is grossly inadequate to everything to which it applies. What has been gained in breadth has been lost in thickness. The rich nature of concrete objects is left wholly out of the account, and has no necessary relation whatsoever to the first principle. Why this particular world should be as it is, one does not in the least understand from the bare conception
* Republic, traps. by Jowett, 532 A, 508 E, 509 B. Cf. above, pp. 31, 114-115.
of significance or meaning. This sacrifice of sufficiency to generality, this neglect of the insufficiency of purely logical categories, is what I mean by the error of formalism.
Let us consider the same difficulty in connection with the absolutism of Spinoza. That philosopher cleared himself of what he regarded as a confusion in Plato between logic and teleology, and sought to establish his system upon the firm basis of the deductive method. His supreme category is substance; and by substance he means "that which
“ is in itself, and is conceived through itself.”? In other words substance is definite, that is, possesses certain inherent attributes; and self-sufficient, that is, possesses all modes of itself internally. Substance is not necessarily good, since that conception refers properly only to human interests, and is therefore limited in range; substance is simply an eternal and inalienable nature, together with its inexorable implications. In this sense, according to Spinoza, substance is the universal principle.
But though this may be a general characterization of reality, it is hopelessly inadequate. It throws no light whatsoever on what in particular things are, and on what in particular they imply. They might be and imply anything, so far as this conception is concerned. It is and remains a logical conception, referring to the most general or abstract aspect of experience, and leaving all that' remains, the vast bulk of nature and history, wholly out of account.
It is true that Plato did not mean to define reality in terms of bare intelligibility, and that Spinoza did not mean to define it in terms of bare substantiality. Nevertheless they did not, I think, succeed in doing more, in so far as they confined themselves to strictly logical considerations. And only so far as they did so conceive the absolute in abstract logical terms, were they able to prove its unlimited generality.
· Ethics, trans. by Elwes, p. 45; cf. Part I, passim. Cf. above, pp. 33, 115-117.
$ 3. If the absolute is, then, to be all-sufficient as well as all-general, it must be endowed with other than purely
logical characters. The logical first principle Equivocation, Arising from the must be interpreted and amplified by borAttempt to Es- rowing the more sufficient terms of nature or cape Formalism
life. But these terms while they are clear in their limited application, at once become equivocal when generalized.
Let us consider, for example, Plato's attempt to construe meaning or intelligibility in terms of some concrete human variety of goodness. Experience doubtless affords analogies, but only analogies that are essentially limited in application. Thus a well-organized society, in which human interests are harmoniously adjusted and brought to fulfilment, may be said to owe its meaning to the propriety and excellence of its activities. To be understood at all it has to be understood as good. But the concepts of political theory are of limited generality. Not even society in its historical form can be said to be a true polity; while nature falls outside the range of such principles altogether. Similarly, art, where this is ideal, is also intelligible in so far as good. But neither is nature art, nor is all art ideal. The ultimate good, then, can be neither a perfect society nor a perfect work of art, because these conceptions, while they are sufficient and illuminating in a certain context, are not all-general.
There is a third sense in which the intelligible is good: as the consummation of the theoretical interest - the truth sought and won. But here again it is clear that we have to do with a particular and complex process which it is impossible to generalize. There is no reason to suppose that all things whatsoever are comprehended within one moment of ecstatic contemplation. Without the use of the idealistic principle (of which Plato was quite innocent) such a contention cannot even be made plausible. The truth that is enjoyed, is but a small fraction of the being that is. Furthermore, though we narrow the world to the process of thought, it must yet be objected that not all thought is crowned with success.
1 We have already observed this fact in the case of attempts to generalize physical concepts. See above, pp. 69, 71 ff.
What, then, is that perfect goodness which is the author of the “being and essence” of all things? Clearly it is not a case of moral goodness, or of beauty, or even of truth, in the sense of intellectual happiness. And yet Plato freely attributes all three of these values to it! But does he mean to do so literally? It is impossible to say; for at this point the absolutist begins to speak a strange tongue. The good is not good in any known sense, only because it is of surpassing goodness. It is more, not less — than virtue, beauty, and insight. Now to be good, and to have goodness enhanced by other values beside, this truly is to be more than good; but to be lacking in goodness through excess of it, to be more than good and yet not good at all this passes comprehension. And yet precisely this profound and misleading equivocation lies at the root of all Platonic mysticism.
An admirable illustration of this procedure of thought is afforded by the theology of Dionysius the Areopagite, the Christian neo-Platonist. I quote from Berkeley's account.
"In his treatise of the Celestial Hierarchy, he saith that God is something above all essence and life; and again, in his treatise of the Divine Names, that He is above all wisdom and understanding, ineffable and innominable; the wisdom of God he terms an unreasonable, unintelligent, and foolish wisdom. But then the reason he gives for expressing himself in this strange manner is, that the Divine wisdom is the cause of all reason, wisdom, and understanding, and therein are contained the treasures of all wisdom and knowledge. He calls God útéporodos and Útépws; as if wisdom and life were words not worthy to express the Divine perfections: and he adds that the attributes unintelligent and unperceiving must be ascribed to the Divinity, not kar' deufiv, by way of defect, but kad' únepoxýv, by way of eminency; which he explains by our giving the name of darkness to light inaccessible.”1
In its endeavor to give concrete sufficiency to its first principle, absolutism is thus driven from one error to another — from formalism to equivocation. The truly general, or logical, elements of experience having proved insufficient to the complex objects in which they are found, conceptions that are sufficient within limits are now rendered equivocal through being employed symbolically or analogically beyond those limits.
$ 4. The nature of the all-general, all-sufficient principle thus remains problematic, because the most general cate
gories are insufficient, and the most sufficient The Dogmatic Character of categories are limited in generality. What, Absolutism. now, shall be said of the proof of such a prinAgnosticism
ciple? It is argued that knowledge employs a principle which admits of degrees; that knowledge can be complete only when this principle reaches a maximum; and that since we must attribute to reality the character it obtains in complete knowledge, we must define it in terms of such a maximum. It appears, however, that the principles which knowledge employs do not define a maximum; and that were their limitations removed they would at once lose their meaning.
Let us turn again to the case of Plato. He would say that we know things in so far as we apprehend them as good; and would proceed to infer their absolute goodness. But in every verifiable case of such knowledge the goodness of things is limited. Thus, for example, the activity of the wise ruler is good and intelligible in that it answers to the demands of social life, and to concrete historical
Berkeley: Alciphron or the Minute Philosopher, Fraser's edition, Vol. II, pp. 182-183. Berkeley's comment is as follows: “Upon the whole, although this method of growing in expression and dwindling in notion, of clearing up doubts by nonsense, and avoiding difficulties by running into affected contradictions, may perhaps proceed from a well-meant zeal, yet it appears not to be according to knowledge.”