Prof. Greens's explanations

Prof. Greens's explanations

[From the Contemporary Review for Feb. 1881. It would not have occurred to me to reproduce this essay, had it not been that there has lately been a reproduction of the essay to which it replies. But as Mr. Nettleship, in his editorial capacity, has given a permanent shape to Professor Green’s unscrupulous criticism, I am obliged to give a permanent shape to the pages which show its un­scru­pu­lous­ness.]

Dreary at best, metaphysical controversy becomes especially dreary when it runs into rejoinders and re-rejoinders; and hence I feel some hesitation in inflicting, even upon those readers of the Contemporary who are interested in metaphysical questions, anything further concerning Prof. Green’s criticism, Mr. Hodgson’s reply to it, and Prof. Green’s explanations. Still, it appears to me that I can now hardly let the matter pass without saying something in justification of the views attacked by Prof. Green; or, rather, in disproof of the allegations he makes against them.

I did not, when Prof. Green’s two articles appeared, think it needful to notice them: my wish to avoid hindrance to my work, being supported partly by the thought that very few would read a discussion so difficult to follow, and partly by the thought that, of the few who did read it, most would be those whose knowledge of The Principles of Psychology enabled them to see how unlike the argument {322} I have used is the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of it given by Prof. Green, and how inapplicable his animadversions therefore are. This last belief was, I find, quite erroneous; and I ought to have known better than to form it. Experience might have shown me that readers habitually assume a critic’s version of an author’s statement to be the true version, and that they rarely take the trouble to see whether the meaning ascribed to a detached passage is the meaning which it bears when taken with the context. Moreover, I should have remembered that in the absence of disproofs it is habitually assumed that criticisms are valid; and that inability rather than pre-occupation prevents the author from replying. I ought not, therefore, to have been surprised to learn, as I did from the first paragraph of Mr. Hodgson’s article, that Prof. Green’s criticisms had met with considerable acceptance.

I am much indebted to Mr. Hodgson for undertaking the defence of my views; and after reading Prof. Green’s rejoinder, it seems to me that Mr. Hodgson’s chief allegations remain outstanding. I cannot here, of course, follow the controversy point by point. I propose to deal simply with the main issues.

At the close of his answer, Prof. Green refers to “two other mis­app­re­hen­sions of a more general nature, which he [Mr. Hodgson] alleges against me at the outset of his article.” Not admitting these, Prof. Green postpones replies for the present; though by what replies he can show his apprehensions to be true ones, I do not see. Further mis­app­re­hen­sions of a general nature, which stand as preliminaries to his criticisms, may here be instanced, as serving, I think, to show that those criticisms are misdirected.

From The Principles of Psychology Prof. Green quotes the following sentences:―

“The relation between these, as antithetically opposed divisions of the entire assemblage of manifestations of the Unknowable, was our datum. The fabric of conclusions built upon it must be unstable if this datum can be proved either untrue or doubtful. Should the idealist be right, the doctrine of evolution is a dream.”

And on these sentences he comments thus:―

“To those who have humbly accepted the doctrine of evolution as a valuable formulation of our knowledge of animal life, but at the same time think of themselves as ‘idealists,’ this statement may at first cause some uneasiness. On examination, however, they will find in the first place that when Mr. Spencer in such a connection speaks of the doctrine of evolution, he is thinking chiefly of its application to the explanation of knowledge—an application at least not necessarily admitted in the acceptance of it as a theory of animal life.” 44

From which it appears that Prof. Green’s conception of Evolution is that popular conception in which it is identified with that set forth in The Origin of Species. That my conception of Evolution, referred to in the passage he quotes, is a widely different one, would have been perceived by him had he referred to the exposition of it contained in First Principles. My meaning in the passage he quotes is, that since Evolution, as I conceive it, is, under certain conditions, the result of that universal redistribution of matter and motion which is, and ever has been, going on; and since, during those phases of it which are dis­tin­guish­able as astronomic and geologic, the implication is that no life, still less con­scious­ness (under any such form as is known to us), existed; there is necessarily implied by the theory of Evolution, a mode of Being independent of, and antecedent to, the mode of Being we now call con­scious­ness. And I implied that, consequently, this theory must be a dream, if either ideas are the only existences, or if, as Prof. Green appears to think, the object exists only by correlation with the subject. How necessary is this more general view as a basis for my psychological view, and how erroneous is a criticism which ignores it, will be seen on observing that by ignoring it, I am made to appear profoundly inconsistent where otherwise there is no inconsistency. Prof. Green says that my doctrine―

“ascribes to the object, which in truth is nothing without the subject, an independent reality, and then supposes it gradually to produce certain qualities in the subject, of which the existence is in truth necessary to the possibility of those qualities in the object which are supposed to produce them.” 45

On which my comment is that, ascribing, as I do, “an independent reality” to the object, and denying that the object is “nothing without the subject,” my doctrine, though wholly inconsistent with that of Professor Green, is wholly consistent with itself. Had he rightly conceived the doctrine of Transfigured Realism (Prin. of Psy. § 473), Prof. Green would have seen that while I hold that the qualities of object and subject, as present to con­scious­ness, being resultants of the co-operation of object and subject, exist only through their co-operation, and, in common with all resultants, must be unlike their factors; yet that there pre-exist those factors, and that without them no resultants can exist.

Equally fundamental is another preliminary misconception which Prof. Green exhibits. He says―

“We should be sorry to believe that Mr. Spencer and Mr. Lewes regard the relation between con­scious­ness and the world as corresponding to that between two bodies, of which one is inside the other; but apart from some such crude imagination it does not appear, &c.”

Now since I deliberately accept, and have expounded at great length, this view which Professor Green does not ascribe to me, because he would be “sorry to believe” I entertain such a “crude imagination”—since this view is everywhere posited by the doctrine of Psychological Evolution as I have set it forth; I am astonished at finding it supposed that I hold some other view. Considering that Parts II. III. and IV. of the Principles of Psychology are occupied with tracing out mental Evolution as a result of converse between organism and environment; and considering that throughout Part V. the in­ter­pre­ta­tions, analytical instead of synthetical, pre-suppose from moment to moment a surrounding world and an included organism; I cannot imagine a stranger assumption than that I do not believe the relationship between con­scious­ness and the world to be that of inclusion of the one by the other. I am aware that Prof. Green does not regard me as a coherent thinker; but I scarcely expected he would ascribe to me an incoherence so extreme that in Part VI. I abandon the fundamental assumption on which all the preceding parts stand, and adopt some other. And I should the less have expected so extreme an incoherence to be ascribed to me, considering that throughout Part VI. this same belief is tacitly implied as part of that realistic belief which it is the aim of its argument to explain and justify. Here, however, the fact of chief significance is, that as Professor Green would be “sorry to believe” I hold the view named, and refrains from ascribing to me so “crude an imagination,” it is to be concluded that his arguments are directed against some other view which he supposes me to hold. If so, one of two conclusions is inevitable. Either his criticisms are valid against this other view which he tacitly ascribes to me, or they are not. If he admits them to be invalid on the assumption that I hold this other view, the matter ends. If he holds them to be valid on the assumption that I hold this other view, then they must be invalid against the ab­so­lute­ly-dif­fer­ent view which I actually hold; and again the matter ends.

Even were I to leave off here, I might, I think, say that the inapplicability of Prof. Green’s arguments is sufficiently shown; but it may be desirable to point out that beyond these general mis­app­re­hen­sions, by which they are vitiated, there are special mis­app­re­hen­sions. Much to my surprise, considering the careful preliminary explanation I have given, he has failed to understand the mental attitude assumed by me when describing the synthesis of experiences against which he more especially urges his objections. In chapters entitled “Partial Dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of Subject and Object,” “Completed Dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of Subject and Object,” and “Developed Conception of the Object,” I have endeavoured, as these titles imply, to trace up the gradual establishment of this fundamental antithesis in a developing intelligence. It appeared to me, and still appears, that for coherent thinking there must be excluded at the outset, not only whatever implies acquired knowledge of objective existence, but also whatever implies acquired knowledge of subjective existence. At the close of the chapter preceding those just named, as well as in First Principles, where this process of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion was more briefly indicated, I recognized, and emphatically enlarged upon, the difficulty of carrying out such an inquiry: pointing out that in any attempts we make to observe the way in which subject and object become distinguished, we inevitably use those faculties and conceptions which have grown up while the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of the two has been going on. In trying to discern the initial stages of the process, we carry with us all the products which belong to the final stage, and cannot free ourselves from them. In First Principles (§ 43) I have pointed out that the words impressions and ideas, the term sensation, the phrase state of con­scious­ness, severally involve large systems of beliefs; and that if we allow ourselves to recognize their connotations we inevitably reason circularly. And in the closing sentence of the chapter preceding those above named, I have said―

“Though in every illustration taken we shall have tacitly to posit an external existence, and in every reference to states of con­scious­ness we shall have to posit an internal existence which has these states; yet, as before, we must ignore these implications.”

I should have thought that, with all these cautions before him, Prof. Green would not have fallen into the error of supposing that in the argument thereupon commenced, the phrase “states of con­scious­ness” is used with all its ordinary implications. I should have thought that, as in a note appended to the outset of the argument I have referred to the parallel argument in First Principles, where I have used the phrase “manifestations of existence” instead of “states of con­scious­ness,” as the least objectionable; and as the argument in the Psychology is definitely described in this note as a re-statement in a different form of the argument in First Principles; he would have seen that in the phrase “states of con­scious­ness,” as used throughout this chapter, was to be included no more meaning than was included in the phrase “manifestations of existence.” 46 I should have thought he would have seen that the purpose of the chapter was passively to watch, with no greater intelligence than is implied in watching, how the manifestations or states, vivid and faint, comport themselves: excluding all thought of their meanings—all in­ter­pre­ta­tions of them. Nevertheless, Prof. Green charges me with having, at the outset of the examination, invalidated my argument by implying, in the terms I use, certain products of developed con­scious­ness.47 He contends that my division of the “states of con­scious­ness,” or, as I elsewhere term them, “manifestations of existence,” into vivid and faint, is vitiated from the first by including along with the vivid ones those faint ones needful to constitute them perceptions, in the ordinary sense of the word. Because, describing all I passively watch, I speak of a distant head-land, of waves, of boats, &c., he actually supposes me to be speaking of those developed cognitions under which these are classed as such and such objects. What would he have me do? It is impossible to give any such account of the process as I have attempted, without using names for things and actions. The various manifestations, vivid and faint, which in the case described impose themselves on my receptivity, must be indicated in some way; and the words indicating them inevitably carry with them their respective connotations. What more can I do than warn the reader that all these connotations must be ignored, and that attention must be paid exclusively to the manifestations themselves, and the modes in which they comport themselves. At the stage described in this “partial dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion,” while I suppose myself as yet unconscious of my own individuality and of a world as separate from it, the obvious implication is, that what I name “states of con­scious­ness,” because this is the current term for them, are to have no in­ter­pre­ta­tions whatever put upon them; but that their characters and modes of behaviour are to be observed, as they might be while yet there had been none of that organization of experiences which makes things known in the ordinary sense. It is true that, thus misinterpreting me in December, Prof. Green, writing again in March, puts into the mouth of an imagined advocate the true statement of my view;48 though he (Prof. Green) then proceeds to deny that I can mean what this imagined advocate rightly says I mean: taking occasion to allege that I use the phrase “states of con­scious­ness” “to give a philosophical character” to what would else seem “written too much after the fashion of a newspaper correspondent.” 49 Even, however, had he admitted that intended meaning which he sees, but denies, the rectification would have been somewhat unsatisfactory, coming three months after various absurdities, based on his mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion, had been ascribed to me.

But the most serious allegation made by Mr. Hodgson against Prof. Green, and which I here repeat, is that he habitually says I regard the object as constituted by “the aggregate of vivid states of con­scious­ness,” in face of the conspicuous fact that I identify the object with the nexus of this aggregate. In his defence Prof. Green says―

“If I had made any attempt to show that Mr. Spencer believes the object to be no more than an aggregate of vivid states of con­scious­ness, Mr. Hodgson’s complaint, that I ignore certain passages in which a contrary persuasion is stated, would have been to the purpose.”

Let us look at the facts. Treating of the relation between my view and the idealistic and sceptical views, he imagines addresses made to me by Berkeley and Hume. “‘You agree with me,’ Berkeley might say, ‘that when we speak of the external world we are speaking of certain lively ideas connected in a certain manner;’” 50 and this identification of the world with ideas, I am tacitly represented as accepting. Again, Hume is supposed to say to me—“You agree with me that what we call the world is a series of impressions;”51 and here, as before, I am supposed silently to acquiesce in this as a true statement of my view. Similarly throughout his argument, Prof. Green continually states or implies that the object is, in my belief, constituted by the vivid aggregate of states of con­scious­ness. At the outset of his second article,52 he says of me:—“He there” [in the Principles of Psychology] “identifies the object with a certain aggregate of vivid states of con­scious­ness, which he makes out to be independent of another aggregate, consisting of faint states, and identified with the subject.” And admitting that he thus describes my view, he nevertheless alleges that he does not misrepresent me, because, as he says,53 “there is scarcely a page of my article in which Mr. Spencer’s conviction of the externality and independence of the object, in the various forms in which it is stated by him, is not referred to.” But what if it is referred to in the process of showing that the externality and independence of the object is utterly inconsistent with the conception of it as an aggregate of vivid states of con­scious­ness? What if I am continually made to seem thus absolutely inconsistent, by omitting the fact that not the aggregate of vivid states itself is conceived by me as the object, but the nexus binding it together?

A single brief example will typify Prof. Green’s general method of procedure. On page 40 of his first article he says—“And in the sequel the ‘separation of themselves’ on the part of states of con­scious­ness ‘into two great aggregates, vivid and faint,’ is spoken of as a ‘dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion between the antithetical existences we call object and subject.’ If words mean anything, then, Mr. Spencer plainly makes the ‘object’ an aggregate of conscious states.” But in the entire passage from which these words of mine are quoted, which he gives at the bottom of the page, a careful reader will observe a word (omitted from Prof. Green’s quotation in the text), which quite changes the meaning. I have described the result, not as “a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion,” but as “a partial dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion.” Now, to use Prof. Green’s expression, “if words mean anything,” a partial dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion cannot have the same sense as a complete dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. If the ‘’object’ has been already constituted by this partial dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, what does the ‘object’ become when the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion is completed? Clearly, “if words mean anything,” then, had Prof. Green not omitted the word “partial,” it would have been manifest that the aggregate of vivid states was not alleged to be the object. The mode of treatment which we here see in little, exemplifies Prof. Green’s mode of treatment at large. Throughout his two articles he criticizes detached portions, and ascribes to them meanings quite different from those which they have when joined with the rest.

With the simplicity of “a raw undergraduate” (to some of whose views Prof. Green compares some of mine) I had assumed that an argument running through three chapters would not be supposed to have its conclusion expressed in the first; but now, after the professorial lesson I have received, my simplicity will be decreased, and I shall be aware that a critic may deal with that which is avowedly partial, as though it were entire, and may treat as though it were already developed, a conception which the titles of the chapters before him show is yet but incipient.

Here I leave the matter, and if anything more is said, shall let it pass. Controversy must be cut short, or work must be left undone. I can but suggest that metaphysical readers will do well to make their own in­ter­pre­ta­tions of my views, rather than to accept without inquiry all the in­ter­pre­ta­tions offered them.


—From a note appended by Mr. Nettleship to his republished versions of Prof. Green’s articles, it appears that, after the foregoing pages were published by me, Prof. Green wrote to the editor of the Contemporary Review, saying:―

“While I cannot honestly retract anything in the substance of what I then wrote, there are expressions in the article which I very much regret, so far as they might be taken to imply want of personal respect for Mr. Spencer. For reasons sufficiently given in my reply to Mr. Hodgson, I cannot plead guilty to the charge of mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion which Mr. Spencer repeats; but on reading my first article again in cold blood I found that I had allowed controversial heat to betray me into the use of language which was unbecoming—especially on the part of an unknown writer (not even then a ‘professor’) assailing a veteran philosopher. I make this acknowledgment merely for my own satisfaction, not under the impression that it can at all concern Mr. Spencer” (vol. i., p. 541).

Possibly some of Prof. Green’s adherents will ask how, after he has stated that he cannot honestly retract, and that he is not guilty of mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion, I can describe his criticism as unscrupulous. My reply is that a critic who persists in saying that which, on the face of it, is dishonest, and then avers that he cannot honestly do otherwise, does not thereby prove his honesty, but contrariwise. One who deliberately omits from his quotation the word “partial,” and then treats, as though it were complete, that which is avowedly incomplete—one who, in dealing with an argument which runs through three chapters, recognizes only the first of them—one who persists in thinking it proper to do this after the consequent distortions of statement have been pointed out to him; is one who, if not knowingly dishonest, is lacking in due perception of right and wrong in controversy. The only other possible supposition which occurs to me, is that such a proceeding is a natural sequence of the philosophy to which he adheres. Of course, if Being and non-Being are the same, then rep­re­sen­ta­tion and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion are the same.

I may add that there is a curious kinship between the ideas implied by the letter above quoted and its implied sentiments. Prof. Green says that his apology for unbecoming language he makes merely for his “own satisfaction.” He does not calm his qualms of conscience by indicating his regret to those who read this unbecoming language; nor does he express his regret to me, against whom it was vented; but he expresses his regret to the editor of the Contemporary Review! So that a public insult to A is supposed to be cancelled by a private apology to B! Here is more Hegelian thinking; or rather, here is Hegelian feeling congruous with Hegelian thinking.


44Contemporary Review, December, 1877, p. 35.

45 Contemporary Review, December, 1877, p. 37

46 If I am asked why here I used the phrase “states of con­scious­ness” rather than “manifestations of existence,” though I had previously preferred the last to the first, I give as my reason the desire to maintain continuity of language with the preceding chapter, “The Dynamics of Consciousness.” In that chapter an examination of con­scious­ness had been made with the view of ascertaining what principle of cohesion determines our beliefs, as preliminary to observing how this principle operates in establishing the beliefs in subject and object. But on proceeding to do this, the phrase “state of con­scious­ness” was supposed, like the phrase “manifestation of existence,” not to be used as anything more than a name by which to distinguish this or that form of being, as an undeveloped receptivity would become aware of it, while yet self and not-self were undistinguished.

47Contemporary Review, December, 1877, pp. 49, 50.

48 Contemporary Review, March, 1878, p. 753.

49 Ibid., March, 1878, p. 755.

50 Contemporary Review, December, 1877, p. 44.

51 Ibid., December, 1877, p. 44.

52 Ibid., March, 1878, p. 745.

53 Ibid., January, 1881, p. 115.