Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument.

The Ancient Greek word φιλοσοφία (philosophia) was probably coined by Pythagoras and literally means "love of wisdom" or "friend of wisdom." Philosophy has been divided into many sub-fields. It has been divided chronologically (e.g., ancient and modern); by topic (the major topics being epistemology, logic, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics); and by style (e.g., analytic philosophy).

As a method, philosophy is often distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its questioning, critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. As a noun, the term 'philosophy' can refer to any body of knowledge. Historically, these bodies of knowledge were commonly divided into natural philosophy, moral philosophy, and metaphysical philosophy. In casual speech, the term can refer to any of "the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group," (e.g., "Dr. Smith's philosophy of parenting"). (Wikipedia)

The Conditions of Philosophy

In The Conditions of Philosophy, Dr. Adler set forth six conditions that philosophy would have to satisfy in order to regain its rightful place in contemporary culture, in our academic institutions, and in the esteem of the general public, not to mention the self-respect individuals should enjoy in making philosophy their life’s vocation. The six conditions were:
(i) that philosophy should be recognized as an autonomous branch of knowledge;
(ii) that philosophical knowledge should be like the knowledge attained in the natural sciences; that is, it should be knowledge of the first order, knowledge of the reality of the world of physical nature and not merely knowledge of the second order;
(iii) that philosophical theories and conclusions should be judged by the standard of objective truth that applies to the empirical nature sciences;
(iv) that philosophy should be conducted as a public, not a private enterprise, through the interaction and cooperation of many who are at work in its sphere of inquiry;
(v) that it should have a method distinctively its own, by which it can answer questions that cannot be answered by the methods of other modes of inquiry;
(vi) that philosophy should not be esoteric , that is, out of touch with the world of ordinary human beings and with the commonsense opinions they hold.
(Source: The 4 Dimensions of Philosophy by Mortimer J. Adler, 1993, pp 3-4)


With Respect to Philosophy

by Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D.

With respect to philosophy, the following propositions must be affirmed. He who denies any one of them denies philosophy.

I) Philosophy is public knowledge, not private opinion, in the same sense that science is knowledge, not opinion.

2) Philosophical knowledge answers questions which science cannot answer, now or ever, because its method is not adapted to answering such questions.

3) Because their methods are thus distinct, each being adapted to a different object of inquiry, philosophical and scientific knowledge are logically independent of one another, which means that the truth and falsity of philosophical principles or conclusions does not depend upon the changing content of scientific knowledge.

4) Philosophy is superior to science, both theoretically and practically: theoretically, because it is knowledge of the being of things whereas science studies only their phenomenal manifestations; practically, because philosophy establishes moral conclusions, whereas scientific knowledge yields only technological applications; this last point means that science can give us only a control over operable means, but it cannot make a single judgment about good and bad, right and wrong, in terms of the ends of human life.

5) There can be no conflict between scientific and philosophic truths, although philosophers may correct the errors of scientists who try to answer questions beyond their professional competence, just as scientists can correct the errors of philosophers guilty of a similar transgression.

6) There are no systems of philosophy, each of which may be considered true in its own way by criteria of internal consistency, each differing from the others, as so many systems of geometry, in terms of different origins in diverse, but equally arbitrary, postulates or definitions.

7) The first principles of all philosophical knowledge are metaphysical, and metaphysics is valid knowledge of both sensible and supra-sensible being.

8) Metaphysics is able to demonstrate the existence of supra-sensible being, for it can demonstrate the existence of God, by appealing to the evidence of the senses and the principles of reason, and without any reliance upon articles of religious faith.

These eight propositions are not offered as an exhaustive account of the nature of philosophy, its distinction from, and relation to, science. I have chosen them simply because they will serve like intellectual litmus paper to bring out the acid of positivism.

Mortimer J. Adler's Philosophy

Adler referred to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics as the "ethics of common sense" and also as "the only moral philosophy that is sound, practical, and undogmatic". Thus, it is the only ethical doctrine that answers all the questions that moral philosophy should and can attempt to answer, neither more nor less, and that has answers that are true by the standard of truth that is appropriate and applicable to normative judgments. In contrast, he believed that other theories or doctrines try to answer more questions than they can or fewer than they should, and their answers are mixtures of truth and error, particularly the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Adler was a self-proclaimed "moderate dualist", and viewed the positions of psychophysical dualism and materialistic monism to be opposite sides of two extremes. Regarding dualism, he dismissed the extreme form of dualism that stemmed from such philosophers as Plato (body and soul) and Descartes (mind and matter), as well as the theory of extreme monism and the Mind-Brain Identity Theory. After eliminating the extremes, Adler subscribed to a more moderate form of dualism. He believed that the brain is only a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for conceptual thought; that an "immaterial intellect" is also requisite as a condition;[21] and that the difference between human and animal behavior is a radical difference in kind. Adler defended this position against many challenges to dualistic theories.

As Adler's interest in religion and theology increased, he made references to the Bible and the need to test its articles of faith for compatibility with certainties from fields of natural knowledge such as science and philosophy. In his 1981 book How to Think About God, Adler attempts to demonstrate God as the exnihilator (the creator of something from nothing). Adler stressed that even with this conclusion, God's existence cannot be proven or demonstrated, but only established as true beyond a reasonable doubt.

Adler believed that, if theology and religion are living things, there is nothing intrinsically wrong about efforts to modernize them. They must be open to change and growth like everything else. Further, there is no reason to be surprised when discussions such as those about the "death of God" – a concept drawn from Nietzsche – stir popular excitement as they did in the recent past, and could do so again today. According to Adler, of all the great ideas, the idea of God has always been and continues to be the one that evokes the greatest concern among the widest group of men and women. However, he was opposed to the idea of converting atheism into a new form of religion or theology.


Science and Philosophy

History, Science, Philosophy, and Theology.
Each of these four major branches of seeking knowledge of reality has different OBJECTS of study, and different METHODS of inquiry. Even within the individual sciences for example; astronomy can answer questions and refute answers about the celestial bodies and their movements, but it cannot answer questions or refute answers about anthropology and vice versa.

HISTORY – Its OBJECT is the past. Its METHOD is research utilizing testimony, documents, and remains.

SCIENCE – Its OBJECT is phenomena and their appearances. Its METHOD is observation, investigation and/or experimentation–reason serves the senses. It describes the facts.

PHILOSOPHY – Its OBJECT is reality and causes. Its METHOD is reflective–senses serve reason. It provides an understanding of the facts.

RELIGION – Its OBJECT is ultimate mysteries. Its METHOD is receptive–reason serves revelation. It accepts and believes.

Ultimately there can be no disagreement between history, science, philosophy, and theology.
Where there is disagreement, there is either ignorance or error.

The knowledge we can derive from science and history, are limited to first-order knowledge by their investigative mode of inquiry. They are incapable of enlarging our understanding by the second-order work, or philosophical analysis, with respect to ideas and all branches of knowledge. Without the contributions made by philosophy, we would be left with voids that science and history cannot fill.

Even in the one sphere in which the contributions of science and philosophy are comparable–our knowledge of reality- philosophy, because it is noninvestigative, can answer questions that are beyond the reach of investigative science–questions that are more profound and penetrating than any questions answerable by science. By virtue of its being investigative, science is limited to the experienceable world of physical nature. Philosophical thought can extend its inquiries into trans-empirical reality. It is philosophy, not science, that takes the overall view.

Furthermore, when there is an apparent conflict between science and philosophy, it is to philosophy that we must turn for the resolution. Science cannot provide it. When scientists such as Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg become involved with mixed questions, they must philosophize. They cannot discuss these questions merely as scientists; the principles for the statement and solution of such problems come from philosophy, not from science.

For all these reasons, I think we are compelled to regard the contributions of philosophy as having greater value for us than the contributions of science. I say this even though we must all gratefully acknowledge the benefits that science and its technological applications confer upon us. The power that science gives us over our environment, health, and lives can, as we all know, be either misused and misdirected, or used with good purpose and results. Without the prescriptive knowledge given us by ethical and political philosophy, we have no guidance in the use of that power, directing it to the ends of a good life and a good society. The more power science and technology confer upon us, the more dangerous and malevolent that power may become unless its use is checked and guided by moral obligations stemming from our philosophical knowledge of how we ought to conduct our lives and our society.

Difference Between Science and Philosophy

We live in a culture in which science, along with its applications in ever more powerful technology, predominates. That is, perhaps, the most distinctive mark of the twentieth century. The glorification and adulation of science give the word “scientific” its eulogistic connotation. Other forms of intellectual endeavor call themselves “scientific” when, in fact, their mode of inquiry, which may be investigative, is not scientific at all in method or aim. The adjective “scientific” has almost become a synonym for “excellent” — for “trustworthy” and “reliable.”

Under these pervasive cultural circumstances, philosophy takes a back seat. It either does not try to compete with scientific knowledge in the sphere of first-order questions, occupying itself with the processes of logical and linguistic analyses in the sphere of second- order questions; or it weakly claims for itself the eminence it once had in antiquity and the Middle Ages, an eminence that it no longer deserves in view of the numerous grave mistakes made by philosophers since the seventeenth century.

In this chapter Mortimer J. Adler is going to defend philosophy against the charges that are usually brought against it by those who unfairly compare it with the achievements of science since early modern times. ...

Here are the four praiseworthy traits of science.
1. Scientists are able to reach substantial agreement in the judgment of those regarded as competent to judge at a given time.
•The major disagreements in the realm of science are those between scientists at a later period and scientists at an earlier period.
•The resolution of these disagreements in favor of the later scientists involves steps in the advance of science from knowing less about reality to knowing more, or from knowing reality less accurately to knowing it more accurately.
2. It follows from what has just been said that science can rightly claim to make progress in the course of time, and to make it more and more quickly as more individuals are engaged in scientific work.
3. Science is useful in ways that enable it to claim that it showers great benefits upon human life and human society. The application of scientific knowledge in the production of technological devices to produce goods and services that are unrealizable without science is, perhaps, in many minds, the biggest feather in the hat of scientific success.
4. Science has become in modern times a public enterprise; scientists cooperate with one another; they engage in teamwork; they interact. Numbers of scientists can pool their efforts in trying to solve the same problem. In this respect, scientific work stands at the opposite extreme to the painter, the composer, or the poet. The work of the individual artist is a private enterprise; rarely is this the case in science; and when it happens, it seldom remains that way.

In all of these four respects, the current attitude toward philosophy is generally negative.
1. Philosophers at a given time do not reach agreement on the solution of problems. They do not resolve the issues on which they differ.
2. Philosophy does not appear to make progress from epoch to epoch, or from century to century. The retirement of philosophy in recent times to the sphere of second-order questions may have been prudent in view of the failures of philosophers to reach agreement on first-order questions, but that can hardly be regarded as progress.
3. Philosophy is not useful. It has no applications in technology. It bakes no bread and builds no bridges. If it is not at all useful, what good is it?
4. Philosophy has seldom been carried on as a public enterprise in which philosophers interact and work together as a team to solve their problems. It is much more like the individual and private work of the creative artist than it is like the pooled contributions of many scientists working together on the same problem. ...

When there is an apparent conflict between science and philosophy, it is to philosophy that we must turn for the resolution. Science cannot provide it. When scientists such as Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg become involved with mixed questions, they must philosophize. They cannot discuss these questions merely as scientists; the principles for the statement and solution of such problems come from philosophy, not from science.
For all these reasons, I think we are compelled to regard the contributions of philosophy as having greater value for us than the contributions of science. I say this even though we must all gratefully acknowledge the benefits that science and its technological applications confer upon us. The power that science gives us over our environment, health, and lives can, as we all know, be either misused and misdirected, or used with good purpose and results. Without the prescriptive knowledge given us by ethical and political philosophy, we have no guidance in the use of that power, directing it to the ends of a good life and a good society. The more power science and technology confer upon us, the more dangerous and malevolent that power may become unless its use is checked and guided by moral obligations stemming from our philosophical knowledge of how we ought to conduct our lives and our society.

Excerpted from his book The Four Dimensions of Philosophy.
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The word "science" has changed its meaning as we pass from antiquity and the Middle Ages to modern times, especially to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Today it means the observational or investigative sciences, sometimes called the empirical and experimental sciences. It must be added that the word "science" is also used to refer to mathematics, which is clearly nonempirical and noninvestigative.

The word "science" derives from the Latin word "scientia," for which the Greek equivalent is either "episteme" or "doxa." In antiquity and the Middle Ages, the various branches of philosophy were called sciences.

The adjective "scientific" is used as a term of praise conferred on other disciplines; such disciplines employ methods which have a certain objectivity in their appeal to evidence which sets them apart from mere, unfounded opinion. Though history is not a science, nor is philosophy, nevertheless as branches of humanistic scholarship, both can be conducted in a manner that is praised when they are called scientific.

With the rise of positivism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which asserts that empirically reliable knowledge is to be found only in the empirical and experimental sciences, it has become necessary to set investigative science apart from history, from mathematics, and from philosophy.

The Questions Science Cannot Answer

Any consideration of science and philosophy presupposes some difference between them. According to the way in which we understand that difference, we will draw a sharp or shadowy line between the two domains; we will take one or another view of the relation between science and philosophy; and we will place different values on the importance of the contribution each makes to our society and our culture. I would like to illustrate this by describing briefly three ways of making the distinction, which I regard as false.

1. William James pictured the philosopher as working on the periphery of science. The domain of science is the whole area of well-established knowledge. There everything is seen in a clear light. But on the borders or outskirts of this realm, one finds problems which have not yet been solved by the method of the scientist. Here one finds philosophers at work, speculating about but not solving the problems.

2. The scientist has a method for solving problems in a way that permits his solutions to be shared by all competent workers in his field; whereas the philosopher deals with problems which he can never solve that way.

3. The whole earth is the territory of science. Its sovereignty is global. Different portions of the earth are the provinces of particular sciences, of which some are older, more firmly established, and better governed than others. There still remain some undeveloped or primitive areas which have not yet been claimed and cultivated, but the future holds only three possibilities: either (1) some new science will take them over, or (2) some old science will extend its sway over them, or (3) they may remain forever terra incognita, as the polar regions once were. But in any case there is no place for philosophy on earth, for that is wholly the domain of scientific knowledge,

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Common Sense

A broad general meaning
In its wide, popular meaning “common sense” is simply the conglomeration of generally held opinions and beliefs, more or less well founded, more or less mixed up with error and prejudice, which make up the voice of the community — “what everybody knows.” It may also refer in this broad usage to good practical sense in everyday affairs — to “good horse sense.”

A strict technical meaning
Common sense refers to the spontaneous activity of the intellect, the way in which it operates of its own native vigor before it has been given any special training. It implies man’s native capacity to know the most fundamental aspects of reality, in particular, the existence of things (including our own existence), the first principles of being (identity, noncontradiction, and excluded middle), and secondary principles which flow immediately from the self-evident principles (causality, sufficient reason, etc.).

One of the points that links philosophy and common sense is that they both use these principles. They differ however in the way they use them. Common sense uses them unconsciously, unreflectively, uncritically. They can be obscured or deformed for common sense by faulty education, by cultural prejudices, by deceptive sense imagery. Philosophy, on the contrary, uses these principles critically, consciously, scientifically. Philosophy can therefore defend and communicate its knowledge.
A second point which links philosophy and common sense is that they take all of reality for their province — common sense blindly, in a kind of instinctive response of the individual to the totality of experience; philosophy consciously, in the endeavor to give every aspect of reality its due. ...

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Common sense—the wisdom of ordinary people, knowledge so self-evident that it is beyond debate. (Tom Paine 1776)
‘Intellectuals’ are people who have a real distaste, sometimes even contempt, for the common sense approach. (Robert Goldwin)
Intellectuals look for and see complexity, which by definition is not necessary to common sense explanations—which seek simplicity first (simplicity being easier to share).
Common Sense: the idea of common sense as a body of truths, beliefs, etc., that everybody knows, or the idea of common sense as a faculty of judgement by which everybody comes to know those truths.
“Common sense involves using simple, untutored, general perceptions available to all—with discretion and tact—to make sound, prudent judgments about every-day affairs in order to obtain both level-headed sagacity and a sense of shared feelings with one’s community.”
(Tim Lacy: "Almost Always Polemical")

Common Sense and Philosophy

By Max Weismann

How does common sense compare to wisdom? Can a man have wisdom and lack common sense?
We do not believe that it is possible for one to be wise and lack common sense. Wisdom is the goal, and the utilization of common sense is a crucial means towards that end.

In our everyday conversations, the term, common sense, refers to the sound or unsound judgments or actions of particular individuals. (e.g., “that person just does not have any common sense.”)
However, when philosophers use the compound “common sense,” the word common is used as “communal” meaning shared by all men everywhere at all times and places regardless of their backgrounds; the word sense is used as “experiences” and/or “opinions” commonly shared by mankind. Here are two quotes that should shed further light on this matter.

The first quote is from Harvard University Professor George Santayana’s book, “Skepticism and Animal Faith” (1923): “I think that common sense, in a rough dogged way, is technically sounder than the special schools of philosophy, each of which squints and overlooks half the facts and half the difficulties in its eagerness to find in some detail the key to the whole. I am animated by distrust of all high guesses, and by sympathy with the old prejudices and workaday opinions of mankind: they are ill expressed, but they are well grounded.”

The second quote is from Dr. Adler, from his book entitled “The Time of Our Lives: The Ethics of Common Sense” (1970): “The distinctive method of philosophical inquiry involves reliance on the common experience of mankind, and an appeal to it as the test of the validity of philosophical theories, either about what is and happens in the world or about what men ought to seek and do. It also involves an assessment of the validity of commonsense answers to the kind of questions for answering for which common experience by itself is adequate, no additional empirical evidence or investigation being needed.

Philosophy thus conceived is a development of the insights already possessed by the man of common sense in the light of common experience; it is a development that adds clarifying analytical distinctions, the precise definition of terms, the reinforcement of systematic reasoning, and the critical exploration of problems to which no satisfactory solution is yet available. The philosophical knowledge achieved by these additions confirms, even as it elaborates, the commonsense wisdom one need not be a philosopher to possess.

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Basic Concepts in Philosophy




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Subjective and Objective Ideas

We are likely to think that all ideas are things that occur within our mind and are thus subjective. It may be difficult to imagine that there are objective ideas. But there are objective ideas, and it can be understood by examining the meaning of the word “idea.”

Subjective Ideas
The first meaning of “idea” is the content we have in our minds when we are thinking. It includes the sensations and perceptions we have, the images we form, the memories we summon up, and the conceptions or notions that we employ in our thinking.
When the word “idea” is used in this way, all the various items referred to are subjective. My sensations or perceptions are not yours; the images that occur in my dreams or the memories I dwell upon when I reminisce are mine alone; so too are the concepts or notions I have formed as I study a difficult topic.
To call them “subjective” is simply to say that they are private, not public. When I speak of them as mine – my perception, my memory, or my concept – I am saying that the perception, memory, or concept in question belongs to me alone. You can have no access to it, just as you cannot have access to the toothache I am suffering.

Objective Ideas
In its other meaning, the word “idea” refers to an object that two or more persons can have access to, can focus on, can think about, can discuss.
If we disagree about a decision just handed down by the Supreme Court, we may find ourselves challenging each other’s views about justice. It I ask you for your view of justice, I am asking you to tell me what you think about it, and I am also prepared to tell you what I think about it. The “it” here is justice as an object of thought, both your thought and mine, not justice as a concept in your mind, but not mine.
We each have concepts in our minds – concepts we think with when we think about justice. Furthermore, your concepts and mine are distinct. But that does not prevent both of us from thinking about one and the same object – an object of thought we call “justice”, and sometimes we refer to as “the idea of justice.”

Source: Six Great Ideas by Mortimer J. Adler



In the vocabulary of daily speech, the word “idea” is generally used to name the subjective contents of our own minds--things that each of us has in his or her own mind. This use of the word predominates in a large portion of modern psychology, concerned as it is with something called “the association of ideas” or “the stream of consciousness”--with the images we experience in dreams or in acts of imagination. It is a kind of omnibus term that covers all the contents of our minds when we have any conscious experience--our sensations and perceptions, our images and memories, and the concepts we form.

But that, obviously, is not the way the word “idea” is being used when we engage one another in the discussion of ideas. In order for a discussion between two or more persons to occur, they must be engaged in talking to one another about something that is a common object of their conjoined apprehension. They do not have a common object to discuss if each of them is speaking only of his own ideas in the subjective sense of the term.

Consider, for example, a number of individuals arguing with one another about liberty and justice, about war and peace, or about government and democracy. They probably differ in the way they subjectively think about these matters. Otherwise, they would not find themselves arguing about them. But it must also be true that they could not be arguing with one another if they did not have a common object to which they were all referring. That common object is an idea in the objective sense of the term.

These two uses of the one word “idea”--the subjective use of it to signify the contents of an individual’s conscious mind and the objective use of it to signify something that is a common object being considered and discussed by two or more individuals--may be a source of confusion to many. We might try to eliminate the source of confusion by restricting the use of the word “idea” to its subjective sense and substituting another mode of speech for “idea” in its objective sense. We might always use the phrase “object of thought” instead. Thus, freedom and justice, war and peace, government and democracy might be called objects of thought.

One other example may help to reinforce what has just been said. Let us turn from our thinking to our sense-experience of the world in which we live. We are in a room sitting at a table. On the table is a glass of wine. You are facing the light and I am sitting with my back to it. We have, therefore, different subjective impressions or perceptions of the color of the table and of the wine in the glass. But in spite of our divergent subjective perceptual experiences, we know that we are sitting at one and the same table and looking at one and the same glass of wine. We can put our hands on the table and move it. We can each take sips out of the same glass of wine. Thus we know that the table and the glass of wine are one and the same perceptual object for both of us. It is that common object that we can talk about as well as move and use.

If this is clear, then I recommend that we use the word “idea” in its objective sense as a common object of thought that two or more individuals can discuss and either agree or disagree about. To eliminate the word “idea” in its objective sense and always use instead the phrase “object of thought.”

We live in two worlds: (1) the sensible world of the common perceptual objects that we move around and use in various ways and (2) the intelligible world of ideas, the common objects of thought that we cannot touch with our bodies or perceive with our senses, but that, as thinking individuals, we can discuss with one another.

Mistaken view of Idea

Of all the little errors in the beginning that have plagued modern philosophy since its start, the most serious is the one that was made in the psychology of cognition. The most compact expression of it is to be found in the Introduction to John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The error originated with Descartes, not with Locke, but it was the influence of Locke’s psychology on Berkeley and Hume, and through Hume on Kant, that led to all the many times multiplied errors that, as Aristotle and Aquinas warned, spring from a little error in the beginning.

It is evident that Locke uses the word “idea” to stand for something private: the ideas in one man’s mind are not identical with the ideas in another man’s mind. Each man has his own. Each of us is conscious of his own, and can directly apprehend only his own ideas. Each of us must infer from their speech and actions that other men have ideas in their minds too.

What each of us directly apprehends — the objects of our apprehension, says Locke — are always and only our own ideas. But Locke also implies that these ideas come into our minds from without. As Book II of the Essay makes amply clear, the ideas in our minds, the objects we directly apprehend, are caused by things outside our mind — real existences of one sort or another that we cannot directly apprehend. In fact, as many passages reveal, Locke believes in the real existence of Newton’s world of bodies in motion, ultimately composed of imperceptible atomic particles. It is the action of these on our corporeal organs that somehow produces the ideas that are the objects of our minds whenever we are engaged in thinking.

Locke makes no distinction between the sensitive powers and the intellectual powers, merging them into one cognitive faculty, which he calls “understanding” or “mind.” Though he uses the term “abstract idea” instead of “concept,” an abstract idea for Locke is a product of the same faculty that produces what others would call “sensations” and “perceptions”.

The points made above reveal the presence here of two little errors, not one. The first is the error of regarding ideas as the objects that we directly apprehend when we are conscious — thinking or dreaming. The second is the error of failing to distinguish between sense and intellect as cognitive powers which, while they are cooperative in the cognitive process, do not operate in the same way and do not contribute in the same way to whatever knowledge we are able to achieve. These two errors together led to the nominalism of Berkeley and Hume; to the idealism of Berkeley and the phenomenalism of Hume; to Kant’s efforts to extricate philosophy from these horrors, by trying to circumvent them with an ingeniously confected theory of mind instead of by correcting the little errors from which they arose; to all the riddles and perplexities of later empiricism concerning the subjective and the objective, concerning our knowledge of the external world, concerning the logical construction of “objects” that we cannot directly apprehend from the sense-data that we do directly apprehend, concerning the referential meaning of any words that do not have directly apprehended items, such as sense-data, for their referents; and so on.

I have said enough to indicate what is involved in making a fresh start by rigorously adhering to the distinction between that which is apprehended (objects) and that by which they are apprehended (ideas); the distinction between that which is apprehended and has intentional existence (objects) and that which is apprehensible and has real existence (things); the distinction between apprehension and knowledge (the first and second acts of the mind); and the distinction between sense and intellect (the apprehension of singular and universal objects). All of these distinctions were lost or obscured in the tradition of modern philosophy that began with Descartes and Locke, giving rise to the consequences to which I have called attention.


WHAT IS AN IDEA? - Consciousness And Its Objects

Adler’s “Ten Philosophical Mistakes”
Adler’s "Ten Philosophical Mistakes" reviewed by Ronald Hough.
In “Teaching Philosophy” Volume 10, Issue 1, March 1987 Image source:  

In his Treatise on Man in the Summa Theologica, Aquinas makes a point totally ignored by all of modern psychology, is that ideas are not that which we apprehend, but that by which we apprehend whatever it is that we do apprehend. Perceptions, imaginations, and memories (ideas in the sensible order) are wholly the means or instrumentalities by which we apprehend sensible objects. Concepts (ideas in the intelligible order) are wholly the means or instrumentalities by which we apprehend intelligible objects.
From this it also follows that we never experience our own ideas; we experience perceived objects but never the perceptions by which we perceive them; we understand intelligible objects but we have no awareness of the concepts by which we understand them, not even when the mind reflects upon its own operations. Ideas are completely self-effacing as the means by which objects are presented to the mind. They are, therefore, totally uninspectible, unexperienceable, unapprehensible.


Mistaken view of Idea: For Locke and his followers, all ideas in anyone’s mind are subjective and private and are that which we apprehend when we are conscious of anything. Adler maintains that our bodily feelings, including our emotions or passions, are private - something directly experienced by me alone; however, some ideas (our cognitive ideas) are that by which we apprehend whatever it is that we do apprehend. These perceptual experiences are public. We are perceptually apprehending the same objects. From this it also follows that we never experience our own ideas; we experience perceived objects but never the perceptions by which we perceive them.

When we are sleeping and not dreaming, we are unconscious. When we describe ourselves as unconscious, we are in effect saying that
-- we are aware of nothing; we are experiencing nothing,
-- we are perceiving nothing, remembering nothing, imagining nothing, thinking of nothing, sensing nothing and feeling nothing.
-- our minds are blank or empty.

When we are conscious, what is it that we are conscious of? What are we aware of? What are we experiencing or having experiences of?
The crucial word in all these questions is the little preparation “of”. Grammatically, it calls for an object.

Still one more question: When we are conscious, and therefore our minds are not blank and empty, what are they filled with? It has become customary to speak of the stream of consciousness or the flow of thought to describe what successively fills our conscious or makes up our experience from moment to moment. What does it consist of? In other words, what is the changing content of consciousness?

One answer to the question is given by using the word “idea” for all of the quite different sorts of things that fill our minds when we are conscious.

Locke's use the word “thinking” for all the acts of the mind, and uses the word “idea” for all the objects of the mind when it is thinking, or for all the contents of consciousness when we are conscious.
Locke also implies that each of us has ideas in his or her own mind, ideas of which he or she is conscious. The ideas in my mind are my ideas; the ideas in yours are yours; and the ideas in anyone’s mind are subjective: they belong to that one person and to no one else.

Every person has ideas of his own. Only one’s own ideas are, according to Locke, the objects of that person’s awareness when he or she is conscious. No one can be conscious of another person’s ideas. To concede that another individual also has ideas must always result from an act of inference, based on what others say and do.

In the vocabulary of daily speech, the word “idea” is generally used to name the subjective contents of our own minds. But that, obviously, is not the way the word “idea” is being used when we engage one another in the discussion of ideas. In order for a discussion between two or more persons to occur, they must be engaged in talking to one another about something that is a common object of their conjoined apprehension. They do not have a common object to discuss if each of them is speaking only of his own ideas in the subjective sense of the term. (What is an Idea?—Mortimer J. Adler)

An experience can be “public” or “private”. It is public if it is common to two or more individuals. It may not be actually common to all, but it must at least be potentially common to all. An experience is private if it belongs to one individual alone and cannot possibly be shared directly by anyone else.

Our bodily feelings, including our emotions or passions, are private. My toothache, heartburn, or anger is something directly experienced by me alone. Our perceptual experiences are public. When you and I are sitting in the same room with a table between us on which there are glasses and a bottle of wine, you and I are perceptually apprehending the same objects – not our own ideas, but the table between, the glasses, and the bottle of wine. If I move the table a little, or pour some wine from the bottle into your glass, you and I are sharing the same experience. It is a public experience, as the taste of the wine or the heartburn it causes in me is not.

Therefore, it is necessary to introduce a distinction between ideas of perceptual experience and bodily feelings, emotions, and sensations. Whatever can be properly called an idea has an object. The ideas of perceptual experience, memories, imaginations, and concepts or thoughts are ideas in this sense of the world, but bodily feelings, emotions, and sensations are not. We apprehend them directly. They do not serve as the means whereby we apprehend anything else. This applies also to sensations generated by he stimulation of our external sense-organs, such as the sudden gleam of light we see, the unexpected loud noise we hear, the strange odor we cannot identify. These sensations do not enter into our perception of anything. In contrast, when we are perceiving, we are directly conscious of something other than our percepts.

Locke fails to observe this distinction. He uses the word “idea” for all the contents of consciousness. For John Locke, the awareness we have of our own ideas is entirely a private experience, exclusively our own. He and all those who adopt his view are in effect saying that all the ideas that an individual has in his mind when he is conscious result in private experience for him, experiences no one else can share. To say this is the philosophical mistake that has such serious consequences in modern thought.
When we perceive, we are aware of existing things. We can talk to one another about them as things we are experiencing in common. The table, for example, that is the perceptual object that we are both apprehending at the same time is the table that you and I can lift together and move to another part of the room.

All these ideas of perceptual experience can be characterized as cognitive – as instruments of cognition. Instead of being themselves objects of apprehension, they are the means by which we apprehend objects that are not ideas. These two little words “by which” hold the clue to the difference between Locke’s view and opposing view. For Locke, all ideas are that which we apprehend when we are conscious of anything. For the opposing view, as expressed by Thomas Aquinas in the Treatise of Man of his Summa Theologica, some ideas (our cognitive ideas) are that by which we apprehend the objects of which we are conscious. It means that we experience perceived things, but never the percepts whereby we perceive them. We remember past events or happenings, but we are never aware of the memories by which we remember them. We can be aware of imagined or imaginary objects, but never the images by which we imagine them. We apprehend objects of thought, but never the concepts by which we think of them.

The apprehended objects that are present to our minds through the agency of our cognitive ideas are public or communal objects. They are objects for two or more persons, objects that they can talk about with one another.

Those who hold the mistaken view of ideas as that which each individual directly apprehends – the immediate objects of which each individual is conscious – lock each of us up in the private world of his or her own subjective experience. Since I have no direct acquaintance with or immediate awareness of anything that is not an idea in my own mind, it is difficult to see how any attempt to argue for or prove the existence of an external reality can be carried out successfully.

The ultimate consequences are drastic. From Locke’s little error in the beginning, we are led to Hume’s conclusions so extreme that common sense would prevent anyone from adopting them.

One of these extreme positions goes by the name of total skepticism concerning the possibility of our having any knowledge of a reality outside or external to our own minds. The other is called solipsism – the assertion that everything of which I am aware or conscious is a figment of my own mind.

Instead of rejecting the premise, Locke further compounds the error by saying that the ideas in our minds, in addition to being the objects of which we are directly and immediately conscious, are also representations of things that really exit in the external, physical world.

When does one thing deserve to be called the representation of another? Only when we observe some resemblance between what is called a representation and the thing it is supposed to represent, as when we say that a portrait is a good likeness or representation of the person portrayed.

On this understanding of what a representation is, how can our ideas (the only objects with which we have direct acquaintance) be regarded as representations of really existing things (od which we cannot have any direct awareness at all)?

There is no satisfactory answer to this question. On the face of it, it is impossible to hold that ideas are the only objects that we do directly apprehend and yet are also representations of realities that are never objects that we directly apprehend, for one can be said to represent the other only if both can be directly apprehended and compared.

Modern thought would have been better off if it had adopted the opposite view. The opposite view not only saves us easily from skepticism and solipsism; it also saves us from futile efforts to prove the existence of an external, physical reality.

In our perceptual experiences, we are directly acquainted with the existence of other bodies as well as our own. In addition, all the other objects about which we engage in conversation with one another – the events or happenings we remember, the fictions we can imaging, the objects of conceptual thought as well as the objects of our perceptual experience – all these are public, common, or communal objects that we can communicate with one another about. However, we are conscious only of the objects apprehended, not of the ideas by which we apprehend them.

When we correct the initial error, we will find ourselves living together in the world of physical reality, a world with which we have direct acquaintance in our perceptual experiences. We not only have bodily contact with one another in this world; we also communicate with one another about it when we discuss perceptual objects we can handle together.

The philosophical mistake, when seen in all its consequences, is both repugnant to reason and to common sense. The correction of that mistake produces the opposite result – a coherent view of consciousness and its objects that involves no inexplicable beliefs and that accords with common sense and common experience.



The Intellect and the Senses

Mistaken view of Mind: Plato and Descartes, and also later Kant and Hagel, go too far in their separation of the two realms – the sensible and the intelligible. The view of monism by Hobbes, Berkeley, and Hume, on the other hand, is wrong by saying that the mind is entirely a sensitive faculty, without any trace of intellectually about it.

Definition: In the writings of Plato and Aristotle, the objects we apprehend are divided into those that are sensible and those that are intelligible. All the objects we apprehend by sense-perception belong to the first group. It also includes the sensible particulars we can remember and imagine. To the second group belong all purely intelligible objects, such as the objects of mathematical though, or such metaphysical objects as souls, angels, and God. It also includes such objects of thought as liberty, justice, virtue, knowledge, the infinite, and even mind itself. None of these can ever be perceived by the senses. None is a sensible particular.

Sense includes a variety of powers, such as the power of perceiving, of remembering, and of imagining. Intellect also includes a variety of powers, such as the power of understanding, of judging, and of reasoning.

The view of Dualism, taken by Plato and Descartes, and also later Kant and Hagel, go too far in their separation of the two realms – the sensible and the intelligible. This results from their attributing to the intellect an autonomy that makes its functioning independent of sense-experience.
The view of monism, taken without qualification by Hobbes, Berkeley, and Hume, can be stated simply as follow: the mind, so far as it functions as a cognitive instrument, is entirely a sensitive faculty, without any trace of intellectually about it. All its “ideas” or “thoughts” are sensations, sense-perceptions, or images; and its images are either recalled sense-perceptions or they are constructed out of materials provided by sense-experience.

These two extreme views can be avoided by acknowledging first, that the intellect depends for all its primary apprehensions upon sense-experience; and second, that, while some objects of thought are purely intelligible, our sense-experience provides us with objects that, with rare exceptions, are never purely sensible.

The objects of our sense-experience are, for the most part, we not only perceive but also understand. Normally, the sensible objects we perceive, we perceive as particulars of one kind or another – a particular dog or cat, a particular hat or coat, a particular tree or flower. The particularized is an intelligible as well as a sensible object. We not only perceive it as this one individual thing. We also understand it to be a particular thing of a certain sort. Sense and intellect have cooperated in our apprehension of it.

In contrast, some objects of thought, such as liberty, infinity, and God are purely intelligible. They are unsensible and can only be understood by reasoning.

It is, therefore, necessary to correct Locke’s omni-comprehensive use if the word “idea” to cover both sensible and intelligible objects. Although, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke takes notice of certain activities of the human mind that are intellectual rather than sensitive, his all-purpose use of the word “idea” implies a single cognitive faculty or power, essentially sensitive in character, without distinction what Aquinas distinguished as sensible and intelligible species.

Within this mistaken view of mind, two errors are compounded: one is the error of regarding our perceptions and images, as the immediate objects of our conscious; the other is the error of reducing the human mind to a purely sensitive faculty, able to be aware of nothing but what can be perceived through the sense .

According to the opposing view of the human mind as constituted by intellect as well as by sense, it is only our intellectual power that is reflexive, not sense. The intellect has a self-awareness that the senses do not have.

When Locke deals with what he calls “abstract or general ideas”, he maintains that only man has such ideas; “brutes abstract not”. However, since Locke does not acknowledge the presence of a human intellect as quite distinct from all man’s sensitive powers, his attempt to account for abstract, general ideas fails. He affirms their existence, but cannot explain them.

The opposing view gives special significance of “abstract or general ideas”. For them, abstraction is an activity of the intellect, not of sense. The human mind has abstract ideas (i.e., concept) only because it is constituted not solely by sense, but by an intellect as well. On this point, Hobbes, Berkeley, and Hume are most emphatically negative. They are more consistent than Locke in recognizing that, since the human mind is entirely a sensitive faculty, it cannot possibly have any abstract ideas.

What serious consequences flow from the mistaken view of mind that denies intellect and, with it, concepts or abstract, general ideas? The immediate consequence is an inherently untenable doctrine called nominalism. A more remote consequence is one that affects our understanding of man’s place in nature.

The nominalists deny that anything general exists either in reality or in the human mind. All our ideas are of particular individuals. We do not have any general or abstract ideas. However, since our language includes names that have general significance, such as “triangle”, “cow”, “tree”, and so on, we must have general ideas. Otherwise these names could have no significance, for there would be nothing to which they could refer.

To affirm that what is common to two or more things, or that what is the same about them, can be apprehended is to posit an object of apprehended which is quite distinct from the object apprehended when we perceive this or that singular particular as such. But this is precisely the position which opponents of nominalism regard as the correct solution of the problem; namely, that there are objects of apprehension other than perceived particulars. For them, abstraction is an activity of the intellect. Those who maintain that human mind is entirely a sensitive faculty are expectedly to deny intellect and, with it, all abstract concepts or general ideas.

In order to rejecting nominalism one need not go to the opposite extreme, the extreme to which Plato went. Attributing to ma an intellect independent of the senses, Plato also conferred an independent reality on its intelligible objects – the universal archetypes. In his view, it was these universal and eternal archetypes – of triangle and cow and everything else – that truly have being, and more reality than the ever-changing particulars of the sensible world.

It is not necessary to go to that extreme to correct the mistaken view of the human mind that regards it as a wholly sensitive faculty and that, denying intellect, is compelled to adopt an untenable nominalism, To say that the objects of conceptual thought are always universals is not to assert that these universals exist as such in reality, independent of the human mind that apprehend them.

Suffice it to say that the intelligible universals of conceptual thought are public in the same way that the sensible particulars of perception, memory, and imagination are public. Just as two or more persons can talk to one another about a perceptual object or a remembered event that is commonly apprehended by them, so too two or more persons can talk about liberty or justice as common objects of thought, or about triangularity and circularity, or about the difference between tree and scrub as distinct kinds of vegetation.

The most serious consequence of the mistaken view of the human mind as constituted by sense and imagination and devoid of intellect is the conclusion that men differ from other animals only in degree, not in kind. Experimentation with animals in psychological laboratories has turned up much additional evidence that has been regarded as reinforcing this conclusion. It has been interpreted as showing that other animals have concepts as well as percepts, even if they do not have intellects in the traditional sense of that term. Accompanying this attribution of conceptual intelligence to other animals has been the attribution to them of linguistic performances that are said to differ only in degree from the human use of language.

There is no evidence that concepts, if properly defined, are present in animal behavior. Their intelligence is entirely sensory. Its operations are limited to the world of perceptual objects and imaginable ones. What lies beyond perception and imagination is totally beyond the powers of the animal mind or intelligence. Only human beings have the conceptual powers that enable them to deal with the unperceived, the imperceptible, and the unimaginable.

It is necessary to correct the mistaken view of the human mind first advanced by Hobbes, Berkeley, and Hume in order to defend the proposition that man differs radically in kind from all other animals.

The action of the brain is only a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the functioning of the human mind and for the operations of conceptual thought. We do not think with our brains, even though we cannot think without them.

The Intellect

Adler was a self-proclaimed “moderate dualist”, and viewed the positions of psychophysical dualism and materialistic monism to be opposite sides of two extremes. Regarding dualism, he dismissed the extreme form of dualism that stemmed from such philosophers as Plato (body and soul) and Descartes (mind and matter):

Strictly speaking, a human being (as defined by the dualistic theory) is not what common sense supposes that person to be: one indivisible thing. That person is actually divided into two individual things, as different and distinct as the rower and the rowboat in which he sits. If this dualistic theory were true, it would confront us with the most embarrassing, insoluble difficulties should we try to explain how these two utterly different substances could interact with one another, as they appear to do in human behavior. Brain injuries or defects produce mental disabilities or disorders. We also have the reports from neurological surgery that tell of electrical stimulation of the brain producing conscious experiences. How can this be so if mind and brain are as separate as the rower and the rowboat, a separation so complete that it permits the rowboat to be sunk while the rower swims away unharmed?

Adler also disagreed with the theory of extreme monism. He believed that while mind and brain may be existentially inseparable, and so regarded as one and the same thing, the mental and the physical may still be analytically distinct aspects of it. He put this theory to the test in the following manner:

Let a surgeon open up an individual's brain for inspection while the patient remains conscious. Let the surgeon dictate to a secretary his detailed observation of the visible area of the brain under scrutiny, and let that area of the brain be its center for vision. Let the patient dictate to another secretary a detailed description of the visible walls of the room in which the surgery is occurring. The language used by the surgeon and the language used by the patient will be irreducibly different: the one will contain words referring to physical phenomena occurring in the brain; the other, words referring to conscious experiences of the room. The extreme monism that asserts not only the existential unity of brain and mind, but also that there is no analytical distinction between them, thus becomes untenable.

Adler was also a harsh critic of the Mind-Brain Identity Theory:

One extremist theory about mind and brain asserts their identity. Used literally, the word "identity" must here mean that there is no distinction whatsoever between mind and brain. That, in turn, means that the two words – "mind" and "brain" – are strict synonyms. If that is the case, we cannot meaningfully ask about the relation of psychology to neurology because psychology is identical with neurology.

After eliminating the extremes, Adler subscribed to a more moderate form of dualism. He believed that the brain is only a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for conceptual thought; that an immaterial intellect is also requisite as a condition; and that the difference between human and animal behavior is a radical difference in kind. His reason for this is that their cognitive sensory powers do not and cannot apprehend universals. Their cognitive reach does not go beyond particulars. Hence, we would not be able to apprehend universals if we did not have another and quite distinct cognitive power – the power of intellect. Our concepts are universal in their signification of objects that are kinds or classes of things rather than individuals that are particular instances of these classes or kinds. Since they have universality, they cannot exist physically or be embodied in matter. But concepts do exist in our minds. They are there as acts of our intellectual power. Hence that power must be an immaterial power, not one embodied in a material organ such as the brain.

Adler argued that if such an immaterial power did not exist in human beings, our use of common nouns would not be possible. Particular instances are designated by proper names or definite descriptions. When we use the word "dog," we are referring to any dog, regardless of breed, size, shape, or color. To refer to a particular instance, we would use a canine name, such as "Fido," or a definite description, such as "that white poodle over there lying in front of the fire." Our concepts of dog and poodle not only enable us to think about two classes of animals, they also enable us to understand what it is like to be a dog or a poodle. According to Adler, The action of the brain, therefore, cannot be the sufficient condition of conceptual thought, though it may still be a necessary condition thereof, insofar as the exercise of our power of conceptual thought depends on the exercise of our powers of perception, memory, and imagination, which are corporeal powers embodied in our sense-organs and brain.

Only if the brain is not the sufficient condition for intellectual activity and conceptual thought (only if the intellect that is part of the human mind and is not found in other animals is the immaterial factor that must be added to the brain in order to provide conditions both necessary and sufficient) are we justified in concluding that the manifest difference in kind between human and animal minds, and between human and animal behavior, is radical, not superficial. It cannot be explained away by any difference in the physical constitution of human beings and other animals that is a difference in degree.

Adler defended this position against many challenges to dualistic theories. For example, David Hume believed that man is equipped with sensitive faculties only, and has no intellect. As a nominalist, Hume then faced the problem of how to explain the meaning of the general words in our everyday language; for example, the common nouns that signify classes or kinds. Hume attempted to solve this problem by arguing that when we use words that appear to have general significance, we are applying them to a number of perceived individuals indifferently; that is, without any difference in the meaning of the word thus applied.

Adler found this explanation to be a complete contradiction. To say that we can apply words to a number of individuals indifferently amounts to saying that there is a certain sameness in the individual thing that the speaker or writer recognizes. He argued that if human beings enjoy the powers of conceptual, as opposed to perceptual thought, there would be no difficulty in explaining how words signify universals or generalities. They would derive their significance from concepts that give us our understanding of classes or kinds.

As for the challenge that man’s understanding is derived only from sense, and to the denial of "abstract" or "general ideas, Adler cites the following quote:

Let any man try to conceive of a triangle in general, which is neither Isosceles, Saclenum, nor has any particular length or proportion of sides; and he will soon perceive the absurdity of all the scholastic notions with regard to abstraction and general ideas.

Adler responded to this challenge in his book "Ten Philosophical Mistakes":

There we have it in a nut shell. If all we have are sense-perceptions and images derived from sense, then we can never be aware of anything but a particular triangle, one that is either isosceles, scalene, or equilateral, one that has a certain size or area, one the lines of which are either black or some other color, and so on. What is here said of triangles can be said of everything else. We are never aware of anything except particular individuals-whether by perception or imagination-this cow or that, this tree or that, this chair or that, each with this one particular instance of a certain kind of thing. We may have a name for that certain kind, as we do when we use such words as “triangle”, “cow”, “tree”, and "chair", but we have no idea of that kind as such. We have no idea or understanding of triangularity as such, or of what any individual must be like to be a particular triangle, cow, tree, or chair. Only our words are general. Nothing in reality is general; everything there is particular. So, too, nothing in the mind is general; everything is particular. Generality exists only in the words of our language, the words that are common, not proper, names. Those who regard the human mind as having intellectual as well as sensitive powers have no difficulty in meeting Hume’s challenge head on. By means of an abstract concept, we understand what is common to all the particular cows, trees, and chairs that we can perceive or imagine.
—Mortimer J. Adler, Ten Philosophical Mistakes, p. 41-42
(Source: Project Gutenburg)


Is Intellect Immaterial?

Mortimer J. Adler
Mortimer J. Adler
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I (Mortimer J. Adler) will try to summarize the argument that I think supports the view that the intellect is the immaterial factory needed, in addition to the brain, for the occurrence in the human mind of conceptual thought.

The argument hinges on two propositions. The first asserts that the concepts consist of meanings that are universal. The second proposition asserts that nothing that exists physically is ever actually universal. Anything that is embodied in matter exists as a particular individual.

From these two propositions, the conclusion follows that our concepts, having universality, cannot be embodied in matter. The power of conceptual thought must, therefore, be an immaterial power, one the acts of which are not acts of a bodily organ.

The reasoning that supports the first of the two foregoing propositions is as follows. The meaning of a common or general name is universal. It always signifies a class of objects, never any particular instance or member of the class. And, the universals derive the meanings they carry from the concepts we have.

Particular instances are designated by proper names or definite descriptions. When we use the word “dog,” we are referring to any dog, regardless of breed, size, shape, or color. To refer to a particular instance, we would use a canine name, such as “Fido,” or a definite description, such as “that white poodle over there lying in front of the fire.” Our concepts of dog and poodle not only enable us to think about two classes of animals, they also enable us to understand what it is like to be a dog or a poodle.

The second proposition about the individuality of all material or corporeal things is supported by the facts of common experience. The objects we perceive through our senses are all individual things — that is, this individual dog, that individual spoon. We have never seen a triangle in general, nor can we imagine one. Any triangle that we can draw on a piece of paper, any triangle we have seen or imagined, is a particular triangle of a certain shape and size. But we can understand what is involved in triangularity as such, without reference to the character of the angles or the area enclosed.

Whatever exists physically exists as an individual, and whatever has individuality exists materially. No one has ever experienced or produced anything that has physical or corporeal existence and also is universal in character rather than individual.

The argument then reaches its conclusion as follows.

Our concepts are universal in their signification of objects that are kinds or classes of things rather than particular individuals. Since they have universality, they cannot exist physically or be embodied in matter. But concepts do exist in our minds. They are there as acts of our intellectual power. Hence that power must be an immaterial power, not one embodied in a material organ such as the brain.

The action of the brain, therefore, cannot be the sufficient condition of conceptual thought. However, it is a necessary condition because our power of conceptual thought depends on the exercise of our powers of perception, memory, and imagination, which are corporeal powers embodied in our sense-organs and brain.

If it can be shown that any other animal, such as the dolphin, has the power of conceptual thought, the argument just stated would lead to the same conclusion about the dolphin: namely, that it has an immaterial power and that the action of the dolphin brain is only a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition of the occurrence of conceptual thought on the part of the dolphin.

I have just summarized the bare bones of the argument, but readers may wish to put its premises to the test.

First, attempt to explain the general significance of the common nouns in our vocabulary, the significance of which is so different from the designative reference of the proper names we use, without appealing to our conceptual understanding of classes or kinds to which perceived or imagined particulars belong. If you cannot do that, then our apprehension of universals — of classes or kinds — is indispensable to our understanding of the meaning of common nouns or names.

Our cognitive sensory powers do not and cannot apprehend universals. Their cognitive reach does not go beyond particulars. Hence, we would not be able to apprehend universals if we did not have another and quite distinct cognitive power — the power of intellect.

When you open your eyes and look out the window, what do you see? This or that individual tree; this or that automobile; this or that particular building. Whatever it is, it is always some physical thing, some material embodiment. When you close your eyes and let your imagination roam, what do you then apprehend? The same again: always some individual, physical thing; some material embodiment.

The fact that the world we perceive through our senses and all the things we can imagine and remember are individual physical things or material embodiments gives great credibility to the materialistic thesis that the world of real existences is entirely material, that nothing immaterial really exists.

At the same time, the individual physical things in the world of our sense-experience are also particular instances of certain kinds or classes of things — the kinds or classes to which the common names or general terms we use refer. We could not use those words with their general significance if we were not able to apprehend the objects of conceptual thought — the intelligible, universal objects that only our intellects can apprehend.

Readers are thus led to the conclusion that the power by which we apprehend those intelligible objects, those universal objects of conceptual thought, must be immaterial. For if the concepts by which we apprehend such objects were acts of bodily organs, their material embodiment would prevent them from being apprehensions of anything universal.

We must now acknowledge the theory that the brain is only a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition of conceptual thought, that an immaterial intellect is also required and must be posited in order to provide an adequate explanation of conceptual thought. .......
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Adler’s “Ten Philosophical Mistakes”

Adler’s “Ten Philosophical Mistakes
Mortimer J. Adler's Ten Philosophical Mistakes
Adler’s “Ten Philosophical Mistakes”
Adler’s "Ten Philosophical Mistakes" reviewed by Ronald Hough.
In “Teaching Philosophy” Volume 10, Issue 1, March 1987 Image source:  

1. Mistaken view of Idea - For Locke and his followers, all ideas in anyone’s mind are subjective and private and are that which we apprehend when we are conscious of anything. Adler maintains that our bodily feelings, including our emotions or passions, are private - something directly experienced by me alone; however, some ideas (our cognitive ideas) are that by which we apprehend whatever it is that we do apprehend. These perceptual experiences are public. We are perceptually apprehending the same objects. From this it also follows that we never experience our own ideas; we experience perceived objects but never the perceptions by which we perceive them. What is an idea?
2. Mistaken view of Mind - Plato and Descartes, and also later Kant and Hagel, go too far in their separation of the two realms – the sensible and the intelligible. The view of monism by Hobbes, Berkeley, and Hume, on the other hand, is wrong by saying that the mind is entirely a sensitive faculty, without any trace of intellectually about it. The Intellect and the Senses
3. Mistaken view about Words and Meanings: The failure to recognize that ideas are meanings. The correct view consists in seeing that our ideas are the formal signs we can never apprehend. They enable us to apprehend all the objects we do apprehend. These are also the objects that our ideas, functioning as formal signs, refer to - the objects to which we give names and to which we refer when we use the words that signify them. This holds true just as much for the intelligible objects of conceptual thought as it does for the sensible objects of perception, memory, and imagination. Words and Meanings
4.Mistaken view of Philosophy - Philosophy (speculative or theoretical philosophy) was mere opinion. Adler maintains that philosophy is genuine knowledge and, like the empirical sciences, can be knowledge of reality. Knowledge and Opinion
5. Mistaken view in Moral Philosophy - Mistake of identifying the good with pleasure and mistaken view that moral values are subjective and relative. Another error that has the most far-reaching consequences for moral philosophy in modern times, resulting in the total abandonment of normative ethics by those who treat all statements about good and bad, or right and wrong, as non-cognitive or emotive. Moral Values
6. Mistake of Identifying Happiness with Contentment - Adler calls for the separation of happiness from contentment. Contentment is a psychological state that exists when the desires of the moment are satisfied, a transient and shifting thing. Happiness is ethical state, i.e., the quality of a morally good life, a whole life enriched by the cumulative possession of all the real goods that every human being needs and by the satisfaction of those individual wants that result in obtaining apparent goods that are innocuous. A just government should aid and abet the pursuit of happiness on the part of its people. Happiness and Contentment
7. The Denial of Free Will - The philosophical defect here is not so much a demonstrable philosophical error as a manifest misunderstanding of the issue itself. That misunderstanding lies mainly on the side of philosophers and scientists who are determinists. They do not correctly understand the premises upon which an affirmation of freedom of choice rests. The determinists held that all the phenomena of nature are governed by causal laws through the operation of which effects are necessitated by their causes. Nothing happens by chance. What the determinists who deny freedom of choice fail to understand is that the exponents of free choice place the action of the will outside the domain of the physical phenomena. The will, as they conceive it, is an intellectual faculty. The intellect and the will, being immaterial, do not act in accordance with the physical principles and laws. Freedom of Choice
8. The Denial of Human Nature - The denial of human nature is a profound mistake – one with extremely serious consequences for philosophy, especially moral philosophy. If moral philosophy is to have a sound factual basis, it is to be found in the facts about human nature and nowhere else. Human Nature
9. Mistaken View in Human Society - The modern philosophical mistakes about society is to be found in the theory of the social contract as the origin of the state or civil society and the failure to understand how the basic forms of human society are both natural and conventional. Human Society
10. Mistaken view of Appearance and Reality - According to Arthur Eddington, the table he and his audience perceived through their eyes and could touch with their hands might appear to them to be solid. That was the appearance, an appearance that might even be called illusory in comparison to the reality of the tiny invisible particles in motion that filled the space occupied by the visible table, a space largely empty. What we are confronted with here is the fallacy of reductionism. It consists in regarding the ultimate constituents of the physical world as more real than the composite bodies these elementary components constitute. Reductionism may go even further and declare these ultimate constituents to be the only reality, relegating everything else to the status of mere appearance or illusion. According to Dr. Adler, both the solid table and the imperceptible particles have real existence, but their reality is not of the same kind, not of the same order or degree. By virtue of that fact, the conflict can be resolved. Appearance and Reality



The Vicissitudes of Philosophy in Modern Times

In each of the two historical epochs that we have so far surveyed — antiquity and the Middle Ages– we have found both positive and negative features. (The Misfortunes of Philosophy in Antiquity)   (The Disorders of Philosophy in the Middle Ages)

The modern period has its positive as well as its negative features — its turns for the better as well as its misfortunes. I will describe what I regard as the four major misfortunes and then consider the two gains of philosophy in modern times.

1. The first of these misfortunes occurred in the context of an otherwise sound critical reaction to the dogmatism and pretentiousness of the philosophical systems of the seventeenth century (i.e., the Cartesian, Leibnizian, and Spinozist systems). The critical movement in philosophy, from Locke to Kant, looked askance at these systems and challenged their unwarranted claims to be able to know with certitude. It also questioned their competence to deal with matters (both theological and scientific) beyond the proper scope of philosophical inquiry.

In both of the respects just indicated, this critical reaction was sound, and it might have been wholly on the side of gain if it had insisted on the substitution of doxa for episteme as the standard of knowledge at which philosophy should aim. That by itself would have dealt a death blow to system building and provided an effective antitoxin against any future recurrence of the disease.

Unfortunately, the critical movement took another course and resulted in two serious disorders.
To explain the first of these, it is necessary to recall that, in the ancient and mediaeval worlds, metaphysics was called philosophia prima, or “first philosophy.” Let me now extend the meaning of “first philosophy” to include all first-order inquiries, not only speculative questions about that which is and happens in the world but also normative questions about what ought to be done and sought.

All such questions take precedence over second-order questions of the sort concerned with how we can know the answers to first-order questions [1]. A sound approach to the examination of knowledge should acknowledge the existence of some knowledge to be examined. Knowing what can be known is prior to asking how we know what we know.

Using the word “epistemology” for the theory of knowledge — especially for inquiries concerning the “origin, certainty, and extent” of our knowledge — I have two things to say about this part of the philosophical enterprise.
First, it should be reflexive; that is, it should examine the knowledge that we do have; it should be a knowing about our knowing. Second, being reflexive, epistemology should be posterior to metaphysics, the philosophy of nature, ethics, and political theory — these and all other branches of first-order philosophical knowledge; in other words, our knowing what can be known should take precedence over our knowing about our knowing.

Both of these procedural points were violated in the critical movement that began with Locke and ran to Kant. Epistemology became “first philosophy,” taking precedence over all other branches of philosophical inquiry; and, with Kant, it became the basis for “prolegomena to any future metaphysic.”

Epistemology more and more tended to swallow up the whole philosophical enterprise. It is this retreat from the known world and our knowledge of it to the world of the knower and his efforts to know which prepared the way for the later total retreat of philosophy (in our own century) to the plane of second-order questions, relinquishing entirely any claim to have a respectable method for carrying on first-order inquiries.

I think it is apt, and not too harsh, to call this first unfortunate result of the critical reaction to dogmatic systems “suicidal epistemologizing.” Epistemology, fashioned by philosophers as a scalpel to cut away the cancer of dogmatism, was turned into a dagger and plunged into philosophy’s vitals.

The second unfortunate result can be called “suicidal psychologizing.” Like the first, it is also a retreat from reality. Where the first is a retreat from the reality of the knowledge that we actually do have, the second is retreat from the reality of the world to be known. Modern idealism begins with Kant. It is the worst of the modern errors in philosophy.

What I mean by “suicidal psychologizing” can be described as “the way of ideas” attributable to Descartes and the so-called British empiricists — Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. They made the psychologizing of common experience the whole of philosophy and substituted that for the use of common experience as a test of the soundness of philosophical theories about the experienced world. The psychologizing of common experience deserves to be called suicidal; for, in effect, it cuts away the very ground on which the philosopher stands. It makes experience subjective, rather than objective.

The far-reaching consequences of this fundamental substantive error are the subjectivism and the solipsism, the skeptical excesses, and the epistemological puzzles and paradoxes after the most obvious features of our experience had been psychologized into myths or illusions.

Starting from Locke’s fundamental error and carrying it to all its logical conclusions, later philosophers — first Berkeley and Hume, then the phenomenalists and logical empiricists of the twentieth century — reached results that they or others had enough common sense to recognize as absurd; but though many have deplored the resulting puzzles and paradoxes, no one seems to have recognized that the only remedy for the effects thus produced lies in removing the cause, by correcting Locke’s original error, the error of treating ideas as that which we apprehend instead of that by which. It is this error that makes our common experience subjective rather than objective.

2. The second major disorder of philosophy in modern times is the emulation of science and mathematics. This begins in the seventeenth century. It can be discerned in Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, as well as in Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. It runs through the following centuries right down to the present day.

The philosophers of the seventeenth century, misled by their addiction to episteme, looked upon mathematics as the most perfect achievement of knowledge, and tried to “perfect” philosophy by mathematicizing it. This was done in different ways by Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, but the effect upon philosophy was the same — the frustration of trying to achieve a precision of terminology and a rigor of demonstration that are appropriate in mathematics, but inappropriate in philosophy as an attempt to answer first-order questions about reality — about that which is and happens in the world or about what ought to be done and sought.

The fact that science can be mathematicized to a certain extent — the achievements of mathematical physics in particular — accentuated the mistake on the part of those who failed to see that the application of mathematics to physics depends on the special data of measurement, which have no analogue in the noninvestigative enterprise of philosophy.

This effort to mathematicize philosophy reappear with unusual force in the twentieth century, in the “logical atomism” of Bertrand Russell, in all the attempts to treat the language of mathematics as a modern language, to be imitated in philosophical discourse.

The effort to give philosophical discovery the simplicity of mathematical symbolism and the univocity of mathematical terms, and the effort to give philosophical formulations the “analyticity” of mathematical statements, put philosophy into a straitjacket from which it has only recently broken loose by a series of almost self-destructive convulsions.

Beginning also in the seventeenth century, philosophers began to be awed by the achievements of science and became more and more openly envious of certain features of science — the kind of progress that science makes, the kind of usefulness that it has, the kind of agreements and decisions that it can reach, and the kind of assent it wins from an ever-widening public because its theories and conclusions can be tested empirically.

Not recognizing that all these things can be achieved by philosophy in its own characteristic way, but only if it tries to achieve them in a manner appropriate to its own character as a noninvestigative discipline, philosophers over the last three hundred years have been suffering from an unwarranted sense of inferiority to science.

This sense of inferiority has driven some philosophers to make all sorts of mistaken efforts to imitate science. It has led others, such as the logical positivists, to turn the whole domain of first-order inquiry over to science and to restrict philosophy to second-order questions, where it does not have to compete with science.

Either result is unfortunate in view of philosophy’s rightful claim to its own first-order questions and its superiority to science in rendering the world intelligible.

3. The third major misfortune suffered by philosophy in modern times occurs by way of a reaction to a reaction. I am referring here to the counterreactionary restoration of philosophical systems in post-Kantian thought — in Georg Friedrich Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte on the Continent, and in such British Hegelians as F.H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, Edward Caird, and J.M.E. McTaggart, and in American Hegelians such as Josiah Royce.

The counterreaction reached its climax and, in a sense, spent itself in the Kantian critiques. This post-Kantian counterreaction was justified by the excesses and mistakes of the epistemologizing and psychologizing tendencies described earlier. However, those mistakes and excesses could have been corrected without reinstating the very thing — the imposture of system building — that the counterreactionary movement tried to get rid of.

That, unfortunately, is not the way things happened. Instead, what I shall call the “Hegelian misfortune” befell philosophy [2]. What we have here is the evil of system building carried to its furthest possible extreme — an extreme to which, it must in all fairness be said, Hegel’s more commonsense British followers did not go.

The Hegelian system is much more dogmatic, rationalistic, and out of touch with common experience than the Cartesian, Leibnizian, and Spinozist systems of the seventeenth century.

In addition, a fault intrinsic to the earlier systems becomes much more exacerbated in the Hegelian system. It offers those who come to it no alternatives except wholesale acceptance or rejection. It constitutes a world of its own and has no commerce or conversation with anything outside itself.

The conflict systems of this sort (for example, that of Hegel and that of Schopenhauer) is totally beyond adjudication; each, like a sovereign state, acknowledges no superior jurisdiction and impartial arbiter.

The pluralization of systems in the nineteenth century, each a personal worldview of great imaginative power and poetic scope, took philosophy further in the wrong direction than it had ever gone before — further away from the tendencies it had manifested in earlier epochs, tendencies to acquire the character of a cooperative venture and a public enterprise.

4. The final misfortune of modern philosophy arose, as preceding ones did, by way of reaction to an existing state of affairs. This fourth and final disorder consists in three mistaken directions taken by twentieth-century thought, having one central animus in common — namely, that they all spring from a deep revulsion to the Hegelian misfortune.

There is, first of all, the existentialist reaction to Hegel and all forms of Hegelianism. I mention this first because, while it departs from Hegel in substance, it embodies two of the worst features of the Hegelian misfortune. The existentialist philosophers — Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Gabriel Marcel — all produce highly personal worldviews of their own, systems to be accepted or rejected as wholes, even if they are not rationalistically constructed, as Hegel’s is.

The other two reactions are alike in that they both move away from Hegel in procedure as well as in substance. Both, in despair about philosophy as first-order knowledge served up in the Hegelian manner, urge philosophy to retreat to the sanity and safety of an exclusively second-order discipline.

One of these reactions to Hegel is the retreat conducted by the positivists, Viennese, British, and American. When the members of the Vienna Circle referred to “metaphysics” and attacked it as an abomination that must be forever extirpated from the philosophical enterprise, they had Hegel, and only Hegel, in mind.

The other reaction is not to Hegel himself as much as to British Hegelianism. It is the retreat conducted by the British analytic and linguistic philosophers and their American followers.

The end result of both retreats is very much the same; philosophy is relegated to the plane of a second-order discipline, that is, analytical and linguistic philosophy. However, there is this difference between them; where the positivists were content to have philosophy serve as handmaiden to science in performing second-order functions of linguistic and logical clarification or commentary, the analysts and linguists took on other second-order tasks, among them the analysis of commonsense opinions as expressed in everyday speech, and the attempt to cure the puzzles and paradoxes that are of modern philosophy’s own making, by virtue of its own epistemologizing and psychologizing tendencies.

So far I have had nothing good to say about the career of philosophy in modern times. So now, in concluding an account of philosophy in modern times, I am going to point out two auspicious developments that reverse this long tale of misfortunes and that may point to the dawn of a new day. Hallelujah!

1. The first of these is, perhaps, the more important. It is the successive separation of all the positive sciences, both natural and social, from the parent stem of philosophy.

It is sometimes said that philosophy is now bankrupt because it has now fully performed its historic function of giving birth to the particular positive sciences, from astronomy and physics to psychology and sociology. If it were true that philosophy’s only role in human culture is that of being the parent stem from which the particular sciences break off to lead lives of their own, then philosophy might very well be considered bankrupt — barren, dried up, finished. That, I hope I have shown, is not true.

The fact is that only in modern times have the natural sciences gradually separated themselves from what in the seventeenth century was still called natural philosophy. Similarly, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the behavioral sciences gradually separated themselves from the domain of moral philosophy.

With these successive secessions, the scientific enterprise as a whole finally became clearly and plainly established as an autonomous branch of human knowledge and a distinct mode of inquiry. At last, after twenty-five centuries, it becomes possible to draw a sharp line between the domains of science and philosophy; and philosophy is freed of the burden that it carried so long — the burden of treating as philosophical questions that belong to science and are outside philosophy’s competence.

2. The second gain that has been made in modern times, almost as important as the first, is in one way only the restoration of an earlier condition beneficial to philosophy.

What I have in mind here is the contribution to the development of philosophy that has been made in our own century by the British analysts and linguistic philosophers. Their retreat to the plane of second-order questions has been accompanied by a way of doing philosophical work that is the very antithesis of personal system building, not only of the Hegelian type but of the Cartesian or Spinozist type as well.

It involves the tackling of philosophical problems, question by question; it involves cooperation among men working on the same problems; it involves the policing of their work by acknowledged standards or tests; it involves the adjudication of disputes and the settling of differences. Though this can be viewed as a return to the conception of philosophy as a cooperative enterprise, first enunciated by Aristotle, and also as a return to the spirit of the public disputations in the Middle Ages, it marks a great advance in modern times.

In spite of all the regrettable vicissitudes through which philosophy has gone in modern times, the two gains that I have just described would, if sustained and combined with the advances in the right direction made in earlier epochs, promise philosophy a future much brighter than its past.

1. First-order questions occur in the first two dimensions of philosophy, where we find knowledge about reality, both descriptive and prescriptive. Second-order questions occur in the third and fourth dimensions of philosophy, where we find philosophical analysis and the understanding of ideas and subject matters. Recent linguistic and analytical philosophy is another type of second-order discipline.
2. I think this appellation is justified by the fact that Hegel is the most powerful and influential of the nineteenth-century system builders, as well as the focus of all the twentieth-century reactions to his type of philosophizing. See, for example, Karl Popper’s now famous diatribe against Hegel, with the spirit of which I fully agree: The Open Society and Its Enemies (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1950), Chapter 12, especially pp. 252-73; and see also Section 17 of the Addendum (1966).

Excerpted from The 4 Dimensions of Philosophy, by Mortimer J. Adler.



Philosophy’s Future

I think that philosophy can have a brighter future.

I shall first list the misfortunes or disorders that philosophy has suffered in the past, which it should be possible to eliminate from its future. I shall then list the good starts, gains, or advances that philosophy has made, which it should be possible to preserve, consolidate, and enhance.

(i) The negative features of philosophy’s past which can be eliminated from its future:
1. The illusion of epistēmē
2. Dogmatic systems and personal system building
3. Carry a burden of problems beyond its competence, resulting from a lick of sharp distinction of the domain of philosophy from the domain of science, on the one had, and from the domain of religion and dogmatic theology, on the other
4. The emulation of science and mathematics in respects quite inappropriate to the conduct of the philosophical enterprise
5. Philosophy’s assumption of quasi-religious status by offering itself as a way of life
6. The relinquishment of first-order inquiries to science and the retreat to second-order questions exclusively
7. Suicidal epistemologizing with all its consequences
8. The psychologizing of experience

(ii) The positive features of philosophy’s past which can be preserved, consolidated, and enhanced:
1. Plato’s and Aristotle’s exploration of first-order questions, both speculative and practical. (This has been enhanced by the addition of questions posed and explored by philosophers in subsequent centuries.)
2. Aristotle’s first approximation to philosophy’s distinctive method, which involves common experience as a source and as a test of philosophical theories and conclusions. (This, too, can be enhanced by our ability now to make a clearer distinction between special and common experience.)
3. The separation, in modern times, of the particular positive sciences from the parent stem of philosophy. (As a result, science as an investigative mode of inquiry is at last quite distinct from philosophy as a noninvestigative mode of inquiry, though both deal with first-order questions empirically.)
4. The equally sharp separation, first seen as a possibility in the thirteenth century, of the domain of philosophy from the domain of religion or dogmatic theology. (With the realization of that possibility, philosophy should be relieved of the burden of theological questions beyond its competence, just as the clear distinction between science and philosophy relieves it of the burden of scientific questions beyond its competence.)

If the philosophical enterprise from now on took advantage of the four things just enumerated, that would give philosophy, for the first time in its history, a clearly defined domain of its own, a distinctive method of its own, and a sense of its own proper value, unembarrassed by comparisons with science, mathematics, or religion.

This is possible in the future as never before. There are, in addition, hopeful indications that, in the years ahead, philosophy can finally be exorcised of its bewitchment by the illusion of episteme, to be replaced by a sober respect for testable doxa as the only grade of organized knowledge that is achievable either in philosophy or science.

I hope I may be pardoned for referring here to the program of the Institute for Philosophical Research and to the work that it has done. The further prosecution of such work and the extension of it through similar undertakings in our universities would, in my judgment, advance the clarification of philosophical discourse about its own first-order theories or conclusions, and facilitate the conduct of philosophy as a public enterprise by helping philosophers to join issue and debate disputed questions.

Briefly summarized, the work of the Institute involves (a) taking stock of the whole accumulation of philosophical opinions on a given subject, (b) treating all the relevant opinions as if they were contemporary efforts to solve a common problem, (c) clarifying that problem by constructing genuine issues about it, thus defining the agreements and disagreements that can be found in philosophical discourse about the subject in question, and (d) then constructing, from the recorded materials, some approximation to a rational debate of the issues, so far as that is possible.

The Institute refers to the method by which it carries out this program of second-order work in philosophy as dialectical. The work of the dialectician thus conceived is an effort to clarify philosophical discourse itself. It makes no contribution to the substance of philosophical thought, nor does it impose upon philosophical thought any critical standards whereby the truth or falsity of philosophical theories is to be judged.

Its only function, to borrow a word much in use by the analytic and linguistic philosophers, is therapeutic. However, where their therapeutic efforts are directed against the puzzles and paradoxes that arise from confusions and mistakes in the substance of philosophical thought, the dialectical effort attempts to remedy the deficiencies in philosophical thought which arise from a procedural rather than a substantive failure on the part of philosophers — their failure to conduct philosophy as a public enterprise wherein they engage collectively and cooperatively in the pursuit of truth.

I am proposing that second-order work in philosophy, of the dialectical type represented by the Institute’s efforts to clarify the state of philosophical opinion about FREEDOM, LOVE, PROGRESS, HAPPINESS, JUSTICE, and the like, should be extended to cover the whole field of recorded philosophical thought, even though that is a project of gargantuan proportions.

I am, further, proposing that dialectical work of this kind should be sustained as a continuing and essential part of the whole philosophical enterprise, subsidiary, as all second-order work should be considered, to the main philosophical effort on the plane of first-order questions.

If these things were done, the main effort could be much more effectively prosecuted in the future, for it would be carried on in the light of a much better understanding than philosophers now have of the contributions, both cumulative and conflicting, that have been made to the solution of their first-order problems.

One might even hope that eventually there need be no division of labor between dialecticians working at their second-order tasks and philosophers trying to answer to answer first-order questions. Philosophy might finally become the collective and cooperative pursuit that it should be — an enterprise in which the individual participants communicated effectively about their common problems, joined issue when their solutions were opposed, and engaged in rational debate for the sake of resolving their disagreements and reaching whatever measure of agreement is attainable in the field of debatable opinion.

I conclude with one last summary of the argument. If the negative features of philosophy’s past are eliminated from its future, as they can be — and if the positive features that I have enumerated are preserved, consolidated, and enhanced, as they also can be — then it follows that philosophy can have a future brighter than its past.

The full realization of the possibility just indicated may require a future far beyond the present century. The twenty-five centuries of philosophy’s Western past may be at the most the period of its infancy — its first uncertain steps and stumblings. The gradual achievement of maturity in the philosophical enterprise may require a much longer span than the three hundred years — from the seventeenth century to the present — during which science appears to have outgrown its infancy and to have matured.

One reason for this delayed maturity may be that philosophical problems are more difficult than scientific ones, humanly speaking, if not intellectually. To conduct philosophical discussion fruitfully requires greater discipline of the passions than is needed to carry on scientific investigation in an efficient manner.

It is easier to lift scientific research to the high plane of the near-perfect experiment than to lift philosophical discussion to the high place of the ideal debate. In addition, the philosophical enterprise may be a much more complex form of intellectual life than the scientific endeavor is; and, like all higher organisms, therefore slower to mature.

Considering man’s biological origins, we should, perhaps, be filled with admiration that human beings took less than six thousand years after they emerged from the conditions of primitive life to produce the civilization of the dialogue. Six thousand years is a short period in the span of human life on earth; and the twenty-five hundred years of the philosophical enterprise so far is shorter still.

It should not tax our imaginations, therefore, to contemplate a much longer future in which the latent possibilities for philosophy’s development are realized and philosophy gradually achieves intellectual maturity.

Excerpted from The 4 Dimensions of Philosophy, by Mortimer J. Adler..



The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell


Growing up, Russell was attracted to the liberal thought of John Stuart Mill. When at Cambridge, he encountered versions of the mainstream intellectual temper of his era, neo-Hegelianism and idealism. He studied under the idealists Ward, McTaggart, and Bradley. Russell's own thought, especially his first outlook on logic, was most influenced by Bradley. Russell would reject psychologism, with Bradley, but would also reject Bradley's metaphysics (monism) in favor of pluralism. Distinct from his teachers however, Russell maintained a firm confidence in the precedence of scientific knowledge. These features of his thought remained constant throughout the stages of Russell's career.

Russell's individual academic career truly began with his rejection of the tradition in which he had been trained, British idealism, the view that reduced reality and its observation to the work of a mind. Both Russell and his contemporary G. E. Moore famously adopted Platonic realism. Russell made a claim that all pure mathematics could be deduced from logical principles, a belief called logicism. He collaborated with Alfred Whitehead for ten years working on Principia Mathematica, which illustrated logicism with detailed derivations. After 1898, Russell submitted that all his philosophy would be structured and aptly described as logical atomism, in which some things would be taken as basic and some other things would need to be constructed from basics by way of careful logical processes. Russell, together with Moore and Wittgenstein, self-consciously practiced "philosophical analysis" in the early twentieth-century. The practice of analysis by Russell and Moore involved propositions and concepts, not ordinary language. Russell advocated the use of analysis for excavating the logical form of reality. For this methodology, he is known as one of the founders of Western analytic philosophy.


Russell's philosophy evolved over the course of his life. The stages of his career may be separated as extreme realism, moderate realism, and "constructive" realism. Russell's beginning beliefs held that everything that could be thought about or referred to has some kind of reality, some kind of being, which demands analysis. Then, Russell developed his theory of descriptions, which solved many of the denotation difficulties presented by his extreme view. With his theory of description Russell recognized that most names contained hidden definite descriptions, which enable Russell to adopt a moderate realism.

Though his new ideas made clear Russell's shift from extreme realism, his affinity for Platonic thought remained conspicuous with his theory that "ideas" or universals are objects with which we have acquaintance. Russell advocated his modified realism between the years of 1905 through 1919. In 1910, Russell began lecturing at Cambridge and became more interested in epistemology. In 1912, he published The Problems of Philosophy, which grew to be a very popular book. In this work, Russell critically appreciates British empiricist thought, focusing on Hume and Berkeley. The work held that knowledge from experience—empirical knowledge—is founded on a direct acquaintance with sense-data, the objects of experience. On this view, physical matter, of which we have only knowledge by description, is the best explanation for our experience of sense-data.

The Problems of Philosophy holds a fundamental relevance for the investigation of our ordinary lives. Its capacity as an introduction to philosophy blends with Russell's positive philosophic program. It has been maintained that much of the productiveness of Russell's career derived from his treatment of old problems with new logic. Russell introduces a number of other philosophers and schools of thought, which have notably preceded him. He sketches overviews of their positions and provides a context of philosophic problems common to all philosophy, problems like: public and private experience, personal identity, self-consciousness and consciousness of other minds, relations of space and time, and knowledge itself. Russell's own innovative theories cross any boundary between metaphysical and epistemological concerns. He is interested primarily in distinctions of knowledge of things (particulars) as opposed to knowledge of truths (universals) and with distinguishing appearance from reality.

Russell later changed his view and adopted constructive realism, which proposed that matter was logically constructed out of sense-data. He designed a large work, which would employ his multiple relation theory. However, he abandoned it owing to Wittgenstein's repeated attacks on this theory. Rudolph Carnap later continued work on the detailed constructions like Russell had planned. Russell gave up some of his notions about minds and sense-data and devoted most of his time to understanding modern physics. He later embraced a neutral monism, which William James and a school of American New Realists had already accepted. From 1919 forward, Russell's writings were in the main less influential than those from his moderate period. His intellectual authority seems to have been mitigated somewhat by the popular movement of logical positivism—the scientism of which he approved, and by ordinary language philosophy—the doctrines of which he strongly discouraged and denounced.


The Problems of Philosophy advances an epistemological theory and a discussion of truth. Bertrand Russell uses an analytic method to make distinctions concerning our judgments about reality. He employs Cartesian radical doubt in the beginning as he concentrates on our knowledge of the physical world. Claiming certain beliefs about the table in his room, he wants to know if he really has any kind of knowledge through his beliefs and, if so, what kind of thing is the table. He reasons that the table consists of matter and that there is a method by which he can have knowledge of it. Seeing the table involves an awareness of something, a patch of brown that is oval. He calls this something a "sense-datum." It is not the sensation, but what the sensation is of. We take the sense-data to be signs of the existence of physical objects. From the experience of sense-data, we practice a rational process of inference to get to the physical world.

In opposition to idealism, the view that "whatever can be known to exist, must be in some sense mental," Russell defends the reality of both universals and particulars. Universals are what particulars exemplify. Particulars are physical objects and are in one place at a given time. Universals include qualities, like whiteness, or relations, like "being to the left of." Russell allows for spatial, temporal, and causal relations. Since idealists take everything to be mental, Russell thinks that they confuse the "act" of sensation with the "object" of sense-data.

Russell believes that he has knowledge of his patch of sense-data by acquaintance and that he has knowledge of the signified physical object, the table, by description. He develops a distinction between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description. He holds that we have immediate acquaintance only with our sense-data, and we therefore have direct knowledge. On the theory of descriptions, there are two kinds of terms that we use for an object, its name and definite descriptions. Russell's chief example, later, is "Bismarck" or "The first Chancellor of the German Empire." Employing descriptions enables us to think about and understand objects with which we have no acquaintance. We can thereby have indirect knowledge of things.

Russell is generally supportive of our natural inclinations and accounts for intuitions in his theory of truths. The major logical constructions intrinsic to Russell's theory are facts, propositions, and complexes consisting of universals and particulars. Facts exist much as we would ordinarily imagine—they are independent of human awareness. Particulars and universals are related together in propositions. A proposition is a complex philosophical expression of meaning. Russell's usage usually associates propositions as statements about objects and their relations. A proposition can constitute knowledge if it is appropriately arranged with universals and particulars. Russell makes this type of arrangement clear, though it can be technically challenging. On the theory that Russell develops, a true proposition is a correspondence between a belief and a fact.
Russell also gives a meaningful account of a priori knowledge. He advocates a Platonic attitude toward universals, which are like Platonic "ideas." Arguing that it is possible to have acquaintance with a universal without knowing of a single instance of that universal, the possibility of a priori knowledge becomes comprehensible. We can also have knowledge of general principles seeming to have the same degree of certainty as knowledge derived from our own experiences.

The Problems of Philosophy provides an overview of major philosophical achievements. Russell critically analyzes older arguments and responds to them equipped with his own set of distinctions and apparatus. The context of problems that arises is universal, however, and what interests us about reality and our knowledge of it is constant.

Russell's dialogue in this book proposes a forum for direct address and discussion. Though Russell is the only character present in the discussion, and his voice modulates between the informed philosopher interlocutor and the curious man on the street. He enlists his readership in a declarative "we." Russell employs a mouthpiece that both smoothes the difficult transitions between ideas and repeatedly subjects them to a built-in critical voice. He promotes a persistent mode of questioning familiar to the philosophical discipline, which structures much of the discussion. Each chapter builds on previous ideas and prepares for the progress of more developed ideas. Therefore, it is a very good idea to progress with his discussion, in order.



It has appeared that, if we take any common object of the sort that is supposed to be known by the senses, what the senses immediately tell us is not the truth about the object as it is apart from us, but only the truth about certain sense-data which depend upon the relations between us and the object. Thus what we directly see and feel is merely “appearance’, which we believe to be a sign of some ‘reality’ behind. But if the reality is not what appears, have we any means of knowing whether there is any reality at all? And if so, have we any means of finding out what it is like? (p16)

Is there such a thing as matter. Is there a table which has a certain intrinsic nature, and continues to exist when I am not looking?
Although we may doubt the physical existence of the table, we do not doubt the existence of the sense-data which made us think there was a table. (p17)
Some of our immediate experiences seem absolutely certain. (p18)

The problem we have to consider is this: Granted that we are certain of our own sense-data, have we any reason for regarding them as signs of the existence of something else, which we can call the physical object? … Common sense unhesitatingly answers that there is.
One great reason why it is felt that we must secure a physical object in addition to the sense-data, is that we want the same object for different people. ,,, But the sense-data are private to each separate person; what is immediately present to the sight of one is not immediately present to the sight of another: they all see things from slightly different points of view, and therefore see them slightly differently. Thus, if there are to be public neutral objects, which can be in some sense known to many different people, there must be something over and above the private and particular sense-data which appear to various people. What reason, then, have we for believing that there are such public neutral objects?
The answer is that, although different people may see the table slightly differently, still they all see more or less similar things when they look at the table, and the variations in what they see follow the laws of perspective and reflection of light, so that it is easy to arrive at a permanent object underlying all the different people’s sense-data. (pp19-21)

In dreams a very complicated world may seem to be present, and yet on waking we find it was a delusion; that is to say, we find that the sense-data in the dream do not appear to have corresponded with such physical objects as we should naturally infer from our sense-data. (p22)

The way in which simplicity comes in from supposing that there really are physical objects is easily seen. (p23)
Also, the every principle of simplicity urges us to adopt the natural view, that there really are objects other than ourselves and our sense-data which have an existence not dependent upon our perceiving them. (p24)

We originally come by our belief in an independent external world as soon as we begin to reflect. … It is also our instinctive belief that there are objects corresponding to our sense-data. Since this belief does not lead to any difficulties, but on the contrary tends to simplify and systematize our account of our experiences, there seems no good reason for rejecting it. We may therefore admit that the external world does really exist, and is not wholly dependent for its existence upon our continuing tp perceive it. (pp24=25)

All knowledge must be built up upon our instinctive beliefs, and if these are rejected, nothing is left. But among our instinctive beliefs some are much stronger than others, while many have, by habit and association, become entangled with other beliefs, not really instinctive, but falsely supposed to be part of what is believed instinctively.
Philosophy should show us the hierarchy of our instinctive beliefs, beginning with those we hold most strongly, and presenting each as much isolated and as free from irrelevant additions as possible. It should take care to show that, in the form in which they are finally set forth, our instinctive beliefs do not clash, but form a harmonious system. There can never be any reason for rejecting one instinctive belief except that it clashes with others; thus, if they are found to harmonize, the whole system becomes worthy of acceptance. (p25)

It is of course possible that all or any of our beliefs may be mistaken, and therefore all ought to be held with at least some slight element of doubt. But we cannot have reason to reject a belief except on the ground of some other belief. Hence, by organizing our instinctive beliefs and their consequences, by considering which among them is most possible, we can arrive at an orderly systematic organization of our knowledge, in which, though the possibility of error remains, its likelihood is diminished by the interrelation of the parts and by the critical scrutiny which has preceded acquiescence. (pp25-26)

It is rational to believe that our sense-data – for example, those which we regard as associated with my table – are really signs of the existence of something independent of us and our perceptions. … The question we have to consider is: What is the nature of this real table.
To this question physical science gives an answer, somewhat incomplete it is true, and in part still very hypothetical, but yet deserving of respect so far as it goes. (p27)

We agreed provisionally that physical objects cannot be quite like our sense-data, but may be regarded as causing our sensations. (p30)

However, although the relations of physical objects have all sorts of knowable properties, derived from their correspondence with the relations of sense-data, the physical objects themselves remain unknown in their intrinsic nature, so far at least as can be discovered by means of the senses. The question remains whether there is any other method of discovering the intrinsic nature of physical objects. (p34)

The word ‘idealism’ is used by different philosophers in some different senses. We shall understand by it the doctrine that whatever exists, or at any rate whatever can be known to exist must be in some sense mental.
We have seen that, even if physical objects do have an independent existence, they must differ very widely from sense-data, and can only have a correspondence with sense-data, in the same sort of way in which a catalogue has a correspondence with the things catalogued. Hence common sense leaves us completely in the dark as to the true intrinsic nature of physical objects, and if there were good reason to regard them as mental, we could not legitimately reject this opinion merely because it strikes us strange. (pp37-38)

The grounds on which idealism is advocated are generally grounds derived from the theory of knowledge, that is to say, from a discussion of the conditions which things must satisfy in order that we may be able to know them. The first serious attempt to establish idealism on such grounds was that of Bishop Berkeley. He proved first, by arguments which were largely valid, that our sense-data cannot be supposed to have an existence independent of us, but must be, in part at least, ‘in’ the mind, in the sense that their existence would not continue if there were no seeing or hearing or touching or smelling or tasting. So far, his contention was almost certainly valid, even if some of his arguments were not so. But he went on to argue that sense-data were the only things of whose existence our perceptions would assure us, and that to be known is to be ‘in’ a mind, and therefore to be mental. Hence he concluded that nothing can ever be known except what is in some mind, and that whatever is known without being in my mind must be in some other mind. (p38)

Berkeley then proceeds to consider common objects, such a a tree, for instance. He shows that all we know immediately when we ‘perceive’ the tree consists of ideas in his sense of the word, and he argues that there is not the slightest ground for supposing that there is anything real about the tree except what is perceived. He fully admits that the tree must continue to exist even when we shut our eyes or when no human being is near it. But this continued existence, he says, is due to the fact that God continues to perceive it. (p39)

There are in this argument a good many fallacies. In the first place, there is a confusion engendered by the use of the word ‘idea’. We think of an idea as essentially something in somebody’s mind, and thus when we are told that a tree consists entirely of ideas, it is natural to suppose that, if so, the tree must be entirely in minds. But the notion of being “in” the mind is ambiguous. We speak of bearing a person in mind, not meaning that the person is in our mind, but that a thought of him is in our minds. And so when Berkeley says that the tree must be in our minds if we can know it, all that he really fas a right to say is that a thought of the tree must be in our minds. To argue that the tree itself must be in our minds is like arguing that a person whom we bear in mind is himself in our minds. (p40)

Taking the word ‘idea’ in Berkeley’s sense, there are two quite distinct things to be considered whenever an idea is before the mind. There is on the one hand the thing of which we are aware – say the color of my table – and on the other hand the actual awareness itself, the mental act of apprehending the thing. The mental act is undoubtedly mental, but is there any reason to suppose that the thing apprehended is in any sense mental?
Berkeley’s view, that the color must be in the mind, seems to depend for its plausibility upon confusing the thing apprehended with the act of apprehension.
This question of the distinction between act and object in our apprehending of things is vitally important, since our whole power of acquiring knowledge is bound up with it. The faculty of being acquainted with things other than itself is the main characteristic of a mind. Acquaintance with objects essentially consists in a relation between the mind and something other than the mind; it is this that constitutes the mind’s power of knowing things. … Thus when we realize the nature of knowledge, Berkeley’s argument is seen to be wrong in substance as well as in form, and his grounds for supposing that ‘idea’ – i.e. the objects apprehended – must be mental, are found to have no validity whatever. Hence his grounds in favor of idealism may be dismissed. (pp 41-43)


There are two sorts of knowledge: knowledge of things, and knowledge of truths.
Knowledge of things by acquaintance is essentially simpler than any knowledge of truths, and logically independent of knowledge of truths.
Knowledge of things by description, on the contrary, always involves some knowledge of truths as its source and ground. (p46)

We shall say that we have acquaintance with anything of which we are directly aware, without the intermediary of any process of inference or any knowledge of truths. Thus in the presence of my table I am acquainted with the sense-data that make up the appearance of my table. (p46)

My knowledge of the table as a physical object, on the contrary, is not direct knowledge. My knowledge of the table is of the kind which we shall call ’knowledge by description’. The table is ‘the physical object which causes such-and-such sense-data’. In order to know anything at all about the table, we must know truths connecting it with things with which we have acquaintance” we must know that ‘such-and-such sense-data are caused by a physical object’. There is no state of mind in which we are directly aware of the table: all our knowledge of the table is really knowledge of truths, and the actual thing which is the table is not, strictly speaking, known to us at all. We know a description, and we know that there is just one object to which this description applies, though the object itself is not directly known to us. In such a case, we say that our knowledge of the object is knowledge by description. (pp 47-48)

All our knowledge, both knowledge of things and knowledge of truths, rests upon acquaintance as its foundation. It is therefore important to consider what kinds of things there are with which we have acquaintance.
Sense-data are among the things with which we are acquainted.
The first extension beyond sense-data to be considered is acquaintance by memory. The next extension to be considered is acquaintance by introspection. e are not only aware of things, but we are often aware of being aware of them. This kind of acquaintance, which we may be called self-consciousness, is the source of all our knowledge of mental things.
The acquaintance with the contents of our minds as self-consciousness is not consciousness of our self: it is consciousness of particular thoughts and feelings. The question is whether we are also acquainted with our bare selves? When we try to look into ourselves we always seem to come upon some particular thought or feeling, and not upon ‘I’ which has the thought or feeling. Nevertheless there are some reasons for thinking that we are acquainted with the ‘I’, though the acquaintance is hard to disentangle from other things. (pp 48-50)

We may therefore sum up what has been said as follows concerning acquaintance with things that exist. We have acquaintance in sensation with the data of the outer senses, and in introspection with the data of what may be called the inner sense – thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.; we have acquaintance in memory with things which have been data either of the outer senses or the inner sense, Further, it is probable, though not certain, that we have acquaintance with Self, as that which is aware of things or has desires towards things.
In addition to our acquaintance with particular existing things, we also have acquaintance with what we shall call universals, that is to say, general ideas, such as whiteness, diversity, brotherhood, and so on. Every complete sentence must contain at least one word which stands for a universal, since all verbs have a meaning which is universal. Awareness of universals is called , and a universal of which we are aware is called a concept. (pp 51-52)

Among the objects with which we are acquainted do not include physical objects (as opposed to sense-data), nor other people’s minds. These things are known to us by what is called ‘knowledge by description’. (p52)
We shall say that an object is ‘known by description’ when we know that there is one object, and no more, having a certain property; and it will generally be implied that we do not have knowledge of the same object by acquaintance. (p53)
Thus when, for example, we make a statement about Julius Caesar, it is plain that Julius Caesar himself is not before our minds, since we are acquainted with him. We have in mind some description of Julius Caesar: ‘the man who was assassinated on the Ides of March’, ‘the founder of the Roman Empire’, or, perhaps, merely ‘the man whose name was Julius Caesar’. (In this last description, Julius Caesar is a noise or shape with which we are acquainted.) Thus our statement means something involving some description of Julius Caesar which is composed wholly of particulars and universals with which we are acquainted. (pp 58-59)

The chief importance of knowledge by description is that it enables us to pass beyond the limits of our private experience. In spite of the fact that we can only know truths which are wholly composed of terms which we have experienced in acquainted, we can yet have knowledge by description of things which we have never experienced, (p59)

If we able to draw inferences from past experience – if we are to know of the existence of matter, of other people, of the past before our individual memory begins, or of the future, we must know general principles of some kind by means of which such inferences can be drawn. It must be known to us that the existence of some one sort of thing, A, is a sign of the existence of some other sort of thing, B, either at the same time as A or at some earlier or later time, as, for example, thunder is a sign of the earlier existence of lightning. If this were not known to us, we could never extend our knowledge beyond the sphere of our private experience; and this sphere, as we have seen, is exceedingly limited. The question we have to consider is whether such an extension is possible, and if so, how it is effected. (p60)

Let us take as an illustration a matter about which none of us, in fact, feel the slightest doubt. We are all convinced that the sun will rise to-morrow. … If we are asked why we believe that the sun will rise to-morrow, we shall naturally answer, ‘Because it always has risen every day’. We have a firm belief that it will rose in the future, because it has risen in the past. If we are challenged as to why we believe that it will continue to rise as heretofore, we may appeal to the laws of motion: the earth is a freely rotating body and there is nothing outside to interfere with the earth’s rotation between now and to-morrow. (p61)
Experience has shown us that, hitherto, the frequent repetition of some uniform succession or coexistence has been a cause of our expecting the same succession or coexistence on the next occasion. (p62)
And this kind of association is not confined to men; in animals also it is very strong. A horse which has been often driven along a certain road resists the attempt to drive him in a different direction. Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who usually feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the ubiformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken. .. But in spite of the misleadingness of such expectations, they nevertheless exist. We have therefore the need to know whether there is any reasonable ground for giving weight to such expectations after the question of their validity has been raised. (p63)

The problem we have to discuss is whether there is whether there is any reason for believing in what is called ‘the uniformity of nature’. The belief in the uniformity of nature is the belief that everything that has happened or will happen is an instance of some general law to which there are no exceptions. The crude expectations which we have been considering are all subject to exceptions, and therefore liable to disappoint those who entertain them. But science habitually assumes, at least as a working hypothesis, that general rules which have exceptions can be replaced by general rules which have no exceptions. ‘Unsupported bodies in air fall’ is a general rule to which balloons and aeroplanes are exceptions. But the laws of motion and the law of gravitation, which account for the fact that most bodies fall, also account for the fact that balloons and aeroplanes can rise; thus the laws of motion and the law of gravitations are not subject to these exceptions. (pp63-64)

The belief that the sun will rise to-morrow might be falsified if the earth came suddenly into contact with a large body which destroyed its rotation; but the laws of motion and the law of gravitation would not be infringed by such an event. The business of science is to find uniformities, such as the laws of motion and the law of gravitation, to which, so far as our experience extends, there are no exceptions. In this search science has been remarkably successful, and it may be conceded that such uniformities have held hitherto. (p64)

It must be conceded that the fact that two things have been found often together and never apart does not, by itself, suffice to prove demonstratively that they will be found together in the next case we examine. The most we can hope is that the oftener things are found together, the more probable it becomes that they will be found together another time, and that, if they have been found together often enough, the probability will amount almost to certainty. It can never quite reach certainty, because we know that in spite of frequent repetitions there sometimes is a failure at the last, as in the case of the chicken whose neck is wrung. Thus probability is all we ought to seek. (pp65-66)

The principle we are examining may be called the principle of induction, and its two parts may be stated as follows:
(a) The greater the number of cases in which a thing of the sort A has been found associated with a thing of the sort B, the more probable it is (if no cases of failure of association are known) that A is always associated with B;
(b) Under the same circumstances, a sufficient number of cases of the association of A with B will make it nearly certain that A is always associated with B, and will make this general law approach certainty without limit. (pp66-67)

It should be noted that probability is always relative to certain data. In our case, the data are merely the known cases of coexistence of A and B, There may be other data, which might be taken into account, which would gravely alter the probability. For example, a man who had seen a great many white swans might argue, by our principle, that on the data it was probable that all swans were white, and this might be a perfectly sound argument . The argument is not disproved by the fact that some swans are black, because a thing may very well happen in spite of the fact that some data render it improbable. In the case of the swans, a man might know that color is a very variable characteristic in many species of animals, and that, therefore, an induction as to color is peculiarly liable to error. But this knowledge would be a fresh datum, by no means proving that the probability relatively to our previous data had been wrongly estimated. The fact, therefore, that things often fail to fulfill our expectations is no evidence that our expectations will not probably be fulfilled in a given case or a given class of cases. Thus our inductive principle is at any rate not capable of being disproved by an appeal to experience. (pp67-68)

The inductive principle, however, is equally incapable of being proved by an appeal to experience. Experience might conceivably confirm the inductive principle as regards the cases that have been already examined; but as regards unexamined cases, it is the inductive principle alone that can justify any inference from what has been examined to what has not been examined. … Thus we must either accept the inductive principle on the ground of its intrinsic evidence, or forgo all justification of our expectations about the future. If the principle is unsound, we have no reason to expect the sun to rise t0-morrow, or to expect that we throw ourselves off the roof we shall fall. All our conduct is based upon associations which have worked in the past, and which we therefore regard as likely to work in the future; and this likelihood is dependent for its validity upon the inductive principle.

The general principles of science, such as the belief in the reign of law, and the belief that every event must have a cause, are as completely dependent upon the inductive principle as are the beliefs of daily life. All such general principles are believed because mankind have found innumerable instances of their truth and no instances of their falsehood. But this affords no evidence for their truth in the future, unless the inductive principle is assumed. (pp68-69)

The principle of induction, while necessary to the validity of all arguments based on experience, is itself not capable of being proved by experience, and yet is unhesitatingly believed by every one, at least in all its concrete application. (p70)


The principle of induction does not stand alone, there are a number of other principles which cannot be proved or disproved by experience, but are used in arguments which start from what is experienced.
Some of these principles have even greater evidence than the principle of induction, and the knowledge of them has the same degree of certainty as the knowledge of the existence of sense-data. They constitute the means of drawing inferences from what is given in sensation; and if what we infer is to be true, it is just as necessary that our principles of inference should be true as it is that our data should be true. The principles of inference are apt to be overlooked because of their obviousness. But it is very important to realize the use of principles of inference, if a correct theory of knowledge is to be obtained. (p70)

In all our knowledge of general principles, what actually happens is that first of all we realize some particular application of the principle, and then we realize that the particularity is irrelevant, and that there is a generality which may equally truly be affirmed. This is of course familiar in such matters as teaching arithmetic; the same thing happens with logical principles.
The logical principle is as follow” ‘Suppose it known that if this is true, then that is true. Suppose it also known that this is true, then it follows that that is true’. … In other words, ‘anything implied by a true proposition is true’, or ‘whatever follows from a true proposition is true’. (pp70-71)

If any one asked: ‘why should I accept the results of valid arguments based on true premises?’ we can only answer by appealing to our principle (of inference). In fact, the truth of the principle is impossible to doubt, and its obviousness is so great that at first sight it seems almost trivial. Such principles, however, are not trivial to the philosopher, for they show that we may have indubitable knowledge which is in no way derived from objects of sense. (p72)

The above principle is merely one of a certain number of self-evident logical principles, Some at least of these principles must be granted before any arguments or proof becomes possible. Three of these principles have been singled out by tradition under the name of ‘Law of Thought’. They are as follows:
1) The law of identity: ‘Whatever is, is.’
2) The law of contradiction: ‘Nothing can both be and not be.”
3) The law of excluded middle: ‘Everything must either be or not be.’
These three laws are samples of self-evident logical principles, but are not really more fundamental or more self-evident than various other similar principles: for instance, the one we consider just now, which states that what follows from a true premiss is true.
There are other logical principles which enable us to prove, from a given premiss, that there is a greater or less probability that something is true. An example of such principles is the inductive principle. (pp72-73)

Empiricism vs Rationalism (pp73-81)

Logical principles are known to us, and cannot be themselves proved by experience, since all proof presupposes them. In this, therefore, the rationalists were in the right.
On the other hand, even that part of our knowledge which is logical independent of experience (in the sense that experience cannot prove it) is yet elicited and caused by experience. It is on occasion of particular experiences that we become aware of the general laws which their connexions exemplify. Thus, while admitting that all knowledge is elicited and caused by experience, we shall nevertheless hold that some knowledge is a priori. in the sense that we see its truth without requiring any proof from experience. (p74)

There is another point of important, in which the empiricists were in the right as against the rationalists. Nothing can be known to exist except by the help of experience. That is to say, if we wish to prove that something of which we have no direct experience exists, we must have among our premises the existence of one or more things of which we have direct experience. Our belief that the Emperor of China exists, for example, rests upon testimony, and testimony consists, in the last analysis, of sense-data seen or heard in reading or being spoken to. Rationalists believed that, from general consideration as to what must be, they could deduce the existence of this or that in the actual world. In this belief they seem to have mistaken. … Thus the scope and power of a priori principles is strictly limited. All knowledge that something exists must be in part dependent on experience. knowledge is called empirical when it rests wholly or partly upon experience. (pp74-75)

A priori knowledge is not all of the logical kind we have been hitherto considering. Perhaps the most important example of non-logical a priori knowledge is knowledge as to ethical value. I am not speaking of judgments as to what is useful or as to what is virtuous, for such judgments do require empirical premisses; I am speaking of judgments as to the intrinsic desirability of things. If something is useful, it must be useful because it secures some end; the end must, if we have gone far enough, be valuable on its own account, and not merely because it is useful for some further end. Thus all judgments as to what is useful depend upon judgments as to what has value on its own account. (pp75-76)

We judge, for example, that happiness is more desirable than misery, knowledge than ignorance, goodwill than hatred, and so on. Such judgments must, in part at least, be immediate and a priori. Like our previous a priori judgments, they may be elicited by experience, and indeed they must be; for it seems not possible to judge whether anything is intrinsically valuable unless we have experienced something of the same kind. But it is fairly obvious that they cannot be proved by experience; for the fact that a thing exists or does not exist cannot prove either that is good that it should exist or that is bad. In the present connexion, it is only important to realize that knowledge as to what is intrinsically of value is a priori in the sense in which logic is a priori, namely in the sense that the truth of such knowledge can be neither proved nor disproved by experience. (p76)

The process of deduction goes from the general to the general, or from the general to the particular; the process of induction goes from the particular to the particular, or from the particular to the general. (p79)

We have seen that there are propositions known a priori, and that among them are the propositions of logic and pure mathematics, as well as the fundamental propositions of ethics. The question which must next occupy us is this: How is it possible that there should be such knowledge? And more particularly, how can there be knowledge of general propositions in cases where we have not examined all the instances, and indeed never can examine them all, because their number is infinite? These questions were first brought forward by Immanuel Kant. (pp 80-81)

Before the time of Kant, it was generally held that whatever knowledge was must be ‘analytic’. … Hume, who accepting the usual view as to what makes knowledge a priori, discovered that, in many cases which had previously been supposed analytic, and notably in the case of cause and effect, the connexion was really synthetic. Before Hume, rationalists had supposed that effect could be logically deduced from the cause, if only we had sufficient knowledge. Hume argued, correctly, that this could not be done. Hence he inferred the proposition that nothing could be known a priori about the connexion of cause and effect.
Kant endeavored to find an answer to it. He perceived that not only the connexion of cause and effect, but all the propositions of arithmetic and geometry, are ‘synthetic’, i.e. not analytic: in all these propositions, no analysis of the subject will reveal the predicate. His stock instance was the proposition 7 + 5 = 12. He pointed out that 7 and 5 have to be put together to give 12: the idea of 12 is not contained in them, nor even in the idea of adding them together. Thus he was led to the conclusion that all pure mathematics, though a priori, is synthetic. (pp 82-84)

The question which Kant put at the beginning of his philosophy, namely ‘How is pure mathematics possible?’ is an interesting and difficult one. The answer of the pure empiricists, that our mathematical knowledge is derived by induction from particular instances, seems to be inadequate. … The general propositions of mathematics, such as ‘two and two always make four’, can obviously be known with certainty by consideration of a single instance. Thus our knowledge of the general propositions of mathematics (and the same applies to logic) must be accounted for otherwise than our (merely probable) knowledge of empirical generalizations such as ‘all men are mortal’. (p84)

The problem arises through the fact that such knowledge is general, whereas all experience is particular. It seems strange that we should apparently be able to know some truths in advance about particular things of which we have as yet no experience; but it cannot easily be doubt that logic and arithmetic will apply to such things. This apparent power of anticipating facts about things of which we have no experience is certainly surprising. Kant’s solution of the problem, though not valid in my opinion, is interesting. It is, however, very difficult, and is differently understood by different philosophers. (pp84-85)

What Kant maintained was that in all our experience there are two elements to be distinguished, the one due to the object (i.e. to what we have called the ‘physical object’), the other due to our own nature. We saw that the physical is different from the associated sense-data, and that the sense-data are to be regarded as resulting from the interaction between the physical object and ourselves. So far, we are in agreement with Kant. But what is distinctive of Kant is the way in which he apportions the shares of ourselves and the physical object respectively. He considers that the crude material given in sensation – the color, hardness, etc. – is due to the object, and that what we supply is the arrangement in space and time, and all the relations between sense-data which result from comparison or from considering one as the cause of the other or in any other way. His chief reason in favor of this view is that we seem to have a priori knowledge as to space and time and causality and comparison, but not as to the actual crude material of sensation, We can be sure, he says, that anything we shall ever experience must show the characteristics affirmed of it in our a priori knowledge, because these characteristics are due to our own nature, and therefore nothing can ever come into our experience without acquiring these characteristics. (pp85-86)

The physical object, which Kant calls the ‘thing in itself’, he regards as essentially unknowable; what can be known is the objects as we have it in experience, which he calls the ‘phenomenon’. The phenomenon, being a joint product of us (our mind) and the thing in itself, is sure to have those characteristics which are due to us, and is therefore sure to conform to our a priori knowledge. Hence this knowledge, though true of all actual and possible experience, must not be supposed to apply outside experience. Thus in spite of the existence of priori knowledge, we cannot know anything about the thing in itself or about what is not an actual or possible object of experience. In this way he tries to reconcile and harmonize the contentions of the rationalists with the arguments of the empiricists. (p86)

(Russell argues) that Kant’s method fails to deal with the problem of a priori knowledge. The thing to be accounted for is our certainty that the facts must always conform to logic and arithmetic. To say that logic and arithmetic are attributed by us does not account for this. (Our mind is the product of nature) and there can be no certainty that it will remain constant. It might happen that tomorrow our nature would so change as to make two and two become five. This possibility would destroy the certainty and universality which Kant used to vindicate for arithmetical propositions. (p87)

The fact seems to be that all our a priori knowledge is concerned with entities which do not exist either in the mental or in the physical world. (p89)

Apart from the special doctrines advocated by Kant, it is very common among philosophers to regard what is a priori as in some sense mental, as concerned rather with the way we must think than with any fact of the outer world. (p88)
We noted in the preceding chapter the three self-evident logical principles commonly called ‘laws of thought’. … Let us take as an illustration the law of contradiction. This is commonly stated in the form ‘Nothing can be both be and not be’, which is intended to express the fact that nothing can at once have and not have a given quality. Thus, for example, if a tree is a beech it cannot also be not a beech; if my table is rectangular it cannot also be not rectangular, and so on. (p88)
Now what makes it natural to call this principle a law of thought is that it is by thought rather than by outward observation that we persuade ourselves of its necessary truth. When we have seen that a tree is a beech, we do not need to look again in order to ascertain whether it is also not a beech; thought alone makes us know that this is impossible. But, [according to Russell], the conclusion that the law of contradiction is a law of thought is nevertheless erroneous. What we believe, when we believe the law of contradiction, is not that the mind is so made that it must believe the law of contradiction, This belief is a subsequent result of psychological reflection, which presupposes the belief in the law of contradiction. (Note: This appears to be an argument for pragmatism.) The belief in the law of contradiction is a belief about things, not only about thoughts. It is not, e.g., the belief that if we think a certain tree is a beech, we cannot at the same time think that it is not a beech; it is the belief that if the tree a beech, it cannot at the same time be not a beech. Thus the law of contradiction is about things, not merely about thought; and although belief in the law of contradiction is a thought, the law of contradiction itself is not a thought, but a fact concerning the things in the world. (pp88-89)
A similar argument applies to any other a priori judgment. When we judge that two and two are four, we are not making a judgment about our thoughts, but about all actual or possible couples. The fact that our minds are so constituted as to believe that two and two are four, though it is true, is emphatically not what we assert when we assert that two and two are four. And no fact about the constitution of our minds could make it true that two and two are four. Thus our a priori knowledge, if it is not erroneous, is not merely knowledge about the constitution of our minds, but is applicable to whatever the world may contain, both what is mental and what is non-mental. These entities are such as can be named by parts of speech which are not substantives; they are such entities as qualities and relations. Suppose, for instance, that I am in my room. I exist, and my room exists; but does ‘in’ exist? Yet obviously the word ‘in’ has a meaning; it denotes a relation which holds between me and my room. This relation is something, although we cannot say that it exists in the same sense in which I and my room exist. The relation ‘in’ is something which we can think about and understand, for, if we could not understand it, we could not understand the sentence ‘I am in my room’. Many philosophers, following Kant, have maintained that relations are the work of the mind, that things in themselves have no relations, but that the mind brings them together in one act of thought and thus produces the relations which it judges them to have. (pp89-90)

This view, however, seems open to objections similar to those which we urged before against Kant. It seems plain that it is not thought which produces the truth of the proposition ‘I am in my room’. It may be true that an earwig is in my room, even if neither I nor the earwig nor any one else is aware of this truth; for this truth concerns only the earwig and the room, and does not depend upon anything else. Thus relation, as we shall see more fully in the next chapter, must be placed in a world which is neither mental nor physical. This world is of great importance to philosophy, and in particular to the problem of a priori knowledge. (p90)


At the end of the preceding chapter we saw that such entities as relations appears to have a being which is in some way different from that of physical objects, and also different from that of minds and from that of sense-data. In this chapter we have to consider what is the nature of this kind of being, and also what objects there are that have this kind of being, We will begin with the latter question. (p91)

The problem with which we are now concerned is a very old one, since it was brought into philosophy by Plato. Plato’s ‘theory of ideas’ is an attempt to solve this very problem, and in my opinion it is one of the most successful attempts hitherto made. The theory to be advocated in what follows is largely Plato’s, with merely such modifications as time has shown to be necessary. (p91)

The way the problem arose for Plato was more or less as follows. Let us consider, say, such a notion as justice. If we ask ourselves what justice is, it is natural to proceed by considering this, that, and the other just act, with a view to discovering what they have in common. They must all, in some sense, partake of a common nature, which will be found in whatever is just and in nothing else. This common nature, in virtue of which they are all just, will be justice itself, the pure essence the admixture of which with facts of ordinary life produces the multiplicity of just acts. Similarly with any other word which may be applicable to common facts, such as ‘whiteness’ for example. The word will be applicable to a number of particular things because they all participate in a common nature of essence. This pure essence is what Plato calls an ‘idea’ or ‘form’. (It must not be supposed that ‘ideas’, in his sense, exist in minds, though they may be apprehended by minds). The ‘idea’ justice is not identical with anything that is just: it is something other than particular things, which particular things partake of. Not being particular, it cannot itself exist in the world of sense. Moreover it is not fleeting or changeable like the things of sense: it is eternally itself, immutable and indestructible. (pp91-92)

Thus Plato is led to a supra-sensible world, more real than the common world of sense, the unchangeable world of ideas, which alone gives to the world of sense whatever pale reflection of reality may belong to it. (p92)

The word ‘idea’ has acquired, in the course of time, many associations which are quite misleading when applied to Plato’s ‘ideas’. We shall therefore use the word ‘universal’ instead of the word ‘idea’, to describe what Plato meant. The essence of the sort of entity that Plato meant is that it is opposed to the particular things that are given in sensation. We speak of whatever is given in sensation, or is of the same nature as things given in sensation, as a particular; by opposition to this, a universal will be anything which may be shared by many particulars, and has those characteristics which, as we saw, distinguish justice and whiteness from just acts and white things. (pp92-93)

When we examine common words, we find that, broadly speaking , proper names stand for particulars, while other substantives, adjectives, propositions, and verbs stand for universals. Pronouns stand for particulars, but are ambiguous: it is only by the context or the circumstances that we know what particulars they stand for. The word ‘now’ stands for a particular, namely the present moment; but like pronouns, it stands for an ambiguous particular, because the present is always changing. (p93)

It will be seen that no sentence can be made up without at least one word which denotes a universal. The nearest approach would be some such statement as ‘I like this’. But even here the word ‘like’ denotes a universal, for I may like other things, and other people may like things. (p93)

Seeing that nearly all the words to be found in the dictionary stand for universals, it is strange that hardly anybody except students of philosophy ever realizes that there are such entities as universals. (pp93-94)

Even among philosophers, we may say, broadly, that only those universals which are named by adjectives or substantives have been much or often recognized, while those named by verbs and prepositions have been usually overlooked. … Speaking generally, adjectives and common nouns express qualities or properties of single things, whereas prepositions and verbs tend to express relations between two or more things. Thus the neglect of prepositions and verbs led to the belief that every proposition can be regarded as attributing a property to a single thing, rather than as expressing a relation between two or more things. Hence it was supposed that, ultimately, there can be no such entities as relations between things. Hence either there can be only one thing in the universe, or, if there are many things, there cannot possibly interact in any way, since any interaction would be a relation, and relations are impossible. (pp94-95)

As a matter of fact, if any one were anxious to deny altogether that there are such things as universals, we should find that we cannot strictly prove that there are such entities as qualities, i.e. the universals represented by adjectives and substantives. Let us take in illustration the universal whiteness If we believe that there is such a universal, we shall say that things are white because they have the quality of whiteness. This view, however, was strenuously denied by Berkeley and Hume, who have been followed in this by later empiricists. The form which their denial took was to deny that there are such things as ‘abstract ideas’. When we want to think of whiteness, they said, we form an image of some particular white thing, and reason concerning this particular, taking care not to deduce anything concerning it which we cannot see to be equally true of any other white thing. As an account of our actual mental processes, this is no doubt largely true. In geometry, for example, when we wish to prove something about all triangles, we draw a particular triangle and reason about it, taking care not to use any characteristic which it does not share with other triangles. The beginner, in order to avoid error, often finds it useful to draw several triangles, as unlike each other as possible, in order to make sure that his reasoning is equally applicable to all of them. But a difficulty emerges as soon as we ask ourselves how we know that a thing is white or a triangle. If we wish to avoid the universals whiteness and triangularity, we shall choose some particular patch of white or some particular triangle, and say that anything is white or a triangle if it has the right sort of resemblance to our chosen particular. But then the resemblance required will have to be a universal. Since there are many white things, the resemblance must hold between many pairs of particular white things; and this is the characteristic of a universal. It will be useless to say that there is a different resemblance for each pair, for then we shall have to say that these resemblances resemble each other, and thus at last we shall be forced to admit resemblance as a universal. The relation of resemblance, therefore, must be a true universal. (pp95-96)

Berkeley and Hume failed to perceive this refutation of their rejection of ‘abstract ideas’, because, like their adversaries (i.e. the rationalists), they only thought of qualities, and altogether ignored relations as universals. We have therefore here another respect in which the rationalists appear to have been in the right as against the empiricists, owing to the neglect or denial of relations, the deductions made by rationalists were more apt to be mistaken than those made by empiricists. (p97)

Having now seen that there must be such entities as universals, the next point to be proved is that their being is not merely mental. By this is meant that whatever being belongs to them is independent of their being thought of or in any way apprehended by minds. (p97)

Consider such a proposition as ‘Edinburgh is north of London’. Here we have a relation between two places, and it seems plain that the relation subsists independently of our knowledge of it. When we come to know that Edinburgh is north of London, we come to know something which has to do only with Edinburgh and London: we do not cause the truth of the proposition by coming to know it, on the contrary we merely apprehend a fact which was there before we knew it. The part of the earth’s surface where Edinburgh stands would be north of the part where London stands, even if there were no human being to know about north and south, and even if there were no minds at all in the universe. This is, of course, denied by many philosophers, either for Berkeley’s reasons or for Kant’s. But we have already considered these reasons, and decided that they are inadequate. We may therefore now assume it to be true that nothing mental is presupposed in the fact that Edinburgh is north of London. But this fact involves the relation ‘north of’, which is a universal; and it would be impossible for the whole fact to involve nothing mental if the relation ‘north of’, which is a constituent part of the fact, did involve anything mental. Hence we must admit that the relation, like the terms it relates, is not dependent upon thought, but belongs to the independent world which thought apprehends but does not create. (pp97=98)

This conclusion, however, is met by the difficulty that the relation ‘north of’ does not seem to exist in the same sense in which Edinburgh and London exist. If we ask ‘Where and when does this relation exist?’ the answer must be ‘nowhere and nowhen’. There is no place or time where we can find the relation ‘north of’. It does not exist in Edinburgh any more than in London, for it relates the two and is neutral as between them. Nor can we say that it exists at any particular time. Now everything that can be apprehended by the senses or by introspection exists at some particular time. Hence the relation ‘north of’ is radically different from such things. It is neither in space nor in time, neither material nor mental; yet it is something. (p98)

It is largely the very peculiar kind of being that belongs to universals which has led many people to suppose that they are really mental. We can think of a universal, and our thinking then exists in a perfectly ordinary sense, like any other mental act. Suppose, for example, that we are thinking of whiteness, Then in one sense it may be said that whiteness is ‘in our mind’. We have here the same ambiguity as we noted in discussing Berkeley in Ch. IV. In the strict sense, it is not whiteness that is in our mind, but the act of thinking of whiteness. … One man’s act of thought is necessarily a different thing from another man’s; one man’s act of thought at one time is necessarily a different thing from the same man’s act of thought at another time. Hence, if whiteness were the thought as opposed to its object, no two different man could think of it, and no one man could think of it twice. That which many different thoughts of whiteness have in common is their object, and this object is different from all of them. Thus universals are not thoughts, though when known they are the objects of thoughts. (p99)

We shall find it convenient only to speak of things existing when they are in time, that is to say, when we can point to some time at which they exist (not excluding the possibility of their existing at all time). Thus thoughts and feelings, minds and physical objects exist. But universals do not exist in this sense; we shall say that they subsist or have being, where ‘being’ is opposed to ‘existence’ as being timeless. The world of universals, therefore, may also be described as the world of being. The world of being is unchangeable, rigid, exact, delightful to the mathematician, the logician, the builder of metaphysical systems, and all who love perfection more than life. The world of existence is fleeting, vague, without sharp boundaries, without any clear plan or arrangement, but it contains all thoughts and feelings, all the data of sense, and all physical objects, everything that makes any difference to the value of life and the world, According to our temperaments, we shall prefer the contemplation of the one or the other. … The truth is that both are real, and both are important to the metaphysician. Indeed no sooner have we distinguished the two worlds than it becomes necessary to consider their relations.
But first afl all we must examine our knowledge of universals. This consideration will occupy us in the following chapter, where we shall find that it solves the problem of a priori knowledge, from which we were first led to consider universals. (pp99=100)

Our knowledge of universals, like particulars, may be divided into those known by acquaintance, those known only by description, and those not known either by acquaintance or by description. (p101)

It is obvious that we are acquainted with such universals as white, red, black, sweet, sour, loud, hard, etc,. i.e. with qualities which are exemplified in the sense-data. When we see a white patch, we are acquainted, in the first instance, with the particular patch; but by seeing many white patches, we easily learn to abstract the whiteness which they all have in common, and in learning to do this we are learning to be acquainted with whiteness. A similar process will make us acquainted with any other universals of the same sort. Universals of this sort may be called ‘[sensible qualities’. They can be apprehended with less effort of abstraction than any others, and they seem less removed from particulars that other universals are. (p101)

We come next to relations. The easiest relations to apprehend are those which hold between the different parts of a single complex sense-datum. For example, I can see at a glance the whole of the page on which I am writing; thus the whole page is included in one sense-datum. But I perceive that some parts of the page are to the left of other parts, and some parts are above other parts. The process of abstraction in this case seems to proceed somewhat as follows: I see successively a number of sense-data in which one part is to the left of another; I perceive, as in the case of different white patches, that all these sense-data have something in common, and by abstraction I find that what they have in common is a certain relation between the parts, namely the relation which I call ‘being to the left of’. In this way I become acquainted with the universal relation. (pp101-102)

In like manner I become aware of the relation of before and after in time. Suppose I hear a chime of bells: when the last bell of the chime sounds, I can retain the whole chime before my mind, and I can perceive that the earlier bells came before the later ones. Also in memory I perceive that what I am remembering came before the present time. From either of these sources I can abstract the universal relation of before and after. Thus time-relations, like space-relations, are among those with which we are acquainted. (p102)

Another relation with which we become acquainted in much the same way is resemblance. If I see simultaneously two shades of green, I can see that they resemble each other; If I also see a shade of red at the same time, I can see that the two greens have more resemblance to each other than either has to the red. In this way I become acquainted with the universal resemblance or similarity. (p102)

Between universals, as between particulars, there are relations of which we may be immediately aware. We have just seen that we can perceive that the resemblance between two shades of green is greater than the resemblance between a shade of red and a shade of green. Here we are dealing with a relation, namely ‘greater than’, between two relations. Our knowledge of such relations, though it require more power of abstraction than is required for perceiving the qualities of sense-data, appears to be equally immediate, and (at least in some cases) equally indubitable. Thus there is immediate knowledge concerning universals as well as concerning sense-data. (pp102-103)

We have left this problem unsolved when we began the consideration of universals, we find ourselves in a position to deal with it in a much more satisfactory manner than was possible before. Let us revert to the proposition ‘two and two are four’. It is fairly obvious, in view of what has been said, that this proposition states a relation between the universal ‘two’ and the universal ‘four’. This suggests a proposition which we shall now endeavour to establish: namely, All a priori knowledge deals exclusively with the relations of universals. This proposition is of great importance, and goes a long way towards solving our previous difficulties concerning a priori knowledge. (p103)

Thus the statement ‘two and two are four’ deals exclusively with universals, and therefore may be known by anybody who is acquainted with the universals concerned and can perceive the relation between them which the statement asserts. It must be taken as a fact, discovered by reflecting upon our knowledge, that we have the power of sometimes perceiving such relations between universals, and therefore of sometimes knowing general a priori propositions such as those of arithmetic and logic. (p105)

The thing that seemed mysterious, when we formerly considered such knowledge, was that it seemed to anticipate and control experience. This, however, we can see to have been an error. No fact concerning anything capable of being experienced can be known independently of experience. (p105)

It will serve to make the point clearer if we contrast our genuine a priori judgment with an empirical generalization, such as ‘all men are mortals’. Here as before, we can understand what the proposition means as soon as we understand the universals involved, namely man and mortal. It is obviously unnecessary to have an individual acquaintance with the whole human race in order to understand what our proposition means. Thus the difference between an a priori general proposition and an empirical generalization does not come in the meaning of the proposition; it comes in the nature of the evidence for it. In the empirical case, the evidence consists in the particular instances. We believe that all men are mortal because we know that there all innumerable instances of men dying, and no instances of their living beyond a certain age. .. The ultimate ground [in the empirical case] remains inductive, i.e. derived from instances, and not an a priori connexion of universals such as we have in logic and arithmetic. (pp106-107)

We may now take a survey of the sources of our knowledge, as they have appeared in the course of our analysis. We have first to distinguish knowledge of things and knowledge of truths. In each there are two kinds, one immediate and one derivative. Our immediate knowledge of things, which we called acquaintance, consists of two sorts, according as the things known are particulars or universals. Among particulars, we have acquaintance with sense-data and (probably) with ourselves. Among universals, there seems to be no principle by which we can decide which can be known by acquaintance, but it is clear that among those that can be so known are sensible qualities, relations of space and time, similarity, and certain abstract logical universals.
Our derivative knowledge of things, which we call knowledge by description, always involves both acquaintance with something and knowledge of truths. Our immediate knowledge of truths may be called intuitive knowledge, and the truths so known may be called self-evident truths. Among such truths are included those which merely state what is given in sense, and also certain abstract logical and arithmetical principles, and (though with less certainty) some ethical propositions. Our derivative knowledge of truths consists of everything that we can deduce from self-evident truths by the use of self-evident principles and deduction. (p109)

If the above account is correct, all our knowledge of truths depends upon our intuitive knowledge. It therefore becomes important to consider the nature and scope of intuitive knowledge, in much the same way as, at an earlier stage, we considered the nature and scope of knowledge by acquaintance.
But knowledge of truths raises a further problem, which does not arise in regard to knowledge of things, namely the problem of error. Some of our beliefs turn out to be erroneous, and therefore it becomes necessary to consider how, if at all, we can distinguish knowledge from error. This problem does not arise with regard to knowledge by acquaintance, for, in dreams and hallucinations, there is no error involved so long as we do not go beyond the immediate object: error can only arise when we regard the immediate object, i.e. the sense-datum, as the mark of some physical object. Thus the problems connected with knowledge of truths are more difficult than those connected with knowledge of things. As the first of the problems connected with knowledge of truths, let us examine the nature and scope of our intuitive judgments. (p109-110)


There is a common impression that everything that we believe ought to be capable of proof, or at least of being shown to be highly probable. It is felt by many that a belief for which no reason can be given is an unreasonable belief. In the main, this view is just. Almost all our common beliefs are either inferred, or capable of being inferred, from other beliefs which may be regarded as giving the reason for them. As a rule, the reason has been forgotten, or has even never been consciously present to our minds. Yet we feel, when challenged, that a perfectly good reason could be found. And in this belief we are usually justified. (p111)

But let us imagine some insistent Socrates, who, whatever reason we give him, continues to demand a reason for the reason. We must sooner or later be driven to a point where we cannot find any further reason. Starting with the common beliefs of daily life, we can be driven back from point to point, until we come to some general principle which is not itself capable of being deduced from some simpler self-evident principle.
And the same holds for other logical principles. Their truth is evident to us, and we employ them in constructing demonstrations; but they themselves, or at least some of them, are incapable of demonstration. (pp111-112)

Self-evidence, however, is not confined to those among general principles which are incapable of proof. When a certain number of logical principles have been admitted, the rest can be deduced from them; but the propositions deduced are often just as self-evident as those that were assumed without proof. All arithmetic, moreover, can be deduced from the general principle of logic, yet the simple propositions of arithmetic, such as ‘two and two are four’, are just as self-evident as the principles of logic. (p112)

It would seem, also, though this is more disputable, that there are some self-evident ethical principles, such as ‘we ought to pursue what is good’. (p112)

In addition to general principles, the other kind of self-evident truths are those immediately derived from sensation. We will call such truths 'truths of perception', and the judgments expressing them we will call 'judgments of perception'. But here a certain amount of care is required in getting at the precise nature of the truths that are self-evident. The actual sense-data are neither true nor false. A particular patch of color which I see, for example, simply exists: it is not the sort of thing that is true or false. It is true that there is such a patch, true that it has a certain shape and degree of brightness, true that it is surrounded by certain other colors. But the patch itself, like everything else in the world of sense, is of a radically different kind from the things that are true or false, and therefore cannot properly be said to be true. Thus whatever self-evident truths may be obtained from our senses must be different from the sense-data from which they are obtained. (pp113-114)

It would seem that there are two kinds of self-evident truths of perception, though perhaps in the last analysis the two kinds may coalesce. First, there is the kind which simply asserts the existence of the sense-datum, without in any way analyzing it. We see a patch of red, and we judge 'there is such-and-such a patch of red', or more strictly 'there is that'; this is one kind of intuitive judgment of perception. The other kind arises when the object of sense is complex, and we subject it to some degree of analysis. If, for instance, we see a round patch of red, we may judge 'that patch of red is round'. This is again a judgment of perception, but it differs from our previous kind. In our present kind we have a single sense-datum which has both color and shape: the color is red and the shape is round. Our judgment analyses the datum into color and shape, and then recombines them by stating that the red color is round in shape. Another example of this kind of judgment is 'this is to the right of that', where 'this' and 'that' are seen simultaneously. In this kind of judgment the sense-datum contains constituents which have some relation to each other, and the judgment asserts that these constituents have this relation. (p114)

Another class of intuitive judgments, analogous to those of sense and yet quite distinct from them, are judgments of memory. There is some danger of confusion as to the nature of memory, owing to the fact that memory of an object is apt to be accompanied by an image of the object, and yet the image cannot be what constitutes memory. This is easily seen by merely noticing that the image is in the present, whereas what is remembered is known to be in the past. Moreover, we are certainly able to some extent to compare our image with the object remembered, so that we often know, within somewhat wide limits, how far our image is accurate; but this would be impossible, unless the object, as opposed to the image, were in some way before the mind. Thus the essence of memory is not constituted by the image, but by having immediately before the mind an object which is recognized as past. But for the fact of memory in this sense, we should not know that there ever was a past at all, nor should we be able to understand the word 'past', any more than a man born blind can understand the word 'light'. Thus there must be intuitive judgments of memory, and it is upon them, ultimately, that all our knowledge of the past depends. (pp114-115)

The case of memory, however, raises a difficulty, for it is notoriously fallacious, and thus throws doubt on the trustworthiness of intuitive judgments in general. This difficulty is no light one. But let us first narrow its scope as far as possible. Broadly speaking, memory is trustworthy in proportion to the vividness of the experience and to its nearness in time. (p115)

Thus the first answer to the difficulty of fallacious memory is to say that memory has degrees of self-evidence, and that these correspond to the degrees of its trustworthiness, reaching a limit of perfect self-evidence and perfect trustworthiness in our memory of events which are recent and vivid. (p116)

It would seem, however, that there are cases of very firm belief in a memory which is wholly false. (p116)

One important point about self-evidence is made clear by the case of memory, and that is, that self-evidence has degrees: it is not a quality which is simply present or absent, but a quality which may be more or less present, in gradations ranging from absolute certainty down to an almost imperceptible faintness.
Truths of perception and some of the principles of logic have the very highest degree of self-evidence; truths of immediate memory have an almost equally high degree. The inductive principle has less self-evidence than some of the other principles of logic, such as 'what follows from a true premiss must be true'. Memories have a diminishing self-evidence as they become remoter and fainter; the truths of logic and mathematics have (broadly speaking) less self-evidence as they become more complicated. Judgments of intrinsic ethical or aesthetic value are apt to have some self-evidence, but not much. (p117)

Degrees of self-evidence are important in the theory of knowledge, since, if propositions may (as seems likely) have some degree of self-evidence without being true, it will not be necessary to abandon all connexion between self-evidence and truth, but merely to say that, where there is a conflict, the more self-evident proposition is to be retained and the less self-evident rejected. (p117)

It seems, however, highly probable that two different notions are combined in 'self-evidence' as above explained; that one of them, which corresponds to the highest degree of self-evidence, is really an infallible guarantee of truth, while the other, which corresponds to all the other degrees, does not give an infallible guarantee, but only a greater or less presumption. This, however, is only a suggestion, which we cannot as yet develop further. After we have dealt with the nature of truth, we shall return to the subject of self-evidence, in connexion with the distinction between knowledge and error. (pp117-118)

Our knowledge of truths, unlike our knowledge of things, has an opposite, namely error. So far as things are concerned, we may know them or not know them, but there is no positive state of mind which can be described as erroneous knowledge of things, so long, at any rate, as we confine ourselves to knowledge by acquaintance. Whatever we are acquainted with must be something; we may draw wrong inferences from our acquaintance, but the acquaintance itself cannot be deceptive. Thus there is no dualism as regards acquaintance. But as regards knowledge of truths, there is a dualism. We may believe what is false as well as what is true. We know that on very many subjects different people hold different and incompatible opinions: hence some beliefs must be erroneous. Since erroneous beliefs are often held just as strongly as true beliefs, it becomes a difficult question how they are to be distinguished from true beliefs. How are we to know, in a given case, that our belief is not erroneous? This is a question of the very greatest difficulty, to which no completely satisfactory answer is possible. There is, however, a preliminary question which is rather less difficult, and that is: What do we mean by truth and falsehood? It is this preliminary question which is to be considered in this chapter. (p119)

In this chapter we are not asking how we can know whether a belief is true or false: we are asking what is meant by the question whether a belief is true or false. It is to be hoped that a clear answer to this question may help us to obtain an answer to the question what beliefs are true, but for the present we ask only 'What is truth?' and 'What is falsehood?' not 'What beliefs are true?' and 'What beliefs are false?' It is very important to keep these different questions entirely separate, since any confusion between them is sure to produce an answer which is not really applicable to either. (pp119-120)

There are three points to observe in the attempt to discover the nature of truth, three requisites which any theory must fulfill.
(1) Our theory of truth must be such as to admit of its opposite, falsehood. In this respect our theory of belief must differ from our theory of acquaintance, since in the case of acquaintance it was not necessary to take account of any opposite.
(2) It seems fairly evident that if there were no beliefs there could be no falsehood, and no truth either, in the sense in which truth is correlative to falsehood. If we imagine a world of mere matter, there would be no room for falsehood in such a world, and although it would contain what may be called 'facts', it would not contain any truths. (Note: A world of mere matter is a world of no mind.)
(3) The truth or falsehood of a belief always depends upon something which lies outside the belief itself. Hence, although truth and falsehood are properties of beliefs, they are properties dependent upon the relations of the beliefs to other things, not upon any internal quality of the beliefs. (pp120-121)

The third of the above requisites leads us to adopt the view—which has on the whole been commonest among philosophers—that truth consists in some form of correspondence between belief and fact. It is, however, by no means an easy matter to discover a form of correspondence to which there are no irrefutable objections. By this partly—and partly by the feeling that, if truth consists in a correspondence of thought with something outside thought, thought can never know when truth has been attained—many philosophers have been led to try to find some definition of truth which shall not consist in relation to something wholly outside belief. The most important attempt at a definition of this sort is the theory that truth consists in coherence. It is said that the mark of falsehood is failure to cohere in the body of our beliefs, and that it is the essence of a truth to form part of the completely rounded system which is The Truth. (pp121-122)

There is, however, a great difficulty in this view, or rather two great difficulties. The first is that there is no reason to suppose that only one coherent body of beliefs is possible. In more scientific matters, it is certain that there are often two or more hypotheses which account for all the known facts on some subject, and although, in such cases, men of science endeavor to find facts which will rule out all the hypotheses except one, there is no reason why they should always succeed. (p122)

In philosophy, again, it seems not uncommon for two rival hypotheses to be both able to account for all the facts. Thus, for example, it is possible that life is one long dream, and that the outer world has only that degree of reality that the objects of dreams have; but although such a view does not seem inconsistent with known facts, there is no reason to prefer it to the common-sense view, according to which other people and things do really exist. Thus coherence as the definition of truth fails because there is no proof that there can be only one coherent system. (p122)

The other objection to this definition of truth is that it assumes the meaning of 'coherence' known, whereas, in fact, 'coherence' presupposes the truth of the laws of logic. Two propositions are coherent when both may be true, and are incoherent when one at least must be false. Now in order to know whether two propositions can both be true, we must know such truths as the law of contradiction. For example, the two propositions, 'this tree is a beech' and 'this tree is not a beech', are not coherent, because of the law of contradiction. But if the law of contradiction itself were subjected to the test of coherence, we should find that, if we choose to suppose it false, nothing will any longer be incoherent with anything else. Thus the laws of logic supply the skeleton or framework within which the test of coherence applies, and they themselves cannot be established by this test. (pp122-123)

For the above two reasons, coherence cannot be accepted as giving the meaning of truth, though it is often a most important test of truth after a certain amount of truth has become known. (p123)

Hence we are driven back to correspondence with fact as constituting the nature of truth. It remains to define precisely what we mean by 'fact', and what is the nature of the correspondence which must subsist between belief and fact, in order that belief may be true. (p123)

In accordance with our three requisites, we have to seek a theory of truth which (1) allows truth to have an opposite, namely falsehood, (2) makes truth a property of beliefs, but (3) makes it a property wholly dependent upon the relation of the beliefs to outside things. (p123)

What is called belief or judgment is nothing but this relation of believing or judging, which relates a mind to several things other than itself. (p126)

We are now in a position to understand what it is that distinguishes a true judgment from a false one. For this purpose we will adopt certain definitions. In every act of judgment there is a mind which judges, and there are terms concerning which it judges. We will call the mind the subject in the judgment, and the remaining terms the objects. (p126)

We spoke of the relation called 'judging' or 'believing' as knitting together into one complex whole the subject and the objects. In this respect, judging is exactly like every other relation. Whenever a relation holds between two or more terms, it unites the terms into a complex whole. (p127)

Thus a belief is true when it corresponds to a certain associated complex, and false when it does not. (p128)

. Thus although truth and falsehood are properties of beliefs, yet they are in a sense extrinsic properties, for the condition of the truth of a belief is something not involving beliefs, or (in general) any mind at all, but only the objects of the belief. A mind, which believes, believes truly when there is a corresponding complex not involving the mind, but only its objects. This correspondence ensures truth, and its absence entails falsehood. Hence we account simultaneously for the two facts that beliefs (a) depend on minds for their existence, (b) do not depend on minds for their truth. (p129)

It will be seen that minds do not create truth or falsehood. They create beliefs, but when once the beliefs are created, the mind cannot make them true or false, except in the special case where they concern future things which are within the power of the person believing, such as catching trains. What makes a belief true is a fact, and this fact does not (except in exceptional cases) in any way involve the mind of the person who has the belief. (pp129-130)

Having now decided what we mean by truth and falsehood, we have next to consider what ways there are of knowing whether this or that belief is true or false. This consideration will occupy the next chapter. (p130)


The question as to what we mean by truth and falsehood, which we considered in the preceding chapter, is of much less interest than the question as to how we can know what is true and what is false. This question will occupy us in the present chapter. There can be no doubt that some of our beliefs are erroneous; thus we are led to inquire what certainty we can ever have that such and such a belief is not erroneous. In other words, can we ever know anything at all, or do we merely sometimes by good luck believe what is true? Before we can attack this question, we must, however, first decide what we mean by 'knowing', and this question is not so easy as might be supposed. (p131)

At first sight we might imagine that knowledge could be defined as 'true belief'. When what we believe is true, it might be supposed that we had achieved a knowledge of what we believe. But this would not accord with the way in which the word is commonly used. To take a very trivial instance: If a man believes that the late Prime Minister's last name began with a B, he believes what is true, since the late Prime Minister was Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman. But if he believes that Mr. Balfour was the late Prime Minister, he will still believe that the late Prime Minister's last name began with a B, yet this belief, though true, would not be thought to constitute knowledge. If a newspaper, by an intelligent anticipation, announces the result of a battle before any telegram giving the result has been received, it may by good fortune announce what afterwards turns out to be the right result, and it may produce belief in some of its less experienced readers. But in spite of the truth of their belief, they cannot be said to have knowledge. Thus it is clear that a true belief is not knowledge when it is deduced from a false belief. (pp131-132)

In like manner, a true belief cannot be called knowledge when it is deduced by a fallacious process of reasoning, even if the premisses from which it is deduced are true. If I know that all Greeks are men and that Socrates was a man, and I infer that Socrates was a Greek, I cannot be said to know that Socrates was a Greek, because, although my premisses and my conclusion are true, the conclusion does not follow from the premisses. . (p132)

But are we to say that nothing is knowledge except what is validly deduced from true premisses? Obviously we cannot say this. Such a definition is at once too wide and too narrow. In the first place, it is too wide, because it is not enough that our premisses should be true, they must also be known. The man who believes that Mr. Balfour was the late Prime Minister may proceed to draw valid deductions from the true premiss that the late Prime Minister's name began with a B, but he cannot be said to know the conclusions reached by these deductions. Thus we shall have to amend our definition by saying that knowledge is what is validly deduced from known premisses. This, however, is a circular definition: it assumes that we already know what is meant by 'known premisses'. It can, therefore, at best define one sort of knowledge, the sort we call derivative, as opposed to intuitive knowledge. We may say: 'Derivative knowledge is what is validly deduced from premisses known intuitively'. In this statement there is no formal defect, but it leaves the definition of intuitive knowledge still to seek. . (pp132-133)

Leaving on one side, for the moment, the question of intuitive knowledge, let us consider the above suggested definition of derivative knowledge. The chief objection to it is that it unduly limits knowledge. It constantly happens that people entertain a true belief, which has grown up in them because of some piece of intuitive knowledge from which it is capable of being validly inferred, but from which it has not, as a matter of fact, been inferred by any logical process. (p133)

Take, for example, the beliefs produced by reading. If the newspapers announce the death of the King, we are fairly well justified in believing that the King is dead, since this is the sort of announcement which would not be made if it were false. And we are quite amply justified in believing that the newspaper asserts that the King is dead. But here the intuitive knowledge upon which our belief is based is knowledge of the existence of sense-data derived from looking at the print which gives the news. This knowledge scarcely rises into consciousness, except in a person who cannot read easily. A child may be aware of the shapes of the letters, and pass gradually and painfully to a realization of their meaning. But anybody accustomed to reading passes at once to what the letters mean, and is not aware, except on reflection, that he has derived this knowledge from the sense-data called seeing the printed letters. Thus although a valid inference from the-letters to their meaning is possible, and could be performed by the reader, it is not in fact performed, since he does not in fact perform any operation which can be called logical inference. Yet it would be absurd to say that the reader does not know that the newspaper announces the King's death. (pp133-134)

We must, therefore, admit as derivative knowledge whatever is the result of intuitive knowledge even if by mere association, provided there is a valid logical connexion, and the person in question could become aware of this connexion by reflection. There are in fact many ways, besides logical inference, by which we pass from one belief to another: the passage from the print to its meaning illustrates these ways. These ways may be called 'psychological inference'. We shall, then, admit such psychological inference as a means of obtaining derivative knowledge, provided there is a discoverable logical inference which runs parallel to the psychological inference. This renders our definition of derivative knowledge less precise than we could wish, since the word 'discoverable' is vague: it does not tell us how much reflection may be needed in order to make the discovery. But in fact 'knowledge' is not a precise conception: it merges into 'probable opinion', as we shall see more fully in the course of the present chapter. A very precise definition, therefore, should not be sought, since any such definition must be more or less misleading. (p134)

The chief difficulty in regard to knowledge, however, does not arise over derivative knowledge, but over intuitive knowledge. So long as we are dealing with derivative knowledge, we have the test of intuitive knowledge to fall back upon. But in regard to intuitive beliefs, it is by no means easy to discover any criterion by which to distinguish some as true and others as erroneous. In this question it is scarcely possible to reach any very precise result: all our knowledge of truths is infected with some degree of doubt, and a theory which ignored this fact would be plainly wrong. Something may be done, however, to mitigate the difficulties of the question. (pp134-135)

Our theory of truth, to begin with, supplies the possibility of distinguishing certain truths as self-evident in a sense which ensures infallibility. When a belief is true, we said, there is a corresponding fact, in which the several objects of the belief form a single complex. The belief is said to constitute knowledge of this fact, provided it fulfills those further somewhat vague conditions which we have been considering in the present chapter. But in regard to any fact, besides the knowledge constituted by belief, we may also have the kind of knowledge constituted by perception (taking this word in its widest possible sense). For example, if you know the hour of the sunset, you can at that hour know the fact that the sun is setting: this is knowledge of the fact by way of knowledge of truths; but you can also, if the weather is fine, look to the west and actually see the setting sun: you then know the same fact by the way of knowledge of things. (p135)

Thus in regard to any complex fact, there are, theoretically, two ways in which it may be known: (1) by means of a judgment, in which its several parts are judged to be related as they are in fact related; (2) by means of acquaintance with the complex fact itself, which may (in a large sense) be called perception, though it is by no means confined to objects of the senses. Now it will be observed that the second way of knowing a complex fact, the way of acquaintance, is only possible when there really is such a fact, while the first way, like all judgment, is liable to error. The second way gives us the complex whole, and is therefore only possible when its parts do actually have that relation which makes them combine to form such a complex. The first way, on the contrary, gives us the parts and the relation severally, and demands only the reality of the parts and the relation: the relation may not relate those parts in that way, and yet the judgment may occur. (pp135-136)

It will be remembered that at the end of Chapter XI we suggested that there might be two kinds of self-evidence, one giving an absolute guarantee of truth, the other only a partial guarantee. These two kinds can now be distinguished. (p136)

We may say that a truth is self-evident, in the first and most absolute sense, when we have acquaintance with the fact which corresponds to the truth. When Othello believes that Desdemona loves Cassio, the corresponding fact, if his belief were true, would be 'Desdemona's love for Cassio'. This would be a fact with which no one could have acquaintance except Desdemona; hence in the sense of self-evidence that we are considering, the truth that Desdemona loves Cassio (if it were a truth) could only be self-evident to Desdemona. All mental facts, and all facts concerning sense-data, have this same privacy: there is only one person to whom they can be self-evident in our present sense, since there is only one person who can be acquainted with the mental things or the sense-data concerned. Thus no fact about any particular existing thing can be self-evident to more than one person.
On the other hand, facts about universals do not have this privacy. Many minds may be acquainted with the same universals; hence a relation between universals may be known by acquaintance to many different people. In all cases where we know by acquaintance a complex fact consisting of certain terms in a certain relation, we say that the truth that these terms are so related has the first or absolute kind of self-evidence, and in these cases the judgment that the terms are so related must be true. Thus this sort of self-evidence is an absolute guarantee of truth. (pp136-137)

But although this sort of self-evidence is an absolute guarantee of truth, it does not enable us to be absolutely certain, in the case of any given judgment, that the judgment in question is true. Suppose we first perceive the sun shining, which is a complex fact, and thence proceed to make the judgment 'the sun is shining'. In passing from the perception to the judgment, it is necessary to analyse the given complex fact: we have to separate out 'the sun' and 'shining' as constituents of the fact. In this process it is possible to commit an error; hence even where a fact has the first or absolute kind of self-evidence, a judgment believed to correspond to the fact is not absolutely infallible, because it may not really correspond to the fact. But if it does correspond (in the sense explained in the preceding chapter), then it must be true. (pp137-138)

The second sort of self-evidence will be that which belongs to judgments in the first instance, and is not derived from direct perception of a fact as a single complex whole. This second kind of self-evidence will have degrees, from the very highest degree down to a bare inclination in favor of the belief. Take, for example, the case of a horse trotting away from us along a hard road. At first our certainty that we hear the hoofs is complete; gradually, if we listen intently, there comes a moment when we think perhaps it was imagination or the blind upstairs or our own heartbeats; at last we become doubtful whether there was any noise at all; then we think we no longer hear anything, and at last we know we no longer hear anything. In this process, there is a continual gradation of self-evidence, from the highest degree to the least, not in the sense-data themselves, but in the judgments based on them. (p138)

Or again: Suppose we are comparing two shades of color, one blue and one green. We can be quite sure they are different shades of color; but if the green color is gradually altered to be more and more like the blue, becoming first a blue-green, then a greeny-blue, then blue, there will come a moment when we are doubtful whether we can see any difference, and then a moment when we know that we cannot see any difference. The same thing happens in tuning a musical instrument, or in any other case where there is a continuous gradation. Thus self-evidence of this sort is a matter of degree; and it seems plain that the higher degrees are more to be trusted than the lower degrees. (pp138-139)

In derivative knowledge our ultimate premisses must have some degree of self-evidence, and so must their connexion with the conclusions deduced from them. Take for example a piece of reasoning in geometry. It is not enough that the axioms from which we start should be self-evident: it is necessary also that, at each step in the reasoning, the connexion of premiss and conclusion should be self-evident. In difficult reasoning, this connexion has often only a very small degree of self-evidence; hence errors of reasoning are not improbable where the difficulty is great. (p139)

From what has been said it is evident that, both as regards intuitive knowledge and as regards derivative knowledge, if we assume that intuitive knowledge is trustworthy in proportion to the degree of its self-evidence, there will be a gradation in trustworthiness, from the existence of noteworthy sense-data and the simpler truths of logic and arithmetic, which may be taken as quite certain, down to judgments which seem only just more probable than their opposites. What we firmly believe, if it is true, is called knowledge, provided it is either intuitive or inferred (logically or psychologically) from intuitive knowledge from which it follows logically. What we firmly believe, if it is not true, is called error. What we firmly believe, if it is neither knowledge nor error, and also what we believe hesitatingly, because it is, or is derived from, something which has not the highest degree of self-evidence, may be called probable opinion. Thus the greater part of what would commonly pass as knowledge is more or less probable opinion. (pp139-140)

In regard to probable opinion, we can derive great assistance from coherence, which we rejected as the definition of truth, but may often use as a criterion. A body of individually probable opinions, if they are mutually coherent, become more probable than any one of them would be individually. It is in this way that many scientific hypotheses acquire their probability. They fit into a coherent system of probable opinions, and thus become more probable than they would be in isolation. The same thing applies to general philosophical hypotheses. Often in a single case such hypotheses may seem highly doubtful, while yet, when we consider the order and coherence which they introduce into a mass of probable opinion, they become pretty nearly certain. This applies, in particular, to such matters as the distinction between dreams and waking life. If our dreams, night after night, were as coherent one with another as our days, we should hardly know whether to believe the dreams or the waking life. As it is, the test of coherence condemns the dreams and confirms the waking life. But this test, though it increases probability where it is successful, never gives absolute certainty, unless there is certainty already at some point in the coherent system. Thus the mere organization of probable opinion will never, by itself, transform it into indubitable knowledge. (p140)


In all that we have said hitherto concerning philosophy, we have scarcely touched on many matters that occupy a great space in the writings of most philosophers. Most philosophers—or, at any rate, very many—profess to be able to prove, by a priori metaphysical reasoning, such things as the fundamental dogmas of religion, the essential rationality of the universe, the illusoriness of matter, the unreality of all evil, and so on. There can be no doubt that the hope of finding reason to believe such theses as these has been the chief inspiration of many life-long students of philosophy. This hope, I believe, is vain. It would seem that knowledge concerning the universe as a whole is not to be obtained by metaphysics, and that the proposed proofs that, in virtue of the laws of logic such and such things must exist and such and such others cannot, are not capable of surviving a critical scrutiny. In this chapter we shall briefly consider the kind of way in which such reasoning is attempted, with a view to discovering whether we can hope that it may be valid. (p141)

The great representative, in modern times, of the kind of view which we wish to examine, was Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel's philosophy is very difficult, and commentators differ as to the true interpretation of it. According to the interpretation I shall adopt, which is that of many, if not most, of the commentators and has the merit of giving an interesting and important type of philosophy, his main thesis is that everything short of the Whole is obviously fragmentary, and obviously incapable of existing without the complement supplied by the rest of the world. Just as a comparative anatomist, from a single bone, sees what kind of animal the whole must have been, so the metaphysician, according to Hegel, sees, from any one piece of reality, what the whole of reality must be—at least in its large outlines. Every apparently separate piece of reality has, as it were, hooks which grapple it to the next piece; the next piece, in turn, has fresh hooks, and so on, until the whole universe is reconstructed. This essential incompleteness appears, according to Hegel, equally in the world of thought and in the world of things. In the world of thought, if we take any idea which is abstract or incomplete, we find, on examination, that if we forget its incompleteness, we become involved in contradictions; these contradictions turn the idea in question into its opposite, or antithesis; and in order to escape, we have to find a new, less incomplete idea, which is the synthesis of our original idea and its antithesis. This new idea, though less incomplete than the idea we started with, will be found, nevertheless, to be still not wholly complete, but to pass into its antithesis, with which it must be combined in a new synthesis. In this way Hegel advances until he reaches the 'Absolute Idea', which, according to him, has no incompleteness, no opposite, and no need of further development. The Absolute Idea, therefore, is adequate to describe Absolute Reality; but all lower ideas only describe reality as it appears to a partial view, not as it is to one who simultaneously surveys the Whole. Thus Hegel reaches the conclusion that Absolute Reality forms one single harmonious system, not in space or time, not in any degree evil, wholly rational, and wholly spiritual. Any appearance to the contrary, in the world we know, can be proved logically—so he believes—to be entirely due to our fragmentary piecemeal view of the universe. If we saw the universe whole, as we may suppose God sees it, space and time and matter and evil and all striving and struggling would disappear, and we should see instead an eternal perfect unchanging spiritual unity. (pp141-143)

In this conception, there is undeniably something sublime, something to which we could wish to yield assent. Nevertheless, when the arguments in support of it are carefully examined, they appear to involve much confusion and many unwarrantable assumptions. The fundamental tenet upon which the system is built up is that what is incomplete must be not self-subsistent, but must need the support of other things before it can exist. It is held that whatever has relations to things outside itself must contain some reference to those outside things in its own nature, and could not, therefore, be what it is if those outside things did not exist. A man's nature, for example, is constituted by his memories and the rest of his knowledge, by his loves and hatreds, and so on; thus, but for the objects which he knows or loves or hates, he could not be what he is. He is essentially and obviously a fragment: taken as the sum-total of reality he would be self-contradictory. (p143)

This whole point of view, however, turns upon the notion of the 'nature' of a thing, which seems to mean 'all the truths about the thing'. It is of course the case that a truth which connects one thing with another thing could not subsist if the other thing did not subsist. But a truth about a thing is not part of the thing itself, although it must, according to the above usage, be part of the 'nature' of the thing. If we mean by a thing's 'nature' all the truths about the thing, then plainly we cannot know a thing's 'nature' unless we know all the thing's relations to all the other things in the universe. But if the word 'nature' is used in this sense, we shall have to hold that the thing may be known when its 'nature' is not known, or at any rate is not known completely. There is a confusion, when this use of the word 'nature' is employed, between knowledge of things and knowledge of truths. We may have knowledge of a thing by acquaintance even if we know very few propositions about it—theoretically we need not know any propositions about it. Thus, acquaintance with a thing does not involve knowledge of its 'nature' in the above sense. And although acquaintance with a thing is involved in our knowing any one proposition about a thing, knowledge of its 'nature', in the above sense, is not involved. Hence, (1) acquaintance with a thing does not logically involve a knowledge of its relations, and (2) a knowledge of some of its relations does not involve a knowledge of all of its relations nor a knowledge of its 'nature' in the above sense. I may be acquainted, for example, with my toothache, and this knowledge may be as complete as knowledge by acquaintance ever can be, without knowing all that the dentist (who is not acquainted with it) can tell me about its cause, and without therefore knowing its 'nature' in the above sense. Thus the fact that a thing has relations does not prove that its relations are logically necessary. That is to say, from the mere fact that it is the thing it is we cannot deduce that it must have the various relations which in fact it has. This only seems to follow because we know it already. (pp144-145)

It follows that we cannot prove that the universe as a whole forms a single harmonious system such as Hegel believes that it forms. And if we cannot prove this, we also cannot prove the unreality of space and time and matter and evil, for this is deduced by Hegel from the fragmentary and relational character of these things. Thus we are left to the piecemeal investigation of the world, and are unable to know the characters of those parts of the universe that are remote from our experience. This result, disappointing as it is to those whose hopes have been raised by the systems of philosophers, is in harmony with the inductive and scientific temper of our age, and is borne out by the whole examination of human knowledge which has occupied our previous chapters. (p145)

Most of the great ambitious attempts of metaphysicians have proceeded by the attempt to prove that such and such apparent features of the actual world were self-contradictory, and therefore could not be real. The whole tendency of modern thought, however, is more and more in the direction of showing that the supposed contradictions were illusory, and that very little can be proved a priori from considerations of what must be. A good illustration of this is afforded by space and time. Space and time appear to be infinite in extent, and infinitely divisible. If we travel along a straight line in either direction, it is difficult to believe that we shall finally reach a last point, beyond which there is nothing, not even empty space. Similarly, if in imagination we travel backwards or forwards in time, it is difficult to believe that we shall reach a first or last time, with not even empty time beyond it. Thus space and time appear to be infinite in extent. (pp145-146)

Again, if we take any two points on a line, it seems evident that there must be other points between them however small the distance between them may be: every distance can be halved, and the halves can be halved again, and so on ad infinitum. In time, similarly, however little time may elapse between two moments, it seems evident that there will be other moments between them. Thus space and time appear to be infinitely divisible. But as against these apparent facts—infinite extent and infinite divisibility—philosophers have advanced arguments tending to show that there could be no infinite collections of things, and that therefore the number of points in space, or of instants in time, must be finite. Thus a contradiction emerged between the apparent nature of space and time and the supposed impossibility of infinite collections. (p146)

Kant, who first emphasized this contradiction, deduced the impossibility of space and time, which he declared to be merely subjective; and since his time very many philosophers have believed that space and time are mere appearance, not characteristic of the world as it really is. Now, however, owing to the labors of the mathematicians, notably Georg Cantor, it has appeared that the impossibility of infinite collections was a mistake. They are not in fact self-contradictory, but only contradictory of certain rather obstinate mental prejudices. Hence the reasons for regarding space and time as unreal have become inoperative, and one of the great sources of metaphysical constructions is dried up. (pp146-147)

The mathematicians, however, have not been content with showing that space as it is commonly supposed to be is possible; they have shown also that many other forms of space are equally possible, so far as logic can show. Some of Euclid's axioms, which appear to common sense to be necessary, and were formerly supposed to be necessary by philosophers, are now known to derive their appearance of necessity from our mere familiarity with actual space, and not from any a priori logical foundation. By imagining worlds in which these axioms are false, the mathematicians have used logic to loosen the prejudices of common sense, and to show the possibility of spaces differing—some more, some less—from that in which we live. And some of these spaces differ so little from Euclidean space, where distances such as we can measure are concerned, that it is impossible to discover by observation whether our actual space is strictly Euclidean or of one of these other kinds. Thus the position is completely reversed. Formerly it appeared that experience left only one kind of space to logic, and logic showed this one kind to be impossible. Now, logic presents many kinds of space as possible apart from experience, and experience only partially decides between them. Thus, while our knowledge of what is has become less than it was formerly supposed to be, our knowledge of what may be is enormously increased. Instead of being shut in within narrow walls, of which every nook and cranny could be explored, we find ourselves in an open world of free possibilities, where much remains unknown because there is so much to know. (pp147-148)

What has happened in the case of space and time has happened, to some extent, in other directions as well. The attempt to prescribe to the universe by means of a priori principles has broken down; logic, instead of being, as formerly, the bar to possibilities, has become the great liberator of the imagination, presenting innumerable alternatives which are closed to unreflective common sense, and leaving to experience the task of deciding, where decision is possible, between the many worlds which logic offers for our choice. Thus knowledge as to what exists becomes limited to what we can learn from experience—not to what we can actually experience, for, as we have seen, there is much knowledge by description concerning things of which we have no direct experience. But in all cases of knowledge by description, we need some connexion of universals, enabling us, from such and such a datum, to infer an object of a certain sort as implied by our datum. Thus in regard to physical objects, for example, the principle that sense-data are signs of physical objects is itself a connexion of universals; and it is only in virtue of this principle that experience enables us to acquire knowledge concerning physical objects. The same applies to the law of causality, or, to descend to what is less general, to such principles as the law of gravitation. (pp148-149)

Principles such as the law of gravitation are proved, or rather are rendered highly probable, by a combination of experience with some wholly a priori principle, such as the principle of induction. Thus our intuitive knowledge, which is the source of all our other knowledge of truths, is of two sorts: pure empirical knowledge, which tells us of the existence and some of the properties of particular things with which we are acquainted, and pure a priori knowledge, which gives us connexions between universals, and enables us to draw inferences from the particular facts given in empirical knowledge. Our derivative knowledge always depends upon some pure a priori knowledge and usually also depends upon some pure empirical knowledge. (p149)

Philosophical knowledge, if what has been said above is true, does not differ essentially from scientific knowledge; there is no special source of wisdom which is open to philosophy but not to science, and the results obtained by philosophy are not radically different from those obtained from science. The essential characteristic of philosophy, which makes it a study distinct from science, is criticism. It examines critically the principles employed in science and in daily life; it searches out any inconsistencies there may be in these principles, and it only accepts them when, as the result of a critical inquiry, no reason for rejecting them has appeared. If, as many philosophers have believed, the principles underlying the sciences were capable, when disengaged from irrelevant detail, of giving us knowledge concerning the universe as a whole, such knowledge would have the same claim on our belief as scientific knowledge has; but our inquiry has not revealed any such knowledge, and therefore, as regards the special doctrines of the bolder metaphysicians, has had a mainly negative result. But as regards what would be commonly accepted as knowledge, our result is in the main positive: we have seldom found reason to reject such knowledge as the result of our criticism, and we have seen no reason to suppose man incapable of the kind of knowledge which he is generally believed to possess. (pp149-150)

When, however, we speak of philosophy as a criticism of knowledge, it is necessary to impose a certain limitation. If we adopt the attitude of the complete skeptic, placing ourselves wholly outside all knowledge, and asking, from this outside position, to be compelled to return within the circle of knowledge, we are demanding what is impossible, and our skepticism can never be refuted. For all refutation must begin with some piece of knowledge which the disputants share; from blank doubt, no argument can begin. Hence the criticism of knowledge which philosophy employs must not be of this destructive kind, if any result is to be achieved. Against this absolute skepticism, no logical argument can be advanced. But it is not difficult to see that skepticism of this kind is unreasonable. Descartes' 'methodical doubt', with which modern philosophy began, is not of this kind, but is rather the kind of criticism which we are asserting to be the essence of philosophy. His 'methodical doubt' consisted in doubting whatever seemed doubtful; in pausing, with each apparent piece of knowledge, to ask himself whether, on reflection, he could feel certain that he really knew it. This is the kind of criticism which constitutes philosophy. Some knowledge, such as knowledge of the existence of our sense-data, appears quite indubitable, however calmly and thoroughly we reflect upon it. In regard to such knowledge, philosophical criticism does not require that we should abstain from belief. But there are beliefs—such, for example, as the belief that physical objects exactly resemble our sense-data—which are entertained until we begin to reflect, but are found to melt away when subjected to a close inquiry. Such beliefs philosophy will bid us reject, unless some new line of argument is found to support them. But to reject the beliefs which do not appear open to any objections, however closely we examine them, is not reasonable, and is not what philosophy advocates. (pp150-151)

The criticism aimed at, in a word, is not that which, without reason, determines to reject, but that which considers each piece of apparent knowledge on its merits, and retains whatever still appears to be knowledge when this consideration is completed. That some risk of error remains must be admitted, since human beings are fallible. Philosophy may claim justly that it diminishes the risk of error, and that in some cases it renders the risk so small as to be practically negligible. To do more than this is not possible in a world where mistakes must occur; and more than this no prudent advocate of philosophy would claim to have performed. (pp151-152)


Having now come to the end of our brief and very incomplete review of the problems of philosophy, it will be well to consider, in conclusion, what is the value of philosophy and why it ought to be studied. It is the more necessary to consider this question, in view of the fact that many men, under the influence of science or of practical affairs, are inclined to doubt whether philosophy is anything better than innocent but useless trifling, hair-splitting distinctions, and controversies on matters concerning which knowledge is impossible. (p153)

This view of philosophy appears to result, partly from a wrong conception of the ends of life, partly from a wrong conception of the kind of goods which philosophy strives to achieve. Physical science, through the medium of inventions, is useful to innumerable people who are wholly ignorant of it; thus the study of physical science is to be recommended, not only, or primarily, because of the effect on the student, but rather because of the effect on mankind in general. Thus utility does not belong to philosophy. If the study of philosophy has any value at all for others than students of philosophy, it must be only indirectly, through its effects upon the lives of those who study it. It is in these effects, therefore, if anywhere, that the value of philosophy must be primarily sought. (p153)

But further, if we are not to fail in our endeavor to determine the value of philosophy, we must first free our minds from the prejudices of what are wrongly called 'practical' men. The 'practical' man, as this word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that men must have food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind. If all men were well off, if poverty and disease had been reduced to their lowest possible point, there would still remain much to be done to produce a valuable society; and even in the existing world the goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. It is exclusively among the goods of the mind that the value of philosophy is to be found; and only those who are not indifferent to these goods can be persuaded that the study of philosophy is not a waste of time. (p154)

Philosophy, like all other studies, aims primarily at knowledge. The knowledge it aims at is the kind of knowledge which gives unity and system to the body of the sciences, and the kind which results from a critical examination of the grounds of our convictions, prejudices, and beliefs. But it cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions. If you ask a mathematician, a mineralogist, a historian, or any other man of learning, what definite body of truths has been ascertained by his science, his answer will last as long as you are willing to listen. But if you put the same question to a philosopher, he will, if he is candid, have to confess that his study has not achieved positive results such as have been achieved by other sciences. It is true that this is partly accounted for by the fact that, as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separate science. The whole study of the heavens, which now belongs to astronomy, was once included in philosophy; Newton's great work was called 'the mathematical principles of natural philosophy'. Similarly, the study of the human mind, which was a part of philosophy, has now been separated from philosophy and has become the science of psychology. Thus, to a great extent, the uncertainty of philosophy is more apparent than real: those questions which are already capable of definite answers are placed in the sciences, while those only to which, at present, no definite answer can be given, remain to form the residue which is called philosophy. (pp154-155)

This is, however, only a part of the truth concerning the uncertainty of philosophy. There are many questions—and among them those that are of the profoundest interest to our spiritual life—which, so far as we can see, must remain insoluble to the human intellect unless its powers become of quite a different order from what they are now. Has the universe any unity of plan or purpose, or is it a fortuitous concourse of atoms? Is consciousness a permanent part of the universe, giving hope of indefinite growth in wisdom, or is it a transitory accident on a small planet on which life must ultimately become impossible? Are good and evil of importance to the universe or only to man? Such questions are asked by philosophy, and variously answered by various philosophers. But it would seem that, whether answers be otherwise discoverable or not, the answers suggested by philosophy are none of them demonstrably true. Yet, however slight may be the hope of discovering an answer, it is part of the business of philosophy to continue the consideration of such questions, to make us aware of their importance, to examine all the approaches to them, and to keep alive that speculative interest in the universe which is apt to be killed by confining ourselves to definitely ascertainable knowledge. (pp155-156)

Many philosophers, it is true, have held that philosophy could establish the truth of certain answers to such fundamental questions. They have supposed that what is of most importance in religious beliefs could be proved by strict demonstration to be true. In order to judge of such attempts, it is necessary to take a survey of human knowledge, and to form an opinion as to its methods and its limitations. On such a subject it would be unwise to pronounce dogmatically; but if the investigations of our previous chapters have not led us astray, we shall be compelled to renounce the hope of finding philosophical proofs of religious beliefs. We cannot, therefore, include as part of the value of philosophy any definite set of answers to such questions. Hence, once more, the value of philosophy must not depend upon any supposed body of definitely ascertainable knowledge to be acquired by those who study it. (p156)

The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find, as we saw in our opening chapters, that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect. (pp156-157)

Apart from its utility in showing unsuspected possibilities, philosophy has a value—perhaps its chief value—through the greatness of the objects which it contemplates, and the freedom from narrow and personal aims resulting from this contemplation. The life of the instinctive man is shut up within the circle of his private interests: family and friends may be included, but the outer world is not regarded except as it may help or hinder what comes within the circle of instinctive wishes. In such a life there is something feverish and confined, in comparison with which the philosophic life is calm and free. The private world of instinctive interests is a small one, set in the midst of a great and powerful world which must, sooner or later, lay our private world in ruins. Unless we can so enlarge our interests as to include the whole outer world, we remain like a garrison in a beleaguered fortress, knowing that the enemy prevents escape and that ultimate surrender is inevitable. In such a life there is no peace, but a constant strife between the insistence of desire and the powerlessness of will. In one way or another, if our life is to be great and free, we must escape this prison and this strife. (pp157-158)

One way of escape is by philosophic contemplation. Philosophic contemplation does not, in its widest survey, divide the universe into two hostile camps—friends and foes, helpful and hostile, good and bad—it views the whole impartially. Philosophic contemplation, when it is unalloyed, does not aim at proving that the rest of the universe is akin to man. All acquisition of knowledge is an enlargement of the Self, but this enlargement is best attained when it is not directly sought. It is obtained when the desire for knowledge is alone operative, by a study which does not wish in advance that its objects should have this or that character, but adapts the Self to the characters which it finds in its objects. This enlargement of Self is not obtained when, taking the Self as it is, we try to show that the world is so similar to this Self that knowledge of it is possible without any admission of what seems alien. The desire to prove this is a form of self-assertion and, like all self-assertion, it is an obstacle to the growth of Self which it desires, and of which the Self knows that it is capable. Self-assertion, in philosophic speculation as elsewhere, views the world as a means to its own ends; thus it makes the world of less account than Self, and the Self sets bounds to the greatness of its goods. In contemplation, on the contrary, we start from the not-Self, and through its greatness the boundaries of Self are enlarged; through the infinity of the universe the mind which contemplates it achieves some share in infinity. (pp158-159)

For this reason greatness of soul is not fostered by those philosophies which assimilate the universe to Man. Knowledge is a form of union of Self and not-Self; like all union, it is impaired by dominion, and therefore by any attempt to force the universe into conformity with what we find in ourselves. There is a widespread philosophical tendency towards the view which tells us that Man is the measure of all things, that truth is man-made, that space and time and the world of universals are properties of the mind, and that, if there be anything not created by the mind, it is unknowable and of no account for us. This view, if our previous discussions were correct, is untrue; but in addition to being untrue, it has the effect of robbing philosophic contemplation of all that gives it value, since it fetters contemplation to Self. What it calls knowledge is not a union with the not-Self, but a set of prejudices, habits, and desires, making an impenetrable veil between us and the world beyond. The man who finds pleasure in such a theory of knowledge is like the man who never leaves the domestic circle for fear his word might not be law. (pp159-160)

The true philosophic contemplation, on the contrary, finds its satisfaction in every enlargement of the not-Self, in everything that magnifies the objects contemplated, and thereby the subject contemplating. Everything, in contemplation, that is personal or private, everything that depends upon habit, self-interest, or desire, distorts the object, and hence impairs the union which the intellect seeks. By thus making a barrier between subject and object, such personal and private things become a prison to the intellect. The free intellect will see as God might see, without a here and now, without hopes and fears, without the trammels of customary beliefs and traditional prejudices, calmly, dispassionately, in the sole and exclusive desire of knowledge—knowledge as impersonal, as purely contemplative, as it is possible for man to attain. Hence also the free intellect will value more the abstract and universal knowledge into which the accidents of private history do not enter, than the knowledge brought by the senses, and dependent, as such knowledge must be, upon an exclusive and personal point of view and a body whose sense-organs distort as much as they reveal. (p160)

The mind which has become accustomed to the freedom and impartiality of philosophic contemplation will preserve something of the same freedom and impartiality in the world of action and emotion. It will view its purposes and desires as parts of the whole, with the absence of insistence that results from seeing them as infinitesimal fragments in a world of which all the rest is unaffected by any one man's deeds. The impartiality which, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the very same quality of mind which, in action, is justice, and in emotion is that universal love which can be given to all, and not only to those who are judged useful or admirable. Thus contemplation enlarges not only the objects of our thoughts, but also the objects of our actions and our affections: it makes us citizens of the universe, not only of one walled city at war with all the rest. In this citizenship of the universe consists man's true freedom, and his liberation from the thralldom of narrow hopes and fears. (pp160-161)

Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good. (p161)


Read the "Review of Russell’s Problems of Philosophy" By Bernard Bosanquet at Russell Society Website   Copy


Everybody’s Philosophy

Why Philosophy is Everybody’s Business — Mortimer J. Adler

Mortimer J. Adler
Mortimer J. Adler
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One can be a generally educated human being without being knowledgeable in this or that specialized field of empirical science. Such knowledge belongs to the specialist, not the generalist. But one cannot be a generally educated human being without knowing the history of science and without having some philosophical understanding of science. Becoming a generally educated human being also involves some grasp of the history of history and of philosophy, and some understanding of the philosophy of history and philosophy. That is one reason I say that philosophy is everybody’s business.

Everyone is not called upon to be a lawyer, a physician, an accountant, or an engineer; nor for that matter is everyone called upon to engage in some field of historical or scientific research. But everyone is called upon to philosophize; thinking individuals, whether they know it or not, have some traces of philosophical insight or analysis in their moments of reflection. To be reflective about one’s experience or about what human beings call their common sense is to be philosophical about it. .....
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Charles S. Peirce: "Philosophy is founded upon the common experience of all men. In the special sciences, one discovers new phenomena."


It cannot be too often repeated that philosophy is everybody’s business. To be a human being is to be endowed with the proclivity to philosophize. To some degree we all engage in philosophical thought in the course of our daily lives. Acknowledging this is not enough. It is also necessary to understand why this is so and what philosophy’s business is. The answer, in a word, is ideas. In two words, it is Great Ideas—the ideas basic and indispensable to understanding ourselves, our society, and the world in which we live.

These ideas, as we shall see, constitute the vocabulary of everyone’s thought. Unlike the concepts of the special sciences, the words that name the Great Ideas are all words of ordinary, everyday speech. They are not technical terms. They do not belong to the private jargon of a specialized branch of knowledge. Everyone uses them in ordinary conversation. But everyone does not understand them as well as they can be understood, nor has everyone pondered sufficiently the questions raised by each of the Great Ideas. To think one’s way through to some resolution of the conflicting answers to these questions is to philosophize.

The Great Ideas Program aims to do no more than to provide some guidance in this process. I am limiting the consideration of these ideas to an elementary delineation that will try to achieve three results for you.

First, it should give you a surer grasp of the various meanings of the word you use when you talk about the Idea.

Second, the delineation of each Idea should make you more aware than you normally are of questions or issues that you cannot avoid confronting if you are willing to think a little further about the Idea—basic ones, ones that human beings have been arguing about over the centuries.

Third, in the consideration of each Idea, we are led to the consideration of other ideas. How does our understanding of truth affect our understanding of goodness and beauty? How does our understanding of what is good and bad carry us not only to an understanding of what is right and wrong, but also to an understanding of justice, and how does that affect our understanding of liberty and equality as well?

If I succeed in these aims, I will have helped you engage in the business of philosophy, which is everybody’s business not only because nobody can do much thinking, if any at all, without using the Great Ideas, but also because no special, technical competence of the kind that is required for the particular sciences and other special disciplines is required for thinking about the Great Ideas. Everybody does it, wittingly or unwittingly.

I hope I am right in believing that everyone would wish to do it just a little better.

PHILOSOPHY - A PUBLIC ENTERPRISE (Mortimer J. Adler's "Mission")

A mode of inquiry aiming at knowledge has a public character:

(1) if the participants in the enterprise are willing and able to answer the same questions;

(2) if the questions or problems to be faced by the participants in the enterprise can be attacked piece meal, one by one, so that it is not necessary to answer all the questions involved in order to answer any one or some of them;

(3) if it possible for the participants to disagree as well as to agree about the answers to be given to the questions that direct the inquiry.

(4) if disagreements among the participants, when they arise, are adjudicable by reference to standards commonly accepted by participants in the enterprise;

(5) and if cooperation is possible among the participants; that is, if it is possible for a number of men working on the same problem or question to make partial contributions which are cumulative and which add up to a better solution than any one of them proposes.

The most striking difference between ethics and politics is that the development of political wisdom is dependent on history, as ethics is not.
The ethics of common sense is as old as the Greeks; Aristotle first expounded it. We may be able to improve on his exposition a little, by adding philosophical refinements here and there, but its essential outlines remain unaltered 2,500 years later. The extraordinary changes in the human environment that have taken place in that time — the myriad changes in the social institutions and in the technological conditions of human life — do not affect the answer that common sense, based on common experience, gives to the question, How can I make a good life for myself? In other words, what is really good for a man is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, because man is the same.
In contrast to ethics, political thought is conditioned by the shape of existing institutions at a given historic moment and by the limited vision that such institutions give us of the possibility for further changes in the future. Revolution and progress operate in the sphere of politics as they do not operate in the sphere of ethics. What I have just said includes technological as well as institutional changes. Because it is so relevant here, let me recall my fundamental thesis that all progress which has so far been made in the social life of man has been accomplished by cumulative improvements in technology and in social institutions, without any improvement in the nature of man.”
The foregoing passage is quoted from The Common Sense of Politics, which I published in 1971.(Mortimer J. Adler)


Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men. - John Dewey - Art as Experience (MW10: 460)



Philosophy of Life

Ten Rules and Recommendations for Achieving Both Success and Happiness

by Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D. - On Turning 80 – Some not-so-serious remarks.

From the vantage point of 80 years, here are ten rules and recommendations for achieving both success and happiness — according to Machiavelli, not Aristotle, the general maxim being: Do whatever is honorable as well as expedient in order to succeed, and if not completely honorable, at least appear to be virtuous in doing it.

(1) With regard to health, vigor, and vitality: never exercise. As for dieting, eat only the most delicious calories.
(2) With regard to marriage: if at first you don’t succeed, try again.
(3) Never work more than seven days a week or 12 hours a day, and sometimes a little less. To grow younger with the years, work harder as you get older.
(4) Never take money for work you would not do if you did not need the money.
(5) If you have the inclination and ability, the best way to spend time is to write books; the next best is to edit them; and if you cannot do either, then sell them.
(6) Never write more than one book a year, because it doesn’t pay; but edit as many as possible, and sell them by the hundred thousands.
(7) Have a secretary who thinks she understands what you are up to as well as you do.
(8) Surround yourself with friends and associates with whom you can be almost as honest as you are with yourself.
(9) Get over the folly of thinking that there is any conflict between high living and high thinking; asceticism is for the birds.
(10) Never give up; never say die; always say of “If I die,” NOT “When I die.”

Now permit me one additional serious reflection. Eighty years can be neatly divided into four periods of 20 years each. Virtue may be necessary for honorable success, but the blessings of good fortune are more important for happiness on Earth.

It has been my good fortune to have the four quarters of my life arranged in ascending order: the first 20 years, the hardest and the worst; the last 20, the easiest and best. Indeed, of the second of my 40 years, the last 20 were the best of all. I confess that my greatest fortune of all was finding Caroline, who was foolish enough (at age 26), courageous enough, and tolerant enough to marry me.

(Taken from a speech Dr. Adler made on his 80th birthday at a party given for him by his friends and associates — officers, editors, sales people, and others — at Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.)

A Liberal Decalogue

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
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By Bertrand Russell (1969)

Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness."

Don't Be Too Certain!

By Bertrand Russell

The question of how to define Rationalism is not altogether an easy one. I do not think that you could define it by rejection of this or that Christian dogma. It would be perfectly possible to be a complete and absolute Rationalist in the true sense of the term and yet accept this or that dogma. The question is how to arrive at your opinions and not what your opinions are. The thing in which we believe is the supremacy of reason. If reason should lead you to orthodox conclusions, well and good; you are still a Rationalist. To my mind the essential thing is that one should base one's arguments upon the kind of grounds that are accepted in science, and one should not regard anything that one accepts as quite certain, but only as probable in a greater or a less degree. Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.

Read the "Philosophy for Laymen" (1946) By Bertrand Russell at Russell Society Website   Copy


Philosophy of Life

Philosophy of Life

Philosophy of Life

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Philosophy of Life

Philosophy of Life
Philosophy of Life


In order to be deep it is requisite to be dull. Charles S. Peirce's Harvard Lecture 1 (CP5-17)

Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do! Name your problem, and you name your possibility! That's the message in Dr. Robert H. Schuller's bestseller, Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do! Dr. Schuller shows you how to build a positive self-image, no matter what your problem. Whether it's unemployment, poor health, loneliness, fear or anything else that blocks your success, you can turn your negative into a positive. No matter how tough times get, you have the potential to achieve the best of life.

Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing. Reddd Foxx

You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred. Woody Allen

I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens. Woody Allen

There's an old joke - um... two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life - full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly. Woody Allen, Annie Hall: Screenplay

I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100. Woody Allen

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative. Woody Allen

I believe there is something out there watching us. Unfortunately, it's the government. Woody Allen

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. Marie Curie


The Door of Happiness

The Door of Happiness

The Door of Happiness
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
― Helen Keller

Happiness is like a butterfly

Happiness is like a butterfly

Happiness is like a butterfly.


Running Away

Running Away

Running Away
Running Away from problems is a race you will never win.

Follow the masses

Follow the masses

Follow the masses
“Be careful when you blindly follow the Masses...sometimes the 'M' is silent.”


Natural Open Book

Natural Open Book

Natural Open Book

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Eastern Philosophers vs Western Philosophers

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Hitler finds out about his philosophy grad school applications

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