Essays in Experimental Logic, by John Dewey is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Chapter III: The Antecedents and Stimulus of Thinking
We have discriminated logic in its wider sense—concerned with the sequence of characteristic functions and attitudes in experience—from logic in its stricter meaning, concerned with the function of reflective thought. We must avoid yielding to the temptation of identifying logic with either of these to the exclusion of the other; or of supposing that it is possible to isolate one finally from the other. The more detailed treatment of the organs and methods of reflection cannot be carried on with security save as we have a correct idea of the position of reflection amid the typical functions of experience. Yet it is impossible to determine this larger placing, save as we have a defined and analytic, as distinct from a merely vague and gross, view of what we mean by reflection—what is its actual constitution. It is necessary to work back and forth between the larger and the narrower fields, transforming every increment upon one side into a method of work upon the other, and thereby testing it. The evident confusion of existing logical theory, its uncertainty as to its own bounds and limits, its tendency to oscillate from larger questions of the meaning of judgment and the validity of inference over to details of scientific technique, and to translate distinctions of formal logic into acts in an investigatory or verificatory process, are indications of the need of this double movement.
In the next three chapters it is proposed to take up some of the considerations that lie on the borderland between the larger and the narrower conceptions of logical theory. I shall discuss the locus of the function of thought in experience so far as such locus enables us to characterize some of the most fundamental distinctions, or divisions of labor, within the reflective process. In taking up the problem of the subject-matter of thought, I shall try to make clear that it assumes three quite distinct forms according to the epochal moment reached in control of experience. I shall attempt to show that we must consider subject-matter from the standpoint, first, of the antecedents or conditions that evoke thought; secondly, of the datum or immediate material presented to thought; and, thirdly, of the proper objective of thought. Of these three distinctions the first, that of antecedent and stimulus, clearly refers to the situation that is immediately prior to the thought-function as such. The second, that of datum or immediately given matter, refers to a distinction which is made within the thought-process as a part of and for the sake of its own modus operandi. It is a status in the scheme of thinking. The third, that of content or object, refers to the progress actually made in any thought-function; material which is organized by inquiry so far as inquiry has fulfilled its purpose. This chapter will get at the matter of preliminary conditions of thought indirectly rather than directly, by indicating the contradictory positions into which one of the most vigorous and acute of modern logicians, Lotze, has been forced through failing to define logical distinctions in terms of the history of readjustment and control of things in experience, and being thereby compelled to interpret certain notions as absolute instead of as historic and methodological.
Before passing directly to the exposition and criticism of Lotze, it will be well, however, to take the matter in a somewhat freer way. We cannot approach logical inquiry in a wholly direct and uncompromised manner. Of necessity we bring to it certain distinctions—distinctions partly the outcome of concrete experience; partly due to the logical theory which has got embodied in ordinary language and in current intellectual habits; partly results of deliberate scientific and philosophic inquiry. These more or less ready-made results are resources; they are the only weapons with which we can attack the new problem. Yet they are full of unexamined assumptions; they commit us to all sorts of logically predetermined conclusions. In one sense our study of the new subject-matter, let us say logical theory, is in truth only a review, a retesting and criticizing of the intellectual standpoints and methods which we bring with us to the study.
Nowadays everyone comes with certain distinctions already made between the subjective and the objective, between the physical and the mental, between the intellectual and the factual. (1) We have learned to regard the region of emotional disturbance, of uncertainty and aspiration, as belonging peculiarly to ourselves; we have learned to set over against this the world of observation and of valid thought as something unaffected by our moods, hopes, fears, and opinions. (2) We have also come to distinguish between what is immediately present in our experience and the past and the future; we contrast the realms of memory and anticipation with that of sense perception; more generally we contrast the given with the inferential. (3) We are confirmed in a habit of distinguishing between what we call actual fact and our mental attitude toward that fact—the attitude of surmise or wonder or reflective investigation. While one of the aims of logical theory is precisely to make us critically conscious of the significance and bearing of these various distinctions, to change them from ready-made assumptions into controlled conceptions, our mental habits are so set that they tend to have their own way with us; we read into logical theory conceptions that were formed before we had even dreamed of the logical undertaking which after all has for its business to assign to the terms in question their proper meaning. Our conclusions are thus controlled by the very notions which need criticism and revision.
We find in Lotze an unusually explicit inventory of these various preliminary distinctions, and an unusually serious effort to deal with the problems which arise from introducing them into the structure of logical theory. (1) He expressly separates the matter of logical worth from that of psychological genesis. He consequently abstracts the subject-matter of logic as such wholly from the question of historic locus and situs. (2) He agrees with common-sense in holding that logical thought is reflective and thus presupposes a given material. He occupies himself with the nature of the antecedent conditions. (3) He wrestles with the problem of how a material formed prior to thought and irrespective of it can yet afford stuff upon which thought may exercise itself. (4) He expressly raises the question of how thought working independently and from without upon a foreign material can shape the latter into results which are valid—that is, objective.
If this discussion is successful; if Lotze can provide the intermediaries which span the gulf between the exercise of logical functions by thought upon a material wholly external to it; if he can show that the question of the origin of subject-matter of thought and of thought-activity is irrelevant to the question of its meaning and validity, we shall have to surrender the position already taken. But if we find that Lotze's elaborations only elaborate the fundamental difficulty, presenting it now in this light and now in that, but always presenting the problem as if it were its own solution, we shall be confirmed in our idea of the need of considering logical questions from a different point of view. If we find that, whatever his formal treatment, he always, as a matter of fact, falls back upon some organized situation or function as the source of both the material and the process of inquiry, we shall have in so far an elucidation and even a corroboration of our theory.
We begin with the question of the material antecedents of thought—antecedents which condition reflection, and which call it out as reaction or response, by giving its cue. Lotze differs from many logicians of the same type in furnishing an explicit account of these antecedents.
1. The ultimate material antecedents of thought are found in impressions which are due to external objects as stimuli. Taken in themselves, these impressions are mere psychical states or events. They exist in us side by side, or one after the other, according as the objects which excite them operate simultaneously or successively. The occurrence of these various psychical states is not, however, entirely dependent upon the presence of the exciting thing. After a state has once been excited, it gets the power of reawakening other states which have accompanied it or followed it. The associative mechanism of revival plays a part. If we had a complete knowledge of both the stimulating object and its effects, and of the details of the associative mechanism, we should be able from given data to predict the whole course of any given train or current of ideas (for the impressions as conjoined simultaneously or successively become ideas and a current of ideas).
Taken in itself, a sensation or impression is nothing but a "state of our consciousness, a mood of ourselves." Any given current of ideas is a necessary sequence of existences (just as necessary as any succession of material events), happening in some particular sensitive soul or organism. "Just because, under their respective conditions, every such series of ideas hangs together by the same necessity and law as every other, there would be no ground for making any such distinction of value as that between truth and untruth, thus placing one group in opposition to all the others."
2. Thus far, as the last quotation clearly indicates, there is no question of reflective thought, and hence no question of logical theory. But further examination reveals a peculiar property of the current of ideas. Some ideas are merely coincident, while others may be termed coherent. That is to say, the exciting causes of some of our simultaneous and successive ideas really belong together; while in other cases they simply happen to act at the same time, without there being a real connection between them. By the associative mechanism, however, both the coherent and the merely coincident combinations recur. The first type of recurrence supplies positive material for knowledge; the second gives occasion for error.
3. It is a peculiar mixture of the coincident and the coherent which sets the peculiar problem of reflective thought. The business of thought is to recover and confirm the coherent, the really connected, adding to its reinstatement an accessory justifying notion of the real ground of coherence, while it eliminates the coincident as such. While the mere current of ideas is something which just happens within us, the process of elimination and of confirmation by means of statement of real ground and basis of connection is an activity which mind, as such, exercises. This distinction marks off thought as activity from any psychical event and from the associative mechanism as mere happenings. One is concerned with mere de facto coexistences and sequences; the other with the cognitive worth of these combinations.
Consideration of the peculiar work of thought in going over, sorting out, and determining various ideas according to a standard of value will occupy us in our next chapter. Here we are concerned with the material antecedents of thought as they are described by Lotze. At first glance, he seems to propound a satisfactory theory. He avoids the extravagancies of transcendental logic, which assumes that all the matter of experience is determined from the very start by rational thought; and he also avoids the pitfall of purely empirical logic, which makes no distinction between the mere occurrence and association of ideas and the real worth and validity of the various conjunctions thus produced. He allows unreflective experience, defined in terms of sensations and their combinations, to provide material conditions for thinking, while he reserves for thought a distinctive work and dignity of its own. Sense experience furnishes the antecedents; thought has to introduce and develop systematic connection—rationality.
A further analysis of Lotze's treatment may, however, lead us to believe that his statement is riddled through and through with inconsistencies and self-contradictions; that, indeed, any one part of it can be maintained only by the denial of some other portion.
1. The impression is the ultimate antecedent in its purest or crudest form (according to the angle from which one views it). It is that which has never felt, for good or for bad, the influence of thought. Combined into ideas, these impressions stimulate or arouse the activities of thought, which are forthwith directed upon them. As the recipient of the activity which they have excited and brought to bear upon themselves, they furnish also the material content of thought—its actual stuff. As Lotze says over and over again: "It is the relations themselves already subsisting between impressions, when we become conscious of them, by which the action of thought which is never anything but reaction, is attracted; and this action consists merely in interpreting relations which we find existing between our passive impressions into aspects of the matter of impressions." And again: "Thought can make no difference where it finds none already in the matter of the impressions." And again: "The possibility and the success of thought's procedure depends upon this original constitution and organization of the whole world of ideas, a constitution which, though not necessary in thought, is all the more necessary to make thinking possible."
The impressions and ideas thus play a versatile rôle; they now assume the part of ultimate antecedents and provocative conditions; of crude material; and somehow, when arranged, of content for thought. This very versatility awakens suspicion.
While the impression is merely subjective and a bare state of our own consciousness, yet it is determined, both as to its existence and as to its relation to other similar existences, by external objects as stimuli, if not as causes. It is also determined by a psychical mechanism so thoroughly objective or regular in its workings as to give the same necessary character to the current of ideas that is possessed by any physical sequence. Thus that which is "nothing but a state of our consciousness" turns out straightway to be a specifically determined objective fact in a system of facts.
That this absolute transformation is a contradiction is no clearer than that just such a contradiction is indispensable to Lotze. If impressions were nothing but states of consciousness, moods of ourselves, bare psychical existences, it is sure enough that we should never even know them to be such, to say nothing of conserving them as adequate conditions and material for thought. It is only by treating them as real facts in a real world, and only by carrying over into them, in some assumed and unexplained way, the capacity of representing the cosmic facts which cause them, that impressions or ideas come in any sense within the scope of thought. But if the antecedents are really impressions-in-their-objective-setting, then Lotze's whole way of distinguishing thought-worth from mere existence or event without objective significance must be radically modified.
The implication that impressions have actually a quality or meaning of their own becomes explicit when we refer to Lotze's theory that the immediate antecedent of thought is found in the matter of ideas. When thought is said to "take cognizance of relations which its own activity does not originate, but which have been prepared for it by the unconscious mechanism of the psychic states," the attribution of objective content, of reference and meaning to ideas, is unambiguous. The idea forms a most convenient halfway house for Lotze. On one hand, as absolutely prior to thought, as material antecedent condition, it is merely psychical, bald subjective event. But as subject-matter for thought, as antecedent which affords stuff for thought's exercise, it characteristically qualifies content.
Although we have been told that the impression is a mere receptive irritation without participation of mental activity, we are not surprised, in view of this capacity of ideas, to learn that the mind actually has a determining share in both the reception of stimuli and in their further associative combinations. The subject always enters into the presentation of any mental object, even the sensational, to say nothing of the perceptional and the imaged. The perception of a given state of things is possible only on the assumption that "the perceiving subject is at once enabled and compelled by its own nature to combine the excitations which reach it from objects into those forms which it is to perceive in the objects, and which it supposes itself simply to receive from them."
It is only by continual transition from impression and ideas as mental states and events to ideas as logical objects or contents, that Lotze bridges the gulf from bare exciting antecedent to concrete material conditions of thought. This contradiction, again, is necessary to Lotze's standpoint. To set out frankly with objects as antecedents would demand reconsideration of the whole viewpoint, which supposes that the difference between the logical and its antecedent is a matter of the difference between worth and mere existence or occurrence. It would indicate that since meaning or value is already there, the task of thought must be that of the transformation or reconstruction of meaning through an intermediary process. On the other hand, to stick by the standpoint of mere existence is not to get anything which can be called even antecedent of thought.
2. Why is there a task of transformation? Consideration of the material in its function of evoking thought, giving it its cue, will serve to complete the picture of the contradiction and of the real facts. It is the conflict between ideas as merely coincident and ideas as coherent which constitutes the need that provokes the response of thought. Here Lotze vibrates (a) between considering both coincidence and coherence as psychical events; (b) considering coincidence as purely psychical and coherence as at least quasi-logical, and (c) making them both determinations within the sphere of reflective thought. In strict accordance with his own premises, coincidence and coherence ought both to be mere peculiarities of the current of ideas as events within ourselves. But so taken the distinction becomes absolutely meaningless. Events do not cohere; at the most certain sets of them happen more or less frequently than other sets; the only intelligible difference is one of frequency of coincidence. And even this attributes to an event the supernatural trait of reappearing after it has disappeared. Even coincidence has to be defined in terms of relation of the objects which are supposed to excite the psychical events that happen together.
As recent psychological discussion has made clear enough, it is the matter, meaning, or content of ideas that is associated, not the ideas as states or existences. Take such an idea as sun-revolving-about-earth. We may say it means the conjunction of various sense impressions, but it is connection, or mutual reference, of attributes that we have in mind in the assertion. It is absolutely certain that our psychical image of the sun is not psychically engaged in revolving about our psychical image of the earth. It would be amusing if such were the case; theaters and all dramatic representations would be at a discount. But in truth, sun-revolving-about-earth is a single meaning or intellectual object; it is a unified subject-matter within which certain distinctions of reference appear. It is concerned with what we intend when we think earth and sun, and think them in their relation to each other. It is a rule, specification, or direction of how to think when we have occasion to think a certain subject-matter. To treat this mutual reference as if it were simply a case of conjunction of mental events produced by psycho-physical irritation and association is a profound case of the psychological fallacy. We may, indeed, analyze an experience involving belief in an object of a certain kind and find that it had its origin in certain conditions of the sensitive organism, in certain peculiarities of perception and of association, and hence conclude that the belief involved in it was not justified by the facts themselves. But the significance of the belief in sun-revolving-about-earth by those who held it, consisted precisely in the fact that it was taken not as a mere association of feelings, but as a definite portion of the whole structure of objective experience, guaranteed by other parts of the fabric, and lending its support and giving its tone to them. It was to them part of the experienced frame of things—of the real world.
Put the other way, if such an instance meant a mere conjunction of psychical states, there would be in it absolutely nothing to evoke thought. Each idea as event, as Lotze himself points out (I, 2), may be regarded as adequately and necessarily determined to the place it occupies. There is absolutely no question on the side of events of mere coincidence versus genuine connection. As event, it is there and it belongs there. We cannot treat something as at once a bare fact of existence and a problematic subject-matter of logical inquiry. To take the reflective point of view is to consider the matter in a totally new light; as Lotze says, it is to raise the question of rightful claims to a position or relation.
The point becomes clearer when we contrast coincidence with connection. To consider coincidence as simply psychical, and coherence as at least quasi-logical, is to put the two on such different bases that no question of contrasting them can arise. The coincidence which precedes a valid or grounded coherence (the conjunction which as coexistence of objects and sequence of acts is perfectly adequate) never is, as antecedent, the coincidence which is set over against coherence. The side-by-sideness of books on my bookshelf, the succession of noises that rise through my window, do not trouble me logically. They do not appear as errors or even as problems. One coexistence is just as good as any other until some new point of view, or new end, presents itself. If it is a question of the convenience of arrangement of books, then the value of their present collocation becomes a problem. Then I contrast their present state as bare conjunction over against another scheme as one which is coherent. If I regard the sequence of noises as a case of articulate speech, their order becomes important—it is a problem to be determined. The inquiry whether a given combination presents apparent or real connection shows that reflective inquiry is already going on. Does this phase of the moon really mean rain, or does it just happen that the rain-storm comes when the moon has reached this phase? To ask such questions shows that a certain portion of the universe of objective experience is subjected to critical analysis for purposes of definitive restatement. The tendency to regard some combination as mere coincidence is absolutely a part of the movement of mind in its search for the real connection.
If coexistence as such is to be set against coherence as such, as the non-logical against the logical, then, since our whole spatial universe is one of collocation, and since thought in this universe can never get farther than substituting one collocation for another, the whole realm of space-experience is condemned offhand and in perpetuity to anti-rationality. But, in truth, coincidence as over against coherence, conjunction as over against connection, is just suspected coherence, one which is under the fire of active inquiry. The distinction is one which arises only within the logical or reflective function.
3. This brings us explicitly to the fact that there is neither coincidence nor coherence in terms of the elements or meanings contained in any couple or pair of ideas taken by itself. It is only when they are co-factors in a situation or function which includes more than either the "coincident" or the "coherent" and more than the arithmetical sum of the two, that thought's activity can be evoked. Lotze is continually in this dilemma: Thought either shapes its own material or else just accepts it. In the first case (since Lotze cannot rid himself of the presumption that thought must have a fixed ready-made antecedent) its activity can only alter this stuff and thus lead the mind farther away from reality. But if thought just accepts its material, how can there be any distinctive aim or activity of thought at all? As we have seen, Lotze endeavors to escape this dilemma by supposing that, while thought receives its material yet checks it up, it eliminates certain portions of it and reinstates others, plus the stamp and seal of its own validity.
Lotze objects most strenuously to the Kantian notion that thought awaits its subject-matter with certain ready-made modes of apprehension. This notion would raise the insoluble question of how thought contrives to bring the matter of each impression under that particular form which is appropriate to it (I, 24). But he has not avoided the difficulty. How does thought know which of the combinations are merely coincident and which are merely coherent? How does it know which to eliminate as irrelevant and which to confirm as grounded? Either this evaluation is an imposition of its own, or else gets its cue and clue from the subject-matter. Now, if the coincident and the coherent taken in and of themselves are competent to give this direction, they are already labeled. The further work of thought is one of supererogation. It has at most barely to note and seal the material combinations that are already there. Such a view clearly renders thought's work as unnecessary in form as it is futile in force.
But there is no alternative except to recognize that an entire situation or environment, within which exist both that which is afterward found to be mere coincidence and that found to be real connection, actually provokes thought. It is only as an experience previously accepted comes up in its wholeness against another one equally integral; and only as some larger experience dawns which requires each as a part of itself and yet within which the required factors show themselves mutually incompatible, that thought arises. It is not bare coincidence, or bare connection, or bare addition of one to the other, that excites thought. The stimulus is a situation which is organized or constituted as a whole, and yet which is falling to pieces in its parts—a situation which is in conflict within itself—that arouses the search to find what really goes together, and a correspondent effort to shut out what only seemingly goes together. And real coherence means precisely capacity to exist within the comprehending whole. To read back into the preliminary situation those distinctions of mere conjunction of material and of valid coherence which get existence, to say nothing of fixation, only within the process of inquiry is a fallacy.
We must not leave this phase of the discussion, however, until it is quite clear that our objection is not to Lotze's position that reflective thought arises from an antecedent which is not reflectional in character; nor yet to his idea that this antecedent has a certain structure and content of its own setting the peculiar problem of thought, giving the cue to its specific activities and determining its object. On the contrary, it is this latter point upon which we would insist; so as (by insisting) to point out, negatively, that this view is absolutely inconsistent with Lotze's theory that psychical impressions and ideas are the true antecedents of thought; and, positively, to show that it is the situation as a whole, and not any one isolated part of it, or distinction within it, that calls forth and directs thinking. We must beware the fallacy of assuming that some one element in the prior situation in isolation or detachment induces the reflection which in reality comes forth only from the whole disturbed situation. On the negative side, characterizations of impression and idea are distinctions which arise only within reflection upon that situation which is the genuine antecedent of thought. Positively, it is the whole dynamic experience with its qualitative and pervasive continuity, and its inner active distraction, its elements at odds with each other, in tension against each other, each contending for its proper placing and relationship, which generates the thought-situation.
From this point of view, at this period of development, the distinctions of objective and subjective have a characteristic meaning. The antecedent, to repeat, is a situation in which the various factors are actively incompatible with each other, and yet in and through the striving tend to a re-formation of the whole and to a restatement of the parts. This situation as such is clearly 'objective.' It is there; it is there as a whole; the various parts are there; and their active incompatibility with one another is there. Nothing is conveyed at this point by asserting that any particular part of the situation is illusory or subjective, or mere appearance; or that any other is truly real. The experience exists as one of vital and active confusion and conflict among its elements. The conflict is not only objective in a de facto sense (that is, really existent), but is objective in a logical sense as well; it is just this conflict which effects a transition into the thought-situation—this, in turn, being only a constant movement toward a defined equilibrium. The conflict has objective worth because it is the antecedent condition and cue of thought. Deny an organization of things within which competing incompatible tendencies appear and thinking becomes merely "mental."
Every reflective attitude and function, whether of naïve life, deliberate invention, or controlled scientific research, has risen through the medium of some such total objective situation. The abstract logician may tell us that sensations or impressions, or associated ideas, or bare physical things, or conventional symbols, are antecedent conditions. But such statements cannot be verified by reference to a single instance of thought in connection with actual practice or actual scientific research. Of course, by extreme mediation symbols may become conditions of evoking thought. They get to be objects in an active experience. But they are stimuli to thinking only in case their manipulation to form a new whole occasions resistance, and thus reciprocal tension. Symbols and their definitions develop to a point where dealing with them becomes itself an experience, having its own identity; just as the handling of commercial commodities, or arrangement of parts of an invention, is a specific experience.
There is always as antecedent to thought an experience of subject-matter of the physical or social world, or the previously organized intellectual world, whose parts are actively at war with each other—so much so that they threaten to disrupt the situation, which accordingly for its own maintenance requires deliberate redefinition and re-relation of its tensional parts. This redefining and re-relating is the constructive process termed thinking: the reconstructive situation, with its parts in tension and in such movement toward each other as tends to a unified arrangement of things, is the thought-situation.
This at once suggests the subjective phase. The situation, the experience as such, is objective. There is an experience of the confused and conflicting tendencies. But just what in particular is objective, just what form the situation shall take as an organized harmonious whole, is unknown; that is the problem. It is the uncertainty as to the what of the experience together with the certainty that there is such an experience, that evokes the thought-function. Viewed from this standpoint of uncertainty, the situation as a whole is subjective. No particular content or reference can be asserted offhand. Definite assertion is expressly reserved—it is to be the outcome of the procedure of reflective inquiry now undertaken. This holding off of contents from definitely asserted position, this viewing them as candidates for reform, is what we mean, at this stage of the natural history of thought, by the subjective.
We have followed Lotze through his tortuous course of inconsistencies. It is better, perhaps, to run the risk of vain repetition than that of leaving the impression that these are mere dialectical contradictions. It is an idle task to expose contradictions unless we realize them in relation to the fundamental assumption which breeds them. Lotze is bound to differentiate thought from its antecedents. He is intent upon doing this, however, through a preconception that marks off the thought-situation radically from its predecessor, through a difference that is complete, fixed and absolute, or at large. It is a total contrast of thought as such to something else as such that he requires, not a contrast within experience of one temporal phase of a process, one period of a rhythm, from others.
This complete and rigid difference Lotze finds in the difference between an experience which is mere existence or occurrence, and one which has to do with worth, truth, right relationship. Now things have connection, organization, value or force, practical and aesthetic meaning, on their own account. The same is true of deeds, affections, etc. Only states of feelings, bare impressions, etc., seem to fulfil the prerequisite of being given as existence, and yet without qualification as to worth, etc. Then the current of ideas offers itself, a ready-made stream of events, of existences, which can be characterized as wholly innocent of reflective determination, and as the natural predecessor of thought.
But this stream of existences is no sooner regarded than its total incapacity to officiate as material condition and cue of thought appears. It is about as relevant to thinking as are changes that may be happening on the other side of the moon. So, one by one, the whole series of determinations of force and worth already traced are introduced into the very make-up, the inner structure, of what was to be mere existence: viz., (1) things of whose spatial and temporal relations the mere impressions are somehow representative; (2) meaning—the idea as significant, possessed of quality, and not a mere event; (3) distinguished traits of coincidence and coherence within the stream. All these features are explicitly asserted, as we have seen; underlying and running through them all is the recognition of the supreme value of a situation which has been organized as a whole, yet is now conflicting in its inner constitution.
These contradictions all arise in the attempt to put thought's work, as concerned with objective validity, over against experience as a mere antecedent happening, or occurrence. This contrast arises because of the attempt to consider thought as an independent somewhat in general which nevertheless, in our experience, is dependent upon a raw material of mere impressions given to it. Hence the sole radical avoidance of the contradictions can be secured only when thinking is seen to be a specific event in the movement of experienced things, having its own specific occasion or demand, and its own specific place.
The nature of the organization and force that the antecedent conditions of the thought-function possess is too large a question here to enter upon in detail. Lotze himself suggests the answer. He speaks of the current of ideas, just as a current, supplying us with the "mass of well-grounded information which regulates daily life" (I, 4). It gives rise to "useful combinations," "correct expectations," "seasonable reactions" (I, 7). He speaks of it, indeed, as if it were just the ordinary world of naïve experience, the so-called empirical world, as distinct from the world as critically revised and rationalized in scientific and philosophic inquiry. The contradiction between this interpretation and that of a mere stream of psychical impressions is only another instance of the difficulty already discussed. But the phraseology suggests the real state of things. The unreflective world is a world of practical things; of ends and means, of their effective adaptations; of control and regulation of conduct in view of results. The world of uncritical experience also is a world of social aims and means, involving at every turn the goods and objects of affection and attachment, of competition and co-operation. It has incorporate also in its own being the surprise of aesthetic values—the sudden joy of light, the gracious wonder of tone and form.
I do not mean that this holds in gross of the unreflective world of experience over against the critical thought-situation—such a contrast implies the very wholesale, at large, consideration of thought which I am striving to avoid. Doubtless many and many an act of thought has intervened in effecting the organization of our commonest practical-affectional-aesthetic environment. I only mean to indicate that thought does take place in such a world; not after a world of bare existences; and that while the more systematic reflection we call organized science may, in some fair sense, be said to come after, it comes after affectional, artistic, and technological interests which have found realization.
Having entered so far upon a suggestion which cannot be followed out, I venture one other digression. The notion that value or significance as distinct from mere existentiality is the product of thought or reason, and that the source of Lotze's contradictions lies in the effort to find any situation prior or antecedent to thought, is a familiar one—it is even possible that my criticisms of Lotze have been interpreted by some readers in this sense. This is the position frequently called neo-Hegelian (though, I think, with questionable accuracy), and has been developed by many writers in criticizing Kant. This position and that taken in this chapter do indeed agree in certain general regards. They are at one in denial of the factuality and the possibility of developing fruitful reflection out of antecedent bare existence or mere events. They unite in denying that there is or can be any such thing as mere existence—phenomenon unqualified as respects organization and force, whether such phenomenon be psychic or cosmic. They agree that reflective thought grows organically out of an experience which is already organized, and that it functions within such an organism. But they part company when a fundamental question is raised: Is all organized meaning the work of thought? Does it therefore follow that the organization out of which reflective thought grows is the work of thought of some other type—of Pure Thought, Creative or Constitutive Thought, Intuitive Reason, etc.? I shall indicate briefly the reasons for divergence at this point.
To cover all the practical-social-aesthetic objects involved, the term "thought" has to be so stretched that the situation might as well be called by any other name that describes a typical form of experience. More specifically, when the difference is minimized between the organized and arranged scheme out of which reflective inquiry proceeds, and reflective inquiry itself (and there can be no other reason for insisting that the antecedent of reflective thought is itself somehow thought), exactly the same type of problem recurs which presents itself when the distinction is exaggerated into one between bare existences and rational coherent meanings.
For the more one insists that the antecedent situation is constituted by thought, the more one has to wonder why another type of thought is required; what need arouses it, and how it is possible for it to improve upon the work of previous constitutive thought. This difficulty at once forces idealists from a logic of experience as it is concretely experienced into a metaphysic of a purely hypothetical experience. Constitutive thought precedes our conscious thought-operations; hence it must be the working of some absolute universal thought which, unconsciously to our reflection, builds up an organized world. But this recourse only deepens the difficulty. How does it happen that the absolute constitutive and intuitive Thought does such a poor and bungling job that it requires a finite discursive activity to patch up its products? Here more metaphysic is called for: The Absolute Reason is now supposed to work under limiting conditions of finitude, of a sensitive and temporal organism. The antecedents of reflective thought are not, therefore, determinations of thought pure and undefiled, but of what thought can do when it stoops to assume the yoke of change and of feeling. I pass by the metaphysical problem left unsolved by this flight: Why and how should a perfect, absolute, complete, finished thought find it necessary to submit to alien, disturbing, and corrupting conditions in order, in the end, to recover through reflective thought in a partial, piecemeal, wholly inadequate way what it possessed at the outset in a much more satisfactory way?
I confine myself to the logical difficulty. How can thought relate itself to the fragmentary sensations, impressions, feelings, which, in their contrast with and disparity from the workings of constitutive thought, mark it off from the latter; and which in their connection with its products give the cue to reflective thinking? Here we have again exactly the problem with which Lotze has been wrestling: we have the same insoluble question of the reference of thought-activity to a wholly indeterminate unrationalized, independent, prior existence. The absolute idealist who takes up the problem at this point will find himself forced into the same continuous seesaw, the same scheme of alternate rude robbery and gratuitous gift, that Lotze engaged in. The simple fact is that here is just where Lotze began; he saw that previous transcendental logicians had left untouched the specific question of relation of our supposedly finite, reflective thought to its own antecedents, and he set out to make good the defect. If reflective thought is required because constitutive thought works under externally limiting conditions of sense, then we have some elements which are, after all, mere existences, events, etc. Or, if they have organization from some other source than thought, and induce reflective thought not as bare impressions, etc., but through their place in some whole, then we have admitted the possibility of organization in experience, apart from Reason, and the ground for assuming Pure Constitutive Thought is abandoned.
The contradiction appears equally when viewed from the side of thought-activity and its characteristic forms. All our knowledge, after all, of thought as constitutive is gained by consideration of the operations of reflective thought. The perfect system of thought is so perfect that it is a luminous, harmonious whole, without definite parts or distinctions—or, if there are such, it is only reflection that brings them out. The categories and methods of constitutive thought itself must therefore be characterized in terms of the modus operandi of reflective thought. Yet the latter takes place just because of the peculiar problem of the peculiar conditions under which it arises. Its work is progressive, reformatory, reconstructive, synthetic, in the terminology made familiar by Kant. We are not only not justified, accordingly, in transferring its determinations over to "constitutive" thought, but are prohibited from attempting any such transfer. To identify logical processes, states, devices, results which are conditioned upon the primary fact of resistance to thought as constitutive with the structure of constitutive thought is as complete an instance of the fallacy of recourse from one genus to another as could well be found. Constitutive and reflective thought are, first, defined in terms of their dissimilarity and even opposition, and then without more ado the forms of the description of the latter are carried over bodily to the former!
This is not a merely controversial criticism. It points positively toward the fundamental thesis of these chapters: All the distinctions discovered within thinking, of conception as over against sense perception, of various modes and forms of judgment, of inference in its vast diversity of operation—all these distinctions come within the thought-situation as growing out of a characteristic antecedent typical formation of experience; and have for their purpose the solution of the peculiar problem with respect to which the thought-function is generated or evolved: the restoration of a deliberately integrated experience from the inherent conflict into which it has fallen.
The failure of transcendental logic has the same origin as the failure of the empiristic (whether taken pure or in the mixed form in which Lotze presents it). It makes into absolute and fixed distinctions of existence and meaning, and of one kind of meaning and another kind, things which are historic or temporal in their origin and their significance. It views thought as attempting to represent or state reality once for all, instead of trying to determine some phases or contents of it with reference to their more effective and significant employ—instead of as reconstructive. The rock against which every such logic splits is that either existence already has the statement which thought is endeavoring to give it, or else it has not. In the former case, thought is futilely reiterative; in the latter, it is falsificatory.
The significance of Lotze for critical purposes is that his peculiar effort to combine a transcendental view of thought (i.e., of Thought as active in forms of its own, pure in and of themselves) with certain obvious facts of the dependence of our thought upon specific empirical antecedents, brings to light fundamental defects in both the empiristic and the transcendental logics. We discover a common failure in both: the failure to view logical terms and distinctions with respect to their necessary function in the redintegration of experience.
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Dewey, John. 2012. Essays in Experimental Logic. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/40794/40794-h/40794-h.htm
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