The Philosophy of the Present
Supplementary Essay 4: The Objective Reality of Perspectives
The grandiose undertaking of Absolute Idealism to bring the whole of reality within experience failed. It failed because it left the perspective of the finite ego hopelessly infected with subjectivity and consequently unreal. From its point of view the theoretical and practical life of the individual had no part in the creative advance of nature. It failed also because scientific method, with its achievements of discovery and invention, could find no adequate statement in its dialectic. It recognized the two dominant forces of modern life, the creative individual and creative science only to abrogate them as falsifications of the experience of the absolute ego. The task remained unfulfilled, the task of restoring to nature the characters and qualities which a metaphysics of mind and a science of matter and motion had concurred in relegating to consciousness, and of finding such a place for mind in nature that nature could appear in experience. A constructive restatement of the problem was presented by a physiological and experimental psychology that fastened mind inextricably in an organic nature which both science and philosophy recognized. The dividend which philosophy declared upon this restatement is indicated in William James's reasoned query "Does Consciousness exist?" The metaphysical assault upon the dualism of mind and nature, that has been becoming every day more intolerable, has been made in regular formation by Bergson's evolutionary philosophy, by neo-idealism, by
(162) neo-realism, and by pragmatism. And no one can say as yet that the position has been successfully carried.
I wish to call attention to two unconnected movements which seem to me to be approaching a strategic position of great importance-which may be called the objectivity of perspectives. These two movements are, first, that phase of behavioristic psychology which is planting communication, thinking, and substantive meanings as inextricably within nature as biological psychology has placed general animal and human intelligence; and second, an aspect of the philosophy of relativism which Professor Whitehead has presented.
Professor Whitehead interprets relativity in terms of events passing in a four-dimensional Minkowski world. The order in which they pass, however, is relative to a consentient set. The consentient set is determined by its relation to a percipient event or organism. The percipient event establishes a lasting character of here and there, of now and then, and is itself an enduring pattern. The pattern repeats itself in the passage of events. These recurrent patterns are grasped together or prehended into a unity, which must have as great a temporal spread as the organism requires to be what it is, whether this period is found in the revolutions of the electrons in an iron atom or in the specious present of a human being. Such a percipient event or organism establishes a consentient set of patterns of events that endure in the relations of here and there, of now and then, through such periods or essential epochs, constituting thus slabs of nature, and differentiating space from time. This perspective of the organism is then there in nature. What in the perspective does not preserve the enduring character of here and there, is in motion. From the standpoint of some other organism these moving objects may be at rest, and what is here at rest will be, in the time
(163) system of this other perspective, in motion. In Professor Whitehead's phrase, in so far as nature is patient of an organism, it is stratified into perspectives, whose intersections constitute the creative advance of nature. Professor Whitehead has with entire success stated the physical theory of relativity in terms of intersecting time systems.
What I wish to pick out of Professor Whitehead's philosophy of nature is this conception of nature as an organization of perspectives, which are there in nature. The conception of the perspective as there in nature is in a sense an unexpected donation by the most abstruse physical science to philosophy. They are not distorted perspectives of some perfect patterns, nor do they lie in consciousnesses as selections among things whose reality is to be found in a noumenal world. They are in their interrelationship the nature that science knows. Biology has dealt with them in terms of forms and their environments, and in ecology deals with the organization of environments, but it has conceded a world of physical particles in absolute space and time that is there in independence of any environment of an organism, of any perspective. Professor Whitehead generalizes the conception of organism to include any unitary structure, whose nature demands a period within which to be itself, which is therefore not only a spatial but also a temporal structure, or a process. Any such structure stratifies nature by its intersection into its perspective, and differentiates its own permanent space and time from the general passage of events. Thus the world of the physical sciences is swept into the domain of organic environments, and there is no world of independent physical entities out of which the perspectives are merely selections. In the place of such a world appear all of the perspectives in their interrelationship to each other.
I do not wish to consider Professor Whitehead's Berg-
(164) -sonian edition of Spinoza's underlying substance that individualizes itself in the structure of the events, nor his Platonic heaven of eternal objects where lie the hierarchies of patterns, that are there envisaged as possibilities and have ingression into events, but rather his Leibnizian filiation, as it appears in his conception of the perspective as the mirroring in the event of all other events. Leibniz made a psychological process central in his philosophy of nature. The contents of his monads were psychical states, perceptions, and petites perceptions, which were inevitably representative of the rest of the reality of the universe of which they were but partially developed expressions. The represented content of all monads was identical, in so far as it was clear and distinct, so that the organization of these perspectives was a harmony preestablished in an identity of rational content. Professor Whitehead's principle of organization of perspectives is not the representation of an identical content, but the intersection by different time systems of the same body of events. It is, of course, the abandonment of simple location as the principle of physical existence, i.e., that the existence of a physical object is found in its occupancy of a certain volume of absolute space in an instant of absolute time; and the taking of time seriously, i.e., the recognition that there are an indefinite number of possible simultaneities of any event with other events, and consequently an indefinite number of possible temporal orders of the same events, that make it possible to conceive of the same body of events as organized into an indefinite number of different perspectives.
Without undertaking to discuss Professor Whitehead's doctrine of the prehension into the unity of the event of the aspects of other events, which I am unable to work out satisfactorily, from the summary statements I have found in his writings, I wish to consider the conception of a body
(165) of events as the organization of different perspectives of these events, from the standpoint of the field of social science, and that of behavioristic psychology.
In the first place, this seems to be exactly the subject matter of any social science. The human experience with which social science occupies itself is primarily that of individuals. It is only so far as the happenings, the environmental conditions, the values, their uniformities and laws enter into the experience of individuals as individuals that they become the subject of consideration by these sciences. Environmental conditions, for example, exist only in so far as they affect actual individuals, and only as they affect these individuals. The laws of these happenings are but the statistical uniformities of the happenings to and in the experiences of A, B, C, and D. Furthermore the import of these happenings and these values must be found in the experiences of these individuals if they are to exist for these sciences at all.
In the second place, it is only in so far as the individual acts not only in his own perspective but also in the perspective of others, especially in the common perspective of a group, that a society arises and its affairs become the object of scientific inquiry. The limitation of social organization is found in the inability of individuals to place themselves in the perspectives of others, to take their points of view. I do not wish to belabor the point, which is commonplace enough, but to suggest that we find here an actual organization of perspectives, and that the principle of it is fairly evident. This principle is that the individual enters into the perspectives of others, in so far as he is able to take their attitudes, or occupy their points of view.
But while the principle is a commonplace for social conduct, its implications are very serious if one accepts the objectivity of perspectives, and recognizes that these per-
(166) -spectives are made up of other selves with minds; that here is no nature that can be closed to mind. The social perspective exists in the experience of the individual in so far as it is intelligible, and it is its intelligibility that is the condition of the individual entering into the perspectives of others, especially of the group. In the field of any social science the objective data are those experiences of the individuals in which they take the attitude of the community, i.e., in which they enter into the perspectives of the other members of the community. Of course the social scientist may generalize from the standpoint of his universe of discourse what remains hopelessly subjective in the experiences of another community, as the psychologist can interpret what for the individual is an unintelligible feeling. I am speaking not from the standpoint of the epistemologist, nor that of the metaphysician. I am asking simply what is objective for the social scientist, what is the subject matter of his science, and I wish to point out that the critical scientist is only replacing the narrower social perspectives of other communities by that of a more highly organized and hence more universal community.
It is instructive to note that never has the character of that common perspective changed more rapidly than since we have gained further control over the technique by which the individual perspective becomes the perspective of the most universal community, that of thinking men, that is, the technique of the experimental method. We are deluded, by the ease with which we can, by what may be fairly called transformation formulae, translate the experience of other communities into that of our own, into giving finality to the perspective of our own thought; but a glance at the bewildering rapidity with which different histories, i.e., different pasts have succeeded each other, and new physical universes have arisen, is sufficient to assure us that no
(167) generation has been so uncertain as to what will be the common perspective of the next. We have never been so uncertain as to what are the values which economics undertakes to define, what are the political rights and obligations of citizens, what are the community values of friendship, of passion, of parenthood, of amusement, of beauty, of social solidarity in its unnumbered forms, or of those values which have been gathered under the relations of man to the highest community or to God. On the other hand there has never been a time at which men could determine so readily the conditions under which values, whatever they are, can be secured. In terms of common conditions, by transformation formulae, we can pass from one value field to another, and thus come nearer finding out which is more valuable, or rather how to conserve each. The common perspective is comprehensibility, and comprehensibility is the statement in terms of common social conditions.
It is the relation of the individual perspective to the common perspective that is of importance. To the biologist there is a common environment of an ant-hill or of a beehive, which is rendered possible by the intricate social relationships of the ants and the bees. It is entirely improbable that this perspective exists in the perspectives of individual ants or bees, for there is no evidence of communication. Communication is a social process whose natural history shows that it arises out of cooperative activities, such as those involved in sex, parenthood, fighting, herding, and the like, in which some phase of the act of one form, which may be called a gesture, acts as a stimulus to others to carry on their parts of the social act. It does not become communication in the full sense, i.e., the stimulus does not become a significant symbol, until the gesture tends to arouse the same response in the individual who makes it that it arouses in the others. The history of the growth of language
(168) shows that in its earlier stages the vocal gesture addressed to another awakens in the individual who makes the gesture not simply the tendency to the response which it calls forth in the other, such as the seizing of a weapon or the avoiding of a danger, but primarily the social rôle which the other plays in the cooperative act. This is indicated in the early play period in the development of the child, and in the richness in social implication of language structures in the speech of primitive peoples.
In the process of communication the individual is an other before he is a self. It is in addressing himself in the rôle of an other that his self arises in experience. The growth of the organized game out of simple play in the experience of the child, and of organized group activities in human society, placed the individual then in a variety of rôles, in so far as these were parts of the social act, and the very organization of these in the whole act gave them a common character in indicating what he had to do. He is able then to become a generalized other in addressing himself in the attitude of the group or the community. In this situation he has become a definite self over against the social whole to which he belongs. This is the common perspective. It exists in the organisms of all the members of the community, because the physiological differentiation of human forms belongs largely to the consummatory phase of the act.
The overt phase within which social organization takes place is occupied with things, physical things or implements. In the societies of the invertebrates, which have indeed a complexity comparable with human societies, the organization is largely dependent upon physiological differentiation. In such a society, evidently, there is no phase of the act of the individual in which he can find himself taking the attitude of the other. Physiological differentiation, apart from the direct relations of sex and parenthood,
(169) plays no part in the organization of human society. The mechanism of human society is that of bodily selves who assist or hinder each other in their cooperative acts by the manipulation of physical things. In the earliest forms of society these physical things are treated as selves, i.e., those social responses, which we can all detect in ourselves to inanimate things which aid or hinder us, are dominant among primitive peoples in the social organization that depends on the use of physical means. The primitive man keeps en rapport with implements and weapons by conversation in the form of magic rites and ceremonies. On the other hand the bodily selves of members of the social group are as clearly implemental as the implements are social. Social beings are things as definitely as physical things are social.
The key to the genetic development of human intelligence is found in the recognition of these two aspects. It arises in those early stages of communication in which the organism arouses in itself the attitude of the other and so addresses itself and thus becomes an object to itself, becomes in other words a self, while the same sort of content in the act constitutes the other that constitutes the self. Out of this process thought arises, i.e., conversation with one's self, in the rôle of the specific other and then in the rôle of the generalized other, in the fashion I indicated above. It is important to recognize that the self does not project itself into the other. The others and the self arise in the social act together. The content of the act may be said to lie within the organism but it is projected into the other only in the sense in which it is projected into the self, a fact upon which the whole of psycho-analysis rests. We pinch ourselves to be sure that we are awake as we grasp an object to be sure that it is there. The other phase of human intelligence is that it is occupied with physical things. Physical things are perceptual things. They also arise within the act. This is
(170) initiated by a distant stimulus and leads through approximation or withdrawal to contact or the avoidance of contact. The outcome of the act is in consummation, e.g., as in eating, but in the behavior of the human animal a mediate stage of manipulation intervenes. The hand fashions the physical or perceptual thing. The perceptual thing is fully there in the manipulatory area, where it is both seen and felt, where is found both the promise of the contact and its fulfilment, for it is characteristic of the distant stimulation and the act that it initiates that there are already aroused the attitudes of manipulation,-what I will call terminal attitudes of the perceptual act, that readiness to grasp, to come into effective contact, which in some sense control the approach to the distant stimulation. It is in the operation with these perceptual or physical things which lie within the physiological act short of consummation that the peculiar human intelligence is found. Man is an implemental animal. It is mediate to consummation. The hand carries the food to the mouth, or the child to the breast, but in the social act this mediation becomes indefinitely complicated, and the task arises of stating the consummation, or the end, in terms of means. There are two conditions for this: one is the inhibition, which takes place when conflicting ways of completing the act check the expression of any one way, and the other is the operation of the social mechanism, which I have described, by which the individual can indicate to others and to himself the perceptual things that can be seized and manipulated and combined. It is within this field of implemental things picked out by the significant symbols of gesture, not in that of physiological differentiation, that the complexities of human society have developed. And, to recur to my former statement, in this field selves are implemental physical things just as among primitive peoples physical things are selves.
My suggestion was that we find in society and social experience, interpreted in terms of a behavioristic psychology, an instance of that organization of perspectives, which is for me at least the most obscure phase of Professor Whitehead's philosophy. In his objective statement of relativity the existence of motion in the passage of events depends not upon what is taking place in an absolute space and time, but upon the relation of a consentient set to a percipient event. Such a relation stratifies nature. These stratifications are not only there in nature but they are the only forms of nature that are there. This dependence of nature upon the percipient event is not a reflection of nature into consciousness. Permanent spaces and times, which are successions of these strata, rest and motion, are there, but they are there only in their relationship to percipient events or organisms. We can then go further and say that the sensuous qualities of nature are there in nature, but there in their relationship to animal organisms. We can advance to the other values which have been regarded as dependent upon appetence, appreciation, and affection, and thus restore to nature all that a dualistic doctrine has relegated to consciousness, since the spatio-temporal structure of the world and the motion with which exact physical science is occupied is found to exist in nature only in its relationship to percipient events or organisms.
But rest and motion no more imply each other than do objectivity and subjectivity. There are perspectives which cease to be objective, such as the Ptolemaic order, since it does not select those consentient sets with the proper dynamical axes, and there are those behind the mirror and those of an alcoholic brain. What has happened in all of these instances, from the most universal to the most particular, is that the rejected perspective fails to agree with that common perspective which the individual finds himself occupy-
(172) -ing as a member of the community of minds, which is constitutive of his self. This is not a case of the surrender to a vote of the majority, but the development of another self through its intercourse with others and hence with himself.
What I am suggesting is that this process, in which a perspective ceases to be objective, becomes if you like subjective, and in which new common minds and new common perspectives arise, is an instance of the organization of perspectives in nature, of the creative advance of nature. This amounts to the affirmation that mind as it appears in the mechanism of social conduct is the organization of perspectives in nature and at least a phase of the creative advance of nature. Nature in its relationship to the organism, and including the organism, is a perspective that is there. A state of mind of the organism is the establishment of simultaneity between the organism and a group of events, through the arrest of action under inhibition as above described. This arrest of action means the tendencies within the organism to act in conflicting ways in the completion of the whole act. The attitude of the organism calls out or tends to call out responses in other organisms, which responses, in the case of human gesture, the organism calls out in itself, and thus excites itself to respond to these responses. It is the identification of these responses with the distant stimuli that establishes simultaneity, that gives insides to these distant stimuli, and a self to the organism. Without such an establishment of simultaneity, these stimuli are spatio-temporally distant from the organism, and their reality lies in the future of passage. The establishment of simultaneity wrenches this future reality into a possible present, for all our presents beyond the manipulatory area are only possibilities, as respects their perceptual reality. We are acting toward the future realization of the act, as if
(173) it were present, because the organism is taking the rôle of the other. In the perceptual inanimate object the organic content that survives is the resistance that the organism both feels and exerts in the manipulatory area. The actual spatiotemporal structure of passing events with those characters which answer to the susceptibilities of the organism are there in nature, but they are temporally as well as spatially away from the organism. The reality awaits upon the success of the act. Present reality is a possibility. It is what would be if we were there instead of here. Through the social mechanism of significant symbols the organism places itself there as a possibility, which acquires increasing probability as it fits into the spatio-temporal structure and the demands of the whole complex act of which its conduct is a part. But the possibility is there in nature, for it is made up of actual structures of events and their contents, and the possible realizations of the acts in the form of adjustments and readjustments of the processes involved. When we view them as possibilities we call them mental or working hypotheses.
I submit that the only instance we have of prehension in experience is this holding together of future and past as possibilities-for all pasts are as essentially subject to revision as the futures, and are, therefore, only possibilities and the common content which endures is that which is common to the organism and environment in the perspective. This in the organism is identified with the spatiotemporally distant stimuli as a possibly real present, past, and future. The unity lies in the act or process, the prehension is the exercise of this unity, when the process has been checked through conflicting tendencies, and the conditions and results of these tendencies are held as possibilities in a specious present.
Thus the social and psychological process is but an in-
(174) -stance of what takes place in nature, if nature is an evolution, i.e., if it proceeds by reconstruction in the presence of conflicts, and if, therefore, possibilities of different reconstructions are present, reconstructing its pasts as well as its futures. It is the relativity of time, that is, an indefinite number of possible orders of events, that introduces possibility in nature. When there was but one recognized order of nature, possibility had no other place than in the mental constructions of the future or the incompletely known past. But the reality of a spatio-temporally distant situation lies ahead, and any present existence of it, beyond the manipulatory area, can be only a possibility. Certain characters are there, but what things they are can only be realized when the acts these distant stimulations arouse are completed. What they are now is represented by a set of possible spatio-temporal structures. That these future realizations appear as present possibilities is due to the arrest of the act of the organism, and its ability to indicate these possibilities.
That these possibilities have varying degrees of probability is due to the relation of the various inhibited tendencies in the organism to the whole act. The organization of this whole act the human social organism can indicate to others and to itself. It has the pattern which determines other selves and physical things, and the organism as a self and a thing, and the meanings which are indicated have the universality of the whole community to which the organism belongs. They constitute a universe of discourse. It is the fitting in of the particular tendencies into this larger pattern of the whole process that constitutes the probability of the present existence of the things which any one act implies. Its full reality is still dependent upon the accomplishment of the act, upon experimental evidence. It is then such a coincidence of the perspective of the individual organism
(175) with the pattern of the whole act in which it is so involved that the organism can act within it, that constitutes the objectivity of the perspective.
The pattern of the whole social act can lie in the individual organism because it is carried out through implemental things to which any organism can react, and because indications of these reactions to others and the organism itself can be made by significant symbols. The reconstruction of the pattern can take place in the organism, and does take place in the so-called conscious process of mind. The psychological process is an instance of the creative advance of nature.
In living forms lower than man the distant perspective may through sensitivity exist in the experience of the form and the grasping of this in the adjustments of conduct answer to the formation of the stratification of nature, but the reconstruction of the pattern within which the life of the organism lies does not fall within the experience of the organism. In inanimate organisms the maintenance of a temporal structure, i.e., of a process, still stratifies nature, and gives rise to spaces and times, but neither they nor the entities that occupy them enter as experiential facts into the processes of the organisms. The distinction of objectivity and subjectivity can only arise where the pattern of the larger process, within which lies the process of the individual organism, falls in some degree within the experience of the individual organism, i.e., it belongs only to the experience of the social organism.