Cultural Reality

Chapter 6: The Problem of Appreciation

Florian Znaniecki

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The rational systems of reality, practical and theoretic, whose construction we have investigated are, as we know, superimposed directly or indirectly upon the concrete chaos of the historical reality, are built from concrete historical objects and complexes by active determination and systematization. Even in their totality they do not exhaust the concrete wealth of contents and meanings which the historical world possesses; no concrete historical object is entirely analyzable into objectively determined things and psychological data; no concrete complex is entirely reducible to a rational situation or set of situations. The empirical reality in its full extension and duration always is the dynamic background, indefinite, changing, chaotic, upon which many rationally simplified and stable figures are outlined without ever covering the background.

Furthermore, all systematic organization of reality, with these very characteristics of definiteness, rational simplicity, and stability, by which it is opposed to its concrete historical background, is not only constructed, but maintained above the historical chaos, prevented from dissolving again into the concrete extension and duration from which it arose, by a continued effort of human activity which, by a natural illusion, accepts as given any order which it is led by its own presuppositions to expect, without realizing that it is its implicit tendency to have its expectations fulfilled which makes it reconstruct this order in each particular case for each particular purpose

But this is not all. The rationally determined and systematized reality, even when created and maintained, does

(340) not remain an immovable superstructure built upon the reality of concrete experience. Though there is more and more rationality in the empirical world, this does not mean that the empirical world passes from a chaotic and historical to an organized and scientific stage, that, speaking in terms of old idealism, there is a progressive realization of Reason in experience, a progressive exclusion of irrationality whose ultimate limit would be complete substitution of a definite plurality of perfect systems for the original chaos.

If this idealistic dream could ever come true, the real world would lose its historical character, since, all systems being ready and each rationally determined within itself, there would be no place for the creative becoming and the irrational multiplicity of historical duration and extension. But even then reality would remain concrete, since all these systems never could combine, as we have seen, in one rational system. And even if we imagined that, with the growth of some, now unforeseen, new method of rationalization such a single rational system could ever be constructed over the many and various particular systems, still the latter would preserve their peculiarities, would be incorporated into this new system only mediately, by a hierarchy of intermediary orders, and a concrete object or a concrete complex of objects would never be rationally exhausted from one standpoint, but would have to be treated in various aspects by various systems. But modern idealism has almost ceased to claim that the dream of a perfectly rational world can be more than a progressively realizable, but never attainable, ideal. And from this standpoint, a reality which should only tend to be converted from a full concrete chaos of historical objects into a limited non-historical plurality of systems subordinated to some universal system, would still preserve during this evolution, that is, during all its empirical existence, some of its primary historical characteristics, though in a continually decreasing measure. This conception of a gradual passage of

(341) reality from an irrational to a rational status, when analyzed proves thus to represent the minimum of what an ontological rationalism can demand; it is the last intrenchment of the rationalistic doctrine which, starting with the absolute, realistic monism of the Eleates, is driven step by step to the idealistic conception of a partially unified pluralism to be realized in an infinite future.

But even this minimum of rationalistic claims cannot be conceded. For every component of the rational organization of reality, every practical thing, situation, scheme or dogma, every theoretic idea or system of ideas, however limited and however wide, with all its rationality, is reintroduced as a concrete object into the historical becoming from which it emerged as a system or part of a system. Its total rational organization is then its content, and this more or less systematic content varies when viewed in various historical complexes by various individuals; its meaning is given to it not with reference to its rational relation to other components of the rational organization of reality, but with regard to its dynamic actual connection with any objects whatever with which it may be coupled for present purposes. A thing, a practical situation, a scheme, a system of schemes, a scientific idea, a theory, the entire body of science, may become an aesthetic, a hedonistic, a religious, an economic, a political object, or all of these, by becoming the object-matter of various individual activities. They are differently experienced and differently reproduced at various here's and now's and mean something else for everyone according to the actual use which he makes of them. As concrete objects, they are again parts of the concrete extension and duration, and grow or decrease in reality, or are diversified or stabilized, just as any historical object.

This reintroduction of rationally determined objects and systems into the historical reality is, however, not the result of unintentional, unorganized activity as is the establishment

(342) of many other connections between actually given contents in the concrete course of experience and reflection. A component of the rational organization of reality is not originally and accidentally experienced as a content, or if it is, then its experiencing does not include its rational determination or its systematic order. Thus, in unintentional experience a certain particular thing is not given as a rationally determined element of a situation or, still less, as a part of the rational physical reality: it is given only as an immediately sensual content with some actually realizable suggestions. A situation if unintentionally objectified is not given as a system of interrelated things or, still less, as a part of the psychological reality, but as a rather vague complexity with a few outstanding contents and meanings not systematically ordered at all. A scientific theory when unintentionally given is represented by a vaguely limited content including symbols, a few "representative" objects symbolized, perhaps one or two suggestions of theoretic analysis or synthesis, and a vague plurality of indefinite possible experiences and acts behind all this. The rational determination of a thing as of an element of a situation or of the physical order, the rational systematic organization of a situation, the rational systematic order of ideas in a scientific theory, or of concrete experience as object-matter of this theory, are given as essential characteristics of their content when they become incorporated into historical reality, only if and in so far as this thing, situation, theory, theoretic order, are intentionally used as historical, empirical objects for the purpose of creating new objects in concrete, dynamically organized activity. For example, when the statically determined characteristics of the thing are being utilized for a hedonistic purpose; when the practical organization of things in an individually constructed situation is taken as a ground for altruistic activity which, by helping the individual solve this situation, will result in a moral value; when the rational perfection of a

(343) scientific theory is counted upon as an asset for social persuasion which is expected to facilitate a political revolution: then the rationality of the thing, of the practical situation, of the theory, belongs essentially to their content as historical values, since if they did not have the determination or the organization which they do possess, they could not be utilized as they are for the purposes of hedonistic, moral, political creation.

In fact, we have already spoken, when discussing the practical organization of reality, about the objectivation of practical systems as elements of other, wider systems, and in the last section of the preceding chapter we saw how theoretic ideas become instruments for practical planning. But we have treated this reintroduction of ready fragments of rationalized reality into the dynamic development of activity only from the standpoint of the progress of rational organization to which they may be made to contribute. This is, however, only one side of the question. Every increase of rationality is always and necessarily accompanied by a corresponding increase of the historical chaos. Any fragment of the rationalized reality, by being used to construct a new rational system, becomes thereby an element of historical reality, and the wider its rational use, the greater its concrete historical variety of content and meaning. Whatever is thought and done in the world, even the development of rational order, contributes to the growth of chaotic historical reality.

Now, such objects or systems as are reintroduced from the rationally organized reality into historical reality by being used as concrete objects for dynamic creative action, and which, when turned into objects, preserve their rationality as essential part of their content, possess as a consequence of this a different meaning than the primary historical objects whose content does not include any rational determination. It is evidently a completely different matter whether we treat a stone or a tree just as it is primarily given to us in actuality

(344) or whether we take it into account with those rational determinations which it possesses for industry as technical material or for science as a physical thing; and the meaning which a legal institution possesses for a casual observer who sees the building, the men, and a few actions performed by those men is certainly not at all similar to that which a criminal, a moral reformer, or a scientist gives to it when connecting it with his hedonistic, moral, or theoretic aim, and conscious of the rational organization of legal schemes which are behind the direct empirical data.

We can therefore make a distinction between the primary historical object, that is, a concrete object whose content is constituted by that which is given directly in individual actualities, and the secondary historical object, a concrete object which is not entirely reducible to direct data, because it contains also a rational qualification whose existence is due to the determination which this object has acquired by becoming a component of the practical or theoretic organization of reality. The stone, the tree, the painting, the legal institution, the scientific theory, are primary historical objects in so far as the content of each of them is simply the totality of that which various individuals at various moments have actually experienced when these objects were given in various concrete connections. But the same stone or tree is a secondary historical object when its content includes the rational determination which has been imposed upon it by technique or science.

This determination cannot indeed be realized actually in its full rationality unless we reproduce the scientific or technical system in which it has been acquired; when the stone or the tree is used outside of this system, as a concrete historical object, serving some other intentional activity, the rationality which it possesses as a physical or technical thing can be experienced only indirectly. We qualify the empirically given content by the suggestion of a rational

(345) order in which certain of its characters are founded, whereas other characters lack this foundation. Similarly, the painting is a secondary historical object if its content is critically qualified with an implicit reference to an aesthetic system, a style of which it is an example, instead of being naïvely observed as a representation of some reality. The legal institution is a secondary historical object if that which is directly given in casual observation is qualified by the suggestion of a system of political schemes existing behind the actually appearing things, men, and actions, so that in view of this qualification certain of these directly perceived phenomena seem essential, rooted in the objective political order, others accidental, due merely to the fact that the institution is being observed at a certain moment and from a certain individual standpoint. The scientific theory is a secondary historical value when the whole complexity of symbols and symbolized objects which is actually given when "we think about" it, is qualified by the suggestion of a rational, systematic order of ideas which constitutes objectively this theory as part of the ideal reality, so that certain of the experiences which we have when thinking about this theory appear as having a foundation in this suggested rational order, whereas others are included in our experience only as a consequence of the connections in which the theory is given to us here and now.

By this qualification, the content of a secondary historical object is in a sense divided into a rationally fixed nucleus which appears as essential for this object, and a nebula of nonessential characters which have no foundation in any systematic order. Of course, this rational nucleus is in fact also historical, varying from individual to individual and from moment to moment, since even those characters of the object which arc rationally founded appear different in each actual experience and the suggestion of rational order behind them varies from case to case. But there always is the possibility

(346) of actually reconstructing this rational order, of turning the given historical object again into a rationally determined object or a rationally organized system, and thus the nucleus, even though varying in fact, seems always and everywhere the same in principle, imposes itself upon every actual experience as absolutely independent of this experience, as the reality per se, the thing-in-itself underlying the actual data.

Consequently, the secondary historical object cannot be used as freely for any actual purposes as the primary historical object. When we want to create some new object with its help, we find that we do not control it; our present activity can in no way change its rationally fixed nucleus-unless, of course, we reconstruct and modify the whole rational system in which this nucleus is founded-and by introducing it into our action we have not only made use of its actually experienced content and meaning, but we have made the progress of our activity dependent on its transcendent character; we have implicitly subjected the accomplishment of our intention, in so far as the latter is already defined, to the conditions imposed by a rational order which is entirely beyond the reach of our actual influence, and which may either contribute to the definition and realization of our aim much more than any actually given primary object-matter of our present activity, however real historically it may be, could do by itself, or put in our way much more efficient hindrances than the mere lack of the necessary materials or instruments within our present sphere of reality. Under these circumstances, the secondary historical object becomes from the standpoint of the present dogmatically organized activity an object of positive or negative appreciation, a positive or negative value.

This opens before us a new and wide field of problems which, however, cannot be adequately stated and solved within the limits of the present work. Realistic philosophy has always tried, indeed, to treat the positiveness and negativeness of values as explicable on the ground of a theory of reality

(347) alone, either conceiving them as absolute characteristics of objects, which are then taken as being in themselves, by virtue of their objective essence, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, sacred or impure, true or false, or taking them as results of synthetic connections between natural, social, ideal realities on the one hand and psychological realities on the other; that is, between things and personal (sometimes even social) feelings, emotions, desires, etc.

But it is evident that neither of these methods is adequate. For objective reality by itself is never positive or negative; we make it positive or negative by using it for some active purpose, even if this use should be only "mental." Positiveness and negativeness are not characteristics that we discover in objects, but characteristics that we give to objects. Indeed, the rational constitution of these objects as real systems or parts of systems is a ground for our appreciation, but only a partial ground, since there is no object whatever which, while remaining the same in its rational constitution, may not be subjected by different individuals and different moments to opposite appreciations. This is the reason why realism, having searched in vain for absolute values, was forced to make appreciation dependent not only on the rational constitution of the object, but also on the condition of the psychological subject. But this is merely a restatement of the fact that the appreciation of an object varies from individual to individual (or group) and from moment to moment. And an explanation of these variations on the psychological ground tells us nothing about the objective conditions on which they depend, so that the psychological "theory of values" gives up not only absoluteness, but also objectivity; it resigns all possibility of studying the economic, political, moral, aesthetic, theoretic-in general, the objective-factors of relative appreciations.[1]


For, if the appreciation of an object varies, though the rational constitution of the object remains invariable, it is because it depends on the dynamic, actually constructed system of values with which it is put in connection for the determination and realization of an aim. The object is not a positive value at a given moment and for a given individual because it provokes in this individual pleasure or pain, desire or aversion, but it provokes pleasure or pain, desire or aversion because it is positive or negative from the standpoint of the dynamic organization which the individual intentionally constructs at the given moment. Since a value by its objective rational constitution may help the creation of one object and hinder that of a different object, it is clear that in the first case it will be positive, in the second negative; and since its rôle will depend on the nature of the object which is being created and of the materials and instruments on the ground of which it is being created, there are real objective reasons for both its positiveness in some connections and its negativeness in others. On the other hand, a value can help or hinder creation by its pre-existing rationality only as long as activity is still in progress, as long as it has not yet constructed a ready system of objects. For when the system is once constructed, the value will be either excluded from it or included in it; in the former case it will no longer count at all from the standpoint of the system, whereas in the latter case it will be an element of the system, completely determined within its limits with regard to its other elements, and any rational determination it may have possessed outside of this system will be either irrelevant for the latter or converted into a determination within the system. In other words, as part of a ready system of reality the value is no longer an object of appreciation because everything in its content which could affect the organization of the system has been already taken into account in constructing the system, belongs to the system as an objective component. The actual existence of the positive or negative

(349) character which a value acquires with reference to a certain dynamic organization of objects depends thus on the fundamental tendency and logical systematization of the activity which is actually connecting this value in its objective rationality with other actually selected and dynamically organized objects. Therefore a study of values as positive or negative cannot be made except on the ground of a theory of creative activity.

The problem of valuation is thus the unifying link between the problem of reality and the problem of active thought. The existence of positive and negative values is the common result of the rational organization of reality and the logical organization of activity. It cannot be explained by either of these organizations alone. In so far as the theory of reality takes values into account, it needs to be supplemented by a theory of activity. And every type of science of reality has to deal in some measure and in some form with empirical values. This is quite evident with reference to the sciences of the ideal order; every dogmatic system of schemes, political, economic, moral, aesthetic, religious, theoretic, is empirically used as a standard of appreciation by all the individuals who accept it as the basis of the practical organization of their experiences in a certain line. Social realities as object-matter of social theory possess on the one hand the character of criteria of values when statically treated, in so far as individual experience and activity are required to conform with them and, by actually following or not this requirement, are positively or negatively appreciated; and on the other hand each of these criteria is itself a value when viewed from the dynamic point of view, whenever in the course of social evolution it is positively or negatively appreciated relatively to other components of social civilization, as corresponding or not to actual experiences and attitude., of the members of the given group. In the static psychological order personal experiences are values, when regarded from the standpoint of

(350) their actual conformity or non-conformity with the standards imposed by natural reality, and in the dynamic psychological order appreciation is involved in the actual appearance of every attitude and the object with regard to which the attitude is taken is a value. Even in the physical order the distinction between the physically real and the physically unreal implies valuation as manifested in the course of actual practical organization or theoretic research, though reduced to a minimum.

A science of reality can ignore the existence of values only as long as it remains within the limits of an abstractly isolated, closed, ready, perfectly rational real system. As soon as it extends its investigation beyond these limits, attempts to put the system on the wider ground of concrete, imperfectly rational reality, or tries to find some connection between it and the rest of the world, even if only in order to reach at the end of this investigation a rational relation between this system and some other, also perfectly rational, system, it meets inevitably the problem of appreciation in its way, in the form of a number of empirical values which it may finally succeed in analyzing and explaining away but which, by the very fact that they must be explained away, remind it continually of the part played by human activity in constructing and maintaining all rational order. The knowledge of reality would be self-sufficient if it were completely ready and its entire object-matter were given at once in a perfectly achieved rational order. But because it is and always will be a knowledge in becoming, because it has to rationalize its object-matter step by step, because any rational order it wants to construct in a perfect form exists objectively as an imperfectly rational organization of innumerable imperfect and chaotically interconnected systems, all immersed and becoming in the ceaselessly evolving stream of historical reality from which they must be taken out in the very course of scientific investigation, the knowledge of reality will be never sufficient to itself. It needs continually to be

(351) supplemented by some knowledge which is not a theory of reality as rational. Each of its static results is, indeed, perfectly valid within itself and, in so far as achieved, reconstructs adequately the rational aspect of reality upon which it bears. But in its dynamic development, in its tendency to transcend any given results, to widen indefinitely every rational order, it meets at every step the creatively growing side of the world which it cannot grasp. In a word, the knowledge of reality must be supplemented by some other type of knowledge, not because of the imperfection of its doctrines, but because of the specific character of its researches which, while pursuing any theoretic problem, must exclude progressively, in order to reach any rational solution, all these features of their object-matter which are founded not in rational stabilization, but in creative development.

It can be supplemented, needless to repeat, only by an empirical theory of activity, if such a theory is possible; and an empirical theory of activity must be identical with philosophy. For, on the one hand, we have seen that there is no place left for philosophy in the entire domain of the knowledge of reality and that, on the other hand, all particular sciences are sciences of reality and there is none whose object-matter could include active thought. Moreover, philosophy has always had the ambition of being a theory of the world as a whole and thus creating, as "queen of sciences, " an objective unity of knowledge. But no unity of knowledge can be reached in the field of reality: therefore, assuming that a theory of activity is possible, it is the only domain in which the old ideal of a synthesis of all knowledge might still have some objective significance.


  1. Compare for the problem of relative values, my article "The Principle of Relativity and Philosophical Absolutism," The Philosophical Review, March, 1915.

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