In Defence of the Personal Idealist Conception of the Finite Self, 2

In Defence of the Personal Idealist Conception of the Finite Self, 1

The more basic and general difference between the personal and impersonal idealist conception of the finite self is the one regarding the interpretation of Kant’s transcendentalism.

While Pringle-Pattison accepts a minimalist version of Kant’s abstract analysis of empirical and transcendental apperception, he turns against the hypostasization of the abstract conditions of knowledge in general thus described – the categories and the unity of consciousness – into a self-existent reality, the “real Knower”, the “One Subject” in all finite minds, a hypostasization that “wipes out the selfhood and independence of the individual” and “deprive[s] both God and man of real existence”. [Notes to be added later.] Personal idealists often accept the transcendental apperception, but as in reality existing in the finite selves only, a logical presupposition, a postulated unity that is not a transpersonal self and not in itself self-conscious. As shaping the experiential awareness of the finite being and continuous with and fading off into empirical consciousness, it is not distinct from this being and does not imply the identity of one finite self with another. It can be all of these things without being in itself a self transcending finite selves; it can be understood independently of the person only as abstractly analysed. Transcendental apperception being at the most the common nature of the consciousness of unity, is not a self qua self in its self-conscious and content-accommodating core, and can therefore constitute neither an identical self of all finite beings nor an absolute self.

When Pringle-Pattison says the finite self is impervious to other selves, that in its character of self it refuses to admit another self within itself, he does not mean to say it is absolutely distinct. He is quite explicit about its sharing content with other selves and about how in this sense it transcends its own boundaries.

Given the impersonal absolutists’ conception of the finite self, what could they possibly mean if they deny that the finite self is impervious to other selves, and therefore that it is pervious? It is a little hard to see how they can claim that finite selves perviate each other. For such perviation implies agency of a kind that it is difficult to identifyi in the impersonalists’ account: there is neither anything that perviates nor even anything that can be perviated. Hence, on this account too, Pringle-Pattison’s statement must in fact be accepted as true. What they seem really to mean is simply that the hypostasization is present in all finite selves and that it is what constitutes them as in principle without boundaries.

While Pringle-Pattison accepts the finite self as the “apex of separation and differentiation”, he empathically denies any absoluteness about this. Apex means simply the highest point. He turns sharply against metaphysical pluralism. As a member of the whole, the finite self is related to and dependent on it in the way the adjectival position can indeed be interpreted as describing. But that selves belong to a common, unitary reality does not imply their merging, their reduction to identity, or the absence of their boundaries. By the finite self as “substantival”, Pringle-Pattison meant only its relative independence within this shared idealist framework.

He did not deny that the experience of one finite self may be continuous with that of another or with that of the infinite self, for selves are certainly not impervious to all the influences of experience, all the “contents of the universe”. We possess an experience more or less in common with others of what is beyond the boundaries of our own subjectivity as such. There is of course no contradiction in speaking of ourselves as impervious in our character of selves and at the same time making claims about what lies outside ourselves thus understood. The self qua self being aware of its boundaries must mean that it can go beyond them in a certain sense, since this is precisely what makes it aware of them. Such as they are, the boundaries are not abolished but confirmed. The distinctiveness is quite as real as the unifying commonality.

Pringle-Pattison accepted the absolute while rejecting the British Hegelians’ definition of it, and their distinctive way of reaching it. In accordance with his view of the finite self’s openness to what is beyond its unsuspendable limits, he conceived of the self’s continuity with God, the finite-infinite nature of man, in terms different from those of the impersonalist absolutists’ hypostasization. His position is closer to those that distinguished from the beginning what I call early personalism from the main current of German and British idealism: the special view of  higher reason in Jacobi’s sense, its idea of the absolute and so forth, understood in such a way as to reinforce the arguments against pantheistic monism’s failure to distinguish between selves – as well as many other things in need of distinguishing.

But inasmuch as Pringle-Pattison would accept that the absolute is a self for which we are at least not impervious in the same sense that we are so to each other, he would have accepted that a continuity does obtain which, although beyond the logical unity of reality as a whole, and, a fortiori, beyond this logical unity as a mere postulate, could still be seen in one aspect as close to the results of the idealist development of Kant, inasmuch as  the idealism of hypostasized apperception and that of reason in the early personalist sense converge with regard to continuity as such or in a general sense.

And impersonal hypostasization is not required in order to understand reality as having on all levels something of a logical structure in the dialectical and substantial sense, and to accept the process of true, systematic thought as one through which finite selves can to some extent lay it bare. Bosanquet’s account of the process of knowledge is correct in that any immediately given perceptual experience is partly abstract in the Hegelian sense. Yet Pringle-Pattison’s objection is legitimate inasmuch as even as for this reason in need of supplementation, it is and indeed must be relatively concrete. That it is not given independently of thought does not mean that it is given without any concreteness. If immediate perceptual content were not concrete at all, it would not be possible for experience to become more Concrete by its being brought by thought into relation with other such content.

Personal idealism’s “realist” or concrete element was originally provided by Jacobi, under Scottish influence, in connection with his analysis of abstraction in Spinoza. Pringle-Pattison’s interpretation of Hegel on this point is but a late restatement with renewed Scottish inspiration. In failing to understand the full Hegelian conception of concreteness, and in its onesided view of thought’s abstractive nature, it goes too far, yet Pringle-Pattison is right about the spurious excogitation in the absence of the Concrete datum, inasmuch as it loses the person as understood by the personal idealists and in this respect inadmissibly blurs the finite and the infinite. His analysis of perception and thought was part of this specific argument.

Clearly, as it progresses, the finite self’s growing experience, as grasped in its logical structure, as knowledge, ideally converges with and approximates the absolute, and the limitations and partiality of the self-enclosedness and perspectivity inseparable from its finitude is reduced. But if its perspectival experience is supported by an experience that is not that of the absolute of hypostasized apperception but of the absolute as defined by the personal idealists, the perspectival finitude itself cannot even in principle be cancelled in this process of larger experiences of the “contents of the universe”. Rather, it is precisely through the proper coordination with the whole that is the concrete universal in the widest sense that it is discovered in its determined uniqueness on this level, i.e. in its status as the apex of separation and differentiation, properly conceived. It thus finds itself as what the partly Crocean philosopher Claes Ryn describes as an intensification of unique individuality at the highest moral, aesthetic, and intellectual level.

The perspectival convergence thus also in itself implies the identification of the very boundaries. Retaining them in the manner of the alternative idealism that is personal idealism does not signify a relapse into scepticism, but is, among other things, a realistic safeguard against epistemic and indeed moral illusions. The personal idealists always insisted against Hegel the Gnostic, and more strongly and on a more consistent philosophical basis than the British impersonalists, that the constitutive differentiation within the very continuity ever precludes the finite self’s exhaustive appropriation of the absolute perspective, or, as some would perhaps prefer to see it, man’s becoming God. And this differentiation has according to them important moral, axiological and indeed existential significations that they perceive to be simply lost in the philosophy of impersonal idealism.

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