Ernest Belfort Bax
When the clown at the circus puts his head through the paper disc, he appears framed in a ring of torn paper. This is the impression I have of Mr. Bax’s position after reading Roots of Reality. He has certainly put his head through a previously unpenetrated system, but he still remains surrounded by the ragged edges of the medium he has destroyed. His own original views appear surrounded with pieces of Kantian tissue-paper. There is no doubt that Bax has brought a really new idea into philosophy—the assertion of the ultimate reality of the alogical. But, alarmed at his own audacity, he seeks to make it perfectly respectable by giving it as a companion a curious mixture of all the German idealists. The frame in which he sets his new conception is antique and thoroughly orthodox, but it ill accords with the central picture.
He has made a brilliant and powerful attack from a new point of view on the Hegelian panlogism. (Why does Mr. Bax pedantically employ the word pallogistic instead of the generally employed panlogistic?) This attack, in its lucidity and directness, is infinitely superior to the fumbling controversial method of Mr. Schiller and the pragmatists, but its significance only comes out when one sees it in its proper perspective in the general movement of European philosophy.
This modern metaphysical movement seems as strange to the layman as the preaching of the simple life would do to a savage. You must have been sophisticated and have sinned before you can experience the relief of repentance. You must first have been a Hegelian before you can get enthusiastic over the general anti-intellectualist movement in philosophy throughout Europe. Even Nietzsche admitted that perhaps it was better to have had the Wagnerian disease and to have recovered from it than to have merely been continuously healthy and unconscious. (The comedy of it is, however, that the anti-intellectualists are generally so lucid that a class of reader is drawn in which has not previously sinned with Hegel.) The disease in this case is intellectualism. The method of all systems of philosophy, when all the decorations and disguises are stripped off, ultimately resolves itself to this. One takes a little part of known reality and asserts dogmatically that it alone is the true analogy by which the cosmos is to be described. Good philosophy then consists in the choice of a good microcosm, just as surely as genius results from the avoidance of rashness and haste in selecting one’s grandparents.
Intellectualism takes a bad analogy, logic and the geometric sciences, which are in essence identical, and asserts that the flux of phenomena which apparently contradicts this is not real, and can really be resolved into logical concepts. Chance is abolished, everything is reduced to law, so that omnipotent intelligence, able to seize the entire universe at a glance could construct from that its past and future. Bax, on the contrary, asserts that there is an alogical element which cannot be reduced to law.
The great antithesis before modern metaphysics is thus the old one between the flux of phenomena and the concepts by which we analyse it in thought. Which term of the antithesis is real? Here I distinguish four solutions. The Hegelian: that only the concept is real; positive significance only attaches to thought or relational elements as opposed to its alogical terms; the other side of the antithesis is argued away. The Bergsonian: that only the flux is real, the concepts being mere practical dodges. The pragmatist: that the concepts are only purposive instruments, but that purpose and will constitute the only reality. Then the Baxian: that both are real, and that the logical is like a serpent engaged in continually swallowing the endless meal of the flux, a task in which it can never succeed. “Reality is the inseparable correlation of these two ultimate terms.” There are thus two roots of reality.
Of these four solutions I am here concerned more particularly with the distinction between that of Bax and that of Bergson. There are two ways, in which a man may be led to the denial of the possibility of including the alogical under the logical. If one emphasises the character of the flux as motion one sees that the static concepts can never represent it. So Bergson. If one emphasises the infinity of detail in the immediately given, its grittiness, its muddiness, and hence the impossibility of pulling it in the smooth, tidy, geometrical concepts, one arrives at Bax. This difference affects their view of the function of concepts in the flux. This is a rough analogy for Bergson’s view. When I see in the changing shape of flame something which resembles a saw edge I may solely for the purposes of human communication call it that. But I have not by that altered the nature of the flame. So with concepts and universals of all kinds. We envisage the flux in certain static geometric shapes entirely for practical purposes, which have no ultimate reality at all. Proteus is god, and he cannot be seized in any formula. Bax, on the other hand, assumes that these forms which describe the flux have some ultimate reality. They do really contain and control the alogical as the hexagons in the comb contain the honey. He refuses, however, to go to the length of the intellectualists, who would say that in the last resort matter is abolished and absorbed in form. Bax’s position is that there is always something left over, that when you dip the net of concepts and universals some of the reality always escapes through the meshes. He thus occupies a curious midway position which I think will in the end be found untenable.
Here we get to the actual frontier position of modern speculation. The intellectualists, the lay theologians, having been violently expelled from their temple and the final admission made that logical thought is by its nature incapable of containing the flux of reality, what remains? Are we to resign ourselves to ignorance of the nature of the cosmos, or is there some new method open to us?
Bergson says that there is—that of intuition. From a common origin life has divided in two directions; the “élan vital,” in its struggle towards the maximum of indeterminism, has employed two methods, the one instinct, the other intellect; one exemplified in animals, the other in man. (Intellect being understood here in a definite way as the capacity for making models of the flux, of reasoning in logic.) But round the central intellect in man there is a fringe, a penumbra of instinct. This instinct, or, as it is better to call it here, intuition, is the faculty that we must use in attempting to grasp the nature of reality. One must carefully guard here against a sentimental use of the word. Bergson gives it a precise technical sense. By intellect one can construct approximate models, by intuition one can identify oneself with the flux.
Here Bax stops and parts company with Bergson. Philosophy, he says, “may not be inaptly defined as the last word of the logical.’’ It is impossible for it to get beyond universals or abstractions. Both realise the unsatisfactory nature of the dry land of concepts on which philosophy has lived, and would not be content with it. Both set out and discovered the turbulent river of reality. Bergson jumped in and swam. Bax looked at it, then came back and merely recorded that the land was not all, that there was a river on which man could not walk, a reality that the logical reason will never grasp entirely. But he forgot that walking is not the only method of progression; and that the logical method of thought may not be, the only way of understanding reality.
By many toilsome ways Bax, like Moses, leads us to the Promised Land; then, having privately surveyed it, informs us that, after all, it isn’t really interesting, tells us to go back again, but always to bear in mind that there is such a place. That is, the intellect is still for him the only way of getting at Reality, though we are always to remember that by its very nature it can never reach it. What did he see, in the promised land of the alogical which prevented him from wandering there? We can only surmise maliciously that somewhere in its pleasant valleys he saw a woman. Is not intuition too dangerous a process for an anti-feminist to suggest as the ultimate philosophic process?
Richard Burdon Haldane
The Oriental despot is addressed by his followers as Most High, King of Kings, Son of Heaven, epithets having no accurate and precise meaning, but signifying a general state of admiration. If a western metaphysician had by some unhappy chance been enslaved among the circle of courtiers I feel sure that he would have given praise in the words, “Oh, Ultimately Real.” Philosophers desire that their particular obsession shall be dignified with the name Reality as jealously as the hero of Maupassant’s Decoré desired the badge of the Legion d’honneur, and the desired end is often attained in just as surprising a way. Reality is merely the complimentary word that metaphysicians apply to what they particularly admire. At the present moment they go roughly into two classes, the admirers of Rest and of Motion, and strenuously and ingeniously they labour to identify their preference with Reality.
It is clear from his book that Mr. Haldane admires order and organisation, and from this his metaphysic can be deduced. The flux of sensation by itself would be uninhabitable and uncomfortable. Reaction from its confusion may take two forms: the practical, which requires a mechanism to enable it to move easily in fixed paths through the flux and change, and the aesthetic which shrinks from any contact with chaos. The practical attitude, by the universals of thought, arranges the flux in some kind of order, as the police might arrange a crowd for the passage of a procession. The next step for the man who admires order is to pass from the practical to the aesthetic, to assert that what puts order into the confused flux of sensation alone is real, the flux itself being mere appearance. The mind that loves fixity can thus find rest. It can satisfy its aesthetic shrinking from the great unwashed flux by denying that it is real. This has proved an easy step for Mr. Haldane to take. The constant burden of his book is that Reality is a system; further, that it is an intellectual system, and the flux only has reality in so far as it fits into this system. One might caricature his position by saying that he believes in the ultimate reality of the police, or that a guide-book is superior to an actual visit, for in the former one has sensation systematised.
This is Mr. Haldane’s particular trend in prejudice, but in philosophy the correct etiquette is to give excuses for the end we fix beforehand, and one must examine the exact method by which he justifies his assertion that Reality can be identified with Reason. His method and intent, like that of every other philosopher, are anthropomorphic, and narrowly so, for he wishes to prove not only that the cosmos is of the same nature as man, but of a particular faculty of man—the logical Reason. The task does not at first look promising; you are faced with a hard and fast objective world. How are you to explain this as being of the nature of mind, let alone of reason? The method adopted is an old familiar one. Like all idealists since Berkeley, he uses the formula “esse is percipi” as an acid wherewith to break up the apparent solidity of the objective world to a fluid form more suitable for digestion in a spiritual system. Once having reduced it to a flabby condition of this kind, he is in a better position to prove his second step, that it is moulded entirely by the laws of the intellect. There still remains the unfortunate particular, the alogical—the untameable tiger that arouses Mr. Bax’s affection. How is it to be murdered that we may at last get a civilised and logical system into the cosmos? If, as Mr. Haldane does, you start off with a sacred conviction that only what is fixed is real, the procedure is quite simple. The immediate sensations of the moment are transient and have no abiding reality; they are different in different people. Reality must consist in the common system, the objective world, that which other people become aware of, when, and on the same ground as I do, in Mill’s permanent possibilities of sensation. The next step consists in proving that this common system, this objective world, is entirely a construction of the intellect. The reason of the actuality of the world round me, the reason why I cannot alter it by my will, lies in the fact that my mind, like the mind of other people, is compelled to think the world according to a system of conceptions. Reality consists in an objective system, and that objective system consists of what we are obliged to think. The nature of the world is thus rational, “Esse is intelligi.” The universals of thought are the true foundations of the world. Thought creates things rather than things thought. The phenomenon of experience gets its fixity and definiteness from the universals of reflection. “It is only in the intelligible notions which are embedded in sensation and which give them substance that these sensations have reality.” I admit this in so far as it means that the flux is reduced to a practical order for personal life by the intellect, and made habitable, but I refuse to take the further step of saying that it is the only reality. When unhappy proximity forces me to survey Edwardian architecture I am quite aware that what gives fixity to the extraordinary chaos of varied marble is the hidden steel girder, but I cannot console myself, as Mr. Haldane does, by saying that the steel alone is real and that the marble is a passing dream. I am prepared to admit that my mind is compelled to “think” the world according to a system of concepts, but Mr. Haldane and the Hegelians here attribute some transcendental value to the word “think.” It does not follow that because the logical faculty is compelled to think in that way that for other purposes other methods might be more valid. Thinking might be, and probably is, a method of distorting Reality.
Mr. Haldane, however, is most interesting regarded as a typical example of a certain philosophical manner. He is distinctly a “counter” as distinguished from a “visual” philosopher. I can best get at the meaning I intend by these epithets, by a digression on a certain difference of intention, between verse and prose. In prose as in algebra concrete things are embodied in signs or counters, which are moved about according to rules, without being visualised at all in the process. There are in prose certain type situations and arrangements of words which move as automatically into certain other arrangements as do functions in algebra. One only changes the x’s and y’s back into physical things at the end of the process. Poetry, in one aspect at any rate, may be considered as an effort to avoid this characteristic of prose. It is not a counter language, but a visual concrete one. It is a compromise for a language of intuition which would hand over sensations bodily. It always endeavours to arrest you, and to make you continuously see a physical thing, to prevent you gliding through an abstract process. It chooses fresh epithets and fresh metaphors, not so much because they are new and we are tired of the old, but because the old cease to convey a physical thing and become abstract counters. Nowadays, when one says the hill is “clothed” with trees, the word suggests no physical comparison. To get the original visual effect one would have to say “ruffed,” or use some new metaphor. A poet says the ship “coursed the seas” to get a physical image, instead of the counter word “sailed.” Visual meanings can only be transferred by the new bowl of metaphor: prose is an old pot that lets them leak out. Prose is in fact the museum where the dead images of verse are preserved. Images in verse are not mere decoration, but the very essence of an intuitive language. Verse is pedestrian, taking you over the ground—prose as a train delivers you at a destination.
One result of this difference is that both in prose and philosophy the “derivative” man can manipulate the counters, without ever having been in actual contact with the reality of which he speaks; yet by the use of image the “creative” man can always convey over the feeling that he has “been there.” This partial distinction between verse and, prose has an exact parallel between the “visual” and the “counter’’ philosopher. The visual and creative philosopher, like the saint in Kim, desires the hills, where he can meditate in concrete forms. His method of thinking is visual, and he uses words only secondarily for purposes of communication. He is like a poet delighted with the physical metaphors before him that press directly and actually to be employed as symbols of thought. Once these physical metaphors are embodied in smooth counterwords, the second rank, who have not seen the hills, take them for eternal verities, unaware of the earthy process by which they were born. Philosophy, then, instead of being a kind of institution, becomes a complicated game, the great rule being the “principle of contradiction,” in other words, “no two counters must occupy the same square at the same time.” Thus, like the priests in the Tower of Hanoi, Mr. Haldane sits, moving counters according to a certain ritual, and when all are on the central peg, Buddha will come again perhaps. Conceive the body of metaphysical notions as a river; in the hills it springs from the earth, and can be seen to do so. But far down stream, on the mudflats where Haldane sits counting his beads with marvellous rapidity, the river seems, to be eternal. Metaphysical ideas are treated as sacrosanct, and no one imagines they were born of humble metaphors, as the river was of earth.
The abstract philosopher has a great contempt for the visual one. Hence the steadfast refusal to recognise that Nietzsche made any contribution to metaphysics. Mr. Haldane constantly informs us that the region of philosophy is not a region of pictorial images, one must beware of similes as the devil. I picture him always standing impressively, holding up a warning finger, saying in an awed whisper, “Hush, I hear a mere metaphor coming”; the supposition being that there is a mysterious high method of thinking by logic superior to the low common one of images. The counter philosopher, taking conceit unto himself, forgets that all his abstract words are merely codified dead metaphors. When we are all descended from monkeys—why put on side? As a matter of fact, the history of philosophy should be written as that of seven or eight great metaphors, and one might even say that the actual physical objects observed by men have altered the course of thought. For example, the mirror in the theory of perception, and the wheel in Eastern thought. One is rather apt in a reaction from Haldane’s abhorrence of imagery to swing too much over to the other side. I guard myself against patronising abstraction too extensively, and recognise that the poor thing has after all a function in philosophy, though a secondary one. It is difficult to get the exact relation between the “visual” and the “counter” attitudes. One gets it best I suppose by thinking of them as creative and developing functions respectively. The root of metaphor and intuition must rise into the light of abstraction to complete itself, but it should not be allowed to run to seed there. There is no system of philosophy which did not originate in an act of intuition, or as I have previously put it, a perception of a physical analogy. Dialectic is necessary to develop the primary intuition, and to put it into concepts for the purposes of communication. Once having received the impulse from the act of intuition, the philosopher has to continue in the other plane of abstraction. But he must not go too far in this medium or he loses foot and must return to the primary act of intuition. Like Antaeus, he must touch the earth for renewed strength. As in social life, it is dangerous to get too far away from barbarism. This new act of physical vision will destroy a good deal of the work done by the “counter” manipulating of abstractions. For a recent example of this take the word “concept” and the entirely new significance given to it by the pragmatists.
The legitimate function of logic only comes in the elaboration of the original “visual” act. It adds point to it, as a large hat does to the calculated gestures of a woman’s head, and as clothing does to flesh. But metaphysics could exist without it, and if I may be allowed to express a personal opinion, I think that what we require now is a race of naked philosophers, free from the inherited embellishments of logic.
Never moving on the physical plane where philosophy arises, but always in the abstract plane where it is finished and polished, Mr. Haldane has his reward in a perfectly extraordinary facility in moving his counterwords. Who but he could have given in extempore lectures such a lucid exposition of Hegelianism? The only parallel I can think of here is that of the expert chess player who can mentally follow the game from the written notation. This faculty in moving on the plane of counter words is of course the secret of his versatility. He has the monotonous versatility of the soldier, who in many lands employs the same weapon. It is the very prose of philosophy. He moves his counters, and certainly gets them into new and interesting positions. All the time, however, we cannot believe in their validity, as we are conscious that he is treating as fixed entities things which are not so—which run into one another in inextricable blurs, and are not separate and distinct. He treats the world as if it were ultimately a mosaic, whereas in reality all the colours run into one another. For the purposes of communication we must label the places where one colour predominates, by that colour, but then it is an illegitimate manœuvre to take- these names and juggle with them as if they were distinct and separate realities. I have one particular part of the book in mind, where for fifty pages he performs interesting movements with the four counters, Mind, Subject, Ultimate Reality and Aspect.
The word “Aspect” is indeed a kind of queen and knight, and can move on the board in any direction. Whenever an absurdity of the Hegelian system obstructs the way, “aspect” takes the poor pawn with miraculous ease.
The best way indeed to sum up Mr. Haldane is to say that he believes in the ultimate reality of language. He speaks with contempt of the “thing in itself” as a notion which cannot be expressed in words. It comes to this: “What cannot be expressed in intellectual forms does not exist.” What he can’t say in a public speech isn’t knowledge. It is not difficult to expose the origin of this heresy.
Men for purposes of communication have joined themselves together by an abstract mechanism, a web of language, of universals and concepts. I picture this by thinking of a number of telegraph poles connected by a network of wires, the poles being concrete men, the wires being the abstract, thin concepts of the intellect, the forms in which we think and communicate. It is in the elaboration of this mechanism, and not in the change of the men it joins that all progress in knowledge has taken place. “Science est une language bien fait.” Here comes the great danger for philosophy. The success of the mechanism leads us on to think that it alone is real. The poles come to imagine themselves as built up of some subtle complication of wires. Accustomed to live and think externally in this mechanism of ours, and seeing its success in all the sciences, one comes to think it the only reality, and finally to explain the individual in terms of it. One’s gaze being necessarily fixed in life on external communication of which logical thinking is a variety, one by an illegitimate analogy transfers it inward, and explains oneself in terms of what was in the beginning merely a tool.
This intellectual disease has attacked Mr. Haldane more strongly than any of the other Hegelians. The poor men who manufactured the concepts for communication are nothing. He even goes so far as to speak of the self as a mere bad metaphor in the same tone that one might speak of a bad egg.
Surely this is the greatest comedy in human history, that men should come to think themselves as made up of one of their own tools.
Jules De Gaultier: Philosophy Is a Sign of the Times
Jules De Gaultier’s philosophy is a sign of the times. Taken together with that of Boutroux, Bergson, Le Roy and many others, it is a sign that the centre of interest in philosophy has shifted from Germany to France. The particular characteristic of this movement that first strikes one is the great success of lucidity it has brought. Wilde once asserted that he was the first philosopher to dress like a gentleman. But, unfortunately for this very desirable claim, he was no philosopher. These Frenchmen, on the contrary, while they write like gentlemen and not like pedants, at the same time write metaphysics of a very subtle and distinguished kind. Take De Gaultier for example. In some parts of his work, particularly in his account of what exactly is implied in an act of knowledge, he is treating the most intricate and giddiness-producing part of philosophy. He treats it in an extremely personal way, expressing often views of violent originality. Yet such matters, which a German would not be able even to approach without the creation of an entirely special jargon, he writes of in a charmingly lucid manner, with great literary distinction. This increased lucidity is, I think, more than a mere change of literary manner. It is rather the secondary characteristic of a more general change, that of their whole attitude towards philosophy. They always seem to me to treat it, either explicitly or implicitly, not as science but as an art. This in itself is a relief. Philosophy has released itself from the philosophical sciences.
At this point I want to make a long digression, to express some personal views, which at first sight may appear to have little to do with De Gaultier. I think that this digression, which will occupy the rest of the article, is justified for this reason—that there is a certain attitude of mind, a certain prejudice, which must be attacked before one can appreciate De Gaultier. I want to get this out of the way before giving any detailed account of his philosophy.
There are two aims that metaphysics conceivably might have. It might wish to be considered an art, a means of expressing certain attitudes to the cosmos, or it might be taken as a science, humbly groping after the truth.
If you take the second point of view then probably certain objections would rise up in your mind to De Gaultier’s philosophy. The principal conception with which it works may seem so slight, that the extraordinary way in which he makes it account for the whole movement of the cosmos may seem too ingenious to be true. I want to attack the conception of philosophy which gives rise to this hesitation.
One finds it difficult to realise what a baleful fascination the word science has for some people. I never quite realised it until I came across a faded old copy of the once flourishing Westminster Review, whose gods were Mill and Spencer. In it I read a first review of Buckle’s History of Civilization, which gave me the same kind of sensation as one gets from turning up a stone and seeing the creeping things revealed. I don’t mean to say that I feel superior, but simply that I was in the presence of an unexpected and quite alien world of things. The reviewer lamented that in the ordered uniform cosmos which science had revealed there had been up to now an impenetrable jungle, the field of human passions and activity. “He rejoiced that at last with the appearance of Buckle’s book this had been cleared up, and the whole world made trim and tidy. Law was universal.” You saw here what was repugnant to him, the idea of freedom and chance. The ideal was a certitude which should constrain us. This dominant ideal invaded philosophy.
It began to regard itself as a science, to consider itself a systematic structure, solidly built up, which should give us certain unquestionable results. As in the sciences the ultimate nature of the world would reveal itself to continuous and patient work, and not to bold speculation. Philosophy, tempted by science, fell and became respectable. It sold its freedom for a quite imaginary power of giving sure results. It was a solemn structure, in face of which light-heartedness was out of place, and individual idiosyncrasy a sin. One felt uncomfortable in it. Nothing could be done by sudden insight and images; such things were mere folly, here was accumulated wisdom, here were no royal roads. The days of adventure were gone when we could set out to find new lands. Here was no place for the artist to impertinently express an attitude before the cosmos, but rather for the humble professor to work honestly in a corner.
To a certain extent this movement was correct. Logic, psychology, etc., look like, and as a matter of fact are sciences. The artist is here certainly out of place. But the danger was when they began to absorb philosophy itself, when it began to consider itself as merely a scientia scientium.
But with this modern movement, philosophy has at last shaken itself free from the philosophic sciences and established its right to an independent existence. In Bergson’s Idée d’une Metaphysique one even finds it defined as the exact inverse method to that of science. The old conception of science prisoned us, restrained our vagaries, and made speculation seem childish. My gratitude to De Gaultier and these other critics of science is that they have rescued me from this nightmare and kept philosophy as an art. She has once more escaped the spirit that would make her a dull citizeness. Once more, without the expedient of turning herself into myrtle, Daphne has escaped the god’s embraces, which promising love would but result in ungraceful fertility.
This is not a mere piece of reactionary or religious sentiment. We don’t assert that a philosopher need not know the sciences, and that the simple man is in the best position to write metaphysics. It is not so; he must know them well.
But we assert that throughout the ages philosophy, like fighting and painting, has remained a purely personal activity. The only effect the advance of science has on the three activities is to elaborate and refine the weapons that they use. The man who uses a rifle uses it for the same purpose as a man who uses a bludgeon. The results of the sciences merely increase the number of colours with which philosophy paints. The possibilities of the rapier have been worked out till they have become a science, but the process of learning it does not convert the man himself into an automaton. There are not, and can never possibly be, any certain results in metaphysics as there are in science. It is an activity of a different kind, simply an elaborate means for the expression of quite personal and human emotions.
The ultimate point I want to get at here is that philosophy is an art and not a science. The attitude proper to science is this. By work and effort one may discover the truth by which in dealing with this matter one must guide oneself. Science constrains us; we have no freedom, we enter into it humbly to be told the truth. Now philosophy is nothing of this kind. We are free in philosophy. I grant it has all the appearance of a science. Its vocabulary and methods are those of the science, but the driving-power behind it is quite different; it merely uses the scientific terms for a purpose quite different: that of the artist. In it by work one can never discover the secret of the cosmos, one merely finds elaborate and complete ways of expressing one’s personal attitude towards it.
From the outside it has all the appearance of a science. But this we might take as a piece of protective mimicry to ward off the multitude to preserve it in its seclusion as the rarest of the arts.
We have to a certain extent been taken in by the jargon, and taken for it an end in itself, a science; but at last we have won through, and found it to be but part of an art. It is a case something like the old Oriental mysteries; in the lower orders of priesthood all the ritual was taken literally. But when you had penetrated to the inner circle, through all the different kinds of magical formula and mysteries, the final secret turned out to be some perfectly plain human statement. So in philosophy, when one attains the central position, one finds no exact science, but simply an art, a means of ordinary human expression. With this little difference, however: that while the elaboration of ritual and the various mysteries of the Orientals were but means by which the priests controlled the ignorant multitude, in the case of philosophy the scientific terminology is the means by which we control ourselves, i.e., by which we completely express ourselves.
But I should be the first to attack the Philistine who thought he could dismiss this ritual terminology by saying that it corresponded to no reality. It is the finest and most delicately wrought language and means of expression of all the arts. Its elaborate technique enables it to get a leisurely effect of final statement where the other arts can only hint. It is the art of completion. The series of gradated words and definitions, the elaborate balancing and checking of meanings make it possible to isolate an emotion or idea from all accidental relations, so to study it completely. The jargon is a walled garden which enables conceptions to grow to their full expression, or to use a less sentimental metaphor, it is a kind of experimental tank, a laboratory where one can practise “control” experiments on ideas. I give next week an apt illustration of this isolating process in De Gaultier’s own concept of Bovarysme, which starting first as a fact of ordinary psychology, he finally fits in a metaphysical setting, in order to state it completely.
One must distinguish the means from the end. The means, the elaborate technique, is certainly a science. But the end, what the Complete Philosopher practises, is certainly an art. He wishes to express some freely chosen attitude towards the world. Conceive Plato considering a particular example of love, or a particular scene of beauty. These things in human life are transient. But to him, Stability is more noble than Change. His “Theory of Ideas” is then the expression of this preference. He creates a system in which the ideas of love and beauty are eternal. The particular preference which De Gaultier’s philosophy expresses I shall analyse later; roughly it is the exact antithesis of this, change is the only reality.
I anticipated the simple-minded question, “Is it true?” and intended to make the question absurd. There can be no direct answer to that question as there would be to “Is the Eiffel Tower 1,000 ft. high?” One is exterpolating the curve of truth outside its proper limits, applying it to fields where it has no meaning. All philosophy is bound to be untrue, for it is the art of representing the cosmos in words, which is just as much a necessary distortion as the art of painting, which represents solidity in a plane of two dimensions. “He is a thinker—that is to say, he understands how to make things seem simpler than they are.” One must judge De Gaultier’s philosophy as one judges a landscape. One must not ask Is it correct? but Is it a good picture? The pleasure one takes must be that of a connoisseur and not that of a surveyor. The principal criterion is then, is it a consistent whole? In most of the pictures that philosophy gives us there is a gap right down the middle of the canvas, in that they fail to explain the very possibility of our knowledge. This gap does not exist in De Gaultier; he presents a complete picture on a canvas that is whole. For this reason I delight in him.
Hulme alludes to R. B. Haldane’s The Pathway to Reality, 2 vols. (1903-4), Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901) and H. T. Buckle’s History of Civilisation in England, 3 vols. (1864-8). “Bovarysme” means the “will to see things as they are not” (T. S. Eliot, 1927).
Originally published in The New Age, Vol. V, No. 13, 20 July, 1909, pp. 265-6, No. 7, 19 August, 1909, pp. 315-6 and Vol. VI, No. 5, 2 December, 1909, pp. 107-8. Proofread and annotated by Fergus Cullen (2017).