Monday, September 14, 2015

F.H. Bradley on Contradiction

F. H. Bradley (c.1846-1924) was a British Idealist and professor of philosophy at Oxford who described how contradictions could be resolved by expanding the scope of the contraries until all definite distinctions were dissolved in absolute unity. 

Originally Published in Appearance and Reality, 1916, pp. 192-193, 562-572

[192] There is only one way to get rid of contradiction, and that is by dissolution. Instead of one subject distracted, we get a large subject with distinctions, and so the tension is removed. We have at first A, which possesses the qualities c and b, inconsistent adjectives which collide; and we go on to produce harmony by making a distinction within the subject. That was really not mere A, but either a complex within A, or (rather here) a wider whole in which A is included. The real subject is A+D; and this subject contains the contradiction made harmless by division, since A is c and D is b. This is the general principle, and I will attempt here to apply it in particular. Let us suppose the reality to be X(a, b, c, d, e, f, g,…), and that we are able only to get partial view of this reality. Let us first take such a view as ‘X(a, b) is b’. This (rightly or wrongly) we should probably call a true view. For the content b does plainly belong to the subject; and, further, the appearance also – in other words, the separation of b in the predicate – can partly be explained. For answering to this separation, we postulate now another adjective in the subject; let us call it B. The ‘thatness’, the psychical existence of the predicate, which at first was neglected, has now also been included in the subject. We may hence write the subject as X(a, b, B); and in this way we seem to avoid contradiction. Let us go further on the same line, and, having dealt with a truth, pass next to an error. Take the subject once more as X(a, b, c, d, e,…), and let us now say ‘X(a, b) is d’. This is false because d is not present in the subject and so we have a collision. But the collision is resolved if we take the subject, not as mere X(a, b), but more widely as X(a, b, c, d). In this case the predicate d becomes applicable. Thus the error considered in reference of d to a b; as it might have consisted in the reference to ab to c, or again of c to d. All of these exist in the subject, and the reality possesses with each both its ‘what’ and its ‘that’. But not content with a provisional separation of these indissoluble aspects, not satisfied (as in true appearance) to have aA, bB, and dD – forms which may typify distinctions that bring no discord into the qualities – we have gone on further into error. We have not only loosened ‘what’ from ‘that’, and so have made appearance; but we have in each case then bestowed the ‘what’ on a wrong quality within the real subject. We have crossed the thread of the connexion between our ‘whats’ and our ‘that’s’, and have thus caused collision, a collision which disappears when things are taken as a whole.

Note A. Contradiction and the Contrary

[562] If we are asked “What is contrary or contradictory?” (I do not find it necessary here to distinguish between these), the more we consider the more difficult we find it to answer. “A thing cannot be or do two opposites at once and in the same respect”—this reply at first sight may seem clear, but on reflection may threaten us with an unmeaning circle. For what are “opposites” except the adjectives which the thing cannot so combine? Hence we have said no more than that we in fact find predicates which in fact will not go together, and our further introduction of their “opposite” nature seems to add nothing. “Opposites will not unite, and their apparent union is mere appearance.” But the mere appearance really perhaps only lies in their intrinsic opposition. And if one arrangement has made them opposite, a wider arrangement may perhaps unmake their opposition, and may include them all at once and harmoniously. Are, in short, opposites really opposite at all, or are they, after all, merely different? Let us attempt to take them in this latter character.

“A thing cannot without an internal distinction be (or do) two different things, and differences cannot belong to the same thing in the same point unless in that point there is diversity. The appearance of such a union may be fact, but is for thought a contradiction.” This is the thesis which to me seems to contain the truth about the contrary, and I will now try to recommend this thesis to the reader.

The thesis in the first place does not imply that the end which we seek is tautology. Thought most certainly does not demand mere sameness, which to it would be nothing. A bare tautology (Hegel has taught us this, and I wish we could all learn it) is not even so much as a poor truth or a thin truth. It is not a truth in any way, in any sense, or at all. Thought involves analysis and synthesis, and if the Law of Contradiction forbade diversity, it would forbid thinking altogether. And with this too necessary warning I will turn to the other side of the difficulty. Thought cannot do without differences, but on the other hand it cannot make them. And, as it cannot make them, so it cannot receive them merely from the outside and ready-made. Thought demands to go proprio motu, or, what is the same thing, with a ground and reason. Now to pass from A to B, if the ground remains external, is for thought to pass with no ground at all. But if, again, the external fact of A’s and B’s conjunction is offered as a reason, then that conjunction itself creates the same difficulty. For thought’s analysis can respect nothing, nor is there any principle by which at a certain point it should arrest itself or be arrested. Every distinguishable aspect becomes therefore for thought a diverse element to be brought to unity. Hence thought can no more pass without a reason from A or fromB to its conjunction, than before it could pass groundlessly from A to B. The transition, being offered as a mere datum, or effected as a mere fact, is not thought’s own self-movement. Or in other words, because for thought no ground can be merely external, the passage is groundless. Thus A and B and their conjunction are, like atoms, pushed in from the outside by chance or fate; and what is thought to do with them but either make or accept an arrangement which to it is wanton and without reason,—or, having no reason for anything else, attempt against reason to identify them simply?

“This is not so,” I shall be told, “and the whole case is otherwise. There are certain ultimate complexes given to us as facts, and these ultimates, as they are given, thought simply takes up as principles and employs them to explain the detail of the world. And with this process thought is satisfied.” To me such a doctrine is quite erroneous. For these ultimates (a) cannot make the world intelligible, and again (b) they are not given, and (c) in themselves they are self-contradictory, and not truth but appearance.

Certainly for practice we have to work with appearance and with relative untruths, and without these things the sciences of course would not exist. There is, I suppose, here no question about all this, and all this is irrelevant. The question here is whether with so much as this the intellect can be satisfied, or whether on the other hand it does not find in the end defect and self-contradiction. Consider first (a) the failure of what is called “explanation.” The principles taken up are not merely in themselves not rational, but, being limited, they remain external to the facts to be explained. The diversities therefore will only fall, or rather must be brought, under the principle. They do not come out of it, nor of themselves do they bring themselves under it. The explanation therefore in the end does but conjoin aliens inexplicably. The obvious instance is the mechanical interpretation of the world. Even if here the principles were rational intrinsically, as surely they are not, they express but one portion of a complex whole. The rest therefore, even when and where it has been “brought under” the principles, is but conjoined with them externally and for no known reason. Hence in the explanation there is in the end neither self-evidence nor any “because” except that brutally things come so.

“But in any case,” I may hear, “these complexes are given and do not contradict themselves,” and let us take these points in their order. (b) The transition from A to B, the inherence of b and c as adjectives in A, the union of discretion and continuity in time and space—“such things are facts,” it is said. “They are given to an intellect which is satisfied to accept and to employ them.” They may be facts, I reply, in some sense of that word, but to say that, as such and in and by themselves, they are given is erroneous. What is given is a presented whole, a sensuous total in which these characters are found; and beyond and beside these characters there is always given something else. And to urge “but at any rate these characters are there,” is surely futile. For certainly they are not, when there, as they are when you by an abstraction have taken them out. Your contention is that certain ultimate conjunctions of elements are given. And I reply that no such bare conjunction is or possibly can be given. For the background is present, and the background and the conjunction are, I submit, alike integral aspects of the fact. The background therefore must be taken as a condition of the conjunction’s existence, and the intellect must assert the conjunction subject in this way to a condition. The conjunction is hence not bare but dependent, and it is really a connection mediated by something falling outside it. A thing, for example, with its adjectives can never be simply given. It is given integrally with a mass of other features, and when it is affirmed of Reality it is affirmed of Reality qualified by this presented background. And this Reality (to go further) is and must be qualified also by what transcends any one presentation. Hence the mere complex, alleged to be given to the intellect, is really a selection made by or accepted by that intellect. An abstraction cuts away a mass of environing particulars, and offers the residue bare, as something given and to be accepted free from supporting conditions. And for working purposes such an artifice is natural and necessary, but to offer it as ultimate fact seems to me to be monstrous. We have an intellectual product, to be logically justified, if indeed that could be possible, and most certainly we have not a genuine datum.

At this point we may lay down an important result. The intellect cannot be reduced to choose between accepting an irrational conjunction or rejecting something given. For the intellect can always accept the conjunction not as bare but as a connection, the bond of which is at present unknown. It is taken therefore as by itself appearance which is less or more false in proportion as the unknown conditions, if filled in, less or more would swamp and transform it. The intellect therefore while rejecting whatever is alien to itself, if offered as absolute, can accept the inconsistent if taken as subject to conditions.

Beside absolute truth there is relative truth, useful opinion, and validity, and to this latter world belong so-called non-rational facts.

(c) And any mere conjunction, I go on to urge, is for thought self-contradictory. Thought, I may perhaps assume, implies analysis and synthesis and distinction in unity. Further the mere conjunction offered to thought cannot be set apart itself as something sacred, but may itself properly and indeed must become thought’s object. There will be a passage therefore from one element in this conjunction to its other element or elements. And on the other hand, by its own nature, thought must hold these in unity. But, in a bare conjunction, starting with A thought will externally be driven to B, and seeking to unite these it will find no ground of union. Thought can of itself supply no internal bond by which to hold them together, nor has it any internal diversity by which to maintain them apart. It must therefore seek barely to identify them, though they are different, or somehow to unite both diversities where it has no ground of distinction and union. And this does not mean that the connection is merely unknown and may be affirmed as unknown, and also, supposing it were known, as rational. For, if so, the conjunction would at once not be bare, and it is as bare that it is offered and not as conditional. But, if on the other hand it remains bare, then thought to affirm it must unite diversities without any internal distinction, and the attempt to do this is precisely what contradiction means.

“But,” I shall be told, “you misrepresent the case. What is offered is not the elements apart, nor the elements plus an external bond, but the elements together and in conjunction.” Yes, I reply, but the question is how thought can think what is offered. If thought in its own nature possessed a “together,” a “between,” and an “all at once,” then in its own intrinsic passage, or at least somehow in its own way and manner, it could re-affirm the external conjunction. But if these sensible bonds of union fall outside the inner nature of thought, just as much as do the sensible terms which they outwardly conjoin—the case surely is different. Then forced to distinguish and unable to conjoin by its own proper nature, or with a reason, thought is confronted by elements that strive to come together without a way of union. The sensible conjunctions remain for thought mere other elements in the congeries, themselves failing in connection and external to others. And, on the other hand, driven to unite without internal distinction thought finds in this attempt a self-contradiction. You may exclaim against thought’s failure, and in this to some degree I am with you; but the fact remains thus. Thought cannot accept tautology and yet demands unity in diversity. But your offered conjunctions on the other side are for it no connections or ways of union. They are themselves merely other external things to be connected. And so thought, knowing what it wants, refuses to accept something different, something which for it is appearance, a self-inconsistent attempt at reality and truth. It is idle from the outside to say to thought, “Well, unite but do not identify.” How can thought unite except so far as in itself it has a mode of union? To unite without an internal ground of connection and distinction is to strive to bring together barely in the same point, and that is self-contradiction.

Things are not contrary because they are opposite, for things by themselves are not opposite. And things are not contrary because they are diverse, for the world as a fact holds diversity in unity. Things are self-contrary when, and just so far as, they appear as bare conjunctions, when in order to think them you would have to predicate differences without an internal ground of connection and distinction, when, in other words, you would have to unite diversities simply, and that means in the same point. This is what contradiction means, or I at least have been able to find no other meaning. For a mere “together,” a bare conjunction in space or time, is for thought unsatisfactory and in the end impossible. It depends for its existence on our neglecting to reflect, or on our purposely abstaining, so far as it is concerned, from analysis and thought. But any such working arrangement, however valid, is but provisional. On the other hand, we have found that no intrinsical opposites exist, but that contraries, in a sense, are made. Hence in the end nothing is contrary nor is there any insoluble contradiction. Contradictions exist so far only as internal distinction seems impossible, only so far as diversities are attached to one unyielding point assumed, tacitly contradiction what in the end would satisfy the intellect supposing that it could be got? This question, I venture to think, is too often ignored. Too often a writer will criticise and condemn some view as being that which the mind cannot accept, when he apparently has never asked himself what it is that would satisfy the intellect, or even whether the intellect could endure his own implied alternative. What in the end then, let us ask, would content the intellect?

While the diversities are external to each other and to their union, ultimate satisfaction is impossible. There must, as we have seen, be an identity and in that identity a ground of distinction and connection. But that ground, if external to the elements into which the conjunction must be analyzed, becomes for the intellect a fresh element, and it itself calls for synthesis in a fresh point of unity. But hereon, because in the intellect no intrinsic connections were found, ensues the infinite process. Is there a remedy for this evil?

The remedy might lie here. If the diversities were complementary aspects of a process of connection and distinction, the process not being external to the elements or again a foreign compulsion of the intellect, but itself the intellect’s own proprius motus, the case would be altered. Each aspect would of itself be a transition to the other aspect, a transition intrinsic and natural at once to itself and to the intellect. And the Whole would be a self-evident analysis and synthesis of the intellect itself by itself. Synthesis here has ceased to be mere synthesis and has become self-completion, and analysis, no longer mere analysis, is self-explication. And the question how or why the many are one and the one is many here loses its meaning. There is no why or how beside the self-evident process, and towards its own differences this whole is at once their how and their why, their being, substance and system, their reason, ground, and principle of diversity and unity.

Has the Law of Contradiction anything here to condemn? It seems to me it has nothing. The identity of which diversities are predicated is in no case simple. There is no point which is not itself internally the transition to its complement, and there is no unity which fails in internal diversity and ground of distinction. In short “the identity of opposites,” far from conflicting with the Law of Contradiction, may claim to be the one view which satisfies its demands, the only theory which everywhere refuses to accept a standing contradiction. And if all that we find were in the end such a self-evident and self-complete whole, containing in itself as constituent processes the detail of the Universe, so far as I see the intellect would receive satisfaction in full. But for myself, unable to verify a solution of this kind, connections in the end must remain in part mere syntheses, the putting together of differences external to one another and to that which couples them. And against my intellectual world the Law of Contradiction has therefore claims nowhere satisfied in full. And since, on the other hand, the intellect insists that these demands must be and are met, I am led to hold that they are met in and by a whole beyond the mere intellect. And in the intellect itself I seem to find an inner want and defect and a demand thus to pass itself beyond itself. And against this conclusion I have not yet seen any tenable objection.

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