II. Reality of the Object.

From: Synthetic Philosophy (1842)
Author: O. A. Brownson
Published: Langtree & O'Sullivan Dec. 1842 Washington, D. C.



  I RECOGNIZE myself, am conscious of my own existence, am able to affirm that I am, only in the act of thinking. But I can think only on condition of encountering in the phenomenon an object which, as opposed to the subject or me, must needs be not me. Then I can never find myself without finding at the same time, and in the same phenomenon, that which is not myself. But I do find myself in every thought. It follows, then, that both myself and that which is not myself, the me and the not me, are given in each and every thought, in the first and simplest, as well as in the last and most complex.

  The highest degree of certainty I ever have or can aspire to, is that of my own existence. This is merely the certainty I have that in thinking I recognize myself as the subject of the thought. But the certainty I have, that in thinking I encounter an object, which is not me, is precisely equal to this. Consequently, the certainty I have of the existence of the Object, in all cases as not me, is precisely, objectively and subjectively, the certainty I have of my own existence, that is, my highest degree of certainty.

  This conclusion is of immense reach in philosophy. It settles the question so long agitated concerning the objective validity of human knowledge, and puts an end at once and for ever to all IDEALISM, and to all SKEPTICISM. The object is no creature of the subject; for it is as essential to the production of the phenomenon we term thought, as is the subject itself. Where there is no subject, of course there is no thought; where no object, equally no thought. Since the object precedes thought as one of its conditions, it cannot be a product of thought; since its existence is essential to the activity or to the manifestation of the subject, it must be independent of the subject, and therefore not me. If not me, it must be what I find it in the phenomenon; that is to say, it must be in itself what I think it, or what it enters for into the thought as one of its elements. For, if it were not what I think it; if it entered into the phenomenon for what it is not in itself, it would not be not me, but me; and therefore not object but subject, which thought contains an object; and this object, whatever it be, is therefore not me, but exists really out of me, and independent of me. The object I think then really is; and is, not because I think it, but I think it because it is, and could not think it, if it were not. Whatever then I think exists, and independent of me. If I think an external world, then is there an external world; the finite, then is there the finite; the infinite, then is there the infinite; God, then God is.

  This is no forced result. It is asserted when we assert that every thought contains an object, and that the object is in all cases not me. But if we accept this result, we are saved no little labor. The passage from the subjective to the objective ceases to be that long, circuitous way commonly imagined, and the great problem which has vexed philosophers in all ages, is found to be no problem at all.

  The great problem with philosophers has always been to establish the objective validity of our knowledge; that is, the existence of the not me. We are conscious of our own feelings, beliefs, and convictions; but is there anything out of us, and independent of us, to respond to these subjective affections? How know I that God and nature are not mere modes or affections of my subjective life? How know I that aught exists beside this subject which I call myself? and how know I that the outward universe, with all its wondrous beauty and variety, is anything more than myself projected, or taken as my own object?

  Here is the problem which has always in some form or other tormented the metaphysicians; and yet this is a problem that cannot be solved. There is no passage possible between the subjective and the objective. There is no possible equation between me and not me, by which one may be obtained from the other. It is impossible to conclude from my own existence to that of another. There is here no room for logic. Logic can operate only on data previously assumed or established; and it never does and never can operate with only a single factor. Unity multiplied by unity gives unity, and nothing more, is as true in logic as in arithmetic, which is only a special application of logic. With the me alone, or with the not me alone, logic can obtain no result. God, man, and nature, instead of being results logically obtained, are in fact the necessary bases of logic, and must be found, or assumed, before logic can commence its process of demonstrating them.

  Nevertheless, the human race has contrived, some way or other, to open relations with the objective world. From the first day of its conscious existence, it has not ceased to believe itself in strict relation with a world out and independent of itself. God and nature have been and are realities to it, as much so as its own existence. Strange! The human race, the savage in his forest, the shepherd on his hillside, the rustic following his plough,—all believing what the metaphysicians have hitherto been unable to demonstrate, and what the more sober-minded among them contend cannot be demonstrated! This fact should have induced them to inquire, if, after all, they have not erred in assuming any demonstration to be necessary.

  When Dr. Johnson was asked what answer he would use against those who denied the reality of the external universe, he replied by striking his foot against a stone. This reply was not logical, but it was philosophical and just. It recognized this fundamental fact, namely, that I find myself only in opposition to that which is not myself; and directed the inquirer to the simple fact in which originates all faith in external realities. In striking his foot against the stone, Dr. Johnson had as positive evidence that the stone was not himself, and therefore that it was in relation to him, an external reality, as he had that it was he and not another who performed the act of striking his foot against it; or that the act of striking his foot against it was followed by an affection of his sensibility.

  The cause of this error of the metaphysicians, in seeking a passage where none can be found, and where none is possible or needed, must be looked for in their assumption of a false point of departure of philosophy. They have supposed that philosophy must begin either with the subject, that is, with the me; or with the object, that is, with the not me. But when we begin with the subject we can never get to the object, as Hume and all the skeptical philosophers but too easily demonstrate. When we so begin we necessarily end in Idealism. When we begin with the object, the not me, taking our point of sight in God, as do the larger part of theologians, we necessarily end in Pantheism, with Spinoza; or taking our point of sight in nature, the effect, we end necessarily in Atheism with Evhemere and D’Holbach; for it is as impossible to go from the object to the subject, as from the subject to the object.

  The true point of departure of philosophy is never in BEING, in the ESSE, DAS REINE SEYN of the Hegelians, whether of the subject or of the object; but in LIFE, which is the manifestation of Being. And in LIFE, according to what we have established, THE SUBJECT AND OBJECT, ME AND NOT ME, ARE ONE AND INDISSOLUBLE.

  To make this still plainer: Kant, in his Critique, has with masterly skill and wonderful exactness, drawn up a complete list of the categories of Reason. His analysis of Reason may be regarded as complete and final. Cousin has followed him, and, with true metaphysical sagacity, reduced these categories to two, the category of SUBSTANCE, and that of CAUSE; or, as I prefer to say, the category of BEING and that of PHENOMENON. Whatever we conceive of, we must conceive of it existing either as being or as phenomenon. Being or substance, in itself, transcends the reach of the human mind we can know it, can conceive of it, only in the phenomenon; or, as M. Cousin would say, only under the category, or relation of cause. I find myself, as we have already seen, as the subject of the phenomenon; that is, only so far as I do something. In like manner do we know or conceive of nature never only under the relation of cause, only as it manifests, and therefore as that-which-manifests itself, in the phenomenon,—as the object which opposes or resists the subject. God is never seen or conceived of in himself. He is to us only in his DOING, only as cause, or creator; though as wise, holy, good, and all powerful Cause or Creator. The category of substance is then conceivable only in the category of cause: that is, we know being only as cause, and only so far forth as it is a cause, we seize it only in the phenomenon, the manifestation, not in itself.

  The manifestation of being, that is, being putting itself forth in the phenomenon, is what I term LIFE; and when this life is so intense that the subject recognizes itself as well as that which is not itself, I term the phenomenon, THOUGHT, or apperception. Now Thought, and, as we shall hereafter see, all Life, is the JOINT PRODUCT of both subject and object. I know myself indeed as subject or cause; but never as able to cause or produce without the CONCURRENCE of that which is not myself. In other words, the subject, as we have seen, cannot manifest itself without an object; and the object cannot manifest itself without a subject, which, of course, relatively to it will be object. Now, as the phenomenon is single and indissoluble, and yet the joint product of both subject and object, it follows that both subject and object are, though distinct, one and inseparable in the phenomenon or fact of life. Here, in the phenomenal, in the fact of Life, where only we are able to seize either the subjective world or the objective world, the subject and object are given, not as separate, not one to be obtained from the other, but in an INDISSOLUBLE SYNTHESIS. This is wherefore I call philosophy not the science of BEING, but the science of LIFE; and also wherefore I add to it the epithet, SYNTHETIC

  If metaphysicians had begun in the fact of life, instead of trying to begin with pure being, the ESSE, the REINE SEYN, they would have found, as data only already furnished to their hands, both the objective and the subjective; and finding them both in the indestructible synthesis of thought, they would never have conceived the problem The one being given, how to obtain the other? In point of fact, this problem is really inconceivable, and philosophers have been for ages asking, not so much an unanswerable, as, if we may so speak, an unaskable question; for the one term is never found without the other, or conceived of, save in conjunction with the other. This is what we must mean when we say that we never find ourselves but as the subject of the phenomenon, and never as subject without finding ourselves in conjunction with that which is not our selves, as object,

  There has been no error in asserting the existence of God, man, and nature. We are not to arraign the faith of mankind in this three-fold existence, because philosophers have been unable to legitimate it. It needs no legitimating; and we have erred only in attempting to legitimate it. Mankind believe in God, in themselves, and in nature, for the best of all possible reasons, BECAUSE THEY THINK THEM, AND CANNOT THINK WITHOUT THINKING THEM. Here is the whole mystery of the matter. The profoundest philosophy can add nothing to this, and take nothing from it. All that philosophy is called upon to do in relation to it, is simply by reflection to place the fact that the me alone is incapable of generating a single phenomenon, in a light so clear that none can mistake it.

  Taking this view, there ceases to be any discrepancy between philosophy and what is called common sense. Humanity is never a skeptic. Even the skeptical philosophers themselves, are practically no skeptics. Hume, notwithstanding his philosophical doubts, believes as firmly in God, nature, and the necessary connection between cause and effect, as his great opponent, Dr. Reid himself. Both admitted that the reality of this connection, and that of an external world, could not be demonstrated; both also contended that neither could be disbelieved. The only difference there was between the skeptic Hume, and the realist Reed, was that the former thought the demonstration in question essential to a scientific belief, while the latter stoutly maintained, but without showing any great reason for so maintaining, that it was not.

  There is much misconception about this matter of proving or demonstrating. Nothing is more absurd than to conclude that whatever cannot be proved true, must therefore be regarded as false. That which is less evident, is proved by that which is more evident. But when the fact alleged is of itself of the highest degree of evidence we can have, it is incapable of proof. What is more evident than the circular appearance of the sun? Yet how can I prove to myself or to another, that the sun appears to me of a circular form? But facts of this kind need no proof. EVERY FACT IS INCAPABLE OF PROOF JUST IN PROPORTION TO ITS CERTAINTY. A proposition is demonstrated by being resolved into another proposition more ultimate, or by being shown to be involved in another proposition held to be true. But when the proposition is itself ultimate, when there is no proposition more ultimate into which it can be resolved, or from which it can be obtained, it is, and must needs be, incapable of demonstration. But then it needs no demonstration. It is certain of itself, and one of the grounds of certainty in regard to other propositions. Now, the ground we assume is that both the me and the not me are ultimate, and both being found in the same phenomenon as the essential conditions of its production, are incapable of demonstration or of proof, but are sufficiently evident without either.

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