IV. Formula of the Me, or Subject.

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



  I AM revealed to myself only as the subject of an act; that is, as agent or actor. We find ourselves only in acting, and only so far forth as we act. To act is to cause, create, or produce. The ME, then, since it acts, must be a cause, a creative or productive Force.

  If a cause, it must be a real, substantive being. That which is not, cannot act. In order to do, it is necessary to be. Being necessarily precedes Doing; but it is only in Doing that Being is made known. In recognizing myself to be active, I necessarily recognize myself to be a real existence—a limited, relative substance, no doubt; but still a substance capable of supporting accidents or phenomena; and, therefore, not myself a phenomenon, nor a collection of phenomena, whether of matter or of spirit.

  The substantiality of the me affirms its UNITY. If I am substantial, I am one substance; for two substances would be two mes, instead of one. Moreover, I am always revealed to myself as one. My phenomena may vary, but I do not vary with them. They may pass away, but I survive. We never confound ourselves with our phenomena. We think, but are not the thought; are pleased, but are not the pleasure; are pained, but are not the pain; nor do we become it when pained. There is always unity of consciousness. The me that wills, knows, feels, is always one and the same me. The me, then, is a unity; that is, a simple substance, being, cause, or force.

  But I am not a mere naked substance; that is, a mere abstraction. I am a living substance, clothed with attributes. I find myself in the act of thinking. But to think is to perceive, no less than to act. An unintelligent actor would not be a thinking actor. No being but an intelligent being can think. The ME, then, since it thinks, must be INTELLIGENT.

  I am also capable of feeling. The naked conception of substance does not necessarily involve the power to feel; nor does it imply that of intelligence. The fact that I am intelligent is learned by experience, not deduced from the nature of being or substance, considered apart from its manifestations. There is no particular substance or being whose attributes or properties can be known, à priori. The naked idea of being the reine Seyn of Hegel—is simply the idea of something which is, and does not necessarily suppose the being to possess any other quality, property, or attribute, than that of being able simply to be. From this idea, some philosophers have, indeed, attempted to deduce, logically, the universe, with all its infinite variety of phenomena. But from being, nothing but being can be obtained; and the universe constructed with this simple idea would be the veriest abstraction, and in the last analysis identical with no universe at all. The faculties of the particular being in question must always be learned empirically, and be taken as facts of experience, and not as facts of reasoning. It would not be difficult to conceive of beings created with the simple FORCE or power of acting without thinking or feeling. But such a being is not man. We may add to force intelligence, and conceive of a being capable of acting and knowing, and yet incapable of feeling. Such a being is very conceivable; there may be, for aught we know, many such beings; but man is not one of them. He is capable of feeling. The sentiments, love, joy, grief, hope, pleasure, pain, are among those phenomena which nobody questions, for they are facts of every one’s experience. Man, then, is not only a substance, but an intelligent and sentient substance,—a being that ACTS, KNOWS, and FEELS.

  From this it follows that man has three faculties, which may be named,

  1. Activity,
  2. Intelligence,
  3. Sensibility.

  Activity is the power of acting; intelligence the power of knowing; sensibility the power of feeling. There may, for aught we know, be beings endowed with more than these three faculties; but these are all that we have found ourselves to possess, and all that we can conceive it possible for us or for any other being to possess.

  But the me has already been shown to be a UNITY,—one and indivisible. This distinction of faculties, then, implies no division in its essence. There is not one part of it that acts, another part that knows, and still another part that feels. It is all and entire in each one of its faculties, a simple substance, with the threefold power of acting, knowing, and feeling. It must then act in knowing and feeling; know in feeling and acting; feel in acting and knowing. This follows inevitably from the fact that I am in myself a cause. I find myself always as a cause, and never under any other character. I find myself in all my phenomena, in those of intelligence and sensibility, no less than in those of activity. Then I find myself in them all as a cause. Then I am active in them. Since I am a unity, and therefore must act ever as a whole, in all my integrity, I must act in them all with my threefold power of acting, knowing, and feeling.

  According to the Formula now obtained, man is a being that acts, knows, and feels, and ALL THESE IN THE SAME PHENOMENON, AND IN ALL HIS PHENOMENA. He is then a TRINITY, a living type of that sublime doctrine which lies at the bottom of all Christian theology, and not only the type, but in some sort the origin and basis.

  Two facts here must never be lost sight of, the UNITY and TRIPLICITY of the me. Man acts always as a unity, but with a threefold power of activity, or rather with a capacity of giving to his activity a threefold direction. We can discover in his nature the distinction of faculties, but no division of essence. There is a broad distinction between an action and a cognition, between a cognition and a feeling, and between a feeling and an action; but in actual life there is no separation. The faculties designated are essentially the ME, and the activity displayed in them is the activity of the one invariable and indivisible subject. We cannot say that activity acts, intelligence knows, and sensibility feels; for this would be to separate the faculties from the me, and to give them in some sort an independent existence. The intellectual phenomenon is always the product of the ME displaying itself in its unity and triplicity; therefore of the simultaneous and joint action—so to speak—of all the faculties.

  This fact is important. Neglect of it has generated much confusion, and no little false philosophy. Psychologists have mistaken the facts of MEMORY for the facts of CONSCIOUSNESS. The facts of memory may be dissected, decomposed, and distributed into separate classes. As the soul has three faculties, and each of these faculties performs an office in generating the phenomena, we may detect the part of each, and distribute the phenomena into classes corresponding to the distinction of faculties. In the analysis of these facts, activity will be found to give us actions, intelligence cognitions, and sensibility sentiments or feelings. We may distribute them, then, into actions or volitions, cognitions or ideas, and sentiments or feelings. But this distribution, however true it may be to me as studied in the products of my past life, will not be true to the me of actual life. In actual life all go together. There is no action which is not at the same time a cognition and a sentiment; no cognition not at the same time a sentiment and an action; no sentiment not at the same time an action and a cognition.

  But, losing sight of this fact, psychologists not unfrequently transfer to actual life the classifications they obtain by studying our past life, and therefore destroy the me, by resolving it into its attributes. In the facts of memory there is no living unity. That living unity has left them behind, has passed on, and is now merely looking back upon them. That living unity is the ME itself, and being no longer in them, but merely contemplating them, as it were, at a distance, cannot, of course, find itself in them. They are to it what the dead body is to the living. There being, in fact, no unity in them, reflection cannot find it, any more than anatomy finds in dissecting the dead body the one vital principle which controlled all the functions and gave a common direction to all the activities of the living body. The me obtained by studying these facts exclusively is necessarily multiple and not simple. Taken, then, for the ME of actual life, it gives to the me of actual life no unity, separates it into parts, into independent beings, and, instead of a me that at once, by virtue of its own nature, acts, knows, and feels, gives us three separate, and in some sort independent mes,—a me that acts, another me that knows, and still another that feels, displaying themselves sometimes in concert, sometimes one after another, and sometimes, as it were, one in opposition to another. But the faculties do not exist independent of the me. There is not a me and by its side a power to act, a power to know, or a power to feel. The threefold power is the me, and the me is it. Activity does not act, I act because I am in my essence active; intelligence does not know, I know because I am by my nature intelligent; sensibility does not feel, I feel because I am in myself sentient.

  In consequence of transferring to the living subject the classifications we have obtained by studying the dead subject, or facts of memory, we have supposed that we could perform actions or generate phenomena which should not necessarily imply all our faculties. Thought, which expresses the highest activity of the soul, has been regarded as a purely intellectual act, and intellect has been defined to be the thinking faculty, as distinct from activity or sensibility. Thought is looked upon as something dry and cold; and a “man of thought” would designate a man without soul, without heart, destitute of love or sentiment, living only in abstractions But there are no abstractions in actual life. A purely intellectual being may, as has been said, be conceived of, but such a being man is not. Such a being might indeed think, that is, know, but thinking and knowing in such a being could not and would not be what they are in us. Man is in his essence sentient. He cannot divest himself of his sensibility, for he cannot divest himself of himself. Always and everywhere, then, must he feel. When he acts, act where or to what end he will, he must feel. He can perform no dry, cold, intellectual act. Even the metaphysician, poring over his abstractions, withered and dry as he may seem, is still a man, and has a heart; and when, after days, weeks, months, and years of painful watching and laborious study, truth at last dawns on his soul, and he grasps the solution of the problem which had tortured his heart, he too is moved, and in a sort of rapture exclaims, “I have found it, I have found it!”

  The me never acts as naked cause, as pure intelligence, nor as pure feeling. It acts as it is, and for what it is. Thought, then, since it implies the activity of the me, implies the me with all its essential attributes. It implies sentiment as well as cognition. The me, it has been shown, enters into every thought as subject. It enters then as a whole, for it cannot leave one half of itself behind, and go forth and act with the other half. Thought then covers the whole phenomenon of actual life, and instead of being the product of pure intelligence, it is simultaneously and vitally action-cognition sentiment.

  The various distinctions introduced into the phenomena of actual life by psychologists, or rather psycho-anatomists, of facts of activity, facts of intelligence, facts of sensibility, facts of reason, facts of understanding, of a higher nature and a lower, of a moral nature and a religious, however convenient they may be for certain purposes, are really inadmissible, and while they recognize the multiplicity of the me, tend to make us lose sight of its unity. It is always the self-same me that acts, whatever the sphere of its activity, or tendency of its action. It has but one nature, and it is always by virtue of that one nature it does whatever it does. If a man be base and grovelling in his propensities, worthless or vicious in his life, it is not a lower nature that is at work within him, that is at fault, but the man himself misdirecting his activity; if he aspire to the generous and the heroic, to the pure and upright, it is not a higher nature, nor a nobler faculty of his nature displaying itself, but the man himself conducting with greater propriety and in stricter conformity to the will of his Maker.

  All these distinctions go to destroy the unity of the soul, to perplex and mislead our judgments. The distinction which has latterly been contended for between the moral nature and the religious is unfounded. Man is not moral by virtue of one set of faculties, and religious by virtue of another set of faculties. The same faculties are active in both cases, and the only difference there is or can be between religion and morality is in the direction man gives to his activity. Nor is there any distinction between the faculty by which man knows what some call the truths of the reason, and what are termed truths of the understanding. There is not a reason taking cognizance of one class of objects, and an understanding taking cognizance of another. To know may indeed have various conditions, but it is always one and the same phenomenon, and by virtue of one and the same intellectual power. The whole me acts in knowing, let it know wherever it will. In knowing material objects it uses material organs, but the faculty by virtue of which I know through these organs is, as will hereafter be shown, the same as that by virtue of which I know in the bosom of consciousness itself. The pretence that sensibility is the faculty by which we know material objects, and reason the faculty by virtue of which we know spiritual objects, is arbitrary and without any just foundation in actual life. Without reason, our senses would be as the telescope without a seeing eye to look through it; without sensibility, we never do, if we ever could know, even spiritual truths. To raise men to a perception of what are called the higher truths, it is always necessary to purify and exalt sentiment. Beethoven carries us nearer to God, than Kant or Hegel. Without love man cannot soar; and without that exaltation, that enthusiasm which goes by the name of Inspiration, there are few truths of an elevated nature that are discoverable. Man acts ever with all his faculties, in the least as well as in the greatest of his actions.

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