Interpreting the Universe

John Macmurray


Macmurray, John. Interpreting the Universe. 1933. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1996. Paperback: 9781573923532.


“John Macmurray argued that philosophers should learn to think from the standpoint of action, which involves participation in real life, and not from the perspective of the pure thinking self for whom the world is an object. At the heart of all his work was his attempt to reverse modern philosophy's commitment to an 'egocentric' starting point, with the self understood primarily as thinker withdrawn from action and participation in the world. Macmurray did not reject the work of philosophy as reflective activity, but he tried to recast its role in the service of more fulfilling and more basic personal communion with other, with the world, and utimately with God. This concern for community, or persons in relation, has become one of the major preoccupations of many of the cutting-edge debates in contemporary philosophy and religion and is inspiring new directions in moral theory within those circles. Indeed, it can be said that Macmurray's work is really a 'philosophy of community.' In *Interpreting the Universe*, first published in 1933, John Macmurray laid down the foundations for his subsequent exploration of community. Much of the contemporary discussion surrounding the idea proceeds from his work.”


I. Analysis

Macmurray wants to know how we interpret the infinity of the universe that is presented to us in living. In immediate experience, the universe is an infinity, a continuous, unified whole in which we participate and plan and purpose. We go about our lives as a part of this whole. But when we encounter difficulties in acting we bring our reflective faculty to bear on the world, which is the finite, symbolic way of schematizing the portion of reality that gives us this difficulty. We slice up the infinite of the presented universe into a system which allows us to identify the problem and theorize a solution, which we then apply back to the immediacy of experience. If the solution does, in fact, solve the problem, then we can return to our acting and know that our finite representation of the infinite is true for the specific case in which it was applied. Such symbolic systems of representation Macmurray refers to as “unity-patterns,” and he identifies two that have been put into use extensively, the “mathematical” and the “biological.” The mathematical is concerned with material identity, and the biological with vital difference. But neither is able to account for the personal, because each is a finite system of representation, and in the personal the infinity of the universe is condensed and presented. The task of philosophy, then, is to represent the personal symbolically, a task which Macmurray sets up but does not fully think through, due to the limited scope of his book.

II. Summary

“The Universe in Immediate Experience”

Macmurray argues that there is real difference between what he calls immediate and reflective experience, and that immediate experience always precedes reflective experience. Though understanding necessarily requires thought, experience is not so constrained. One can experience something without thinking about or understanding it. In this immediate form of experience, reality is given as a continuous, unified whole—an infinity—that Macmurray refers to as the “space-time matrix.” This matrix is the site of all human action and potential, and thus experience in its primarily immediate form, and the felt knowledge produced by it, is inextricably bound to human doing.

a) Philosophy is the search for wisdom

  • “philosophy is the search for wisdom rather than for a specific knowledge” (1)

  • The “philosopher should reveal himself not as a specialist in a particular field but rather as one who has grasped the significance of human line and achieved the ability, if not to live well, at least to understand how it should be lived” (2)

  • Philosophy is thus an “essential process in the development of life itself” (2)

  • This means as well that “there is a philosophy embodied in the contemporary world, if only we knew how to look for it and how to express it. If we could find it, it would interpret to us the meaning of our own history” (2)

  • But this philosophy is most always implicit, and so the “task of the philosopher is to turn the searchlight of deliberate thinking upon this heaving darkness” (2)

b) To talk about understanding the world, we must understand understanding

  • Understanding requires reflection (3)

  • “When we reflect we are seeking to become fully conscious of something that is already present and felt to be present in our experience” (3)

  • “We can only become conscious of what in this sense is already part of our activity by expressing it either to others or to ourselves” (3)

  • “Our usual method of expression is language” (3)

  • Reflection without expression is impossible. “Expression is an essential element in reflection” (3)

  • The expression in words of reflection is thinking (3)

  • “By thinking we succeed in giving expression to something which forms part of our experience, and so we bring it into full consciousness” (3)

  • “When, through thought, we have achieved such an expression, we say that we understand what we were reflecting upon” (3)

  • “Thus, nothing is understood until it is expressed, nothing can be expressed except through thinking, and thinking is the result of reflecting upon what is already present but unexpressed in our experience” (3)

  • Understanding = experience + thinking + expression

c) Philosophy is concerned with understanding in this reflective way

  • It is the “determined effort to become conscious of something that is implicit in the activities of human life and to express in words through thinking that on which our reflection is directed” (3)

d) There is a difference between experience and expression

  • “Before we can express an experience we must have it, and having it is at least logically prior to its expression” (4)

  • “We can be aware of things without understanding them” (4)

  • Such an unexpressed awareness Macmurray calls “immediate experience” (4), in contrast with reflective experience

  • “Immediate experience is by definition experience which has not been thought about” (4)

  • “It is, therefore, a presupposition of our thinking, not something that can be an element in our thought” (4)

  • We can say that “Getting the feel of” something is “becoming aware of it in immediate experience” (5)

  • All thought presupposes knowledge” (6)

  • “you must know something before you can think about it completely” (6)

  • “immediate knowledge of the world” is the “effortless result of living in it and working with it and struggling against it” (6)

  • “Knowledge, then, is first and foremost that immediate experience of things which is prior to all expression and understanding” (7)

e) Immediate experience is prior to reflective experience but not inferior to it

  • Immediate experience “is not something that belongs to our childhood and from which we gradually depart” (8)

  • Immediate and reflective experience are “different in kind” but not in quality (9)

  • “Immediate experience is not, therefore, primitive, raw experience, unaffected by thinking, nor is thinking the only instrument which we possess for the enrichment of our capacity to experience. The immediacy of an experience consists simply in the fact that we are immersed in it, that we are living it, and not setting ourselves over against it, as something other than us which we can contemplate and study” (9)

  • “It is simply every experience and all experience in so far as it is unreflective” (9)

  • “It is experience lived through, not thought about” (9)

f) Immediate experience is unified and complete

  • “Nothing in it is really separate from anything else” (9)

  • “It is unified with and coextensive with feeling and action” (10)

  • “In immediate experience we know anything by being interested in it, by desiring it, by loving or hating it, and above all, by doing things with it” (10)

  • The “basic aspects of experience—cognition, conation and feeling—are fused into a single whole in the living experience” (10)

g) Reflective experience is a division of the unity of immediate experience

  • “The moment we reflect upon what we are doing, we stand back from life and assume the attitude of spectators” (10)

  • “A division appears between us and what we are thinking about” (10)

  • “The unity and wholeness of living experience is broken” (10)

  • Reflective experience is “abstract, incomplete and relative” (10)

  • “It is an activity of cognition merely, torn from its setting and separated for the moment from the other aspects of our personality” (10)

  • “So long as we remain within the activity of reflective thought, everything that we think refers beyond itself. This reference of ideas to reality is the most persistent problem of the theory of knowledge. It expresses the fact that thought is not and cannot be self-contained and absolute, but must pass over for its completion, and to reach the concreteness of reality, to something which is not thought but existence” (11)

h) Philosophy is concerned with the whole of experience, but experience necessarily cannot be whole in reflecting upon it because reflection divides experience

  • “By the universe as a whole, one means the universe in that quality of completeness and wholeness which is given in immediate experience, the absence of limits and clear-cut boundaries, the qualitative infinity which characterizes it in all its parts” (12)

  • “The characteristic of immediate experience is that it is given in actual living as a whole, and this whole is broken by reflection” (12)

  • “To describe [immediate experience] we should have to analyze it and so break the wholeness” (13)

  • “one of the major problems that faces the philosopher is the paradox that in thinking about the world he is at once setting himself over against it, and recognizing that he is a part of it” (13)

  • “One aspect of the effort to express the wholeness of immediate experience is, therefore, the effort to express the unity of the self that thinks with the world which is the object of its thought”

i) The self is unified with the world in immediate experience, but divided from it in reflection

  • “When I am living, and not reflecting upon life, I am myself as a whole” (13)

  • “The whole of myself goes into my activity, whatever it may be, and all the time” (13)

  • “Action and feeling and apprehension are fused inextricably in one” (13)

  • “My knowing is part of my action, or rather an aspect of it, and the whole is shot through with feeling” (13)

  • “Every aspect of my selfhood is combined and unified in every activity” (13)

  • “In immediate experience the world as well as the self is one—an unbroken unity and continuity of being” (14)

j) The continuity in which the self is embedded is the qualitatively limitless space-time matrix

  • “The passage of time from one moment to the next is given as a wholeness or continuity” (14)

  • “Time is, in fact, given in immediate experience as an infinite whole, and what reflection calls its infinity is nothing but the absence of any limits in our experience of it” (14)

  • “Past and future are, as it were, gathered up in the present rather than distinguished from the present in the immediate experience of living” (14)

  • “Space, too, is given as an infinite whole, as the roominess of the world in which we are acting, a roominess which has no boundaries but which is the experienced possibility of going outwards from where I stand in all directions” (14)

  • “the objects which thought carves out and isolates in separate words are given originally in immediate experience as inseparably one, as merely so many different definitions and differentiations of a limitless matrix” (14)

k) The senses, in perceiving this matrix, are similarly caught up in its continuity

  • In perceiving and knowing the world there is a “fusion of perception and imagination” (15)

  • “percept and image are resolved into the same ultimate elements, what are nowadays called sense-data or sensations” (15)

  • “there is no inherent difference between the image and the percept” (15)

  • The immediate knowledge of the world (image) is bound up with the immediate perception of it (percept)

  • The “space-time matrix in which these images are born and into which they fade again is the same space-time in which the objects of perception appear, change and disappear” (16)

  • This is to say that world is simultaneously imaged (imagined) as it is perceived or experienced, because the self, the seat of imagination (reflection, i.e. that which reflects experience), is naturally immersed in experience, and thus the reflective imaginative faculty is not separated from the experiential perceptive faculty

l) The “infinite” or “whole” is the continuity of immediate experience

  • The infinite is “a negative term, because it is the reflective expression of something which cannot be given in reflection” (16)

  • The “thing itself,” reality apart from reflection, is “more positive than anything else we know” and it is “in a special sense ‘the real’” (16)

  • As Heidegger details, this is the givenness of being and our comparative thrownness into it

  • The infinite is “simply that something which is one and the same in all immediate experience, which includes it all, in which all determination and difference appears and to which everything belongs” (16)

  • “The infinite is the universe in immediate experience. It is given always and everywhere in the finite” (16)

m) Philosophy, being concerned with the whole, is an attempt to express the infinite

  • Philosophy endeavours to “express the infinite in immediate experience through reflection” (16)

  • “It would be equally correct to say that it is the attempt to express reality” (16)

  • So as a reflective activity philosophy is attempting overcome the divide which presupposes it

  • “To isolate anything from the whole in which it has its being is to destroy its reality by depriving it of the possibility of completeness” (16-17)

  • “Reality, therefore, is bound up with the unity and completeness of the world in our immediate experience of it” (17)

  • “every idea clamours to be referred to reality” (17)

  • “Ideas are unreal just because they are ideas, abstract and isolated. To add idea to idea, to organize ideas in systems and to expand these systems without end, brings us no nearer to reality. To reach reality we must overcome the abstraction of reflection itself” (17)

  • Philosophy, in this view, is a paradoxical task

  • Nevertheless, philosophy is “concerned to express infinity of reality” (17)

  • “It is reflection upon the universe in immediate experience, upon that infinite ‘One and the Same’ which is always present in any experience of ours that is immediate, alive and concrete” (17)

  • “Knowledge” then “is the cognitive aspect of this living unity” (17)

  • “Such knowledge, however, is not reflective knowledge, and philosophy is reflection” (17)

  • Philosophy is “constituted by our effort to reflect upon the wholeness which is immediately given in that primary knowledge and to give expression to it through thinking. It is the effort to represent reality in words” (17)

“Thought as Symbolic Interpretation”

Immediately picking up from the previous chapter, Macmurray explores the character of thought, which he describes as symbolic interpretation, and introduces his concept of unity-pattern.

a) Thought arises from a recognized failure in concrete activity

  • “something must happen which breaks the unity of life and concentrates our energy upon one abstracted element in the whole” (18)

  • “Thought begins in doubt” (19)

b) The end of thought is the resolution of doubt

  • “The business of thought is to answer the question [posed by a failure in activity] and to resolve the doubt which lies at its roots” (19)

  • The “justification” for thought “can only lie in its capacity to remove the cause of the interruption, so that the completeness of spontaneous life may be restored” (19)

  • Action is primary, thought is secondary (19)

c) Thinking is action directed at the perceived content of experience

  • “Thinking, though it results from the stoppage of activity, is itself an activity” (20)

  • “it is symbolic activity, or an activity of imagination” (20)

Here Macmurray runs into trouble in conflating symbolization and imagination. A reading of Saussure would show where he goes awry. Really, both of what he will refer to as “word” and “idea” are the same—they are signifiers. Distinguishing between outside and inside is not accurate. The word and the idea are the same, whether thought or spoken. They both point to the image, the signified, which is the sense-data of Macmurray’s “immediate experience.” The word and the idea are both conceptual in nature, organizing unified data into a differentiated pattern. This gives the signified the shape of a pattern, but this is simply because, as we have seen, the reflective and the immediate are rarely separated. As soon as one thinks about what one has experienced, one begins to organize or pattern it according to a concept.

  • “With the stoppage of action at the primary level of immediate consciousness, the activity in which living consists is thrown back, as it were, upon itself” (20)

  • The activity of thought is, therefore, a substitute activity which in reflection takes the place of and ‘represents’ the concrete activity of immediate life” (20)

  • “because thought is in this sense a substitute for action ... its activity can be described as unreal or imaginary or symbolic or abstract” (20)

d) Because thinking is symbolic action it raises the question of images and things

  • Images or symbols are not the things they represent

  • “But when we wish to consider anything which is not there, an image of the thing, which may or may not be identical with the percept of it, takes its place” (21)

  • “The image of anything guides perception in the search for the thing” (21)

  • “It sets going a searching activity which, as it were, seeks something in the environment with which the image can coalesce and in which it can be absorbed” (21)

We see here the hermeneutic circle in action, the dialectic of whole and part. The word is, in a way, a part of the whole that is unified experience and is understand in reference to this whole, but unified experience is, in turn, understood by the word and words that constitute it.

e) Symbolic action reduces imagery to economize effort

  • This is the “process of abstraction”

  • The mind has a “tendency” to prefer the “bare minimum of detail which is necessary if [its images] are to perform their function” of referring back to reality and organizing it (22)

  • Mental “images” thus are more “schematic” and “abstract” than reality proper

  • In this way, a memory is a concretization of the raw data of experience taken into the brain by the senses, and is thus a schematization of a particularized temporal period that is given a label by which the mind can recall it.

  • Reduction is a process of both abstraction and production, and so symbolic action can be said to be the simultaneous reduction of experience to an abstract, “generic image,” and the “production” of a symbol, which is itself the “generic image” to which the referent (experience) is tied (23)

  • Where in immediate experience the “image” and the “percept” coalesce, in reflective, symbolic experience, because the “experience” in question is the memory of a percept, and thus purely “imaginary,” it “cannot coalesce with the percept” (23). Thought reduces percepts to images to store them in memory, rendering them abstract symbols.

  • The symbol “must, therefore, be recognized consciously as a representative of that which it symbolizes, if it is to fulfil its function” (23)

f) All symbols, though abstract, must still be part of the percept in some way

  • The above conclusion could lead us to consider all signs conventional and arbitrary (23)

  • “But such cases are rare and they cannot be primitive, since until we are familiar with the use of symbols which have created themselves, as it were, it could never occur to us to create them arbitrarily” (23)

  • “all reduced images must be in some sense parts of the apprehended characterization of the things of which they are images” (23)

g) Symbolism of language is key

  • “The sound which a child hears pronounced by an adult when he is looking intently at an object, is part of his total percept, and falls within the boundary, drawn by his attention, which includes the object as he sees it. The word, therefore, can, just like the crown [of a king], become the reduced image of the total percept, and so the symbol of the thing seen when it is employed as a substitute for it, even when the sound itself is not heard” (24)

  • “Language is, therefore, a particular form, and the most generally useful form, of imagery which has been reduced in such a way that it forms a set of symbols” (24)

h) Both thought and expression use symbolism, but the two are not the same thing

  • “Expression is the result of thought” (25)

  • “Though thought uses language as its instrument it is not completely at the mercy of the traditional meanings of words or of the traditional forms of analysis which are enshrined in the grammatical structure of language” (25)

i) Words and ideas

Here Macmurray sees it necessary to “distinguish between words and ideas” (25). He identifies expression with “words” and thought with “ideas,” the two being the outer and inner dimensions of the symbol, respectively.

  • “Words [...] are public symbols” and “ideas are private symbols” (25)

  • “an idea can be exchanged for a word whenever we desire to publish the idea” (25)

  • We might define an “idea as the image of a word, or rather, as the symbol of a word” (25)

This is problematic. If the idea is the “symbol of a word” that means that the idea is the abstraction, and not the word. But words are more abstract than ideas, because if ideas are also images, that would seem to indicate that they are in fact closer in identity to the original percept of an experience than the purely symbolic word. He doesn’t even say that the idea is the image of experience, however, but that it is the image of the word. Which means that he is really saying that the idea is the abstraction of the word. He privileges the word because the word exists in the world of action, but he doesn’t seem to recognize the functional inferiority of the word compared to the idea if reference back to reality is of primary significance. The word is simply an arbitrary symbolic pattern for an idea. We can have an idea of something without a word because we can have an experience of something without understanding it. We can still think about an experience without having the words for it, because an experience can be organized as a memory (an idea of a temporal segment) and yet not given a word. Macmurray’s reasoning is flawed.

Saussure is better. The sign in itself is arbitrary and conventional. Even if a child hears a word as a part of his total percept (his immediate experience), the word is still not a word but simply data. The child learns the idea that such a sound means the thing it is directed at, but the word simply comes to organize the child’s idea of the thing. For instance, a child can experience a dog and have an idea of a dog (albeit a purely immediate idea) before he learns, through repetition, that the dog is, in fact, called dog. When the child learns the word all that the child recalls from his experience, all the percepts stored as images in his mind, become attached to the word.

I find it strange that Macmurray is so off base. Maybe I’m reading it incorrectly, but his language is straightforward and seems to indicate that he does, indeed, have everything upside down.

  • “Words and ideas ... are generically the same” (26)

Yes, if you just see them as inside and outside. But that’s naïve. Words and ideas are generically the same in that they constitute the total body of the sign and signifier and signified.

  • “They are symbols which refer ultimately to the same world of concrete reality” (26)

j) The function of the symbol is to represent something else

  • “A symbol is something used to represent something other than itself, and it is a symbol in virtue of this function, not at all because of its own characteristics as a thing” (26)

  • This representation is an activity, but an activity “directed upon entities which are imaginary and symbolic” (26)

  • These entities are “images, either complete images or reduced images” (27)

k) Thought is activity directed upon images

  • This is because reflection is activity directed upon something absent

  • “thought is a reflective activity directed upon ideas and manipulating ideas, and, therefore, it is closely associated with the symbolic images of language. It seeks its expression in words” (27)

l) Expression in words has two processes

  • Description: the process by which the “unity of the world of perception has to be broken up, its elements isolated from one another and represented by separate symbols” (27). Description “atomizes a reality which is given as a whole. The unity of the whole has, therefore, to be represented by arranging the isolated symbols in a relational system” (28). Description is thus “concerned with substituting” a “pattern of symbols” “for the real world” (29).

  • Judgment and inference: the process of “manipulation of the symbolic ideas which have been achieved through the process of analytic description” (29). This manipulation takes the “given” data of description and goes beyond it. This going beyond is “supposal” (29). Supposal is the “deliberate effort of construction” by which the reflective mind can theorize or conceptualize what is unknown by means of what is known.

  • Thus, Macmurray has basically divided reflective thought into analytic and synthetic thought.

  • His contribution here, however, is that synthetic thought depends upon the “structure” laid out by analytic thought, which he terms a “unity-pattern” (32)

m) Unity-patterns are symbolic representations of “real” unity

  • “The unity of immediate experience, when it is broken by reflection and by the analysis of description, results in a set of symbolic images or ideas which are isolated from one another in the sense that it is in our power to arrange them as we please” (32-33)

  • “The unity-pattern is, thus, the conception of a unity constructed by the imagination” (33)

  • “Without such a conception ... there could be no guarantee that the ideas were related in such a way that the result could be referred back to the concreteness of immediate experience” (33)

  • “Without the unity-pattern, thought would be impossible” (33)

  • Thinking is made possible by “first, a pattern or schema of relations, and, secondly, a set of symbolic images which can be arranged and rearranged within the pattern” (33)

  • Unity-patterns have been referred to as “systems of categories” (33)

  • The final step, Macmurray argues, is the verification of the unity-pattern by comparison to the “immediate experience from which it arose” (34)

“Interpretation and Verification”

In chapter one Macmurray concerned himself with immediate experience, and in chapter two with reflective experience. Here in chapter three, Macmurray concentrates on the return to immediate experience (which is, for him, practical, lived experience) from reflective experience.

a) Rationality is tied to images and that reality they reference

  • “As that function [of reflection] is to overcome an obstacle to concrete activity, the rationality of thought is bound up with the reference of its images and systems of images to the reality that they symbolize” (35)

b) The reference of images to reality must be confirmed

  • “The problem of truth ... is really the problem of error” (36)

  • If we consider the problem of error, we must consider how “there can arise in the process of thought symbolic expressions which cannot be properly referred to reality” (36)

  • “thought-processes may result in a combination of symbols which is not found in a real experience and which, therefore, cannot be referred to anything real” (36)

  • This is an error

c) The symbolic function is a combination of description and manipulation

  • “the descriptive and the manipulative ... interpenetrate. It is not necessary that the process of description should be completed before the manipulation of the symbols begin” (38)

d) Because description and manipulation interpenetrate, sometimes the “real” of description is manipulated into the “unreal”

  • “the capacity to generate such unreal entities is characteristic of the imagination” (39)

e) But further, we might have a “real” description of the world, but the unity-pattern of such a description is not applied in a correct situation

  • “These forms of symbolism [the mathematical and biological] are adequate to deal with limited fields of experience, but when they are applied to the universe as a whole the infinite factor inevitably enters and the rules of manipulation no longer give correct results” (39)

  • So we might have an accurate unity-pattern but apply it inaccurately

f) Symbolism is a reduction, and thus a generalization, but generalization can cause problems

  • “Our immediate experience provides us with a general justification of generalization because it reveals the infinite in the finite” (40)

  • “But it cannot justify any particular generalization since that always depends, partly at least, on our own selection of what we think is relevant to our purpose” (40)

  • “We are, therefore, always liable to over-generalize” (40)

g) Thus we must refer back to reality to confirm we have not over-generalized

  • “The only way to secure certainty in a conclusion is to abstain from referring it to reality. But a conclusion which is not referred to reality is neither true nor false. It is merely a symbol lying unused” (41)

  • Thus we see the “necessity for verifying all conclusions” (41)

  • Indeed, the conclusion “demands to be referred” to reality (41)

  • “The nature of reflective knowledge is such that it is always incomplete until we have returned from the reflective process to the concreteness of immediate experience” (41)

  • This is the “return[] from thought to action” (41)

h) The implications of such need for reference are several

  • First: “distrust of speculative thought”

  • Second: “in order to guarantee conclusions, there must be a return from the abstract to the concrete and ... the only way in which this is possible is through practical activity” (41)

  • “Thought arises from failure in concrete practical life. The failure sets going a process of symbolic activity in the imagination. The function of this process is to overcome the obstacle and so to enable us to resume action successfully. It follows that the test of the success of our thinking lies precisely in our capacity to do something as a result of our thinking that we were unable to do before” (42)

  • “Experiment is, therefore, the only way in which we can discover whether our thinking has fulfilled its function” (42)

  • Third: “The failure of an experiment disproves the truth of the theory on which it was based, but the success of an experiment does not prove the truth of anything” (42)

  • This is because the “conclusion is general” and the “experiment is a particular action” (42). We cannot say that one particular instance proves the generality of such an instance. To do so is to over-generalize

  • Fourth: “Knowledge ... does not involve certainty” (43). Verification does not provide certainty, but “a continuous development in the rationality of our beliefs” (43)

  • The process of verification allows us to “link together thought and action” (43)

  • Thus we can say that a “rational belief is not a belief which is known to be true. It is simply a conclusion which it is reasonable to believe” (43)

  • This also means, however, that the “official theory” is often “more rational ... even if it happens to be false; because it is supported by a far more complete analysis of the facts, and a much richer and more varied range of experimental verification” (44)

  • But regardless, when “theory, even official theory, flies in the face of immediate experience, it is simply false, and that is the end of the matter” (44)

i) Verification is essential

  • “verification is an essential part of any process of reflection which can claim to be deliberate and rational” (44)

  • “When philosophy is taken seriously it is bound to affect our immediate experience of living and to verify itself in the satisfactoriness of the life-experience which it helps to produce” (45)

  • “It is only when an experiment is deliberately undertaken on a basis of theory for the purpose of discovering what the theory will enable us to do that we could not do before, or not so successfully, that it fulfils the function of verification in the life of deliverate reflection” (45)

j) The deliberate planning of social life is the largest scale, most historically pressing attempt at philosophical verification, so we must examine the symbolic framework’s that humans have used to try and organize society

  • “The theoretical basis of such an effort at social reconstruction must be philosophical. If the philosophy which guides it is unconscious, we shall be at the mercy of unconscious forces, which, because they are unconscious, are uncontrollable” (46)

“Mathematical Thought and Mechanism”

Macmurray goes about describing the first and most basic of unity-patterns, the mathematical or mechanical. The mathematical unity pattern views all of reality as matter, and thus as stuff to be used. However, since use implies cause, but the mathematical unity-pattern sees all as matter, and thus agency-less, there is no room within the reality of mathematics for an agent that causes or uses matter. Thus, mathematical refers outside itself while denying that there is an outside.

a) Rationality is concerned with relation of symbols to immediate experience

  • “rationality depends upon its relation to the immediate experience of living and the knowledge which arises in, and is an inseperable part of, that experience” (47)

  • “The unity of immediate experience is a given unity, given in the apprehension of the infinite in the finite” (47)

  • “But the unity of the world of symbols is a constructed unity, a synthesis of elements which have been obtained through an analysis of the given” (47)

  • Synthesis implies an “idea of structure”

  • This structure is a “schema or pattern of unity” that functions as a “guide” for the “activities of the imagination” (47)

  • The “most general” and thus “most abstract” of these patterns, these ways of reasoning, is the “mechanical unity-pattern of mathematical thought” (48)

b) Mathematical thought represents reality as matter

  • “reality is stuff to be used ... reality is material” (48)

  • “The idea of matter is the idea of stuff, of raw material which is formed in accordance with our purposes by our action upon it” (48)

  • “When, therefore, we represent the world as matter, we are representing it as the field in which we exercise constructive activity, as that which we use for productive purposes” (48)

  • Mathematical thought is interested in “utility-value,” in “purpose” (48)

c) Utility is concerned with causal properties

  • “the characteristics of anything which make it utilizable are its causal properties” (48)

  • Seeing “reality as a set of causal properties” (48) has two main outcomes:

  • “any individual thing will be symbolized not for its individuality but merely as a bearer of general properties” (48)

  • “things ... are considered in terms of what they can do ... [as] means to certain ends” (49)

  • Thus, the focus of mathematical thought is the representation and understanding of the “general principles of causal relation” (49)

d) Mathematical thought must, therefore, be completely general

  • Only “classes of things” are recognizable by mathematical thought (50)

  • The “complete abstraction of the unity-pattern ... disregard[s] such differences ... and consider[s] only what everything has in common, so far as it is material” (50)

  • “This will be simply the fact that it is a bearer of causal properties” (50)

  • The ultimate abstraction of mathematical thought is the “unit” (50). “Every thing is one thing” (50).

e) Reality is viewed through this abstraction of unit

  • “reality as material appears as an infinite assemblage of units, and, therefore, any finite part of it, as a definite number of units” (50)

  • Thus “any material whole can be represented symbolically as a unity produced by the repetition of identities” (50)

  • “Any whole given in experience can be represented in imagination as complex of unit-elements and these elements can be represented as bare identities or units. The complex as a whole can then be represented as the sum of these units” (51)

f) The material view has problems, however

  • First: “the idea of a repetition of identical elements is itself irrational. If they are really identical they are one and not two. If they are really two they are different thing. How can two things be identically the same and yet different?” (52)

  • We get answers to this that the identities “differ merely by their positions in space or in time” (52), and thus space and time are simply “that which makes no difference” and are essentially “unreal” for the purposes of analysis (52)

  • Second: thus, we “find ourselves working with the idea of a number of elements, all treated as identical, arranged in some order in space. There is nothing in the symbols to represent the qualitative differences in the object symbolized” (52)

  • So, because identities are identities differentiated by the “unreality” of space and time (an irrational notion), but mathematical thought seeks to understand causal relations, mathematical thought is thus fundamentally concerned with change, which is a “difference in the same thing at different times ... a difference in the arrangement of the same elements” (53)

g) Causality is a problem because change cannot be accounted for in the thought of identity

  • “To understand change, we must be able to account for its occurrence” (53)

  • But change just “happens” (54), because matter is that which is acted upon. Matter has no agency. But if all reality is matter, then where does agency, and thus change and causation, come from?

  • “It follows that the source of any change in the arrangement must be looked for outside the complex; in other words, that the cause of the change must be external to the thing that is changed” (54)

  • “Mechanical action is action in which all change is the effect of a cause external to that which is changed in which, therefore, the changes of an object and so all its activities are determined not by its own nature but by a force acting upon it from outside” (54)

  • “The object is conceived as essentially passive” (54)

h) Mathematical thought is necessarily deterministic

  • “all change” is “completely determined. Determinism and mechanism are, in fact, the same thing” (54)

  • “Since whatever is represented through mathematical symbolism must have it activities referred beyond itself, it necessarily presupposes the existence of something which is not and cannot be represented in the symbolism” (54)

  • Thus we have an “infinite regress” (54)

i) Mathematical thought produces a paradox

  • “in claiming completeness it claims to include everything within it, while its form compels it to refer whatever it includes to something beyond it” (55)

  • To resolve this, the “universe,” as conceived by (a philosophy of) mathematical thought is a “mechanism” (55)

  • But this “must be false” because when the reflection of mathematical thought is referred back to reality, agency still exists, unaccounted for by the system. Thus, mathematical thought, when applied to the whole of the universe, is “inherently self-contradictory” (55)

j) The universe in immediate experience (the concern of philosophy) is infinite, but mathematical thought can only account for the finite

  • Mathematical thought can only be applied to finite systems falling within a wider environment” (56)

  • “The universe as matter is the universe as stuff which is passive to action, and the very conception implies an agent or source of action outside it and acting upon it” (56)

  • “Matter is essentially a relative conception. It is relative to an agent that uses it” (56)

  • But there can “be no such thing as a material cause” because “‘matter’ means that in which effects are produced, and ‘cause’ means that which produces effects. By definition, therefore, the conception of cause is inapplicable to matter” (56)

  • Cause = agent, matter = patient (56)

k) Mathematics is thus only valid for reality as material

  • “It is, in fact, valid for anything that can be acted upon, or anything that has a material aspect; that can be used as an instrument or be the means to an end” (57)

“Biological Thought and Organism”

If mathematical thought cannot account for the universe in its infinity, another unity-pattern is needed. Macmurray identifies the next schema as the biological, that which is concerned with the organic, with life, and thus, has some capacity for agency. But, as will be shown, organic thought still does not account for the whole of the universe.

a) Biological thought is concerned with life

  • Biological thought is employed “for the representation of life and the processes in which life consists” (58)

  • It is an understanding of things “in so far as they are alive” and “organic” (58)

b) Biological thought is less abstract, and thus closer to the immediacy of life, than mathematical thought

  • Biological unity is found in reflection upon the “immediate experience of life” and enables us to express symbolically “the unity of life as we know it” (58)

c) Understanding the world leads to understanding the self

  • “The way in which we apprehend the world determines the way in which we apprehend ourselves. Our apprehension of matter is, on the subjective side, an apprehension of ourselves as material bodies, while our apprehension of ourselves as living organisms is the inner aspect of our apprehension of life in the world. Nor can we know ourselves as persons except in the knowledge of persons who are not ourselves” (59)

  • “Our immediate knowledge of life in the world is the basis, and the only possible basis, for determining, by thought, that certain objects in the world are alive” (59)

  • Thus, biological thought is a bit better for understanding personality than mathematical thought (but as we shall see, still not the best)

d) Knowledge of life is primary and prior to knowledge of matter

  • “immediate knowledge of life is prior to our immediate knowledge of matter. Children would seem to begin with the assumption that material objects are alive, and to learn that they are not” (60)

  • “living creatures ... awaken in us the consciousness of organic processes in ourselves which are harmonious with, and correspond to, processes of life in themselves” (60)

  • “Such a consciousness of life involves feeling as well as sense-perception” (60)

e) The immediate feeling of life is that of growth

  • Matter is inert and passive, whereas life grows

  • Growth is “an increase in differentiation and coordination of [a life’s] parts through a time process” (60), whereas change, in the mathematical sense, is simply a “rearrangement of elements which do not themselves change” (60-61)

  • Thus growth is different than change because “the changes which constitute its growth are essential to its being what it is” (61). The change is an element of life, rather than an effect upon material, and thus we call it growth or the capacity to grow.

f) Life is more concerned with difference, whereas mechanics is concerned with identity

  • “the differences between the elements which constitute it are essential in the description of a living creature” (61)

  • “the differentiation of its elements is really a differentiation of their functions in maintaining the developing unity of the whole” (61)

  • “life never is at any moment. It is always becoming” (61). We could say that life is always differential, because life grows in time, and thus is never identical with itself from moment to moment, and yet constitutes a unity in its difference.

g) Life is essentially metabolism

  • “It consists in getting rid of the material of which the body is composed, and replacing it continuously by new material, not exactly but with variations” (61)

  • “The matter of the living body is not preserved. It is in a continual process of dissolution and replacement” (61)

h) Organisms are differential

  • An organism “consists of a set of parts or elements which differ from one another” (62)

  • “We must represent the unity of what is alive as a unity of differences, not as a unity of identities” (62)

  • But, you “cannot sum differences. How, then, can the unity of differences be represented?” (62)

i) The unity of difference is represented as aesthetic harmony

  • Differential unity is a “balance or harmony” (62)

  • For instance, a “work of art is always a unity of differences and that is why we often speak of it as an organic unity. Such a unity is felt, not calculated” (62)

j) A living thing is a harmony of differences

  • The symbolic representation of an organism is as a “harmony of differences [that] form a unity” (62)

  • Additionally, the “different elements in the unity [are represented] as themselves in process, and these processes of the different elements [are represented] as themselves harmoniously combined to form a unity of processes which is the life of the organism as a whole” (62)

  • “Each of these processes ... will be represented as a function of the whole process” (62)

  • “differences ... are determined by and relative to the differences in the function which each has to perform in the life of the organism” (63)

  • “the unity of the organism is a unity of functions” (63)

k) The organism is always developing

  • The process of growth is not “purely cyclical” but “involves development in time as well as the repetition of processes” (63)

  • “Growth can perhaps be defined as reproduction with variation, even within the life of the individual” (63)

  • Thus: organism = harmony of differences growing through varied repetition of processes working in concert

l) Biological thought represents life teleologically

  • “The life of an organism can only be described and understood by reference to the final state of its natural development” (63)

  • “The conception of teleology is, therefore, an essential element in the unity-pattern by means of which life can be described and understood” (63)

  • “the conception of teleology is merely a way of describing natural processes of growth” (63)

  • “To describe a process of growth you must represent the process as governed by the final stage in which it completes itself” (64)

  • “Given the complete process, we analyse it into a series of stages which succeed one another in time” (64)

  • “what is essential to each stage is that it develops into the next by its very nature, and cannot develop into any other; nor can there be a development from the first stage to the last which does not pass through all the intervening stages” (64)

m) Life has an inherent potentiality

  • Potential is the capacity for development

  • But potential does not equal purpose

  • Teleology simply describes the process of growth in its potential and development

n) Organic thought is dialectical, whereas mechanical is purely positive

  • “It proceeds by the generation of opposites which are unified in a synthesis that overcomes their opposition by creating a harmony of their differences and so exhibiting them as functional differentiations of a developing unity” (65)

o) Organic thought cannot be applied to pure matter

  • “organism rests upon the apprehension of harmony in difference, which is essentially an apprehension not of a scientific but of an aesthetic character” (66)

  • Pure matter is conceived in terms of identities and cannot account for the differences necessary to life and growth

p) The universe is not an organic whole

  • Like mathematical thought, biological thought falls short of explaining the universe

  • “if the universe is an organism there can be no organisms in it, for the different elements in the organic unity-pattern cannot themselves be organic wholes” (67)

  • “The whole is either not an individual at all or else the only individual” (67)

  • Similarly, teleology is limited because it requires “the representation of a stage at which growth is complete” (67)

  • But because our “immediate apprehension of life is the apprehension of the infinity of life in finite individuals and, therefore, the process of life is known as an infinite process, that is to say, as a process which has no final stage,” it is, therefore, “impossible to represent the unity of the world which is given in immediate experience in terms of the organic unity-pattern” (67)

  • “Just as in the case of mechanical thought, this type of symbolism must be limited to the interpretation of the finite” (67)

  • “The moment we begin to apply the unity-pattern to the world as we know it, we discover that we cannot understand the living creature in terms of itself” (68)

  • “the universe would need an environment to provide the stimulus to which its evolution would be the response” (68)

  • “the effort to represent the universe as an organic whole must fail” (68)

q) Personality brings this difficulty into focus

  • Personality is the “concrete point in our immediate experience of the world” which challenges an organic interpretation of reality (68)

  • “Human consciousness is not organic” (68)

“Psychological Thought and Personality”

Having demonstrated that mathematical/mechanical thought and biological/organic thought are inadequate for interpreting the universe, Macmurray enters into a discussion of the psychological/personal unity-pattern. Humans are not just machines, nor are they just organisms. They are persons, a sort of fusion and transformation of the two prior patterns.

a) Persons are more than organisms

  • There is “something beyond” that is perceived in “our immediate experience of persons” (69)

  • This problem of the person has been the “central problem of all modern philosophy” (69)

  • “The Cartesians tried to represent the self as a substance and, therefore, in terms of the schema of mathematical thought” (69)

  • Kant “sought to interpret the self as an organism, and so in terms of biological thought” (69)

  • The personal has certain “characteristics which differentiate it from the material and the organic, and which will require to be represented in any unity-pattern that is to be adequate for our purpose” (70)

b) Immediate experience is apprehension of the infinite in the finite

  • “the unity of immediate experience consists in the apprehension of the infinite in the finite” (70)

  • “the unity-pattern of reflective thought is an attempt to express this unity as a form of synthesis” (70)

c) Personality is an apprehension of the infinite

  • “The unity of personality, as we know it in the immediacy of living, is an apprehension of infinite personality in finite persons” (70)

  • God is the prime term that “symbolizes the infinite apprehended as personal” (70)

  • “the personal infinite comes to us, and can only come, in and through our awareness of finite personality” (70)

  • Until we learn how to “symbolize our experience of persons as persons, our thinking is bound to misrepresent the nature of finite and infinite personality alike” (70)

d) Reflecting on the personality of others brings oneself into the picture

  • “only when we reflect upon our experience of persons [do] we ourselves, including our activity of reflection, come into the picture” (70)

  • “Our thought is, for the first time, about ourselves” (71)

  • “Reflection upon personality, like all forms of reflection, arises from some opposition that we meet in the full practical experience of life” (71)

  • “it is when ‘we cannot get on with people’, as we say, that we stop to think about them. It is from our need to understand other persons that our reflection upon personality arises” (71)

  • There is an “inherent correlation between our consciousness of self and of not-self” (71)

  • “Our awareness of other persons as persons awakens a complete consciousness in ourselves” (71)

e) To know a person requires mutuality and dialogue

  • “The experience of other persons has an essential quality which makes it different from any other kind of experience. It is the consciousness of mutual relationship, of the meeting of like with like, for in it we find a response from the object at our own level” (71)

  • “We know persons, in fact, only by entering into personal relationship with them as equals” (71)

  • “whenever one person treats another as an instrument for his use, or as an object for his enjoyment, he denies in practice—what is more important than theory—the other’s essential nature as a person” (72)

  • “In thinking about any but the personal aspect of reality we can abstract from the relationship in which we stand to the object of our thought. We can drop the relationship out of consciousness and consider that aspect of the world as if we stood outside it and it formed a closed system. With persons we cannot do this because our relation to them is essential to the situation upon which we are reflecting” (72)

  • “personality is essentially mutual; … it exists only in and through personal relationships” (72)

What Macmurray is saying is that, in personal relation, the act of reflection that normally stands over against the relation in question cannot adopt such a position, because he who is reflecting is himself engaged in the relation, and thus actively a part of that which he thinks about. And because one’s symbolic apprehension of reality must always be confirmed in a return to reality, if one reflects upon the personal relationship one necessarily understands oneself as a person in relation. The personal is a unity-pattern that is constructed to understand the unique way in which persons relate, outside of mathematical and biological schemes.

f) The personal defines the rational

  • Macmurray recognizes that reason is often equated with thinking, but thinking “in that sense, means thinking rationally, and the explanation is tautologous” (72)

  • So, Macmurray defines reason as “the capacity for objectivity” and that “it is the possession of this capacity which distinguishes persons from whatever is sub-personal” (72)

  • The capacity for objectivity, then, is “the capacity to stand in conscious relation to that which is recognized as not ourselves” (72)

  • Further, this objectivity means that “that to which we stand in conscious relation is recognized, is consciously apprehended, as not ourselves” (72)

  • Thus in contrast, a subjective consciousness is that which misinterprets the “real state of affairs” (74), that subsumes reality into the subjective act of thinking itself, rather than stand over against reality as the subject that experiences it.

  • The subject is that which has “the capacity of consciousness” and the object is the “external world to which the subject stands in relation” (74). “Through the co-operation of these two factors the conscious experience is generated” (74). The truly rational (and so objective) consciousness is “a consciousness of what is recognized in the consciousness itself as an object independent of the subject” (74)

  • Because the personal is the most confronting of subject-object relations the rational position becomes most clear in such a relation. All is not simply matter to be manipulated by the one (pure object; mechanic), and one is not simply part of the all (pure subject; organic), but one stands in mediated relation.

  • So, the “rationality of thought does not lie in the thought itself, as a quality of it, but depends upon its reference to the external world as known in immediate experience” (74)

  • “I may feel angry with someone and recognize at the same time that I have no reason to feel angry. In that case I recognize that my anger is unreasonable” (75)

  • “in the full, concrete activity of personal life the various aspects of our consciousness are not separate, but fused in the experience of spontaneous activity” (75)

  • “It follows that objectivity or rationality expresses itself concretely only as a rationality or objectivity of living in which reasonableness of thought and of emotion are merely aspects” (75)

  • “Personality is an essential objectivity of conscious living” (75)

g) So also objectivity is only perfect in the personal

  • “Complete objectivity depends upon our being objectively related, in action as well as in reflection, to that in the world which is capable of calling into play all the capacities of our consciousness at once. It is only the personal aspect of the world that can do this” (76)

h) The key to personality, and so reason, is friendship

  • “Friendship is the name that we give to such relationships between persons as are fully personal, that is to say, in which one person is consciously related to another as a person in terms of his personality” (76)

  • “It is only when the relationship is one of friendship—or of its negative, enmity—that the relation is a personal one” (76)

  • In these we see the subject totally related to the object, the necessary basis of reason, because the object is also a subject

  • We don't often recognize this, because “Science is far easier than art, and art again is far easier than religion, the field of which is the field of personal relationship” (77), but nevertheless, we see in the personal the functioning of reason at its highest point

  • “My own objectivity meets an objectivity which corresponds to it, so that for the first time I can achieve self-consciousness” (77)

  • “My self-consciousness is my consciousness of myself as a person, and it is only possible in and through my consciousness of a person who is not myself. It is only in personal relationships that I can be conscious of personality” (77)

  • “The basic fact about human beings, in virtue of which they are human, is that they know one another and life in that knowledge” (77)

  • Thus, friendship, that most mutual of relations, best exemplifies the fundamental rationality of psychological thought

i) Personality is constitution by self-consciousness

  • “A person is a self-conscious being. If he were not self-conscious he would not be a person. In other words, personality not merely implies but is constituted by self-consciousness” (77)

  • So, “if self-consciousness is merely the inner aspect of our consciousness of other persons, it follows that personality is constituted by, and does not merely imply, personal relationships between persons” (78)

  • “Personality is mutual in its very being” (78)

  • “The self is one term in a relation between two selves” (78)

  • ”‘I’ exist only as one member of the ‘you and I’” (78)

  • “The self only exists in the communion of selves” (78)

j) Personality is thus dependent on knowledge of other persons

  • “My own existence as a person is constituted by my knowledge of other persons, by my objective consciousness of them as persons, not by the mere fact of my relation to them” (78)

  • Remember, reason is conscious apprehension of an objective relation

  • “I am I because I know you … you are you because you know me” (78)

  • “My consciousness is rational or objective because it is a consciousness of someone who is in personal relation to me and, therefore, knows me and knows that I am I. I have my being in that mutual self-knowledge” (78)

  • “the community of conscious beings, which is what I experience in personal relationships, is the experience of a personal world which is all-inclusive of all experience” (78)

k) So the personal is the dimension of thought in which the infinite can be expressed

  • “The immediate experience of personality is the experience of infinite personality in finite persons” (78)

l) Personality goes beyond mechanics and biology

  • “In the case of two persons, both are individuals, yet their otherness is essential to their individuality. For each of us, there can be only one ‘I’. The other peon is always ‘you’. Yet it is equally essential to my being that in knowing you I know that for yourself you are ‘I’ and for you I am the other, the ‘you’” (79)

  • In math, all entities are “equally ‘it’” (79)

  • Further, “no element in an organic whole can be really individual. Only the whole can possess true individuality” (79)

  • “the personal,” however, “involves the essential individuality of all persons as well as their differences. Two persons in personal relation are not complimentary. They do not lose their individuality to become functional elements in an individuality which includes them both” (79)

  • So “the unity-pattern of psychological thought must somehow succeed in combining the characteristics both of organic and of mathematical thought” (80)

  • “It must express at once the independent reality of the individual and the fact that this individuality is constituted by the relationship in which he stands” (80)

  • “mathematical relations are external to the terms they relate” (80)

  • “Organic relations are internal to their terms” (80)

  • “But personal relations are at once internal and external. They create not merely a unity between individuals, but also the difference of the individuals which they unite” (80)

“Logic and Life”

In the final chapter Macmurray moves toward the logic or unity-pattern of personal life that has yet to be fully developed. This is the beyond that he looks for past the mechanical and organic schemes of interpretation.

a) There is not yet a unity-pattern for the personal

  • “We do not know how to represent our knowledge of the personal in idea” (81)

  • But the “need for understanding is forced upon us by itself” and so the “problem become[s] of more than academic interest” (81)

b) The personal is the only theory that can refer back to life itself

  • Macmurray already demonstrated how the mechanical and organic unity-patterns do not perfectly refer back to the activity of life. Mechanics reduces persons to identities, and organics reduces persons to differential processes. Only a unity-pattern of the personal can encompass both the identical and the differential components of human being.

  • This is necessary. Theory “insists upon relating the activities of thought to the wider activity of life itself” (81)

  • “knowledge is prior to thought and ... thought itself is the specialization of imagination to meet a practical need” (81). We know personal life. But we don’t have an effective way of thinking it.

  • “Thought is functional, and is of value only when it fulfils its function in the economy of life” (81). And this economy is hampered by a break in our ability to think about it. There is a real problem that needs solving.

c) The real problem of human being is the struggle against necessity

  • “Before the emergence of science human life was almost completely at the mercy of its environment ... Man was at the mercy of his organic needs” (83)

  • “human life as a whole never escaped from the pressure of scarcity, and the movement of history was determined, all but completely, by the economic struggle for the necessities of life” (83)

  • “The development of science has been the first sustained attempt that the human race has made to escape from the clutches of economic necessity” (83)

  • Science is “the effort to turn the control of man by the environment into a control of the environment by man” (83)

  • “Science arose as the effort to understand the material world in order to dominate and use it” (83)

  • So we see the mathematical/mechanical unity-pattern develop

d) Science responding to necessity creates a new problem of social organization

  • “The application of science to the control of conditions” requires “social organization” (84)

  • “The organization of society is essentially an adaptation to conditions imposed by the environment” (84)

  • “When, therefore, a society undertakes to discover and utilize the means for the control of its environment, it initiates also a process of social development by which its traditional habits of social life are adapted to the conditions which its own effort creates” (84)

  • “we have been committed to discovering the form of social organization which will make possible in practice the control of conditions which science has made possible in theory” (85)

  • The “social problem remains essentially an economic problem” and it thus “become[s] an industrial problem, the problem of organizing human industry for the satisfaction of human needs” (85)

  • Thus: “It is this situation which makes the development of biological thought necessary” (85)

  • “The ideas of progress, of adaptation to environment, of the functional relationship of individuals in a co-operative task, come into focus” (85)

  • “Social organization must be controlled if matter is to be controlled. Human life, therefore, must be considered organically and teleologically” (85)

  • Organ-ization requires organic thinking

  • “Thus it comes about that organic thought defines a thought-form within which mechanical thought must function if the understanding of the world which it achieves is to be utilized” (86)

e) Organic thought, however, elides the question of interest

  • “In whose interest is all this expenditure of human energy and all this preoccupation with the environment being undertaken?” (86)

  • “it is a matter of no importance which persons in society benefit personally by the activity, or indeed, whether any person benefits at all” (87)

  • “It is only possible to disguise this deliberate subordination of life to the conditions of life by projecting the end of the process into the future and conceiving a Utopia of supermen who shall enjoy the fruits of the self-sacrifice of all previous generations” (87)

  • ”[S]uch a future must lie at an infinite distance” (87) because, remember, teleological thinking can never be accomplished

  • Thus, to maintain this infinite expenditure of energy, people must feel that there is a “personal significance” (87)

  • This significance is “advantage” (87)

  • Working together as an organic whole has a “personal advantage, which it brings to each individual who is required to subordinate himself to it and accept it as his purpose” (87)

  • But for this to be perpetuated, the organic whole will “require justification also in terms of the personal relationships between the persons who are involved in it. The success of the effort to create a functional economy of society for the control of the conditions of life must necessarily involve the realization of a society of persons living the life of personality in association” (87)

This conclusion is a little troubling. Macmurray sees the personal as a means to effective social cohesion, i.e., to the effective functioning of the social organism, which can easily be the coercive state.

f) Thus we need to think personality, but thinking personality is a challenge

  • “when personality itself is the object of thought [distance] is no longer possible. The thinker himself as a person is part of what he thinks about, and his thinking is itself part of him. Thought is now one of the functions of the object of thought. It is not even logically prior to its object” (88)

  • “all thought is psychologically conditioned” (89)

  • Psychologically conditioned means “socially conditioned, since human nature is essentially social” (89)

  • “The individual thinker is necessarily the member of a particular community at a particular point in the development of history. His thinking is historically conditioned ... His thinking is part of the history upon which he reflects” (89)

  • Thus we need to think personality, because personality conditions our being-in-the-world.

  • “Thought divorced from life is inherently unreal and untrustworthy. Common sense is thoroughly justified in distrusting the conclusions of thinkers when they are contradicted by their practice, or who reveal an emotional insincerity as the background of their theorizing” (90)

  • “Theory and practice are bound together in the nature of things, and the bond is a common motive” (91)

  • “If thought, then, is to be real and function as it should in the unity of personal life, it must be carried on in full awareness of the conditions which determine it” (91)

  • “True freedom, Hegel said, is the consciousness of necessity” (91)

  • “the only possible way to reach a real understanding by means of thought must be to become fully aware of the conditions under which our thinking is carried on” (91)

  • Macmurray concludes that we must look for personality in history.

  • “For it is in the historic process of human development that life and logic interpenetrate, and that philosophy is continuously, if unconsciously, submitted to the process of verification” (92)

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