Cultural Reality

Chapter 2: Experience and Reflection

Florian Znaniecki

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The primary problem of all philosophy is the problem of the most general characters of experience and of reflection. For no object-matter of knowledge can escape the necessity of being given in individual experience and no theory can escape the necessity of being the product of logical reflection. Though this double necessity does not impose any permanent limitations upon the content of the world and the meaning of knowledge, though the former can indefinitely transcend the data of individual experience, and the latter leads far beyond the significance given to these data in the course of any present reflection, yet the fact of experience and the fact of reflection which the philosopher finds in constructing any theory whatever about any object-matter whatever constitute for him the most immediate and the most certain starting-points, though, of course, only relatively certain and relatively immediate.

Both facts have not only a formally methodical, but assume also a particular material importance if we remember that modern philosophy must be a philosophy of culture. As long as the world remained for philosophy a world of pure ideas independent of the individual's experience, or a world of pure natural reality independent of reflection, starting with experience or reflection was merely a methodical trick used in order to reach something entirely different. But if we realize that the concrete world is a world of culture, the situation changes. For we know culture only as human culture and we can think of it only with reference to concrete

(25) conscious beings which experience it; whatever else a cultural object may be, it certainly must be at some time and in some connection experienced by somebody, and thus the fact of experience has a universal importance with regard to the cultural world. On the other hand also, we know that the world of culture is a world in evolution, and that cultural evolution involves active thought; and in so far as it does this—a point which we shall determine presently—reflection becomes also a general characteristic not only of philosophy, but also of its object-matter.

If the starting-point of the philosophy of culture is thus more or less in accordance with philosophical tradition, this very fact should keep us aware of the dangers of our beginning. In order not to accept unconsciously premises which may vitiate the further development of our theory, we must limit our admissions, both with regard to experience and with regard to reflection, to the absolutely necessary minimum. With regard to the former, we cannot accept as a general basis the results of the individual's reflection about himself as subject opposed to objects, because the "subject" is both a form of experience, when we consider the course of experience as a "subjective" activity, and a matter of experience, when we take him into account as a personality who can be apprehended by himself or by others in the course of experience. In the first character, it is the condition of all experience; in the second, it is conditioned by other experiences. The concept of the subject cannot therefore be used in discussing the problem of experience, for the latter, as primary problem, as starting-point of philosophical investigation, should not depend on the previous solution of other problems; and the concept of the subject, since it has to be qualified either as active thought of which the matter of experience is the object, or as an object-matter among others, presupposes both a theory of active thought and a theory of objects. Furthermore, in studying reflection we cannot identify it with theoretic

(26) thought, for the concept of theoretic thought implies also a dualism. On the one hand, indeed, we know that theoretic thought has for object-matter the entire world, including all types of human activity; on the other hand, it is itself only one of the types of activity which are found in the cultural world, and thus becomes its own object-matter. In its first character it claims an absolute validity for itself in reference to its object-matter; in its second character it has to deny to itself any absolute validity, since it finds its theories changing, multiform, and conflicting. This seeming antinomy can be solved only on the ground of a general study of both the systems of ideas, the "theories," as products of cultural activity given alongside other products, and of the thought which creates these systems, alongside other types of creative activity.

Thus the chief problem in the determination of the most general characters of experience is to find a characteristic which would be indeed the most general possible, would not involve a priori any limitation of experience to some particular object-matter to the exclusion of others. The initial definition of experience must be, in a word, purely formal; and in this respect it is clear that any character of experience found in our own direct reflection about the course of experience, experienced itself in a retrogressive or progressive act of attention, must lack the necessary generality, being itself, in this act, a matter of experience, no longer a pure form, and in so far given from a certain standpoint, the definite standpoint which we have taken in performing our reflection. The most various and often contradictory theories of experience have been reached by this method.

On the other hand, we evidently cannot avoid basing ourselves on those characters of the course of experience which are themselves empiricallv given in the course of reflection, for our determination cannot be pure invention, but must actually apply to experience if it is to be used in philosophy

(27) of culture. Thus, we must resort here to a special method. We must find the most general of those forms of experience that can be given in an act of reflection, and then try to reach beyond them, by means of a rational construction, the primary ground from which they are derived and which cannot itself be given.

Those most general forms of experience that can be yet ascertained empirically will be found if we ask ourselves what are the conditions which, on reflection, seem to be necessary and sufficient to have an object given in experience. We emphasize the point to have an object given. For we are not investigating here consciousness, that is, the way in which the concrete individual sees "himself" experiencing, but merely the form which the data of experience assume in the course of experience; our problem is not psychological, but phenomenological.

If we try now to define experience in the most general terms which yet have an empirical meaning, we must say that experience is the presence of elements of plurality now and here.

All the parts of this definition, which is evidently still a description, are indispensable; that is, every one of them indicates a condition of experience which applies to any matter of experience, independently of its intrinsic diversity. At the same time there are no other indispensable parts of an empirical definition of experience; any other condition of experience which may be added can apply only to certain data to the exclusion of others.

By saying that experience is the presence of something we imply the possibility that this "something" may be also absent, non-present, if it does not satisfy the other conditions enumerated above; in other words, we assume that "being experienced" is not a priori identical with " being, " that it may be a determination which would only partly or occasionally belong to those objects about which we think as

(28) being experienced. This assumption is indispensable for the empirical definition of experience, because with regard to every matter of experience we empirically assume this possibility of its not being experienced. This applies to every matter, but, of course, not to the fact of experiencing.[1] It does not involve any affirmation as to the nature and degree of modification to which any matter of experience may or may not be subjected by being experienced.

Every present datum of experience is an element of plurality whose other elements are not present. This means (a) that the whole matter of experience is not given at once, but in parts; (b) that any present part of experience is empirically isolated from the rest, given as a distinct unit; (c) that every such unit is empirically associated with other parts of experience and in so far given as an element of a plurality, not as an absolutely isolated entity.

Our first affirmation contradicts the theory of absolute experience, according to which it is the essence of the matter of experience to be experienced and therefore the whole of it must be present at once and always. But this is not, of course, an empirical theory, since we can never ascertain empirically that the whole matter of experience is present at once; such a theory can be only a rational inference from an empirical definition of experience. Such an inference involves one of two groundless assertions, either that the essence of the matter of experience is exhausted in its being present, or that there is an absolute subject, timeless and spaceless, to whom the matter of experience is always given. The first assertion is groundless, because it contradicts a priori the assumption, empirically found in all experience,

(29) that every matter of experience may be present or not. As to the idea of the absolute subject, historically and logically it is based not upon an investigation of experience itself, but upon an analysis of the systems of human knowledge which, granted certain presuppositions, leads to the concept of a unique reason, manifesting itself in the many individual minds. We cannot accept the conclusions of this analysis as valid beforehand, and still less permit them to be applied in advance to the problem of experience.

In saying that every element of experience is a distinct unit we are in disaccordance with the conception of the matter of experience as a primary continuity, out of which only our perceptive or rational activity cuts distinct elements. We cannot accept this theory because it cannot be ascertained in experience. And even this theory is obliged to admit that a certain discontinuity is empirically given; it can only put absolute continuity as a limit of a certain synthetic process; but the question is, then, whether this synthetic process is returning to a primitive unity or creating a new unity, and any answer to this question must be entirely arbitrary at this stage of investigation.

For an analogous reason we cannot accept the contrary theory that the matter of experience is primarily given as an absolute discontinuity and only our synthetic activity establishes a connection between the disconnected elements. No element is ever given to us absolutely isolated, but whenever we try to grasp it in itself, we find that we take it already in connection with other elements. Even as the limit of an empirical tendency, an absolute dissociation cannot be admitted, for here again the question arises whether it is not our reflective act itself which has artificially individualized the given element more than it was individualized when first given. In general, it is a vain effort to try to go back to an unreflective, pure experience by the way of experiencing, since every act of a conscious "becoming aware" of the

(30) process of experience involves already reflection and thus modifies the original nature of this process.

As metaphysical, non-empirical theories of 'experience, both the theory which conceives experience as primarily a continuous stream and that which treats it as primarily a discontinuous series of data can be equally well accepted without in any way influencing our empirical reconstruction, for the first must acknowledge that there are waves upon the surface of this stream and that we see always this surface only with the waves, while the second must agree that we always find before us associations which make a more or less continuous chain of the series of data.

In answer to another possible objection, that the field of individual experience contains always many simultaneous data, we need simply to point out that this is a psychological, not a phenomenological problem, and to repeat that we are interested here not in the way in which the concrete individual sees himself experiencing, but in the conditions under which objects come to be experienced by the concrete individual. From the purely formal and phenomenological viewpoint, the question whether for the individual many data are present at once has no more importance than the question whether many individuals are experiencing something at once; it is merely incidental. In order that the process of experience may go on it is sufficient and necessary that always some matter, however simple or complicated, be present and referring to other, non-present matters. If there were no single, isolated matters present, we should not have anything empirically given; if the present matter did not refer to nonpresent matters, we should not be able to go beyond the present datum.

The affirmation that experience is the presence of something now will probably find least opposition. The temporal character of experience can hardly be denied, and we postpone for awhile the question whether it is due to the temporal

(31) character of the matter of experience, or of the experiencing subject, or perhaps to something else. In any case the elements of the plurality of experience succeed one another in the sense that each in succession is "now given." The now may be defined from the standpoint of various theories, as a passing moment of the absolute time, or as a timeless present through which the course of time goes on, or as the limit of the past, or the beginning of the future, or as still something else. Empirically it is absolute, not relative to any other moment; it is an ultimate unanalyzable form. Therefore, with any definition of the time the fact holds true that the element given now is one definite member of a successive series, is passing through the form of now after some element and before some other; and there` fore, as a general empirical form of experience, duration, whatever else it may mean, means a succession of elements in the present; these elements with regard to the present have to be considered as arranged in a one-dimensional series, externally to one another, and still associated with one another so as to make the series continuous.

We are perfectly aware of the difficulty which such a definition presents to our reason, which cannot conceive externality and continuity together. But both are universal components of the form of experience as far as it can be ascertained empirically, and we can reject neither of them only for the reason that they seem to disagree logically. This disagreement is the result of that fundamental difficulty of the problem of experience, that the form of empirical data must be turned into an empirical datum itself in order to be determined; when we succeed in overcoming this difficulty, the irrationality will disappear. Certainly the modern reduction of externality to continuity and interpenetration — is no more a rational solution than the ancient reduction of continuity to externality.


Of course, we can only repeat here what we have said already about the distinction of the form of experience and the form of consciousness; there may be many parallel temporal series running in the individual consciousness, as there may be many data present at once, but this is only a complication of the elementary form of experience in determined empirical conditions.

The formal temporal character of experience does not involve anything concerning the matter of experience. The temporality which we define is extrinsic, not intrinsic; the empirical data themselves may or may not have the empirical feature of duration. One of the current errors of empiricism is to assume duration as belonging to the matter of experience universally, while absolute idealism tends rather to ignore or to deny the time as empirical datum. Both theories lead to one-sided and evidently insufficient theories of reality. Empiricism is unable to account for the possibility of experiencing timeless data, such as mathematical relations; idealism is finally obliged to deny the objectivity of duration. Our way of stating the problem makes a future admission of temporal data of experience (for example, changes) and of untemporal data (for example, theories) equally possible, without presuming anything beforehand.

More doubtful than the universality of the now seems at first that of the here, particularly as, since Kant, so much emphasis has been put upon the theory that extension is not a universal form of experience like duration, but characterizes only the "external" experience. But we must again distinguish two problems: the intrinsic spatiality of data of experience and the extrinsic extensiveness of experience. Spatial extension and localization may be included within the data of experience, in the sense that single objects may be spatially extended and that among the data of experience there are groups of objects spatially localized with regard to one another. Of course, in this spatial sense extension is

(33) not a universal form, only a matter of experience, since there are data of experience which are neither spatially extensive objects nor groups of objects spatially localized with regard to one another. But this is not our present problem. We omit completely the question of an intrinsic spatiality of data of experience in the same way as we have omitted the question of their intrinsic temporality. We affirm now only the formal extrinsic extensiveness of experience, the fact that any datum whatever, spatial or not, whenever it is given, is given here. This does not mean that data of experience are localized here; if localized at all, they are so in some place determined by their relative spatial position with regard to other objects within a certain section of reality, and this place and these other objects are then one complex datum of experience, one spatially arranged group. Nor does it mean that some copies, some "images" of objects are here in my mind or here in my brain; this would be pure nonsense. The here is an absolute point of extension in the same way as the now is an absolute moment of duration. The empirical here as an ultimate form of experience does not depend upon any definition of space any more than the now depends upon any definition of time; nor does it involve any localization of the body of the experiencing subject with regard to other data, nor even the representation of the subject's spatially extended body. On the contrary, the here is the point around which the data of experience are centered, and thus it is a primary condition of any extension of the empirical world. But it is not a sufficient condition of the spatial order, for only those objects are taken by us as spatially localized with regard to the here which are spatially localized with regard to the particular object called my body, and of course, this can apply only to spatial objects, that is, to those with regard to, which spatiality is a matter of experience.

The extension implied in the here is not space just as the duration implied in the now is not time. Both are

(34) only the last, the poorest, the most elementary forms which can yet be experienced. The pure here only completes the determination of experience in the now by limiting it. Even the now of an element of experience leaves its presence yet incompletely determined, for the now has many contemporary here's, many elements can be given now in many different here's. On the other hand, of course, it is not enough for an element to be here, for the here has many successive now's, and many different elements can be present in the same here at different now's. The question could be made seemingly clearer by recalling that the individual's experience is limited both in extension and in duration, that out of the extensive wealth of the empirical world at a given moment various data are present in the experience of various individuals, and that in the experience of the same individual various data appear at various moments. But such a formulation would lead us to problems which at this stage of investigation must be avoided, for it introduces concepts which are not those of the primary form of experience. Empirically it is the individual limitation of experience which presupposes the intersection of duration and extension, and not reciprocally.


Presence, extrinsic plurality, succession with regard to the now, and concentration with regard to the here are the most formal determinations of experience that can be drawn from empirical data by direct analysis. But, as we have said, they are still empirically given, they still preserve a minimum of "intuitiveness," and in so far have some of the character of matter of experience. They are not given, indeed, as independent elements of the plurality of experience, nor as components of other elements; but, when we reflect about the process of experience, we can experience them as external

(35) characteristics of every datum in its relation to other data. Their universality distinguishes them positively from any datum which is only a matter, not a form of experience. This universality has been denied to each of them separately by some philosophical theories; every one of them separately has been treated somewhere as a mere datum of experience, which may accompany or not other data and has no importance beyond that of being given within the realm of experience. The plurality is rejected by the mystics; the succession in duration is considered illusory and explained as an illusion by absolute idealism; the concentration in extension is ignored by subjective idealism.

The possibility of denying the universality of any one of these characters of experience is, of course, only apparent; in further development every form must be reintroduced in some way or other, if experience is to be accounted for. The difference between philosophical theories of experience lies mainly in the metaphysical presuppositions from which experience is deduced and in the manner in which its forms are presented. If each of them separately has ever been denied, it is because they are the result of the analysis of a more fundamental and general ground of experience, which is not empirically manifested, cannot become a matter of experience, because it underlies both the acts of reflection about experience and the process which is the object-matter of this reflection. While rejecting singularity or plurality, duration or extension, a philosophical theory does not reject the really primary ground of experience, but only a part of the entire product of its analysis. Therefore the error of denying one of these empirical forms does not lead at once to the negation of experience in general, but only to an incomplete conception of it.

We call actuality the primitive ground of experience which is the common root of presence, unity and plurality, succession and concentration. We use the term "ground of experience" because of its vagueness; none of the precise philosophical

(36) terms could express adequately the rôle which actuality plays with regard to experience, actuality being absolutely unique, not to be put into any class of forms, principles, etc.

Our definition of it must be clearly a genetic one; that is, we have to define actuality precisely with regard to those forms which arise from its analysis. They cannot be contained in actuality as fully and explicitly as we find them when they are analytically isolated from the data of experience, for then actuality would be nothing but a simple sum of these forms and empirically ascertainable, which is impossible. But they must be virtually contained in actuality, for otherwise reflective analysis of experience could not have found them.

In order to pass now from empirical forms to the pre-empirical ground of experience, we must know the effect of this reflective analysis, the modifications which it was bound to introduce into its object-matter, the original course of experience, in order to change it into data. This is easy to determine. The reflective act which analyzes the course of experience is an act of isolation and objectivation; it abstracts single aspects of the entire concrete process and stabilizes them as definite and ready forms. In thinking about our experience we necessarily take as complete that which is only a part of the total process, as achieved that which is only becoming; we substitute the limit for the tendency and the result for the act, because the experiencing about which we are reflecting is no longer the experiencing as it is going on. Thus the conclusion which we have reached in the preceding paragraph—that the empirical forms of experience are virtually contained in the pre-empirical ground of experience—can only mean that when not reflected upon these forms they are only becoming, not achieved, are tendencies, not limits, acts, not results.

When we say therefore that the presence of an element of a plurality which the act of reflection finds in experience is only virtually contained in the primary ground of experience,

(37) this means that in actuality there is a becoming of a plurality. The two sides of the extrinsic plurality of experience which we have treated as coexisting statically in various proportions, the isolated elements, and the association of these elements in actuality can only express the limits of two tendencies, one of which increases the isolation and the other of which develops the association. Actuality is not a presence of ready elements of a ready group, but a formation of both elements and group, a process of isolation of elements out of a relative continuity and of connection of elements relatively isolated. When we . consider the static results of this process, the limits of both tendencies, whatever these limits may be for any matter in particular at any moment of reflection, we have precisely a present element, more or less ready in its isolation, and a non-present plurality, more or less ready in its association.

Likewise, in the temporal succession of empirical data passing through the now there is something which appears to our reflection as ready and accomplished, that is, the definite direction in time and of time. Only in so far as such a direction is attained, can we consider a present element given before some and after other elements. This definite direction is one from the past through the present into the future, if we view it from the standpoint of pure time; it is one from the future through the present into the past, if we take it from the point of view of the data which pass through the now. But both of its aspects can be only virtually contained in actuality. Actuality has in itself the fundamental condition of the directed succession, the condition that is common to both of its aspects and that is necessary both for the direction of the time and for the direction of the data in time: it has the becoming. In this becoming of actuality the definite direction of the time—succession is not ready; it only develops.

We must understand that without this principle of becoming there would be no directed succession of data. The data

(38) themselves as passing through the now would be evidently unable to produce direction, since their passage does not preclude the possibility for a past datum to become future once more. This essential point has been too much neglected. If we leave aside a pre-existing order of things and ideas and limit ourselves to the conception of experience as a plurality of data passing separately through the present, directed succession is a difficult problem. A datum is past from the standpoint of the present if it was experienced; it is future from the standpoint of the present if it will be experienced. And since there are a multitude of data which return in the present more than once, they are by themselves either past or future, indifferently—past in so far as they already were experienced, future in so far as they will be experienced. There is no datum of experience of which we could say a priori that it cannot return; it does not matter from the standpoint of pure experience whether we qualify this datum ontologically as an image or a thing. Thus neither a direction in time nor a direction of time can be deduced from the data as passing through the now.

There must be therefore in the course of experience some factor which makes an irreversible series of data in spite of the fact that each of these data can reappear an indefinite number of times in the series. This factor must be inherent in the primary ground of experience, not be produced by reflection alone. Actuality must be a becoming in which the definite direction in time and of time itself becomes; this direction is not pre-existent to the course of experience, but is gradually created in it. And as without a definite direction there is no time in the traditional sense of the term, from the standpoint of experience time is never ready; it is continually empirically created. We shall see later that from the standpoint of the objective world time also preserves this incomplete and dynamic character, that it is not primary and independent, but derived and gradually, indefinitely produced.

(39) Only our reflection which generalizes the indefinite progress of actuality raises thereby the indefinitely progressing creation of time to the absolute, carries the continuous tendency to its ideal limit, and accepts this limit as if it were real.

The extensive concentration of experience around the here exists virtually in actuality in the same sense as the preceding forms; it becomes actually, but is never stabilized and ready. We can distinguish here also two sides of the question. The data are concentrated around the here, but at the same time they are independent in some measure of the here, they are in themselves; not all the matter of experience present now is also present here. The becoming of actuality is concentrating them and at the same time limiting their concentration; it refers various elements to a common center, but at the same time eliminates others which formerly were concentrated, moves them away from this center. The entire matter of experience, or any part of it, is never effectively centered here and never fully independent from a reference to the here; only partly and gradually it concentrates itself in the actual becoming, and in the same course of experience it becomes partly and gradually diffused. If I suppose the complex result of the indefinitely progressing actuality definitely achieved, I reach the conception of some elements of the total plurality of experience constituting my experience, of other elements being outside of my experience, or of a certain side of all experience being mine, other sides remaining not mine. But the concept of an individual part or side of experience determined for any moment of time marks again only the ideal limit of a tendency that can never attain any limit. The world as experienced is neither concentrated around me nor self-existing independently of me; it becomes simultaneously both, datum by datum, moment by moment, in an indefinite dynamic development.

Actuality can be thus reconstructed from the standpoint of the empirical forms reflectively found in experience, as a

(40) continuous, simultaneous, and parallel subjectivation and objectivation of the elements of experience. In so far as an element of experience becomes present and refers to a non-present plurality, in so far as it becomes past and refers to the future, in so far as it is brought here and refers to others as being there, it acquires a subjective character; in so far, on the contrary, as it becomes the element of a non-present plurality, as it becomes the future datum referred to from the past through the now, as it becomes there while others become here, it, acquires the features of objectivity. This is only a becoming, relative and varying; no element of experience ever is subjective or objective, and every element of experience can pass from the tendency toward subjectivity to a tendency toward objectivity and vice versa. For subjectivity and objectivity are not ready forms of experience; we do not find them directly in our reflection. They become themselves, together and in reference to each other, in the concrete pre-reflective course of actuality in which they are both unified dynamically. Unprejudiced observation of experience cannot detect them as achieved and opposed to each other. If they were isolated and made static and definite by philosophy, it was because philosophy did not take the unprejudiced standpoint of simple observation of experience, but tried to make experience fit into the ready mold of the ancient ontological dualism of soul and body.


The definition of actuality which we have reached is still incomplete, since it is only valid from the standpoint of the results of reflection about the process of experience; though it goes beyond the immediate product of this reflection and reconstructs the original ground of experience, it reconstructs it with reference to these secondary, empirical forms which the act of reflection draws from it. Therefore we must

(41) supplement our definition by trying to reconstruct actuality from the second possible standpoint. We must now remember that our act of reflection itself is going on in actuality, like all acts of reflection ever performed, and we must therefore reconstruct actuality no longer as object, but as source of reflection, as the ground upon which any reflection, including the reflection about actuality itself, originates.

Every reflection implies a fundamental distinction without which it would be impossible—the well-known distinction of thought and reality. This distinction is not limited to theoretic reflection; it characterizes every conscious activity of whatever kind. In so far, now, as every conscious act is actual, actuality must be the ground upon which, for the experiencing individual, the distinction between thought and reality arises, just as it is the ground upon which the distinction of subjectivity and objectivity arose.

In order to demonstrate these propositions with all the relative certainty which they can possess at the present stage of our investigation, we must point out, first of all, that the distinction of thought and reality is not at all implied in the empirical forms of experience as outlined above, and not even in the distinction of subjectivity and objectivity, whose becoming has been found the ultimate and most general characteristic of actuality as reflected upon. Relatively subjective data, and even the pure form of subjectivity—the ideal limit of the subjectivation of all data—can be a reality given to thought in the same way as the relatively objective data and the form of objectivity. On the other hand, thoughts and realities alike can become both subjectivated or objectivated. When viewed as mere data, the elements of experience are neither thoughts nor realities, though they can become more or less subjective or objective. Therefore from the standpoint of the results of a reflection about experience it is impossible to understand how any rational or logical systems can arise in the course of individual experience, how

(42) there can be any meaning, any systematization, any standards of validity where observation shows us nothing but an associative organization of data. On the other hand, when we look upon the empirical world as upon a world of thoughts and realities, we find neither subjectivity nor objectivity and it is impossible to understand from this standpoint how there can appear within this world a partial organization of realities and thoughts as data and associations of data with regard to indefinitely becoming individual centers of presence, duration and extension, how there can be any subjectivity or objectivity. The assumption of an ontological subject, at the same time receptacle of data and author of thought, permitted philosophy for a long time to close its eyes to these problems, but they reappear at every step in the chaotic relations between subjectivism and objectivism on the one side, idealism and realism on the other.

It is clear that, if actuality is the source of the distinction between thought and reality, this gives it a completely new character, not included in the characters discussed in the preceding section. The act of reflection about the course of experience is indeed, in a sense, going on in the course of experience and can be viewed as an association of data continuing the very series about which it reflects; but it is also something entirely different. It is a conscious activity of which the course of experience analyzed by it is the passive material. These, the consciously active character of thought and the passive character of reality as material of thought, are evidently new and independent features of the concrete development of actuality; they could not have suddenly appeared out of the associative organization of data which implies no distinction of passivity and activity and is not conscious of itself. The act of reflection about experience, as act, must be a continuation of other acts, even though as association of data it is also a continuation of the preceding series of data. With regard to its present performance it roots

(43) in the course of experience, but with regard to its significance it transcends experience immeasurably. Its object-matter is, as we know, a reality which is a part of an objective, real world, and as active thought this act has a logical form by which it participates in some objective ideal order of the cultural systems of science or art, morality or religion, etc. Therefore its results lead us at once beyond all limitation of individual experience and reflection, into the entire development of culture, for they can be understood only as parts of a superindividual, trans-actual world.

Of course, even reflectively analyzed experience cannot be limited to "individual consciousness." We have seen that it involves a plurality of elements in duration and extension without any positive, determinable limits. But this lack of limits is purely negative; there is no positive transcendence of experience in the course of experience as reflectively viewed, and the subjectivity and objectivity of data is not only always becoming, never ready, but is relative, belongs to these data only with regard to each other. Therefore no conception of the world whatever can be deduced from the reflective analysis of experience. If there is a world transcending any experiencing individual and yet common to all of them and experienced by all of them, it is because every individual is not only a center toward which data of experience converge from the trans-actual, common world, but a center from which trans-actual thoughts and realities radiate to the common world. By the organization of data in the course of experience the super-individual world becomes empirically given; by the opposition of thought and reality the empirically given world becomes super-individual. And while, viewed from the standpoint of experience, the most common characteristic of the concrete world of culture is that all that it contains can be given in the course of individual experience, from the standpoint of reflection its most common characteristic is that all that it contains is either a real

(44) object-matter of active thought or a valid thought acting upon reality.

By "reality" we mean here anything that is the passive object-matter of active thought, natural objects and happenings, social institutions, language, products of art, religious myths, etc., and even thoughts themselves when they become the object-matter of other thoughts. By "thought" we mean any conscious activity which handles these real materials, isolates them, and connects, modifies, and organizes. Not only theoretic reflection, but also moral, aesthetic, religious, social, technical, hedonistic, activities are thoughts by the active and conscious organization of given materials which they produce. Whenever, in whatever field, actuality leads to a trans-actual result, which thus becomes incorporated into the super-individual world, whenever we have not a mere, more or less subjective or objective, datum or association of data, but an ideal significance or a real object of this significance, we must assume a distinction between thought and reality of the same fundamental character as the one which has been usually ascribed only to theoretic reflection and its object-matter. And we find trans-actual significances and real objects of these significances, whenever there are any criteria, any standards, for the existence of a standard shows that we are beyond the simple organization of data, that there is an opposition of thought and its object-matter and a transactual standpoint taken with regard to the validity of thought and the reality of its object-matter. Since all cultural activities involve standards, every cultural activity implies an opposition of thought and reality. If we use the term "logic" to indicate not, exclusively the Aristotelian logic of knowledge, but every system of standards which thought must follow in order to reach an ideal validity and an objective reality, we can say that, in the same way as the existence of theoretically valid theories demands that our knowledge be not a mere process of association of data but have a logical

(45) bearing, the existence of an aesthetically valid art demands an aesthetic activity following the specific ideal standards of a logic of artistic production and contemplation, the existence of morally valid moralities demands a moral activity which follows the criteria of a particular logic of moral creation; even the existence of technique, language, or political organization cannot be explained by a dynamic organization of data, but require specifically standardized thoughts, and to these thoughts must correspond a reality which is rational precisely in so far as it is the proper material of logical thoughts, however imperfect and however different its rationality in different fields may be.

The peculiarities of the past development of philosophy resulted in the fact that, whereas it is almost universally recognized that the organization of data in the course of experience is a necessary condition of anything's existing for us, there is no general recognition of the opposition of thought and reality as a necessary condition of there being any self-existing world at all. On the one hand, indeed, the rationalists, who were inclined to recognize this opposition, treated thought as subjective and, reducing reality to data, absorbed reality in the subject; on the other hand the empiricists, treating reality as objective and unable to deduce rational thought from the association of data, absorbed thought in the object. After having emphasized the essential difference between subjectivity and objectivity as becoming in the course of experience reflectively considered, and thought and reality as implication of reflection itself, we must now emphasize as against both rationalists and empiricists the impossibility of there being in the empirical world thought without reality or reality without thought.

There can be no thought without reality, for this would be possible only if thoughts were inherent in the subject and defined as subjective processes. As they are not, as thought is characterized in its very essence not by its psychological

(46) occurrence, but by its logical bearing, it is clearly correlative to some reality with regard to which it is logically valid, which is its material. It must be recalled once more that reality, for philosophy of culture, does not mean merely material or even psychological reality, but includes all cultural products whatever, among others even ideas, i.e., thoughts which have become the object-matter of other thoughts. Nor can we accept the common contention of naturalistic empiricism that there are realities without thoughts corresponding to them. If reality were identified with objectivity, with existence independent of actual subjective associations, this contention would be, of course, perfectly justified, at least as marking a limit. But reality is characterized as such not by its reference to the subject, but by its reference to thought, as object-matter of thought, and it would be evidently self-contradictory to point out any reality as not being the object-matter of thought, for it would be an object-matter at least of this very thought in which we have denied its connection with thought. And of all realities none shows as distinctly the influence of logical thought as the reality of naturalism, the rational product of a long and complex development of scientific theories. Of course, to give our proposition its full concrete application we must recall again that logical thought is not only theoretic thought, but all kinds of conscious activity, and from the fact that any concrete reality within the empirical world seems never to have been the object-matter of theoretic reflection it does not result that it has not been the object-matter of some thought.

The opposition of thought and reality is evidently not enough to make thought in any particular way logical, reality in any particular way rational. It is simply the most elementary and universal condition of all standardized activity of whatever kind, all standards being either standards of thought as applied to reality or standards of reality as object-matter of thought. What will be the specific standards applied depends

(47) on the systematic organization of thought and reality; but no specific standards can be applied otherwise than on the ground of this opposition.

Therefore this opposition must be assumed as universally characterizing individual reflection, just as the presence of elements of a plurality now and here characterizes universally individual experience. Without the latter nothing could be given; without the former that which is given would never transcend individual experience; individual reflection would never rise to a super-individual trans-actual world.

Having thus defined actuality on its active side, as course of reflection, by the opposition of thought and reality, we meet now an analogous problem to the one we met before, when trying to define the fundamental form of experience on its passive side, as object-matter of reflection. Indeed, the distinction of thought and reality cannot ultimately characterize pure actuality, because we have reached it by considering the developed results of actual reflection as they appear in logically organized thoughts and rationally organized realities. The opposition between thought and reality is completed only when thought is already connected with other thoughts, reality with other realities, and it is only in these connections that we can reach them as ready and opposed. Meanwhile, a thought when first arising in the course of individual reflection is not yet incorporated into a logical system, its object-matter is not yet for the reflecting individual a part of a wider reality, and their opposition is not complete. There could be indeed no thought and no reality within the world as given to us, there could be no trans-actual and yet empirical world at all if actuality did not contain the opposition virtually; the opposition must have in actuality its ultimate source, for if the world is a world of culture, a human world, all systems of thought and reality, however highly rational and objective, must be constructed or reconstructed from human actuality. But actuality cannot contain the opposition in a definite

(48) form, for precisely by producing it, it leads beyond itself, to the trans-actual world. The only possible conclusion is that actuality is the becoming of both thought and reality in their reciprocal determination.


We have constructed our two definitions of actuality from two standpoints which usually have been considered irreconcilable: the standpoint of the epistemological evidence, based on the ground that anything that is given in any character whatever must be experienced as a datum, and that of the logical evidence, based on the ground that any theory or any criticism of a theory must presume the logical validity of thought and the—at least relative—rationality of its object-matter. We have found that these two standpoints in their traditional form were not exactly equivalent. That of the epistemological evidence was really much broader, for it could be extended over the entire empirical world and did not include any limitation as to the nature of data, whereas the standpoint of logical evidence—for reasons which it would take too long to expose—was usually limited to a portion of the entire domain of validity, to the field of theoretic logic. Having once removed this unjustified limitation, we find the two standpoints exactly counterbalancing each other, equally one-sided, and incommensurable with each other, if taken as ultimate. Meanwhile, they evidently must be unified; actuality in its concrete development does not show this duality of standpoints. Both the organization of data in experience and the opposition of thought and reality have a common ultimate ground. This community is comprehensible when we remember that neither the organization of data with regard to their relative subjectivity and objectivity, nor the opposition of thought and reality are ready and achieved, but both only become in actuality, and that the

(49) latter must be therefore conceived as a common becoming of both, not as a common existence of both.

The development of the individual's experience and reflection is, indeed, not isolated from the empirical trans-actual world of thoughts and realities, but goes on within this very world, is an integral part of it. If we imagine "consciousness" as a closed receptacle or even only a closed series of specific phenomena, then, everything in this receptacle or series is a datum or empirical association of data in the full and exclusive sense of these terms from the very moment it enters into consciousness; everything outside of this receptacle or series is a reality or a logical thought, and there is no possible bridge between them. But actual experiencing is not a ready series, only an ever-becoming series, not a ready consciousness but an indefinitely created consciousness of which every datum and every association is at the same time in some measure a reality or thought, part of the trans-actual world of systems of reality and systems of thought, because it never exclusively is but always only becomes a datum or a connection of data. The process of subjectivation by which the subjective series is continually created without ever being achieved as subjective, is thus not simply making subjective data out of objective data, but making subjective data and subjective associations out of something that was not data nor associations of data, that was realities or logical thoughts. A reality or a thought becomes subjective and becomes a datum of experience or an association at the same time, but it is never entirely subjective, never entirely ceases to be reality or logical thought. Experiencing as process of subjectivation is thus turning pre-existing realities into data, thoughts into associations, without ever reaching the limit of pure subjectivity and without ever destroying entirely the logical character of the thought or the rational character of the reality, which thus becomes given by becoming subjective and becomes subjective by becoming given.


On the other hand, the world of thoughts and realities is not a pure absolute system or systems, absolutely self-existing and developing absolutely independently of the individual's experience. The interrelation between the experiencing individual and the world is double. The individual not only turns realities into data and thoughts into associative processes, but turns his data and associations into realities and thoughts. The process of objectivation, going, as we have seen, along with subjectivation in experience, is not merely, as it seemed to us from the standpoint of pure experience, giving objectivity to data and associations which were subjective, but changing data and associations into realities and thoughts, giving them a rational order and a logical significance. The limit here also is never attained; the realities and thoughts of which actuality is the source never entirely cease to be data and associations, and as far as they still remain data and associations, never can become absolutely objective with no subjectivity attached to them. But the limit can be indefinitely approached, thought can become indefinitely more and more logical, reality more and more rational, while becoming more and more objective.

Actuality is thus a dynamic center toward which in a process of subjectivation realities and thoughts converge by becoming data and associations of data and from which in a process of objectivation realities and thoughts radiate by ceasing to be data and by becoming rational and logical.


This definition of actuality makes us understand the double relation between the individual and the world of objective reality and objective thought. On the one hand, indeed, we see how the individual at every step assimilates, so to speak, pre-existing objects and thoughts, changes them into personal experiences by taking them out of the systematic rational or logical order of which they are elements, and

(51) incorporating them into the subjective series of his data, but without ever entirely destroying their rational or logical character, so that even as components of his personality they remain in some varying measure trans-actual and superindividual, and his personality, as gradually realizing itself in the complex series of data, always is somewhere between subjectivity and objectivity, partly existing within the objective world itself, partly organized into a unique development of experiences. This is the experiencing individual as receptive personality and this is the side which was chiefly, if not exclusively, treated in all theories which presumed the world to be an absolute system of reality or an absolute system of thought, existing and developing without any active participation of conscious individuals, whose only rôle was to be adequately receptive. But there is another side, indispensable to the explanation, not only of the evolution of the objective world, but even of the progress of the individual's personal adaptation to this world. For a merely receptive individual not only could not contribute anything to the world of realities and thoughts, but could never reach a sufficient degree of objectivity to understand it adequately. Receptive assimilation is a passage from objectivity to subjectivity, and the more it progresses, the more personal realities and thoughts become, the more they also acquire the character of data and associations and lose their rational or logical connections and their objectivity. It is usually implicitly supposed that this disadvantage can be offset by having the individual assimilate continually new experiences. But this would not change the character of assimilation, only widen its range. Assimilation once begun would always tend toward subjectivity instead of approaching more and more to a reconstruction of the objective order. Therefore, whether we agree that the individual can contribute to the evolution of the objective world or not, whether we treat the objective realities or thoughts which the individual reaches as creations or merely

(52) reconstructions, as new objectively or new only for him, we must take the other, active side of the experiencing individual, the creative personality into account. The result, the reality or the thought produced by the individual, has not the same importance from the standpoint of the evolution of culture when it is merely a reproduction of something that already existed as when it is a new creation; but the mechanism in both cases is essentially the same. The individual can reach objectivity, can reconstruct an existing reality or reproduce a subsisting thought in their objective character, not by assimilating them merely, not by changing them into subjective data or associations, but, on the contrary, by depersonalizing his personal experiences, by changing his data into realities and his associations into objective thoughts. In other words, there are two ways for the individual to include any part of the objective world in his personality: the first is making this part of the objective world a part of subjective experience; the second, identifying a part of his own personality with this part of the objective world. By the first method the individual constructs his own subjective personality as component of the cultural world; by the second method he constructs it as creator or at least reconstructor of the cultural world. Therefore, when we want to understand the cultural world in general, we must take into account this objectivating creative activity by which the individual raises his data to the level of realities and his associations to the level of logical thoughts, whereas the subjectivating receptive process by which realities become personal data, and thoughts personal associations, acquires an importance only for the study of certain special domains of culture where the receptive personality is acted upon or studied as a specific complex reality.


  1. Thus, for example, my past "feeling" as object of experience (if we suppose that there really are such objects) can exist without being now the datum of my experience, whereas if treated as merely the way in which some other object is given to me, it exists only as long as this other object is given. Evidently, we do not touch here at all the pseudo-problem of objects existing without ever being given to anyone.

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