§5. Triads


486. The general law of metaphysics is little understood. The attention of thinkers has been so rivetted upon the question of its truth, that they have largely overlooked the importance of determining precisely what it is, even if it be not absolutely true, since it is certainly the product of natural thought and of reasoning which, however far it may be carried beyond the legitimate conclusion, is nevertheless true reasoning of a valid type. The difficulty of making here any brief statement of any value is great enough for that reason. But besides that, brief statements of a metaphysical kind can hardly be made intelligible. I can only notice some items of the law going to exhibit the threefold division of the law.

487. Metaphysics consists in the results of the absolute acceptance of logical principles not merely as regulatively valid, but as truths of being. Accordingly, it is to be assumed that the universe has an explanation, the function of which, like that of every logical explanation, is to unify its observed variety. It follows that the root of all being is One; and so far as different subjects have a common character they partake of an identical being. This, or something like this, is the monadic clause of the law. Second, drawing a general induction from all observed facts, we find all realization of existence lies in opposition, such as attractions, repulsions, visibilities, and centres of potentiality generally. »The very hyssop on the wall grows in that chink because the whole universe could not prevent its growing.« This is, or is a part of, a dyadic clause of the law. Under the third clause, we have, as a deduction from the principle that thought is the mirror of being, the law that the end of being and highest reality is the living impersonation of the idea that evolution generates. Whatever is real is the law of something less real. Stuart Mill defined matter as a permanent possibility of sensation.2) What is a permanent possibility but a law? Atom acts on atom, causing stress in the intervening matter. Thus force is the general fact of the states of atoms on the line. This is true of force in its widest sense, dyadism. That which corresponds to a general class of dyads is a representation of it, and the dyad is nothing but a conflux of representations. A general class of representations collected into one object is an organized thing, and the representation is that which many such things have in common. And so forth.

488. Passing to laws that are metaphysically contingent, that is, to such as are not necessarily involved in the literal extension to being of the necessary laws of logical truth, we may first divide these into those which impose upon the subjects of dyadic existence forms of reaction analogous to those of logic, that is, the laws of time (by which they evade the laws of logic in regard to contrary inherences) and those which have no relation to logic. And with this division another is closely connected, namely, the division of the latter class of laws into those which are imposed upon objects as reacting upon one another existentially, as merely coexistent, which are the laws of space, and into those which are only imposed upon objects in so far as their mode of existence is in its own metaphysical nature that of a subject, that is, laws of substantial things.

In regard to these two divisions a long and arduous philosophical discussion is quite ineluctable. It would be quite impracticable to summarize it in the present sketch of the shapes which are assumed by the three fundamental ideas of philosophy. All that can be done is to unfold in some measure the characteristics of the view here taken.

489. In the first place, then, it is plain enough that the law of time is not a metaphysical law. Our logical instinct tells us that. We took as the typical example of a metaphysical law, the law that whatever exists, although its existence is a matter of brute fact, irrespective of any qualities, must definitely possess or be without each monadic quality. Now we feel instinctively that the necessity of that is altogether higher than any necessity for the junctions, between the possessions by a subject of contrary attributes, to be related to one another like premisses and conclusions, as before and after. The one is the mere existential mirror of a law of logic. It is the requirement that that which is necessarily true (if there be any truth) shall be a part of the existential fact, and not merely of thought. But the other requires that the mere process of thought, which logic regards as mental, and never insists upon predicating of the subject as true, shall itself be mirrored in existence. But while the law of time is not metaphysical, it is plainly, from that description of it, »next door to« a metaphysical law. This is the reason for making this division follow immediately after that into laws metaphysically necessary and contingent.

490. It will be very difficult for many minds — and for the very best and clearest minds, more difficult than for others — to comprehend the logical correctness of a view which does not put the assumption of time before either metaphysics or logic instead of after those kinds of necessity, as here arranged. But that is an objection, not to this particular item of the development, but to the general plan of it. To admit the force of the objection and carry it out to its consequences would simply result in reversing the whole order of development, making it begin with polyads, analyzing these into triads, and then finding dyads in triads, and monads in dyads. There is not only nothing erroneous in such an arrangement, but the conceptions cannot be thoroughly grasped until it has been carried out. But this is only one of two sides of the shield, both of which must be examined, and which have to be synthesized in the really philosophical view. The reason of this is, that although the view which takes the triad first is necessary to the understanding of any given point, yet it cannot, from the very nature of the case, be carried out in an entirely thoroughgoing manner. How, for instance, would you begin? By taking the triad first. You thus do, in spite of yourself, introduce the monadic idea of »first« at the very outset. To get at the idea of a monad, and especially to make it an accurate and clear conception, it is necessary to begin with the idea of a triad and find the monad-idea involved in it. But this is only a scaffolding necessary during the process of constructing the conception. When the conception has been constructed, the scaffolding may be removed, and the monad-idea will be there in all its abstract perfection. According to the path here pursued from monad to triad, from monadic triads to triadic triads, etc., we do not progress by logical involution — we do not say the monad involves a dyad — but we pursue a path of evolution. That is to say, we say that to carry out and perfect the monad, we need next a dyad. This seems to be a vague method when stated in general terms; but in each case, it turns out that deep study of each conception in all its features brings a clear perception that precisely a given next conception is called for.

491. So far Hegel is quite right. But he formulates the general procedure in too narrow a way, making it use no higher method than dilemma, instead of giving it an observational essence. The real formula is this: a conception is framed according to a certain precept, [then] having so obtained it, we proceed to notice features of it which, though necessarily involved in the precept, did not need to be taken into account in order to construct the conception.1) These features we perceive take radically different shapes; and these shapes, we find, must be particularized, or decided between, before we can gain a more perfect grasp of the original conception. It is thus that thought is urged on in a predestined path. This is the true evolution of thought, of which Hegel's dilemmatic method is only a special character which the evolution is sometimes found to assume. The great danger of the evolutionary procedure lies in forcing steps that are not inevitable, in consequence of not having a sufficiently distinct apprehension of the features of the conception in hand to see what it is that must immediately succeed it. The idea of time must be employed in arriving at the conception of logical consecution; but the idea once obtained, the time-element may be omitted, thus leaving the logical sequence free from time. That done, time appears as an existential analogue of the logical flow.


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