§2. Quality

422. What, then, is a quality?

Before answering this, it will be well to say what it is not. It is not anything which is dependent, in its being, upon mind, whether in the form of sense or in that of thought. Nor is it dependent, in its being, upon the fact that some material thing possesses it. That quality is dependent upon sense is the great error of the conceptualists. That it is dependent upon the subject in which it is realized is the great error of all the nominalistic schools. A quality is a mere abstract potentiality; and the error of those schools lies in holding that the potential, or possible, is nothing but what the actual makes it to be. It is the error of maintaining that the whole alone is something, and its components, however essential to it, are nothing. The refutation of the position consists in showing that nobody does, or can, in the light of good sense, consistently retain it. The moment the fusillade of controversy ceases they repose on other conceptions. First, that the quality of red depends on anybody actually seeing it, so that red things are no longer red in the dark, is a denial of common sense. I ask the conceptualist, do you really mean to say that in the dark it is no longer true that red bodies are capable of transmitting the light at the lower end of the spectrum? Do you mean to say that a piece of iron not actually under pressure has lost its power of resisting pressure? If so, you must either hold that those bodies under the circumstances supposed assume the opposite properties, or you must hold that they become indeterminate in those respects. If you hold that the red body in the dark acquires a power of absorbing the long waves of the spectrum, and that the iron acquires a power of condensation under small pressure, then, while you adopt an opinion without any facts to support it, you still admit that qualities exist while they are not actually perceived — only you transfer this belief to qualities which there is no ground for believing in. If, however, you hold that the bodies become indeterminate in regard to the qualities they are not actually perceived to possess, then, since this is the case at any moment in regard to the vast majority of the qualities of all bodies, you must hold that generals exist. In other words, it is concrete things you do not believe in; qualities, that is, generals — which is another word for the same thing — you not only believe in but believe that they alone compose the universe. Consistency, therefore, obliges you to say that the red body is red (or has some color) in the dark, and that the hard body has some degree of hardness when nothing is pressing upon it. If you attempt to escape the refutation by a distinction between qualities that are real, namely the mechanical qualities, and qualities that are not real, sensible qualities, you may be left there, because you have granted the essential point. At the same time, every modern psychologist will pronounce your distinction untenable. You forget perhaps that a realist fully admits that a sense-quality is only a possibility of sensation; but he thinks a possibility remains possible when it is not actual. The sensation is requisite for its apprehension; but no sensation nor sense-faculty is requisite for the possibility which is the being of the quality. Let us not put the cart before the horse, nor the evolved actuality before the possibility as if the latter involved what it only evolves. A similar answer may be made to the other nominalists. It is impossible to hold consistently that a quality only exists when it actually inheres in a body. If that were so, nothing but individual facts would be true. Laws would be fictions; and, in fact, the nominalist does object to the word »law,« and prefers »uniformity« to express his conviction that so far as the law expresses what only might happen, but does not, it is nugatory. If, however, no law subsists other than an expression of actual facts, the future is entirely indeterminate and so is general to the highest degree. Indeed, nothing would exist but the instantaneous state; whereas it is easy to show that if we are going to be so free in calling elements fictions an instant is the first thing to be called fictitious. But I confess I do not take pains accurately to answer a doctrine so monstrous, and just at present out of vogue.

423. So much for what quality is not. Now what is it? We do not care what meaning the usages of language may attach to the word. We have already seen clearly that the elements of phenomena are of three categories, quality, fact, and thought. The question we have to consider is how quality shall be defined so as to preserve the truth of that division. In order to ascertain this, we must consider how qualities are apprehended and from what point of view they become emphatic in thought, and note what it is that will and must be revealed in that mode of apprehension.

424. There is a point of view from which the whole universe of phenomena appears to be made up of nothing but sensible qualities. What is that point of view? It is that in which we attend to each part as it appears in itself, in its own suchness, while we disregard the connections. Red, sour, toothache are each sui generis and indescribable. In themselves, that is all there is to be said about them. Imagine at once a toothache, a splitting headache, a jammed finger, a corn on the foot, a burn, and a colic, not necessarily as existing at once — leave that vague — and attend not to the parts of the imagination but to the resultant impression. That will give an idea of a general quality of pain. We see that the idea of a quality is the idea of a phenomenon or partial phenomenon considered as a monad, without reference to its parts or components and without reference to anything else. We must not consider whether it exists, or is only imaginary, because existence depends on its subject having a place in the general system of the universe. An element separated from everything else and in no world but itself, may be said, when we come to reflect upon its isolation, to be merely potential. But we must not even attend to any determinate absence of other things; we are to consider the total as a unit. We may term this aspect of a phenomenon the monadic aspect of it. The quality is what presents itself in the monadic aspect.

425. The phenomenon may be ever so complex and heterogeneous. That circumstance will make no particular difference in the quality. It will make it more general. But one quality is in itself, in its monadic aspect, no more general than another. The resultant effect has no parts. The quality in itself is indecomposable and sui generis. When we say that qualities are general, are partial determinations, are mere potentialities, etc., all that is true of qualities reflected upon; but these things do not belong to the quality-element of experience.

426. Experience is the course of life. The world is that which experience inculcates. Quality is the monadic element of the world. Anything whatever, however complex and heterogeneous, has its quality sui generis, its possibility of sensation, would our senses only respond to it. But in saying this, we are straying from the domain of the monad into that of the dyad; and such truths are best postponed until we come to discuss the dyad.


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