§2. Struggle


45. The next simplest feature that is common to all that comes before the mind, and consequently, the second category, is the element of Struggle. It is convenient enough, although by no means necessary, to study this, at first, in a psychological instance. Imagine yourself making a strong muscular effort, say that of pressing with all your might against a half-open door. Obviously, there is a sense of resistance. There could not be effort without an equal resistance any more than there could be a resistance without an equal effort that it resists. Action and reaction are equal. If you find that the door is pushed open in spite of you, you will say that it was the person on the other side that acted and you that resisted, while if you succeed in pushing the door to, you will say that it was you who acted and the other person that resisted. In general, we call the one that succeeds by means of his effort the agent and the one that fails the patient. But as far as the element of Struggle is concerned, there is no difference between being an agent and being a patient. It is the result that decides; but what it is that is deemed to be the result for the purpose of this distinction is a detail into which we need not enter. If while you are walking quietly along the sidewalk a man carrying a ladder suddenly pokes you violently with it in the back of the head and walks on without noticing what he has done, your impression probably will be that he struck you with great violence and that you made not the slightest resistance; although in fact you must have resisted with a force equal to that of the blow. Of course, it will be understood that I am not using force in the modern sense of a moving force but in the sense of Newton's actio2); but I must warn you that I have not time to notice such trifles. In like manner, if in pitch darkness a tremendous flash of lightning suddenly comes, you are ready to admit having received a shock and being acted upon, but that you reacted you may be inclined to deny. You certainly did so, however, and are conscious of having done so. The sense of shock is as much a sense of resisting as of being acted upon. So it is when anything strikes the senses. The outward excitation succeeds in producing its effect on you, while you in turn produce no discernible effect on it; and therefore you call it the agent, and overlook your own part in the reaction. On the other hand, in reading a geometrical demonstration, if you draw the figure in your imagination instead of on paper, it is so easy to add to your image whatever subsidiary line is wanted, that it seems to you that you have acted on the image without the image having offered any resistance. That it is not so, however, is easily shown. For unless that image had a certain power of persisting such as it is and resisting metamorphosis, and if you were not sensible of its strength of persistence, you never could be sure that the construction you are dealing with at one stage of the demonstration was the same that you had before your mind at an earlier stage. The main distinction between the Inner and the Outer Worlds is that inner objects promptly take any modifications we wish, while outer objects are hard facts that no man can make to be other than they are. Yet tremendous as this distinction is, it is after all only relative. Inner objects do offer a certain degree of resistance and outer objects are susceptible of being modified in some measure by sufficient exertion intelligently directed.1)

46. Two very serious doubts arise concerning this category of struggle which I should be able completely to set to rest, I think, with only a little more time. But as it is, I can only suggest lines of reflexion which, if you perseveringly follow out, ought to bring you to the same result to which they have brought me. The first of these doubts is whether this element of struggle is anything more than a very special kind of phenomenon, and withal an anthropomorphic conception and therefore not scientifically true.

The other doubt is whether the idea of Struggle is a simple and irresolvable element of the phenomenon; and in opposition to its being so, two contrary parties will enter into a sort of [alliance] without remarking how deeply they are at variance with one another. One of these parties will be composed of those philosophers who understand themselves as wishing to reduce everything in the phenomenon to qualities of feeling. They will appear in the arena of psychology and will declare that there is absolutely no such thing as a specific sense of effort. There is nothing, they will say, but feelings excited upon muscular contraction, feelings which they may or may not be disposed to say have their immediate excitations within the muscles. The other party will be composed of those philosophers who say that there can be only one absolute and only one irreducible element, and since Nous is such an element, Nous is really the only thoroughly clear idea there is. These philosophers will take a sort of pragmatistic stand. They will maintain that in saying that one thing acts upon another, absolutely the only thing that can be meant is that there is a law according to which under all circumstances of a certain general description certain phenomena will result; and therefore to speak of one thing as acting upon another hic et nunc regardless of uniformity, regardless of what will happen on all occasions, is simple nonsense.


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