The Revolt against Dualism: An Inquiry concerning the Existence of Ideas

By Arthur O. Lovejoy | Go to book overview

III THE SECOND PHASE: OBJECTIVE RELATIVISM

THE second phase of the revolt precisely reverses the strategy of the first. Those who have formulated its principles concede, or rather insist upon, the relativity of the content of perception (and apparently of other cognition) to a situation in which the perceptual or cognitive act is an essential, and the proximately determinative, factor. So far from making the logical doctrine of the externality of relations the basis of their philosophy, they tend to assume the essentiality of all relations; and even where this principle is not expressly adopted as a generalization, it is at least applied to the special cases of sentiency and knowledge. The existence and character of experienced data depend upon the occurrence of percipient events and therefore upon the nature and situation of the organism which has the experience; and it is only "in relation to" a given organism that the object known possesses the character exhibited by the datum. Nevertheless, all perceptual content is still stoutly declared to be "objective"--in some sense or senses yet to be defined; and the dualistic "bifurcation of nature" is condemned not less vigorously than by the revolutionists of the older school. To this general type of doctrine the name "objective relativism" has appropriately been given.1

The influences which have contributed most to the development in our time of this form of ostensibly realistic philosophy seem to be three, two of them rather old, the other new. The first was the survival of a way of thinking which, in philosophers who had been reared in the tradition of objective idealism and thoroughly initiated in the Hegelian logic, had become a habit of mind that persisted after their emancipation from both the temper and the dogmas of that system as a whole. Many of the ablest philosophic minds of an entire generation, in America and Great Britain, were exercised in their youth in a subtle and powerful dialectic which demanded, above all, that the relations of things should always be conceived as entering into their essential natures;

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1
The name was, I believe, first suggested by Mr. Arthur E. Murphy ( Philosophical Review, XXXVI, 1927, p. 122).

-79-

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