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[Degrees of Reality] was written at Harvard University for either Charles Montague Bakewell’s “Seminary in Metaphysics: The Nature of Reality” (Philosophy 20c) or Hugo Münsterberg’s “Seminary in Psychology: Mind and Body” (Philosophy 20b), both of which Eliot took in the spring of 1913. The prominence of Bradley’s metaphysics suggests that the essay may have been written for “The Nature of Reality,” whereas the focus on psychological states suggests that it may have been written for “Mind and Body.”

First: I do not intend to draw any absolute distinction between perception, image and judgment, between real and unreal, between real and ideal, or between true and false, or between truth and fact. The sense in which I do draw these distinctions will, I hope, be developed in the course of the article.


We may lay it down at the start that all objects as such are real and equally real. There are I believe degrees of reality, but no degrees of Gegenständlichkeit . 1 The question then is: in experience how far and on what assumptions do we treat all Gegenständeas equal terms of reality? What in each case is the characteristic that puts the various objects of attention on a level? An electron, the Balkan League, the categories, Russian dances, the concept of Gestaltsqualität, a table, are all objects, and accordingly we think of them as equally real. There is accordingly an element of identity among the various classes of objects. This element of identity must be independent of the definitionsof the objects. What is ordinarily meant by similarity (and therefore ultimately, by identity) is usually to be found by inspection of the definitions as such; in the case of greater degree of similarity, by simple inspection of the definitions which have been formulated independently; in the case of less degree of similarity, by formation of a special definition by abstraction. But here we say simply that the element common to all objects is the element of objectivity. Note that objectivity and reality are not the same meanings. Note that here we abstract from everything about an object which could localise it eitherin a subjective or objective world; that is, objective and subjective are not terms strictly in opposition. What I mean by the element of objectivity is the capacity of anything to be, or to be the fringe of, a point of attention. Now obviously the subjective is also objective in this sense, for it is capable of being the intended object of attention; and the objective is not objective in the usual sense, for it is not contrasted with the subject: the direction toward a point of attention ( which is actually of course only an abstraction) is neither subjective nor objective. What we have is only an attitude toward objects which is defined on retrospection to be the recognition of an identity, and of course is only on retrospection known as an attitude at all.

Such would be the primitive attitude toward objects. But it is only an abstraction; I do not mean to imply that as such it is ever the attitude of any being. What it implies is an absence, or a temporary suspension, of interest. Interest is selective attention, and is the first evidence of degrees of reality. Interest 2* is implied ( in illusion) in attention, and in any determination of a point of attention into an object.

My theory is this: that in any perception or judgment there is (in a sense) a process from the less real to the more real. That ordinarily we live among various such processes which more or less neutralise each other, so that we have the effect of a stable reality, but that when we philosophise, we are committed to the reduction of all such processes to one. That such a process is in a sense subjective, but that the subjective is in a sense perfectly objective, and that both ultimately coincide.

I will ask first: what is it that is given in perception? The perception? No, because this is the...

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