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[The Privacy of Points of View] is the fourth of six surviving essays that Eliot wrote in the 1914 Michaelmas term for his tutorial with Joachim.

I should like first to make another attempt to explain the “privacy” of “points of view” and the relation of object (point of view, system of terms and relations) to subject. All objects, I asserted before, are essentially public; 1 but likewise each object exists only in relation to a subject, the development of subject and object being pari passu. These two statements appear at first inconsistent. The difficulty arises, I think, from the ambiguity of the word knowledge: there is a stricter, more limited sense, in which knowledge is mere apprehensionof objective truth and reality, and the wider sense in which it is conceived as an organic system. In the second sense, one can speak of knowledge as an activity; in the first, one cannot. The first sense is that emphasised by most realism (cf. Prichard, Russell), the second that of idealism. 2 But surely it is never actually possible to dispense with either. On the one hand, knowledge cannot, qua knowledge, be an activity. The object is there, and is merely apprehended; its being so and so is independent of the mind, for in this aspect, there is no mind. This is knowledge as pure contemplation. Clearly, it is never actualised in real knowing–and yet never exorcised. Suppose that the whole of metaphysical truth were present to the mind–then there would be no mind for it to be present to, for either there would be something in the mind irrelevant to the matter in hand, which is ex hypothesiimpossible, or the mind would contemplate itself– which, in my opinion, is a meaningless phrase, if meant to be taken literally. The goalof this type of knowledge is absorption in the object, but it is a goal which is the suicide of knowledge.

The antithesis lies between knowledge as contemplationand knowledge as activity, an antithesis which is transcended in every moment of actual knowing, for it is evident that neither as pure contemplation nor as pure activity would knowledge be knowledge. I like Professor Smith’s division into knowing and acting, but the distinctions of metaphysics are shadows which we must not try to grasp in the hand: 3 for actual knowing isan action, and action, to deserve the name (rather than the humble name of “behaviour”) must be intelligent action, involving will, and hence contemplation. This is not to depreciate the distinction, which seems to me one of the highest importance. For what I mean by the point of view is the world as contemplated, and this is not the object as that which it proves itself to be in continued and orderly experience, but the object in an abstract and neverquite-actual sense. And in this sense, there is no subject present: the subject, like the object, is a construction in time. It is by the intersection of knowing and acting that we get real objects and real subjects.

To speak of one point of view transcending itself, or two fusing together to form a third, is confused and misleading. For the points of view as such consist only of terms in relation, of public objects, and it is properly only of states of feeling that one can speak as I have spoken. But to apprehend new objects means to act in a new way; to act differently is to feel differently, and feeling is ultimately not myfeeling, for it is always either infra- or supra-rational. (It is feeling that I divide into knowing and acting, and to intrude feeling itself into the division, and talk of “knowing, acting (willing), and feeling” is nonsense. 4 “Sensation” is merely a stunted and degenerate feeling. Feeling is something very real indeed metaphysically, but can have no standing as the subject matter of an empirical science). The incursion of every new object is felt, and the feeling irradiates and coalesces with the previous...

Published By:   Johns Hopkins University Press

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