Self-Consciousness and the Infinite: Part 1

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All effort to make consciousness, or self-consciousness, a rational perception of difference and identity is simply infirmity in abstraction. If I think of another, I know that I am not that other; but this is not necessary to, and no part of, the consciousness that I exist. When not asleep, I live in the perpetual consciousness of my existence without thinking of any other. Consciousness is necessary to human psychical existence. When I reflect on it, I may draw conclusions as to another; but this is reasoning about consciousness. Neither is it intelligence. This means “I know,” and has an object; but I am conscious of myself. To say that I am conscious of “I” makes “I” an object of “I” is absurd, and is really a denial of consciousness. When I speak of it to another and reason about it, then I make the conscious “I” an object of my reasoning; but then it has ceased to be consciousness.
It is this supposing with Plato that pure intellect is the beginning of existence which has falsified the reasoning on these points. Take Hegel's definition of subject without predicate, and you get at once the counter-proof of what I say. My affirming something about “I” does determine it; but this is a proposition, not consciousness, which, it must be repeated, ceases the moment I reason. For thus I have before me a thought, which is not consciousness. It is the thought of “I” looked at as an object of reasoning. And this is not self-consciousness of existence; for “I” as a thought is not “I” existing, but a mere thought. The moment I have a thought, I have something about which “I” is occupied, which is not self-consciousness. Where logic begins, self-consciousness ceases. We are constituted so as to be conscious of ourselves.
There is every confusion by making infinitude of good in God an extension; and this runs through ancients and moderns, Aristotle, Hegel, &c. Mansel answers them well, but does not, I think, reach the truth. If we speak of ideas we have human thought, and, of course, no conception of the infinite. Thus, when Aristotle says, The infinite is the whole potentially but not actually, we have parts, extension, and nonsense; but not an approach to infinitude as it refers to God. “The whole” —of what? If applied to God, this is necessarily materialism or Pantheism; it is very true if speaking of mere mathematics. But it is only an abstraction; and, applied to being, it is a contradiction; for a being is actual, and has ceased to be simply potential. The secret of all their fallacy (into which Mansel has fallen) is this: their infinite is the infinite of matter, that is, the infinite of finite, which is infinite nonsense. It may be all well enough on their ground, because they go no farther. But as to consciousness and infinitude, Hansel has not taken up any ground of truth as to man or God. The whole theory is materialism or Brahmanism.
But consciousness, self-consciousness, is the hinge of all this. I affirm that I am so constituted that I have the instinctive consciousness of “I.” This Hansel has not at all seen. I do not take Descartes' dictum” I think and therefore am” (that is, as if it made no difference). When one says “I think,” one must have a thought to think (i.e., an object, the intelligible as well as the intelligent). But when one says “I,” there is self-consciousness. I am so created as to say “I.” This does not say Descartes is wrong: he is right; but in his syllogism consciousness is the object of his reasoning. “I” is a thinking being, and therefore “I” is a being. But this is drawn from consciousness, and has no force save in it. Yet it remains true that I can say “I” as the expression of self-consciousness. But, having this self-consciousness, I have senses; I am so constituted as to have the knowledge of existence with self-consciousness, and that as an excellence. It is that to which thought attaches itself. I cannot have knowledge without it; I can have sense and memory, but not reflective thought.
Hence, I attribute self-consciousness to God as necessary to intelligent existence, though I may not know the mode of it in God; I have no doubt it will be different and infinitely superior. I believe it to be different in God, because these reflex acts on self appear to be a state of imperfection—these reflex acts which are not consciousness, but through which I reason and estimate it. I cannot have consciousness of an object, and therefore cannot say that a dog has self-consciousness, because it cannot be such if I see it in another. My knowledge of what it is in myself is imperfect: there it is an object; but the consciousness is there to have knowledge (perfect or imperfect). Hence I do not know how it exists in God, because I cannot have knowledge of it. This is objective knowledge, imperfect even as to myself, absolutely impossible as to the how in God.
Only unconscious existence is brute matter—is what we mean by brute matter. It may have power by attraction, whatever it is; but consciousness makes the difference of having a basis for reflection: hence language.
The confounding moral infinitude (i.e., absoluteness of perfection) with extension, which I have noticed, is a very great blunder. But then I freely own that in strictness we cannot speak of attributes in God (moral ones). It is only a human way which (speaking reverently) divides God into parts. God cannot be or do evil: to say this is a limitation of power is only a delusion. If I say that He cannot do what He pleases, for He cannot do evil, the “cannot” applies to “what He pleases,” not to the power of God. As to acts of power, He can do everything. It is morally impossible that there should be in Him the contrary of what He is, i.e., of good and right. But this is not limiting power or anything; it is denying a limit to goodness, and saying it is absolute. Infinite goodness means merely goodness always perfect as goodness. That this is after all an imperfect thought as to God I admit, because it takes one characteristic by itself (that is through our finite nature), for nothing in God is characteristic (i.e., special and in part). It has been noticed elsewhere how thus Christ had no character, but was always what He ought to be wherever He was. Perfect goodness He was, but not goodness by itself as we conceive it. He was firm and severe where He ought, and good in that; He was tender and affectionate where He ought, and good in that; He was seemingly hard and deaf to need, and unchanged in goodness in that—in all love to His Father, and obedience. The divine nature in man which produced one produced all, perfect in each place in relation because perfect in itself.
Fichte's statement as to personality is totally false. It is not what you have become acquainted with in yourself, but the you that has become acquainted. Hansel's answer is economically true, because they go on this ground, but it is inadequate. I judge the whole system false for the reason stated, that thought is confounded with consciousness. Further, all confound the knowledge of with the knowledge that. I know certainly that I am; I have no real knowledge of what a soul is, or of its mode of acting through senses and a body. Whether it be separate or not, I am so constituted that, when I do not think or reason (perhaps if I do), I believe in a cause of effects, and that existence in form or with anything characteristic supposes a cause—hence, a First Cause. But for the same reason that I know there must be, I cannot know or conceive it. That is, knowledge that is not, and may prove that I cannot have, knowledge of. So I may have knowledge that there is such a thing as endless, infinite, eternal; while the very words prove that I do not—cannot—conceive it. But the negative of finite is not the same as the conception of infinite (i.e., as its affirmation); and I have the sense of negativing finite though no positive conception.
Further, if I think about myself, I am finite and relative. If I judge the consciousness in connection with other things, consciousness is not relative and not finite or the contrary in itself. I do not admit that absolute must be infinite or finite. Consciousness is absolute; it has no qualities, no objective appearances or anything else. It is “I.” I am something; I think, do, perceive, &c. Hence I learn that the “I” is finite; but consciousness is only “I.”
Now I cannot conceive an infinite “I,” because I am a finite “I;” that is, I can have no positive knowledge of it; but its absoluteness as consciousness in me makes me understand the possibility of the existence of another absolute consciousness which may not be finite. As I learn the finiteness of my conscious “I,” and can in certain respects understand it, so I learn the certain existence of an “I” which must be conscious (i.e., not as a stone), and that it cannot be, as I am, finite, which is absolute in its “I,” but relative if it pleases, because I know it has pleased. But the how or what of its consciousness or relations (i.e., creation, sonship, redemption) I do not and cannot know that, because I negative the finiteness of that which is my knowledge. But I do not think a negative is the same as an affirmative, or is nothing in mind, though it be nothing positive. To say so is to say that all must be clear in my mind or that it does not exist, which is false. I have a thinking, feeling, perceiving, judging, and, if right, adoring, if wrong, God-hating, inward existence. What it is I have not in the smallest degree a clear idea of. So I have of God, to whom I clearly deny necessary relationship, finiteness or material infiniteness, whom I do not limit in will so as to deny relationship, yet in finite knowledge I cannot say what He is, but existence of whom (I can say what He is not) is not nothing in my mind, though I cannot say what it is, because I do know by consciousness what it is to exist, and I deny the conditions in which I exist.
I cannot quite accept the denial of capacity to abstract in the human mind (i.e., the estimate of a quality without a being it is attached to). It is apt to run into personification in order to get a clear idea.. To say I must think of some one good to think of goodness is not true. It is merely saying that, if I think of good acts, I must think of some one. But attributes, though for us a necessary conception, are a very inadequate one of God; if pushed to consequences, even false. We may speak attributively (practically), but not predicate anything of God; because then I separate the quality and get it in itself. I must make it infinite, and so exclusive in my mind; and other attributes are reasoned against. Thus if I say God is good, and therefore cannot do this or that, I have made Him only this, and all is false.
I deny that consciousness is in time, or has a “before” or “after.” Consciousness denies it in fact and in the nature of things. You must add “was,” or “will be;” but then I have lost consciousness, which is necessarily only present, and this is not time—is not measured, nor is time thought of.