The Immanent Idea

So much by way of direct answer to the formidable attack upon

the nature-mystic's position. In turning to more constructive

work, which will furnish many indirect answers, it will be

necessary to take another brief but exhilarating plunge into


We found that external objects somehow, through sensations,

obtain admission into the mind, and become part of its

possessions in the form
of experience. Intuition of various

grades is at the base of all mental development. Reflective

thought goes to work on the material thus provided, and weaves

certain portions of it into the structure of systematised

knowledge. Much of it, however, never emerges into clear

consciousness--it is felt rather than known--sometimes not even

felt, though it influences the mind, affects its mood or tone, and

largely moulds its character and the products of its more

conscious processes. Intuition thus contains implicitly what

reflection and reason strive to render explicit.

It will be remembered that, in the first chapter, the metaphysical

theory broadly adopted was that which may be called Ideal-Realism.

The distinctive teaching is that while Materialism stops

short at external objects which can resist, and while Subjective

Idealism stops short at the perceiving mind, Ideal-Realism

affirms the reality of objects and perceiving mind alike,

but regards them as mutually dependent, and as fused in the

activity of consciousness. Can the conclusions just summed up

and the metaphysical theory adopted be brought into helpful


Yes, if the human mind and the external world are made of the

same stuff--if the mind is invisible nature, and nature visible

mind. For Materialism cannot bridge the gap between matter

and consciousness; Subjective Idealism can never move out into

a real world. But if nature and mind are genuinely akin, as the

nature-mystic holds, there is no gap to bridge, no mind

condemned to hopeless isolation. Nature is then seen to be a

manifestation of the same mental factors which we discover

when we analyse our inner experience--namely, consciousness,

feeling, will, and reason. The nature-mystic's communion with

the external world takes its place as a valid mode of realising

the essential sameness of all forms of existences and of all

cosmic activities. Science is another such valid mode, art

another, philosophy another, religion yet another--none of them

ultimately antagonistic, but mutually supplementary. Some

mystics will say that the union of man with nature is actually at

any moment complete, but has to be brought into the light of

conscious experience. Other mystics, who hold dualistic,

pluralistic, or pragmatic views, will maintain that the union may

assume ever new forms and develop ever new potentialities. But

such differences are subsidiary, and cannot obscure the

fundamental doctrine on which all consistent nature-mystics

must be agreed, that man and nature are essentially

manifestations of the same Reality.

It is deeply significant to note that, at the very dawn of

reflective thought, a conviction of the essential sameness of all

existence seized upon the minds of the fathers of Western

philosophy, and dominated their speculations. The teaching of

these bold pioneers was inevitably coloured and limited by their

social environment; but it was also so shot through with flashes

of intuition and acute reasonings, that it anticipated many of the

latest developments of modern research. A study of its main

features will occupy us at a later stage, when _we_ come to deal

with certain of nature's most striking phenomena. The simple

fact is here emphasised that the earliest effort of human

reflective thought was to discover the _Welt-stoff_--the

substance which underlies all modes and forms of existence,

and that man was regarded as an integral and organic part of the


Greek philosophy, which started with these crude, but brilliant

speculations, had developed a wonderful variety and subtlety,

when Plato, animated by the same desire to discover the Ground

of things, introduced his doctrine of Ideas. He held that bodies

are not, in themselves, the true reality; they are manifestations

of something else. Reality, for him, is a system of real thoughts

which he calls Ideas, and the world of objects gets its reality by

participating in them or by copying them. The senses, under

such conditions, cleave to the copies, whereas the mind, in

thinking by general ideas, apprehends the true reality. These

ideas must not be regarded as mere products of the mind, but as

real existences, which, when manifested under conditions of

time and space, multiply themselves in innumerable objects. In

fact, so real are they that without them there would be no

objects at all.

Schopenhauer adopted this doctrine of Ideas, and brought it into

connection with his characteristic theory of Will as the ultimate

Ground. The Ideas, for him, represent definite forms of

existence, manifested in individual things and beings. There are

thus, he said, Ideas of the simple elementary forces of nature,

such as gravity and impenetrability; there are Ideas of the

different forms of individual things; and there are Ideas of the

different species of organic beings, including man. He followed

Plato in refusing any true reality to individual objects and

separated the Idea from its sensuous form. "By Idea, then" (he

writes), "I understand every definite and fixed grade of the

objectification of will, so far as it is a thing-in-itself, and

therefore has no multiplicity. These grades are related to

individual things as their eternal forms or prototypes." Hence,

the world known to the senses could be nothing other than mere

phenomenal appearance.

Now it is manifestly an enormous stride in the direction of

Nature Mysticism to recognise in material objects a factor, or

element, which is akin to the highest activities of the human

mind. But, as already stated, in expounding the view known as

Ideal-Realism, the nature-mystic cannot be content to stop here.

Nor indeed was Schopenhauer consistent in stopping here. If he

had been faithful to his conception of Will as the Ground of all

existence, he could not well have denied some degree of reality

to objects in their own right. This particular tree, this particular

table, this particular cloud--what are they, each in its individual

capacity, but objectifications of will?--therefore real! Each

individual object is _unique_, and fills a place of its own in the

totality of objects--each is related to all the rest in particular and

defined manners and degrees--each exhibits a special kind of

behaviour in a special environment. Why, then, deny to each

individual thing its own grade and degree of reality?

Thus there is in each object an immanent idea; but this is fused

with the sensuous form, and presents itself to conscious human

thought as an objective manifestation of the Real. There is an

organic interpenetration of the sensuous and the spiritual; and it

is by virtue of this interpenetration that the human reason can go

out into the external world and find itself there. As Emerson

well puts it--"Nature is the incarnation of thought, and turns to a

thought again, as ice becomes water and gas. The world is mind

precipitated, and the volatile essence is for ever escaping again

into the state of free thought. Hence the virtue and pungency of

the influence on the mind, of natural objects, whether inorganic

or organised."

The nature-mystic is not without authoritative support, even on

the Idealist side, in his demand that individual objects shall be

allowed some grade and measure of reality. Spinoza, for

instance, allows that each individual thing is a genuine part of

the total Idea. Hegel also grants to individual things a certain

"self-reference," which constitutes them real existences. The

nature-mystic, therefore, may be of good cheer in asserting that

even the most transient phenomenon not only "participates" in

an immanent Idea, but embodies it, gives it a concrete form and

place. He thus substantiates his claim that communion with

nature is communion with the Ground of things.