Personalism Of B P Bowne
B. P. Bowne[FN#204] says: They (phenomena) are not phantoms or
illusions, nor are they masks of a back-lying reality which is trying
to peer through them. The antithesis, he continues,[FN#205] of
phenomena and noumena rests on the fancy that there is something that
rests behind phenomena which we ought to perceive but cannot, because
the masking phenomena thrusts itself between the reality and us.
Just so far we agree with Bowne, but we think he is mistaken in
sharply distinguishing between body and self, saying:[FN#206] We
ourselves are invisible. The physical organism is only an instrument
for expressing and manifesting the inner life, but the living self is
never seen. Human form, he argues,[FN#207] as an object in space
apart from our experience of it as the instrument and expression of
personal life, would have little beauty or attraction; and when it is
described in anatomical terms, there is nothing in it that we should
desire it. The secret of its beauty and its value lies in the
invisible realm. The same is true, he says again, of literature.
It does not exist in space, or in time, or in books, or in libraries
. . . all that could be found there would be black marks on a white
paper, and collections of these bound together in various forms,
which would be all the eyes could see. But this would not be
literature, for literature has its existence only in mind and for
mind as an expression of mind, and it is simply impossible and
meaningless in abstraction from mind. Our human history--he gives
another illustration[FN#208]--never existed in space, and never
could so exist. If some visitor from Mars should come to the earth
and look at all that goes on in space in connection with human
beings, he would never get any hint of its real significance. He
would be confined to integrations and dissipations of matter and
motion. He could describe the masses and grouping of material
things, but in all this be would get no suggestion of the inner life
which gives significance to it all. As conceivably a bird might sit
on a telegraph instrument and become fully aware of the clicks of the
machine without any suspicion of the existence or meaning of the
message, or a dog could see all that eye can see in a book yet
without any hint of its meaning, or a savage could gaze at the
printed score of an opera without ever suspecting its musical import,
so this supposed visitor would be absolutely cut off by an impassable
gulf from the real seat and significance of human history. The great
drama of life, with its likes and dislikes, its loves and hates, its
ambitions and strivings, and manifold ideas, inspirations,
aspirations, is absolutely foreign to space, and could never in any
way be discovered in space. So human history has its seat in the
[FN#204] 'Personalism,' p. 94.
[FN#205] Ibid., p. 95.
[FN#206] Ibid., p. 268.
[FN#207] Ibid., p. 271.
[FN#208] 'Personalism,' pp. 272, 273.
In the first place, Bowne's conception of the physical organism as
but an instrument for the expression of the inner, personal life,
just as the telegraphic apparatus is the instrument for the
expression of messages, is erroneous, because body is not a mere
instrument of inner personal life, but an essential constituent of
it. Who can deny that one's physical conditions determine one's
character or personality? Who can overlook the fact that one's
bodily conditions positively act upon one's personal life? There is
no physical organism which remains as a mere passive mechanical
instrument of inner life within the world of experience. Moreover,
individuality, or personality, or self, or inner life, whatever you
may call it, conceived as absolutely independent of physical
condition, is sheer abstraction. There is no such concrete
personality or individuality within our experience.
In the second place, he conceives the physical organism simply as a
mark or symbol, and inner personal life as the thing marked or
symbolized; so he compares physical forms with paper, types, books,
and libraries, and inner life, with literature. In so doing he
overlooks the essential and inseparable connection between the
physical organism and inner life, because there is no essential
inseparable connection between a mark or symbol and the thing marked
or symbolized. The thing may adopt any other mark or symbol. The
black marks on the white paper, to use his figure, are not essential
to literature. Literature may be expressed by singing, or by speech,
or by a series of pictures. But is there inner life expressed, or
possible to be expressed, in any other form save physical organism?
We must therefore acknowledge that inner life is identical with
physical organism, and that reality is one and the same as appearance.
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