The philosophical question of the nature of primary
and secondary qualities (modern philosophers from
to Locke have made substantial contributions to
the debate, though its origins are ancient)1
reveals the internalization process
that shapes the evolution of consciousness
in its present phase.
| Primary and Secondary
"Modern physics," Barfield shows in "The Rediscovery
of Meaning," "originally set out to investigate nature as something existing
independently of the human mind. . . ." It was, after all, the goal of
science to render a detached, completely objective, view of the world.
But this pursuit, driven, in part, by received wisdom on primary and secondary
qualities, took a very strange epistemological turn:
As Barfield reminds in an essay on "Science and
Quality," "Ousted from nature, the qualities, whether occult or manifest,
had to go somewhere. . . ." They went indoors: "They have reappeared in
the human psyche. It is significant that in their new home not even the
occult ones are altogether taboo. Apart from a certain number of hard-boiled
empiricists and behaviorists, most people today concede to the psyche that
'inwardness' which they deny to nature, and they call it the unconscious
unconscious" (RM 182).
At a quite early stage a distinction
was made between "primary" qualities, such as extension and mass, which
were assumed to inhere in matter independently of the observer and 'secondary"
qualities like color, which depend on the observer.2
Roughly speaking, physics has ended by having to conclude that all qualities
are "secondary" in this sense, so that the whole world of nature as we
actually experience it depends for its configuration on the mind and senses
of man. It is what it is because of what we are. (RM 17)
|See in particular "Science and Quality" (RM
can be formulated as the difference "between the qualities possessed by
things, and qualities produced in us by things. The primary qualities of
things are solidity, extension, figure, motion, rest, and number. The secondary
qualities are colors, sounds, tastes, smells, etc" (DPR 471).
|2"In the history
of the theory of color," Barfield explains in Saving the Appearances,
"color began by being regarded as a primary quality of the colored object
and was later transferred to the status of a 'secondary' quality dependent
on the beholder" (25-26).