As an advocate for objective
idealism, convinced that
realization that "Life is a subject with an inherent tendency to produce
an object, wherein and whereby to find itself . . ." (Coleridge,
quoted in WCT 67), is the solution to the age-old controversy over
dualism, Barfield shows little patience with monolithic advocates for either
subjectivity or objectivity.1
If we have imprisoned ourselves in the modern
mind-set, we would do well to remember, Barfield observes in "Language
and Discovery," that there may be two equally confining cells from which
we must free ourselves: "the 'non-objectifying' subjectivity, in which
the humanities are immured, and the adjoining cell of subjectless objectivity,
where science is locked and bolted; and maybe the first step toward escape
for the two prisoners of language is to establish communications with one
another" (RM 140).
Ample historical evidence exists that both
cells have been constructed by/through the evolution
of consciousness. "Subjectivity is not something that was handed us
on a plate once and for all by Descartes,"
he reminds (RM 139), nor was objectivity. If we look at the Greek
philosophers we can detect the laying of the foundations. A close reading
of Plato (428-348), for example, would
seem to indicate that while the great Greek philosopher had discovered
the reality of the subjective, he neither knew nor cared about the existence
of the objective. Plato, Barfield concludes in History in English Words,
"had deduced the sense-world from . . . the inner world, and while he had
worked out an elaborate and wise knowledge of this inner world, with its
moral impulses and aspirations, his philosophy had remained admittedly
bankrupt as far as detailed knowledge of the mechanism of the outer world
was concerned." "The philosophic problem of an opposition between 'subjective'
and 'objective'," we learn in "On the Intellectual Soul," "was not heard
of until the time of the Stoics,
and on the other hand it is in this same sect that we first meet with a
theory of the divine logos. Men begin to be conscious
of an indwelling creative principle, precisely as they begin to feel themselves
detached from it" (RCA 127).
But the "objective" existence of the objective
(if you will) would wait until the Age of Enlightenment to come into existence.
In "Goethe and the Twentieth Century," Barfield
The objective quickly gained in prominence, however,
to the detriment of the subjective.
It was perhaps in the eighteenth century
that men first began to take more serious notice of that queer intruder
on the life of the soul, the detached Onlooker present in each one of us,
and half instinctively to make provision for him in their ideas and their
conventions. It was then that the word psychology was used for the first
time in its modern sense. Alongside, and a little apart from, the impulses,
passions and thoughts which are the true stuff of the soul, there has come
into being this nothingness, this mere awareness, which looks on and says
of each: "Yes, I wish it, I feel it--and yet this wisher and this feeler
are not quite me. I am here, looking on all the time." (RCA 170)
"People used to talk about beautiful and ugly,
noble and beast, right and wrong," Barfield writes in "Language, Evolution
of Consciousness, and the Recovery of Human Meaning," but in the modern
world that has changed, and the change is of a piece with our new understanding
of subjective and objective.
Nineteenth-century science deduced
the inner from the outer; it had mapped and charted the mechanical part
of Nature to a tenth of a millimeter, but it was well nigh bankrupt as
far as the inner world was concerned. Huxley
invented the word agnostic (not-knowing) to express his attitude, and that
of many millions since his day, to the nature and origin of all this part
of the cosmos. One of the few things about which practically all "men of
science," as the phrase now went, beside all those laymen who took the
trouble to follow out the various scientific discoveries and to listen
to their metaphysical reverberation, were agreed upon was that his sense
and his reason had succeeded in placing man in a material environment which
appeared to bear no relation whatever to his inner feelings and moral impulses.
that could only go on as long as there
was confidence that qualities are objectively real. The current preference
for "values" has come about because the term is one that neatly avoid any
such ontological commitment. We have spent three or four hundred years
learning to perceive the subjective ingredient in all that looks so very
objective; the task now, for the sciences as well as the humanities, is
to learn to perceive the objective ingredients in all that looks so very
objective. (LEC 430)
|See in particular "Subjective and Objective"
(PD 203-211), "Subject and Object in the History of Meaning" (SM
does criticize excessive subjectivity upon occasion (he is especially critical,
for example, of the sometimes solipsistic subjectivity exhibited in modern
art), his harshest condemnation is reserved for the prison cell of reductionistic
objectivity, which he considers an important but not very impressive achievement.
In "Language and Discovery," for example, he observes, caustically, "To
put it mildly, any reasonably honest fool can be objective about objects"