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
ith 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.