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The Reign of Relativity. By Viscount Haldane. Murray,



It is unfortunate that some reviews of this work have assumed it to be a treatise on the physical theory of relativity, and have concentrated in their criticisms on those chapters which deal specifically with Einstein's work. The scope of the book is, however, far wider than this. It is in fact that of Knowledge itself. As the author states in the preface, the topics of this book are Knowledge itself and the relativity of reality to the character of Knowledge.'

The subjects dealt with range from science, religion, and art to the history of philosophy, political science, and law, in so far as all these fall within the content of Knowledge. The result has been the production of a somewhat bulky volume of over 400 pages. In a recent

. review a writer has criticised such voluminous works as the production (as Pascal said) of those who have not got time to write less. It is certainly true that but one idea runs through the whole volume, and that this idea could have been expressed abstractly in a fraction of the volume of the actual book; but, where an idea is new and essentially difficult to grasp, it cannot be adequately transmitted by abstract phraseology. The process of transmission which must be adopted is that of suggestion by setting forward the idea as it appears in many different forms, till at last the reader, by a process of generalisation, grasps the concept which the author wishes to transmit. This is the method Lord Haldane has adopted, and he has excellent precedent in the works of Schopenhauer, who has stated that, by his bulky treatise on The World as Will and Idea,' he intends to impart a single thought, and can find no shorter way of doing so.

What Lord Haldane's book loses in the way of pure logical form, it far more than makes up for by covering, in one comprehensive survey, a range of subjects, many of which lie outside the knowledge of more academic philosophers. The fundamental thesis is that Knowledge is ultimate. We cannot resolve Knowledge into other


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terms. We cannot ask the explanation of the 'why' of Knowledge; we can only describe the "what' of Knowledge; and, in answering this question, we find that the distinctions which arise in everyday life are distinctions which fall alike within the content of Knowledge. The distinction between the mind as a thing and the external world confronting this mind is a distinction which exists only for Knowledge. Subjective idealism has failed in so far as the conception of 'thing' was applied indiscriminately to the mind and its object. No wonder the Realists rebelled against the view that the object world of experience exists only for such a mind; and yet the Realists never succeed in drawing a satisfactory line between mind and the external world. The two are inseparably bound together, and, treated as things,' neither can be given precedence to the other. The problem can be solved satisfactorily only by passing beyond the conception of things,' and viewing mind and externality, or subject and object, as distinctions produced by the activity of the ultimate fact of knowledge. Knowledge, in the sense in which Lord Haldane uses the word, is not a special form of individual activity, but the ultimate fact which must be presupposed in any inquiry into the nature of existence. To quote Lord Haldane:


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'How the great fundamental fact of knowledge is to be accounted for, is a question which is constantly being raised. But it is inherently an irrational question, for the fact of knowledge is presupposed as ultimate in whatever shape the question is put. When we raise points about how knowledge is put together, we are raising points about a foundation which our own questions presuppose for their possibility.'

The doctrine of the Relativity of Reality to Knowledge is developed from this view of Knowledge. Every aspect of reality disclosed in Knowledge is relative to Knowledge itself. Our world is not made up of disconnected fragments and relations but as a whole, the parts of which exist as relative to the whole, that is, to Knowledge. This basic fact manifests itself, as Lord Haldane shows, in every branch of Knowledge. Each branch abstracts from the whole only those features


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which are relevant to the purpose of the particular inquiry, ignoring those other features which lie outside its scope. So Physics ignores beauty and emotion in its effort to describe the relations of natural entities in mechanical terms. This is a legitimate and very necessary process, but it inevitably necessitates that the Truth of Science is relative only. The price which Science pays for its precision and exactness is the relativity of the truth at which it arrives.

The chapters in the book which deal with the development of Mathematics and Science, and in particular with the physical theory of relativity, are there simply as showing how the general theory of relativity is illustrated in this particular case. Dr Whitehead's books, 'An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge and The Concept of Nature,' have clearly influenced Lord Haldane very much in his treatment of this subject; and he pays a warm tribute to the value and originality of Dr Whitehead's investigations. Dr Whitehead has protested against what he calls the bifurcation of nature into nature apprehended in awareness and nature which is the cause of awareness, or into nature as the play of molecules and radiant energy and nature as presented with psychic addition such as colour and smell to mind. To drag in mind in this way is, as he points out, shirking the problem of Science, which is to describe the relations inter se of things known abstracted from the bare fact that they are known. The bifurcation theory is acceptable for the simplicity it introduces, but, if accepted, it is a confession of failure on the part of Science. Lord Haldane points out that, if Dr Whitehead pushes his theory a little further, the logical result it that the distinction between mind and nature vanishes, and nature for Dr Whitehead becomes Knowledge in the wide sense in which our author uses the term. Meaning, interpretation, significance-all these things fall within Dr Whitehead's world of Nature. As Lord Haldane says:

The portal of Nature was to be bolted and barred against mind, but mind has apparently gone round the corner, got in by a back-door and taken possession of the building. “Events," "recognition," "objects"! Here we have know

, ledge with all its implications, and Knowledge in which the significance” which for Prof. Whitehead is the reality of our experience of nature consists. I am far from complaining; I am in agreement with the author. But I feel I have been led by him into territory which seems not new but somewhat familiar to me. If we went a little further we might expect, and not without reason, to find that the boundary line between mind and nature and the entire distinction between them fell within Knowledge as having been established only by reflexion.'


An interesting description follows, showing how Dr Whitehead arrives at the Einstein Theory of Relativity, but from more fundamental premises than those from which Einstein starts. The real philosophical value of the physical Theory of Relativity, which Lord Haldane describes at some length, lies in this, that in the theory we have a very exact and definite application of the broader principle which our author is maintaining. Space and time, the very structure of the universe, are shown in themselves not to be absolute, but to be the relative forms in which experience is made manifest. Once the relativity of these apparently absolute characteristics is grasped, the relativity of other branches of Knowledge appears less strange.

But the most important feature of the whole theory of Relativity is that it exhibits our knowledge of Nature as the union of subject and object or of mind and externality. Space and Time for the relativist are but the varying differentiations of the ultimate space-time manifold, which in itself is a pure concept or universal. The objective form of Space and Time which this assumes is relative only and existent for Knowledge alone. Thus, unless we are to bifurcate Nature and say the space-time manifold is the cause of our awareness, and that Space and Time are but psychic additions to the real causal Nature, we must admit that significance and meaning cannot be separated from Nature, whereupon Nature assumes the form of that within which

mind' and object'fall, and is simply an aspect of what Lord Haldane calls Knowledge.

Prof. Eddington,* as Lord Haldane shows, goes much further than this, and takes up the rather extreme


• See his article on Einstein in the 'Q. R.' (No. 462) for January 1920.

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subjective attitude that the external world is comparatively unimportant, and that the importance of mind in producing the so-called laws of Nature is far greater than realised. Prof. Eddington uses the words, It is the mind which, by insisting on regarding only the things that are permanent, has actually imposed these laws on an indifferent world. The structure cannot be built up without material; but the nature of the material is of no importance.'

Prof. Eddington's views may lead him to a position not very different from that of Dr Whitehead, but it is unlikely that the latter would accept this position where, by treating mind as a thing, Prof. Eddington is reintroducing the bifurcation doctrine. Finally Lord Haldane says:

*However, therefore, we look at it, the theory of relativity in physical measurement means this, that our measurements are what they are because of concepts through which knowledge effects them. . . . It is through general principles, and not by immediate awareness in its simplicity, that we get our knowledge of physical nature; and the reality we discover is of an order in character the same as that of our knowledge about it.'


This is the basis of the doctrine of degrees of knowledge, truth and reality. What is actual discloses a variety of aspects. The description of each aspect gives knowledge only of that level or degree to which the aspect belongs, and the standard of truth for this level of knowledge is therefore only a relative standard.

It is scarcely possible to do more than refer to the many applications of the complete principle of relativity which Lord Haldane gives in considering other problems in other branches of knowledge. For instance, we find an application in his treatment of individuality. Finite personality is relative. It is not an absolute fact or an ultimate state. My friend, John Smith, is not merely an object of my experience. I have a deeper knowledge of John Smith than that of objective existence. He finds union with my personality in so far as both our personalities are relative to a greater whole. It is this common source or identity in difference in our modes

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