The philosophical position, to which Barfield
claims allegiance as an Anthroposopher,
that ideas are not (as subjective idealism
a "subjective process in individual human minds," "in some way as real,
or more real, than the objective world," but that they are the result of
a "polarity between the subjectivity of the
individual mind and the objective world which it perceives." Thus there
is no disjunction between subject and object, both of which are generated
out of the essential polarity. Objective idealism contends, as Sanderson
explains in Worlds Apart, that "if you start from the brain and
say it 'constructs' the world it is aware of, you . . . leave out of account
the fact that the brain as an object of observation is itself part of a
world which you yourself have constructed. Surely you have got to start
with the act of construction and not with the brain!" (WA 49).
The modern epistemological outlook, Barfield
contends, "is really a very strange marriage of ideas indeed . . . and
has led to all sorts of matrimonial jars, all sorts of difficulties, all
sorts of uneasy metaphysical arguments about what (if anything) is actually
there outside of us and what is not really there, but is only a kind of
appearance, or deception. All sorts of lyrical backchat about Juniper trees
when there is no one about in the Quad" (RCA 227).2
Barfield's thought strives to avoid these absurdities.
Barfield takes pains to point out that, unlike
a hardcore idealist, he is not about to argue that "the solid globe is
as insubstantial as a rainbow" (SA 22-23). Rather, objective idealism
teaches that, according to "Steiner's insistence--and
before him--. . . the Thinking on which our experience of nature depends,
really is in--objectively in--nature . . ." (RCA 227).
Objective idealism is so counter-intuitive
that general acceptance of its truth will not come easily. As Barfield
explains in What Coleridge Thought,
By doing so, we become ready to see the truth
of objective idealism:
Although the outness of phenomena
is a law of our nature, we are not conscious of it as a law. We are merely
conscious of their outness. The first prejudice may properly be called
a "prejudice" because it dissolves upon analysis. It ceases to be a prejudice
only when we become conscious of it as a law; when we transcend it, not
by a sophisticated and unreal realism of appearances-of-things versus things
themselves, but that actual realism, which understands and accepts the
we become aware that reality, although
it is indeed real, is also appearance; and that appearance, although it
is indeed appearance, is also reality. We emerge from what was essentially
a sleeping relation with phenomena into a waking one; and it was this awakening,
into which, paradoxically, the unhappy opium addict [Coleridge]
was mainly concerned to arouse his contemporaries and posterity, confident,
that, once that has been effected, the fact that nature is essentially
one with the intelligence in us, will no longer seem a wild and incredible
speculation, or a pathetic fallacy, but will become a self-evident fact.
Potts analyzes the influence of objective idealism on the American poet Howard
Nemerov in a
monograph available in its entirety here.
|See in particular "Man,
Thought, and Nature" (RCA 223-240).
|1In an interview
with Shirley Sugerman, Barfield offers, by way of contrast, the following
brief history of subjective idealism.
The general position of subjective idealism is that there are two
kinds of idealism, one being a Platonic idealism where the Ideas are conceived
as having a kind of independent, separate existence of their own, whereas
subjective idealism treats ideas as a subjective process in individual
human minds but nevertheless, in the development of this philosophy, it
presents them as being more real than the objective world. . . . You can
say, then, that the subjective idealists see the two disjunctively: either
you believe in Platonic Ideas or you believe in ideas more in the modern
sense, but nevertheless also conceive of those ideas as being in some way
as real, or more real, than the objective world. Objective idealism contends
that the disjunction is itself an unreal one, and that reality, individual
being, however you think of it, consists in the polarity between the subjectivity
of the individual mind and the objective world which it perceives. They
are not two things, but they are one and the same thing and what you call
the objective world is merely one pole of what is a unitary process and
what we call subjective experience is the other pole, but they are not
really divided from each other. (SP 18)
to be referring to a famous philosophical limerick by Ronald Knox.
There was a young man who said, "God
Must think it exceedingly odd
if he finds that this tree
continues to be
When there's no one about in the quad."
Your astonishment's odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by
Yours faithfully GOD.