Taylor to Alexander (19 September 1905)
I was much pleased to receive the long-expected letter from you, and even more to find how much solid material for philosophical reflection it contained. It will take repeated readings to make the full sense of your doctrines clear to me; the first reading has left me in great doubt about the textual deciphering of more than half of the document, but I can see from what I have made out, that you are at work on a very fruitful line of enquiry, and I should not wonder if our ideas in … time are found to converge increasingly. I remember that [William Ritchie] Sorley complained to me at St. Louis last year of what he called the “surrender to Moore” which he professed to find in my address there on the place of metaphysics among the sciences. But with you I find it at present impossible to accept certain of M’s fundamental positions. I even began an essay, three years ago, to prove that if M’s view of judgment were correct no one could even form a judgment true or false. But that was no doubt a piece of exaggerated polemic on my part. As to “existence” I feel sure both he and Russell have dogmatised it without sufficient consideration. I am no longer so sure as I once was that the “existence” with which existential propositions deal is not a concept, but I am convinced that in any case the “existence” of an existence-theorem in mathematics is quite other than the “existence” we commonly ascribe to physical things. I was glad to see that Russell, who denies this in his big book, now admits it. (see his note on existential propositions in the last number of Mind) I take it we should all agree in the view that psychologism must be radically expelled from logic, which [Ferdinand C. Scott] Schiller declares is the fundamental heresy shutting me out from the true philosophical fold. I hope when at last my work on Plato appears to present the full evidence for the conclusion that this was Plato’s view too, and that he is simply right in maintaining the existence of νοητα [or noēta] which are neither physical things nor “states of mind” but simply what their names declares “objects of thought”. My immediate object in replying so quickly to your letter was however to defend my logical argument against extreme subjectivism from Russell’s criticisms.
I had, of course, foreseen the objection, but I am not a little surprised that so sound a philosopher as R. should make it, as it appears to me a rather superficial fallacy. The objection, I submit, does not hold, since what my argument asserts is that no relation can be simply identical with its own second term, ie be such as to have that term and nothing else whatsoever as its sequent or relatum. Let me quote my own argument on this point, which has not yet been published. I may perhaps be told that a proposition of the form xRR is possible. Eg “identity bears to difference the relation of difference”. But in this proposition the relation and the sequent are after all not the same. The difference between the pair of relatives “identical with” and “different from” is only one instance of difference, and in order that the statement may have a meaning at all there must be other instances of the same relation. We could form no concept of difference if we knew of nothing from which anything could be different except difference itself. So with the relation of percipient to percept. In order that the statement “a percipient has to his own relation to his percepts the relation of percipient to percept” may have a meaning and the vicious regressus be avoided there must be at least one other instance of this relation; that is there must be at least one percept which is not itself a process of perception. But the point of the Berkeleyan theory [ie the theory as now current among those who call themselves followers of B – I make no statement as to the views of the historical Bp. of Cloyne] lies precisely in denying that there are any such percepts. Hence on that theory we are committed to the regressus, and can never say intelligibly what we mean by perception. To my own mind, this seems a satisfactory rejoinder by anticipation of R’s criticism. But I should be glad to know what he thinks of it if you could … communicate [this] to him. …