Consciousness is a local and occasional ebulition like the hiccough.
—Letters 1:114 (To Charles Augustus Strong, Ávila, August 10, 1890)
The truth is [that] the world is not governed by men, but by God or by subterranean forces that are hardly represented in consciousness, and not at all in our wills.
Of course, for any one who thinks naturalistically (as the British empiricists did in the beginning, like every unsophisticated mortal), psychology is the description of a very superficial and incidental complication in the animal kingdom: it treats of the curious sensibility and volatile thoughts awakened in the mind by the growth and fortunes of the body.
Organic life is a circular trope which at each repetition touches or approaches a point which we regard as its culmination, and call maturity. In man, maturity involves feelings, intentions, and spiritual light: but it is idle to regard the whole trope as governed by these top moments in it, which are more highly conditioned, volatile, and immaterial than are their organs, their occasions, or their fruits.
Not that these moments of spirit, these mental notes and mental vistas, are the psychic life in question. They form a thin flux of consciousness, chiefly verbal in most of us, which in reflective moods becomes self-consciousness, recollection, autobiography, and literature: all only the topmost synthesis, or play of shooting relations, on the surface of the unconscious.
I am not tempted seriously to regard consciousness as the very essence of life or even of being. On the contrary, both my personal experience and the little I know of nature at large absolutely convince me that consciousness is the most highly conditioned of existences, an overtone of psychic strains, mutations, and harmonies; nor does its origin seem more mysterious to me than that of everything else.
[W]e are much deeper and more deeply bound to physical reality than our wayward thoughts and wishes might suggest. The potential, in an organic being developing through time, is necessarily richer and more important than the actual. The actual is superficial, occasional, ephemeral; present will and present consciousness are never the true self.
Naturalism and humanism mean order and firm precept for a man who believes in an ordered universe and a moderately stable human nature; but for a man who thinks his passing ideas and wishes absolute, they mean anarchy. . . .
Number of quotations (including supressed): 8
The premise that human nature conjoined with nature at large ground morality implies that actuality, or consciousness and will, is morally more superficial than potentiality. The quotations here gathered touch on this implication.