The Subject Proposed
IN these two courses of Lectures on the foundation of Lord Gifford, I propose to consider the subject of Personality and especially the place to be assigned to Personality in our conception of the nature of God, the knowledge of whose nature and attributes is, according to the will of the Founder, to be the theme of the Gifford Lecturers.
In looking over the titles of previous courses of Gifford Lectures I do not find the words Person or Personality occurring, but I find more than once the words Individual and Individuality. The remarkable series delivered at Aberdeen by the eminent American philosopher, whose loss we have since had to lament, Josiah Royce, dealt with The World and the Individual1
; the distinguished German biologist Professor Driesch discoursed in the same University on The Science and Philosophy of the Organism
a topic which he subsequently resumed in a work called The Problem of Individuality
while at Edinburgh Dr. Bernard Bosanquet took for the subject of one course The Principle of Individuality and Value
and of another The Value and Destiny of the Individual
It is obvious that the topic of Individuality is near akin to that of Personality, and in the lectures to which I have referred the lecturers had certainly chiefly though not solely in view those Individuals which we call Persons. But I think that there is still room for a discussion of Personality on its own account. For it would be readily allowed that not all Individuals are Persons; and, on the other hand, we may speak of Personality as belonging to beings which we should not naturally or unhesitatingly call Individuals. Thus, on the one hand, some psychologists speak of alternating personalities
in one and the same individual
; and, on the other hand, it is often maintained that a community such as a State, though consisting of many individuals
, may be said to possess personality
Again, it may be observed that, while it would not be disputed that only to individuals
occupying a high grade in the scale of existence would the title of persons
be usually given, yet some thinkers, such as Mr. Bosanquet, would strenuously deny the applicability of that title to the Ultimate Reality or the Absolute, while they would, on the contrary, maintain that it is only of the Absolute that Individuality
in its full sense is predicable.6
Nor have we to do with a mere preference of one form of words to another when we find a philosopher with whose works Mr. Bosanquet is so familiar and in many ways so sympathetic as Lotze saying, not of Individuality but of Personality, just what Mr. Bosanquet says of Individuality, that it is properly attributable to the Supreme Reality only.7
In the difference between the two ways of speaking there finds expression a profound divergence of view between the two philosophers. While, then, a discussion of Individuality and a discussion of Personality must obviously to a considerable extent occupy common ground, we shall find that, in consequence of choosing Personality rather than Individuality as our main topic, we shall be, as it were, moving over that ground in a somewhat different direction from that taken by those who have preferred to concern themselves primarily with Individuality. In particular I shall endeavour to keep in close touch with the problem suggested by the expression, now so familiar, a personal God, and shall make it my principal business to examine what is involved alike in the demand for a personal God and in the rejection of that demand, and to arrive at some conclusion as to the rights and wrongs of the controversy between those who ascribe and those who refuse to ascribe Personality to God. I say to God, not to the Absolute or the Ultimate Reality; for we shall find that there are not a few who would allow or even insist upon the ascription of Personality to God, but only if by God they may be understood to mean something other than the Ultimate Reality; while they agree with those who would altogether repudiate faith in a personal God, in denying Personality to the Absolute.
It might seem that I should be following the most natural and convenient course for such a discussion as I am proposing to undertake if I were to begin with an examination of what we mean by Personality in ourselves and to pass thence to an inquiry as to the legitimacy of extending the conception to that in which we live and move and have our being. We should thus, it may be thought, be starting from the firm ground of that which lies nearest to ourselves, and beginning with the primary object of the conception we have set ourselves to consider. To begin with God, however accordant with the custom of antiquity or with the piety of Dogberry,8
might seem an unpromising method of procedure for any one who hopes to reach an assured and scientific conclusion. Nevertheless I propose to devote my first course to the topic of Personality in God and the second to that of Personality in man, and must therefore endeavour to justify as best I can the order which I have adopted.
My grounds for adopting it are of two kinds: historical and philosophical. As a matter of fact it will be found on inquiry that not only has the development of the conception of personality been profoundly affected by the discussions which were carried on in the Christian Church concerning the mutual relations of the persons of the Trinity and the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, but that philosophical discussion of the nature of human Personality is posterior in time to these theological discussions. Nay, it may even be said that it was the religious and theological interest in the Personality of Christ, conceived as being at once God and man, which actually afforded the motive and occasion of undertaking the investigation of the nature of Personality in men generally. In placing therefore the consideration of Personality in God before consideration of the Personality in man, I shall be, at any rate, following the clue given by the history of thought. But there are reasons of a more philosophical order which may be alleged in support of my procedure. Personality is not merely something which we observe in men; rather it is something which, though suggested to us by what we find in men, we perceive to be only imperfectly realized in them; and this can only be because we are somehow aware of a perfection or ideal with which we contrast what we find in men as falling short of it. In such cases we rightly begin with thinking out the ideal and then considering the experienced facts in the light of it. We deal thus even with such a notion as that of Straightness in geometry, into our conception of which there does not enter that element of value which is involved, for example, in our notion of Justice or of Courage. It is, however, to this latter class of objects of thought, the class of what we may call ideals, that Personality belongs; although I should readily admit that it is not to be conceived with the same definiteness and precision and consequently with so large a measure of general agreement as Justice or Courage.
Such a consideration of Personality as what it is in itself, apart from what appear as obstacles and hindrances to its full realization extraneous to its proper nature, when thus undertaken prior to any consideration of it under limiting and qualifying circumstances, quite naturally assumes the form of a discussion of Personality in God: and this is not to be distinguished from a discussion of the place and value of Personality in the universe. For the view that God, the Supreme Reality, has personality, not only in the sense in which the Absolute must possess all excellences which belong to any form of reality embraced within its systematic unity, but properly and pre-eminently; and the view that it is possessed by a Being or Beings of far higher rank and more enduring significance in the scale of existence than men, but cannot be affirmed of the all-embracing Reality, within the unity of which men and such a higher Being or Beings would be distinguishable elements, factors or moments; lastly, the view that only of beings like men, the unstable product of certain rare and transient conditions which are found to have presented themselves in a certain region within the infinity of Space, at a certain period within the infinity of Time, can Personality be intelligibly affirmed: all these views are at once replies to the question Is there a personal God, and if so, in what sense? and also to the question, What is the rank or significance of Personality in the universe? I would also here take occasion to point out that the order of treatment which I have chosen does not necessarily commit him who chooses it to the belief that Religion, as an attitude towards something other than ourselves, has objective value. For one might hold, with Feuerbach,9
that Religion is an illusion in which we project as it were a shadowy image of ourselves upon the background of a world in which there exists as a matter of fact no higher being than ourselves; but that this is the natural and only way in which we can discover the structure of our own souls; since a direct vision of our own spiritual nature is to our minds as impossible as is a direct vision of our outward form to our bodily eyes; so that only by means of a shadow or a reflected image can we become acquainted with either the one or the other.
The learned author of the History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century
Dr. Merz, has lately, in his very interesting essay on Religion and Science
indicated the problem of Personality as the problem to the consideration of which the course taken by the discoveries and speculations of the last age particularly invites at the present time the attention of philosophers; and this because, whether we are exploring the nature of the world of objects in the presence of which we stand or tracing to its origin our consciousness of that world, we shall meet at last confronting us in our path this mystery of Personality. For, on the one hand, it is only through Personalitythrough our intercourse with persons quickening in us a personal responsethat (to quote the words of Dr. Merz12
) we gain in the earliest period of our earthly existence that entry into a world of Reality which enables us to distinguish our self from a not-self; and, on the other hand (to cite the same writer again), Personality always impresses us as the most powerful instance of individual existence. I welcome this confirmation by so high an authority of conclusions which I had independently reached, and which the observations that follow are intended to reinforce.
Mr. Rudyard Kipling in the Jungle Book
has made us all familiar with the picture of a human child stolen by wolves in earliest infancy, brought up by and among animals without any intercourse with other human beings, yet arriving in due course at intellectual maturity and the exercise of reason. What little evidence there is concerning the fate of children thus stolen does not, I believe, suggest that such would have been the history of a real Mowgli; and though one would not desire unduly to discourage an adventurous imagination bent on reconstructing the past history of our species and the genesis of Reason upon earth, certainly intercourse with other persons seems to be within our experience an indispensable condition of the development of Rationality and Personality in human beings.13
I think that Dr. Merz is calling attention to a fact well worthy of our consideration when he points out that knowledge of objects always begins within our experience in a personal environment, and that it is probably through personal intercourse that we come to that discrimination of our selves from what is not ourselves which is involved in knowledge. Nevertheless, even if we content ourselves with saying that we have no conception of knowledge except as a personal activity, we shall still be admitting that in attempting to explore the nature of knowledge we are confronted by the fact of personality as the presupposition of that which we are exploring. So, too, we must agree with Dr. Merz that the progress of knowledge itself must sooner or later bring us face to face with this same fact of Personality as the highest form of life, and that, as students of living nature are more and more coming to recognize the impossibility of a merely mechanical or chemical account of life, we shall be no less compelled at last to admit that the study of life at a level below that of Personality will not suffice to solve the problem of Personality itself.
But while the progress of thought is thus forcing upon our attention this problem of Personality, it is not too much to say that both the scientific and the philosophical speculation of the last age showed a marked tendency to start aside (like Balaam's ass) when it found this mysterious apparition standing in the way. In the case of scientific speculation this is obvious, and is readily to be accounted for. It is characteristic of Science (as we now commonly use the word) to concern itself with generalities; and it is precisely preoccupation with the individual that marks off the sphere of History from that of Science. No doubt the data of Science are found in the observation of individuals; but the moment that the observation has been made, if it is to be turned to scientific account at all, the result is, so to say, stripped of its historical circumstances, and presented as true not of that thing, but of anything of that kind. Who made the observation, and upon what individual object it was made, these are questions the answers to which are only interesting to Science so far as they guarantee the correctness of the observation; and that once assured, they may be forgotten. History is primarily concerned with persons; Science, on the other hand, can treat them only as specimens, and the personal equation is important only as a source of error to be discounted.
The embarrassment of Science in the presence of Personality is thus not only easily explicable, but in view of its special task legitimate. More remarkable is the embarrassment of the very philosophy which during the past century has made it its business to repress the over-vaulting ambitions of Natural Science and to insist that a method which necessarily abstracts from the spiritual factor must be inadequate to the complete interpretation of the experience of a spiritual being. Yet it is hard to deny that the history of recent thought suggests embarrassment in the presence of Personality on the part of this philosophy as well as on the part of Science. The reasons for this embarrassment will become more evident at a later stage of this inquiry. I will at present confine myself to pointing out that, like the embarrassment of Science, it was largely due to the task which this philosophy had set itself, especially as represented by its illustrious progenitor, Kant, and by those British thinkers who towards the end of the last century devoted themselves to spreading the knowledge of Kant's work and of developing his principles among the inheritors of the tradition of the great British empiricists, Locke and Hume.
This task may be said to have been that of combating the scepticism of Hume by insistence on the principles of construction or synthesis which, though neglected or misrepresented by the empiricists, are really involved in the process of the scientific understanding. The traditional alliance between Natural Science and the empirical philosophy had caused the real inconsistency between them to be overlooked. Yet Natural Science implied the existence of objects which, though they could be felt, could not really be reduced to a combination of feelings. Hence, it was contended, the mind which was capable of Natural Science must be more than the mere aggregate of sensations to which Hume had shown it must be reduced if one were to be faithful to the implication of Locke's theory of knowledge; a theory which still, a century later, was in essentials that in vogue among British men of science.14
The mind must possess in itselfindependently of any experience by way of separate sensationsthose principles of synthesis and construction, to which Kant had given the name of categories
. But Natural Science, as we have already seen, takes no account of Personality except as a possible source of errors in observation; the principles of synthesis and construction which it employs are those which abstract from the difference of individual minds from one another. Hence a philosophy mainly concerned with the criticism of the procedure of Natural Science will concentrate its attention upon the principles of construction and synthesis of which Natural Science makes use rather than upon one which it can only recognize as a disturbing factor whose influence must be discounted before any trustworthy results can be attained.
But if, in tracing the recent history of thought, one is thus struck by a certain failure on the part of at least two representative groups of thinkers to come to grips with the problem of Personality, we shall not be surprised to find also that this very failure has provoked a marked tendency in other quarters to place this problem in the forefront of philosophical debate. No representative of this tendency, however, appears to me to have so dealt with the problem as to render superfluous or belated a further attempt to contribute to its discussion; though I cannot hope that that which I have to offer will do more than, at the utmost, indicate some difficulties or suggest some considerations which have not always been borne in mind by others who have turned their thoughts in the same direction.
It is a profound saying of Tertullian's: Habet Deus testimonia totum hoc quod sumus et in quo sumus
Nothing in ourselves, nothing in our environment can be utterly irrelevant to the subject presented to these Lectures by their Founder, the subject of Natural Theology. And so I need, I think, make no apology if I advert to the special circumstances in which these Lectures were delivered and suggest that they also invite our attention to the particular topic which I had chosen for my theme.
The great and terrible war in which at the time of the delivery of these Lectures our country had been engaged for nearly four years has, I think, modified very greatly the attitude of thoughtful men, not especially occupied with the study of philosophy, but inquisitive concerning the great questions which life propounds to us all, towards the problem of Personality in God and in men. The time that preceded the war was a time in which even intelligent people could seriously doubt whether there would ever be another armed conflict on a great scale between civilized Powers; a time in which the whole story of war which has filled so much of human history, with all its suffering and all its heroism, all its brutality and all its sacrifice, had become to many educated men among ourselves something legendary, a tale of
old, unhappy, far-off things
In such a time a certain way of regarding Personality had become familiar, which it is not too much to say the war has for a great number of persons completely reversed, making it seem important where it had seemed insignificant, and insignificant where it had seemed important. On the one hand the progress of scientific discovery, opening up to the imagination new and overwhelmingly vast vistas of Time and Space; the rapid fading of beliefs which appeared to be bound up with the discarded cosmology of the Middle Ages, and seemed to appeal to the trustworthiness of traditions the authority of which had been irremediably shattered by the advance of historical knowledge and criticism; and lastly the gradual loosening of ties which had largely depended for their sanctity and binding force upon the validity of these same beliefs: all these things had for multitudes of our contemporaries dwarfed into insignificance the ephemeral life of the human individual upon this planet and obliterated his once sure and certain hope of another life when that was over. On the other hand, the same changes of outlook had made that very ephemeral life seem to him who had to live it his one chance of happiness, of which he would do wisely to make the very fullest use in the few years allotted him. The realization of individual personality had come to seem at once supremely important as an object of human endeavour, and supremely unimportant from the point of view of the universe, wherein humanity itself was no more than the child of a thousand chances 'neath the indifferent sky.17
Now for many the war has reversed all this. Men who were believed by otherswho may even have believed themselvesto have asked from life no more than the largest possible measure of happiness for their individual selves, by whom the assertion that country and State were sacred realities which could claim from them a real devotion or self-sacrifice was felt to have about it something romantic or theatricalan echo of picturesque but absurd times when knights were boldsuch men have not hesitated, nay, more, have after hesitation deliberately resolved to risk everything they could call their owncomfort, prospects, happiness, lifeas of no account when set in the balance against their country's call. Death has become a familiar acquaintane to us all; if we are to hold up our heads at all, we cannot afford to rate so high as we did the earthly life which death cuts short, and the opportunity of happiness which it holds for the individual. But this very depreciation of the value to the individual of that separate personality, to give which what seemed its solitary chance of full development had been reckoned the one thing worth caring about, has revived in the hearts of mourners who have lost those in whom their own hopes were bound up the old reluctance to believe that this life is all, the old faith that Personality has a greater significance in the universal scheme than accords with the suggestions of physical science; it has revived also both in those who are fighting and those whom they have left at home the old instinct of prayer and therewith the demand even in unexpected quarters, for one who can hear the prayer18
, for what we are apt to call a personal God.
No doubt it is possible to say that all this ought to make no difference to a philosophic spectator of all time and all existence. Even this great war, what is it in the immensity of the stellar universe but a very little thing, a trouble of ants in the gleam of a million million of suns?19
If before it began there was no proof of the existence of a personal God who can hear our prayers, no reasonable probability that consciousness survives bodily death, the intensity of our private sorrows and the recrudescence of ancient habits cannot alter the laws of evidence. But I am not now concerned to defend the change of attitude towards the problem of Personality of which the war has been the occasion; only to note it as an additional reason for attempting at this time to make up our minds what we ought to think about that problem itself.
In tracing this history we shall, as I have already intimated, find ourselves compelled to take note of the discussions of Christian theologians respecting two points of central importance in Christian theology, the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, and the coexistence of three persons in the nature of God. It was the desire of Lord Gifford that the subject of Natural Theology should be treated by the Lectures on his Foundation without reference to or reliance upon any supposed special exceptional or so-called miraculous revelation. That I shall not be in any way contravening the spirit of this provision in the will of the Founder by giving a historical survey of views in support of which their propounders would certainly have invoked the authority of a special revelation, with the intention of showing the influence exerted by these views on the usage of the terms Person and Personalitythis would be, I imagine, readily admitted. But I do not think that I shall be unfaithful to Lord Gifford's wishes, wishes to which moreover he was with great wisdom careful not to bind his beneficiaries too strictly, only intending, as he says, to indicate leading principles, if I take seriously, as possible materials for the view of Personality that I desire to recommend to you, conceptions suggested by theological doctrines which will come before us in the course of our historical survey. So long as they are not treated as authoritative or as sacrosanct and immune from criticism, there can be no more inconsistency with a free scientific treatment of our subject in such a use of them, despite the belief of those who first put them forward in their peculiar claim to be considered as revealed, than there is in a like use of the doctrines of any philosopher, which we may find useful in guiding us to a conclusion of our own; and we may be very sure that Lord Gifford had no thought of requiring of his Lecturers an impossible independence of all previous speculation. I shall, therefore, not hesitate to seek in the conceptions suggested by the dogmas of the Christian Church the same kind of help as I should seek in those implied in the systems of the masters of philosophy: and shall feel my conscience in doing so quite free from any scruple arising from Lord Gifford's desire that his Lecturers should treat their subject without reference to or reliance on any supposed special, exceptional, or so-called miraculous revelation. At the same time I must confess that my view of the relation of Natural Theology to the historical religions is probably not quite the same as that which was taken by the Founder of these Lectures. I have elsewhere20
given my reasons for holding that Natural Theology is to be regarded not after the manner suggested by certain expressions in Lord Gifford's will, as a science consisting of truths reached altogether independently of a historical religion, but rather as the result of reflection on a religious experience mediated in every case through a historical religion. Hence I do not think it possible for our subject to be (in Lord Gifford's words) considered just as astronomy or chemistry is, and that because it cannot, in my judgment, be rightly described, as Lord Gifford seems to have thought that it could be described, as a strictly natural science. But I should not regard the difference between Natural Theology and the strictly natural sciences, such as astronomy or chemistry, as consisting in the fact that in the former our thought is not to be allowed free play as in the latter, but must be exercised within the limits imposed by authority, or by assumptions which are not open at any time to reconsideration and criticism. I should rather regard it as depending on a characteristic shared by Natural Theology with such other subjects as Moral Philosophy, Political philosophy, and the Philosophy of Art. Wherever there is found any one of the kinds of reflection which we describe by these names, it cannot but originate in the special moral, political, or æsthetic experience of a particular people; although, at the same time, the claim made for such reflection to be a branch of Philosophy implies the faith that every experience of the sort can ultimately be placed in an intelligible relation with every other and be shown to have its function as a member of the resultant system.
So too I should hold that a definite type of religious experience, expressed in a historical religion, is presupposed in every system of Natural Theology; while the ultimate goal of all human speculation which can be so named must be a system which presupposes all the religious experience of mankind; an experience to which indeed those who regard Religion as genuine experience, and not as mere illusion throughout, cannot surely deny the name of Revelation.
From the history of the notion of Personality and of the application of it to God I shall pass to a consideration of the motives which have led to an attempt to find Personality in God, and of the difficulties which such an attempt encounters. We shall find ourselves in the course of this investigation examining the conceptions implied in such phrases as divine immanence, divine transcendence, and a finite God. Lastly I shall venture to put before you certain conclusions to which I have been led by my reflections on these motives for seeking Personality in God and on the difficulties involved in such a search.
This programme will bring us to the end of the present course. The following course I propose to devote to an inquiry into the bearing of my conclusions, reached in the former course, as to Personality in God upon the view which we should take of Personality in men, as exhibited in the various spheres of human activityin conduct, in politics, in art, in science, in religion; and also upon what, borrowing an expression from the title of Mr. Bosanquet's Gifford Lectures, to which I have already referred, I will call the question of the value and destiny of the individual person.
My next Lecture will deal with the history of the word Person and with the notion of Personality in general.