Chapter X: Man as Finite Infinite
Towards the close of the last lecture reference was made to the idea that all finite existence is a partial manifestation of the infinite, and that various forms differ in value according to the degree in which they manifest it, and this difference was illustrated in several ways which all pointed in the same direction.
Coming then to the question whether this idea is true, or this infinite real, we found that we must answer ‘Yes’, because truth and reality prove in the end to be merely other names for this idea or this infinite. An idea fails of truth, an appearance fails of reality, just in proportion as it is discordant with itself and with other ideas or appearances; which means in the end just in proportion as it is not an all-inclusive harmonious whole. If it were so, we should say it was perfectly true or real: that is, the final truth or reality is this whole. It makes no difference whether you start from the positive idea of it and, finding it perfectly self-consistent, pronounce it to be true, or whether you start from any given bit of finite experience and, finding it partial and inconsistent, pronounce it to be not wholly real and so are driven on to the idea of an all-inclusive and harmonious whole of experience. Whether you start—as people say—from an idea in your mind, or—as they say—from a fact given to it, in either case you use the same criterion of truth and reality; and if by reflection you force that into consciousness, it turns out to be this idea of the infinite. And if you try to set up an alternative to it you find this alternative is already included in it, or else is self-contradictory or meaningless.
Going on to consider the various forms of manifestation in the finite, and how they differ in value or truth, according as they manifest the infinite more or less partially, we glanced at certain ways in which this difference shows itself: for example, the higher existence is, as a whole, less perceptible than the lower, but, on the other hand, shows itself fragmentarily to perception over a much wider field. It contains a greater mass of variety, but in a more intense and pervasive unity; it includes what is below it, but, in including it, impresses its own nature on it and changes it into an expression of that. What we call the more spiritual is in these ways the higher, as well as in the more usual sense; and it also appeared that the perfectly spiritual would include all possible experience in a unity so pervasive that it would express itself completely throughout this experience, so that no atom of it would conflict with any other or be merely its own separate self. That would be infinite spirit.
Let us now pursue this line of thought a little further. It seems to follow from this idea of the infinite, as we saw in contrasting it with the idea in philosophic Brahmanism, that (1) on the one hand, the distinctions of the finite cannot be simply lost or eliminated in the infinite; (2) and on the other hand, they cannot there, or in their ultimate reality, be as they appear in separation or as partial manifestations; or, in other words, that in some sense and in various degrees they must surrender their ‘individuality’. But I want here merely to ask what light is thrown on these conclusions by observation of the differences between higher and lower in the sphere of the finite.
(1) The higher or more spiritual, we saw, is not the more empty or uniform, but the more full and varied; and it is so because it includes the lower. Man is physical, chemical, animal, and he does not lose these properties in subordinating them all to his own unity. His mind, again, the mind or spirit in him, does not, as it advances, contain less distinction, but more; it keeps what it had but adds to it and refashions it. A great intellect or a great character is not less variegated than a small one; the greatest intellect possesses the most variety, the greatest character would be also the richest and would contain the largest number of elements. Certainly it would also be the most intense unity: its elements would all bear its peculiar impress and serve its purposes, they would not be a mob of anarchic individuals, but its elements and powers.
But this does not imply that the distinctive quality of each would vanish. If that were lost, the unity would not be their perfection but their annihilation, and it, on its side, would be the unity of nothing, would have no content, would be a ghost. And so it is everywhere. The less spiritual, smaller or lower, becomes an element in, and a distinction of, the greater or higher; but, in doing so, what it parts with is not its distinctive nature, but something of its isolation, exclusiveness, finitude. A perception, or the perceptible quality of a thing, is not lost in a conception of the thing or in the thing as conceived. It is retained, but rearranged and modified: else the conception would be empty, a bad conception. The tree of botany remains green, though its greenness has not the comparative isolation and the disproportionate prominence it possesses in common perception. A note does not cease to be when it is a note in a melody, nor does it cease to be itself: if it did, we should have a different tune, and if all the notes in the melody lost themselves, there would be no tune at all. I do not lose myself, or put away my distinctive qualities, in being the member of a family or a nation. And when a sound is more than a sound, when it is a word with a meaning, it is still a sound; it is so even when it means (as in the word ‘God’) the absolute whole of meaning.
If this, then, is the nature of progress or the growth of spirituality in finite existence, its goal must be the completion of this process, not its reversal. Spirit or mind in us, in ceasing to be finite, cannot shed its content—the world of its experience—but must complete and fully harmonise it. Thus, it would seem, the infinite cannot be a blank uniformity in which all distinctions have vanished: there can be nothing in the whole universe, the quality of which has vanished there.
(2) On the other hand, nothing in the infinite, or as it really is, can be precisely what it is for itself, or as finite, or as it appears. In all those instances there is a loss (if we choose to call a loss what is really a gain) on the part of the separate being. It does surrender its isolation or exclusiveness, for these are what make it partial, and contradictory of others, and so of itself. The merely perceptible elements in a thing are not in the conception what they were in perception. The note in the melody has lost its independence; it is not heard as its mere self; it has become a function in a wider whole. If I am to love and serve my friends, or family, or country, I must come out of my dear little ego and disturb it, and sometimes hurt it. And, if we call this the loss of individuality, doubtless with every step forward in spirituality or towards the infinite, individuality is lost, and in the infinite none will be left, for there can be nothing there that is merely its own. But then this idea of individuality as that which is merely its own, though familiar, is very deceptive. We are haunted by a fear that what is common is not ourself, that if we want to get at that, we must strip away, like the coats of an onion, the various spheres to which we belong, or the various relations in which we stand—country, city, family, friendship, art, literature, religion, games, and so on—as appendages, that if we do this we shall reach at last a solid core called ‘ourself’, or ‘individuality’, or ‘personality’, which is none of these, but belongs solely to itself. But even if we could find this core it would be worthless, and we should indignantly repudiate the notion that it was ourself. This whole method of reduction is surely a blind alley in philosophy, and in practice it is the essence of vanity and egoism. Evil, in fact, is the attempt at this complete isolation of the part from the whole. And if this notion of individuality were not so mischievous, how ludicrous it would be! What could be more absurd than an atom standing on its private right, and protesting that to enter into relations with other atoms would be an unendurable loss, and that to form part of a world was as good as annihilation; or a note declining, on the ground of its own dignity, to enter into a melody of Beethoven's; or a drop of blood in my body declaring that to be in my body was an infringement of its individuality, and clamouring to be set free and allowed to be its own self? Should we not answer it, ‘You poor little idiot, your real self is the body you belong to, and you have no self and no life out of it; if I did set you free, instead of being yourself, you would die; or, rather, you would not be able to assert your individuality even so much as that, but would begin at once to be part of another but lower form of being, for the universe will permit nothing to be for the most infinitesimal fraction of time a being simply for itself: that would mean absolute evil and eternal death.’
It is true, then, that in the infinite the finite loses its independent and separate being; but it loses what it never really had, and to lose this is to gain its true being, which is always life in community and here in the absolute community.
Hence a soul, an atom which feels and knows, can hold out no more appalling prospect to itself than to exist for ever and ever in absolute isolation; and goodness, which is peace, is in all its forms the dying of this illusory atomic centre into the life of others with which it forms a whole; and the stirring of religion is the feeling that my only true self in the end is God, to be a pulse-beat of his infinite life, to feel and know that I am that and nothing but that, and that this horrible core of selfishness in my heart, that parts me from him, is not there in his eyes at all, but melts like ice before the sun when I give myself utterly up to him, and begins to form itself again only to remind me that he is life, and that I cannot live in his life but shall freeze to death if I do not continually open my heart to him. Is that to lose my life, my individuality, or to find it? It is
to lose it, if individuality means that which is itself and only itself. But it is to find it, if the true being of the finite is to be—not nothing—but a distinction of the infinite, a note in the music of the spheres, or a word whose meaning is God.1
(3) Thus, it seems, nothing finite can be lost in the infinite and, on the other hand, nothing finite can be there as finite or in its character as appearance, but everything must be changed. Or, to put it otherwise, if we could see it there, or as it really is, it would not look as it does now. But—the third point—in this respect there must be an immense difference between finite existences. The lower, emptier, less spiritual anything is, the more must it be changed from its separate self.2
On the other hand, the higher or more spiritual a finite existence, the smaller the gap between the thing as it looks and the thing as it really is—obviously so, because the higher it is, the more it manifests the infinite. And considering what this is, what comes nearest to it must be mind or spirit in finite beings at its fullest and best; and this will mean—if we speak roughly, and if we look back to that religion of ideal humanity—beauty, goodness and truth, so far as we can attain them—or mind, producing and enjoying beauty, realising goodness (religion is the highest form of that), knowing its whole contents truly, so far as that may be. This is the spirit in us, or what we call ‘our’ mind, striving to surmount its last barriers, or free itself from the last shred of its separation; and this same spirit, that goal attained, would be the infinite.
I feel that I ought to apologise for having touched so briefly and vaguely on this theme, and equally for the few words I have to add. It may be asked ‘Have we any knowledge of the infinite as this unifying of all experience, in which the distinctions of the finite are present, not as conflicting, but simply as its
distinctions?’ If what was said at the beginning of the last lecture about truth and reality holds good, we certainly have such a knowledge. It is very abstract, no doubt, but still it must be true, if there is no alternative which is not either included in it or meaningless. Nor are we without indications of the manner in which the limitation and contradiction which we find in finite existence may pass into harmony; for everything we have seen of the differences between lower and higher, and the way in which the former is continued but changed in the latter, is such an indication.3
I need not dwell upon this. The further question is whether our experience is of such a kind that a mere extension of it could ever reach this goal. It may be held—for reasons into which I will not go—that this is not so, and it would follow that the infinite mind or spirit itself (though not separate from ours) must be more than such an extension. And this would imply that when we apply to it ideas derived from our own experience, we should always have to do so with a proviso: we should speak of thought or will, knowledge or goodness, of consciousness or self-consciousness, personality or love, as it, or as belonging to it in a way of its own, beyond our way; and should have to assign as far as possible the mode of difference in the two cases, or the defect of our way. And so—this is the modification of which I spoke at the beginning of the last lecture—what was said then of conceptions or conceived realities would have to be taken with this proviso. We saw an example of this difficulty in speaking of the idea of omniscience. But I shall not scruple to use the language hitherto used. This is an instance, I may add, of the questions which are not of consequence to religion. It is of consequence to religion whether the infinite is something below consciousness or self-consciousness—that is, unconscious or impersonal. But whether it is not something above self-consciousness, whether it is perfectly accurate to speak of it as selfconscious, or whether that term still implies some touch of limitation, is not of importance for religion.
If from the point we have now reached we turn our attention to man, we can see that there is an essential contradiction in his nature, and that it is in religion that this contradiction reaches its highest point, and is also most fully overcome. It lies at bottom in the fact that man is at once infinite and finite, and in religion these two aspects of his nature openly confront one another, and yet seek to be reconciled. But religion in this is only the final expression, or summing up, of man's whole life.
All his most intense and vital experience is experience of this contradiction. It differs, and falls, one may say broadly, into two kinds, according as he is most keenly aware of the contradiction itself or of the forms in which it is in some degree solved, according therefore as his experience is painful or joyous. But in each kind the other is implied: the sting of pain and failure is a sort of surprise and resentment on the part of something in us which expects boundless satisfaction and development; and in the rapture of joy there is, on the other hand, a sort of astonishment that a being so confined as ourselves can free himself so far from his limitations. These experiences, familiar in daily life in their lower degrees, are portrayed in their higher in all the greatest expressions of the mind in art and literature and religion. And, outside religion proper, the greatest of all perhaps, or at least those which seem to reveal to us the fullest truth, are the experiences which portray the contradiction at its height and yet point beyond it; such as Athenian or Shakespearian tragedy, or the Divine Comedy, or the mightiest creations of Michael Angelo and Beethoven, in all of which man appears, we may say, as at once in Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.
Let us now try to state in abstract terms the source and nature of this contradiction in man. All finite being, we have seen, is contradictory, because the infinite is in it, or it expresses the infinite, and yet expresses it imperfectly. Its real meaning, what it wants to be, its true self, is this infinite or the whole; but it actually is an exceedingly limited part.
Now man (and whatever other finite spirit there may be) is in the same way contradictory: but just because he comes so much nearer to the infinite than other finite things, the contradiction in him forces itself into his notice, while its presence in other finites does not strike the unreflective mind. The infinite is in him, as it is in every other finite, but it is also in him in a new and different manner. On one side (to speak broadly) he is a part of nature, one being among innumerable others: subject to the laws of matter, servile to all the skyey influences, the battlefield of millions of microbes, a thing that arises and perishes. But on the other side he is not a thing at all. The infinite, which itself is mind, appears in him as mind, and not merely as an object to mind. He is not, so to say, a mere item in the whole: he is a repetition of the principle or centre of the whole, or, rather, he is this principle, appearing in its own form, though not fully. And yet it appears thus as constituting somehow one being with that minute fragment of nature—for man is one being, not a juxtaposition of two. Can anything be more contradictory?
The consequence is that man's experience is full of divisions, and he himself seems even to divide into two selves. Being infinite he makes the most unbounded demands, like Faust: he aspires to know, possess, enjoy everything. But since he is only a minute portion of the whole these demands are utterly unrealisable, and he has to learn that it is not he, the composite being, that is infinite, but something in him, which is
he, and yet not merely he, and to which he must sacrifice himself. This wider or true self (which is really the infinite in him) confronts him as conscience or the moral law, or, again, as the moral wholes of family, society, the nation, and the like, to which he belongs. He identifies himself, as particular, with them, feels them and their welfare as at once himself and his welfare, and something wider than these; finds his happiness and good in them, though to do so he has to subordinate his particular self to them and, more or less, sacrifice and deny it.4
This is his morality. But he goes beyond it. It is still finite and imperfect. It neither reveals the whole infinite nor can it completely fill the unlimited form in himself. Beyond it, containing it but transcending it, there dawns on him the infinite itself: it reveals itself to him, or he becomes conscious of it—this is the same fact seen from opposite sides. And—as in morality—he is aware of himself in particular as distinguished from it, dependent on it, bound to sacrifice himself to it, and yet longing for it, aware of it as his own deepest and truest self, from which he is parted and which he must rejoin. It is the infinite content which alone can fill the infinite form in him. All this is the consequence of the contradiction in man.
The further consequence is, we must admit, that no words can well be more ambiguous than the words ‘man’, ‘human’, ‘humanity’. You can make the most conflicting statements about man and yet be right. What is true of him in one aspect is false of him in another. He is deity inchoate, and again he is the very opposite of God; ‘he’, in these two clauses, has really two different senses, and yet in both it stands for ‘man’. So, again, it is true enough in one sense that God is merely the universal essence of man, and even that man makes God in his own image: but the reason is that this man is already the image of God, and it is only of man in this sense that the statements have any truth. Again, God and man may be spoken of as simply exclusive of one another. Man is so conscious of himself and God when in religion he is aware of himself as merely particular and sinful; and in that case we must say man is totally destitute of goodness and power: he owes everything to God. But of man, in another sense, it would be almost meaningless to say this, for he not only has something implicitly divine in him but is united in will with God.
We said before how ambiguous the word ‘man’ is, when we were considering the statement that the ideal is produced by man and consists in the perfection of man; and confusion is constantly arising from the fact that we start with the first notion of man that we find in our heads, and use it without examination as if it were quite a simple truth, and he a simple being, and as if the only difficulty were to find out what God is. Yet, if I may say so, there would be no difficulty there if we could find out what we ourselves are. That is what we fancy we know best, and yet, if anything could be called intrinsically unknowable, it is man. What is complete might, at least by itself, be known completely: but it is the essence of man to be incomplete. We ourselves are something passing beyond ourselves: all our experience has broken edges, and edges that are for ever shifting, like the edge of an advancing tide. Man is not, he becomes: he is neither limited being nor unlimited, but the passage of limited being into unlimited; a search for his own perfection, which lies beyond him and is not himself but God.
If we look at man first on the intellectual and then on the moral side, we shall find that the same doubleness presents itself in both regions. And the centre of the matter is always that contradiction—he is, on the one hand, a mere part of the whole, or an object. On the other, he is not a part at all, but the principle of the whole or the form of the whole, or the potential subject of all finite objects—though this is not yet apparent in its fulness. And the plain fact that may bring this home to us is this: we are the visible things that stand or sit here, and are inconceivably insignificant fractions even of the visible world: but we, as conscious, overlap not only that world but absolutely everything; within ‘me’ as conscious, as subject, appears not only this visible me, but you and the stars and God himself. It all appears imperfectly, but the imperfection is not that the circle in which it appears is finite, for it is absolutely infinite and has no outside at all. It is conterminous with the infinite. The ‘me’ that is conscious is not me, the visible part, any more than the ‘you’ that is conscious is you, the visible part, but it is identical in us and in all mind, it is the principle of the whole. This fact is the origin of the theory of solipsism, that I am the universal or infinite, a misinterpretation of the fact, but valuable as forcing one to realise it. And this fact, again, is the reason why it is useless to argue ‘I am finite and therefore cannot conceive the infinite’. The I, that argues thus, is conceiving the infinite, in however meagre a way: it, itself, is dividing the whole into two parts called finite and infinite, both of which appear in its field of consciousness. It cannot therefore be merely finite. There is no getting rid of the fact that its field, however unsatisfactorily filled, is in outline the whole field, conterminous with that of absolute mind.
Let us look at this matter first on the intellectual side. There are some who will be familiar with the phrases ‘universal self’ and ‘particular self’. The universal self, or subject, is that principle just spoken of. There is no need to trouble ourselves now with the question whether this phraseology is ultimately satisfactory, but we must try to get at the fact that it attempts to express. Perhaps any effort to do this may be of some use, if only because the difficulties one finds may be the same that others find. But let me say by way of preface that the thing to be avoided is the temptation, due to our wanting to picture what can only be thought, to suppose that this universal self or subject is one thing, somewhere away from particular subjects, and these, again, are other things, apart from it. We shall never see the fact that way. But it is impossible to avoid language which seems to imply this.
Thus, I am myself in particular, or am a particular self, obviously, because I am not other selves nor other things, and much less the whole of these. I am a small part.
I say this and hold it is true.
Now what is the I that says this? It is clearly not exactly the same as my particular self, the small part of the whole. For that is merely one of its objects. It stands above all these objects and thinks of them, and of the particular self as one among them. It is subject, and subject to which the whole is object—which does not imply that it knows all the detail of the whole. It is myself as the form or activity of thinking or knowing, a form capable of holding a variety of particular contents. As such it is universal. It is so as against every particular content that it thinks or knows. And, when it thinks truly, it thinks a content harmonious with it and with itself. It is so in a further sense. In thinking truly I think, not what I in particular happen to suppose, but what has nothing to do with my particular opinion, or yours, or anybody else's, but what is the same for all of us so far as we are thinking truly, what is true always and everywhere, what is totally unaffected by our particular places in time or space. I, in thinking it, ignore everything that belongs to my mind as different from yours, you do the same—that is part of what we mean by the thought being true. I, simply as thinking it, am exactly the same as you, simply as thinking it. As thinking it, then, we are not our particular selves but universal. Or, what thinks in our particular selves is a universal self.
That this is so can be brought home to us by comparing thought (which is essentially universal) with feeling. I have, let us say, a headache. The self that feels this headache is mine in particular: you may feel headache too; but your feelings are not mine, nor mine yours: and our feelings are certainly not unaffected by our particular places in time and space: on the contrary, we have them just because we are creatures occupying these places. Suppose, however, that with a view to avoid headache, we try to learn about its cause, to understand it, to think it—at once our universal self comes into play again, and we should do our best to prevent our particular feeling-selves from influencing it. We want the truth about headache, and that, if we could reach it, would be exactly the same for us all, and exactly the same whatever headache we might feel.
There is then a universal self or at any rate5
subject that thinks in us. It is a thinking form, if you like, and any possible content of thinking will be in it. Imagine it, then, completely filled, thinking absolutely all possible content, and it will be absolute subject-object, or the infinite as thought.6
Now let us look at another side of the matter. I, as this universal true-thinking subject, am clearly not simply identical with I, as this particular subject that feels and has erroneous opinions. And yet, as our illustration shows, the two are in some sense the same. I cannot doubt that I, who feel headache, and I who think it, am, as we say, one and the same person; and (generally) that I, to whom the whole universe potentially is object, am one with the particular self which is a mere part of that object. The universal self, identical in you and me, uses your brain to think with, and mine; and they are particular, not the same. It thinks, but the exhilaration or fatigue of thinking belongs, at any rate primarily, to you not me, to me not you. Again, the content of the thought is the same or universal, but the thought, considered as an event, is particular in each of us. The universal thinking subject, that is, is not a separate mind, another subject than you and I and all finite particular minds, it is all particular minds, in so far as thinking truly and therefore identically. In other words (on the intellectual side which alone we are considering) when the particular self, in thinking, ignores, gives up, denies, its mere particularity—its mere feelings, errors, private opinion, all that is not true—in doing so it becomes or is the universal self. Or (it is the same thing looked at from the other end) the universal self is the infinite in me, negating what is merely particular or finite in me, what is merely me, and so making me, not a particular over against it, but a particularisation or expression of itself.
This is an example of what we saw before when, finding the idea of the abstract infinite insufficient, we tried to amend it. The infinite, we saw, cannot be infinite if it merely negates or excludes the finite, it must include it; but it cannot include it as finite, it can only do so by denying it as finite, removing its finitude, and making it an expression of itself. Conversely, the finite can only unite itself with the infinite by denying itself as finite, and in that selfdenial it is one with the infinite, it is a distinction of the infinite. The phrase ‘particular self’, then, it will follow, has two meanings—(1) It is myself as merely particular, as full of fancies, private opinions, errors—the particular and finite as against the universal and infinite which thinks truth. That has to be given up. (2) It is myself as thinking truly, because I have given up that mere particularity: and this is not particular as against the universal self, but is a particularisation, particular function, of that.
Conversely, the universal self is not another self, existing side by side with all these particular selves, it is these particular selves in so far as their own particularity is given up, or is the unity of which they are the functions or the functions in unity. And so here, in this abstract element of thinking, we find what we saw to be the essence of religion. That is an example of what the great men are always telling us. The truth, the secret of things, God, is not something far off and clouded in impenetrable mystery; it is within us, and the very centre of our being, and we have only to look there to find it. To prove God is not only impossible, it is a senseless endeavour, because God is already implied in the very centre of the thought which sets out to prove him. All you can do is to make this implication clear.7
We can now see, still considering man only on the intellectual side, what a contradiction he is. He is a particular organism in which the universal self thinks, or he is this universal subject thinking in a particular organism. This in its fulness would be absolute subject-object, the thinking form active in the total content, mind knowing the whole truly, or the whole of being perfectly aware of itself. In man it is limited or finite, because of its connection with the particular organism, but still is formally infinite or is present as the infinite form. Hence man is conscious not only of this and that object but of the whole, and nothing could fall outside this whole which is present in his consciousness. Hence also he connects the little that he does know in the shape of a whole, a system, into which everything at present unknown to him will be fitted, and this, expanded and reorganised, would be the absolute object (content) correlative to the absolute subject (form). But then the expansion would be immeasurable. For the form is filled up very partially, i.e. the man's knowledge is very small; and, for that reason, too, the knowledge he has is imperfectly systematised. The reason is his particularity, or the extreme partiality of the organ through which the universal thinks. It is a body in space and time, one of innumerable others. All the stuff which the infinite form in connection with the body has to organise into knowledge comes piece by piece, and in a confused mass of feelings, and what comes is but a tiny fragment of the whole. It is organised, for the thought in man is the universal subject or mind, and so the structure of this mind works all experience into its own form, and the matter that comes to it has implicitly the same structure; the same categories, or modes of connecting the items of experience, are in thought and in the stuff it works on. But the result is most imperfect, even when the individual man unites with the matter that comes directly through his body all that he can gather of human experience in other times and places. And, again, the thought in him is intermittent: he sleeps and forgets, dies: it in its fulness would do neither. And so he is the glory, jest, and riddle of the world. His knowledge is miserably limited; but because the unlimited is in him, he knows it is limited, and is aware of a boundless possibility of knowledge. He is conscious of all he knows, and conscious, in a sense, of all that he does not know. His experience is experience of incompleteness, of something evermore about to be, as Wordsworth said, and the little that seems known is, as Tennyson says,
an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades For ever and for ever when I move.
Or he is water parted from the sea, a pool in an alien land, that yet feels in it the throbbing of the ocean from which it is severed.
We have been looking at man only on the intellectual side, as thinking and pursuing truth. We shall find just the same contradiction if we look at the side of will, and with the change of a few words we may indeed repeat almost the same sentences.
Here, again, there is myself in particular, which is not other selves. Here, again, is myself as the active form of will, universal because it is able to will, or take for its object, either that particular self or anything else. And this will, again, is universal in a further sense when it wills the good, or is good will: for just as the true is something independent of my particular fancies or opinions and of yours, so the good is independent of my particular desires and of yours, it is something in which we meet or are identical and the obligation to pursue which is exactly the same to both of us. In willing the good I ignore or deny myself in particular, and you do the same; that is, in willing it we are universal will.8
And yet, just as, when I think universally, it is nevertheless I in particular who thinks, so in willing universally it is I in particular who wills: and so with you. The universal will is not some will apart from us up in the sky. My brain and muscles will and carry it out, and they are not yours. I and you, each of us, is realised in its realisation. The universal will, then, is particular will, or willing universally, or good will. In other words, when the particular self, in willing, ignores, abjures, denies its mere particularity, it becomes or is the universal will. Or (it is the same thing looked at from the other side) the universal will is the infinite will in me negating what is particular or finite in me, merely me, and so making me a particularisation of itself. Thus the particular will has two meanings: (1) My will as merely particular, pursuing my impulses, desires and purposes apart from or even against the universal or good. That has to be given up. (2) My will as identified with the universal, its organ, particularisation, manifestation: and the universal will is the unity of all such particular wills.
If now we ask what this universal will completely realised or active in its infinite content would be, the answer is: it would be itself willing and achieving perfectly the good of absolutely all particular wills in the universe, in so far as these were its organs or members. And that may be called an abstract description of God, perfectly realised in a world of spirits reconciled with himself; or, again (if you start from the side of the particular will), it is an abstract description of the Kingdom of God. And the ideal humanity we considered in earlier lectures is the same idea as this last, imperfectly conceived, because regarded as only in the future; and also because ‘humanity’, besides being ambiguous otherwise, takes no account of any finite spirit except that known to us on our earth. Whereas, surely, to anyone who freely receives all this wonderful new knowledge vouchsafed to us and allows it to mingle with the religion in his heart, the heavens will declare the glory of God a thousand times more than they could in the days of the Psalmist. All the dead worship of the stars may live again in a diviner fashion, and he will not be dismayed, even if it could be proved to him, that it lies in the divine plan that the life of his particular planet should not endure for ever, and that worlds arise and pass like single notes in a choral symphony that never began and can never end.
To come back to the contradiction in man. This infinite will itself is in him as a form or principle that wants nothing short of this infinite content; and could be satisfied by nothing less. And that too anyone may verify, however extravagant it may sound: so long as there remained one particular will in the whole universe that was excluded from the Kingdom of God, something would still remain to wish for—and not merely to wish for but to will, as part of the universal good that ought to be willed. This is the one side. On the other hand this infinite form is connected with a single inconceivably minute fragment of the whole, and has to work out its will through the impulses that arise in this speck. Its first demand is for warmth and milk, and its last is for the Kingdom of God. And it is one and the same will that wants each. Can there be a more astounding miracle than that, or a creation more contradictory than man, who being a pin-point desires, and is not his true self unless he desires, to be God?