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Lecture 10 The Destiny of the Individual Person

Lecture 10
The Destiny of the Individual Person
IN his striking Gifford Lectures to which I have already several times referred on The Value and Destiny of the Individual1 Mr. Bosanquet has quoted from the letters of Keats a remarkable description of this world in which our earthly lives are passed as ‘The Vale’ not of tears but ‘of Soul-making.’ This description Mr. Bosanquet accepts as a true description not indeed of the Absolute which is eternal and which we cannot regard as a process in time whether of soul-making or of anything else but of the Universe as finite.2

Nevertheless it seems a strange description to accept even of the Universe ‘as finite’ or in time for one who holds (as Mr. Bosanquet holds) that the souls are made only to be as souls destroyed.3

Nor does it help us to say as Mr. Bosanquet does in reply to a critic of this language4 that the souls are not destroyed but only remade. This is enough indeed for Mr. Bosanquet because he holds that the persistence of the ‘values’ on which persons have set their hearts is all that we have any true interest in demanding; a soul ‘remade’ in the sense which the phrase seems to be intended by Mr. Bosanquet to bear is in fact another later-born soul setting its heart on or even realizing the same values and will not for those to whom it seems that the unique personality of any one of them is itself a value calling for conservation be in any intelligible sense the same soul at all. They will be disposed to retort upon Mr. Bosanquet with Aristotle's remark5 that no one makes it his personal aim to possess all that is good on condition of having become a quite different person: for that would mean only that some one else possessed it; and in fact (Aristotle goes on to observe) so far as that goes some one else already as it is possesses the supreme good namely God. To Aristotle we must remember God is altogether another than we and not our higher Self or the Soul of our soul; so that it would not be a relevant criticism upon this passage to say that one who like Green6 thought of God very differently can speak as though the continuance in God of the life which is now ours would perhaps satisfy our aspiration after the immortality of our own Soul. I do not indeed wish to deny that the conservation of the values on which we have set our hearts in the life and consciousness of others is a possible and a worthy ideal but only that there is as Mr. Bosanquet seems to suggest nothing of positive significance or worth in the hope of personal Immortality beside this.
In one of the Lectures of my former course I adverted to a certain difference which I thought could be detected between the attitude of Mr. Bosanquet and that of a philosopher with whom he is for the most part in close sympathy I mean Mr. Bradley towards the relation between the object of Religion and that of Metaphysics; and I said that an analogous difference would be found to exist between the attitudes taken up by these two eminent thinkers respectively toward the belief in a future life.7 We found Mr. Bosanquet apparently convinced that his philosophy of the Absolute is competent to supply to Religion all the sustenance which it requires so that there is nothing of essential importance to Religion in the faith of the great prophets doctors and poets of Christendom which that philosophy cannot appropriate.8 We found Mr. Bradley on the other hand acutely conscious of the inability of his metaphysical doctrine to supply the place of a Religion and expressing his hopes of the rise of a new Religion which might live alongside of that doctrine more harmoniously than any now existing. The difference is real though perhaps one rather arising from a difference in temperament and feeling than lending itself to formulation in opposed propositions.
Now in regard to a future life for individual persons we find much the same contrast between the same two philosophers. To neither does the evidence of a future life appear strong still less convincing. To Mr. Bosanquet this appears no matter for regret and he is satisfied with the confidence which his philosophy gives him in the eternal security in the Absolute of those values whereon our hearts are set; for there is he thinks nothing more that we need desire. And so he does not care to leave a door open for speculations and hopes which he regards as groundless and empty of real value.
Mr. Bradley on the other hand strikes a different note. One perceives that he has a genuine sympathy with desires for personal reunion with departed friends which yet he suspects of an inherent self-contradiction and does not care decisively to shut the door upon the speculations and hopes which he no more than Mr. Bosanquet sees his way to encourage. It is a result of this divergence of sentiment—for it is a divergence of sentiment rather than of opinion—that the religious philosophy of Mr. Bosanquet wears an air of almost inhuman serenity while dismissing much that has been precious to many generations of our spiritual forefathers and is still precious to multitudes of our fellow men; while in that of Mr. Bradley we find on the other hand a very human melancholy as of one who with all his devotion to his chosen task of following the argument whithersoever it may lead him is yet profoundly convinced that there are inexorable limits set to Philosophy's power of satisfying the human spirit and acutely sensible of the discontent which thus must remain to her votaries when she has done all that she can to reward their faithful service.
It is probable that Mr. Bradley's attitude in this matter would be found to commend itself to a larger number of persons than Mr. Bosanquet's; but it must be allowed that there is a very large and perhaps an increasing proportion of thoughtful people to whom the prospect of a continuance of a personal life beyond the grave which to a former generation it seemed the chief recommendation of the Christian religion that it set in a clearer light than other creeds does not possess its old attraction. Not only are they dissatisfied with the evidence offered in its behalf; it is if I may so put it quite ‘out of the picture’ which they have formed of the plan of the universe and of human existence. What charm it may be made to wear in fancy has for them as little influence upon their serious concerns as the glamour of a fairy-tale which we may take pleasure in reading yet about which it scarcely occurs to us even to ask ourselves whether we wish that it could be true still less whether we could believe that it was so. This lack of a genuine interest in what appeared to the greatest minds of a time not far remote from our own a problem of the gravest and most universal import is sometimes expressed with a certain air of bravado which may make us doubt whether it is really quite so deeply seated as it would have itself be thought.9
Convention always counts for something in these matters. In one age even daring spirits shrink from confessing not only to others but to themselves that an aspiration which to all around them means very much is to themselves indifferent; and they will go to the furthest point that their consciences will allow in acknowledging its nobility and significance. In another age we find quite a contrary state of things and men sensitive to the currents of popular opinion will even feel a sense of shame in admitting themselves to be influenced by this same aspiration when it has fallen out of fashion with those who are esteemed as the representatives of the most advanced and accurate thought of the day. One may be permitted to discount in both cases the influence of the prevalent drift of sentiment. Probably in other days there was more indifference in ours less indifference to the hope of Immortality than one would judge from the literature of the respective periods. It is noteworthy indeed that as I remarked in the introductory Lecture to my previous course the sad events of the late war have undoubtedly renewed and quickened in a remarkable degree in this and probably in other belligerent countries what had been to some extent at any rate a flagging interest in the problem of life after death.
For my own part I will frankly confess that while I find it hard to convince myself that human nature has changed so greatly within the last century that the age-long yearnings for a life after death have suddenly died away to the extent that one is sometimes disposed to believe; and while I admit the great difficulty of constructing a theodicy a justification of the ways of God to man which shall not include at least such a survival of death as shall suffer the individual to “see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied;”10 yet the drift of opinion away from the old emphasis on personal immortality which was characteristic of so much of the theology and philosophy of the eighteenth century is reflected in my own sentiments. My imagination is not easily persuaded to reach forward into a world so different from this as must be any reserved for us after death; it is rather repelled than attracted by the phraseology so familiar to us in our religious literature which expresses exultation in the expected catastrophe and overthrow of the present order of nature. I do not feel—I doubt if I have ever felt—what Tennyson11 has strikingly called “the sacred passion of the second life” a passion which became perhaps the ruling passion in the mind of the poet who so described it. I may thus perhaps be allowed to claim that if I approach the subject of the present Lecture with a certain prejudice in favour of a belief historically so closely associated as that in Immortality with the religious experience on the reality and importance of which I am insisting that prejudice is balanced by another prejudice which is at least equal to and in some ways greater than it a prejudice against a belief which jars upon and distresses my imagination and from the consideration of which my mind has an instinctive tendency to turn aside.
In one of the lectures of my previous course I discussed the use of Myths in Philosophy especially as illustrated by the writings of Plato; and in the course of this discussion was led to insist upon the error of expecting from Philosophy a forecast of the future. I will not now repeat what I then said on this subject but will content myself with reminding you that prophecy of things to come whether earthly or heavenly is not the business of Philosophy and that she is quite incompetent to supply it. The most that she can do towards throwing light upon the future is to describe that eternal nature or structure of Reality to which any events past present or future must conform themselves; for the study of this eternal nature or structure is her proper business. Thus as the concern of a Gifford Lecturer is with Natural Theology which I have taken throughout to be a branch of Philosophy the result of philosophical reflexion upon religious experience it is only with the doctrine of a future life so far as it is inferred from a certain theory of the nature of structure of Reality that I shall here occupy myself. Of such evidence for it as is offered by the investigation of ghost stories or of alleged communication with the dead through spiritualistic mediums and the like I shall only speak by the way and for the purpose of distinguishing this evidence from the properly philosophical grounds upon which the doctrine may be recommended to our acceptance.
The faith in Immortality which has long been a chief article of European religion derives historically from a double root; from the Platonic philosophy and from the religious experience of the Jews during the period of their history which intervened between the overthrow of their political independence and the rise of Christianity.
It is to be very particularly remarked that neither the Platonic doctrine nor that of Judaism is a mere development still less a mere survival of those more primitive beliefs of world-wide diffusion which form the topic of Sir James Frazer's Gifford Lectures on The Belief in Immortality. There is in both cases a notable break intervening between the prevalence of these older faiths and the higher creeds which were to take their place. The more ancient parts of the Old Testament bear witness to a belief in an underworld into which men passed after death and in which they were cut off from the life of their people and the worship of their people's God. “The grave cannot praise thee” says Hezekiah to his God when he was recovered of what had seemed like to be his mortal sickness; “death cannot celebrate thee they that go down to the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living the living shall praise thee.”12 “In death” exclaims the Psalmist “there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who shall give thee thanks?”13
Dr. Charles in his learned Jowett Lectures on Eschatology Hebrew Jewish and Christian has shown how in its earlier stages the higher religion of the Prophets was so far from developing their primitive doctrine of the underworld into one of a desirable immortality that by its deliberate discouragement in the interests of the sole divinity of Jahveh of the customs connected with the worship of departed ancestors it rather tended to emphasize the loss in the grave of all such life movement and knowledge as the older tradition had allowed to the shades of the departed whom according to that tradition it was worth their descendants’ while to propitiate and in emergencies to consult through the agency of witch or of diviner.
According to the view of Dr. Charles14 the primitive beliefs of Israel regarding the future life being connected with Ancestor-worship were from the first implicitly antagonistic to the religion which looked back to Moses as its founder and in which Jahveh the national God who dwelt in the midst of his people was the sole object of worship. Hence this religion opposed itself to all preoccupation with the state of the dead in the underworld; and the Sadducees of the Gospel who said “that there was no resurrection”15 and looked forward to no blessed future were but maintaining a view which had at one time been the truly orthodox one in opposition to a heathenish dread or veneration of ancestral ghosts. But while thus destroying this older doctrine of an existence beyond the grave the religion of Moses and the prophets “was” to quote Dr. Charles “steadily developing in the individual the consciousness of a new life and a new worth through immediate communion with God.” “It is” he goes on “from the consciousness of this new life”—not from the belief in a shadowy survival in the underworld—“that the doctrine of a blessed future—whether of the soul only immediately after death or of the soul and body through a resurrection at some later date—was developed in Israel. Thus this doctrine was anew creation the offspring of faith in God on the part of Israel's saints.”
If we may accept this account of the history of the Jewish doctrine of a desirable existence after death given by an eminent scholar who has devoted his life to the study of the subject we have in that history a singularly close parallel to the history of the corresponding doctrine among the Greeks. Here too we find a primitive belief that after death men's conscious being is prolonged in a dim and shadowy underworld where as Achilles says in the Odyssey16 it is less desirable to be a king than to be a bondservant upon earth; where the departed dwell in “dumb forgetfulness”17 unless quickened into transient life by a draught of sacrificial blood. Here too this dreary notion of a future life was bound up with the propitiation of ancestors and (in the absence of any such religious opposition to practices of this nature as characterized the teaching of the Jewish prophets) this association with customs deeply rooted in the life and tradition of every family kept a certain respect for the older belief alive after it had lost all hold upon the minds of the educated. Thus in his Nicomachean Ethics18 Aristotle is studious to avoid any direct attack upon it while by no means concealing its lack of any importance for himself. On the other hand when Socrates in Plato's Republic19 says to Glaucon: “Have you not noted that our Soul is immortal and never perishes?” and the clever thoughtful young man of the world replies in undisguised astonishment: “By Jove not I—can you go so far as that?” it was something very different from an acquiescence like that of Aristotle in the language of a time-hallowed domestic ritual that has excited his surprise.
Undoubtedly Glaucon was no stranger to this language or to the allusions to the underworld in Homer and other poets or even to the more cheerful if not very elevated or spiritual imaginations of an “eternal drunkenness”20 which his brother Adeimantus is made to recount in his presentation of the case for a selfish theory of justice. Nor can we suppose that it is Plato's intention to represent his own brother as altogether ignorant of the existence of Orphic and Pythagorean speculations ‘of a higher mood’ than these to which the doctrines of Socrates and Plato themselves were unquestionably much indebted—speculations on the essential divinity of the soul and on its adventures before and after its incarnation in particular bodies. But a serious faith in the possibility of an immortality of real happiness for the soul of every man that would order his life aright not dependent on the offerings of posterity or conditional on initiation into some secret society of worshippers this was new to him. This faith Aristotle it is to be noted altogether ignores no doubt because he did not himself share it and did not wish to attack his master Plato on a point in respect of which he probably held that he agreed with that master in what he took to be the root of the matter namely the eternity of the Reason. But it was precisely this faith thus ignored by Aristotle that became one of the sources the prophetic faith of Israel being the other of the doctrine of Immortality which has been so prominent in the theology and philosophy of Christendom. In Greece itself “it never became a part of the national creed”21 until it had been reinforced by the Christian proclamation of ‘Jesus and the resurrection.’
It will not be supposed that I am pretending to give here even a brief summary of the whole history of the doctrine of a life after death among the Israelites and the Greeks. I should not indeed be competent to such a task even were it relevant to my present purpose. I am not unaware that there were influences to which I have made no reference at all which counted for something and even for much in the development of opinion in those nations upon this subject.22 I have been content to indicate what does appear to me to be the fact that neither the Jewish hope of immortality which Christianity took up into itself (both Jesus himself and St. Paul ranging themselves with the Pharisees and against the Sadducees in this matter) nor the Platonic affirmation of the deathlessness of the human soul were refined reinterpretations still less mere survivals of the beliefs associated with primitive animism all the world over. They represent a new departure and they presuppose a breach with those earlier notions a breach which took in the case of the Israelites the form of a religious reprobation in that of the Greeks the form of a polite incredulity. And this new departure was in each case occasioned by reflexion on an experience and I think we may even say in each case by reflection on a religious experience although the experience of the Israelites more obviously possesses that character than that of the Greeks which one would be at first no doubt disposed to describe rather as philosophical. It is possible however for both these designations to be applicable to the same experience.
We have seen how the increasing sense of spiritual intimacy between the pious Israelite and his God gave rise to an increasing conviction that such intimacy could not be thought to end with bodily death; and thus created a belief in immortality as the consequence of the individual soul's relation to the Eternal23 who was now no more regarded as merely a national deity bound up with the national life and inconceivable apart from it but as One with whom the soul of the individual Israelite could enjoy a communion mediated indeed by the national beliefs respecting his character and will but independent of the national ceremonies from which the worshipper was excluded by exile from the holy city or by the interference of foreign violence.
In the same way the Platonic assurance of immortality rests upon the recognition of the Soul's prerogative as the only kind of being capable of apprehending Ideas or Forms which in the systematic unity which belongs to them as exhibiting in its fulness the nature of the Good constitute the ultimate reality of the Universe. These Ideas are indeed operative everywhere; but in the Soul they are present in a peculiar sense which entitles us to speak of that highest part thereof which is cognizant of them as the Place of Ideas.24 Thus the Soul or at least this highest part of it participates in the eternity of the Ideas which are present to it and in it. We cannot I think but be struck with the resemblance no doubt amid remarkable differences of expression which this doctrine bears to the Jewish doctrine of Immortality as involved in the intimacy enjoyed by the Souls of the righteous with their Eternal Creator. Behind the latter lies what everyone who does not regard it as an illusion would admit to be a religious experience; behind the former a spiritual activity in following the argument whithersoever it may lead while resolutely setting one's face toward whatever we cannot doubt when it is presented to us to be better than what is contrasted with it. Such an activity cannot be denied to be ‘experience’ and only in a very narrow interpretation of the word ‘religious’ can that word fairly be regarded as inapplicable to it. The interpretation of the Platonic Ideas as the thoughts of God which commended itself to Augustine25 was so far at least justified that when the Platonist speaks of what is eternal and immutable he is certainly speaking of what can only be described in the language of those who inherit the religious tradition of Israel as belonging to the nature of their one supreme God.
Against this striking resemblance of the two doctrines of Immortality the combined influence of which upon the religion of modern Europe and America has been so great we may set a notable difference between them; and in respect of this difference the belief in Immortality which forms so important a part of the popular religion of the modern world agrees rather with the Jewish than with the Greek tradition. For it is above all things a belief in the immortality of the whole individual; whereas the Platonic doctrine was or easily passed into being a doctrine of the immortality or rather the eternity of the Reason which transcends the distinction of one individual mind from another in its apprehension of an object which is common to all minds since it belongs to the essential nature of Mind wherever found to apprehend it.
This is I think upon the whole a true account of the distinction between the respective tendencies of the two traditions; although on the one hand Plato himself was genuinely interested in the individual's hopes of future happiness and on the other hand St. Paul26 seems sometimes to have approximated in his treatment of the old Hebrew distinction of ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ (πνεῦμα) to the Greek distinction of ‘soul’ and ‘reason’ (νοῦς) and to have thought of Immortality as the prerogative of the ‘Spirit’ regarding the soul as perishable like the body which it animates and which is of an essentially inferior nature to the “body which shall be” the glorious vehicle of the glorified ‘spirit.’ The relation borne by this body to the body which we commit to the earth is in that familiar passage so often heard at the burying of Christian people27 compared to the relation of the seed to the full-grown plant; but the stress is laid by the apostle rather upon the unlikeness of these two than upon the identity which unites them as different stages of a single process of evolution. We must observe however that this speculation remains true to the Jewish type of doctrine in that it involves what St. Paul calls in Jewish fashion a ‘resurrection’ although he does not call the risen body the same with the body that was buried. The immortality to which he looks forward is the immortality of a complete human individual and humanity was for him recognizable only in a spirit expressing itself through a bodily organism. The Christian Church has never in her teaching respecting a future life abandoned this position which is indeed intimately connected with the central place which belongs to the Incarnation in her theological system.
The doctrine of Immortality of whose historical affinities the above paragraphs may perhaps afford for our immediate purpose a sufficient indication is thus a doctrine of the kind which we saw it was consonant with the aim of a course of Gifford Lectures to consider. It takes as its point of departure the nature of Reality as revealed in the religious experience of a personal relation of the individual soul to that Perfect and Eternal Being of which it becomes aware in and through the recognition of its own incompleteness and finitude.
If this experience can be adequately described as a revelation of this Supreme Being to and in the consciousness of the individual soul or even in view of the joy and delight excited in us by this revelation as a love of God which is however exclusively an amor intellectualis and which admits of no reciprocation28 then indeed we may take upon our lips the famous words of Spinoza ‘Sentimus experimurque nos œternos esse’;29 but we shall (with Spinoza) find no guarantee for the survival of bodily death by aught in us except the intellectus which is alone capable of this immortalizing communion with the Eternal. And to this the unique individuality which distinguishes each of us from all his fellows may seem to be indifferent. On the other hand if we are conscious in our religious experience of a reciprocal personal intercourse or (which I believe will be found in the end to come to the same thing) of a religious value in our unique individuality expressible and perhaps only expressible in terms of the value which one human being has for another in the reciprocal personal intercourse of intimate friends30 we shall not easily be content to suppose that only the universal values expressed in our personal lives and not also the unique individuality in which they have found expression are secure in him who has known and loved us as individual persons.
Nevertheless there are in the way of a belief of this kind in Immortality suggested by reflexion upon the religious experience of personal intercourse with the Eternal several serious difficulties. The principal of these I propose briefly to point out offering upon each a few observations which will make no pretence to constitute an adequate discussion but may serve to indicate my own attitude towards it.
By far the most obvious and in my own judgment the gravest of these difficulties is that suggested by the absence of any evidence of a generally convincing nature that a human soul can exist in independence of a human body. Anything like a full examination of this problem would indeed require a knowledge of the natural history both of Body and of Soul which I am very far from possessing. I can only as I said describe my own convictions for what they are worth.
I take it that it will be very generally admitted by those who have considered this question that the connexion of Soul with Body is not capable of being exhibited as a necessity of thought; that the hypothesis that the former may exist apart from the latter is not from the first ruled out as unmeaning however little ground there may be for entertaining it. On the other hand I see nothing in the conception either of Soul or of Body which rules out the possibility that for reasons of which we are unaware it is in fact impossible that a Soul should exist apart from a Body.
This being so we are left to draw what conclusions we may either from the nature of the connexion of Soul and Body in so far as we are able to observe the phenomena in which it is exhibited or from facts or alleged facts tending to show that souls do actually exist in a disembodied state.
To take the latter possible source of information first I have already in the first Lecture of the present course disclaimed any particular competence to deal with the evidence brought forward by certain persons who have engaged in what is called ‘psychical research’ to support the belief in the existence of disembodied or discarnate Souls. I can only say that what I know of it on a very superficial acquaintance does not seem to me to carry conviction. The late Henry Sidgwick a singularly cautious and judicious inquirer who devoted much time and pains to these investigations found himself at last convinced of the real occurrence of what is called ‘telepathy’ between persons in the body but unable to agree with his brilliant though far less cautious and judicious friend and fellow-student of these matters Frederic Myers in thinking that the evidence placed also beyond reasonable doubt the activity of souls which had survived the dissolution of their bodies. Were it otherwise no doubt the confident assertion of some that souls do not survive the dissolution of their bodies would be set aside by a contrary instance; and this would involve an addition to our knowledge of the Universe of the greatest interest at once scientific and practical. It would be absurd to deny this.
At the same time it would be I venture to think very far from proving the Immortality of the Soul still less from establishing the religious doctrine which is usually described by that name. For evidence that a soul could survive its body would be far from constituting evidence that it would never perish. Nor if appeal be made to revelations from the spirit world is there any antecedent reason for supposing that statements on this or other subjects made by persons who have passed through death would necessarily be any more trustworthy than statements made by persons who have not. And as to the religious doctrine of Immortality it is before everything else a doctrine of values; and the discovery that as a matter of fact some or all persons survived what we call death would not in itself establish such a doctrine any more than the discovery that some persons had recovered from a disease commonly supposed incurable or had prolonged their earthly existence beyond the age of one hundred and fifty years.
Turning back from the alleged evidence of the actual existence of souls in a disembodied state (or at least without material bodies such as we are familiar with in our experience) to the nature of the connexion between Soul and Body we find several competing theories put forward as to this connexion which you will not expect me now to examine in detail. Of them all with perhaps one exception it may I think be said that they neither afford a proof nor even establish a probability of the separate existence of the soul or of its capacity to survive the dissolution of its body. On the other hand there are some among them which may be said to exclude even the possibility of these things. But these as it appears to me are either altogether or in those respects in which they rule out the possibility of a life beyond the grave plainly unsatisfactory accounts of the facts which they profess to explain or describe.
The one exception to the general failure of theories of the connexion of Soul and Body to afford a sufficient ground for the doctrine of a life beyond the grave is the ancient theory that the Body is the prison-house of the Soul to which it is confined as a punishment for sins committed in a previous state of existence. While this theory is by no means extinct to-day it is not likely to find many adherents among ourselves except upon grounds of revelation such as are excluded from our present purview or of the recollection by living persons of prenatal experience; and this latter I certainly know no satisfactory evidence to substantiate.
It is true that not a few thinkers have regarded the relation of the Body to the Soul as the same in principle with that of an instrument to the user of it; and this analogy would certainly seem to suggest and has suggested to many that one need no more expect the Soul to cease to exist when the Body is destroyed or worn out than one expects the life of a musician necessarily to perish or decay along with the organ on which he has been accustomed to play. But a closer consideration of the peculiarity on any showing of the special relation of this instrument to its user will immensely lessen the force of the argument. For it is an instrument which only this individual soul can use in this way as its own body; it is an instrument the appropriation of which by the soul is not voluntary; nay to all appearance the soul itself in every instance has been developed within its body and has been at every stage conditioned by its structure and its resources. The intimacy of the relation between a particular body and a particular soul in fact so far surpasses that existing between any artificial instrument and the human being who uses it that there would seem nothing paradoxical in supposing the former relation to be one belonging to the very nature of the soul out of which it could not exist.
On the other hand certain views of the nature of the connexion between Soul and Body would seem to exclude the possibility that the soul should survive the dissolution of its body. Such would be that Pythagorean view of the relation of soul to body as comparable with that of a harmony to the lyre which Simmias in Plato's Phœdo31 submits to the criticism of Socrates during the last hours of the great teacher's earthly life. For were this true then
As music and splendour
Survive not the lamp and the lute32
When the lamp is shatter'd
The light in the dust lies dead—
When the cloud is scatter'd
The rainbow's glory is shed.
When the lute is broken
Sweet tones are remembered not:
When the lips have spoken
Loved accents are soon forgot
so the soul could assuredly not survive the body. The most obvious objection to this view (though it is not the objection taken by Socrates in the Phœdo which depends upon the previous admission by Simmias of the truth of the doctrine of Reminiscence) is that it ignores the outstanding difference between Subject and Object and thus the distinctive characteristic of the very thing about which we are arguing.
The kindred theory of Epiphenomenalism in modern times was no doubt primarily intended as an account of consciousness while the doctrine that the Soul is a Harmony was primarily intended rather as an account of life. But Epiphenomenalism though more awake than the older doctrine to the distinctive importance of consciousness fails altogether I think we may say to give an intelligible account of it or of any other activity which we may regard as belonging to the Soul. It leaves the Soul where Plato left the phenomenal world33 suspended between being and not being. For apprehension desire consciousness are unquestionably there provoking us to inquiry concerning them; yet they have no place in the system of reality recognized by the Naturalism of the school which offers this theory for our acceptance.
The name of Psycho-physical Parallelism may be used to cover several theories of the nature of the connexion between Body and Soul the adoption of some of which would scarcely admit of belief in the soul's continued existence after the dissolution of its body. Among these would certainly be included such as do not really play fair between the physical and psychical series which are said to be parallel but in fact ascribe to the psychical series a dependence upon the physical which is not reciprocated. But to all these theories may be reasonably opposed a consideration already advanced in a previous Lecture where we were discussing the possibility of finding in the unity of the bodily organism the principle of the association implied in the phrase ‘dissociation of personality.’ The unity of the Mind or Soul is of quite a different kind from that of the Body. And the contrast which strikes us between these two is emphasized when we consider either in relation to the wider world with which it is connected. The Body as a material system is included within a vaster material system. The other parts of this system are external to it and excluded by it. On the other hand the Mind or Soul connects itself with what we may figuratively call its environment not by excluding it from but by including it within the unity of its own experience.34
I must not be supposed in what I have just said to have been aiming at anything like an exhaustive discussion of the various theories of the nature of the connexion between Soul and Body even from the point of view of their bearing upon the possibility of the Soul's survival of the dissolution of its Body.
On such a supposition I should rightly be considered to have fallen very far short of even a very unexacting standard. But my purpose has been the far more modest one of stating with just sufficient reference to the different theories put forward to indicate to those familiar with them the lines upon which I should be prepared to deal with them my own conclusion for what it is worth that while from no general view known to me of the nature of the connexion of Soul and Body—except the ancient hypothesis mentioned at the outset that the Body is the prison of a fallen Soul—can the persistence of a Soul in being after the dissolution of its Body be inferred as a necessary or even a highly probable consequence yet none which appears to me to be tenable excludes altogether the possibility of such persistence. Nevertheless the close intimacy which in any case marks the association of the Body with the Soul and the lack of generally convincing evidence of the existence of souls apart from bodies inevitably arouse the suspicion that the connexion may in fact be necessary although the grounds of this necessity have not been so far laid bare to our intelligence and are perhaps never likely to be discovered thereby.
Under these circumstances of the two forms of the doctrine of a future life which are best known in Europe that which speaks of the immortality of the soul “delivered from the burden of the flesh”35 and that which speaks of the resurrection of the body to be the organ of the Soul's ‘life everlasting’—different forms of the doctrine which are sometimes held in combination—it is the latter which seems best to suit with this close intimacy of the connexion of Soul and Body and this lack of evidence for the existence of the Soul except in that connexion. But the belief in the Resurrection of the Body is beset with difficulties of its own which it is sufficient here to indicate. I do not propose to discuss them.
If this belief be entertained as relieving us from the difficulty of supposing the Soul capable of a disembodied existence it is plain that this difficulty will still remain where an interval is held to elapse (as in the most usual representations of the Christian doctrine) between the termination of the soul's embodied existence on earth and its resumption of such an existence at some future date.
The hypothesis defended by St. Thomas Aquinas36 of an abiding inclination towards its Body on the part of the separate Soul will hardly be found to satisfy many to whom this difficulty presents itself as serious. It has been attempted37 to meet it in another way by the substitution for a future resurrection of the Body of the assumption by the Soul at death of a new spiritual Body. It is possible to find an anticipation of such a view in the teaching of St. Paul. But though St. Paul no doubt conceived the body with which the soul of a redeemed person was hereafter to be clothed as a ‘glorious body’ very different from the present ‘body of our humiliation’ and though in the case of those who should be found alive at the return of Jesus Christ in glory to which he looked forward he expected it to be assumed without a previous dissolution of the present body and probably to absorb it into itself or even to result from some miraculous change passing over it; yet he held that it always was somehow continuous with the present body.38 Where death had taken place before the second coming of Christ the nature of this continuity could be illustrated from that which connects the seed with the plant which eventually springs from that seed. To us this whole speculation is apt to seem lacking in any basis of experienced fact. Nor can we easily even imagine any manner in which the structure of a multicellular organism such as the human body could be adapted to the purposes of an immortal life. It is true that our earthly bodies are not materially the same throughout our earthly existence and that they may perhaps not now contain a single particle which formed part of them some years ago. It was a difficulty raised by Cebes in the Phœdo of Plato that the soul may during its earthly life wear out many bodies as a man may wear out many coats; yet perhaps his last body may outlast his soul as his last coat may outlast his body.39 But even if we were to fancy each successive coat as made out of its predecessor by a gradual process of repair the continuity would lack the peculiar character which belongs to that of organic growth and decay. And the first body which the soul is known to possess always within our experience comes into existence in one way and in one way only; and that a way which certainly affords no precedent for the wearing by the disembodied soul of a new body for itself not only materially but organically discontinuous with that first body.
Thus neither for the immortality of the soul without a body nor for the resurrection or new creation of a body for an immortal soul shall we find to our hand any arguments (not depending on the acceptance of a special revelation) which can be said to make these doctrines even plausible in face of the objections from the analogy of our common experience and from the lack of any generally cogent evidence in support of any alleged experience inconsistent with this. To these objections we may before leaving the subject add one or two others of a somewhat different kind.
The first of these is the difficulty presented to the imagination by the thought of a future life which cannot plausibly be represented as of a piece with this. Questions may be raised like those urged by the Sadducees in the Gospel40 or those mentioned by St. Paul in the chapter so often read among ourselves at the grave-side. I do not wish to say that such questions should not be raised. The attempt to work out in imagination the details of a state of being to which we look forward may be a proof of the genuineness of our expectation. But failure in the attempt does not in the least show that we are likely never to find ourselves in the state in question. We can easily illustrate this for ourselves from the difficulty in time of peace of imagining the conditions of war or from the difficulty at any time of imagining the circumstances of our deaths which yet we do not for a moment doubt that we shall have to undergo. The imaginative difficulties which undoubtedly beset the belief in a future life are rightly called difficulties; but they should not avail to outweigh any positive grounds which can be justly alleged for it. We need not fear to turn from them as we read that Jesus turned from the puzzle about the woman with the seven husbands to the religious experience of communion with a God who is “not the God of the dead but of the living”—for it is precisely in this experience that there is contained the strongest and perhaps the only strong reason for the ‘hope of immortality.’
Distinguishable from though kindred to the imaginative difficulties of the belief in a future life is the sense if I may so express it that the scale of our personal interests is adapted to the scale of our earthly life and that projected into eternity they would be changed out of all knowledge. The contrary argument from the unwillingness to part with life which is notwithstanding common to most men was met by the late Professor Metchnikoff the eminent discoverer of the phagocytes by his theory that only the unhealthy conditions of our ordinary existence and especially the character of our ordinary diet prevent us from coming to an age when we should as contented centenarians lie down like tired children ready for the sleep that will know no waking. But such speculations do little to instruct us. Even as it is we may probably say with truth that in a very large number of cases men are when they come to die weak and unconscious or if conscious without any desire except that of rest. And on the other hand there seems no reason to suppose that a man whose days should be by a suitable regimen preserved for many years beyond what is now the normal limit of human life would any more than old persons who as we say ‘keep their faculties’ now do necessarily lose while consciousness remained those wide-ranging interests as of a ‘spectator of all time and all existence’41 which seem so disproportionate to the apparent brevity of his sojourn in a world the knowledge and enjoyment of a far larger portion whereof than he can ever become acquainted with would still be utterly insufficient for the satisfaction of his intellectual and spiritual appetite. For the faculty of apprehending the Eternal and the Absolute on the presence whereof in our minds depends this appetite is itself out of proportion with our apparent position in the system of nature as beings filling a very little space and lasting a very little time.
As I reminded you before even Aristotle with all his predilection for a naturalistic psychology found himself driven to speak of this capacity as coming into our souls from without.42 Yet once introduced into the soul it is not something which can be regarded as an accidental adjunct to it. The same Aristotle indeed has himself elsewhere said43 that this faculty the νοῦς is each individual man's very self. And it is undeniable that that consciousness of self as a unity persisting through the vicissitude of our sensations perceptions and emotions by which with good reason we suppose ourselves to be differentiated from the lower animals this very consciousness is intimately bound up with and involves that consciousness of Reality as a unity within which we distinguish ourselves from the persons and things over against us which is implicit in all use of reason and only becomes explicit in Philosophy.
There have however been throughout the history of philosophy thinkers—Aristotle himself Averroes Spinoza will represent them in the ancient medieval and modern periods of European civilization respectively—who have recognized this disproportion with our earthly destiny of that activity in our minds whereby we apprehend the Eternal and the Absolute and have based upon it a theory of the immortality or rather eternity of this activity apart from those elements in our psychical nature which we should call more distinctively personal. These last may indeed seem to exhibit no such disproportion with the span of life which a man may reasonably look to accomplish in this world. And although (it may be said) no doubt our sense of grief in parting from the affections and associations which are our most precious possessions in our earthly pilgrimage testifies to some dissatisfaction it must be remembered that the quality thus imparted to our experience has itself a certain value of its own which would vanish if the passing hence were really only a passing “from this room into the next.”44 Without the poignancy of regret for irretrievable loss without the sense of the fewness and shortness of our days life would (we may be disposed to feel) be emptied of its peculiar pathos and death of much of its solemnity.
Such reflexions do as it seems to me tell against the easy optimism of a certain kind of spiritualistic doctrines which proclaim that ‘there is no death’ for our judgments of value here range themselves along with the presumptions drawn from the silence of Nature against beliefs that are at once incongruous with earthly experience and discordant with the deeper harmonies of life. But the religious experience which is at least to my thinking the one strong ground for looking forward to a life beyond the grave does not as I understand it suggest that ‘there is no death’ but rather that ‘death is swallowed up in victory.’45 Acquaintance with a God who “has known our soul in adversity”46 is acquaintance with a God in whom we can trust that nothing of such importance for the deepening and purifying of personal character as the lessons of the valley of the shadow of death will be lost in the life which is eternal because it is lived in him.
If we turn from philosophers such as those I recently mentioned to others who among thinkers of the highest rank stand out as exhibiting a genuine concern for personal immortality to Plato or to Kant we shall perhaps at first be disposed to think it a circumstance difficult to reconcile with the main contention of this Lecture that to neither of them does it seem easy to ascribe a doctrine of personal intercourse between man and God. It is not clear that the God of Plato was what we should call a ‘personal’ God; or perhaps it would be a more correct way of speaking to say that so far as Plato believed in a ‘personal’ God at all that God was on the one hand not the ‘Supreme Being’ and on the other hand was rather considered as the wise and good Spirit whose activity could be inferred from the ordered motions of the system of nature than as the object of the individual's devotion and worship. And as to Kant I have already had occasion to refer to the suspicion and even hostility with which he looked upon all pretence to any kind of personal intimacy with that God in whom he was yet convinced that the seemingly discordant worlds of sense and of duty find their reconciliation and their unity.
We may here note that both Plato and Kant however they would have dealt with the problem of Divine Personality and whatever their attitude to what religious writers have called ‘the practice of the presence of God’ were distinguished by an estimate of the dignity of the personal moral life and of its place in the system of Reality quite other than we find in Aristotle or in Spinoza; and that it is a consequence of this estimate that to them it seemed a matter of real concern whether the life of the individual person reached its term at death the occurrence of which may depend on conditions quite irrelevant to the course of the moral development of the person who dies.
We may also profitably observe that with both Plato and Kant though for different reasons it was just in respect of the religious interpretation of the personal moral life that their theories of the principles whereon that life is based may justly be accused of a certain incompleteness.
In the case of Plato the task of working out such an interpretation thoroughly congenial though it would have been to the temper of his mind and the trend of his thought was hampered by the deficiencies of the religious tradition which he inherited. On the one side the only form of that tradition which might have been suggestive of Divine Personality was on moral grounds unacceptable to him while that which was free from morally degrading associations was connected with the veneration of the heavenly bodies and of the order of the Universe and so tended to remove the Divine to a distance from the personal life of human beings. It is however significant that when we look to the later development of this thought among his Christian followers we find the world of the Ideas the eternal Natures which constitute the ultimate reality of the Universe conceived as the content of the Logos or expression of the supreme Goodness and this Logos as personal and indeed as no other than that very Person through whose intercourse with God as his Father the Christian Church had learned to regard personal relations as intrinsic to the Divine Life.
To some extent it is probably true that Kant was also held back from committing himself unreservedly to a religious interpretation of that reverence for the Moral Law of which he so often spoke by the inadequacy of the religious tradition with which he was familiar to the demands of the moral consciousness. No doubt the inadequacy was far less glaring in his case than in that of Plato. The very fact that he could put forward in his work on Religion within the bounds of mere Reason a purely ethical interpretation of the chief doctrines of the established faith of his country is eloquent testimony to this. But his anxious avoidance of any language which would make moral obligation dependent upon any theological sanction might well have found some justification in the view with which he cannot have been unfamiliar of the positive ordinances of the Old Testament as divine commands and even more in the representation prevalent in some quarters of the divine decrees of predestination and reprobation as arbitrary and of the moral characters of men as irrelevant to the question of their standing in God's sight. And he may very likely have been influenced still more by aversion to the sentimental tendencies of some forms of contemporary Pietism in his shrinking from any notion of an emotional relation to God such as might seem to be inseparable from the claim to experience a genuine personal intercourse with him.
But to this inadequacy of the religious tradition there was added in the case of Kant a temperament which unfitted him not only for appreciation of the possibility of a personal relation between the devout worshipper and his God but for those most intimate forms of human companionship from which the lovers of God have in all ages borrowed the language in which their piety can best find expression. Herein he presents of course a strong contrast to Plato who holds love the same love which in our affection for our friends and comrades seeks a personal object to be the very principle whereon depends the philosophic quest of the Supreme Reality.
We need not then be overmuch deterred by the absence from the pages of Plato and of Kant of an express recognition of a personal intercourse in Religion between the worshipper and his God from seeing in their concern for personal Immortality a confirmation of the view which we had seemed to be approaching that the experience of such a personal intercourse is the only trustworthy ground of a belief in a blessed life after death. For both philosophers emphasize in their different ways the irrelevance of death if considered as the close of the development of the moral character of persons conversant—and not merely in what we may call an impersonal fashion but so as that their whole personality is involved—with the Supreme Goodness.
The conclusion of our inquiry then into the bearing of a doctrine of Personality in God upon the problem of the destiny of the individual human person is that this doctrine understood as we have understood it as the theological expression of an experience of personal intercourse between the worshipper and the Object of his worship affords the only truly positive ground of which a Gifford Lecturer can take cognizance for a belief in future blessedness and immortality such as can form an article in a religious creed. It does not as we have seen enable us to meet directly the insistent doubts suggested by our experience of the constant association of personal spirit with a body forming part of the system studied by the natural sciences. Such difficulties might be at least negatively met by convincing evidence of the kind alleged by some votaries of what is called ‘psychical research.’ But this evidence so far as it went would remove the subject from the context of religious faith.
If however the supreme and central fact of the universe is a personal Love it is intelligible that the apprehension of this fact and of its implications for created persons should be inaccessible to those cognitive activities which do not involve a personal orientation such as is expressed by the word ‘faith.’
We have to note moreover that unless religious experience (and that not only in the form which expresses itself most naturally in the doctrine of Personality in God) is altogether an illusion it cannot be explained on the principle of a pure Naturalism. Nor is it only religious experience of which this may be said. Science itself cannot be materialistically explained. The scientific man who professes a materialistic view of the world not only like Hume47 forgets his paradoxical views when he turns aside from his speculations to amuse himself with a game of backgammon or divert himself in the society of his friends but even in carrying on his scientific inquiries he forgets them; for did he not forget them they would paralyse him. The man who takes Religion into account is better able than the materialist to be true to all sides of human experience. And out of the experience of Religion springs the hope of Immortality.
It is no doubt true that this hope must fade away where the scientific view of the world holds exclusive dominion over men's thoughts. And conversely where this hope prevails it must unsettle that exclusive domination. Nor is it an ignoble loyalty which fears to encourage disaffection to a conception so majestic and comprehensive and up to a certain point so satisfying to mind and heart as this same scientific view of the world. There is a real danger lest in dwelling upon our personal hope our whole outlook should become trivial and so to say parochial. And that is why as it seems to me the only form of the hope which it is profitable to indulge is that which is directed not upon our own eternal life but upon God's; and only upon our own as involved in his. We shall not give the rein to our imagination which is here incompetent. What in us and in our lives has in it the capacity to persist we cannot say; much that we may be disposed to regard as having it may in truth be as little fit to endure for ever as many childish tastes and desires to be prolonged into mature life. “Beloved now are we the sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.”48 This is the testimony of religious experience. But if there is Personality in God it cannot easily be thought that Personality in the sons of God is the evanescent thing that to the naturalistic view of the world it must seem to be. “We shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.”49 “He is not the God of the dead but of the living for all live unto him.”50
There can be no doubt that in so far as such considerations weigh with us we shall be compelled to sit more loosely than perhaps we have been wont to do to what may conveniently be called the naturalistic view of the world; and that despite its potent sway over our everyday imagination and despite the danger ever to be carefully guarded against of making our liberty from its restraints a cloke for extravagant and fantastic license of speculation unworthy of our civilization.
To counteract this danger we shall do well to learn a lesson from Kant's treatment of the three great topics of the metaphysical theology upon which he directed his destructive criticism—God Freedom and Immortality—as Postulates of Morality. If there has been any substance in the contention of the Lectures which I am now concluding we are at liberty to accept far more simply and less grudgingly than did Kant the testimony of religious experience. But we must keep ourselves from rashly assuming that convictions we have reached by way of reflexion upon the presuppositions of that experience can be verified apart from it. This is not to consent to such a divorce of Theology from Metaphysic as was recommended by Albrecht Ritschl though it may serve to make his motive in recommending it intelligible to us. It is only to acknowledge that religious experience has like other kinds of experience its own sphere and its own laws. What at first appear to us as limitations imposed by these are seen on further consideration to be involved in what gives the experience its peculiar value. A religious conviction can no more be attained without faith than a moral conviction without respect for duty or an æsthetic conviction without a sense of beauty in colour or sound or form; nor in any of these cases could we seriously desire it to be otherwise attainable. But in the religious experience we may enjoy acquaintance with God consciousness of the freedom involved in this acquaintance assurance of a life with and in him which lifts us above the changes and chances of mortality. We have every right to employ our minds in asking what bearing this acquaintance this consciousness this assurance have upon our whole view of the world; but we shall scrutinize very closely any inferences from them which seem to have lost sight altogether of the specific nature of the premisses from which it started. And in so scrutinizing them we shall after all be doing no more than observing a time-honoured rule of the common logic which has come down to us from Aristotle and which warns us against neglecting the peculiar nature of the principles available in each grand department of knowledge and against such migration from one of these departments to another as only a neglect of the peculiarity of the principles of each could have suggested.
With this remark I bring these Lectures to a close. No one can be more conscious than I of their inadequacy to the height of the great argument which I have attempted to handle in them. No one can be more fearful than I of the possible discouragement which disappointment at this inadequacy may bring to some who may have looked for help to a discussion of these matters from a chair which has in the past been occupied by so many eminent men. But the poor in intellectual and spiritual as well as in material wealth may take shelter under the divine apology for her who cast into the treasury all that she had.