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Lecture Thirteenth: Does the Primacy Belong to Reason or to Will?

INthe last two lectures we have considered Aristotle's views of the practical and of the theoretical life, and the grounds on which he regards the latter as a purer and higher expression of reason than the former. Practical reason has to realise itself in a subject-matter which is not purely rational but mixed with contingency, and in which the universality of pure science is reduced to generality, and the absolute necessity of law to the hypothetical necessity of empirical fact. But the theoretical reason is free from all such limits. Its object is the universal and eternal, the forms of things apart from their matter, and as these forms are the counterpart of its own nature, it may even be said that its only object is itself. From this it follows that ethics cannot, as Plato supposed, be based upon metaphysics. Indeed, whatever connexion there is between them lies in the opposite direction; for it is the virtues of the moral and political life that form the indispensable basis or precondition for the development and exercise of those higher qualities which are shown in the life of contemplation.

Aristotle's exaltation of theory above practice will become more intelligible if we compare it with the opposite view which is more prevalent in modern times, and which regards science as confined to the narrow sphere of a finite experience, while it finds a way to the infinite only through ideas connected with our practical life. On the whole, ancient philosophy tended towards what has been called ‘intellectualism’ and regarded the pure activity of reason as that in which man rises into the most intimate communion with the divine. But in modern times, especially since Kant, the trend of opinion has often been in the opposite direction, namely, to regard scientific knowledge as limited to the phenomenal world of experience, and to look to the impulses of the will or the demands of practical reason to free us from such limitations and supply us with grounds for belief in some higher reality. If we can discern the causes of this marked difference between the ancient point of view and that which has been most popular, at least in recent times, it will carry us some way toward the determination of their respective values; in other words, it will help us to decide whether the truth lies in either of these extremes or in some higher view in which the opposition between them is transcended.

Now, we have already seen how Aristotle was led to his view of the primacy of the contemplative life. The opposite view, which has been much favoured in recent speculations on the nature of religion, finds its foremost representative in Kant. It was the aim of the Critique of Pure Reason to show that the objective world—the only world of which we can have scientific knowledge—is a thorough-going system of necessity, a system of objects represented as existing in space and time, and reacting upon each other according to fixed laws which are altogether independent of our will. Of this objective system we, as natural beings, are parts, and in it we find the satisfaction of our immediate impulses; but there is nothing in it or in ourselves as parts of it, which could suggest the existence of any principle either within or without or above us other than the necessity of nature, the necessity that connects all objects with each other. When, however, we reflect on the conditions of our knowledge of this world of externally related phenomena, we see that such knowledge is possible only through the unity of the self within us and by the thorough-going synthesis of phenomena according to the principles of the understanding. For, in order that objects may exist for us, it is necessary that the intelligence should combine the data, given in sense under the forms of time and space, by the aid of the principles of causality, reciprocity, and the other principles of the understanding, so as to produce a connected experience—an experience which can be referred to one self. But this, again, leads to a further step in the analysis of knowledge; for, when we realise what is meant by this reference of experience to the unity of one self, we see that it involves certain ideas or ideals of reason, by which we are guided in applying the principles of the understanding. The conscious self in all its constructive activity—in its endeavour to construe its own life, in its endeavour to determine the connexion of outward phenomena, and finally in its effort to bring together in one both these forms of experience—is guided and stimulated by the ideas of the self, the world and God; and of each of these it thinks as a systematic whole which is absolutely one with itself through all its differences. Of these ideas it cannot get rid, yet neither is it possible for it to realise or verify them in experience. The ultimate verdict of the Critique in relation to them is, therefore, an open one. To reason in its theoretical use, they must always remain problematical, that is, they must remain ideals which it can and must aim at in the development of its knowledge, but which it can neither assert nor deny to be real. They are, as it were, dark lanterns which illumine the object but not themselves, which throw light upon experience and enable us to detect its phenomenal character, yet without revealing anything as to the existence of real objects corresponding to themselves. If we have any right to believe in the existence of any such objects, it must be not upon theoretical grounds, but in virtue of some practical necessity to affirm their reality.

Now, such a practical necessity is found in the moral law which, as it issues unconditioned commands, compels us to believe in our own freedom. And the idea of an intelligible world is just the conception on which we must take our stand, in order to think of ourselves as self-determining beings,1 or to refer our own actions to ourselves as their origin and cause. Thus while the theoretical reason forced us to deny that the ego is under the law of necessity, which applies only to its objects, the practical reason reveals to us that we are under the law of freedom, or, in other words, that in all our action we are determined only by ourselves. But what is this law of freedom? It is the counterpart of the ideas of reason; for these are all reducible to different applications of the conception of self-consistent or systematic unity. To say that a rational being, as such, is under the law of freedom means, therefore, that in all its actions it must be consistent with itself, and that this consistency must be its sole motive.

Now, if we free this idea from the ambiguity which attaches to Kant's different expressions of it—as bare logical consistency, as consistency with the self, and as consistency with the idea of a possible kingdom of ends2—what he seems to mean is that a moral life is one which in all its acts is in perfect organic unity with itself. Further, as the unity of the self is a principle to which all the intelligible world is relative, the moral law not only demands the systematic unity of the life of the individual, but postulates the idea of a system of the universe in which all the ideas of reason are realised, and all things are brought into unity with each other and with the intelligence. In other words, it postulates not only the freedom of the individual, but the conformity of all the conditions of his life to such freedom: or, as Kant puts it, it postulates both the immortality of the soul to work out its infinite task, and the existence of God as the ultimate principle of unity by which the order of the material world is conformed to the demands of self- determining reason, and happiness is bound up with goodness.

The general result of Kant's doctrine, then, is that, while there is nothing in the objective world, viewed simply in itself, to raise our thoughts above the necessity of nature, we find in our practical consciousness a sufficient warrant for the belief in our own freedom and in the existence of a spiritual Being like ourselves, who is the ultimate principle of all reality, and through whom, therefore, all reality is determined in conformity with the demands of our spirits. This Being we cannot, indeed, know, as we know the objects of ordinary experience, but the thought of him is bound up with the consciousness of self and with all the experience which the unity of the self makes possible; and the belief in him is implied in our consciousness of the law that gives order and direction to our practical life. In this ease, and in this case alone, can we vindicate our right to believe what we will to believe, but cannot know; and the limitations which science cannot transcend are set aside by the imperative voice of duty, which compels us to think of the universe as ordered in conformity with itself.

Such, in outline, is the Kantian theory of the relation of our ordinary experience—our immediate consciousness of the world and ourselves—to that higher idea of both which is presupposed by morality and religion. And we find the same theory repeated with modifications by many writers in the present day, who, without adhering closely to Kantian principles, adopt his general conception of the limits of knowledge. To such writers science seems to be confined to the task of tracing out the lines of natural necessity by which one phenomenon, or phase of existence, is bound to another; and the possibility of escape from this iron circle of causation is supposed to be opened up by the revolt of human hearts against it. Thus the feeling of inconsistency between the conditions of finite existence and the obligations laid upon us by our spiritual nature, the demand of the soul for a good more complete and enduring than any of the changing objects of sense, or the aspiration after an ideal beauty which is never adequately realised in the world—are regarded as a sufficient warrant for casting aside the ordinary tests of credibility and basing belief upon the will to believe. In many different ways the will, or the heart, or the imagination, is supposed to emancipate us from the limitations of sense and experience, and to put us in relation to ends and objects which cannot be brought within the scope of science.

Now it is easy to see that the two theories or classes of theories, represented by Aristotle and Kant, are diametrically opposed to each other, and it is instructive to draw out the points of contrast between them. With Kant science is confined to the discovery of the laws which determine the co-existence and succession of objects and events in the finite world of experience, and it is only through the moral consciousness and the practical faith which that consciousness brings with it that we escape from the limits of this system of necessity, and rise to the idea of a spiritual God who rules over a free kingdom of spiritual beings. With Aristotle, on the other hand, moral practice is the hampered activity of reason, working with a matter which can never be perfectly subdued or determined by it, exercising itself in a medium which is exposed to the inroads of a necessity that cones not from within but from without, not from itself, but from nature and circumstance: while it is science which emancipates reason from this foreign yoke, and raises it to a consciousness of all things in their ideal principles, which is also a consciousness of their unity with the mind that knows them: for, as Aristotle says, in the case of things without matter, the knower and the known are one. Thus it is only the mind which sees the essential forms of things—their final or formal causes—that can attain to the full consciousness and realisation of itself. Putting this contrast in a slightly different way, Kant holds that knowledge can grasp only the external conditions of things, while it is the faith that goes with the moral consciousness which alone can give us insight into the final causes, the ultimate forms of reality, the spiritual principles upon which the universe is based. Aristotle, on the other hand, looks upon practice as a continual struggle with external necessity, while he thinks of θϵωρία, philosophical contemplation, as the free converse of the mind with itself, the activity of unimpeded reason, which is at the same time the revelation of the nature of God and of the immanent purpose of the universe. In both cases, therefore, we have, on the one side, an immediate view of the world as a region of accidental co-existence and external necessity, and, on the other side, a deeper view of it as the manifestation of a spiritual principle, as an organic whole in which an ideal design is ever realising itself. But the difference is that the principles to which the two views are referred change places, and the higher religious and philosophical consciousness is in the one case associated with practice and in the other with theory.

Now this comparison is very instructive, whether we look at the points in which the two views agree or at those in which they differ. Looking first at the points of agreement, we see that they both start with the presupposition of a certain irrational or non-rational element in things which cannot be explained, though in the case of Aristotle this element is taken as objective, and in the case of Kant as subjective. Thus Aristotle presupposes that there is in the world a substratum of matter, which makes it impossible that formal or final causes should be perfectly realised, and which obliges us to explain many things by an external necessity, which is closely allied with contingency, or, at least, leaves much room for it. In like manner, mutatis mutandis Kant bases our experience upon data of sense, of which we can say nothing, except that so they are given. Our mind, indeed, by the aid of principles derived from itself can reduce these data into a fixed and necessary order, and so can construct out of them a world of experience. But it cannot make this world wholly intelligible; it cannot bring it into agreement with the ideas of reason which are bound up with its consciousness of itself. Thus in both philosophies the immediate world of experience is conceived as one in which we continually encounter contingency or external necessity, and it is by abstraction from that world, or rather from the irrational element in it, that we are supposed to attain to the consciousness of an intelligible reality, which is determined only by idea or spiritual principles of connexion. These principles, however, are to Kant only objects of a practical faith which science cannot verify; while, to Aristotle, they are the supreme objects of science, and, indeed, if we take the word science in its strictest sense, they are the only objects of science.

Now there is a plausible explanation of this difference of view which many moderns would be ready to give. It is that Aristotle is still entangled in the illusive search for formal or final causes which belongs to the metaphysical stage of thought. He has not yet discovered what later philosophers were to discover—that that search is hopeless, and that all we can do is to observe the qualities of things as they present themselves, to determine their quantitative relations, and to find out the laws that govern their co-existence and succession. To attempt anything more is to go beyond the possibility of science; it is to substitute anthropomorphic fancies for the truths which we are able to ascertain by scientific methods. When we think we discover design in nature, what we see is not her real lineaments, but the reflexion of our own faces. If we can attain to more than this, the grounds of our belief must be not objective but subjective, not derived from scientific scrutiny of the world without, but by listening to some voice that speaks within us. If, therefore, we have any right to a faith that there is in nature a principle kindred in some way to our own spirits, and that this principle is the real cause or substance of the world without us, we must find its ground simply in this—that, as Kant showed, we cannot be true to ourselves or live in accordance with the law of our own rational being without presupposing or postulating such a principle. Hence modern philosophy must speak with a humbler voice than the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. It must not pretend to determine scientifically the highest principles of reality. It must be content if it can find grounds for a rational faith that, behind the phenomenal veil which hides the truth of things from us, there is a divine reality which corresponds to the highest needs of our souls. For us, in this region of appearance, the true can never be coincident with the good: but our souls refuse to believe in their ultimate discord, and this refusal is itself a sufficient evidence that, if we could see the whole truth, we should find that they coincide.

It may, however, as I think, be shown that there is a better way out of the difficulty. The sharp antithesis between the phenomenal and the real or intelligible worlds which is common to Aristotle and Kant—whether it be conceived with the former as a contrast between the sphere of opinion and that of science, or with the latter as a contrast between the sphere of science and that of faith—is the result of a false abstraction. There is no phenomenal world, no world in which reality is veiled from us by a material or irrational element. Tile only distinction is between the world as imperfectly conceived and the world as more adequately interpreted. Nor is it true in regard to any object that the utmost science call attain is to find out the external relations of co-existence or succession, in which it stands to other objects. It is, indeed, true that this kind of explanation is the primary work of science, and that, as I have said in a previous lecture, neither Plato nor Aristotle had an adequate perception of the difficulty and extent of this work. It is also true that the higher teleological view of nature cannot he reached, except in so far as this humbler work of science has been achieved. But it is impossible to admit the abstract contrast between mechanism and teleology in the sense in which it has often been maintained. For, in the first place, recent times have seen a new attempt to use the conceptions of organism and organic evolution in the explanation of the phenomena of nature and, particularly, of the phenomena of the life of plants and animals. But any application of such categories to natural beings involves that the kingdom of nature is not cut off by any sharp line of division from the kingdom of spirit; but that there are in nature indications of the same upward movement towards an ideal end, which is continued in a higher form in the moral effort of the human will to attain an absolute good. In this sense, modern thought has recognised the same fact which Aristotle half-poetically expresses when he speaks of a ‘will of nature,’ which reaches beyond the particular impulses of the animals and seeks for the preservation of the individual and the species. Even Kant himself acknowledges that it is necessary to use teleological ideas in dealing with living things; though he treats this use as merely ‘heuristic,’ i.e. as supplying a necessary point of view from which we must carry on our scientific investigations, but not as enabling us to attach any real predicates to such beings as objects. But the division between such a provisional hypothesis or postulate of science and its recognised truth is not easy to maintain—as is shown by the speculations of many of our modern biologists, whose general repudiation of teleological speculations does not prevent them from continually in detail making rise of the idea of purpose, whenever it is necessary to explain any special modification of structure or function that seems to conduce to the preservation of the individual or the species.

We ought not, however, to make too much of such concessions. For it must be allowed that the main work of science has been to follow out the lines of external connexion between phenomena, and that, even in regard to the organic world, it generally pursues the same method to the same result. Even, therefore, if in this region it cannot altogether banish the idea of final causes, yet it keeps that thought as far as possible in the background; and it treats all the phenomena with which it deals as the necessary results of the action and reaction of elements which are not themselves subordinated to any pervading unity. And the Darwinian theory, many as are the applications of the idea of purpose to which it has led, is itself an attempt to carry the idea of an external necessity, resulting from the relations of the organism and the environment, into the explanation of those very phenomena which were once thought to be the clearest evidences of design.

But, in the second place, there is a better way of proving the limited and provisional character of the ordinary scientific view of nature, as a system of external necessity; and Kant himself, though he maintained that view, and indeed, gave it a fuller and more distinctive philosophical expression than anyone before him, was also the first to supply the conclusive means of refuting it. For, while he treated the world of experience as a system of objects—which are external to each other in space, and pass through successive phases in time, according to necessary laws of coexistence and succession—he showed also that this world of necessity stands in essential relation to the unity of the self that knows it. Hence, any explanation of the world, or of any object in it, which does not take account of this relation, must be regarded as abstract and imperfect. Thus the external necessity which characterises the objective world when we regard it as complete in itself (as it is generally regarded by science), must receive a new interpretation when we recognise that it cannot be separated from the unity of the intelligence. When we rise above the abstractions of the ordinary consciousness and of science, and take a complete or concrete view of the facts, we see that this external necessity never exists apart from an identity which manifests itself in it and controls it. This identity beyond difference, indeed, was recognised by Kant only in the form of an ideal of reason which cannot be realised in experience, or, in his language, of a regulative idea, which cannot be treated as constitutive. But this view implies an imperfect conception of the unity of selfconsciousness, and is quite inconsistent with Kant's own conception of the relativity of objects to that unity. For, if the object in its externality be an abstraction which requires an ideal principle of identity to complete it—if, in other words, the object always has a subjective unity underlying all its differences—we can no longer admit that Kant's categories of the understanding are the highest principles we can apply to the contents of our experience. If, therefore, the special sciences confine themselves to explaining the connexion of phenomena by the external relations of causality and reciprocity, this proves nothing in regard to the limits of knowledge. It proves only that such sciences are not able to speak the last word as to the nature of the objects with which they deal. For, in order to speak that last word, we must regard the world—and everything in it to which we attribute any independent reality—not as an external combination of elements, acting and reacting on each other, but as a unity which is one with itself through all its differences. While, therefore, it may be legitimate for the purposes of science to bring all phenomena under the form of necessity, it is obvious that this is a provisional way of regarding them, and that it cannot furnish us with any ultimate conception of reality. “The truth of necessity is freedom or self-determination,” in the sense that whatever claims to be real must be an individual, and that no object is individual except in so far as it is an organic whole which has its principle of unity in itself.

The result of this line of thought, then, is to break down the abstract opposition which Kant set up—between the object and the subject, between the world known and the self that knows it—by the discovery, in the object, of that unity which was supposed to characterise the subject. But with this we have also to break down the opposition between the theoretical and the practical life: for the relativity of subject and object, self and not-self, must be accepted in both its aspects; and if the object cannot be severed from the unity of the self, neither can the unity of the self be severed from the multiplicity and externality of the object. Now Kant, as we have seen, supposed that reason, in its practical exercise, carries with it an ideal of freedom or selfdetermination, which sets it in abstract opposition to the objective world as a system of necessity. This also causes it to condemn that world as phenomenal, and to look beyond it to an intelligible world, in which all things are determined according to the law of liberty, and to a divine intelligence which orders all things according to that law. But one of the necessary presuppositions of this view has already disappeared when we have rejected the conception of the objective world as a world of necessity. And the other necessary presupposition must also disappear, when we recognise that the subjective unity of self-consciousness cannot be severed from the objective consciousness of the world in space and time. The relativity of object and subject to each other implies that the unity of the intelligence must be found also in the object; but it also implies that the intelligence or conscious self, in seeking to realise itself in the object, is only bringing to light what the true nature of the object is. Hence, we cannot suppose that the aspirations of the soul or the obligations of the will can carry us into a new region absolutely separated from that phenomenal world, which is the object of our knowledge. On the contrary, the practical must be viewed as continuous with the theoretical life, and it mist be recognised that, if the former goes farther than the latter, it is still on the same road. The good cannot he opposed to the true; for they are only different aspects of the relation of the same self to the same all-embracing whole, in which the self finds its objective counterpart. Thus the contrast of knowing and willing cannot be treated as an absolute one, so soon as we discern that in knowing we are coming to the consciousness of self as well as of the objective world, and that in action we are realising an end which is involved in the nature of the world as well as in our own nature. It is true that in both cases, in knowledge as in action, the universality of the principle that manifests itself in our lives is at first hidden from us by the conditions of its progressive manifestation. What we know seems to be only the particular things with which our senses bring us into contact; what we will seems to be only the particular objects which excite our desires. We do not reflect that all known objects already have taken their place in the one world to which all that is knowable by the one self must belong; nor that all objects of desire must be sought sub ratione boni, as the satisfaction of a self which, as it is a unity to which all ends are related, cannot be satisfied with anything but the whole. Thus through all the stages of their development, the theoretical and the practical consciousness are actuated by the same principles, and have to contest with the same difficulties; nor is it possible to separate the one from the other without mutilating both.

We may put this point in a more palpable way, if we consider that the opposition of practical to theoretical reason, which Kant maintains, resolves itself into an opposition of that which ought to be to that which is. The good is an ‘ought-to-be’ of reason, which never is realised in the phenomenal world. But, if the above criticisms have any value, this opposition must be broken down on both sides. For, on the one hand, the real, which is the object of knowledge, cannot be regarded as a dead reality which exists apart from any movement in itself or in the intelligence which apprehends it, but only as the expression of an absolute intelligence which reveals itself both in the object and in the mind. Nor, on the other hand, can the good be taken as mere ideal, an ‘ought-to-be,’ which is present to our minds but has no necessity of realisation; for, as the good of a self, it has in itself a principle to which all knowable objects are related. Hence it is realised, or is realising itself, in all things, even in those which seem most to hinder its realisation. It is impossible to sever the absoluteness of the moral law, upon which Kant so strongly insists, from the idea that “morality is the nature of things”: in other words, that it is a principle which is realising itself in the objective world. Thus also morality passes into religion, not as with Rant by the external postulate of a Deus ex machina who shall bind together goodness with happiness, or the spiritual with the natural world, but by the recognition that there is one principle underlying both. For the very essence of religion lies in the consciousness that what we have presented to us in the objective world is not a foreign necessity, which has no relation, or only an accidental relation to our will, but rather an environment which is the necessary condition of its exercise; and, conversely, that what we seek as the highest in our practical life, is not a mere subjective end, to which we try to subordinate all that is without us. Rather that it is one and the same end which is revealed both within and without, in the order of nature and history and in the wants and aspirations of our spirits. Our theoretical and our practical consciousness are thus in continuity with each other. We have not in the one the determination of the self by an objective world which is independent of us and our desires, succeeded in the other by the unavailing, or only partly successful, effort to subdue such objects to our will. We discern that, in knowledge, we are active as well as passive; and that, in practice, we are passive as well as active. Or, more properly, we discern that the opposition of activity and passivity does not hold good, when we are attempting to describe the relations of spiritual beings, who are members of the great organic whole of the universe, to that divine Spirit which is the principle of that whole. Rather we are obliged to say that these members are active, because, and just so far as, the principle of the whole is active in them.

It appears, then, that there is an essential fallacy in the Kantian attempt to confine science to the sphere of phenomenal objects which are connected together only by an external necessity, and to refer all our higher consciousness of reality, whether religious or philosophical, to the demands of practical reason. But the same criticism applies also to the opposite view of Aristotle, that it is the practical reason which is immersed in the phenomenal world— in the world of external necessity and contingency of which science in the strict sense of the term is impossible; while it is the theoretical reason which alone is able to grasp things in their essential nature, and to follow out the inner necessity by which all their attributes are connected; and, above all, it is the theoretical reason alone that can rise to the contemplation of God as the principle of all reality, the first and the final cause of the universe. We must, I think, recognise that in this view also there is an unhappy divorce between the two sides of man's life; and that his higher or religious consciousness can no more be conceived as abstractly theoretical than it can be conceived as abstractly practical. The idea that science is concerned only with deducing the nature of things from their essential definitions—from the formal or final cause of their being—is as one-sided as the Kantian conception that it has to do only with measuring the phenomena as they are given, and determining the external conditions of their co-existence or succession. For neither of these is possible without the other. A teleology that takes no account of mechanism is as imperfect as a mechanical philosophy that takes no account of teleology. The latter, indeed, is less of an illusion; for a science that deals with efficient, and not with formal or final causes, His a true science so far as it goes. It enables us to find order in the world, though it may be only an external order. It thus lays the true foundation for a systematic view of things, even though it may not be able to give to that view the highest kind of unity. It exhibits to us the anatomical structure and mechanical relations of the parts of the body, though it is not able to detect the secret of its life. On the other hand, as the work of the Scholastics often showed, the attempt to deal directly and immediately with formal and final causes, is apt to lead to a philosophy of foregone conclusions, which stereotypes our first notions of things, and attempts, by merely analysing these notions, to add to our knowledge of their objects. So understood, the demonscrative syllogism of Aristotle becomes a mere formal exercise of thought which can only bring out in the conclusion what has been assumed, and even explicitly assumed in the premises.

We cannot, indeed, attribute such a notion of science to Aristotle: for as I have shown in an earlier lecture, his definitions were not mere reproductions of popular notions, but were reached by an inductive and dialectical process which is closely analogous to the methods of modern science. At the same time, we have to recognise that there were defects in Aristotle's logic which gave too much encouragement to the Scholastic interpretation of it. In the first place, he assumed that by a direct process of induction it is possible at once to rise to an explanation of naturer by formal or final causes. Thus he thought it possible to solve the whole problem of science at one stroke, and did not recognise that we must use lower categories before we proceed to higher categories: in other words, that we must connect the phenomena with which we are dealing in an external way as causes and effects of each other, before we can safely attempt to grasp their essential individuality and the organic relations by which they are bound to each other and to the mind that knows them. It is true that besides the science that demonstrates the properties of substances through their essential definition, Aristotle also refers to a kind of science which has to determine the causes of particular events, such, for instance, as an eclipse. Like Plato, therefore, he recognises that the external or mechanical action of substances upon each other is worthy of investigation as well as the formal or teleological principles that are realised in them. And, especially in his biological works, he carries the investigation of the necessary conditions, without which the ends of nature cannot be achieved, to a point far beyond the imaginary physics of the Timaeus. But such enquiries into ‘second causes’ do not, in his view of science, take the important place which has been given to them in modern times; still less does he suppose that they precede and condition the higher kind of knowledge which deals with the essential forms of things.3

In the second place, as I tried to show in the last lecture, Aristotle, almost in spite of himself, is forced by his doctrine as to matter to recognise an essential opposition between the universal and the particular. Hence no science seems to him exact except as it approximates to the type of mathematics. He saw, indeed, that the exactness of mathematical science rests upon abstraction, but he did not discern that the same defect of abstractness would attach to any attempt to determine individual substances apart from each other, and he even seemed to adopt the principle that the highest substance is that which is most simple. Hence, in what he supposed to be the absolutely regular movement of the heavens he saw a higher manifestation of intelligence than in the confused and complex motions of earthly things and beings. In this there is obviously manifested the influence of a false ideal of knowledge; for, even if we conceived the stellar motions as he did, that is to say, as circular motions absolutely continuous and regular, or only irregular in so far as many spheres are concerned in the movement of one body, this absence of complexity would seem to us to involve that there is less, and not more, need for a spiritual principle to explain them. In both cases, however, in astronomy as in mathematics, we are really dealing with what is general and abstract—with aspects of the existence of material objects, the exactness of our knowledge of which is dependent on the fact, that we consciously omit, or unconsciously neglect, their relations to other parts or elements of reality. In like manner, the comparative exactness of physical science in general is at least partly due to the fact that we regard its objects merely as material things, and omit altogether to take into account their relations to life and mind. Hence, though this kind of exactness seems to diminish as we rise in the scale of the sciences from physics to chemistry, from chemistry to biology, from biology to psychology, this does not mean that we are passing from that which is more to that which is less intelligible; rather it means the reverse of this. It means that we are bringing our science nearer and nearer to the complex whole to which these abstracted elements belong, and, therefore, are leaving less and less to take its place with the accidental or inexplicable.

It is true that, as we advance, just because we are leaving the region of the abstract, we are brought into contact with greater difficulties. The unexplained remainder, that is, the numerous objects and events which, after all that the special sciences can do, are still incompletely accounted for—all this apparently accidental element in life does not press itself upon our notice, while we are dealing with the abstractions of mathematics, or with what we may call the natural abstraction of the motions of the heavenly bodies. Even in physics and chemistry we are not much troubled with the consciousness of it, because in these sciences we are satisfied with finding the causes or conditions of the particular phenomena, and are not embarrassed by the thought of any general purpose or teleological unity that binds all the particular phenomena together as elements in one whole. But biology brings with it the conceptions of organic unity and evolution; it exhibits to us, in the plant and still more in the animal, a whole the parts of which are means and ends to each other. Here, therefore, we begin to be embarrassed by the fact that the purposes of the individual life and of the life of the species are so often thwarted and interfered with by what seem to be external accidents; or, in other words, that the environment is so often at war with the life instead of subserving it. And when we come to the spiritual life of man, with its still higher purposes and its deeper teleological unity, we are still more disturbed by what seems the frequent defeat of rational order by external accidents—by the catastrophe of individual lives that seemed to contain so high promise in them, by the way in which the course of social progress is so often stopped or turned back, and by that mixture of success and failure in the attainment of good, which renders it so difficult to discover any general meaning in human history. Thus in the moral sciences we are continually dealing with the struggle of the will of man to remould nature, and, we may add, his own natural life, in conformity with his spiritual needs; and these two sides of our existence, by their co-existence and interference with each other, by their partial agreement and yet frequent collision, at once tend to awaken in our minds the idea of a rational plan and purpose, and at the same time to oppress us with a consciousness of its imperfect realisation. It is thus that the practical life of man appears to be the peculiar sphere of accident and caprice, just because it forces upon us the conception of a universal system of reason which would not admit any accident or caprice at all.

All this might make us inclined to accept the Aristotelian notion that ethics is the science in which least exactness is to be expected, and that it is excluded altogether from that sphere of denfonstration in which reason finds its highest exercise. In truth, however, such a view rests upon an illusion. The inorganic world taken by itself—including the heavenly bodies, which the Greeks deified, and even Aristotle and Plato treated as free from all imperfection and accident—is the sphere of an external necessity which, as Aristotle discerned, is closely connected with contingency.4 It is in the organic world, and still more in man's moral life, and in the subjection of nature to the higher ends of that life, that purpose or design begins clearly to manifest itself. Here, therefore, we have the first lifting of the veil of contingency from nature; and it is natural, as I have already suggested, that this partial revelation should awaken the desire for a more complete manifestation of spiritual law in the natural world. In ethics, therefore, we are vexed with an antagonism of principles which, without going beyond the sphere of our science, we cannot finally solve. But it is the peculiar task of philosophy, following out the forecast of religion, to develop that idealistic view of the world which supplies the only possible key to such difficulties, and enables us to see that the principle of nature and the principle of man's higher life are one, and that it is an imperfect interpretation of the facts which regards them as coming into collision with each other. In other words, it is its business to raise the intuitive certitude of religion—its unreflecting faith in goodness and God—into the clear reflective consciousness that the world is an organic system, the principle of which is spiritual.

But it is impossible that philosophy should attain to such an interpretation of things, as it has too often tried to attain to it, by the way of abstraction, by turning away from the difficulties of the special sciences, and especially from the difficulties that beset us in the explanation of the practical life of man. On the contrary, it can solve them, or approximate in any measure to the solution of them, only by taking a more comprehensive and complete view of the facts than is possible in any of the special sciences. And, as it is an imperfect religion which withdraws itself from any of the concrete interests of life—from art or literature, from trade or politics—and seeks to escape from their manifold difficulties and dangers by occupying itself only with what are technically called ‘religious interests,’ and, as it were, hiding itself in the sanctuary: so it is an imperfect philosophy which finds the highest truth in a pure contemplation, which confines itself to the most general ideas, and throws no new light upon the results of natural or ethical science. Philosophy must, indeed, change our ordinary, and even our scientific views of reality; it must give a new meaning to life: but it can do so only as it re—interprets our common experience, and shows us that the world we live in, here and now, is a spiritual world.

The general result to which our argument brings us is that neither the theoretical nor the practical life can be viewed as the exclusive source of that higher consciousness which is manifested in religion and philosophy. Aristotle's exaltation of pure contemplation and pant's exaltation of practical reason equally rest upon a false abstraction. To say, with the latter, that we can think and believe what we cannot know is arbitrarily to confine our knowledge of the objective world to lower categories than those which we apply to the inner life of the conscious self, and to forget that the consciousness of the self cannot be severed from the consciousness of the world. To say, with Aristotle, that we can know that which is universal and eternal, but that we cannot, in the full sense of the word, know that which is particular and temporal, is to suppose that we reach the highest reality by abstraction, and to forget that the ultimate truth must be that which is most complex and concrete, as it is that in which all other truth reaches its completion. We cannot find an ultimate principle of unity either in the subject as separated from the object or in the object as separated from the subject, since it is only in rising above this division that we have any apprehension of such a principle. Hence, also, any exclusive emphasis on the theoretical or the practical consciousness must tend to empty the consciousness of God of its peculiar meaning and content. If, therefore, there be any sense in which the religions consciousness may be regarded as contemplative, it is not as excluding, but as at once including and transcending the practical consciousness. Whether there is any trace of such a view in Aristotle, we shall have to consider in the next lecture.

  • 1. Metaph. der Sitten, III, “Von der aüssersten Grenze aller practischen Philosophie.”
  • 2. The main defects of Kant's view arise, as I have tried to show elsewhere (Critical Philosophy of Kant, II, p. 218), from his following out the first of these formulas to the exclusion of the other two.
  • 3. In one sense we might say that for Aristotle the sole ἀναγкαιˆον, the sole condition sine qua non, of the realisation of the ends of nature is matter. But, in his special enquiries, matter is never taken in the sense of the ultimate indeterminate ὕλη, but always as the specialised matter which is necessary for a particular purpose, e.g. in the life of animal or a plant. Hence the investigation of material causes is really an enquiry into the special actions and reactions of the elements of such specialised matter upon each other or upon the environment—in other words, it is an enquiry into efficient causes. We have, however, to observe that efficient cause is taken by Aristotle in two quite different senses. In the Metaphysic, the efficient cause generally means a substance which exists prior in time to the effect, and has the same forms realised in it as in the effect. (Cf. Met., 1032a, 25, where Aristotle refers to his usual example: ἄνθρωπος γὰρ ἄνθρωπον γϵννᾳ̑ ) In other cases the term efficient cause is used by Aristotle in the modern sense, as meaning the conditions of an effect, which, as Aristotle also observes, do not precede it in time (An. Post., 95a, 22).
  • 4. In Met., VI, 3, Aristotle seems to come very near to the modern idea that, in the endless series of efficient causes we must stop somewhere, and that the necessity of this arbitrary stop forces us to regard the whole series as contingent. But Aristotle does not definitely say this. Elsewhere he seems to take as contingent whatever cannot be traced to the operation of formal, final, or even efficient causes. Cf. Vol. I, p. 325 note.