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Lecture 17 Contingencies

Lecture 17
The unity and independence of men.
THE faithful analysis of the nature of self-consciousness overcomes the main difficulty of the relation between God and man. We saw in the last lecture that the unity of men as rational beings is deeper and more intimate than any other. They can be moved by the same forces know the same truths and pursue the same ends. Things spiritual are by nature common to all. Yet on the other hand each man as rational is moved only by inner forces; the truths are elements in his own knowledge and his ends are his own and as private as if he alone willed them. The unity and independence of men not only exist together but grow by means of each other. The more rational liberty men enjoy the stronger the unity that binds them; the more they individually acquire universal views and adopt universal ends the more they live for society and society lives in them the stronger and the more significant is their individuality. A great man is the voice of his people and his time.
The unity of God and man and their independence.

Though the same truths hold of the relation of man to his God difficulties emerge when the relation is considered from the point of view of the latter. The way from the finite to the infinite has been always more easy for the feet of the pilgrims than the way from the infinite to the finite. We readily adopt the view that represents the world-process as a manifestation of the nature of the will of the Absolute; we are slow to identify the Absolute with that process or to acknowledge that the Absolute partakes in any way in the vagaries of the volitions of mankind. Surely we are told the divine being is no shareholder in man's sinfulness!

Two ways are advocated by which the difficulty may be avoided: one is to represent man and all finite existence as in the last resort phenomenal and temporary appearance and nothing more; the other is to refrain from the complete identification of the world's course with the Absolute.
The accent on man's finitude.
Idealists are agreed in regarding man as a “finite-infinite” being. But they differ as to the significance in man's case of these two aspects. On one view man's final and distinctive characteristic is his finitude. He is a finite being; but he is troubled with aims that are infinite. He is doomed to a spiritual unrest of which other finite beings such as the animals know nothing. He aims at spiritual perfection. To attain it is his only mission; and he exhibits his true nature or reveals his true self only in the pursuit of it. But he never does attain. Not one act of man has yet hit the mark. If he did attain he would collapse qua individual. He would become one with the Absolute in such a way as to be transcended and to disappear. He thus remains an unsolved contradiction and as such bound to pass away. He is only an element in the Absolute and has only an adjectival existence on this view; and his deeds right and wrong have the same dubious reality. He has his own place but only as part of a passing show.
The accent on man's infinitude.
On the other view and in direct opposition to the former the last and distinctive feature of man is his infinitude. Ideally there is nothing anywhere which is to him simply an alien or exclusive other. All that is or can be may be his object; for he is an intelligent or rational being and his counterpart is the Universe as a whole. But like all other beings who are subject to the law of evolution man is only the process of becoming that which he verily is. His deepest reality lies in his possibilities. They are possibilities of greater spiritual excellence and so of fuller justice to the self and therefore come to him in the form of obligations. He is under an obligation be it noted not to be but to become. That is to say it is the process that is imperative: the movement from less to more. He has to make good his infinite nature; to become more and more Godlike; to unify himself with God; and in these very acts of unification to stand out more and more as an independent individual.
The identification of God with the world-process.
In these lectures the view adopted has been the second. The union of man with God or in other words the immanence of God not only in the natural world as its final truth and reality but also in mankind has been held uncompromisingly. I have repeatedly affirmed that “a thing is what it does”—quoting Mr. Nettleship's great saying; and I have rejected the notion that a thing is a being which lurks somewhere in the background behind its deeds and is therefore unknown and unknowable. Hence it follows that if we cannot account for the Universe—including man—save by referring it to the sustained action of the Absolute and by representing it as the process by which the Absolute reveals itself no option remains except to identify the Absolute with the world-process. It is in its light that the Universe is comprehensible; and it is in the light of the Universe that the Absolute is comprehensible.
Can “the whole” be in process?
Process of a whole or from within.
But this is a step which philosophers no less than theologians hesitate to take; and that for reasons which certainly deserve attention. It is insisted that process within a whole—the process of growth; for instance—is possible when process of the whole would be unthinkable. The part or element of a whole may evidently appropriate its environment and grow by means of it; but for the whole or Absolute there can be no environment—nothing by reference to which it could change. The difficulty is real but it is not insuperable. Self-conscious beings are capable of changes purely from within. Man as a spiritual or rational being has within himself and apart from all intercourse with his outer world an experience on which he may reflect and resources on which he may draw. Spiritual experience sometimes discovers its own meaning and enriches it greatly by doing so. There is a transition from an experience that is traditional imitative uncritical partly conscious and partly instinctive into an experience that is reflective. By this transition experience achieves fuller meaning but it takes place without reference to any environment. Whether in this matter we can draw any inference regarding an absolute experience it is difficult to say. In one aspect the transition is plainly impossible; for we cannot attribute to an absolute experience the traditional character and that ignorance of itself which are characteristic of the ordinary human consciousness. The Absolute knows the end—were there an end!—from the beginning; and fuller knowledge thereof cannot be acquired. Nevertheless one may ask what is involved in the transition from the cognitive or intellectual foresight and anticipation of events on the one side to the experience of them on the other as actually taking place? The distinction is quite real; and there may be in the actual participation of the Absolute in finite processes or of the God of Love in the doings and destiny of his children more than there can be in the mere foresight of them. That participation cannot lack meaning and value as we readily see if we conceive the opposite namely a God who sits aloof from the world-course and looks on.
A second difficulty is found in the fact that any process implies temporal succession; but an Absolute which is subject to temporal conditions or which changes is held to be a confused and self-contradictory conception. Such an Absolute would differ to-day from what it was yesterday and from what it will be to-morrow; and that we are told is impossible for the Whole the perfect.
Time and eternity are aspects of a process.
This difficulty I believe springs from taking a half truth as the whole truth. For that which changes also persists. Succession implies permanence and it can take place only in that which has duration. It is a succession of instants or nows which issue from the same permanent reality. Time as mere succession is an aspect of a fact and nothing more and can exist only in relation to its opposite namely eternity. But eternity also as ordinarily understood is an unreal abstraction. For it is taken to be extended and fixed—stretched out endlessly like space before and also after the flux of time. But eternity is that which expresses itself in an endless succession of instants. It is the possibility of endless nows. And every now for the rational being at least carries within it something both of the past and of the future and therefore “transcends” time. Eternity is not a spatial expanse nor when we speak of God as living in eternity or of our fellow mortals as entering therein should we think of eternity as a fixed separate region. Eternity does not exist except as breaking out into an endless succession of Nows; and there is nothing except what is now. What was is not now: nor is what will be. Thus each successive Now is all comprehensive. The meaning and value of the past are gathered into it and the possibilities of the future exist in it.
Concrete facts are not reducible into “time” although they are never at rest.
In a word the Whole it is big with is in process. Reality reveals itself in a successive series of finite facts. By this I do not mean to imply that the succession constitutes the facts; or that in the last resort things consist of time so that “time is the essence of the life of a living being and the whole meaning of its reality.” It is one thing to say that everything that is moves or changes and another that it consists of motion and change. Motion change taken by themselves are abstractions. They are not reality but ways in which reality exists and behaves.
To say for instance as modern physics does that a stone is not a fixed and static thing but a temporary meeting-place of different activities is not to reduce it into a succession of movements of time although all its activities take place in time. The weight of the stone is its active relation to the earth an instance of attraction; its colour means that it reflects some rays and absorbs others; its hardness or softness indicate the amount of energy with which its particles attract each other. There is activity and therefore change at every turn and change implies time though it is not itself time. Nothing is reducible into time. Time is itself as I have insisted an abstraction. We do not explain things by running them back into single simple elements; we drop their qualities. To make time the essence of reality we must drop all qualities. Even change would not survive. Similarly although process is real process is not reality any more than a static condition is. But the consistent adoption of the idea of process instead of the static and spatial conceptions now assumed is possibly the deepest speculative need of our time. With it should be placed the conviction that explanation is to be found in the most concrete and not in the most simple and abstract conceptions. It is the whole that matters for knowledge; the function which each thing performs within the whole the character it gains by its relation to it these constitute its reality. And the whole itself must be regarded as functioning declaring and realizing itself in its elements. “To me” says Mr. Bradley “as to every one else the world is throughout full of change. Change is no illusion although apart from that which persists in through and by the change it is nothing.”
Explanation in the light of the most concrete not of what is most simple that is of self-consciousness.
Explanation by the more concrete not by the more simple—by the idea of spirit and not to that of time.
Philosophy must I believe change its accent. That helplessness which a fixed and static perfection implies that eternally immobile substance with which theology in the past has identified its perfect God must give way to the most concrete and active Whole which we can conceive. And that Whole is the conception of self-conscious individuality—the absolute self-consciousness. It is necessarily all-comprehensive for it has no complete other; and it is essentially an outgoing activity. The conception of Absolute spirit or subject gives to religion a God who is living and to philosophy an Absolute that sustains the Universe and expresses its perfection in its changes. Spirit implies an objective content; and Absolute spirit implies the Universe. Hence to explain that Universe we need this most concrete of all our hypotheses instead of such abstract notions as those of substance and time. It is by reference to a more and more comprehensive whole that we explain and there alone should we seek the ultimately real—in a direction directly opposite to that of the Bergsonian philosophers as I understand them.
It follows that the main problem of philosophy and the central concern for theology is the possibility of identifying the world-process as we know it with our conception of the Absolute or of God. And I have indicated both theologians and philosophers hesitate to do this except under qualifying conditions and with reservations. There are for them in the world-process facts and events that are outwith the will of the Absolute. God has allowed them to be—possibly because he could not help it being himself finite; possibly as the best means of securing the conditions necessary for the moral adventure.
A finite God.
The view that there are occurrences which God cannot prevent or which happened without his willing them implies of course that there exists another additional cause and that he is limited. On some theories not only is his power limited but his goodness. He is a finite being in the same sense as men are finite though he has much more power than man and is man's leader in the moral battle as well as his comrade in arms; and he has to become good. And the issue of that battle so far from being a foregone conclusion is quite uncertain. It depends upon our doing our best and playing our part no less than upon him. And the uncertainty of victory is supposed to be capable of inspiring the fight with an earnestness which otherwise it could not have. Moreover the view that God shares our infirmities is held to bring him nearer to us than the conception of a God eternally perfect; and it is maintained that it is impossible to maintain both the perfection of God and his genuine participation in the fate of mankind.
I intended to dismiss the view of a limited God as not worthy of serious criticism; but it may be well to point to one or two reasons for holding that it is unsatisfactory.
The stimulus of an uncertain victory is questionable.
In the first place it is not at all certain that the uncertainty of victory will add earnestness to the moral struggle whatever it may do in others. If it does it is at the cost of the purity of the moral motive which never does consider or calculate consequences. Duty calls a man to his post and he comes—without making any prudent calculations of probabilities beforehand. The religious man moreover has already committed himself to the good causes and made himself over to his God holding nothing back; and the conception of the perfection of him in whom he has trusted with the conviction of certain victory are an inspiration to him. Never has its assurance slackened the zeal of the ethical or religious spirit.
All-knowing demands that reality be a rational system and Pluralism should not pretend to draw any conclusions.
In the next place both religion and philosophy presuppose and demand a finality which is inconsistent with the limitations of finitude. The conception of the Absolute or the hypothesis of systematic and all-comprehensive unity or of a single focus in which all things meet and which is the source from which all the forms of energy flow is essential to a view which maintains that in the Universe as we know it and try to know it it is order and not chaos which rules. This is the presupposition on which all science rests and in fact it stands at the background of all attempts at consecutive or sane thought. For why should thought be consistent or contradiction be a sign of error if facts are not in rational connexion? Pluralism admitting “real indeterminations real crises catastrophes and escapes” might conclude to a finite deity or a collection of such deities if it could reliably conclude to anything. But that of course it cannot do. “Real indeterminations” may intervene at any point. If the Universe is one the Absolute of philosophy is one and so is the God of religion: if facts are not rationally related in a single system reason is helpless.
A waste basket for contingencies.
But other and possibly better reasons for hesitating to identify the world-process with the will of God have been offered. Contingencies have been admitted to enter here and there into the general scheme as being the best means of securing the conditions necessary for the moral life. God could have prevented them but he has willed so to speak to turn his back and let them take place; he has assigned to contingency and inconsequences and irrationalism and chaos a domain in which to run amok. He has “let himself go into his opposite” as Hegel once suggested.
The realm of accident were thus another proof of his wisdom and goodness and power. But I may ask if it is purposed is it a realm of accident? In any case these contingencies are confined to the moral region. Natural law permits none in the physical world. Natural laws are all admitted to be universal and absolute. But nature it is held brings no reliable support to man's ethical aims. The natural world with its rewards and penalties may support morality on the whole; but it does not do so in detail. Hence the moral life is a hazard and hardship and venture all the more real on account of the looseness of the relation between the natural and the spiritual world. Life it is said furnishes a better school for virtue tests man's courage more ruthlessly gives him a better opportunity for “showing what stuff he is made of” because of the contingencies which sweep over its surface like sudden storms. By stultifying his foresight and by its disregard for the moral value of a man's deeds nature teaches him not to trust in or set high value on anything except interests which are spiritual. The uncertainty and inconsequence the extremity of the venture turn in his hands into opportunities. He will cease to calculate consequences and do what is right for its own sake all the more readily if consequences are mere contingencies.
Collision of natural advantage and moral goodness.
That this apparent looseness of relation between the natural and the ethical spheres exists can hardly be denied. The facts must be acknowledged. While on the whole nature upholds purposes that are sane and the more prosperous people turn out to be on the whole the more virtuous; while in other words to act reasonably is to respect the laws both of nature and of morality nevertheless there are numberless examples of the direct collision of natural and moral good. By simply keeping silent the speculator might have made his fortune: that good cause has cost him his domestic comfort his material prosperity his health or even his life—such are the things we are often told. And the conclusion drawn is that the natural scheme is non-moral.
The facts are there but they are not contingent.
But to admit the apparent indifference and lack of all connexion is one thing—these are facts; to call them contingencies is another. The admission of contingencies plays such havoc with philosophic theory and religious faith and the results of doing so are so stupendous that we are entitled to look round for some other way of accounting for the facts and overcoming the difficulties they raise.
We should not expect moral causes to bring any results except those that are moral.
In the first place then it may be insisted that moral law is not less universal and necessary than natural law. Moral actions as already suggested have moral results which follow immediately and with absolute necessity. The dishonourable action makes the man dishonest on the spot. The result can neither be averted nor postponed. But we constantly confuse the issues and look for natural results to follow in the same way so that a man suffers some natural punishment when he does wrong as promptly as he burns his hand if he puts it in the fire. We would demand that he be made poorer in pocket or in health or in general esteem and influence whereas it is the opposite that often happens. To every tree its own fruit. It is the natural antecedent that will bring the natural consequent and it is moral causes that have moral effects—so far as our observation of the individual life can show. On the larger scale of national and human history I admit that the dependence of natural events on spiritual antecedents becomes more plain. But we infer all too hastily from our observation of the individual life that natural and moral facts are not connected and that anything may happen. This border region between the natural and the moral is supposed to be the playground of contingencies. No one not even the Absolute takes charge of it.
But the difficulty may be of our own making. The error of affirming contingency may arise from the expectation of necessary connexion where none is required. We would not call it a contingency that an apple tree does not grow pears or thistles or grapes. The moral corruption which inevitably ensues upon moral wrong-doing and on the other hand the inspiration and strength which come from the consciousness of right-doing may be in themselves adequate consequences. And that such is the case is an assumption on which morality rests as I have already tried to show.
Non-interference does not necessarily involve contingency: and the moral venture is man's.
Can God be perfect although man errs?
In the next place I would observe that non-interference is one thing: contingency is another. It is possible to conceive God or the Absolute supplying man with the conditions of the good life and supporting him in the sense that he is the inexhaustible reservoir of power to which man can turn when his strength is spent or his courage fails. We can say with certainty that there are three things with which man has not endowed himself: they are gifts and gifts from a power which itself possessed them. These are (1) the spiritual powers or the rational faculties implying freedom amongst other qualities; (2) an ever-changing natural and social environment by interaction with which he can realize his powers and learn to do what is right; (3) a desire for the Best which corresponds in man to the law of self-preservation in animals controlling every choice however deeply we blunder as to what is best or however blind we are to the fact that the best is always ethical or spiritual in character. Except as the source of these gifts the spring at which man may always slake his thirst God may be conceived as standing aloof and even as retaining his perfection when man blunders. On this view there is a part which God fulfils and a part which man fulfils even though the spiritual well-being of man is the aim of both and although the will of man may be one with the will of God in whose service he finds freedom. The deed the use of his powers and his opportunities—except that these are given to him—are exclusively the individual's own. Neither God nor his fellow-man can take up his burden or appropriate the value of the opportunity. His will remains free and independent when it concurs and obeys no less than when it revolts and disobeys. And if we have regard to this aspect only we can represent the sphere in which he exercises his will as left to him.
Immortality as an extension of man's moral opportunity.
This line of argument offers a very alluring way out of the difficulty. But it is closed by the considerations which arise from the side of religion. It is intolerable to the religious spirit that God should stand aloof unaffected by the events of the moral world as this view would imply. After all God's gifts to man were not purposeless. They were the means of his spiritual well-being. And if that well-being is not secured then in this matter God himself has failed. God's gifts in that case it might be said have proved scanty. Another environment another set of circumstances by reference to which the individual could react might have awakened his spiritual interests and shown that the Best he was always seeking can be nothing but the moral best. He must have more and different opportunities. The demands of another station in another life and possibly in another world may be met by him and his soul saved thereby. And such another chance—the chance that immortality brings—will be given by a perfect God whose purposes must not come to naught. At any rate the alternative of the immortality of man's soul seems much more probable than that of the defeat of the purpose of the God of Love.
And in any case there are no events in the moral any more than in the natural region which we can justly call contingencies unless we mean by that phrase to characterize not the event as itself having no cause or no constant antecedent but our own ignorance. A man's deeds spring from his character. They are his way of meeting the wants he believes he has discovered in himself: the results of his own self-interpretation. They have antecedents in him and they have consequences upon him; and although owing to the complexity of human character we cannot foretell a man's volitions still they depend on what he is and are not contingencies. The rigour and universality of law in matters of spirit are in no sense or degree less than they are in physical matters; and the admission of sheer accident would have analogous consequences. “If you are willing to be inconsistent” says Mr. Bradley “you can never be refuted.”1 If by calling an event an accident or contingency we mean simply that the causes of its occurrence were not anticipated or are not known then we are dealing with a confession of ignorance which all of us can make every day of our lives. But the doctrine we have referred to implies more. It affirms that events do take place in incalculable ways. Their incalculability is the truth concerning them. We should err if we sought their cause or assumed that they had any particular antecedent or were determined by any specific conditions. The former attitude is consistent with the effort to acquire fuller knowledge. The latter stultifies every such effort arrests and paralyses it at the first outset. For on that view to know that is to discover the relation of a fact to reality as a whole were to discover an illusion: it is presumed from the beginning that the event or fact is unrelated. That reality constitutes one system that the system is all-inclusive that within it all its parts have free play and full function and that these parts or elements so agree as to be ration ally coherent—this I have taken for granted all along.
The assumption of a systematic universe and the rejection of all forms of Pluralism.
I have not discussed the view that realia are particulars that we begin with the many and must find the one that the relation between the particulars the unities are really mental fabrications that objects are independent owing nothing to each other. All the forms of Pluralism I have set aside. The whole process of thinking as illustrated most clearly perhaps in the natural sciences begins and ends with the conception of unity in differences that is of system. There is no science nor the promise of it until there is a colligating hypothesis—as I have tried to show. Prior to that we have nothing but a collection of facts which are more or less similar to one another. Sameness on this view is the only kind of universal that is conceived: and the idea of a principle which is active breaks out into differences gives to the elements within the whole their character and their function is in truth not considered. For Idealism on the other hand this is the only type of principle which counts: and the same is true of the special sciences. They are founded upon hypotheses; they start from the assumption of a concrete system: their whole task is to apply that hypothesis testing it by reference to particular facts and seeking in it at the same time the real meaning of these facts.
Consequences of the assumption.
It is evident that to one who occupies this point of view whether as a philosopher or as a scientific man the admission of contingencies of even one sheer contingency is disastrous. To do so is like breaking the string on which pearls are hung. It does not matter at what point or how many times the string is cut there results the same chaos.
We cannot admit contingencies and retain the uses of reason. Philosophy and science become impossible for at any point there may be an intrusion of that which negates their use. And it is questionable if religion will then survive at a less cost than that of admitting the finitude of God and attributing to at least a portion of the world-process an irrational spontaneity. Events that are not cannot create themselves; nor can they come from nothing having no antecedent. Is it not likely seeing that no one ever discovered such events and there is no science philosophy or religion which can consistently search for them that we have no evidence that they exist?
The refuge in the idea of occurrences outwith the principle that manifests itself in the world-process cannot be justified by any ethical considerations. It is to seek shelter under the wings of what is irrational. Rather than seek such a way of escape it were better to admit one's failure. Only that course requires courage! There can be no doubt of the demands of reason or of philosophy. The Absolute leaves no room for its absolute “other” which a contingency would be. The Absolute is not at all if it be not all-comprehensive: there is then no Universe or the Universe is not a “single system” and philosophy and the sciences are out on an impossible mission.
But are we justified in the course which we have followed throughout these lectures? Have we a right thus to identify the Absolute of philosophy with the God of religion? I must try to answer this question in the next lecture.

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