We have so far tried to find the inmost meaning of the moral life of man by regarding it as an endeavour towards an eternal good made by a creature who, in so far as he achieves the end of his endeavour, achieves also a derivative, or communicated, eternity. The point on which I propose now to lay stress is precisely the communicated or derived character of the eternity thus attainable by man. As I read the story of the “ascent” of humanity, it is throughout a tale of the ways by which a creature who, being a creature, starts at a level of mere secularity or successiveness, advances towards an “eternal state” in proportion to, and in consequence of, the eternity of the contemplated good which all along inspires all specifically human endeavour. In other words, though the goal of human aspirations would lie beyond the bounds of the historical, the advance to it is strictly historical, and the reality of the advance implies the reality of time, the formal character of the historical. Any metaphysical theory or theological speculation which reduces time, in the end, to the status of an illusion must falsify our whole conception of the moral life, and, if seriously acted on, taint our moral practice itself with insincerity and superficiality. Any metaphysic and any religion for which the moral life provides inspiration must hold fast to two positions which it is difficult, but absolutely vital, to keep together in one “synoptic” view: (I) that time as we know it in our personal life—not the ghost of it we retain in our kinematics—is truly real, is, in fact, we might say, the very stuff out of which our life has to be made, though only the stuff; (2) that we only make a genuine human life out of this stuff in proportion as we transcend it as a “more eminent” form is superinduced upon it. Temporality is there just to be overstepped.
Man hath all that Nature hath, but more
And in that more lie all his hopes of good.
It will be seen, then, that on such a view there will be two antithetical false conceptions against both of which the natural religion and theology of a moralist will have to be in perpetual protest. One of these views is that which we may follow general usage in calling “naturalism,” or “secularism,” the theory which treats the form of temporality not merely as real, but as so deeply ingrained in all our experience that it is hopeless to dream of getting beyond it. From this point of view our whole conception of the moral life of man as a regeneration and re-making of the self in the likeness of a contemplated eternal good would have no meaning whatever. The only good for man would be a purely “creaturely,” or temporal, or this-world good; what in his more exalted moments he takes to be his pilgrimage to a land of promise would be only a roaming in a wilderness where he is destined to lay his bones. The generation of I sraelites who fell in the desert would be the type of all the generations of men, with this difference, that there would be no Joshua nor Caleb in the host of adventurers who have gone out of the spiritual Egypt.
Of this type of view I have already said all that it seems in principle needful to say. I would only add now that its most plausible defenders seem usually to evade the surely imperative task of showing how it can be made to agree with the notorious facts of human moral inspiration. A recent eminent precursor of my own in the tenure of this lecture told us repeatedly that his own position was naturalistic “enthusiastically” and “to the core”. But I observed that in the published volumes dedicated to the exposition of the position, though there was much patient and valuable discussion of the satisfactoriness of the scheme in biology and comparative psychology, the confrontation of it with the recorded moral and spiritual history of man was, to say nothing worse of it, perfunctory. And I note that, in the very last paragraphs of that work, the mere “ephemerality” of humanity is set over against the abidingness of God, apparently in fixed and final antithesis. “In our passing life we touch the fringe of immortality, when we acknowledge God as ultimate substance.”1 No doubt; but the question is whether nothing is permitted to me but a touching of the fringe. Can Moses not “enter into the cloud” and remain there? Is the promise Io ti farò veder ogni valore2 kept to the ear and broken to the hope? Do we only touch the hem of the garment in our most favoured moments, or can we be grafted into the wine-stock and live with the life of the vine of eternity? Sentimus experimurque nos aeternos esse, “we perceive and know of a truth that we are eternal”.3 The words are those of Dr. Lloyd Morgan’s favourite philosopher; are they only words with no substance? We may fairly expect the preachers of naturalism to know and speak their minds on the issue.
The other type of view against which the serious moralist is, as it seems to me, equally bound to register his protest, needs more special consideration, because of the attraction it has always had for just those thinkers who have been most alive to the eternity of the good to which man aspires. It is the view which, in one way or another, contrives to reduce the temporal in the moral life to the position of an illusion by treating eternity as a character which inheres in man from the first, so to say in his own right, not derivatively. This is the conception which appears in all those philosophies and religions which treat the human soul as a “fallen” divinity whose task is to recover its original place among the rest of the “gods”. We find the religious expression of it, for example, in the well-known verses inscribed on tablets discovered in the graves of Orphic sectaries in Italy and Crete, where the soul of the deceased recites its celestial pedigree and claims, as of right, to take its place in the heavenly home to which it has found its way back,4 and, again, in many of the gorgeous fragments of Pindar in which the same theme is elaborated. The appeal of the Pythagorean preaching of “transmigration”—in itself a mere naturalistic speculation about the kinship of man with lower animals—to souls really touched to fine moral issues, has also always been based on a further conflation of this inherently non-ethical belief with the Orphic conception of the fallen god who makes his way back to his first estate by slowly ascending the stages of the hierarchy of lives, from mollusc to man, and from humanity back again to divinity. In our own days we meet the same idea among all the confusions and incoherencies of what calls itself theosophy, and, in more reasoned form, in the various metaphysical systems of those thinkers who, like Dr. McTaggart, resolve the universe into a vast collection of persons, all equally “unoriginate” and equally endowed with native eternity. Not all these various forms of belief openly and avowedly treat time as a mere illusion. But all, I venture to say, make an assumption which should lead in consistency to that position. They all abolish any real distinction of status between divinity and humanity. According to all of them, we, who suppose ourselves to be men, are really all along gods. There is no question of our becoming something which we are not “by nature”; our whole history is only the story of our coming back to a status which we had in the beginning, or even of the discovery that we have, and have always had, the status. Thus there is no real progress in the spiritual life of man; it is a mere climbing back up a ladder from the top of which we have fallen, or, perhaps, a waking from a mere dream of having fallen.5
One would be loth to speak hardly of any creed which has had at least the merit of fixing men’s minds on the mark of a very high calling; yet I think it must be clear that all views of this kind, by making advance, at bottom, an illusion, must, if one is in earnest with them gravely impair the seriousness of our moral striving. The very reason why endeavour is so serious is that it is endeavour to become what we have never been, to rise above and out of our very selves. If we are really ourselves divine, and have been so from the first, it seems fairly obvious that we need not take the moral struggle so tremendously in earnest; we may surely trust nature to reassert herself in the long run, expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. Whether we run in the race with our might, like men contending for masteries, or saunter along the track, we may fairly count on reaching the goal sooner or later. At most all we can effect by taking life so hard is to get a little sooner where all of us are bound to get in the end, and it might be argued that since we are sure of reaching our destination, there is no need for hurry; we can all well afford to loiter, as we are all prone to do, among the flowery meadows on the way. Thus the doctrine of the native and original divinity of the soul, though it begins by an apparent complete break with naturalism, seems, when duly thought out, to lead to a naturalistic morality. It is perhaps significant that “theosophists” are notoriously hostile to the missionary effort to substitute practice of the Christian rule of life for rules based on puerile or lewd nature-worships, and, again, that Dr. McTaggart should once have come perilously near the suggestion that since we are all bound to reach “perfection” in the end, no matter what way we take through life, we may as well, in practice, take as our moral “criterion” pleasure, a thing we can miss.6 This is as though one should say “all roads through the wilderness of the world end in the Celestial City. But the traveller is pressingly recommended to take the route by rail7 which leads through the populous and fascinating city of Vanity, and by no means to omit a long stay in its attractive neighbourhood.”
If we are to be genuinely in earnest with a high ethical rule of living, it would seem to be indispensable that we should be convinced that there is something really at stake in moral effort, and that the something which may be won or lost is no less than the supreme good which makes life worth living. What we endanger by sloth must be something more than a quantity of interesting and agreeable incident; it must be the life of the soul itself. Eternal life itself must be something which conceivably may be missed, and, for that reason, the eternity to be achieved by right living must be something not inherent in humanity from the start, but something to be won, and therefore something communicated and derivative. Hence humanity and divinity cannot simply be equated by a theology which is to be true to the demands of ethics. The divinity accessible to man must be not deity, but deiformity, transfiguration into a character which is not ours by right of birth, but is won by an effort, and won as something communicated from another source, where it is truly underived and original. In plain language, we break with the presuppositions of the moral life equally whether we eliminate the natural or the supernatural from our conception of things. To think of the moral life adequately, we must think of it as an adventure which begins at one end with nature, and ends at the other with supernature. Whether, before it can reach this end, it must not itself be transformed into something which is more than mere morality, is an issue we shall have to face later on. For the present, I aim simply at making it a little clearer what I mean by the transition from nature to supernature, and removing some objections which may possibly be entertained to the very conception of a “supernatural”.
I would first, however, interpose two remarks intended to call attention to the point that the objection I have taken to the types of theory I have classed together, as obliterating the distinction between divinity and humanity, is not captious or frivolous but obvious and serious.
(1) Theories of this type seem to lead inevitably to the doctrine of successive reincarnations, in one of its numerous forms, since they are manifestly inconsistent with full acceptance of the apparent facts about the humble beginnings of our own personal existence in conception, birth and babyhood. So we find that not only the unphilosophical, but the metaphysicians themselves, when they commit themselves to a theory of this kind, regularly treat reincarnation either as an integral part of their doctrine, or as an almost certain inference from it. They constantly convert language like that of Wordsworth’s great Ode, where our birth is called a “sleep and a forgetting”—language which the poet himself was careful to explain as imaginative symbolism8—into a record of supposed actual fact. That the facts are not actual cannot, we must admit, be demonstrated, but it is at least obvious that such a reading of the observed facts about growth and development, in the individual or the group, involves a reversal of what looks like the natural interpretation. What we seem to see, as we watch the growth of a child’s mind and character, is a process in which an originally almost indefinitely plastic “raw material” of tendencies, dispositions, aptitudes, receives steady determination into personality and character with definite structure. We seem, at least, to be watching the actual making of a personality. And, again, there are only too many cases in which life seems to take a wrong turning. In this we seem to be watching the dissolution and degradation of a promising moral personality into the merely non-moral, under the influence of passion or sloth. The moral of Richard Feverel, “he will never be the man he might have been,” does seem to be the moral of not a few actual lives. Indeed, which of us can be sure that it may not be the moral of his own?
On any type of pre-existence theory, this impression must be wholly mistaken. There is no authentic process of growing into personality, since what we have mistaken for the plastic material of a personality has, in fact, been itself already fully shaped by the supposed past.9 And the same thing will be true of the history of human social groups. Society will not really be, as it appears to be, something which has grown up, by stages still in the main traceable, from indeterminate beginnings. Behind every such apparent beginning there will lie concealed the formative work of a presumably endless past; thus everything which could be called, in the now fashionable phrase, “emergent evolution” must be a pure illusion, from the point of view of what I might name the “Orphic” theory of personality. The indifference to history often shown by philosophers who favour metaphysical speculations of this type will be the natural consequence of their conviction of the complete unimportance of everything temporal.10But this indifference to the historical leads at once to a breach with the attitude of practical morality. It takes the tragic note wholly out of life.
It has often been objected to theories of pre-existence that they outrage our natural feelings by their implication that the innocence which is the great charm of infancy is a mere illusion. The “innocent” infant, we are asked to believe, has often really behind it, stamped on its soul, though in “invisible ink,” the past of a rake, a harlot, a swindler, a murderer. Such a thought, it has been said, is an outrage on “a mother’s feelings”. This appeal to maternal feeling—I do notknow why a father’s feelings are usually left out of the count—may look like a piece of mere sentimentalism which should have no weight with the serious philosopher. But it is, perhaps, worth while to consider whether the argument may not be a popular and rhetorical way of making a real point. To me it seems that this is the case, and that the moralist has, at least, as vital an interest as the evolutionary biologist and the genetic psychologist in insisting on the reality of time, development and the historical “emergence” of the new from the old, the richer in content from the poorer, the definitely organised from the plastic.
As I have suggested in a note to the last paragraph, if we look at the arguments for pre-existence seriously we ought to see that they are all also arguments for a series of past existences which has no first member. If any human personality ever begins with a genuine infancy, there is no antecedent reason why what I suppose to have been the beginning of my own history as a person, some fifty odd years ago, should not have been what it seems to have been, a genuine first beginning. If it is impossible that I should have begun then, the same impossibility must attach to any earlier first beginning, however far back you locate it in an unrecorded past. We must assume, therefore, an ultimate plurality of persons who are one and all metaphysical “absolutes” and have never really grown to be anything at all. Dante’s lovely description of the new-made soul, as it comes from the hands of the Creator,
l’ anima semplicetta che sa nulla,
salvo che, mosa da lieto fattore,
volentier torna a ciò che la trastulla,11
will describe nothing, for no soul has ever been an anima semplicetta; personality and character have had no real growth. And similarly the point will be taken out of Blake’s reflection that “every harlot was a virgin once,” since there will be just the same ground for adding that the virgin was also a harlot once. Now this means that we commit ourselves once for all to the fatalistic doctrine of the eternally fixed and unalterable “metaphysical” character, the doctrine of all others most fatal to genuine moral seriousness. There will be no such thing as real moral advance in goodness to be achieved or real moral degradation to be dreaded, since, on the theory, in whatever I do I am only showing myself what I always have been and always must be. Our life will be not merely a stage-play, but a puppet-show. The prayer cor mundum crea in me, Deus, will be senseless, and in its place we shall have nothing better than the dreary confession—
For a new soul let who so please pray;
We are what life made us, and shall be;
For you the jungle, and me the sea-spray,
And south for you, and north for me.
It is a well-known doctrine of the great schoolmen that one of the inherent limitations of divine omnipotence is that “God cannot will that God should cease to be God,” just because of God’s intrinsic and underived eternity. But on the “Orphic” theory we may say much the same of every one of ourselves; Judas cannot will to cease to be Judas the traitor, nor Caiaphas to become anything but Caiaphas the hypocrite. Yet, unless Judas can will to become loyal or Caiaphas to become sincere, neither is truly a moral person, any more than either could be a moral person if he were fettered by an astrological horoscope to his “star”. No one has employed the imaginative mythology of reincarnation with more splendid effect than Plato, but we have to observe that his moral earnestness forces him to break with the central thought of Orphicism just when he appears to be asserting its positions most unreservedly. The text on which the great myth of Er the Pamphylian at the end of the Republic, is based is the saying12that “it is a momentous issue, far greater than men think it (μέγας ὁ ἀγών, οὐχ ὅσος δοκεῖ), whether we are to become good or bad,” and the momentousness of the issue is expressed in the myth itself, when its main point is made to be that the “luck” (δαίμων) of our next life is one which we shall choose for ourselves, the wisdom of the choice, with the consequent felicity or misery of the life, depending on the degree of singleness of mind with which we now pursue wisdom and virtue.13 Still more completely does the moral break the bounds of the imaginative story when the aged Plato, in the Laws, has to vindicate the reality of the moral order against the belief in indifferent gods who leave men’s conduct unregulated. We are then told simply that the “kingdom of nature” and the “kingdom of ends” are unified by the establishment throughout the universe of a single law of what we might call spiritual gravitation. Souls, like liquids, “find their level,” though, unlike liquids, they find it by rising as well as by sinking. A man tends to “gravitate” to the company of his spiritual “likes”. And this, of itself, ensures that, through all conceivable successions of lives and deaths each of us will always be in a “social environment” of the like-minded, and so “will do and have done to him what it is meet that such a one should do or endure”.14The genuine reality of moral ascent and moral decline, which the pre-existence doctrine taken seriously must tend to deny, could hardly be asserted more impressively.
One might even add, if a momentary digression may be pardoned, that traditional Christianity shows its moral superiority to theosophies of the Orphic type by precisely the very doctrine which is often made matter of reproach against it, its teaching on Heaven and Hell. Since these theosophies repose in the end on an unethical metaphysics, it is not surprising that they hold out the prospect of an unending alternation of temporary “heavens” with temporary “hells”; theyall envisage the possibility that the Christ of this incarnation may be the Caiaphas of the next, and the Caiaphas of to-day the Christ of to-morrow. And why should this not be so,15if nothing is definitively won by moral victory or irretrievably lost by moral defeat? It seems to me that, in its substance—I say nothing now of disfiguring accidental accretions—the Christian doctrine of a final salvation and reprobation springs less from theological hardness of heart than from seriousness of moral conviction. It is the supreme assertion of the conviction that choice is real and that everything is staked on the quality of our choice. If happiness depends on character and character is genuinely made by our choices, we cannot refuse to contemplate the possibility that character, and with it happiness, may be lost beyond the power of recovery by sufficient persistence in choosing evil or sufficient indolence in choosing good. If we choose the worse long enough, or even neglect to practise choice of the good, we may conceivably end by making ourselves incapable of effective choice of the better, just as surely as by choosing good with sufficient persistence we may come to be incapable of choosing its contrary. One may legitimately hope that, by the mercy of God, no man will ever throw himself away beyond all possibility of recovery. But only the morally indifferent would lightly deny that the thing may be done, and that I myself, if I am careless enough, may be the man to do it. Indeed, the more I allow myself to imagine that personality is something made once and for all, the more likely I shall be to draw the inference that I am, and must be, what “life” has made me, and so to desist from any real effort to become better than I now am.
Even if it were true that this cessation from effort does not mean, as in the moral life it does, that one does not remain long even at one’s present level, the prospect of “staying where one is” would, I take it, be a fairly formidable “hell” to a thinking man fully alive to his actual moral and spiritual lack of order and comeliness. It may be an element in God’s blessedness that He cannot so much as wish to be other than He is; our worth as persons, and consequently our happiness, is bound up with the aspiration to become what we actually are not, to be “divorced from the poor shallowthing which now” we are. We have to put on divinity, and the putting on is a process in which temporality, though increasingly subordinated, is never finally left behind. Our task as moral beings is to lead a “dying life”; to rest on our oars would mean a “living death,” a very different thing.
(2) My second observation arises out of the first. Just because, in the moral life, conscious pursuit of a good definitely envisaged as supra-temporal grows out of, or emerges from, pursuit of a good which presents itself to the aspirant, in reflection on his aspirations, as temporal, progress in the moral life itself depends throughout, as has already been said, on a right combination of attachment with detachment. It is this which, more than anything else, makes a life of real moral success exceedingly difficult. It is not difficult to become wholly absorbed in the pursuit of some end definitely limited and circumscribed by temporal and secular conditions, and thus making a clear and definite appeal to imagination; to become, for example, simply engrossed in the work of one’s profession, in cultivating the social graces, amenities, and affections within the limit of one’s family circle, or group of friends, or in pursuing one’s chosen “hobby”. It is a comparatively easy thing to map out a definite plan of action and to say, “My aspirations shall be carefully restrained within these limits and directed on what is clearly capable of being compassed by reasonable effort, within a reasonable time and with ordinary good fortune. I will not run the risk of frustrating modest and rational anticipations by indulging indefinite desires and unclear aspirations after an infinite which remains always in the clouds. My rule shall be carefully to measure my coat according to my cloth, to demand of life and of myself no more than they can be reasonably expected to accomplish, to know what I am equal to, and to seek nothing beyond it.” This is, in principle, the counsel of Epicurus, and if “safety first” were really a practicable rule of moral living, it would be the right counsel. It means definite self-chosen attachment to the known, familiar and finite; such detachment as the Epicurean rule advises, or permits, is no more than a “counsel of prudence”. An Epicurean will try to be cool in all his attachments, because reflection on human experience has taught him that unforseeable adverse fortune may at any moment deprive him of all he cares most about, and time, in the end, must take all things away. But his rule has no place for the spirit of adventure which freely hazards the certain for the always uncertain hope of a better to come. It is no part of his wisdom of life to turn his back on the “unit,” which may be had for the taking, for the chance of the “million” which it is always very doubtful whether he will win or miss. The call of the desert is inaudible to him, or if, by any chance, he ever catches it, his philosophy prompts the response, quittez les longs espoirs et les vaines pensées. Hence the secret fascination of the Epicurean creed and its preachers in literature, Horace and the rest of them, for all of us in our too frequent unworthier moods. Its appeal to the maxims of “safety first” and the “bird in the hand” comes home to us precisely because it is a proposal to make the great refusal per viltà, and there is so much viltà in all of us. We are uncomfortable in the presence of a Pascal, who insists on reminding us that il faut parier, and that the stake we must hazard in the game of life is ourselves. But a morality of unconditional obligation—and no other morality deserves the name—depends on frank recognition of the fact that its way of life cannot be anything but a “wager,” with myself for the stake, in a game where I cannot see the cards before they are played.
There is, again, a kind of detachment which I conceive it is not unduly hard to practise, when the first plunge has been taken, the detachment which leads a man out into the Thebaid. Since none of the more palpable objects to which men attach themselves, family, wealth, power, knowledge, is an absolute and all-satisfying good, it is, at least, a simple and intelligible rule that one will turn one’s back on them all, and treat what is, at most, second-best as though it were not good at all. It may, indeed, require iron resolution to lead the life of a Brand, but, at any rate, the man who braces himself to such a life has gained something very real by his simplification of the practical problem. He escapes the most agonising difficulties of all, those which come of genuine perplexity. His rule, if only he can live up to it—and habituation can do much to remove the obstacles—is simple and unambiguous. The trouble is that the moral life itself is not a simple matter, and that over-simplification, whatever form it takes, leads to failure. The supremely hard task is that of bringing the “right measure” into life, effecting just the right adjustment of attachment with detachment. It is eminently hard to cultivate the particular and finite good heartily, because it is good and so long as it is the best for me, and yet to be able to let it go, in spite of its fully appreciated goodness, neither sullenly nor recklessly, but freely and gladly, when the better has disclosed itself and its call is imperative. No simple rule can be given for this,16 and yet it is the secret of all high moral attainment.
Let me take a simple concrete example, to illustrate my meaning from a problem which most of us have to face in everyday living. Think of some of the things which are implied in the right ordering of what we call “romantic” sexual love. The problem is not at bottom, as it is sometimes made to appear in superficial works on ethics, no more than that of keeping an elementary physical appetite within safe and decent bounds. If it were only that, it would be without its most formidable moral difficulties. When, in the dawn of adolescence, the “young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” he must be a very poor kind of young man if, from the very first, the promptings of mere animal “passion” are not so overlaid with characteristically human affection and imagination that they are, for the most part, only in the background of consciousness. Most of us, I suspect, are barely aware of them during the romance we call “love” and courtship; it is later on that we become fully awake to them. Still, of course, they are there, if only as undertones, and I should go further and say frankly that they ought to be there. The ends which they serve in any distinctively human life, even a prosaic and unimaginative one, are clearly moral ends, and include, at the least, the life of mutual trust and companionship in the joys and sorrows of earthly existence, the consortium totius vitae, and the bringing up of a new generation to be decent and useful members of the great fellowship of the living and the dead. These ends are not likely to be effectively attained where the primitive physical drawing of youth to maid, and maid to youth, is not adequately strong and real. That is not likely to be a wholly sound family life which has not begun with “passion,” and though “passion” itself, felt for a person, is already physical desire in process of sublimation and translation into the super-physical, it demands the physical basis. When there is no call of the body to the body, there is no sufficient foundation for “true love”. Now, the wrong, or at least inferior, kind of detachment is prompted by recognition of these facts and by the true reflection that the facts presuppose a physical condition and mental mood which, in the nature of things, cannot last. Physical charm and the ardours of physical desire belong to joyous youth and lusty prime; to any man the time must come, sooner or later, in the order of nature, when the grace and charm which stirred him have taken their place with the neiges d’antan, or when, even if they were less evanescent than they are, advancing years would compel him to confess of himself, “I take no pleasure in them”. It is true and certain enough that
beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Nor young love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Romantic passion may be the delight of a season; it cannot be of itself the business of a life. So it is easy to say, “Because this cannot satisfy beyond its season, it is clearly not the one abiding good, and a good which is not abiding is what I will have none of”. But we can all see readily that the man who simply cuts romance and passion out of his life—except when he does so in strict duty at the summons of an imperative greater good, and even then he is paying a very real price for the greater good—is maiming his whole moral being. He is cutting himself loose from the whole circle of the experiences which do most to moralise the great majority of human beings, declining a high spiritual adventure. But a man may also maim his life by undue attachment. If no one will ever get all the moral wealth that may be got out of the life of family ties and responsibilities, unless he begins with the ardour and passion of the lover, it is true that no one will make the best, or anything like the best, of such a life who simply remains the youthful ardent lover all his life long. He will end by wearying himself and the object of his ardours; indeed, these ardours only minister to his moral being so long as they are spontaneous and unprompted. When the relation needs to be maintained by conscious effort, as it some day must be, if it is to last through the physical and mental changes of a lifetime, it may become a clog, instead of a support to the soul. “Some love too little, some too long.”
Thus the problem life sets us is that of a steady progress in the conversion of passion ennobled by affection into affection intensified by its connection with passion, but the element of passion steadily tends to recede into the background of a mellow and golden past. It is good, in season, to have been the romantic lover, but it is only permanently good on condition that one reaches out to what is beyond, that the actual experience of ardent youth is made a stage on the way to the different experiences of a perfect middle age and later life. And the task of so living in the present while it lasts that one is helped, not hindered, in the advance to the future is so easily spoiled by the natural human reluctance to meet the new and untried that it demands unremitting vigilance and unrelaxing effort to escape the danger of moral sloth.
This is but one example of the problem which is raised by all the relations and situations of the personal moral life. To evade any of them is detrimental; to rest in any of them as final equally spoils them. All have to be used, as good in their measure, and all have to be transformed. It is because, with advancing years, we all tend to grow weary of the progressive transformation, and try to put off our harness, that middle age is attended, for all of us, with grave danger of moral stagnation. We all want to say to ourselves, “I have now come to the point when I may stand still; I want to be no better, no wiser, no more responsive to the call of moral adventure, than I am now. Henceforth let my life be a placid backwater.” But to yield to the suggestion is moral death. Here is the special witness of the moral life to man’s position in the universe as a creature whose being is rooted at once in time and in eternity.
This difficulty in finding the right adjustment of attachment to detachment is, of course, primarily a practical one. But, like most serious practical difficulties, it has a theoretical problem behind it. The theoretical difficulty has found clear expression in the sections of the Prolegomena to Ethics, in which T. H. Green dwells on the apparent “vicious circle” involved in every attempt to make definite and articulate statements about the character of the good for man, or moral ideal. The same point is illustrated equally by another great work on ethics of the same date and proceeding from the same group of thinkers, F. H. Bradley’s Ethical Studies, where we find the relatively simple ideal of faithful discharge of the “duties of our station,” on which we could fall back with confidence so long as we were concerned merely with the refutation of the deliberate pleasure-seeker, or of the fanatic for a formulated code of “categorical maxims,” proving itself inadequate under more searching criticism. Green’s way of stating the difficulty has, for my present purpose, the advantage of being the boldest, and so making the point hardest to overlook. All the moral progress of individual man, or of societies, has found its inspiration in a “divine discontent,” a sense of a best which is beyond all the good that has so far been achieved. It is the men who will be content with nothing but the best whom we have to thank for every serious advance which man and society have actually made towards even a moderately “better”. If the merely “relatively better” were enough to content us, it would not be apparent why we should take even the first steps beyond the measure of good already attained, for this is itself already a “better” by comparison with something we have left behind us. The moralist who is in earnest with life is, necessarily and on principle, an intransigeant; he means to aim not at the rather better, but at the absolute best. And it is the tragedy of the moral life that not only is the best never actually achieved at a specific date and place, but that you cannot as much as make it really clear to yourself with any detail what the best is; you do not possess a “clear and distinct idea” of what you would be at.
From the point of view of the devotee of the “geometrical method,” the life of unremitting moral endeavour, which we at least confess with shame we ought to be leading, however lamentably we fall short in our practice, is an unending aspiration after a je ne sais quoi, just as the life of the profound thinker or the great artist seems often, even to himself, to be one perpetual attempt to express the ineffable, or convey the incommunicable.17 To the question, “But what is it all about, and just what is it you would have?” neither moralist artist, nor metaphysician has any definite answer to give. In the case of the moralist, in particular, any attempt to say precisely what it is he wants to do, or wants his society to be, leads straight either to the idle amusement of constructing a “New Jerusalem,” or to the serious mischief of trying to force the “New Jerusalem” of one man’s dream on the multitude who are quite unfit to inherit it. And we all know from experience that these Utopias of the doctrinaires, even at their best, have the fatal defect that the one thing they cannot guarantee is the one thing which matters; you may describe the walls of the city down to the smallest of the gems which glitter in them, or its police arrangements down to the size and material of the most insignificant button on the coat of the humblest official, but you cannot ensure that the inhabitants shall be “true Israelites” in whom there is no guile. Your Eden may be cunningly and strongly fenced, but no fence will keep out the old serpent. And yet, without the inspiration of the vision, you are certain to leave the old Babylon pretty much as you found it. There is no moral institution of all we inherit of which we can honestly say that, as we know it, it is worthy to be eternised because it gives us the best. However much we may appreciate its “spirit,” the spirit comes to us always encumbered with a “letter” which it has not wholly informed, and we are incapable of saying in advance how this letter is to be permanently kept from becoming a dead letter. Moral traditions and institutions are always in process of transformation while they are alive, because they are alive; the attempt to provide them with an eternalised expression beyond which imagination is forbidden to travel would be, in principle, to kill them.
This is equally true of all attempts to imagine what attained perfection, or felicity, completed humanity, would be in an individual personality, as we may learn from consideration of the different pictures of the life of Heaven on which men have tried to feed their souls. I am not referring merely to the infinite dreariness and moral emptiness of the common “spiritist” revelations of our future, with the dreadful prospect they disclose of an eternity of aimless gossip and twaddle. In this kind the best, no less than the worst, are but shadows. Must we not, if we are quite candid, say even of Dante’s Paradise, that though, for a moment while we are under the immediate spell of the poetry, it may seem to leave nothing to be desired, yet, when we reflect, if we take the imagery as more than symbolic of things the poet himself cannot really envisage, the spell is broken? We are in a world where the inhabitants seem to have nothing in particular to do, and where we feel that the intrusion of the visitor from earth must have provided the beatified spirits with a welcome relief from monotony. It is not surprising that Green should decide that there is no way out of his “circle”. What the best, which has all along been the inspiration of moral effort, may be, we commonly say, at any time, most inadequately by pointing to the little better which has so far been attained and saying that the best is that which has inspired the achievement, and that advance to a better state still means progress along the same road. What the windings and turnings of the road may be, and what new prospects each of these may disclose, we do not know. We can only say that no advance will be made by simply retracing our steps.18
Now, one sees at once what the mere “reformer,” with his insistence on immediate and visible practical “results,” is likely to say to such a declaration. His objection, in fact, might be fairly summarised by the mere grumble, “Toryism,” in spite of the fact that in practice Green was a zealous late nineteenth-century Radical. If the critic designed to be more explanatory, he would clearly have something not wholly unplausible to say for himself. What he might say, with fair plausibility would, I conceive, be much this: “I fully accept your statement that moral progress is not to be made, in my personal life or in that of society, by simply turning one’s back on the route by which the slow but real progress of the past has been achieved. I agree with you that the spirit of all that is good in existing practice and actual institutions ought to be conserved. But the problem which confronts me is to know how much, in our inheritance, is ‘spirit’ and how much is ‘letter’. Is a proposed modification of my personal rule of conduct, or of the social rule of the community which involves a marked and visible departure from established convention, really a surrender of the spirit of morality, or only revision of a letter which has become obsolete? To adopt your own metaphor of the journey, is one always really going back on one’s track whenever one seems to be doubling? The road itself, you know, may wind, in spite of Bunyan’s denial; or, again, the traveller may have missed the obscure right path some way back, and his one reasonable course now may be to make for the road again across difficult open country. Whether this is his case or not could only be certainly discovered from careful study of a good road-map, and, by your own confession, even if Bunyan possessed such a map, you do not. This being so, can you complain that your directions seem to me a little like the bad and unsafe rule of always following ‘one’s own nose’?” This, as I take it, is the substance of Professor Hobhouse’s grievance against the whole social theory of Green’s distinguished continuator, Bosanquet, and there is an apparent good sense about the complaint which finds an echo in the hearts of many of us.19
Yet it is no less apparent that the “ordnance survey map” of the road which mankind, or each of us, has to take through human life is certainly not to be had. It is not merely that the detailed Utopias which have been imagined by one enthusiast after another are all unsatisfactory, though I confess I have never examined one of them which did not seem at least as likely to prove a “hell on earth” as a “heaven below”. The root of the difficulty lies deeper. It is vain to set yourself to picture a temporal “heaven on earth,” because earth is temporal and heaven is eternal. Since the future is hidden from us, you can never know that if you succeeded in setting up your Utopia you might not find that you had surrendered better for worse; you do not know the price which might have to be paid for it. And, again, you do know at least one thing about a temporal Utopia, that because it is temporal, it could only be reached to be deserted again. Once set up, it would cease to be a “better”ahead. The attempt to depict an actual eternal felicity is more hopepess still, because to know what it is one would already have had to put off temporality and put on eternity in one’s self, and none of us has ever done this. We cannot describe the goal of our pilgrimage because we have never reached it. And yet we cannot say, with Bunyan’s Atheist, “there is no such place on the map,” and abandon the journey, because to do so would be to cease to be serious with life, and that we dare not do, so long as we remain moral. It is moral aspiration which has humanised the human animal, and we dare not believe that the humanisation of man is an illusion, or a bad joke. The goal may be out of sight, but a goal there must be, or
There’s nothing serious in mortality;
All is but toys.
Green’s problem of the apparent moral “circle,” then, seems to show us morality transcending itself and passing into religion and worship in several ways, some of which I will try to indicate briefly.
(1) As Green himself reminds us, the immediate conscious demand of the man who is bent on bettering himself, or his society, may be, for something quite inconsiderable, the correction of a particular tendency or habit in himself which prevents him from being in some particular what he approves of being the removal of some little impediment to the successful prosecution of a communal aim20 At our own level of moralisation, for example, the man who takes in hand to reform his life may be already conscious of nothing more than that it would be better for him to get up an hour earlier in the morning, to smoke one cigar a day less, or to pay his small bills a little more promptly as they come in; the man who wants to leave society “rather better than he found it,” may start with nothing more “transcendental” than the desire to check some small waste in the spending of the local rates, to make some particular legal procedure a little less dilatory and expensive, or to secure for the community some hours more of sunlight in the year by the introduction of “summer time”. But if you are in earnest with the spirit of “reform,” though you may begin with the conscious intention of some one such definite minor correction, you do not stop there. The putting right of this or that defect does not prove to be a panacea for our human failure to make the best of life. The more you have succeeded in setting right, the more you find calling out for further treatment. Any earnest sense of the necessity for putting anything to rights can lead you, if you are logical and resist sloth, to the remaking of life as a whole. With each limitation surmounted, you become conscious of further limitations, still to be surmounted, of which you had never dreamed. Thus it is those who have made most, not those who have made least, progress in the moral conquest of themselves and their surroundings who are most keenly alive to human imperfection and finitude. The slave who, with some effort, has broken one link of his fetters is more gallingly aware of the chain that still binds him than the slave who has never dreamed that he may be free. Behind the whole process, and giving it all its value, there is what an American might call the “urge,” towards complete emancipation, but it is only as we steadily loosen one shackle after another that we discover that nothing less than complete freedom would satisfy the impulse which led us to break the first link. To become increasingly conscious of ourselves as finite and fettered is only the other side of becoming conscious of ourselves as made for, and destined to, freedom and self-mastery. But complete freedom and self-mastery lie beyond the horizon of temporality. So we end by making the discovery that what we began by mistaking for a mere attempt to adjust ourselves a little better to supposedly hard-and-fast conditions of our temporal environment is really the effort to transcend time and mortality altogether. The larva might fancy that its business on the leaf is merely to become a bigger and fatter larva; its true aim in feeding on the leaf, if it only knew it, is to turn into the angelica farfall You must become something more than “mere man,” on pain of otherwise becoming something less.
(2) Next—and this is a point on which it is all-important to lay full stress—genuinely moral effort after a “better” is always double-edged. If the effort has “moral” quality, what moves us is never simply dissatisfaction with our environment, or, in Butler’s phrase, our “condition”; there is always also dissatisfaction with ourselves, or, as Butler puts it, “our conduct,” and the character of which that conduct is the expression. We will not merely that the course of things shall be different, but that we ourselves will be different. There is nothing “divine” about a discontent which is not also dissatisfaction with ourselves, in fact, selfcondemnation. The eastern rhymester’s longing to shatter the “frame of things” and make it anew, “nearer to the heart’s desire,” has no moral quality, so long as it does not put the heart itself at the very head of the list of things to be shattered and remade The making of a personality, like that of an omelette, requires the breaking of eggs, and the first egg to be broken is a man’s own heart. Hence the superficiality of all attempts to identify true moral progress with any mere scheme of “social amelioration,” or the moral ideal with a well-constructed “social system”. The builders of the vulgar Utopias are all concerned only with providing for the “heart’s desire” of very imperfectly moralised beings, the securing of felicity for men who remain unenlightened and “unregenerate”. The trouble is that so long as one remains still the “natural man,” desiring as good only that which is good in part and for a season, no satisfaction of such desires will yield felicity. The merely “natural” man has only the choice, at best, between satiety and disappointment. To achieve felicity, one must first learn to set one’s heart on a good which can neither cloy nor be taken from one, and no such good is discovered or desired without a real travail of the soul. There is no genuine regeneration of society but one which is based throughout on this transformation of personal aim and character. Happiness, as Kant truly says,21 would mean for each of us that the course of the world should conform completely to his “will and wish,” but the conformity is impossible so long as our “wills and wishes” remain what they are, in many respects even in the best of us, sensual, foolish, peevish. We have to learn to care intensely for so much that, at first, had no attraction for us, and to cease to care greatly about so much we all begin by prizing highly.
Yet it is equally true that the activity from which all moral advance springs is directed outwards as well as inwards. The progressive transformation by which mankind are humanised and moralised is not only a transformation of the self. The Stoic who limits himself to the endeavour to “make a right use of his presentations” (ὀρθῶς χρῆσθαι ταῖς φαντασίαις), misses the mark by one-sidedness as much as the mere “social reformer” who dreams of regenerating the world without first being regenerated himself. It is not only that the outward march of events has to be subdued to human purposes by an increasing control of “nature” built on patient study of “nature’s” ways, and, again, that there must be steady correction of hampering social habits and conventions, if the “course of events” is to be shaped into conformity with a sane human will. This is true enough, but it is only half the truth. The other half is that the genuinely moralised spirit is itself a missionary spirit. What the good man wants to have of the world, he equally wants his neighbour to have, but, beyond this, what he wants to be, he wants his neighbour to be also, and his neighbour’s name is Everyman. The moral aim is not merely that society shall be rightly ordered in external matters and my own will intelligent and virtuous, but that all men’s wills shall be as my own in these respects. The good man could not find the best on which his heart is set in a world where men’s dealings with one another were outwardly conformable to a right rule, and his own, but his own only, further inspired by a genuine devotion to the rule for its own sake. If the best is really to be achieved, we need to add that it must be in a world where all men, not only “one strong man in a blatant land,” in Kant’s formula, reverence duty in their hearts as well as conform to it in their outward acts. It is not enough that I should myself “reverence the moral law”; if the world is to be what it must be before the good man can pronounce it what he would have it, all men must bow in a common reverence. So it becomes no less a part of the life “from duty” to set other men forward on the way of desiring the truly supreme good than it is to desire it myself with all my heart. It is quite impossible to rest in the curious Kantian compromise which tells me to promote in myself the spirit of reverence for duty, but to be content with assisting to promote my fellow-man’s “happiness”. Indeed, the compromise is incompatible with Kant’s own final word on “happiness,” that happiness means a state in which the rational will is actually realised in the course of events.22 So long as any man’s will falls short of being wholly reasonable and humanised, the course of events which realises the rational, i.e. good, will cannot realise that man’s will, so that I cannot propose to make another “happy” without winning his will for goodness and rationality. Kant might have learned something on this matter from the saying of Epicurus, “If you would make Pythocles happy, seek not to add to his possessions, but to moderate his desires”.23 It is a badly maimed account of the truly good will to say only, as Kant sometimes does, that its object is that every man should be made happy to the degree in which he is deserving of happiness, and as a consequence of his deserving: So much might be secured in a world where no man had any virtue and no man was happy, or even in one where all men were very vicious and consequently very miserable. It is secured in Dante’s horrible picture of a Hell where the torments are ingeniously graded according to the ill-deserts of the inhabitants. But it would surely be a very doubtful morality which could find a universe consisting of one vast Dantesque Hell “very good”. (In fact, if a universe so constituted could be very good, one might say, in Dante’s own words, uopo non fosse partorir Maria.) If Kant’s formula were really the last word of morality, there seems to be no reason why a final shutting up of all creatures in condemnation, because all have been disobedient, should not be a perfectly satisfactory conclusion to history. It cannot be the supreme object of the good will that all of us should be “as happy as we deserve”: it would be, at any rate, a less patently faulty formula to say that the good will wills that we should be made deserving of happiness and should attain the happiness we have been enabled to “merit”. (I do not say that this statement is beyond criticism, but it is at least better than Kant’s own.)
Even Kant’s own statement seems to require that we should transcend the limitations of Kant’s presentation of morality. Kant himself allows that a will which could effect the subordination of the whole course of history to a moral demand that the happiness of individuals shall be a consequence of their moral worth, and proportionate to that worth, cannot be the will of any finite creature. It must be a will backed by omnipotence, or, at least, a will which is supreme over the whole temporal order and wields every part as a wholly plastic instrument for a moral end. Thus it must be a living supreme divine will into conformity with which our own wills grow in proportion as we become what we ought to be.24 And this consideration seems to lead us at once to grave dissatisfaction with Kant’s own fundamental moral principle of Autonomy of the Will, as he himself states it. According to his own account, the reason why it is only reasonable and proper to pay unconditional reverence to the commands of the moral will is, in the last resort, that the moral will is my own will, “as rational,” so that in obeying it I am obeying a law which I impose on myself. I am to be wholly submissive because in submitting I become my own master. It is true that Kant guards himself, as I think some of his critics, Neo-Thomist and otherwise, sometimes forget, by an important distinctio. My will, according to him, is legislative in the moral world, but it is not sovereign, for the very reason that it is bound by its own commands.25 The moral world of persons is a constitutional realm with a Parliament, and it may be—it was Kant’s opinion that it not only may be, but is—a monarchy in which God is the constitutional monarch. (In any case, Kant is clear on the point that I am not monarch.) But this distinctio does not wholly remove the difficulty it is intended to meet. What the difficulty is we may see from consideration of another Kantian thesis. When Kant is anxious to establish the point that a morally good will cannot derive its goodness from the character of the results it produces, he rightly urges against all forms of utilitarianism, that the good man’s attitude in the presence of the known moral law is one of unqualified reverence, and that such reverence cannot be felt for any product of our own action. We cannot, in fact, unless we are idolaters, worship our own handiwork.
This should have prompted the further question whether, without falling into the priggishness which is a peculiarly detestable kind of idolatry, anyone can worship himself. Now, if the good will is no more than my will, or, to put it more precisely in the way in which Kant puts it, if there is no more profound and ultimate reason for my reverence for it than that it is my own will, does not absolute reverence for the good will and its law of duty degenerate into self-worship? Are we not at least on the brink here of a paradox which is inevitable in any living morality, however simple? If the commands of the good will were merely the commands of some external power foreign to myself, if my own will did not “go along” with them, in obeying, I should be no more than a slave. I might think obedience prudent, or expedient, but I could not obey with the joyous self-surrender of adoration. But, again, if these commands were only the commands of my will why should I reverence and adore? The power which sanctioned the command might surely at any time dispense with its own injunctions, on the principle sit pro ratione voluntas. The peculiar moral attitude seems only fully intelligible if we agree with Kant that the commands of morality are absolutely reasonable, but part company with him by immediately adding, as something more than an “open possibility,” that they do not originate in a reason which is “my” nature, that they come from a supreme and absolute reason into likeness with which I have to grow, but which remains always beyond me. What “my” reason does, and does always only imperfectly, is to recognise, not to create, the obligations it is my duty to fulfil. It is just because the reason which is the source of the moral law is not originally mine, nor that of any man or all men, that I can reverence it without reservations.
This is only another way of saying what Kant, and other “rationalist” philosophers too often forget, that man himself and man’s reason are always things “in the making,” never things finally made and once for all there. We do not come into the world rational: we have to achieve our rationality slowly and partially, with labour and difficulty. The moral law by which our conduct is to be judged is not, from our birth, written in indelible characters on the tables of the heart. It is gradually disclosed, as we gradually grow into humanity. Its primal seat, then, cannot be in a reason which is already ours by possession, but must be in that “reason” into conformity with which we are slowly growing. Only by some such conception do we escapetheintolerabledualismof Kant’saccount of man’s nature as compounded of a rationality which is already full-grown and perfect, and an animality which never grows into anything better at all. And only so do we find a place in our schemes of morality for some of the qualities which, when we are not under the domination of preconceived theory, we all recognise as the ripest fruits of spiritual growth.
(3) A moralist may be permitted to feel a special interest in this last-mentioned point and to leave it to the metaphysician to deal more fully with the formal difficulties inherent in an exaggerated dualism of “reason” and “inclination”. What, we may ask, is the right moral attitude to the old problem of Job, the problem of the apparently wanton and pointless suffering and disaster life so often brings with it? It does not require very profound moral insight to understand that the practically sane attitude is neither that of stupefaction and moral paralysis, nor that of embittered “revolt”. The spectacle of an eminent novelist shaking his fist at the “president of the immortals” because his heroine has come to the gallows is not morally edifying, and is, moreover, a little comical to anyone who remembers that, after all, it is not God, but the novelist himself, who “creates” the heroine and deliberately contrives her hanging. There is more to be said for the Stoic “resignation,” which takes refuge in a grim refusal to lower one’s head under the “bludgeonings of chance,” when the attitude is genuine, and not—as I suspect is more often the case—mere self-conscious theatrical “pose”. But I think we all know of a better way, which is followed in practice by thousands of humble souls under burdens more grievous than those which send the sentimentalists of literature to whining or cursing, according to temperament, and the literary Stoics to admiration of their own fortitude. It is possible to do better than to abstain from complaints or to cultivate pride; it is possible, and we all know of cases in which it is finely done, to make acceptance of the worst fortune has to bestow a means to the development of a sweetness, patience, and serene joyousness which are to be learned nowhere but in the school of sharp suffering.
Count each affliction, whether light or grave,
God’s messenger sent down to thee; do thou
With courtesy receive him; rise and bow;
And, ere his shadow cross thy threshold, crave
Permission first his heavenly feet to lave;
Then lay before him all thou hast…
… Grief should be
Like joy, majestic, equable, sedate;
Confirming, cleansing, raising, making free;
Strong to consume small troubles; to commend
Great thoughts, grave thoughts, thoughts lasting to the end.26
There is the nobly ethical attitude to affliction, which does not merely safeguard moral good already won against degradation, as the Stoic resignation may do, but makes trouble itself the direct means to further enrichment. But this attitude is possible only on one condition: the affliction must be regarded as “God’s messenger”. One must really believe that “whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth”. Is such an attitude possible in a life directed by the Kantian maxims? To my own thinking it is not. The point of the situation is that it is precisely the heavy afflictions which can be converted into the means to the greatest moral enrichment. And the sting of these afflictions lies just in their apparent wantonness, their seeming utter unreasonableness. If we come, in this life, to see any reasonableness in them, we do so only because they have already borne the fruit they can bear only on condition that they are first gladly accepted in all their apparent unreasonableness. Unless I mean by the “reason” I worship with unqualified reverence something more than the “reason I have now in possession,” I own I do not see that we could admit this morally most fruitful attitude towards afflictions into a scheme of morality which is, ex hypothesi, to be a life “by the sole dictate of reason,” and I note that I have found nothing in Kant’s writings of any period to suggest that he himself dreamed of any attitude towards such visitations which goes beyond the “Stoic” retreat of the tortoise into its shell. Yet, if he did not, he was blind to the highest.
I should infer that here we have a concrete illustration of the way in which the moral life itself, at its best, points to something which, because it transcends the separation of “ought” from “is,” must be called definitely religion and not morality, as the source and inspiration of what is best in morality itself, and that the connection between practical good living and belief in God is much more direct and vital than Kant was willing to allow. I cannot doubt that morality may exist without religion. An atheist who has been taught not to steal or lie or fornicate or the like is, probably, no more nor less likely, in average situations, to earn his living honestly, to speak the truth, and to live cleanly, than a believer in God. But if the atheist is logical and in earnest with his professed view of the world, and the believer equally so with his, I think I know which of the two is the more likely to make irreparable and “unmerited” grievous calamity a means to the purification and enrichment of personality.
(4) Again, we can see that the assumed identity between the right and the rational does not permit, as it should if the legislative moral reason were my own, in the sense of being an endowment which I have, and eternally have, in possession, of an inference which is absolutely vital to Kant’s theory of the “categorical imperative” as a sufficient moral criterion. The injunctions of the good will, to which we must at all costs be loyal, cannot be digested, in advance of experience, into an articulated code of precepts sufficient to guide the upright man’s steps, no matter how slippery the places where they have to be set. We are familiar enough in daily life with the truth that when we try to decide in theory what would be the dutiful course of action in a situation which has never confronted us in our practice, we most commonly find ourselves beset with considerations for and against every proposed course, considerations which we may balance endlessly against one another without coming to a conclusion. And yet we know that if we live in the dutiful spirit, when the responsibility of deciding rightly is thrown upon us, we can trust that it will bring with it the light necessary for the decision. The voice of enlightened conscience does not make itself audible until the duty of deciding is laid upon us. There could probably be no worse preparation for right action than careful anticipatory study of systems of casuistry; to know with a justified confidence that you can trust your “conscience” does not mean that you know in advance what the deliverances of “conscience” will be.27 Similarly, I should say, I may and do often feel a justified confidence that my friend will acquit himself as a man should in some situation of great “difficulty” and grave responsibility. But this need not mean, what only the muddleheaded “determinist” takes it to mean, that I know what my friend’s decision will be before it has been made. In many cases, especially when my friend is a man of riper experience and higher moral wisdom than myself, his decision may take me by complete surprise.28 He may do what I expected he would refuse to do, or may take a line different from any of those which presented themselves to me in anticipation. My confidence is not that I know what he will do, but that I know that whatever he does will be seen, after it has been done, by myself or by others of more penetration, to be the act of an upright and honourable man. (Just so my confidence in a man’s skill in chess, or his humour in repartee, does not mean that I know by what move he will counter his opponent, before the move is made, or what he will say in reply to a challenge before he has opened his mouth.)
There is nothing new in the particular point which I am here urging. On the contrary, Kant’s reliance on the “imperative” as a criterion has always been felt to be the very weakest point in his ethical doctrine. I should actually be inclined to say that many of his critics have fallen into the mistake of supposing that a successful attack on the value of the “imperative” as a criterion of itself disproves its very different claim to be an adequate formulation of the supreme principle of right action, and that much of their criticism simply misses the mark in consequence of this elementary confusion. The point I want to make is rather different. Admitting that the “imperatives” of a moral code cannot in fact be used as a practical moral criterion, I would ask whether it is still not a direct consequence of the identification of the “morally legislative reason” with a reason I, and every man, have in possession that they ought to provide such a criterion, and whether therefore the manifest fact that they do not is not in itself a refutation of the “hypothesis” which demands the making of the false inference. The further comment I would make on the familiar facts is this, and it is the comment which naturally suggests itself to anyone who remembers Aristotle’s admirable discussion of the relation between “practical goodness of intellect” and what Aristotle calls “goodness of character” (ἠθικὴ ἀρετή, virtus moralis).29 The facts must not be taken to mean merely that unless we keep the spirit of dutifulness alive by being daily dutiful in small matters, we are not very likely to have the strength to do our duty in the difficult situations when they arise; that he who is careless in small things is likely to be careless, or worse, in great; though this is true enough. We must add that unless we live in the spirit of duty in the “small matters” of every day, we shall not be likely even to see what the path of duty is when the great responsibilities are laid upon us and we have to react to them. It is only as we become more and more personally moralised by faithful performance of already known duties that the full demand of duty upon us is progressively disclosed. We learn what the law of the moral life is by obeying it; clear knowledge does not precede performance, but follows upon it. This, not the mere complexity of the conditions under which actual choices have to be made, is the chief ground of objection to Kant’s singular contention that no honest man can ever be in doubt or perplexity about the path of duty.30 I may be honest enough at the present moment in my desire to walk in the path of duty, but the price of past carelessness is too often inability to see which path is the path of duty.
Thus, again, we are pointed to the conclusion that the “reason” which, in the last resort, prescribes the law of duty is not ours in possession; it is a reason which is only communicated to us in part and gradually, and that in proportion to our faithfulness to the revelations already received. We do not make the law, we discover it and assent to it, and it is for that reason that no attitude to the source of the law is adequate, unless it has passed from mere respect into that unqualified reverence which we know as adoration and worship. And we cannot worship what is no richer in quality than our own self; we can only worship that which is already all, and more than all, we mean when we speak of ourselves as living, intelligent, moral, and personal. For that which we worship must be capable of continuing to sustain our worship, however much farther we may progress along the road which has already led us into such personal moral life as we enjoy. Thus viewed, the “supreme good” takes on the full character of a living, spiritual, and personal God, and the life of fulfilment of duty the character of a daily appropriation of the riches of God. The discharge of duty is seen to be the road to deiformity.
(5) This, again, means that we can make no hard-and-fast distinction of principle between the life of discharge of duty and the life of specifically religious faith. Faith is not a voluntary supplement, or appendage, to dutiful living, but its very breath of life. It would be misrepresenting the facts to think of the simple discharge of duty in the occupations of every day as a walking by sight, to be set in sharp contrast with the walking by faith characteristic of religion. To have a real and living faith means simply to be ready to stake yourself on what you know you cannot demonstrate, to be ready to stand by your conviction when all the appearances are against it. Now, it is not only in what are commonly called “religious” matters that this attitude is demanded of us, though, no doubt, it is there that its presence is most obvious, since it is so plain that a religion which means anything to a man’s life means conviction of the truth of a view about the whole order of things which goes far beyond all that any man could propose to demonstrate. If we do not so readily discover the presence of the same element of faith in the unseen in the simple discharge of ordinary duty, the reason is probably that we are commonly contented with too low a standard of the dutiful. We mistake for dutiful action action which is merely “according to duty,” adopted for the reason that it is customary and conventional, and so “in the line of least resistance”. But a morality reduced to acquiescence in the safe and customary, because it is the easier course, would be a morality from which all the life had evaporated. To perform even the simplest and most familiar act of duty in the dutiful spirit means to recognise it as the thing which is supremely worth while and would remain supremely worth while, were my whole existence at stake; of no act can it be demonstrated that it has this character of the supremely worth while. Of the heavier acceptances and surrenders of the moral life it is obviously true that in every one of them a man is risking the loss of his anima, and it is never demonstrable that the losing will end in a finding. The appearances are the other way, and that is why the acceptance, or surrender, needs a hero to make it. Even the call, for example, to what men call a “wider sphere of action” may, for all I know, or can prove, when I have to accept or decline it, be an invitation to expend my energy on a task to which I am not adequate, to the loss and deterioration of my personality. I may be taking myself where fatal trials and temptations await me, where the “contagion of the world’s slow stain” will have more power upon me. The moral life, followed with a single mind, constantly calls us to put to the hazard not only health or comfort, but the soul itself. If we escape its perils, we escape in the strength of a faith which “appearances” cannot daunt.
It would be a total misconception to contrast the life of ethics as lived in the clear daylight with the life of religion as one of twilight, mystery, and danger. All these are to be found in the ethical life itself. There is the twilight; for, as we have seen, it is only gradually and in part that “conscience” provides light for our path; it enables us, at the best, to see where to plant our feet for the next step, but leaves the more distant scene in darkness. There is the mystery; for, in difficult cases, even the next step has so often to be taken with uncertain misgivings and the mental qualification, “God forgive me, if I am deciding wrong”. There is the danger; since it may be the very foundations of our moral life which will be imperilled by a false step. If we allow ourselves to listen to the insidious suggestion that assent is only to be given to “clear and distinct ideas,” we shall, of course, have to resign ourselves to going through life without a religion; but we shall equally have to go through life without action. A worthy moral life, no less than the acceptance of a religion, is an adventure by an uncertain light, and the theses of Pragmatism contain at least this much truth, that clearer insight has to be obtained by first acting in the dim light we have, much as, in St. Anselm’s formula, belief in the verities of religion precedes the understanding of them. The attitude of practical piety is here only a further continuation and completion of that which has been already adopted in the simple resolution to live dutifully. That resolution itself, formally no more than a determination to act up to the standard of the best, so far as known, works out in the end into the life which draws its continual inspiration from contact with the living God, and is in steady process of transfiguration into the likeness of the source from which its stream is fed. The rule to look “not to what I am, but to what I shall be,” of itself expands into the rule of looking not to myself, but to Him from whom what I shall be must come. Werde der du bist is but an imperfect transcription of an older maxim, ἕπου θεῷ.
C. Lloyd Morgan, Life, Mind and Spirit, p. 313.
Dante, Paradiso, xxvi. 42.
Spinoza, Ethica, v. 23, Scholicum.
See the texts as given by O. Kern, Orphicorum Fragmenta, as fr. 32 (pp. 104–109).
In the philosophical literature of the world this type of view finds its most perfect expression in the neo-Platonic version of the fall and descent of the soul as set forth by Plotinus. According to him, as his latest editor puts it (Plotinus, Enneads, iv. ed. Bréhier, p. 215), “our salvation is not to be achieved, it has been eternally achieved, since it is part of the order of things. Passion, suffering, sin, have never touched more than the lower part of the soul”. Christianity, too, as traditionally presented, has its doctrine of the “fall”. But then the “fall” is a real one which affects the soul to its centre and needs to be repaired by a real “work of grace”. It is no service to the understanding either of Christianity or of Plotinus to obscure the point that neither sin nor grace, as conceived by Christians, has any place in a consistent neo-Platonism. In Plato himself there is no obscuring of the distinction between humanity and deity, and, perhaps for that reason, he contemplates a possibility of real “damnation” for the “wholly incurable”.
McTaggart, Studies in Hegelian Cosmology, p. 127.
Cf. Hawthorne’s story of the Celestial Railroad.
“I think it right,” he says, “to protest against a conclusion, which has given pain to some good and pious persons, that I meant to inculcate such a belief. It is far too shadowy a notion to be recommended to faith, as more than an element in our instincts of immortality.”
It is not without significance that Dr. McTaggart, the author of the subtlest and most sustained argument for this type of theory in our own literature, was also an adherent of through-going “determinism”. See Some Dogmas of Religion, c. 5.
It must not be forgotten that I do not pretend that it is demonstrated by this reasoning that time and “emergence” are not illusions. I am only urging that the antecedent probability is very much against a theory which requires us to treat characters apparently so universal and significant as illusory. It is reasonable only to accept a metaphysic of this kind if we find ourselves driven to it by the most cogent logical necessity, and this, I venture to think, is not the case. I would add that strict logic appears to require that, with the abandonment of the admission of actual “indeterminateness” into the structure of the historical should be coupled the denial that there was ever a “first moment”; time must be a series in which there is no first term. It does not seem to me clear that an actual “infinity a parte ante” in which every stage is thus perfectly determinate is even conceivable, and on that ground I should regard the view that time is a series with a first term as, at least, the opinio potior. But I cannot argue the case here. (I may, perhaps, refer to Dr. C. D. Broad’s article “Time” in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.)
Purgatorio, xvi. 88–91.
Republic, 608 B.
Ib. 617 E οὐχ ὑμᾶς δαίμων λήξεται, ἀλλὰ ὑμεῖς δαίμονα αἱρήσεσθε.
Laws, 904 c: “For as each of us desires and as he is in his soul, so and such, to speak generally, he is coming to be. Thus all things that have a share in soul change, and the source of the change they have in themselves, and as they change, they are transported, in accord with the ordering and law of destiny. … ‘This is the doom of the gods in heaven’, O boy, or lad, who deemest thyself overlooked by gods, that as a man becomes worse he makes his way to the company of worse souls, as he becomes better to the better, and thus, through life and all deaths, suffers and does that which it is meet that the like-minded should suffer from their likes and do to them. … In this judgement thou shalt never be passed over, though thou be ever so small, and hide in the depths of earth, or exalt thyself and soar to the sky: the penalty that is due thou must pay, while thou art still here among us, or, after thy passage hence, in the house of Hades, or, it may be, by removal to some region more desolate still.”
It may very well be so, even on Dr. McTaggart’s version of the theory. For though he holds that we are all predestined to an ultimate Heaven of goodness and happiness, he also holds that, in the enormously long series of lives which precede this “ultimate stage,” there may be any degree whatever of fluctuation both in happiness and in virtue(Nature of Existence, ii. pp. 473–7).
“Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul, When hot for certainties in this our life.”
Plato, Ep. vii. 341 c ῥητὸν γὰρ οὐδαμῶς ἐστιν ὡς ἄλλα μαθήματα, ἀλλ’ ἐκ πολλῆς συνουσίας γιγνομένης περὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα αὐτὸ καὶ τοῦ συζῆν ἐχαίφνης, οἶον ἀπὸ πυρὸς πηδήσαντος ἐξαφθὲν φῶς, ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ γενόμενον αὐτὸ ἑαυτὸ ἤδη τρέφει κτλ.
Cf. Prolegomena to Ethics, pp. 183–4, 351, 404.
L. T. Hobhouse, Philosophical Theory of the State, pp. 80 ff.
Cf. Prolegomena to Ethics, pp. 250–5, 265, 325–7.
KdprV. I. Th. ii. B. ii. Hptstck.(Werke, Hartenstein2, V. p. 130).
Kdpr V. loc. cit.
Epic., Fr., 135 (Usener).
Kdpr V. I. Th. ii. B. ii. Hptstck.(Werke, Hartenstein1, V. 131).
Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, ii. (Werke, iv. 282).
Aubrey de Vere.
Mark Rutherford, Clara Hopgood, c. 5: “You are asking for a decision when all the materials to make up a decision are not present. It is wrong to question ourselves in cold blood as to what we should do in a great strait; for the emergency brings the insight and the power necessary to deal with it. I often fear lest, if such-and-such a trial were to befall me, I should miserably fail. So I should, furnished as I now am, but not as I should be under stress of the trial.” Yet this position clearly needs some qualification, unless we are prepared to deny that counsel is ever of practical use in a moral difficulty.
On this point compare the moral of Browning’s Ivàn Ivànovitch.
E.N. 1144 a, 23 ff.
Kant, Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitlen, i. (Werke, iv. 251).