All casuall joy doth loud and plainly say,
Only by comming, that it can away.
Only in Heaven joyes strength is never spent;
And accidentall things are permanent:
This kinde of joy doth every day admit
Degrees of growth, but none of losing it.
I Have kept to the end the discussion of a difficulty which has been stated by no one with more force and directness than by Bradley in one of the chapters of Appearance and Reality, where the moral and religious life itself comes under the sentence of being, after all, only the appearance, though an exalted appearance, and not the reality. So far, we have been urging, as I fear with monotonous persistence, that the familiar conception of this life as a pilgrimage from the temporal to the eternal is wholly true, and that the reality of the pilgrimage is itself evidence of the reality of a goal which is plainly not to be reached, if life under terrestrial conditions and limitations is the only life we have. But it may be retorted that the argument is of the kind called by the Greek logicians λόγοι ἀντιστρέφοντες; it “cuts both ways,” and makes as much against our conclusion as for it. For if the pilgrimage were ever to reach its goal, moral goodness, it may be said, would itself disappear. We are moral beings only because, and so long as, there is a goal beyond us which we have not reached. If we had reached it, there would be nothing left to inspire effort and prompt to progress, and characteristically moral life would come to an end. Morality is progress, says Kant, and many another champion of “life in a world to come,” and without survival of death that progress can never be completed. Morality is progress, replies Bradley, or, at least, so you tell me. Then with endless survival it must become endless progress, and therefore must remain everlastingly uncompleted.1 As an argumentum ad hominem—or perhaps more precisely ad clerum—we are further reminded that in the Christian Heaven there is no progress, but only fruition; you are at home, and your journeys are over and done with. Hence if, like Kant, you base a hope of immortality on the alleged need of endless life, if there is to be endless progress, you have broken with the teachings of Christianity.2
The conclusion meant to be drawn is that, in any case, the task we set before ourselves in our moral life is one which, from its nature, cannot be achieved, and that the whole of that life is thus based on a salutary illusion. (Religion is dealt with less drastically than morality, but only, I think, because Bradley tended habitually to underestimate the closeness of the connection between morality and religion, to the point of almost making the second simply a If it is true, as it seems to be, that theology has a double foundation, in Ontology and in Ethics, Bradley’s theology seems to suffer no less gravely from disregard of the ethical foundation than Kant’s from neglect of the ontological.) One may add that, as Bradley is clearly aware, the Christian doctrine, which he has invoked to stop the mouth of the Kantian believer in endless progress, must be an illusion too, for it tells us that we are to be perfect, as its own supreme practical injunction, and such perfection is certainly not capable of being attained in this moral life, where we are all, more or less, always at the mercy of the unknown and incalculable, and must in the end be defeated by the inevitable falling of the night.
Is there any way for us out of this unwelcome dilemma? It seems to me that there is a way which has long ago been indicated for us by the great philosophers. But the difficulty ought to be fairly faced, if we are not to admit in the end that in taking our life as moral beings as a clue to reality we have been simply losing ourselves in a maze from which there is no exit. If, indeed, we could be content to adopt any of the views which make an absolutely sharp distinction between religion and morality—for example, the view that morality is wholly a matter of attaining a “terrestrial felicity” with which religion, as concerned with a strictly “supernatural good,” has no concern—there would be no problem for our discussion. We could then, if we pleased, simply concede all that Bradley asserts; we could say that the pursuit of ethical “perfection” is, as he maintains, the pursuit of an impossibility, but that this does not affect conceptions of our future in a land of supernatural blessedness. Heaven, we might say, is not to be won by morality, and it is strictly in keeping with this to hold that moral action is no feature of the life of the denizens of a heavenly Paradise. They have left morality behind them on entering into their reward; to be moral is to be still engaged in “work,” but in Heaven there is no more work to be done; one rests from one’s labours. But to adopt that position, or any similar position, would be to acquiesce in the very severance of “nature” and “grace” against which the whole of what has gone before has been a protest. For us, at least, that way out is stopped.
The difficulty we must face, then, when reduced to its simplest terms, is this. To live morally is to live to make the good real. But this very statement implies that there is good which is not real and has to be made so. If once we succeeded in making good wholly real and reality wholly good, there would be nothing left for us to live for, as moral beings. The supreme command of all morality is thus a command to make morality itself superfluous. But to aim at the supersession of morality is to be radically immoral, since to be truly moral means to be moral for morality’s own sake, to lead the moral life because of its own worth. Or, still more bluntly, morality is unremitting war against evil, but where there is no evil there can be no war against evil. The good man, therefore, must will at once that evil shall exist, that it may be overcome, and also that it shall be overcome, that is that it shall not exist. Thus his whole life is a hopeless attempt to will two incompatibles at once.
Now an irrationalist, like Professor Aliotta,3 may hold such a view without being much disturbed by it, since he appears to take the view that the whole worth of life depends on the fact that it is an “eternal war,” where the issue of the campaign is never decided. It is the fight, not the victory, which gives life its value in his eyes. (Mr. Chesterton has somewhere said virtually the same thing—how he reconciles it with his professed theological views I do not know—when he declared that in life there is no such thing as taking care to be “on the winning side,” because “you fight to find out which is the winning side”.4) But such a view should hardly commend itself to any but a very boyishly minded philosopher. When you come to think it out, it means that a thing only becomes good, and so worth fighting about, because someone makes it a bone of contention. The good would not really be good unless there were a party who think otherwise and are ready to fight in the quarrel. This is certainly not in accord with the principles on which reflective men commonly base their conduct. To get men to fight at all, if you are dealing with men who are more than overgrown schoolboys, you have to begin by persuading them that they have a good cause. Men and nations have often waged arduous wars for causes which the “disinterested spectator” has to pronounce thoroughly bad, but surely no people ever put forth its energies steadily and vigorously, at the cost of heavy sacrifices, in a war for a cause recognised by itself to be a bad one. Thus, in the last world-war, our opponents were anxious to justify their attack on Belgium by the plea—quite a good one, if it could have been made out—that the Belgians had in some way violated their own neutrality, and we may feel sure that the argument was not invented simply to make an impression on “neutrals”; those who devised it were, at bottom, trying to convince themselves. To quarrel about nothing is universally recognised as no behaviour for rational and civilised men. They may “find matter in a straw,” but only when they can get themselves to believe that it is the straw which “shows how the wind blows”. It is not the straw itself, but “honour” that is at stake, and honour is not nothing.
No one seriously behaves as though he believed that a good thing is made good by becoming the argument of a quarrel; men quarrel because they think that they are being wrongfully kept out of the good thing, or that their enjoyment of it is menaced. The only way to dispute this would be to adopt the extreme irrationalist view that life is never really regulated by conscious purpose, but wholly by unconscious libido. But a moralist who accepts this position, even if his theory of conduct is a thorough-going “immoralism,” stultifies himself. All moral rules, even the rule of ruthless cultivation of the “will to power” and contempt for the “conventions of the herd,” are imperatives, addressed to conscious intelligences. It would be waste of breath to formulate them, if we seriously believed that purposes and intentions are not, in the end, the real directive agencies which mould a man’s life. Nietzsche’s commands are as “categorical” as Kant’s.5
If we stop short of this excess of irrationalism, which, in fact, would render us unfit to give or receive argument, it must clearly be a really serious question, affecting our whole estimate of the worth of ethics as a source of suggestion for metaphysics, whether the aspirations fundamental to moral action are self-destructive. If they are, we have merely been misguided in supposing that our experience of moral obligation throws any light on human nature or human destiny. In spite of a well-known mot of Bentham, it is plainly absurd to speak of an obligation to supersede obligation. To say that there “ought to be no ought” is only another way of saying that there really is no ought; if there is not, any conclusions based on the conviction that moral obligation is the most illuminating fact of human nature will be merely worthless.
We need, therefore, to discuss carefully the question whether the goal presupposed in moral endeavour really is such that the reaching of it would destroy moral personality itself. For my own part, I cannot but think that the contention rests on a fallacy of ambiguity. I grant at once that Bradley’s criticism is justifiable, if it is taken as aimed at certain specific ethical theories. It is, I apprehend, wholly just as a criticism of a doctrine like that of Herbert Spencer, and there are indications in the relevant chapters of Appearance and Reality that the writer has Spencer very much in his mind. (I am thinking of the repeated allusions to a certain “New Jerusalem”.) According to Spencer, we must remember, obligation is always an indication of some unremoved misadaptation of our agent to his “environment,” and will consequently disappear in the Spencerian “New Jerusalem,” where the agent is perfectly adapted to an environment apparently assumed to be absolutely stable, and is therefore no longer, “evolving,” but completely “evolved”.6 This particular conception had already been submitted by Bradley to an annihilating criticism in Ethical Studies,7 where it had been urged that (1) the assumption of the absolute stability of the “environment” to which the “evolving” moral community is taken to be “adapting” itself is glaringly at variance with all we know, or have reason to believe, about our historical situation as denizens of this planet; and (2) that, if complete adaptation could ever be reached, there is no reason to believe that it would be permanent; indeed, on Spencer’s own arbitrary postulate of the “instability of the homogeneous,” one would have to infer that a really complete adaptation must be momentary.
If the concluding divisions of Spencer’s Principles of Ethics had been published when Ethical Studies was written, it may be said that polemic on this point would have been superfluous. For we find there that it was Spencer’s own belief that complete adaptation by evolution is only attained to be immediately lost again; evolution does not, after all, lead to the establishment of a permanent “moving equilibrium,” but begins to undo its own work as soon as the “moving equilibrium” has been reached. It is more to my purpose to remark that Spencer’s account of the character of the process during the half of the cycle in which it is advancing in the direction of a momentary “moving equilibrium” seems to be based on a curious misreading of the facts. It is obviously not true that as a community advances in moral civilisation its members lose the sense of their reciprocal moral obligations to one another. It would be much nearer the truth to say that what we call “social conscience,” the acuteness with which the ordinary good man—good that is, according to the conventional standard of his society—realises these obligations, becomes intensified. And it is not hard to see why this should be so. The less highly developed a society in moral civilisation, the more elementary the rights and claims of which its members are conscious, the narrower also are the limits of the body to which loyalty is habitually paid, and the less clearly does the average member understand the ways in which his own action affects other members of the community. To learn this lesson, we do not need to go back to prehistoric ages, or to compare the working morality of European civilisation with that of contemporary barbarism. We have only to compare our own conceptions of our “social obligations” with those of very excellent men of a hundred years earlier to see that there has been a marked intensification of the sense of obligation between 1825 and 1925.
We may remind ourselves, for example, of the change in the general opinion about the obligation of providing all citizens with the opportunites of education, or of making dwellings sanitary and comely, or of paying a “living wage,” to see how great the difference is. Or more simply still, we might contrast the purposes for which we think it imperative that an income-tax should be levied with the views which must have prevailed at the much more recent date at which Gladstone could promise the total abolition of the tax in the event of the return of his party to power. I think that it would, further, be fair to say that, during the last hundred years, we have not merely come to have a more exacting standard of social obligation; we have also come to feel more acutely about our own personal defections from that standard. The “whole law,” as we now conceive it, embraces a great deal more than our great-grandfathers supposed, and we are at least as sensitive as they, and probably more so, to the moral urgency of fulfilling the law. As the generations succeed one another, men who wish to have a conscience void of offence find that task more, not less, difficult.
I can only account for Spencer’s apparent blindness to such plain facts by supposing him to have reasoned somewhat as follows. Society is engaged in steadily “adapting itself,” that is, in putting right what is wrong. Hence in each successive generation of a morally progressive society there is less left to be still put right than there was in the generation before it, and therefore less need for painful and strenuous effort. Further, the habit of putting right the wrong grows stronger with practice through the generations.8 Therefore the conscious sense of effort to be made and duty to be done must be steadily growing fainter. Thus we may look for a climax when there will be no wrongs left to be righted, and the now superfluous sense of obligation will die out.9
If this fairly represents Spencer’s line of thought, one may make the remark that several dubious assumptions seem to be presupposed. It is taken for granted that a “perfectly evolved condition,” in which there is no evil left to be got rid of, can be reached in a finite, though perhaps a very long, time, or, in other words, that the amount of wrong to be righted before a society is “fully evolved” is a fixed finite quantum. The “absolute difference” between the amount of evil now present in a society evolving towards “moving equilibrium” and zero steadily diminishes as the evolution goes on, and presumably the rate of diminution is also steadily accelerated. No sufficient account is taken of the possibility that the very same progress which introduces superior adaptation in some special respects may bring with it new, and possibly more serious, departure from adaptation in others, though one would have thought this consideration could hardly be missed by a writer who lived through the “industrialisation of England,” even without the rival theories of Spencer’s antagonist Henry George to call attention to it.
It seems to be assumed, again, that moral action consists merely in putting wrongs right, and that if there should ever come a time when there are no more wrongs to be corrected, “practice” will have “done its do”. This is a point to which I shall have to recur; for the moment, I would only observe that the assumption seems about as reasonable as it would be to say that the sole task of science is to refute “vulgar errours,” and that, if they were all once thoroughly refuted, nothing would be left for science to do, so that in a “fully evolved” society the sense of truth would share the fate of the sense of obligation. Avenarius, if I understand him rightly, actually professed to believe something of this kind. As far as I can fathom the main argument of his chief work, his thesis is that the intellectual evolution of a society will be complete when every “stimulus” evokes a response composed exclusively of expressions of “pure” experience. But response to stimulus only has significance, or meaning, so long as it contains an element which is not “pure” experience, but interpretation of the “experienced”. In the final stage, the stimuli contained in the “environment” will evoke “responses” from the members of the “perfectly evolved” society, and some, no doubt, of these responses will be vocal, reactions of the organs of articulation. But they will have no meaning, will signify nothing beyond themselves. They will be knocked out of us by events, exactly as a roar or a squeak may be produced from a toy lion or toy bird by pinching it in the right place.
This seems to me an inevitable consequence of Spencer’s premisses, though it never occurred to Spencer to draw the conclusion. Avenarius, if I understand him, did draw it, and it is just the reckless clear-sightedness with which he drew it which gives the Kritik der reinen Erfahrung its great value. The book is a final reductio ad absurdum of the attempt to treat intelligence as the product of the adaptation of a relatively plastic organism to a fixed environment.10
Finally, there is in what I take to have been Spencer’s thought a gross double confusion of the fact of obligation with the sense of being obliged, and of this sense with the consciousness of a disagreeable effort, as though awareness that “I ought to do this” were always attended by the thought “but I would much rather not”. The first of the confusions should be impossible to anyone who refuses to subscribe to the wholly immoral doctrine that a man escapes his obligations by systematically ignoring them; that a husband, for example, has no obligation of fidelity to a wife whom he has married without any thought of being faithful, and has habitually neglected for other women. The second only seems plausible through an error of mal-observation. We are, no doubt, most powerfully impressed by the “sense of duty” when there are great sacrifices to be made, when the act to be done is almost too hard for human flesh and blood; but in the case of the more usual daily obligations of good citizenship and neighbourliness we are at once aware that the good offices are incumbent on us, not works of supererogation, and also that it is pleasant to discharge them. A man may feel the imperativeness of duty with uncommon intensity when the duty is painful or difficult, as he may feel the strength of a personal affection most keenly when he is suffering bereavement. But though, in this sense, “we never know how we loved our friend until we have lost him,” this is no proof that we do not love our living friend, or that we are not aware that we love him.11 In the same way, even if it were true that every step in moral progress leaves us with so many fewer and less formidable temptations to encounter, it would not follow that, as we “go on to be perfect,” either our obligations or our sense of them must decrease. If a “fully evolved” society is to mean a society which is fully moralised, such a community would not be one where no one had a sense of obligation; it would be a society in which every member was more thoroughly alive than in any other to the full range of his obligations, and more careful to fulfil them.
But, of course, moral progress no more means the mere putting right of wrongs than intellectual or artistic progress means the simple correction of old errors. The correction of errors is only a subsidiary task for the intellect. Its primary business, which would still remain in illimitable fertility, if there were no more “false opinions” to be corrected, is the exploration of ever new regions of truth. If an artist could overcome all the difficulties created for him by the intractability of the materials through which he has to express himself and by his own limitations and bad mannerisms, if he became a “perfect master” of his instruments and his own moods, there would still be the endless work before him of giving actual embodiment to his vision of beauty. And, in the same way, the moral life would not disappear even from a world in which there were no wrongs left to be righted. Even a society in which no member had anything more to correct in himself, and where “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” were the universally accepted rule of social duty, would still have something to do; it would have the whole work of embodying the love of each for all in the detail of life. It is this, not the mere abolition of abuses, or the elimination of unfavourable circumstances from the environment, which is the paramount business of the moral life.
The description of that life as a phase in “evolution,” which is destined to disappear, when and if evolution becomes complete, is thus based on confusion of thought. But it has also to be added that the attempt to represent the “completely adapted” society as a possible product of natural “evolution” is itself inherently absurd. “Evolution” itself is, in its very nature, a becoming, not a being, and it is a double becoming. The “environment” is something which becomes, no less than the “organism,” though its rate of becoming may be slower. Evolutionary adaptations are adaptations to a changing, not to a fixed, environment—unless, indeed, you mean by the “environment,” as Spencer did not, the intimate presence of the living and abiding God to and in all His creatures. And though the planetary environment, which is all that Spencer takes into account, may usually change very slowly, this need not always be the case. It may be that there are no sudden catastrophic changes on the large scale in the developing organism, but we have to reckon with their possibility as features of the planetary environment. We are not, after all, assured against cataclysms which permit of no adaptation, and, even apart from such cataclysms, we have every reason to expect that the society which Spencer calls “fully evolved,” because it has adapted itself to a relatively stable environment, must inevitably degenerate again, as changing terrestrial conditions make the maintenance of a high level of civilisation increasingly difficult. A high morality “evolved” after millenniums of struggle would only be won to be lost again in succeeding millenniums. If we may trust the physicists with their “principle of Carnot,” the “cave man,” or something of the same kind as the “cave man,” lies ahead of us, as well as behind us—unless, indeed, the perfectly evolved society should escape an old age of decay by perishing in its prime, either by a “bolt from the blue” or by felo de se. Mankind, as their moral life unfolds, are seeking a house eternal and abiding, and it is evident that such a house, if it is to be found at all, must be found in some other world than one where succession and temporality are dominant.12
Probably, however, it is Kant rather than Spencer whom Bradley’s argument has most particularly in mind. As against Kant, the argument takes the form that the Kantian philosophy enjoins moral faith in immortality on the ground that the particular good morality consists in seeking is one which we can never obtain in a limited time. Morality is the progressive acquisition of self-mastery, complete domination of irrational impulse and inclination by the rational will. But what makes the essential difference between God and man is that irrational inclination and impulse are ineliminable from humanity. We cannot become beings with purely rational wills; all we can do is to make will more and more preponderant over inclination, without ever getting rid of inclination altogether. If we are to achieve anything of moment in this conflict, we must have an endless time for the work, so that we may “approximate without limit” to an ideal we never actually reach. Against such an argument it is pertinent to object that a goal to which you can only make unending approximation is, ex hypothesi, never attained. On Kant’s own showing, the man who makes the exercise of the morally good will his aim in life—and no other man is morally “good” —is, at best, the Achilles of Zeno, attempting the impossible task of coming up with the tortoise. Assuming that Zeno’s analysis of the problem is correct, we can only say that Achilles shows himself no mathematician by consenting to the race. He should have known that he was trying to do what, from the nature of the case, is not to be done. The sooner he gives up his impossible pursuit, the more rational we shall think him, as we should have thought Hobbes less irrational in his determination to “square the circle” if he had not spent so many decades over the problem. Indeed, we do Achilles an injustice by this suggested comparison, for the tortoise has at least only a finite handicap, and this Achilles steadily reduces, though he never wipes it out. But God, with no “lower nature” at all, is presumably as infinitely ahead of the Kantian good man after untold millions of years of respect for duty as at their beginning. One is reminded of Pindar’s μὴ ματεύσῃ θεὸς γενέσθαι.13
Here, again, I confess I find Bradley’s comment just. Kant has the merit of seeing far deeper into the real nature of the moral problem than Spencer and the evolutionary moralists in general. The evolutionists as a body seem to me to take a hopelessly “external” view of morality. They appear to regard it as a mere matter of devising an ideally frictionless social machine, which may be counted on to minimise the risks society runs from collision with its physical environment, and perhaps actually to abolish the evils arising from competition between its members. If they can be cheerily optimistic about the coming of a “perfectly evolved” morality, it is only because they set morality no more difficult task. Kant is resolute to demand more from his good man; he will not be satisfied with anything less than the cleansing of the thoughts of the heart, the inner purification of all the sources of will, and he sees clearly that this is not feasible for mankind in general without a discipline extending far beyond the limits of our earthly existence. If we are to be schooled into perfect obedience by the things we suffer, it seems plain that, for most of us, the schooling we get in our threescore years and ten is only a small part of the training we need. We leave this life before we have well learned even our alphabet. But the central difficulty still remains. According to Kant himself, the lesson is always learning, never learned. Hence it is in point to raise the objection that if morality means learning a lesson a man never masters, it should seem that if he once did master it he would cease to be a moral being, since to be moral means to be engaged in learning the lesson. Thus the duty of a member of the “kingdom of ends” would appear to be to do his utmost to abolish the kingdom of ends itself, and this hardly seems reasonable.
Yet, on reflection, it appears that Kant is really making the same assumption as Spencer, in a subtler way. He, too, is assuming that there would be no moral life to be lived where there was no longer wrong to be put right. His one advantage over Spencer is that he conceives of the process of putting the wrong right in a more inward fashion. The wrong to be righted is no mere misfit of the organism to its environment, but a wrong relation between reason, the higher, and inclination, the lower, element within the moral personality. The unruly motions of the flesh must be brought into subjection to the motions of the spirit. But if the flesh should ever be so completely subdued that it no longer lusted against the spirit, man, as a moral being, would, on Kant’s theory of the moral life, have ceased to be. The person in whom the good will was now finally established would no longer be a man, but a god, and this complete transformation of humanity into deity Kant rightly pronounces impossible, thereby, may we not say, revealing that at heart he has retained much more of the old metaphysic, with its distinction between being absolute and in its plenitude, and being contingent and restricted by limitation, than the professions of the Critique of Pure Reason would justify. But the point for us is that, however right he may be in holding that the conversion of the creature into the Creator would be an absurdity, in his determination to avoid that absurdity he makes the moral life a battle which never ends in victory, and that all thinkers who do this lay themselves open to Bradley’s criticism that such an identification reduces morality itself to the position of an illusion which, for moral reasons, we must be tender of exposing. It is only a secondary further consequence that any testimony the moral life may appear to yield in favour of our immortality must be pronounced worthless. If Achilles can never catch the tortoise, his chances are not improved by giving him a race-course of indefinite length.
Is it, then, really true that it is of the essentia of the moral life that it should be a struggle with evil, whether in the form of an environment which is a misfit, or in the more insidious form of “inclinations” which persist in remaining imperfectly subdued?14 Would the interests which sustain the life of “practice” simply disappear if moral and physical evil were really overcome? The question is an important one, since, if we answer it in the spirit of Kant, we shall have to say that a moral “rational theology” must definitely reject any doctrine like that taught by Christianity about the final state of the saved; there can be no “Heaven” where those who have come through the struggle “reign with Christ”: there may, conceivably, still be an adventure which never finishes, but it is an adventure like the quest of El Dorado, or the philosopher’s stone, and such a prospect, I fear, grows less attractive the more steadily it is regarded.
I venture to think that Kant, at any rate, would have come to a different conclusion, if he had not falsified the problem by an over-simplification arising from his distrust of ontology. In his anxiety to build his philosophical theology on ethics and nothing but ethics, he has misread the lessons of ethics itself. If we look more closely at the problem, I believe we shall see that the elimination of evil and its source in unruly inclination would still leave the ultimate distinction between God and man untouched, and consequently could not affect the essential characteristic of the moral life, that it is a life of aspiration. There is a possibility which combines attainment and aspiration, and would thus leave room, within a society of just men made perfect, for a very real and intense moral life. In fact, in our familiar experience of the moral life, as we now have to live it as a life of warfare, we do not see it in its truest character; we see it, as Socrates says in the Republic15 we now see the soul, incrusted with all sorts of accretions which disguise its true lineaments; to discern them, these accretions must be purged away. With the passage from struggle to triumph, morality would no doubt undergo a transfiguration, but it would be a transfiguration and not a transformation.
This, I may remind you, was definitely the conviction of Green, who expressly says, in opposition to the view that the moral life can be simply equated with a life devoted to “reforms,” that “the character of the moral reformer is not merely a means to the perfect life, but a phase of the same spiritual principle as must govern that life. But whereas we cannot but suppose that, if the perfect life of mankind were attained, the spiritual principle must have passed out of the phase in which it can appear as a reforming zeal … we cannot suppose that, while human life remains human life, it can, even in its most perfect form, be superior to the call for self-abandonment before an ideal of holiness. There is no contradiction in the supposition of a human life purged of vices and with no wrongs left to be set right. … In such a life the question of the reformer, What ought to be done in the way of overt action that is not being done? would no longer be significant. But so long as it is the life of men, i.e. of beings who are born and grow and die … in whom virtue is not born ready-made but has to be formed (however unfailing the process may come to be) through habit and education in conflict with opposing tendencies; so long the contrast must remain for the human soul between itself and the infinite spirit.”16
Green, as his language shows, is thinking here of life within the limits in which we are acquainted with it, and is apparently willing to concede, for purposes of argument, that “complete adaptation to environment” might be permanently attained in such a life. His point is that though the attainment would do away with the special vocation of the “reformer,” or “social worker,” it would not, as Spencer supposed, abolish morality and obligation. There would still be something to be lived for, the completer assimilation of the activities of the human spirit to those of the divine, the practice of adoration, humility and the reception of the grace of God. If you choose, by arbitrary definition, to restrict the name morality to the life of struggling to “put the crooked straight,” you would have, to say, indeed, that morality had been transcended, but it would only have been transcended by transfiguration into a life continuous with itself and inspired by the same ideal of “imitating God” which has been operative from the first in producing the most elementary of social and moral “reforms”.
Now this, provided only that we substitute, as I think we fairly may, for Green’s more specific mention of birth and death a more general reference to becoming or succession as that which distinguishes the life of the creature from the life of the Creator, seems to me to be the truth of the matter. The interest which sustains the good man in what he knows now as the conflict with’ evil of every kind need not be exhausted by the mere removal of evil; the termination of the battle in a decisive victory need not put an end to the activity to which the victory has been due, though it would make a significant difference to the form that activity would assume. To use the language of the devout imagination, the winning of heaven would not leave the pilgrim arrived at the end of his journey with nothing further to do. In heaven itself, though there would be no longer progress towards fruition, there might well be progress in fruition. Life “there” would be, as life “here” is not, living by vision, as contrasted with living by faith and hope; but might not the vision itself be capable of ever-increasing enrichment?
To put the same thought from rather a different point of view, I do not see why “social service” might not be as characteristic of heaven as of earth, though it would have a rather different quality “there”. On earth we have in the main to serve our neighbour by removing the sources of temptation and the other obstacles to the good life put in his way by untoward circumstances, or by the undisciplined cupidities and resentments within his own soul. Each of us has to set others forward, and to be set forward by them, in the way of purification from inordinate devotion to lower good and intensification of devotion to the highest. In the heavenly city, as conceived, for example, by Christianity, there would be no further call for this particular service, since it is a community of persons who are all in love with the highest good. But even in such a heaven, we have heard, one star differs from another in glory. Even in a society where every member was in actual enjoyment of the “beatific vision,” it would still remain the fact that some see more of the infinite wealth of the vision than others, but each receives according to the measure of his capacity. We could thus understand that those whose vision is most penetrating might well have a heavenly “social service” to discharge in helping their fellows to see, and might find a deep significance in the speculations of “Dionysius” and his mediaeval followers about the part played by the higher orders of angelic intelligences in “illuminating” those beneath them. When all “see God” face. to face, some may yet see more than others, and may be supposed to help thpse others to see more than they would if left to themselves. A friend whose vision is keener than my own may not only render me valuable help in scaling a mountain-top; when the summit has been reached, his aid may actually enable me to discern the prospect more perfectly than I should have done if I had stood on the peak alone.
There is also another side to the same thought. To many imaginations, I believe, there is something repellent, or at least profoundly depressing, in the current representations of Heaven. It is made to appear as a region where there is no room for the adventure which is the very salt of life, the abode of a monotonous self-sameness of boredom. It is not every temperament that expresses itself in the words
There remaineth a rest for the people of God,
And I have had troubles enough, for one!17
But the conception of Heaven as adventureless is really unjustified. There is no sufficient reason why the disappearance of wrong, within or without ourselves to be put right should put an end to adventure and novelty. Even in a life where there was direct vision of God, we can readily understand that no vision could ever be complete, just because the object of vision is infinitely rich; there would always be the aspiration to see further, prompted by the splendour of the vision already granted, and we may readily conceive, with von Hügel,18 of this aspiration as only to be satisfied by bold adventure in self-forgetfulness. It would be the spirits who plunge most venturesomely into the “divine dark,” not knowing what it may have to disclose, who would most completely make themselves, returning from the plunge into the Godhead with clearer and deeper perceptions, for the nourishment of their own being and that of their less venturesome companions.
Thus a life in which the struggle with evil to be put right was a thing of the far-away past might also exhibit its continuity with the “militant” life of earth, by retaining the characteristic notes of social service, of self-forgetfulness, and of the winning of self by the adventurous staking of self. Even in Heaven life would have its astonishing and joyful surprises for everyone. The “finite God” of some modern speculations might, no doubt, come to bore us badly, because, since he is finite, we must expect, sooner or later, to have nothing more to find in him or receive from him, but this creation of dualistic metaphysics is not the God of the saints, nor of any considerable religion. One might recall, in this context, words of John Bunyan, no less appropriate that they were primarily written to a rather different purpose: “Christ Jesus has bags of mercy that were never yet broken up or unsealed. Hence it is said he has goodness laid up; things reserved in heaven for him. And if he breaks up one of these bags, who can tell what he can do? Hence his love is said to be such as passes knowledge and that his riches are unsearchable. He has nobody knows what for nobody knows who.”19
I take it, then, that we need no more suppose there would be any loss of continuity with present conditions in a moral life carried on into a realm from which evil had disappeared than there would be in the pursuit of fresh knowledge by a society whose “vulgar errours” had all been corrected, or the pursuit of art by artists who had attained full mastery over their medium of expression. We have no actual experience of such a state of things, but we can, at least, see that the follower of science who had no longer misconceptions and mistakes to be got rid of, or the artist who had no longer to wrestle with the refractoriness of his materials, the defects of his implements, and the unskilfulness of his own right hand, would still have a boundless field of the unexplored and the unexplained in which to find ample employment for his energies. We do not, in fact, find that the musician or painter who appears to have nothing more to learn about the management of his violin bow or his brush is driven to abandon his art because he has acquired mastery of this kind. He goes on to use his mastery, and there is no reason in the nature of the thing why he should not go on to use it indefinitely, for the production of beauty which is perennially new and increasingly more beautiful. To think otherwise is to make the mistake of confusing mastery of technique with the whole of art. The same thing is equally true of the business of the moral life. The moral life does not consist merely, or chiefly, in getting into right relations with our fellows or our Maker. In our earthly house we have constantly to be doing that, but it is only the preliminary to the real business, the προοίμιον αὐτοῦ νόμου ὃν δεῖ μαθεῖν; the real business is not to establish these relations, but to live in them.
To illustrate the point in the simplest possible way, we may say that we have, for example, to learn to love our parents, our friends, our fellow-men generally. At first our loves are too often languid, and even when they are not languid they are “inordinate,” not under the direction of clear-sighted wisdom. But even on earth we have something to do beyond merely unlearning unloving, or unwisely loving, ways. As we learn to love rightly, we have to exercise the love we have learned by giving it actual embodiment in the detail of our lives. And so, if we found ourselves in a world where every one of us had unlearned unloving-ness and foolish loving, one part of the moral business of our life on earth would, no doubt, be done with. We should no longer have the old aversions, or indifferences, or wrongly directed affections to unlearn. But the main business of the social life, the putting of wise and right love into act, should remain; we should find occupation enough in showing our love, and this would be an occupation continuous with what is morally of highest importance and value in our present life.
This may seem a painfully obvious remark, but I make it for the purpose of entering a protest against what appears to me a gross caricature of the moral life, which is only too fashionable in certain philosophical quarters, and can unfortunately shelter itself behind the authority of at least one recent clarum et venerabile nomen. You will doubtless remember how Bosanquet was given to characterising “morality” as a realm of “claims and conflicting counter-claims,” and using the description as the basis of a subtle depreciation of the specifically moral attitude towards life. In fact, religion, as conceived by Bosanquet, consists precisely in “transcending” this ethical system of claims and counter-claims, in soaring above morality into something different and better, and, obviously enough, such a view of the practical life plays straight into the hands of Bosanquet’s favourite metaphysical doctrine that individual human personality is a mere illusion.20 No one would desire to speak of Bosanquet except with the deepest respect, and yet I must protest—ich kann nicht anders—that his habitual description of the moral life in such language seems to me a misrepresentation as grotesque as dangerous. (Dangerous because, with men of less fine moral fibre than Bosanquet himself, it is apt to engender the delusion that it is “spiritual” to be a-moral, if not actually immoral, in fact, that one can be at once “in grace” and leading a careless, or even an actually bad, moral life. And it is a short and easy step from this theoretical delusion to practical ill-living.)
I must ask, then, whether, for example, the life of family affections, or of intimate reciprocal friendship, is something “super-moral” or not. Has a man who does not know what it is to be a good father, or son, or husband or friend, really lived the “moral” life? Has any man done so if he has merely respected the precisely definable “rights” of his fellow-citizens, without having lived the “shared life” with any of them; or does not the very suggestion arise from a dangerous confusion of the ethical with the merely juristic point of view? I should myself say that it is just the relations such a man has been unfortunate enough to miss—in many cases, of course, it may really be his misfortune rather than his fault—which are the finest flower and the most perfect expression human history has to show of the ethical spirit. It is not without very good reason that Aristotle’s account of the life of “practice” culminates in the description of the φιλία of the good man. In this relation, when obligations cease to be capable of formulation as definite “claims” and “counter-claims,” a man is not rising out of the realm of morality into something higher; he is finding himself, for the first time, in a region where the ethical spirit gets unhampered expression.
Or can it be—as I can scarcely believe—that those who use language like Bosanquet’s really believe that the best family life, and the noblest types of friendship, really fall within the system of “claims and counterclaims”? This I should call a mere distortion of the facts. It is just because there is no room in these relations for insistence on claims and counter-claims that they have been the great instruments by which man has been historically moralised. In a business partnership it may be possible to delimit the respective claims and obligations of the parties, and, in view of our human frailty, it is important to do so, though no man would be the best of partners, even in business, if he did not recognise, as conscientious men of business habitually do, that, even here, the spirit of partnership calls for mutual confidences and services which cannot be strictly delimited, nor set out in the letter of any bond. But in the realm of marriage, or in a friendship “based on goodness,” the relation itself would be merely destroyed by any attempt to reduce it to the rendering of specific reciprocal services. A marriage which has the quality of an ethical marriage is always at the least what the Roman lawyers called it, a consortium totius vitae,21 and a friendship which is a matter of the quid pro quo is what Aristotle calls it, only an imitation of the genuine thing.
So far from morality being the sphere of “claims and counter-claims,” it is only when you begin to rise out of that region that any social relation, even that of mere “neighbours,” begins to acquire a genuinely ethical character, and in the most truly moralised intimate relations, which do most to make personal character, one has left the region of “claims and counter-claims” altogether. What you give, or should give, to your wife, or children, or to your chosen friend, is nothing less than yourself, whole and without reserve, and you receive, or should receive, the like. If in practice we all come badly short of this ideal, that is not because the ideal is “super-moral,” but because, in actual fact, we are all only very imperfectly moralised. It is intolerable that metaphysicians with a spite against personality, “the noblest gain of Christian thought,”22 should foist on us a caricature of true moral personality as a device for reconciling us to their substitution of an impersonal Absolute for God.
What we are now saying is not inconsistent with our former insistence on the relativity of all loyalties except the highest. There is a loyalty which each of us must put even before loyalty to the wife of his bosom or the children of his loins, but it is not a loyalty to some supposed inaccessible and impenetrable kernel of his own individuality, and it is a supreme loyalty which is equally recognised by the other party, if the relation between the two human persons is what it ought to be. The fullest recognition that there is such a highest loyalty to someone or something other than this or that human person, or group of persons, does not involve that conception of human personalities as, in the last resort, merely mutually exclusive and repellent which apparently accounts for Bosanquet’s depreciation of the moral and his hostility to finite individuality. It is emphatically not true that we must either hold that personality is mere “appearance” or regard the real world as composed of mutually repellent atoms. In truth, the richer your individuality is the more personality you have, the more you have to share with others, and the more urgently you feel the necessity of giving and receiving. It is the shallow, not the deeply and richly human, personalities which are gardens shut up and fountains sealed. No doubt a bountiful nature may be driven back on itself by the world’s refusal of its gifts, or indifference to them, but it is not the richest in gifts to bestow who are the most easily repulsed. And the due recognition of the higher loyalty is not the same thing as a niggardliness in bestowing. The hero of the song who “loves honour more” is not really offering a gift of less value to his beloved than the idolater who forgets “honour”. He is not loving the less because he loves in a fashion more worthy of a man.
Thus I think we may dismiss the conception of the sphere of morality as one of collision between “claims and counter-claims” as a misunderstanding. We may, no doubt, say that where the fulfilment of all loyalties has been ordered by the principle of degree and subordination, so that there remains no conflict of lower with higher, we have got beyond anything that can be significantly called mere morality, but we have only done so by learning to be wholly true to the spirit present in all morality. Our moral life, to repeat a distinction already made, may have been transfigured, but it has not been transformed; the victory and the struggle are connected by a continuity of interest, and there is no real ground for the fancy that victory would somehow eliminate finite moral personality. There is nothing unintelligible in the conception of a society of “perfected” persons, where all would be faithful mirrors, each from his own perspective, and, so to say, with his own curvature, of the infinite light and love of their common source, each having his own special contribution to make to the love and joy of all, each bestowing as well as receiving. Thus, in such a life to come as would be life in which man, as a moral being, had found his permanent home, morality, as we know it, could not rightly be said to be transcended; what would be transcended is the limit now set to the expression in act of the moral spirit, partly by our dependence on circumstance and physical environment, partly by the fact that all of us are only so imperfectly moralised in the intimate recesses of our souls. There would be no more progress towards goodness of environment or character, but there might be abundant progress in good, onward movement in the manifestation of the principle of the good life in ever more varied and richer forms.
I take it we might illustrate this distinction between progress to and progress in from the history of the arts. Do there not seem to be periods in the life of a man or a people when there is no more to learn about methods of expression, though the periods are not empty or barren, but employed in the actual embodiment of what has been learned in a succession of “masterpieces”? Shakespeare’s highest mastery in the tragic art, for example, is shown not in one such masterpiece, but in several—Macbeth, Othello, King Lear. We can say of his earlier work that it reveals him advancing, or progressing, towards finding himself as a supreme tragic artist. Hamlet has been specially remarked as showing great progress, in this sense, by comparison with Julius Caesar, and I believe it will generally be admitted that Macbeth, Othello, Lear, all of them show progress by comparison with Hamlet. But it does not follow that any one of the supreme three can be said to show progress from any other. It is at least an intelligible statement to say that all are equally, though each in its own special way, revelations of achieved mastery.
In fact, the very distinction we seem to be feeling after has long ago been expressly drawn for us by Aristotle. It is just his distinction between a γένεσις, a process of becoming, or development, by which some capacity comes to its full growth, and the ἐνέργεια, or activity by which the capacity, once developed to maturity, exhibits itself as a feature in the world-pattern. In life as we know it morality exhibits both γένεσις and ἐνέργεια inextricably. We are all along—it is to be hoped—growing into morality, becoming better men and women, and, at the same time, so far as our character acquires fixity of pattern and organisation, that fixity reveals itself in activities issuing from it. But there is nothing in itself irrational in hoping for a stage in our existence in which finality may have been actually reached, so far as development of personal character is concerned, and yet endless room left for the embodiment of the character so won in varied action. With the disappearance of growth, or becoming, of character we should not have lost our unique personality; we should have at last come into complete possession of it.
If we study the way in which character visibly makes itself under our eyes, we do indeed find that the process is marked by the disappearance of eccentricities and fluctuations; the more completely the individuals who share a common great tradition appropriate all that tradition has to yield, and make it into the stuff of their own personality, the more clearly do a common set of principles stand out as regulative of their life-pattern. Yet the persons do not lose their peculiar individuality. The “prentice work” of two great poets of the same age and language may be much the same kind of thing, and it may be hard, or impossible, to discriminate the manner of the one from that of the other. It is precisely in the work of their maturity that they may show themselves inspired alike by the same traditions and ideals, figures of the same age and the same “movement,” while each is yet unmistakably himself and not the other. There might easily have been several men of the same time and the same sort of endowments, any of whom might have been the author of Love’s Labour’s Lost, or the Two Gentlemen of Verona; it is conceivable, though less likely, that there might even have been two men at the time of Shake-speare, either of whom might have written Romeo and Juliet; it would be much harder to believe that there could have been two contemporaries, either of whom might have given us Othello or Antony and Cleopatra.
It is the same with goodness. Two great figures of the moral or religious life, belonging to the same era, and subjected to the same general “influence of the age,” let us say, by way of example, a Dominic and a Francis, or, if you prefer it, a Mill and a Ruskin, may both be eminently good, but each with his own special way of being good. Francis and Dominic are both definitely thirteenth-century figures, Mill and Ruskin both “Victorian,” but the type expresses itself differently in Francis and in Dominic, in Mill and in Ruskin. This much by way of comment on the view that, in a Paradise where all men were sinless, there could be none of the variety, multiformity, and individuality which give zest to life. It seems to me nearer the truth to say that it is just the limitations on “genius” of every kind, deriving from the general character of men’s “ages,” “centuries,” “surroundings,” which are the obstacles to complete individuality. In Paradise I should expect individuality to reach its maximal expression, if Justinian there is no longer semper Augustus,23 nor Bonaventura a cardinal, nor Cacciaguida a soldier, but one and all are Menschen mit Menschen.
There are certain implications of this view which I could wish to set out explicitly before I bring this first half of my programme to its close, always, I trust, with due submission to better judgements.
(1) It is clear that if we have conceived rightly of the kind of final destination of man which would be a real attaining of the moral ideal, the completest transfiguration of “this” world into the “other” of which we can reasonably conceive would not wholly abolish the successiveness of human experience. Even a heavenly life, such as we have tried to imagine, would still be a forward-looking life. The “glorified” would, indeed, no longer be looking forward to a future in which they had still further to put off the old man with the passions and the lusts, or in which they would still be waiting for the “beatific vision,” and so far, it is true, that faith and hope might be said, if not to have ceased, at any rate to be no longer the dominant notes in life. But there would still remain an undertone of something analogous to those virtues, since the blessed would always have new discoveries awaiting them, more to learn than they had already found out of the unspeakable riches of the wisdom of God, and these inexhaustible surprises would be won, as deeper insight is won here, by humility, trust and self-surrender, by letting self go, following an apparently paradoxical inspiration. Heaven—if a heaven indeed there is—we may safely say, must be a land of delightful surprises, not a country of Lotuseaters where it is always afternoon. And in the same way, if we are to think morally of Heaven, we should, I suggest, think of it as a land where charity grows, where each citizen learns to glow more and more with an understanding love, not only of the common King, but of his fellow-citizens. In this respect, again, there would be one lesson mastered before the portals of Heaven would open to admit us. We should have learned to love every neighbour who crosses our path, to hate nothing that God has made, to be indifferent to none of the mirrors of His light. But even where there is no ill-will or indifference to interfere with love, it is still possible for love to grow as understanding grows.
We can see both growths illustrated often enough in the conditions of our earthly life. As to understanding, in a sense anyone who is aware of the meaning of the equation x2 + y2 = k, or xy = k, and knows how to plot out a graph of the functions, may be said to “understand perfectly” what a circle, or an equilateral hyperbola, is; there is no error infecting his thought, and no further discovery he may make about properties of these curves will lead to any revision of the equations. But the greatest mathematician does not know all the fascinating properties which may be discovered from the equations. It is conceivable that, after so many centuries of geometrical study, the most elegant and attractive of the discoveries still await some geometer of the distant future. And as to love, a brother and sister may love one another with all their hearts in the nursery, and they may also love with all their hearts after the joys and sorrows of a long life; but if one has grown in the right way, one has more “heart” to love with at sixty than one had at ten, because one has so much more insight. There may have been full and complete sympathy at the earlier age, yet there has been progress in loving, though not progress, in the supposed case, from half-hearted or intermittent love to steady and whole-hearted love. The progress in loving has been from a blind to a seeing love.
(2) If our general principles are defensible, we clearly may have to reconsider the worth of a once familiar conception which is now very much out of general favour, the conception of our earthly life as one of probation. I know that this thought, the theme of countless sermons in the days of my own youth, is unpalatable to two quite different sets of thinkers, the spiritualists and theosophists, who seem to have no place in their scheme of things for the eternal, and those “absolute Idealists” who rightly perceive that, on their metaphysical theory, time itself must be an illusion. The first party will hear nothing of final beatitude at all, but only of an unending series of promotions in a cursus honorum, or even of endless alternations of promotion and disgrace; thus they lay themselves open to all those hostile criticisms of “endless progress” with which we have just been dealing. The second would have us believe that, if we only knew it, we are already at the end of our road and “in Heaven,” though, for some mysterious reason, we are unaware of the fact. But so long as there are such moods within us as indifference and mutual ill-will, this is manifestly not the case. If our life is really a journey, it should be clear both that there is a home to be reached, and that we have not yet reached it—indeed, that most of us presumably have a great deal of the worst of the journey still before us.
But if this is so, it is true, again, that the great business of our life here must be to find the right road and to walk in it. As I have said, we do not yet love all the creatures of God, nor even all our human neighbours, and those we do love we too often love “inordinately,” not in the right way or the right measure. There is a lesson which has to be learned not only by those who value wealth, or reputation, or power, but by those, for example, who love their own puppy-dog better than their fellow-man. Now, it is at least conceivable that the crisis we call death, in which the mind partner in the mind-body relation is dissociated indefinitely from its fellow, may put the gravest of obstacles in the way of our mastering this lesson. If we have not begun to learn it here, it may be that our subsequent experiences will not be such as to enable us to repair the neglect. (I do not assert that this is so, but I say that we have no assurance that it is not so.) The true nature and extent of the crisis is more than we, who have yet to pass through it, know; but when we reflect on the far-reaching effects of lesser organic crises on our moral being, analogy suggests that the moral consequences of physical death may be still more serious. Hence I cannot think the present-day fashion of minimising the spiritual significance of death altogether wholesome or becoming a
Being breathing thoughtful breath,
A traveller between life and death.
To be sure, when we remember how often Christianity has been degraded in practice from being the life of the love of God and His creatures to being a purely prudential attempt to secure the individual against post mortem suffering, we inevitably feel some sympathy with some of the motives which account for the fashion;24 but it is mere folly to treat our mortality and uncertain tenure of bodily life as of no moral significance, forgetting that there may well be lessons which must be learned, if we are ever to attain true felicity, and must be begun here in the body, or not at all. On this point a sober moralist must surely feel dissatisfaction with the attitude expressed when death is compared with “going from one room to another,” and find much more wisdom in the old-fashioned evangelical insistence on the text that “now is the accepted time, and now the day of salvation”. None of us know that if we wait for tomorrow, to-morrow may not be too late. There is at any rate one very real “hell” to which a man may consign himself, the hell of ever-renewed and ever-baffled endeavour, and a man can never know that he may not send himself thither by present negligence. Even if he escapes that doom, in a morally ordered world, we must believe, neglect to tread the steps of the moral ascent at the suitable time can only be made good by an ascent gravely more tedious and more painful. The present would be a better age than it is if we all lived more in the habitual temper of men who remember that they have an account to give.
(3) In trying to develop the thought of a beatitude which includes progress in attainment, though not progress to attainment, we have not finally succeeded in overcoming the antithesis between time, the successive and fleeting, and eternity, the complete and non-successive. It has been implied that succession would still be a feature in the life of a creature, though a feature steadily decreasing in importance, even in a Paradise of light and love. This was a prominent doctrine of the late Baron von Hügel;25 how far it would be admitted by the official exponents of the theology of his church, or any other, I do not know, but I feel convinced that in substance, at any rate, it is sound. I may remind you that a distinction which seems to be much the same in principle is made by two great philosophies, each in its own way. The Neo-Platonists, who ascribe eternity both to the being and to the operations of Intelligence (νοῦς), and to the being, though not to the operations of souls (ψυχαί), make it a capital point that even “eternity” may not properly be predicated of the supreme source of all being. The One, or God, is actually προαιώνιον, prae-eternal.26 St. Thomas naturally follows the language of Scripture in asserting “eternity” of God, but he is careful to insist that this eternity, in the strict and proper sense of the term, is intrinsic to God. Angels and the beatified in Heaven possess only a “participated eternity,” and possess it as a gift from God, which lifts them above their own level. The intrinsic “measure” of the life of spirits, considered apart from this supernatural gift, is neither eternity nor time, but aevum, which is spoken of as something intermediate between the two. The difference is explained thus. Eternity is, in the famous phrase of Boethius, “occupation whole and altogether of a life without bounds,” interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio27 and thus can have no element of successiveness, no before or after, connected with it. Time is purely successive; what is simply temporal has becoming, not being; its esse in transmutatione consistit. Aevum is itself “all at once,” and so far is like eternity, but it permits of having a before and after “conjoined” with it.28 Hence St. Thomas says of the angels that they have an esse substantiale which is intransmutable, but is conjoined with transmutability secundum electionem (since, according to the well-known traditional account, they were subjected to a test, with the result that some of them chose to rebel, others to adhere to good), and conjoined similarly with transmutability of attention and, in some sense, of location (since angels can descend and reascend).
I do not know whether experts in Thomist philosophy would accept an interpretation that suggests itself, and would make this account of aevum exactly what our own argument needs for its purpose. The distinction between former and later which Thomas excludes altogether from eternity should, in strictness, I take it, be interpreted not as the distinction between antecedent and sequent, but as that of past and future. How the world is apprehended by God none of us would venture to say, but we cannot conceive that it is not apprehended as an ordered scheme exhibiting what is fundamental to the moral life, the one-sided and inversible relation of real causal dependence. In that sense, I take it, there must be a prius and posterius in the world as apprehended by God. But there is no prius or posterius in God, or in God’s apprehension of the world. The whole process, prius and posterius alike, would fall for God, who never becomes, but is, within a single present, just as in our own experience apprehension of the present is never awareness of an object in which there are no relations of before and after, but always apprehension of a present object which embraces a before that has not yet faded into the “past,” and an after that has not to emerge from the “future”. We all know that it is to some extent a matter of native endowment how extensive a slice of “what is there” we can apprehend as being all at once with all its interrelations, including those of before and after; we know also, I think, that with care and practice one can learn to take in bigger “slices” in this way. We can and do cultivate the power of thus taking in at a single glance more and more of the detail of a situation to which we have to make practical response, or to appreciate the bearing of a proposition in the sciences, without that conscious advance of attention from each step in the argument to the next which we found necessary when we were beginners.
The same thing is seen in the case of appreciation of aesthetic form. There is, I understand, some doubt about the genuineness of the letter in which Mozart is supposed to speak of his ability to hear his own compositions “all at once” by an interior audition, and of the incommunicable rapture of the experience. Yet I imagine it is not really doubtful that the great artist in every kind must really possess some such power of envisaging as a totum simul, however imperfectly, what he can only convey to us by means of a detail which he has to elaborate, and we to “follow,” in the form of long-drawn-out successiveness. Not to speak of the vision of the artist himself, which is, after all, the artist’s secret, if we consider only our own imperfect appreciation and enjoyment of the artist’s work when it is already there for us, it seems to me that as we learn to appreciate better, the work we appreciate and enjoy steadily sheds its successiveness. There was first a stage in which single stanzas of the poem, single scenes, or even speeches, of the drama, single phrases of the melody, were all that could fill our minds at one time; appreciation of the whole as a unity with structure had to be won with difficulty and the aid of conscious recollection and reflection. This is afterwards succeeded by a stage at which the impression is made by an interrelated whole, and our judgement of appreciation passed primarily on the whole as such, with a conscious immediacy.
To take an illustration which I purposely make childishly simple. I suppose we all know the sort of person who reads a great work of fiction in the mood appropriate to a railway detective story, for the sake of its surprises, and would have his enjoyment spoiled by any chance remark disclosing the turn the story will take. I had once myself a friend of this type; it was impossible to discuss or describe in his company any work of fiction he had not read, because, as he used to say, “I might some day want to read the book myself, and I shall get no pleasure from it if I know beforehand what is coming”. In men of this kind, whose enjoyment depends almost wholly on being perpetually taken by surprise, I suppose we might say the appreciation of narrative and dramatic art is at its lowest. To one who wants to appreciate the art of the story, or the play, the element of mere surprise is a hindrance; it is an advantage to him to know beforehand what the incidents to be treated are, that he may be free to concentrate his attention on the structure of the whole. And, similarly, the great artists are those who depend least for their effects on the administering of pure surprises. What shocks are there in the Iliad, or, again, in Tom Jones? Could either of these works be rightly appreciated by anyone hearing the narrative for the first time? Fielding, I know, does contrive to keep up a mystery, though a fairly transparent one, through the story. But how much does it contribute to the real merits of his tale, or which of us would find his appreciation of the book affected if the author had taken the reader into his confidence from the start? It cannot even be said that Fielding has at least availed himself, for artistic effect, of the uncertainty whether his hero will eventually be rewarded with the hand of his mistress. Anyone aware of the literary tradition to which the book belongs knows from the outset that the pair are meant to make a match of it. For the matter of that, most of us, I believe, would not in the least mind if they did not. What we really care for is that the end of the story, be it what it may, shall be of a piece with what has gone before.
These remarks may seem below the dignity of our theme, but I think they are really in point. They indicate the possibility of a knowledge of the successive which would involve no uncertainty, and no element of pure surprise, and yet would apprehend the successive in its order as successive. That is, the successiveness would be wholly in the things known; it would not be a successiveness in the knower, or his knowing. If we conceive such an apprehension to embrace the whole of that which happens, it would be knowledge of the whole course of temporality by a knower to whom Boethius’ definition of eternity would be strictly applicable, a knower possessed of “unbounded life” wholly and all at once. Such apprehension would realise Spinoza’s ideal of “knowledge under a form of eternity,” but it would not get this quality of eternity, as Spinoza imagined it must, by denuding the known of its temporal form. It would be the knower, not the history he knows, who would have eternity as his proper “form”.
Now such knowing as this, so far as I can see, would be quite impossible, in its perfection, for man, or any creature. It would be, as I have said, knowledge from which the last vestige of uncertainty, and capacity for being surprised, had vanished. This does not mean, as Spinoza took it to mean, that such “divine” knowledge would apprehend all events as necessary. Since the world of creatures actually is a world of becoming, contingency and partial indetermination, if God apprehended it otherwise, God would be Himself the victim of illusion; this so-called knowledge would not be knowledge. A being in possession of all knowledge must, of course, know the incomplete as incomplete, open alternatives as open alternatives. But the point is that, though there might be contingency enough in what such a knower knows, there would be no contingency in the knower himself. He would, for example, know that at this moment of my life there are alternatives between which I can choose; but, since he sees all at once, he would also know that I am in the act of choosing one of the alternatives by my choice, and which I am choosing. He would not be taken by surprise when I choose.
So, in a sufficiently familiar situation, I myself know, when I make a choice, that I really am choosing, not finding out that choice has been precluded by my circumstances or my “past,” and yet I am not taken by surprise by my own choice. Such complete freedom from uncertainty would seem, from the nature of the thing, impossible to a creature. For every creature is not merely set in a background of the uncertain; he also has the uncertain within himself. He is a dependent being who is not his own raison d’être, and he cannot sound the whole mystery of the being upon whom he is, in the last resort, dependent. There is more in God than any creature will ever find out. At most a creature can only be assured that nothing still remaining to be found out will belie what has been disclosed.
This, I suggest, is what is really meant by the “participated eternity” enjoyed by creatures in Paradise, in virtue of their direct vision of God. With them “vision” has replaced “faith”; they “behold God per essentiam suam”; what they behold is truth, pure and unalloyed, and obscured by no metaphor or irrelevant symbolism, exactly as mathematical truth may be to the mathematician truth without confusion, metaphor or alloy, but they never see all there is to be seen of the essentia of God. There is always more to be seen, as there is always more mathematical truth to be discovered. Thus, for any creature, however exalted in goodness and wisdom, there are always possible surprises in store, though in a world from which evil had disappeared the surprises would always be “joyful”. But for a being who can be surprised, even if the surprise takes the form of delight “beyond expectation,” futurity must remain as an uneliminated feature of experience.
Hence I think von Hügel on the right lines in regarding the life of creatures as one in which successiveness and futurity never wholly vanish, though they may become of decreasing importance “beyond all assignable limit”. The tension of anticipation of the unknown would be less pronounced in the higher ranks of a Dantesque empyrean than in the lower, but it would still be there, as the witness to the unbridgeable gulf between the independent and the wholly dependent, Creator and creature. And I find it hard to believe that St. Thomas can have thought otherwise, especially when I note that the eternity in which the beatified participate is made to depend on their vision of God. This “participated” eternity would thus seem to be actually God’s eternity, as contemplated by the beatified. In virtue of the principle that we become like what we behold, a soul in actual vision of God is assured that it cannot forfeit that vision, for he who sees the good can desire nothing else. But there is always also the awareness that there is more to be seen than the soul has yet taken in, and thus the mind’s attitude does not cease to be forward-reaching. Complete ἐνέργεια ἀκινησίας, activity, which is rest and nothing but rest, is reserved for the Creator alone. But to say this is not to say that the struggle with the bad is ineradicable from creaturely life.
(4) We must, however, be very careful how we identify the best life, in Aristotelian fashion, with vita contemplativa. There are qualifications which must not be forgotten. In such a heaven as we are trying to imagine, the conflict of right with wrong, truth with error, has no place, and thus the “practical life,” as understood by Kant and others who simply identify it with this struggle, would be no more. But if we may conceive of a “blessed” life as providing opportunities for progress in vision, to be achieved by intellectual adventure, and to bear fruit in the illumination of others besides the adventurer, then clearly the spirit of the “practical life” continues at this higher level. Contemplation of the vision is the inspiration of the adventures, and their fruit is neither the righting of wrongs nor the amendment of errors, but enriched contemplation. Yet the adventures themselves are “practice,” and the ultimate goal of action is not to pass out of being, but to be made wholly fruitful in contemplative rest. Such a goal is in keeping with the spirit of morality, as the mere disappearance of “action” is not. We make war, as Aristotle said, that we may have peace, and we discharge business that we may have leisure. But peace and well-spent leisure are not the same as sloth and inaction. It would be a false psychology that should treat “contemplation” as passive, in the sense of being inert. To contemplate aright we must, indeed, be wholly receptive towards suggestions from without; we must lay the whole self open to the object contemplated, lose the self in it. But to be thus receptive takes all the energy with which a man is endowed. Contemplation and laziness will not keep house together; and we should merely misunderstand the great masters of the mystic way if we supposed their traditional language about “passive contemplation” to mean that our highest felicity is a state comparable with the lazy enjoyment of a hot bath. Rightly understood, the life of fruition of the vision is not the supersession, but the fulfilment, of the life of dutiful practice of the modest virtues of the family, the city and the nation. What is superseded is only the conflict with adverse elements in the self and its environment, and that is only superseded because it has been brought, by God’s grace, to a victorious issue.
The very mention of God’s grace reminds me that I am touching on matters more properly reserved for the second part of our programme, in which we are to consider the relations between such a natural theology as is directly suggested by reflections on the implications of ethics and the theologies of the historical religions. So long as we are within the bounds of the purely ethical, it may be said, the moral conflict must be thought of as one in which man fights for himself and must win any success he does win by his own unaided efforts. But according to any religion which is not a mere “Pharisaism,” no one achieves “eternal life” by his own effort; it is the “gift of God”. How, then, can we speak of it, as we have just spoken, as the supersession of the moral struggle by a moral victory? I must not now anticipate the course of the reflections with which we shall be occupied later. So I will only add that the paradox, if it is a paradox, is inherent in the Christian religion itself. The fruits of the tree of life, and the hidden manna, are expressly spoken of as gifts, but they are gifts said to be reserved for victors. “I have overcome the world,” said One; but it is said in order that each of us also may overcome. We are still the ecclesia militans, and our victory is still to be won.
Appearance and Reality, p. 508: “‘But without endless progress, how reach perfection?’ And with endless progress (if that means anything) I answer, how reach it? Surely perfection and finitude are in principle not compatible. If you are to be perfect, then you, as such, must be resolved and cease; and endless progress sounds merely like an attempt indefinitely to put off perfection.” I presume that the criticism is directed particularly against Kant’s position in Kdp V. 1, Th. ii. bk. ii. Hpst. iv. (Werke, Hartenstein2, v. 128 ff.).
Appearance and Reality, p. 500. “If progress is to be more than relative, and is something beyond a mere partial phenomenon, then the religion professed most commonly among us has been abandoned. You cannot be a Christian if you maintain that progress is final and ultimate and the last truth about things. And I urge this consideration, of course not as an argument from my mouth, but as a way of bringing home perhaps to some persons their inconsistency.”
For the views of Aliotta see his vigorously written manifesto, La guerra eterna e il dramma dell’ esistenza (Naples, N.D., but apparently published about 1918. I regret that I have not seen the later and revised form of this interesting little book). Professor Aliotta in effect accepts Bradley’s thesis and turns it against every form of monistic belief in metaphysics. Because there cannot be good where there is not also evil, as there cannot be sunlight without shadow, it is inferred, the real world must be the battle-ground for an unending internecine conflict between rival “reals”; the mundus intelligibilis is, in fact, a sort of magnified and never-ending Caporetto. Theism is rejected explicitly on the ground that, if God is, the issue of the conflict between good and evil is not doubtful; the moral struggle, therefore, we are told becomes only a sham fight: “Che io mi affatichi o mi abbandoni, è del tutto indifferente: cost il mio lavoro, come la mia ignavia rientran egualmente nell’ ordine providenziale; e Dio troverà sempre modo (o meglio l’ ha già trovato) di accommodare le cose. II risultato finale del dramma sarà sempre lo stesso: l’ eterna divina commedia che si chiude col trionfo definitivo del bene” (op. cit. 135). This emphatic insistence on a “moral” argument for atheism is the more impressive that it represents a complete volte-face on the part of the brilliant Italian author, who had, in 1914, concluded the English edition of his work, The Idealistic Reaction against Science, with an “epistemological proof” of the existence of God (op. cit. 463 ff.).
What’s Wrong with the World? p. 12.
It may perhaps be said that these considerations hardly meet the main point of an argument like Aliotta’s. Granted that there must be a real good to fight for before men can be expected to fight, does it not take the reality out of the struggle to believe that God is on the side of right, and right certain to win? Is not this belief tantamount to a doctrine of absolute predestination, and does not belief in predestination paralyse effort?
We may say (1) All experience shows that in fact even belief in absolute predestination, the so-called fatum Muhammedanum of which Kant speaks, does not paralyse human effort. The belief that the “Lord of hosts is with us,” and that our cause must therefore win, has always been found in fact to give men heart for a stubborn contest, as no other belief does.
(2) The popular conception that the predestinationist does not believe in the reality of human “free will”—and it is this conception which underlies Aliotta’s argument—seems to be a mere mistake. We can see clearly enough that this was not the case, e.g., with St. Augustine, who was at once the originator of Christian doctrines of predestination, and the most vigorous of assertors of the reality and importance of human will. It is said also to be the case with Mohammedans, though here I can only speak at second-hand. Cf. Otto, The Idea of the Holy (E. tr.), pp. 92–3: “In many typical Mohammedan narratives … men are able to devise and decide and reject; but, however they choose or act, Allah’s eternal will is accomplished to the very day and hour that was ordained. The purport of this is precisely, not that God and God alone is an active cause, but rather that the activity of the creature, be it never so vigorous and free, is overborne and determined absolutely by the eternal operative purpose.” “This is a predestination which presupposes free will just as its foil.”
(3) The interest of a fight does not cease for me because I feel sure of the issue. I still have a real concern in being among “those that triumph,” or, it may be, among those who perish with their honour unstained. In the final assault on Thermopylae, Leonidas must have “known” who would “win” the pass, and he may conceivably have been equally convinced that the Hellenes would, in the end, come out of the war as victors. Neither assurance removed his interest in fighting a good fight.
It will, I hope, be understood that I am not here expressing any views of my own about predestination. I am only concerned to maintain that even the most absolute predestination is not incompatible with human “free will,” and that belief in it neither has, nor logically need have, the consequences supposed by Prof. Aliotta.
Principles of Ethics, i. 127 ff.
Ethical Studies2, p. 91 n.
I do not suggest that this reasoning is wholly sound, but it would be in keeping with Spencer’s own unqualified belief in the “heritability of acquired characteristics”.
It is instructive to observe that the writer of the article “State of the Dead” (Christian) in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics describes the final state of the lost in Hell precisely as Spencer describes that of the “perfectly evolved society” “The faculty which, in the case of the finally impenitent, has been wholly and irremediably abused is that of free will, and therefore, whatever else eternal loss may involve, it must involve the loss of this. … The lost, deprived of all power of volition and choice, will sink to the rank of necessary agents. … Thus they can sin no more, and will perform the will of God unerringly, which will surely be for their good. Moreover, their enjoyment of natural goods, though impaired, will not be destroyed. In fact it even seems possible to regard their condition as one of relative happiness of a purely natural kind.” I am not sure how far this anticipation is coherent, since it seems to assert in one breath that the “lost” both are, and are not, genuinely human beings, but there is exactly the samedifficulty about Spencer’s description of the life of his “millennial” age. There, also, the “fully evolved” men and women have no real choice; their will is always determined ad unum by a natural necessity, and Spencer regards this condition as one not only of “relative” but of supreme happiness. The only difference is that the (Anglo-Catholic) writer of the article makes the condition he regards as “damnation,” but Spencer as the highest felicity, perpetual. So much for Spencer’s courteous standing insinuation that the “orthodox” clergy are “devilworshippers”. But, like most “agnostic” critics, Spencer had probably never troubled to study the religion he satirised.
Of course, it is very possible that I have misapprehended the main thesis of a work so difficult and diffuse as the Kritik der reinen Erfahrung. But this is what seems to me to be the conclusion to which the argument inevitably leads.
And, similarly, it has been observed that a virtuous man never feels the sacredness of an accepted moral maxim so acutely as on those exceptional occasions when he, rightly or wrongly believes that it is a duty to depart from it. In ordinary life we tell the truth as a matter of course, without reflecting on the sacredness of truth or the immorality of lying. A good man, convinced that, in his present situation, he ought to keep back the truth, or to equivocate, is likely to be very exceptionally conscious of the sacredness of the general obligation to veracity and candour.
Evolution, as conceived by Spencer, is, after all, no genuine historical process. The fact is shown by his complete disregard of the “principle of Carnot,” which forbids us to regard “becoming” as reversible. On this extraordinary oversight see the pertinent criticisms of James Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism1, i. 192–195.
Ol. v. 24.
Kant’s assumption that there must be such an element of “inclination” in every “creature”—its presence being just what distinguishes the “creature” from the Creator—is a relic of the “Augustinian” doctrine that all “creatures” exhibit the composition of “form” with “matter”. He does not consider the rival Thomistic view, which founds “creatureliness” on the distinction between essentia and esse, the “what” and the “that,” and consequently recognises the actual, or possible, existence of creatures (the angels) in whom “form” is uncompounded with “matter”. If the Thomistic view is tenable—I do not say that it is, or that it is not—the moral life, as conceived by Kant, would not be possible to an angel.
Plato, Republic, 611 C-D.
Prolegomena to Ethics, sect. 302 (p. 328).
R. Browning, Old Pictures in Florence.
Essays and Addresses (First Series), p. 218 ff.
Bunyan, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved. Bunyan’s immediate purpose is to reassure a sinner who is tempted to despair by the blackness of his record of past transgressions, but the thought lends itself equally well to our present argument.
For Bosanquet’s use of such language see, for example, Value and Destiny of the Individual, lecture v. passim. I am, of course, aware that it may be said that the same type of view is equally to be found in Bradley, though not, I think, quite so consistently adhered to, or so clearly formulated. But I feel bound to protest against it, wherever found, as leading, if taken seriously, to a confusion of spiritual religion with an easy “Nature-pantheism” which is at variance with the real intentions of both philosophers at their best. Green is nobly free from this defect.
This is the real and insuperable ethical objection—independent, by the way, of any theology—to the substitution of any kind of union libre for marriage. The terminability of the “free union” is only a consequence of its inner moral vice, that it is an attempt to give something less than the whole self, to keep back “part of the price”. A relation which must be a moral failure, unless it is based on full and free self-surrender, is undertaken “with a mental reservation”. Marriage only succeeds in being what it can be at its best because both parties enter into it knowing that there can be no “backing out”.
Martineau, Types of Ethical Theory, ed. 2, p. xxviii.
Dante, Paradiso, vi. 10: “Cesare fui e son Giustiniano.”
It is painful to note the frequency with which the suggestion that the main concern of life is to insure myself against future torture recurs in the hymnology of the Wesleys, or how the same preoccupation seems to haunt Newman in his Apologia, though, no doubt, the main motives in both cases were of a nobler kind.
I would refer here to the full exposition of the Baron’s views in his study, Eternal Life (1912), also to the second essay in Essays and Addresses, second series.
See, for a formal exposition of the Neo-Platonist doctrine, Proclus, Institutio Theologica, props. 48–55.
Boethius, De Consolat. v. pros. 6.
S.Th. Ia q. x. art. 5. See further Ia q. x. art. 4, 6.