The question we are now to consider has only too often been treated as the central and supreme issue in all religion. There is a type of mind—it is exemplified in men like F. W. H. Myers, or, at a much higher intellectual level, Dr. McTaggart—which apparently feels no imperious necessity to worship, but is anxiously beset by the old question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” Such minds have no difficulty in acquiescing in a world without God, but are deeply revolted by the suggestion that their own personality may not be able to survive the shock of bodily dissolution. With them proof of the immortality of the soul, drawn either from general metaphysical postulates or from alleged empirical evidence of the continued activity of the dead, tends to replace the whole of theology. In the many hundred pages of Myers’ Human Personality there are, so far as I recollect, very few references to the existence of God. Dr. McTaggart has even professed to produce proof that theistic belief is almost certainly false, and quite certainly superfluous.1
I suppose I need hardly remind you that this attitude of mind is diametrically opposed to that characteristic of the Christian religion, and almost as completely opposed to the great Platonic tradition in metaphysics. In both Christianity and Platonism, it is the thought of God as at once the source of being and the goal of moral endeavour, the A and Ω, that is central; the high prospects both hold out to the individual man who “perseveres to the end,” or, as the Phaedrus has it, chooses the “philosopher’s” life thrice in succession,2 are, in the end, based on their conception of the God into whose likeness it is man’s vocation to grow; with both it is dei-formity, not mere endless continuance, which is held out to man as the prize of his calling. If I have delayed discussion of human immortality so long, my reason is that I find myself wholly at one with the Christian and Platonic tradition on this issue. Apart from an adequate doctrine of God, it is, as I believe, impossible to find any secure foundation for a doctrine of human immortality, or any ground for thinking the prospect of such immortality attractive. When we consider human personality as we are actually acquainted with it in ourselves, apart from convictions about the vocation of man based on the identification of the summum bonum with the living and eternal God, we are treating personality, after all, in a purely naturalistic fashion, and, as far as I can see, a merely naturalistic perseverance in existence, even if it could be made probable, might well be, like the deathlessness of a Struldbrug, the supreme curse. On that point I may be allowed to refer once for all to the imaginative development of the theme in the intermezzo intercalated between the eighth and ninth chapters of Jean Paul Richter’s Siebenkäs, so admirably rendered by Carlyle.3
Thus I do not propose to concern myself here with either of two very familiar types of argument for human immortality, the metaphysical argument from the alleged character of the soul as a simple substance, or a primitive fountain of internally originated motion, and what we may, without prejudice, call the empirical argument from the real or alleged facts of necromancy. For neither line of argument, be its cogency what it may, has any real connection with the subject of all our reflections, the light thrown on man’s nature and status, and consequently on his destiny, by study of his specifically moral being. As to the metaphysical argument, it is enough to say, what would probably be conceded by almost all careful metaphysicians, that, even if we grant, as we could hardly do without a great deal of preliminary discussion, that the soul is a simple substance, or a primitive fount of movement, it does not necessarily follow that it is imperishable. All that necessarily follows is that if the soul vanishes from the sum total of the actual, its disappearance must be strictly instantaneous; it must perish, if it perishes at all, by annihilation or inanition, not by dissolution. This is, in fact, all that Leibniz, for example, ventures to assert of his spiritual simple atoms or monads. When we further seek to complete the argument by proving that annihilation may be excluded from the range of possibilities, either we have to fall back, as Leibniz does, on the appeal to the known goodness of God, or we fall into the materialistic fallacy of arguing that the self is a bit of “mind-stuff” and that the annihilation of “stuff” is inconceivable. Reasoning of this kind may have seemed plausible in days when the conservation of mass could be taken as a first principle too axiomatic to call for discussion; in our own time, when distinguished physicists are declaring that the doctrine of conservation of mass is only a deduction from the conservation of energy—itself no necessity of thought—and is only true under restrictions,4 and distinguished astronomers can propose to employ the notion of a progressive annihilation of mass as a key to the life-history of the stars,5 we clearly cannot repose much confidence in the extension to “mind-stuff” of an apparently antiquated physical prepossession. Even if we could, it is plain that survival as a “bare monad,” or a bit of “mind-stuff,” or a mere initiator of movements, is not a destiny which can inspire a man with hope or stir him to noble living. The hope of immortality has been morally inspiring only when immortality has been understood to mean persistence after physical dissolution of the moral and intellectual character which has been slowly built up in the course of this present life through struggle and sacrifice, and the prospect of building further on the same foundations elsewhere. What we want is to “see of the travail of our souls and be satisfied,” and this is just what no mere doctrine of the “natural immortality” of the soul can ensure. Even Leibniz ends by resting his hopes not on anything he believes himself to have proved about the nature of a simple monad, but on the unde-monstrated conviction that a good God will not allow monads which have attained the status of moral and intelligent persons to fall back to the level of “mere” monads.6
The same considerations apply equally to those alleged facts of necromancy on which the “spiritists” of all ages are accustomed to rely. It must be doubtful whether, in any case, when we have excluded everything which can be most probably accounted for by conscious or unconscious fraud, or by obscure, and as yet ill-understood, communication between embodied minds, very much of the supposed facts is left. If anything is left, I still must agree with critics like Bradley that there is always a plurality of alternative hypotheses open to us. To prove, if it can be proved, that I am in communication with an intelligence other than that of an incarnate human person, is by no means to prove that I am communing with the “mighty dead”. The traditional view of the Church that all such communications, if genuine, come from “the devil” may perhaps be over-hasty, but is certainly incapable of refutation, if the name “devil” is used widely enough to cover possible low-grade personalities which are merely silly or mischievous, as well as those which are actually morally wicked. And even if we could exclude, as we cannot, the possibility that all genuine communications from “the other side” come either from freakish imps or from wicked beings laying cunning plots for our moral ruin, the prospects held out to us by spiritists are not of a kind to rejoice a true man. Myers may be right, though it is hard not to doubt his complete satisfaction on the point,7 when he says that mediumistic communications show no trace of actual moral depravity; but one has only to read the journals which profess to record these messages to be satisfied that, at all events, they display a distressingly low level of intelligence. They are mostly a medley of sentimental gush and twaddling sermonising. If their authors are, as it is often alleged that they are, the great moral and intellectual heroes of our past, it would seem that the brightest prospect the unseen world has to offer is that of a gradual declension of mankind into an undying society of trivial sentimental bores. Some of us might prefer Dante’s Hell, where the damned at least retain something of human dignity. One would rather be Farinata on his couch of fire than Shakespeare complacently dictating drivel. Fortunately my subject relieves me from any necessity of prosecuting this argument further. What we are now concerned with is the light thrown on man’s destiny by his moral being, and we may fairly say at the outset that if our moral being indicates anything about our inmost nature and its destiny, we may be confident that that destiny is not to persist either as “bare monads,” or as talkers of wordy twaddle of which we should have been ashamed even when “the eternal substance” of our souls was half subdued to its prison in the “sinful flesh”.
The limits we have thus prescribed to ourselves, then, demand that we confine our attention strictly to an examination of what is known as the “moral” argument for immortality. And here we find ourselves confronted at the outset by the assertion of a formidable body of contemporary students of philosophy that a “moral” argument must be worthless, from the very nature of the case. It will be instructive to consider the reasons given for this contention by so eminent a philosopher as Dr. McTaggart. Since McTaggart was in fact eager to establish a doctrine of immortality, and made immortality a leading feature in his interpretation of the world, we may be sure that rejection of the “moral” argument does not, in his case, arise from any secret bias against the conclusion it has been used to prove. He would presumably have been glad to reinforce a belief which he ardently cherished by any legitimate argument in its favour. If he denies the validity of the “moral proof,” the denial must be based on sincere conviction of its worthlessness, and such a conviction on the part of an exceptionally subtle and acute dialectician is reasonably felt to constitute at least a strong antecedent presumption against the line of reasoning so condemned, and must therefore be faced seriously.
Dr. McTaggart has explained fully what he means by a moral argument and why he thinks all moral arguments about human destiny worthless.8 By a moral argument he says he means an argument by which we infer that some state of things must be real on the ground that it is highly desirable that it should be real. Thus the moral argument for immortality is taken to be to the following effect: “It is so good that we should be immortal that it must be true that we are immortal”; or, “The extinction of human personality at death is so great an evil that we cannot conceive it to occur”. McTaggart’s comment is, briefly, that so much that would be good is unreal, and so much that is bad is real, that we have no right to say that anything whatever is so bad that it cannot be real, or so good that it must be real.9 In a world where there is so much evil as there undeniably is in the actual world, nothing is “too bad to be true”. Now, undeniably this looks, at first sight, a telling, perhaps an overwhelmingly convincing criticism, though we may note that it is not specially novel, since it is merely the moral of Voltaire’s Candide compressed into an epigram. But on reflection I believe we shall find that the reasoning of Voltaire and McTaggart is very far from being as convincing as it looks. It is to be observed that McTaggart’s quarrel is not with the expressed premiss of the reasoning. He at least takes no exception to the statement that it would be very good that human persons should be immortal and very bad that they should not. What he objects to is not the explicit premiss of fact, but the implied premiss of principle, that what is supremely good must also be fact. For my own part I should have thought that the proposition thus allowed to pass without examination is itself questionable, unless it is safeguarded by a good many restrictions. I do not feel at all sure that unending existence might not be a very bad thing. Huxley, we remember, once wrote that he found the thought of hell less depressing than that of annihilation. But I believe that if we asked ourselves the question whether we should prefer for one whom we loved and respected endless existence in the ice of Dante’s Giudecca, or in the sufferings of cancer, or in a state of idiocy, to cessation of all being, there can be no doubt what our answer would be. We should welcome, or at least accept, the cessation of our friend’s existence as a “blessed relief” from cruel suffering; we would rather think that a teacher whose character and intellect we had reverenced was now nothing at all than that he was still surviving as a “driveller and a show”.10 A great thinker, now himself deceased, once remarked to me that his first words on hearing of the death of his mother, a lady of brilliant parts whose mind had been enfeebled in her last years, were “Thank God!”
It is surely still more certain that most of us would prefer that a beloved son or sister should be clean cut off out of the land of the living than that he or she should continue to live and to enjoy a life of degraded “animalism,” or sordid dishonesty. A decent man, with no real belief in any future life, would probably much rather see a much-loved daughter “in her grave,” as our proverbial phrase is, than see her flaunting it as the most famous and flattered harlot of London, or New York, or Paris. It may be replied that in a man’s own case, when it comes to the point, experience shows that the love of life is so strong that he will usually consent to live even with deep dishonour, if he cannot live with honour. And I own that I have no confidence that sudden “fear of the dark” might not make a recreant of me in this matter. But for the purposes of our present argument, what we are concerned with is not the strength of unreasoned cravings and instincts, but the character of a reflective judgement of good, and for that very reason, it is our judgement on cases other than our own, where the mere instinct of self-preservation does not come into the account, that I take to be decisive. It is plain, I think, from these cases that we do not seriously judge immortality to be good at all, unless we have some guarantee of its quality. And if Huxley had said that he would rather think of, say, an infant son or daughter who had died unbaptized as burning with the massa perditionis, than as having ceased to be, frankly I should refuse to believe him.
Next, as to McTaggart’s argument that in a world where there is so much evil we have no right to say that anything whatever is “too bad to be true”. To my mind, this argument is vitiated by a transparent fallacy, introduced by the words “so much”. It is assumed that we know how bad the various evils to which the argument appeals, are. In other words, it is assumed that we already know their final upshot. But this is never the case, unless, indeed, we admit “faith,” as McTaggart does not, as a source of knowledge. To take an obvious example. Few things in the actual world would be judged more manifestly and gravely bad than acute, prolonged, and sordid suffering, wholly undeserved and productive, so far as can be seen, of nothing good for the sufferer or for anyone else. But since we do not “see to the end” in any case, we cannot assert as a fact of experience that the upshot of the worst the world has to show in this kind may not be, as on the Christian theory it will be, the production of an overwhelming good, for the virtuous sufferer and for others, which perhaps could not have been produced in any other way. It is at least possible that the world’s worst victims may yet live to smile at the worst that has befallen them, or even to feel that they would not on any account have been without it. Even within the limits of our own vision of life, it often enough happens that a man comes in the end to give thanks for what had seemed his most intolerable afflictions as the best things his life has brought him. And so I should reply to McTaggart that until we know whether what we see of a man’s life, between cradle and grave, is all there is to see, we are not in a position to say how bad the things the argument pronounces very bad are. None of them are incompatible with the belief, which was, in fact, McTaggart’s own, that reality is overwhelmingly good. But if what we see of man’s life is all there is to see, that is, if there is nothing beyond the grave, then, and only then, I confess, it becomes undeniable that history is a scene where dubious good is achieved at the cost of intolerable evil. I submit, then, that we are not entitled to argue from the actuality of evils which, for anything we know, may flower in overwhelming good to the possibility that the actual is so constituted that evil cannot be overcome by good, and that McTaggart’s attack on the “moral argument” is therefore unsound in principle. It only seems conclusive to him because he has ab initio excluded God from his metaphysical scheme.11
In fact what lies at the bottom of McTaggart’s distrust is simply the unexamined assumption that value and fact are two wholly disconnected realms.12 If it were so, obviously no proposition about value or goodness, however true, could be a relevant premiss in any argument, demonstrative or probable, which concludes to fact. We have already tried to satisfy ourselves that this divorce of value from actuality is itself a mere product of unreflecting prejudice and that the very point of all genuine religion is that it expressly asserts, as morality tacitly implies, the conjunction of the two. To have a religion, or at least to have an ethical religion, means to believe seriously that though many things may be too bad to be true, nothing is too good to be true. If we sometimes think otherwise, it is because the things we pronounce too good to be true are not really as good as we take them to be. Thus a man offers us some panacea for the body politic and promises that, by adopting it, we shall attain the New Jerusalem within a generation. We may say that such promises are “too good to be true,” but it does not take much reflection to see that they are really not good enough. It would not be good, in the actual state of our civilisation, that society should be deprived of the incentives to industry, patience, self-denial, and brotherly help which are provided by the inevitable imperfections of our social system. A moralist, if he could be offered the opportunity of, e.g., abolishing all bodily disease at a stroke, might reasonably hesitate to avail himself of it. He might feel the gravest doubt whether radiant physical health for the whole community, not accompanied by a miraculous moral rebirth, would not tend to lower its moral status, by depriving it of graces of character far more exalted in the scale of goods than physical well-being.
And, after all, to say that nothing is too good to be true is only to show as much faith in the divine nature as good men habitually show in human nature. It may be doubted whether there are not some things too bad to be credible of any man, even of the worst, but no one who has within him the faith in human nature without which life would not be worth living would admit that there are deeds which are, in the strict sense of the words, too good to be achieved, calls of duty too arduous ever to be obeyed. At the most, a man who has the faith in the possibilities of his kind necessary to save him from an immoral cynicism would only say of the great moral responsibilities that compliance with duty is hard and is only achieved by the few heroic souls, and by them only when they do not confide solely in their own strength. Also it is a recurrent and a joyful surprise to find that when the occasions for the supreme heroisms arise, so many whom most observers would have judged as mere “average” men, or something worse, rise to the occasion. We as a nation are not likely soon to forget the revelations of unsuspected capacity for heroism in the ordinary person which came to us during the War of 1914–1918, and I cannot doubt that every nation engaged in that struggle on either side has much the same story to tell. Naturally the disclosure was a double-edged one. We also learned with shame and distress that very horrible and bestial things could be done by men who normally conduct themselves in more ordinary situations without gross criminality.13 We learned, too, that the temptation to shirk burdens and dangers, or even to make one’s private market out of the public necessity, could prove too powerful for the integrity of some whom we should have thought above suspicion. Probably we all learned to be at least a little more uncomfortable about our own moral standing. Yet, on the whole, the revelation of good was more impressive than the disclosure of evil. The worst misdeeds established against offenders were all of a type with which we had been made acquainted by the lives of our “criminal classes”. More men fell low than perhaps we had expected, but I doubt if any fell lower than we already knew men could fall; multitudes rose higher than we had dared to hope they had it in them to rise. To doubt whether something may not be too good to be true is really to doubt whether the things which are possible with men may not be impossible with God.
We may, then, dismiss this initial objection to the principle implied in the “moral” argument for human immortality. The real question we have to consider is whether the moral being of man in fact is such that it affords indications, or at any rate a presumption, that he is destined to survive the shock men call death, and, if so, what further light ethics can throw on the quality of human life beyond the grave. We must be prepared to find that any light we can discover reveals very little and leaves natural curiosity far from satisfied. It may illumine no more than the next few steps of the road to be trodden through life. Yet this would be indirectly a considerable gain for theory as well as for practice. If there should be a real further “revelation,” or self-disclosure of the divine, among the religious faiths of mankind, agreement or discrepancy with what we can learn from ethics may well be the touchstone by which we can safely distinguish the genuine light of revelation from specious but misleading counterfeits.
To what, then, speaking generally and roughly, does the moral evidence for human survival of death amount? There are two preliminary considerations on which it seems desirable to make some remarks. If we take the expression “moral argument” in the widest sense, it may fairly be held to cover two familiar lines of thought on which the defenders of the hope of immortality have laid weight, the argument from the consensus gentium and also the direct appeal to the real or alleged universality of the wish for continuance as evidence of its own fulfilment. Neither line of argument can be regarded as manifestly conclusive, yet we may fairly doubt whether either deserves the unqualified rejection both often receive from philosophers in our own day.
(1) First, then, as to the argument from the presumed wish for immortality to its reality. It is interesting to note how powerfully this reasoning often appeals to minds we might have supposed to be impervious to the rather different type of argument from consensus. The case of Shelley affords an apt illustration. No one could well be less inclined to accept a widespread belief on the ground that it is widespread and therefore, presumably, natural than Shelley. Those who knew him intimately have recorded that it was a favourite saying with him that “everyone’s saying a thing is true does not make it true,” and, apart from this testimony, his works bear abundant witness to a deeply rooted suspiciousness of all widely received traditions which amounted to something like a positive disease. From the moralist’s special point of view—and it was a point of view from which the poet himself always professed to desire to be appreciated—it is Shelley’s most obvious intellectual defect that he never seems to have been able to understand the value of a moral tradition, supported by the practice of generations of civilised men and the approval of the most eminent reflective thinkers, as witness to its own fundamental soundness. The very fact that a practice or a belief had been a permanent factor in shaping the civilised society of Western Europe actually seems to have operated with him as a reason for suspecting its validity. Theoretically, indeed, he maintained only that a belief may be false, or a custom baneful, in spite of its apparently universal acceptance; but in practice, when he came to deal with specific beliefs or customs, he habitually tended to assume that what all men accept must be false or pernicious just because everyone accepts it.
A typical example of this eccentricity is his notorious and singular craze, revealed no less by his private correspondence than by his poems, for the glorification of incest. The reasons which have led civilised societies to condemn the practice so vehemently and unequivocally, or at least some of these reasons, are so obvious and so weighty that one can hardly suppose them to have been ignored by Shelley or any other man not an imbecile. In this matter there seems to be no ground whatever for the poet’s challenge to the universal tradition of civilised Europe, beyond a prejudice against it based on its very universality. From a mind so constituted we might have expected a similar acrimonious rejection of the hope of immortality, just on the plea that so widely diffused a hope must be one of the illusions of the “tribe”. Yet we find Shelley, in fact, in the notes to Hellas, manifestly cherishing the hope in the very act of declaring it to have no foundation beyond a wish. “Let it be not supposed,” he says, “that I mean to dogmatise upon a subject concerning which all men are equally ignorant. That there is a true solution of the riddle, and that in our present state that solution is not attainable by us, are propositions which may be regarded as equally certain: meanwhile as it is the province of the poet to attach himself to those ideas which exalt and ennoble humanity, let him be permitted to have conjectured the condition of that futurity to which we are all impelled by an inextinguishable thirst for immortality. Until better arguments can be produced than sophisms which disgrace the cause, this desire itself must remain the strongest and the only presumption that eternity is the inheritance of every thinking being.” Even apart from the light thrown on such a passage by recorded utterances of the poet in conversation, which cannot all be ascribed to the invention of his associates, it is manifest that the words are written in good faith by one who himself shares in the desire of which he speaks as a universal and inextinguishable thirst, and that when the desire is said to be the “strongest” presumption of its own fulfilment—a remark logically superfluous when it is also declared to be the only such presumption—there is no ironical arrière-pensée. The poet seriously means to say that this “only presumption” really is a strong one.
Now it might plausibly be urged on the other side that the poet’s statement of the alleged facts is an exaggeration. Appeal might be made to the apparent acquiescence of millions of the human race in religions which are said to contemplate the extinction of human personality as the crown of felicity, to the notorious absence of all reference to the hope of the world to come from all but the very latest parts of the Old Testament scriptures, and other similar facts, in support of the view that what Shelley represents as a deep-seated aspiration of universal humanity only exists, to any marked degree, within the limits of a special civilisation—our own—which owes its moral tradition to the specific influences of Greek philosophy and Christian theology. And it might further be contended, even more forcibly to-day than a century ago, that the “desire” is not universal even within this particular civilisation itself. We must all know among our own personal acquaintance, intelligent and virtuous persons who appear to be quite indifferent to the prospect of a life to come, and possibly some who even seem to regard any such prospect with actual repugnance.14
I own that personally I am not as deeply impressed as some moralists seem to be, by this alleged counter-evidence. The evidence supposed to be afforded by the wide prevalence of a religion like Buddhism, for example, may well strike the layman in these studies as at least ambiguous. The experts seem at any rate to be far from certain as to the real meaning of the Founder’s teaching, and it is significant that, in its development into a widespread religion, Buddhism has no more been able than Judaism to retain an attitude of negation or mere agnosticism towards human destiny after death. Similarly, we may set against arguments drawn from the theoretical attitude of the agnostics of our own civilisation a fair counter-argument founded on the curious inability of these very agnostics to be fully consistent with themselves. No one, I take it, has ever denied that Spinoza’s metaphysic expressly excludes the admission of any sort of persistence of the individual person after the physical dissolution of his body. Yet it is quite impossible to read the famous series of propositions in the Vth Part of the Ethics which deal with the “eternity of the mind,” without perceiving that the writer of these propositions has a personal faith which is his supreme inspiration in life and is quite unjustified by his professed philosophy.15 Spinoza’s “way of life” is based on the conviction that the wise and virtuous “mind” has a prerogative of “eternity,” not shared by any other “finite mode”; if Spinoza’s metaphysic is sound, no “mode” can be eternal except in a sense in which all are eternal alike. No one, again, will credit Renan with anything but a strict agnosticism in theory; yet it is impossible, I should conceive, to mistake the tone of the dedication of the Vie de Jésus to the author’s dead sister for that of empty decorative rhetoric.
Thus, when all legitimate deductions have been made, I confess that the “inextinguishable thirst” for immortality of which Shelley speaks does, to my mind, remain a very impressive fact. It is impressive specially for two reasons: (a) it seems to be felt as acutely by men who have drunk deep of a long inheritance of science and philosophy as by men who have never learned to think or question, and is therefore emphatically not one of those aspirations which are automatically destroyed by mere progress in intellectual development; (b) and, again, even those who profess themselves, no doubt with sincerity, to be most emancipated from reverence for the traditions of a human past never seem able, in their moments of high emotion, when they have forgotten the demands of an official credo, and are most near to saying what they really in their hearts believe, to escape the use of language which either means nothing or means that this aspiration is alive in the speaker. On the whole, then, I think we must accept it as fact that the aspiration towards the “unseen” future is allgemein-menschlich, and “natural,” in the sense in which abhorrence of cannibalism or incest is natural. Individual exceptions, or even exceptions extending to the whole of special minor social groups, prove no more in the first case than they prove in the other two—viz., that there are abnormal individuals, and that special conditions may lead to the prevalence of an abnormality over a whole restricted social group.
Still, even when so much is granted, we must expect to be met by the objection that a wish may be universal in the fullest sense in which we can call any characteristic of human life universal, and yet may be doomed to mere disappointment. That everyone wishes for a certain thing is no proof that anyone will ever get it. A man might, as Aristotle remarks, wish never to die at all, and, as I suppose every priest knows, all of us in certain moods fiercely resent the necessity of dying as an “infamy of our nature”. Yet most of us, like Aristotle, are agreed to regard this craving as a wish for the merely impossible.
There is, indeed, a counter-assertion of which too much, perhaps, has been made. It has been urged that a universal wish must be regarded as the expression of a “natural instinct,” and that it is not “nature’s” way to provide creatures with instincts which are destined to have no fulfilment. Stated thus baldly, the reasoning does not appear very impressive. Without going into the very difficult questions of the proper definition of “instinct” and the worth of “instinct” as explanatory hypotheses in biology and psychology—topics on which much that is impressive was said in this place by my eminent precursor, Dr. Lloyd Morgan16—we may certainly retort, with truth, that the “instincts” of which the argument speaks are very often not fulfilled in the most obvious sense of the word fulfilment. Thus the attraction of male and female animal to one another is “instinctive” in the sense of the argument now under consideration, and the fulfilment of the “instinctive” craving would be said to be found in the propagation of a new generation of the species. But the “instinct” itself, as felt by the pairing male and female, is not an instinct to procreate, but an instinct to mate, and when it gives rise to a conscious wish, the wish is not primarily a wish for the offspring but a wish for the partner. We see this clearly enough in our own human life. There are those who unite because they are lovers, and those who unite because they want sons or daughters; in most cases, perhaps, the two motives are conjoined, but commonly with a predominance of the one or the other. But the most ardent lovers are not usually those who are most desirous of progeny, nor the persons in whom the passion for paternity or maternity is consciously strongest the typical lovers of “romance”. (It has been said of Burns, and, I conceive, with truth, that he had an exceptionally strong and sincere passion for paternity. But though the orators of our Burns clubs might resent the remark, it is equally true that Burns had no passion for “love,” and that we cannot understand either his life or his poetry unless we recognise that fact.) In literature, we note, the great lovers are mostly sterile; the typical fathers and mothers are of quite a different spiritual pattern from the Lancelots and Tristrams and Helens and Didos. And in life itself, it is a source of tragedy when the man or woman with the temperament of the lifelong lover discovers that maternity or paternity is the supreme passion of the “other party”. The now too notorious “Oedipus-complex” may probably be no more than a singularly ugly piece of pseudo-scientific mythology, but its inverse is a familiar fact of life. We need no myth to explain why fathers are often secretly jealous of their sons, or mothers of their daughters.
Thus it is readily intelligible why a sceptic should seek to disable the argument from the supposed “instinct” for immortality by the retort that the “inextinguishable thirst” is really no more than an expression of the primitive “instinct of self-preservation,” and that it gets all the fulfilment it ever need get in the part this “instinct” plays in securing and prolonging our life here in the body. The real question, as I think, is untouched by these superficial logomachies. We have to ask whether it is clear that the widespread belief in the world to come could so much as be causally accounted for on these lines as the product of a wish or “instinct” of any kind whatsoever. And this brings me to a more general consideration of the consensus gentium and its presumable foundation. If the “naturalistic” “explanation” of the consensus breaks down even as an account of its origin, a fortiori it can do nothing to discredit its value.
(2) Now there are certain features about this widespread belief, testified to by the general prevalence among mankind of theories about the land of the dead and practices intended to facilitate the reception of the dying in that region, or to secure their position there, which it seems hard to reconcile with any form of the “naturalistic” theory of the sources of these beliefs and practices. I speak, of course, as a layman in these matters, and mean to be referring only to certain outstanding features of what appears to be historically the belief and practice of the human race in the earliest stage of its existence as yet known to us with any certainty. But I believe it may fairly be said, without much danger of contradiction from those who know, that, in the view of the world which we loosely call “primitive,” because we find it already widely diffused among peoples whose civilisation is the least developed known to us, and because we cannot say at present what views, if any, may have preceded it, the survival of the mysterious thing called the soul is universally taken as a matter of course, and it is also taken as a matter of course that this continued existence is a continuance of the same kind of life we know on our side of death. The chief remains a chief, the hunter a hunter, the common man a common man, the slave, where slavery has found a footing, a slave “yonder,” as he was “here”. Future existence is not, as we who have inherited the traditions of philosophy and Christianity are prone to assume that it must be, better existence, or existence “at a higher level”; still less is the world to come a scene in which the “wrongs” of this world are “put right”. At most existence in that world is the old familiar kind of existence with some obstacles and disappointments removed; the hunter roams through “happy hunting-grounds,” where the game is more plentiful and the hunter’s aim more regularly successful.
Often enough the whole colouring of the picture is a gloomy one, as in Homer and the most ancient parts of the Old Testament, where the condition which awaits the dead is a mere joyless shadowy prolongation of their occupations here, and to “go down to the pit” is the inevitable worst which comes to us all in our time. It may be urged, with a great deal of force, that these Homeric and Hebraic conceptions reproduce the ideas of an age in which belief is fading, and that the Greek ghost, as we can still see from Attic tragedy, and presumably the Israelite ghost too, had once been thought of as a much more real being. But so far as our evidence goes, it is much clearer that these ghosts were thought of as formidable to the survivors than that they were ever supposed to have themselves an enjoyable or enviable lot. And when we further consider what kind of life men must have led, in the distant prehistoric times, when they were mainly engrossed in a grim struggle for bare existence against a hostile, or at least a “stepmotherly,” nature, I find it very hard to believe that the wish for the prolongation can have been an adequate cause of the general belief in the fact.
It might, no doubt, be replied that the word “wish” is out of place; we are not dealing with a conscious wish, but with a primary impulse more fundamental and persistent than any wish, the native fierce resistance of the living body to its own dissolution, in virtue of which a drowning or choking man will still make a furious physical fight for life, even though it may have been deliberate preference of death to life which brought him into the water or the gas-poisoned atmosphere. Yet I own to a still unremoved difficulty in understanding how a supposedly unconscious organic impulse could of itself—as the explanation implies—give occasion to a widely diffused conscious aspiration which, in its turn, coloured, and still colours, men’s whole attitude to their world, in view of the conditions which must have made life anything but enjoyable to the great majority of men in the earliest age of the conflict with a niggardly “Nature”. Indeed, it might be è propos to reflect that, according at least to one version of the curious “psychology of the unconscious” now fashionable, the supreme “unconscious impulse” of every organism is precisely to get rid of its own existence as this organism; all are “unconsciously” trying to die in every act of their lives. It seems to me, then, that “naturalistic” theories are manifestly inadequate as causal explanations of the apparent universality with which men who have not acquired an artificial scepticism accept the “spirit-world” as fact, and that the inadequacy cannot be removed by attempts to get behind conscious wish to an unconscious original libido which each theorist is free to interpret just as he pleases.
Though I am perhaps diverging from our special topic in adding the remark, I seem to myself to detect the same inadequacy in the more old-fashioned naturalistic theories which lay no special stress on wish or libido. It looks at first plausible, for example, to find the origin of our belief that the dead are not wholly lost to us simply in our dreams about them; the man I saw and spoke with “in dream” last night, clearly still is something and somewhere. What such a theory leaves unexplained is why mankind should feel the concern they do feel in their waking life for the denizens of the dream-world and for their own destiny when they come to inhabit that world themselves. In general, it cannot have taken long to discover that the stone, or arrow, with which I was wounded in last night’s dream leaves me uninjured to-day, that the possessions into which I came then vanished at my waking, that my living friend has not made the promise uttered by his “double” in my dream, and the like. Why, then, should my dreams about the dead long retain an importance and significance which has already been lost by my dreams about the living? Why do I go on practising rites based on the conviction that I really see and hear my dead father in my dreams, so long after I have lost the belief that I really see my living contemporaries when I dream about them?
Again, I dream that my dead father complains to me of being cold and hungry. But do I not equally dream that I feed him and warm him at my fire? Why does not the dream-feeding discharge my obligations in relation to the dream-hunger? Why must I make a visit with an offering of food to my father’s tomb when I awake from my dream? I confess there seems to me to be a problem here for which the “naturalist” neither provides, nor attempts to provide, any solution. Thus it seems to me that the way in which personal continuance is apparently taken for granted as something obvious in what is called the “primitive” view of life and the world is a singularly impressive fact, not by any means adequately accounted for by any of the “naturalistic” explanations. So far the appeal to the consensus gentium does seem to have more significance than it is at present fashionable to admit.
But the main point on which I am concerned to lay stress is that, be their origin what it may, these beliefs in a continued existence much of the same kind as that we now lead on earth, perhaps without some of our present “disagreeables,” are wholly different in quality from definitely ethical convictions. Their sources are not specifically ethical, and the kind of immortality they hold out to us is non-moral. It is neither a source of moral inspiration nor an implication of the objectivity of right and wrong. If we were asked to believe in a life to come simply on the alleged ground that we should all very much like to have a perfect and unending “good time,” it would be pertinent to make two points in reply. (1) We can easily wish for what we know, or think we know, to be entirely impossible. The elderly can easily wish, and literature is full of eloquent expressions of the wish, like the famous chorus of Euripides’ Heracles,17 that they could have their flaming youth over again, or perhaps even that they could combine all the freshness of its ardours with the insight which has come to age through experience. Yet all of us, except the few who base wild aspirations on experiments done with extracts of monkey-glands, are probably convinced that rejuvenescence in late life is fully as impossible as Nicodemus thought it, and we are, I suppose, convinced, without any exceptions whatever, that at any rate the combination of the ardour of youth with the wisdom of age is impossible, since the ardour depends for its specific quality on the fact that the young adventurer is breaking new paths, sailing an uncharted sea, where experience is not at hand to prescribe his course. It is just this sense of dangerous adventure into the unknown and unexperienced which gives our youth its peculiar charm; the youth plus age of some of our dreams would be only the not very delectable “youth” of Meredith’s Adrian Harley.
(2) Again, it might be said, though we may all have these wishes at times, it is very doubtful whether a wise man or a good man would really choose to have them gratified. In the wise and good such yearnings are likely at most to be arrested in their incipient stage as mere “velleities”; they will not rise to the level of serious and steady voluntas. When we reach a certain level of moral ripeness, we can see that the gratification would not really be a good thing for us; hence such moods cease to represent our genuine self, just as the dreams in which we occasionally find ourselves back in childhood, with the hope and fears of childhood, cease to represent it. Wishes which are specifically unethical cannot figure as the basis of a “moral” argument for anything, since they cease to be even real wishes in proportion as we put on morality. If there is an ethical justification for anticipations of a future beyond death, it cannot be founded on the mere consideration that all or many of us more or less passionately wish for such a future. A moral argument for immortality should take the form of an argument that the destruction of our human personalities must stultify the whole moral life by making its supreme end unattainable. If this conviction can be justified, it clearly affords anyone who believes that the moral life is identical with the truly human life the best of reasons for holding that there is a destiny of the moral person beyond what we can now see. But the argument has, of course, no weight for anyone who denies that the life of morality is the fullest expression of our distinctive character as human, and therefore cannot profess to be a demonstration valid for everyone who will accept the general laws of logic and the merely “non-moral” facts of existence, though it may rightly be treated as decisive by all believers in the absoluteness of the demands of the moral law. From their point of view, the argument will be, succinctly formulated, that since the moral law can rightfully command us to live as aspirants to eternity, eternity must really be our destination. This, if it can indeed be made out, is, I must hold, an absolutely valid ground for those who believe in unconditional moral obligation to believe also in a coresponding attainable moral goal.
It is, you will observe, in substance the contention on which Kant relies when he introduces into the Critique of Practical Reason as a postulate presupposed in morality that very belief in the immortal “soul” which he had done his best to prove indemonstrable in the Critique of Pure Reason. It is, in fact, a legitimate inference from the reality of a function to the reality of the environment where the function will find its use.
The real problem to be faced is not whether reasoning of this kind from the reality of function to the reality of the environment in which it can function is valid. To raise doubts on that point would be fatal to the admission of enough rationality into the cause of things to make science itself possible. The real question is rather whether in fact examination of the moral life reveals the reality of any such functions. The issue is raised with the utmost clarity by the proposition of St. Thomas18 that “the final felicity of man is not to be obtained in this present life”. If this is true, then, always on the fundamental presupposition of the moralist that there is no absolute disjunction of “fact” from “value,” the conclusion is obvious; the true destiny of man is not to be found “in this present life” either.
But it may be asserted, in direct opposition to St. Thomas, that human felicity can be obtained in this life—in fact that it can be obtained nowhere else, since it proves on analysis to consist altogether in the exercise of activities correlated with the experienced temporal environment of the human organism, and in nothing else. Here it is, I should say, that we find ourselves face to face with the supreme practical issue. Is “highest human good” conceivable simply in terms of the activities we exercise, and the environment with which we are familiar in this our temporal and embodied life, or is the moral end one which defies complete resolution into the successful prosecution of any or all of these “secular” activities, much as a “surd” defies complete expression in the form of a terminated or recurrent decimal fraction? Is the world about us what Wordsworth called it in the verse which moved Shelley’s disgust, the “home of all of us,” where “we find our happiness, or not at all,” or is it what it has been called by so many, a place of exile, an Egypt where there may be “flesh-pots,” but where we have no free citizenship? Is it our great business to “make ourselves at home” in it, or to escape from it, even though the road should lead out through a barren and dry land where no water is? Both views cannot be equally true, and neither is, on the face of it, visibly so false that a man must be a fool to acquiesce in it. And since we have to live somehow, we cannot in action adopt a “non-committal” course of simple agnosticism. We must act on the one assumption or on the other; il faut parier. Our attitude on the question of man’s destiny not only may, but must, in the end be determined by the choice we make between the view of the world familiar to us from the literature of Platonism and that represented on the whole and with qualifications by Aristotle, and without any qualification at all by the persuasive voices of the mondains and secularists of all ages.
Manifestly our whole practical rule of life will be different according to the choice we make. If the Platonic and Christian view is true, it must follow “as the night the day” that we dare not lose our hearts to any temporal good. The rule of detachment will be the obvious supreme rule of successful living; the moral task of man will be to learn so to use and prize temporal good as to make it a ladder of ascent to a good which is more than “for a season,” ita per temporalia transire ut non amittamus aeterna. If the numerous moralists who take the other side are right, the moral business of man will be wholly to secure the temporal goods, the only goods there are, in the life of “practice”. There will be plenty of room for care and delicate discrimination in preferring the higher of these goods to the lower, but there will be no justification for any sacrifice of temporal good to “some better thing” which, on the theory, must be an illusion. In this morality, at its best, there will be no room for the injunction, “love not the world, nor the things of the world”.
I cannot think, as Dr. McTaggart appears to have done, that this difference is merely one of ethical speculative theory; it must, as it seems to me, directly affect the most momentous practical choices we are called on to make in the conduct of our lives. From a strictly “this-world” point of view, for example, the whole purpose which dominated a life like that of St. Francis must be pronounced to be fantastic. It might be admitted that incidentally, very much against the intention of St. Francis himself, the Franciscan movement, with its varied repercussions on economics, art, letters, and politics, was in fact productive of a vast amount of what a discerning secularistic moralist would recognise to be true good, but in principle this will merely illustrate the familiar proposition that good, and even an overplus of good, may arise from what is itself not good, or even actually evil. In principle, Francis will be in exactly the same position as Caesar or Alexander, on the supposition that Caesar and Alexander were men whoseactual aims were perverseand largely evil, though they were so situated that in serving their perverse personal aims they inevitably benefited humanity. From the anti-secularistic point of view it is at least conceivable that this verdict should be exactly reversed and that we ought rather to say that while incidentally, owing to personal limitations, Francis may have drawn the distinction between the temporal and the eternal too crudely, and thus rejected as illusion much which is true eternal good, in principle he was right. It may be the evil, not the good, in the Franciscan movement which will prove to be the merely incidental and unintended.
To put the point more generally, though on any interpretation of life which is not merely flippant, morality will demand a good deal of genuine sacrifice, the sacrifice of real and definite temporal good will, to the secularist, never be justified except where there is at least a reasonable hope of securing a definite secular better.19 If there is good which is better than anything secular, this restriction will lose its justification, and it may be a plain duty, for some men at least, and possibly for all men, to sacrifice definite secular good for something different in kind and only dimly apprehended, with the certainty that the sacrifice will never be compensated by any gain in the same kind. It is this apparently unreasonable choice that St. Paul calls the “foolishness” of this world; the question is whether St. Paul was right in saying that this foolishness of the world is wisdom with God.
Let us try to state the problem in the form most favourable for the secularist; we do not, I hope, want to gain an easy victory over a “man of straw” of our own manufacture. Under the head of secular good, then, I mean now to include everything which can be really attained and enjoyed in human life on the assumption that human life means no more than existence as a member of the human species, under the conditions imposed on us by place and time, as part of the “complex event we call nature”. Thus I mean the phrase, in the present context, to cover not only physical health, longevity, comfort, and fertility, but the minimising of all the ills which attend disharmony with our physical environment and friction with other members of our social world, as well as the satisfaction of our interests in natural knowledge and sensible beauty. The ideal proposed for valuation shall be that of the progressive establishment of a human society on earth in which want, disease, physical pain and mental deficiency are, if not abolished, at least reduced to a minimum, offences against the social order obviated by a sound tradition of human good will and solidarity, and art and natural science made the delight and business of everyone. It may fairly be said that such a conception of a secularist ideal, if it sins at all, sins rather by generosity than by niggardliness. The question I wish to propound is this—allowing our secularist’s ideal thus to include everything which has been recognised as good by a high-minded Utilitarianism like that of Mill, or an aesthetic Utopianism like that of William Morris, is the perpetuation of such a social life of humanity through the largest vista of successive generations a wholly satisfactory final aim for moral aspiration? Or do we all feel that, if the Utopia became fact, we should not, after all, have attained the best, that there would be missing something elusive and impossible to define precisely, and that something the thing without which everything else loses its value? May it not be that all along, if we make humanitarianism, however generous, our supreme rule of life, we are living only for a second-best?
I state the problem in this way in order to make it quite clear that there is one cheap and common line of adverse criticism which merely misses the point. The demand for a “felicity beyond this life” has too often been represented as having its roots in a vulgar personal selfishness. Hegel, according to Heine’s story, talked with contempt of the man who expects a Trinkgeld beyond the grave for not having beaten his mother, and I observe that in the most recent study of Ethics which has come into my hands, Professor Laird’s excellent Study in Moral Theory, the same conception is made prominent as one of the alleged bases of the moral argument for immortality, which the author is anxious to deprecate.20 I confess that this demand that “virtue” shall receive a “reward” does not seem to come legitimately into the argument, and I should gravely doubt whether it has ever been the real inspiration of the hope of immortality in any mind of the first order. There may be some persons who seriously reason in the way derided by Bradley, “if I am not to be paid hereafter for living virtuously, virtue will involve genuine self-denial, and morality will turn out not to be the same thing as prudent self-seeking”.21 But I do not believe that such reasoning is common. Even those who speak most often of “reward” probably do their own thought an injustice by the language in which they express it. And I might remark in passing that, when this language is employed, it is most often not used by a man about himself. It is much more common to say of another that he has “passed to his reward” than it is to speak of myself as expecting my reward, and the fact should not be insignificant to a really acute psychologist.
But be those who clamour for their personal Trinkgeld many or few, it is not thus that Plato and Kant and other great moralists who have championed the cause of hope have spoken. Their thought has not been that morality and decency are a disagreeable task only to be made tolerable by high pay, but that the good which the virtuous man seeks is of a kind not expressible in the currency of secularism. It is not that he demands the “Union rate of wages” for his good performances and abstentions from mischief, but that the social utility of his life has been all along a by-product achieved in the process of aiming at something different, something which is merely illusory, if the secularist estimate of human nature and its destiny is the correct one. No one denies that there are real sacrifices to be made; the question is whether they are all, in the end, sacrifices to idols.
Nowhere does this come out more plainly than in the familiar New Testament language about sacrifice. Bradley once caricatured the current hopes of heaven by representing the believer as saying to the sinners of this age, “You sin now, we are going to sin hereafter”. But this is, of course, caricature, and conscious caricature. The hope of “sinning hereafter,”22 if it is a hope entertained by anyone, is at least not the hope of what a Christian or a Platonist means by heaven. We are told in the New Testament that we must be prepared to cut off the right hand or put out the right eye, if they “offend” us, since it is good for us to enter into life with one hand or one eye rather than to perish with two. It is not suggested that the hand we have cut off, or the eye we have put out, grows again miraculously as we enter the gates of life. For the man whose conception of good is exhausted by the kind of good that may have to be sacrificed, there is no promise of any kind of “compensation” such as he could appreciate. The whole point of the language is that the sacrifice is sacrifice of a good and that it is irrevocable. The cutting off of the right hand may, for example, in a given instance symbolise the sort of choice which haunted the imagination of T. H. Green, the deliberate abandonment of a promising literary or artistic career for one of useful but dull drudgery as a sanitary engineer, or a civil servant. A man who makes the hard choice may enter into a life from which he would have been debarred if he had evaded the choice, but it is not suggested that he will hereafter be, “in eternity,” all the more an artist or a scholar. Or, again, the call of duty may come between a man and the supreme personal love of his life. He may “make his soul” by following this call of duty, but it is the modern sentimental novelist, not Christ, who tells him that he will some day be repaid by being once more the Romeo to his old Juliet “in eternity”.
Indeed, it is constantly urged further, with some inconsistency, against the Platonist or Christian who takes his convictions seriously that he pushes the demand for sacrifices to a fantastic extreme. The humanitarian of the type of Mill admits that, as the world goes, in its present very imperfect condition, the best men must be willing to make considerable sacrifice of genuine good; they may often, as Mill phrases it, have to do without happiness. But there is a restriction which Mill is careful to mention. The sacrifice is only justifiable at the bar of reason when there is the prospect that a surplus of good of the kind thus sacrificed will be secured for someone else, and if we assume, as humanitarians like Mill regularly do, that all the great outstanding evils of life are due to bad physical and social conditions, and therefore removable, as science indicates improved methods of grappling with hindrances of both kinds, and the gradual perfection of our social system diminishes the competition of “classes,” it fairly follows that the demand for the making of such sacrifices will be diminished beyond all assignable limits. As we approach the ideal humanitarian state, the sacrifice of “my own happiness” to anything else will steadily tend to disappear from human experience; the way of virtue will come, in the end, to be for everyone the flowery path.
Now this view of the place of self-denial and sacrifice in life is wholly different from that of the Platonist, to say nothing of the Christian. Both conceive the supreme good, or felicity, of man in a way which makes it incommensurable with the enjoyments the humanitarian calls collectively “happiness,” since both look upon the task of right living as a remaking of character round a new centre. It is not a man’s circumstances, according to this view, but his personality which must be unmade and remade if felicity is to be obtained. He must grow into a personality which has its centre not in the competitive finite selfhood with which we all begin, but in the infinite and eternal. Every stage in the process is a dying out of the natural man into the spiritual man, and in all of us the natural man “dies hard”. Hence the “war in the members” is no temporary incident in the moral history of man, but its fundamental and persistent character. The demand for “costing” sacrifice can never be eliminated by the application of physical science to the abolition of disease and want, or by the introduction of an improved set of social institutions. Amelioration of this kind, at the most, will provide men and women with better opportunities of making the most of their humanity—if they choose to do so, and do not grow weary of their choice. The “naughting” of one merely natural concupiscent self is not, in the end, undertaken for the purpose of providing gratifications for the concupiscence of some other such selves, but because it is the only way into true life for all selves. In principle, even if Utopia could be realised to-morrow, the “naughting” of the natural man would still remain imperative. However delightful our temporal environment might be in Utopia, it would still be the “work of a man” not to lose his heart to it, to use it and pass through it without setting up his rest. And here, again, there would be no convenient compromising and calculating and striking of a balance.
After all, on the premisses of secularistic humanitarianism, the desires of the natural man are to be accepted without qualification as right and to be gratified, when they do not seriously clash with the similar desires of other specimens of the natural man; hence for many or most of us life is, on the whole, a business which only calls for real sacrifice and self-denial at intervals and as the exception. The opposite view, be it right or wrong, is that we have the “old man,” who must be “put off,” with us all the time, and our business with him is not merely to see that he makes no one else unduly uncomfortable by his methods of enjoying himself, but to see that the sentence of death is duly executed upon him. The end, in fact, is to “follow God”; the things which humanitarianism regards as supreme ends-in-themselves are, at best, subordinate incidents in the attainment of an end which humanitarianism leaves out of account. This end is not pleasing yourself without prejudice to the equal claim of your neighbour to please himself; it is wholly different from any kind of self-pleasing. Hence, entirely apart from any question of interference with one’s neighbour, the moral life, so conceived, is a life in which denial of self is demanded at all times and in all situations, if we are to become what we aspire to be. And hence, again, the Christian demand for a purity of the secret places of the heart, which means much more than abstinence from the gratification of desires it would be socially harmful to satisfy, and the violent metaphor by which such a life can be called one of “concrucifixion” with Christ.
We do not conceive of such a life rightly if we think of it as inspired by the purpose of pleasing the natural self of any man; it is the life of one who means what Nietzsche merely said, der Mensch ist etwas, das überwunden werden muss. The thought which in fact inspires it is the conviction that each of us only becomes human in the full moral sense of the word, in so far as he forgets about pleasing himself or pleasing other men, in his determination to serve God. This is all through life a hard task, and one in which we all fail shamefully, for two reasons, that we all begin with an imperious passion for gratifying ourselves, getting “what we want” as the supreme end of ends, and also that we may miss the mark of “pleasing God” and putting on a true moral personality in either of two contrasted ways, the way of Epicurus or the way of Stylites. The task is to use our inheritance of environment and natural endowment in such a way as to attain true spiritual manhood; we fail in this task alike whether we make lower good a principal end or refuse to make it an instrument towards something better. We do not need the psycho-analyst to tell us that it is the same libido of the natural self that displays itself alike in the abandonment of the victim of unrestrained passion and in the self-torture of the “pillar-saint”. The kinship of lust and cruelty is an old and familiar fact with obvious implications. If I certainly cannot make sure of pleasing God by doing what I like, it is also hopeless to propose to please Him by making it a rule to do what I loathe. I am more likely to gratify only an evil pride which is as incompatible as any “carnality” with the single eye and the pure heart.
All this, however, is by the way. The main question for us at the moment is whether we really are unavoidably driven, when we consult the witness of conscience, to admit that the ideal of good which has inspired our historical moral achievements proves on examination to be something not included in good as good can be legitimately conceived by the humanitarian. Is devotion to the temporal welfare of human society the sufficient justification of the imperatives of morality? If it is not, then, unless we admit—and the admission would be fatal to all moral philosophy—that moral imperatives cannot and need not be justified at all, and so have no genuine obligatoriness about them, we must be prepared to admit that there is good rational ground for anticipating a destination of human persons which is ignored when such persons are thought of as merely transient; morality will thus bear a real witness of its own to the presence of the seeds of immortality in us.
You see, no doubt, what is the objection a Platonist or Christian philosopher has to face. We may expect to be told that sufficient justification is provided for all the imperatives of an earnest and elevated morality if we take as our supreme good the retention and further development of all the inheritance the human race has won in its slow and painful struggle out of the savagery with which certified history begins. We can set ourselves to play the part of men in the transmission of science, and art, and sound social morality to our successors, and the slow improvement at once of the traditions we have received in all these matters, and of man’s physical estate. None of us will accomplish much, and no single age will accomplish much, for the execution of this task, but we have a reasonable prospect that the work may be continued through an enormous number of generations, and imagination has no right to set any limits to the cumulative result.
It may, indeed, be said that we have no certainty that our efforts may not be neutralised by some stupendous unforeseen cosmic convulsion of nature, or, still more probably, by a wanton self-destruction of humanity in national or class conflicts. But the reply to this suggestion is obvious; if the past history of mankind affords no grounds for induction to the future, we are wholly in the dark about the probability of this dismal end to history, and need not distress ourselves unduly with mere bad dreams: if the past does justify induction, it is at least a probable contention that mankind will prove equal, in the future as in the past, to recovery from their worst set-backs. And if it is argued that, at any rate, our planet must sooner or later become unfitted to support life, and that human moral civilisation and all its products must therefore be some day as though they had never been at all, we may even be told that this prophecy itself is based on physical theories which have never been proved to be true, and so may turn out to be mistaken, and that, in any case, the good achieved has been great and real good while it lasted. As Professor Laird23 ingeniously pleads, the argument of those who say “since to-morrow we shall die, there is no worth in anything beneath the glimpses of the moon; so let us eat and drink and be merry” refutes itself. For even they assume that our perishability leaves untouched one judgement about “value,” the judgement that while we are here it is better to eat, drink, and be merry than to fast, go thirsty, and be miserable. But why should any judgement of worth be affected if this one retains its validity? On these lines it is argued by many, most recently and persuasively by Professor Laird, that the absoluteness and rationality of moral obligation affords no ground whatever for the “great hope” of the Platonist and the Christian.
But now, is the case quite as simple as Professor Laird, for one, takes it to be? The ingenious flanking argument just cited from him strikes me, at least, as more ingenious than solid. What if the unnamed opponents to whom it is addressed had the full courage of their convictions? If indeed they draw from their premisses the conclusion Professor Laird expects them to draw, the usual conclusion of the unthinking man, I own they stand convicted of glaring inconsistency. But suppose they say—and it is what I have myself only too often been tempted to say when depressed by the apparently formidable presumptions of our impermanence—“since to-morrow we die, and there will, sooner or later, be a morrow when all the persons, nay, all the sentient beings we can conceivably affect in any way by anything we do, will be dead, it really does not matter a jot whether to-day we or anyone else eat and drink, or go hungry and thirsty: there are no values at all, and good is a mere illusion”. I shall, no doubt, eat to-day when I feel the pinch of hunger, even though I know I am appointed to be hanged to-morrow and believe that this will be the last of me. But in so eating, in so much as breathing, I am only providing one more object-lesson in the fundamental unreasonableness of all human behaviour.
As I say, I admit that in moments when the thought of the apparently inevitable final frustration of all human endeavour has weighed heavily on me, it has never occurred to me personally to draw the conclusion “let us eat and drink and be merry,” but rather to say “nothing has any value, and the one rational state of mind is sheer indifference,” and this conclusion would paralyse not only all morally good action, but all consciously purposive action whatsoever. Nor do I think I am exceptional in feeling thus. I suspect Huxley meant the same thing when he said that he would prefer life in hell to annihilation. Dr. Bevan24 expresses the same thought by his saying that he can endure to see life tragic, but cannot endure to see it trivial.
How would Professor Laird meet this more logical employment of the argument he wishes to dispose of? I presume by a mere assertion that he himself perceives that, even if we were all certain of extinction to-morrow, it would still be better to eat our meals to-day. He would be of the mind of the condemned murderers, who, if the newspapers can be trusted—though it is surely questionable whether they can—usually “make a hearty breakfast” immediately before being hanged. But would he go the length of the felon of the anecdote, who asked to have an umbrella held over him on the way to the gallows, because “it was a drizzly morning, and he was apt to take cold”? If it really “all comes to the same thing in the end” whatever we do, as we must anticipate if there is in reality no sort of connection between fact and value, then, I confess, to set assertion against assertion, I do not see why it is more reasonable to be hanged on a full stomach than on an empty. Once more I want to protest against the dogmatic assumption that there is a divorce between the two.
I am not in the least perturbed when Professor Laird goes on, as he does, to insist that the world of the actual is visibly full of things which are valueless or downright bad. To pronounce anything valueless, I should need to know the whole of its contribution to the scheme of things. This is true even of specifically moral evil. I may say of Judas, or of Nero, that they were bad men and did bad acts, but before I could go on to say that a world which contains Judas and Nero is less valuable than an alternative world which would not include them, I should have to know, as I assuredly do not know, that the total effect, including the moral effect, of the presence of Nero and Judas in the scheme of things has not been a good which would have been missing without them. The world might contain as much evil as you please, provided that all this evil serves as opportunity for a sufficient overplus of good, and yet be not only the “best of possible worlds”—that need not be saying much for it—but unspeakably glorious and good. Until you are in a position to prove that there is actual evil which is not turned to “glorious gain”—and no one can prove this—you cannot appeal to the admitted presence in things of evil which, to us while we are immersed in it, seems intolerable, as any proof that “the good” is not the ultimate raison d’être of all things.
Indeed I think Professor Laird may fairly be cited as evidence against himself. Unlike some of the moralists who would make human good a merely terrene and temporary affair, Professor Laird is very much in earnest indeed with the problem of the right conduct of human life, and as uncompromising as Kant himself on the absolute and unconditional character of moral obligation. He nobly refuses even to hear of the possible clash of a man’s “moral” duty as a man and citizen with alleged extra-moral obligations of art or science. As he says,25 an artistic or scientific imperative, if it is really imperative at all, is itself a moral imperative. The man who is a conscientious and industrious historian, or physicist, or painter, but a bad husband or bad friend, is simply doing what we all do, discharging one part of his moral duty and neglecting another. In fact, though Professor Laird does not put the point in this way, Kant was simply right when he assigned the primacy to the “practical reason” on the ground that all interest is practical. And, again, Professor Laird fully agrees with the common verdict that nothing can be a duty unless the performance of it is possible. All imperatives are moral, and no imperative commands the impossible. And, finally, all moral imperatives are included under the supreme formula that it is a man’s absolute and unconditional duty to make the best of himself.26 I cannot well suspect Professor Laird of writing the sentence with the suppressed ironical qualification that, though we do well not to say so, the man will always be “making the best of a bad job”. On these premisses it seems to me clear that if the “best” at which the moral struggle aims all through really is a best which cannot be achieved in a temporal environment, the supreme moral imperative is not justified, as Professor Laird himself rightly insists that all imperatives ought to be, unless the temporal environment of man is not his only or his ultimate environment. It is a true, if a homely saying, that you cannot make a silk purse of a sow’s ear, and ought not to waste energy and ingenuity on the attempt.
Thus, after considering the attempts which have been made, with more or less subtlety, to stop discussion in limine, I find myself at last brought face to face with the central issue: assuming ourselves to be satisfied of the genuine authoritativeness of the imperative which commands us to make the best of ourselves, are we obeying it by devotion to the attainment and extension of distinctively secular good, even if we rate the possibilities of such attainment and extension as high as they have ever been rated by the most optimistic humanitarians? For more than one reason, it seems to me, we must say NO, and must therefore conclude that secular good is not the adequate object of the moral quest, which yet must have its adequate object, if it is to be justified as rational.
(1) An obvious feature of all moral aspiration is that, however it conceives the good on which it is directed, it at least always conceives it as something which is a secure and abiding possession, inseparable from our very personality, something, as Aristotle said, which is οἰκεῖον καὶ δυσαφαίρετον, “our very own, not lightly to be taken away”. A man who is at the mercy of his circumstances is morally, so far, a slave, not a free man, and one thing at least which a sound morality ought to achieve for us is to make us free. And to be free we must be masters not only of our fortunes, but of our moods and passions, in other words, of all that is mutable and temporal within us as well as without us. Short of this we have no security that our character and personality may not be wrecked at any time by the unforeseeable calamities the course of events may bring with it, or the unforeseeable changes our own individual being may suffer. To attain the good at all a man must be master of his fate and himself. And if man is a merely temporal being, and nothing more, he can be master of neither. The old Epicureans were often ridiculed by their rivals for their assertion that their ideal “sage” would be thoroughly happy, even if he were being roasted alive. Even in the “bull of Phalaris,” he must be able to say “how delightsome this is,” “how I am enjoying myself”.27 But, as Dr. Bevan reminds us,28 the bull of Phalaris is, after all, not an impossible contingency, and we might add that there are lingering and torturing afflictions, fully comparable with the “bull,” which are only too often actual, and a morality is defective if it cannot teach serenity and cheerfulness even in these extreme cases. The true paradox is not so much that the “sage” should be undismayed by the prospect of the “bull,” but that he should be so, if his “good” is no more than what Epicurus declared it to be, “a healthy condition of the flesh and a confident expectation of its continuance”.29 Contingencies much less unusual than consignment to the bull of Phalaris are enough to make both constituents of that good impossible.
To put the point quite generally, we should do no injustice to a purely secular interpretation of the good if we said that the secular moral ideal is to “have a good time,” taking care, of course, not to identify a “good time” with the satisfaction of our grosser cupidities. The sting of the phrase lies in the introduction of the “time” into the matter. No man is really free so long as he is dependent on having a good time, since he can guarantee neither the continuance of the environment on which he relies for such a good, nor that of the inner moods of soul in which he will find contentment in it. The elementary requirement that our morality shall make us independent of change and circumstance should be enough to prevent confusion of the good at which a “virtuous” man, as such, is aiming, whether he knows it or not, with any combination of goods which are, from their very nature, temporanea, πρόσκαιρα.
There are two ways in which we might try to turn the edge of this reflection, neither, as it seems to me, satisfactory. One might conceivably urge that permanency through an interval of time, though something quite different from eternity, is all we need demand of the good, and that where moralists and philosophers have demanded more, it has been from mental confusion. And permanency, it may be said, unlike eternity, can be secured under favourable conditions. It is, after all, possible to anticipate with a considerable probability a lifelong fruition of the good things you personally care for, just as you can, by prudent investment, make it “as good as certain” that you will have a lifelong income sufficient for your wants. And if you take care to form the right kind of habits, you can also anticipate, again with high probability, that the kind of life which satisfies you now will continue to satisfy you. What is more, a whole generation may have the same sort of confidence that the general structure of their “civilisation” will not only “last their time,” but be perpetuated to, and improved by, succeeding generations. A general collapse of the foundations of Western European civilisation, for example, is a contingency so remote that its bare logical possibility need not give us any uneasiness.
No doubt there is something in these consolations, so long as we do not examine them too narrowly. But I cannot believe they will stand really close scrutiny. Even the assurance that “Western civilisation” will last our time and our children’s time is hardly likely to rank as even an approximate certainty with us, who have seen the great war of 1914–18 and the years of danger and insecurity which have followed and are following. And if there had been no “great war,” still the humanitarian cannot really “make quick-coming death a little thing”. It is not merely that we know that each of us will soon have to die himself; the sting of our mortality is that the same fate equally awaits the children on whom the humanitarian tells us we should set all our hopes, and their children after them. If all things human are utterly perishable, the moral would seem to be the uncheering one:
Reck little, then, I counsel you
What any son of man can do;
Because a log of wood will last
While many a life of man goes past,
And all is over in short space.
Or, in graver language, “as soon as thou scatterest them, they are even as a sleep, and fade away suddenly like the grass… . We bring our years to an end as a tale that is told.”
The thought is hardly one which can reasonably evoke a high estimate of any good which the passing generations can achieve in their brief passage across the stage, or any very thorough endeavour after it. If our life is no more than the strutting of a player through his part in a short scene, sheer quietism would seem to be the attitude towards it indicated by reason and reflection. One might add that, from the point of view of secularistic humanitarianism itself, the best of temporal good seems to be most certainly attained by those who have set their hearts on something different. When I am told that, if you must set your heart on the future at all, you should set it on your children,30 I cannot but repeat that all human experience seems to show that devotion to children or wife, party or country, is only regularly fruitful of the good it desires when the devotion is kept on the hither side of idolatry. It sounds a hard saying when we are told in the Gospel that the man who would enter life must be prepared to forsake parents and wife and children and lands, but we all recognise the truth of a similar thought, pitched in a lower key,
I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.
The rule of all wise and profitable love of everything that passes is to love without losing one’s heart. He who wishes for the true good of wife or child or country must love them dearly, but there will be something he loves more; if there is not, his love will carry in it the seeds of a curse for the very beings he loves most. To make a god of one’s child is to spoil the child of your idolatry; to make “my country, right or wrong,” the principle of your action is to do what lies in you to turn your country into one which is not worth loving. And to be devoted exclusively to the good of the “next age,” like those who set their hearts on “Socialism in our lifetime,” or the “evangelisation of the world in the next generation,” is pretty certainly not the best way to provide the “next age” with either the worthiest of social systems or the soundest of gospels. The true secret of life is to love these things well, but to love something else better. And we have only to think of the various names we give to that something else the love of which keeps all our loves for particular things sane and sweet, to see that, whether we call it “God,” or “beauty,” or “the right,” or “honour,” by all these different names we mean something which is “not of this world,” but stands above and untouched by the temporality and mutability it transfigures.
Once more, the same moral may be pointed in a rather different way. When a man sets his heart, to the best of his power, on the good of the successive generations of mankind, what is the “good” he desires for them? It, no doubt, includes such good things as greater average longevity, a higher standard of physical health, better economic conditions, a more general diffusion of the love of knowledge and beauty, and the like. But, besides these identifiable particular “goods,” does not the “good” always include something more, something we could not define or describe, but still felt to be of greater importance than all the particular “goods”? We desire, rationally enough, that the coming generations should be healthier than our own, should know more truth, should find the world fuller of things of beauty, and should not have to wrestle, as we have, with the presence of disease, dirt, penury, and ignorance. But we desire even more that the men and women of the future should be better men and women than ourselves, or, at least, if we do not actually desire this ardently, we censure ourselves for our moral lukewarmness. And this means, among other things, that they should be more devoted than we are ourselves to the promotion of good for generations which will still be for them future and unborn. We desire that our descendants should have the same difficulties to grapple with as ourselves, or even worse difficulties, but should face them with a higher self-devotion, rather than that they should enjoy all the other goods which have just been enumerated a hundredfold, but fall behind ourselves in the spirit of sacrifice. We do not, unless in consciously unmoral moods, desire for them, any more than for ourselves, increase of good things in possession at the cost of an inferior moral personality; it is not our ideal for them that they should “fleet the time carelessly,” like the heroes of socialistic Utopias.
This simple consideration that we do not want our children, or our children’s children, “to fleet the time carelessly” leads at once to a dilemma, if we think of man as capable only of temporal and secular goods which can be particularised. If what we really prize as the thing to be won by our own unselfishness is some kind of temporal Utopia, it seems rational to agree with one of the speakers in Mr. Lowes Dickinson’s dialogue,31 that we should set ourselves to fashion the Utopia for our contemporaries and our children, who do exist and in whom we can take a personal interest, not to sacrifice their best chances of good for the benefit of a remote posterity which may conceivably never exist at all, and in which we can take no sort of personal concern. It seems preposterous, if all human good is temporal, to demand that every one of a countless succession of generations should sacrifice the enjoyment of it in order that it may be possible for beings belonging to a problematic and indefinitely distant future. But if we act on this advice, plainly, we must at least go on to draw the hazardous inference that moral goodness itself is no part of the “good for man,” but a mere means to non-moral good.32 For the generation for which the Utopia is created will be simply entering on an inheritance which it is merely to enjoy in possession; it has no work to do, and moral goodness is wholly concerned with the doing of the work by the pre-millenarian generations. The happiness of the favoured generation is, in fact, bought at the price of the destruction of moral personality, and, from the moralist’s point of view, the world, or a thousand worlds, is not well won at the cost of human souls.
On the other hand, if the moral goodness we value, genuine moral personality, is what we specially desire to see produced abundantly in those who are to succeed us on the stage of history, we cannot find our aspirations realised in the life of a society where there is no call for risk, adventure, and sacrifice. If personality of the quality we prize is to subsist under temporal conditions atall, there must be the stimulus to its development in the form of sufferings to be relieved, dangers to be faced, wrongs to be redressed, ignorance and ugliness to be overcome. It is certain enough that, in any imaginable generation,
Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody poor,
And mercy no more would be,
If all were as happy as we.
And thus the humanitarian, unless he is willing to sacrifice personality to possessions, would seem to be compelled to introduce into his Utopia with his left hand the very conditions he is trying to exclude with his right. His rule would seem to be, in a very singular sense, not to let his right hand know what his left hand does. At least, like Penelope, he would spend the night busily undoing the results of the day’s work. The moral life would become a hopeless task of creating wrongs that they might be put right.
I state what may be called the fundamental paradox of humanitarianism thus crudely and baldly of set purpose, because the very baldness of the statement sets the paradoxicality of the position in bold relief. Its point is that you cannot overvalue the highest temporal good, nor promote it for humanity too ardently, so long as you care more yourself, and labour as far as is in you that mankind shall care more, for something else. You may have it all in possession without detriment to your moral being, so long as you hold it with a loose hand, and do not close the fingers on it. Every iota of it will go, in its due time, from you and from every son of man down to the last-born, and any part of it may go at any moment, and one must be ready to let it go without reluctancy. For the business of man as a moral being is, after all, a simple one; it is the “making of his soul,” a making impossible except at the cost of the steady unmaking of the “private self,” whose real defect is precisely that its centre lies in some possession which must not be surrendered. What makes our “finite selfhood” the contradiction so many moralists have called it is not that no self or subject is identical numero with another, that there are many selves, but that each clings to some possession which it dares not let go for fear of losing the very core of personality.33 Yet, as we may all learn from experience of such surrenders as we actually make, it is just in letting go the cherished possession, when the call comes, that we learn the real strength and richness of the personality which can let so much go and yet survive, because it is not tethered. What we should really learn from these experiences is that there is that in our personality which is not fettered to any temporal good and can emerge enriched, not impoverished, from the surrender of them all. The good on which personality feeds, and severed from which it would die of inanition, is something which is not any nor all of the describable and imaginable goods circumscribed by place and time.
One side of this thought, the conviction that the world is what Keats called it, a valley of soul-making, and that the soul is made by surrenders, has been expounded, with a power I can only contemplate with admiring envy, in Professor Bosanquet’s well-known lectures on the Value and Destiny of the Individual. But Bosanquet seems to me to have ignored the other half of the same thought. When all is said, he holds out as the ultimate goal to be reached by the supreme surrender what seems to be merely the resolution of moral personality into nothing. True personality, it would appear, is made only to be lost in the very act. This, I am convinced, is a misreading of the facts to be interpreted. The natural interpretation would rather be that as the self which is enriched by partial surrenders remains my self, though its centre is increasingly displaced from my exclusive possessions, so the self to be won by the supreme surrender of all that is temporal is still my self, though its centre has become the one and abiding eternal. Heaven, to put it pictorially, is not a realm of selves, each clinging pertinaciously to some secret possession which it will share with no other, but Heaven is a realm of selves for all that, selves whose whole life is one of the supreme adventure, losing themselves in God, but with the result that in the very plunge out of self they find, not nothing, but themselves, and themselves with a richer content.
Need I say much about that other way of dealing with the problem created by the transience of all temporal good illustrated, for example, by Mr. Bertrand Russell’s only too famous essay on The Free Man’s Worships34 It is, in a sense, a desperate way of trying to escape from temporality. We are to recognise to the full the unsatisfactoriness of the temporal, and at the same time to lift ourselves above it by a quietistic scorn for a reality which is as much inferior to ourselves in worth as it is superior in brute force. The “free man” is to be Prometheus on his rock—a Prometheus after the fashion of Shelley rather than of Aeschylus—despising the “omnipotent matter” which Mr. Russell sets in the place of Zeus. To some of Mr. Russell’s readers, I know, this attitude of contempt for the stupid “omnipotence” which produces intelligence, beauty, and goodness only to crush them, has seemed sublime; at the risk of being dismissed in such quarters as a Durch-schnittsmensch, I must own that the pose strikes me as rather one of solemn conscious futility. If the case of man were really thus, “silence after grievous things” would be more becoming than any rhetoric, even Mr. Russell’s, or, if words there must be, one phrase of Johnson’s would be sufficient, “a man knows it must be; it will do no good to whine”.
But I should like to make the further comment that the state of soul described in Mr. Russell’s essay seems to leave no real place for either freedom or worship. Freedom is excluded by the fact that the standing attitude of our latest Prometheus to his Zeus, “omnipotent matter,” is one of scorn and conscious superiority, “proud defiance”. Now scorn and inner freedom simply will not keep house together, as Shelley was aware when he made his Prometheus expressly disclaim any feeling of contempt for his tormentor.35 He who scorns, in fact, suffers from a double unfreedom. He must be conscious of the obtrusive and unwelcome presence of the object of his contempt, and thus he cannot get away from what Spinoza, with more insight, reckons as one of the “passive affects” which inhibit and make unfree.36 And this is not all: to feel scorn, a man must also be concomitantly conscious of himself and of his own superiority, and this is to be more or less of a bitter “prig”. To be free you must get rid of all preoccupation with yourself, and for that very reason a “superior person” never is really free.
Again, the scorner, with his consciousness of his own superiority, cannot really know what it is to “worship”. Worship is for the sancti et humiles corde, and one only knows it when one’s mind is filled by an object which leaves no room for consciousness of one’s self by the side of it. This, by the way, is also why Kant’s attitude to the moral law and its source never really rises into worship. To be conscious of the moral law as an unconditional imperative is, as Kant himself knew, to be conscious of yourself as inhibited by it. To use the fashionable jargon of to-day, an “inferiority-complex” is attended by a painful awareness of the self as depressed and thwarted. Worship is possible only when one can forget one’s self and one’s own inferiority; it is this which gives it its character of free and joyous abandon. All worship is at heart an incipient iubilus.
But the main comment I would make on the whole attitude is that morally it is condemned by the simple consideration that it is bound to hinder the production of good works. As Spinoza reminds us,37 Laetari and bene agere go together; a view of the world which makes simple-minded joyousness impossible cannot be the view required for men whose lives are to be fruitful in good works, and therefore, if our moral life discloses anything whatever about the framework of reality in which it is set, such a view cannot be the truth. If the real world indeed meets the moralist’s demand on it, it must be a world to be met neither with scorn nor with resignation, but accepted and welcomed with single-hearted joyfulness.
If the inmost secret of the moral life is that it is a life of “making the best” of ourselves, of achieving, out of the crude and conflicting stresses and tensions with which we start, a genuine personality which is free and its own master, and if the price which has to be paid for every advance towards such freedom is surrender, then, as it seems to me, we can think of such a life as not condemned in principle to futility only on one condition. The condition is that we anticipate the completion of the process as found in the winning of a personality absolutely above circumstance and mutability by a supreme surrender of the whole realm of merely temporal values, as dying out of time into a real eternity. What such an eternal life would be like is, of course, more than we can imagine, since all our imaginations are borrowed from the temporal. What we imagine we imagine as a tissue of “events,” though some of the events may be “slow-moving”. Still, imaginable or not, and the human imagination is no criterion of the real—that dying out of the temporal into the eternal which writers like Suso spoke of as “passing away into the high godhead” must be real, and must be no mere negation, but the final affirmation of the moral self, if morality itself is to be, in the end, more than a futility. What is put off in such an achievement of the moral end must be not personality or individuality, but that inner division of the soul against itself which makes the tragedy of life and leaves us here mere imperfect fragments of persons.
In the traditional language of Christianity, it is the life of the “flesh” which must be surrendered if eternal life, the life of the “spirit,” is to be won. And this opposition the “flesh,” as we see from St. Paul’s description of its characteristic “works,” includes a great deal more than we commonly mean by “carnality”. To live to the flesh is to make our supreme good of anything which is no more than the gratification of incidental passions and desires, followed merely because I happen, for my own particular, to feel them strongly, though they are incapable of justification by the standard of absolute good. It is to take “I want it” as a last and sufficient legitimation of any pursuit. In this sense of the word, a life directed to the prosecution of science or art, or to the enjoyment of the social relations of the family, or the friendly circle, may itself be one of living to the flesh, if I follow science as no more than a means of satisfying curiosity, or art as a mere profession, or a mere hobby, or am interested in the members of my family or circle of friends merely because they happen to be there, and to be mine. To die to the life of the flesh need not mean that I am not to find my vocation in life in the pursuit of science, or in the filling of my place in a family and social group. To “spiritualise” such a life is so to live it as to achieve for myself, and to help others in achieving, a moral personality, proof against all shocks and all disappointments. Any life so lived ceases to have as its inspiring motive a lesser and circumscribed loyalty which may be a hindrance to the supreme loyalty to the best, and becomes itself an expression of the supreme loyalty. Yet, at the same time, all loyalties but the supreme loyalty may become clogs upon us, and all are therefore conditioned. Even if no actual conflict arises, they are all loyalties to objects which endure only for a time, and the good man whom morality contemplates must not be left without anything to live for, if one and all of these objects should be taken from him. Like Mary, he must choose as his object of supreme loyalty a good part which cannot be taken away. In that sense we might accept the poetic phrase
Ich hab’ mein Sach auf Nichts gestellt;
Drum ist’s so wohl mir in der Welt
as our motto.
I know well enough, of course, that few or none of us actually live up to this moral ideal. It is pitiful to think what a little thing will make shipwreck of the life of any of us by taking away some minor good to which we cling over-passionately. Yet if we are morally reflective creatures, we have at least the grace to be heartily ashamed of ourselves when the failure of one of these temporal attachments tears up our life by the roots. And my argument is concerned not with our sorry practice, but with what we know our practice ought to be. Hence I feel bound to hold that the plain fact that there is no loyalty to the best of temporal goods which it may not become a duty to subordinate to the supreme loyalty to Good itself is ground for the conviction that we have a good, and consequently a destiny which is not expressible at all in terms of duration, and yet must be attainable, if it be true that the moral life itself is no dream or illusion, but the most insistent of realities.
If this is so, there are important consequences to be drawn, and I would indicate some of them very briefly. It will follow that our possession of a moral being gives us a right to a reasonable hope that the attainment of a truly free personality, in which we rise above contingency and uncertainty, because we have learned the lesson of surrender, really lies before us. This will, of course, involve the hope and conviction that the crown of moral attainment remains secure, even against the shock of that general dissolution of our bodily organism which we call death. Free personality is manifestly not to be completely won while we are in the body, “servile to all the skiey influences”; while the “displacement of a grain of sand in the urethra” can stultify a man’s highest intelligence and purpose, he is obviously very much in chains, and if the moral order is a reality, we cannot believe that he wins his freedom only in the moment of ceasing to be anything at all. But this rational moral hope is strictly limited by its character and foundation. It is a hope that we shall win our way into a true free moral personality as our final and inalienable good, and we can say no more than this. What it is to enter on the fruition of eternal life we cannot so much as imagine: trasumanar significar per verba Non si poria. At the most we can only say that such a life would have always and in perfection the quality we experience now, rarely and imperfectly, when we have made one of those surrenders which we find it so hard to make, and have made it heartily and with a will.
Perhaps an illustration may be taken from an experience which must have come to many during the war of 1914–1918. There are probably among my audience some who, as young men rejoicing in their youth and all its promise of a full and varied life, then made, from sheer loyalty to a higher good, the surrender of hazarding all they prized most to play a man’s part in their country’s struggle, and made it with the full sense of the preciousness of all they were setting on the hazard, and yet gladly and ungrudgingly. I take it that if any man can recall, as perhaps it is hardly possible he should, what the quality of his life was when he was making the choice, he knows by analogy what is the abiding character of eternal life, as a life in which, to use the traditional language of noble livers, the soul is “oned” with the Most High, or, to fall back on words which perhaps come home more directly to modern men at large, in which one has ceased to be one of the world’s takers and become finally a giver, and so, in fact, has found the good part which nothing can take away, because one has no longer anything which is a mere private possession to be shared with no one, but lives wholly by bestowing.
I cannot myself see anything self-contradictory in the conception of a community of many members each of whom has his own special individuality as a recipient of the infinitely varied and manifold graces of the Bestower of all good, and yet keeps back nothing, but is a channel through which all he has received flows out freely on all his fellows. Such, I take it, would be the “life of gods and godlike men,” in which the “flesh,” the world’s grabber, is once and for all dead, and there is no life but that of spirit.
If this is what an eternal life satisfying the aspirations in which morality has its source would be, it follows that ethical considerations can do nothing to confirm anticipations not covered by such a conception, and may actually negative imaginations which prove to be inconsistent with it. In any conception of our destiny which appeals to morality as its sanction, or one of its sanctions, there will inevitably be the touch of austerity which is as characteristic of sound morality as of serious art. I confess that not a few of our current imaginative forecasts of “immortality” seem to me to be tainted with moral superficiality. They do no sufficient justice to what experience reveals to us all in varying measures, the indispensability of detachment and surrender as the one pathway into ascending life. We are all too prone to forget that the road to life is, from first to last, a “purgative” way. I know that so rare and delicate a thinker as the late Mr. Clutton-Brock38 has declared that what most of us need is not so much purgation as enrichment. But I cannot help thinking that this sharp contrast between the two is a misleading antithesis which its author would have found it hard to defend as it stands. Certainly, enrichment is the obvious need of us all; our moral life is dreadfully poverty-stricken; it is our curse that our loves are so few and so feeble. But, so far as I can see, it is regularly by purgation and simplification that enrichment has to be won. Our loves are deepened and enlarged in the same proportion in which our hungry cupidities are suppressed. We love too little and too feebly because we lust—I use the word in its wide old acceptation—so passionately and for so much. Our problem is to learn to live by our loves and not by our cupidities; the second must be surrendered that the first may flourish. We shall never be truly rich until we have learned the lesson that unum est necessarium.
And I see no reason in the nature of things to suppose that the surrender of the bodily life with all its accidents, which each of us has to make at death, need be the end of the process. It would be more natural, to my mind, to think that even the vanishing of the so-called “bodily” lusts with the body itself leaves a hard purgation still in front of most of us. There are such things as unwise personal attachments, involving no element of physical “appetite,” to unworthy objects, undue and disordinate devotions to supra-personal objects short of the highest, rooted prejudices and false judgements, and I cannot see why removal from the body should, of itself, purge us of these defects. A Nelson, in the life beyond the grave, would, I take it, have to unlearn an exclusive idolatry of England and an irrational animosity against “the French,” an Aristotle to overcome a one-sided superiority to simple and unlettered loving souls, before either could enter fully into life, and in both cases the lesson involves a great purification and simplification.
Hence there seems to me to be a profound truth, unaffected by the secondary errors grafted upon it by the demand for detailed imagining of the unimaginable, in the central thought of the doctrine of Purgatory, a doctrine which I believe to be really held, in one form or another, by the thoughtful even in communities which nominally repudiate it.39 I cannot conceive that most of us, with our narrow range of understanding and sympathies, our senseless antipathies and indifferences, and our conventional moral outlook, could ever be fitted by the mere fact of escape from the physical limitations of the body to enter at once into the eternal life of the simply loving souls. I should think it more probable—always with deference to wiser judgements—that death leaves us, as it finds us, still far too much takers and too little givers, and that the process of purgation, begun in this life in all who have made any progress in good, needs, for all but the very few, to be continued and intensified, and that, for most of us, this means severe discipline. It may be well to have got rid of the crude imagination of “Purgatory-fire” as a “torment,” and still better to have lost the belief that one can purchase remission of the torment by cash payment into an ecclesiastical treasury, but the main thought that the hardest part of the work of putting off temporality may, for most of us, lie on the further side of the physical change called death seems to me eminently sound. It is a true philosophical instinct which has regularly led great Christian theologians to look for our final consummation not only beyond the dissolution of the body, but beyond the great closing of history at the “Day of Doom”. The popular theology of our own country, which finds expression in hymns, according to which the “faithful dead” enter “into immediate rest,” has done only too much to deprive the doctrine of immortality of moral seriousness, but it is not the theology of the great divines of any section of the Church.
Still more frivolous, to my own mind, are the attempts made, independently of theology, to construct a doctrine of human immortality apart from a profoundly ethical conception of God, and from the conviction that the true basis of a wise and good man’s hopes for himself must be found in aspiration after unification of the human will with the divine. I have spoken sufficiently already of the moral triviality and tediousness of most of the alleged revelations of “spiritualism” about the eternity of boredom which awaits us all. The same criticism seems to me applicable to all attempts to base our highest hopes on the so-called “oriental” lore of transmigration and reincarnation. There is no particular reason for entertaining these speculations as more than doubtful fancies, unless they can be shown to be involved by our conviction that the moral end must be capable of achievement, and from the moralist’s point of view they would seem to make the very possibility of achievement questionable. If we think of the supposed series of births as actually unending, it is clear that the moral end, if we have divined its character rightly, is never attained. The doctrine, so taken, converts eternity into the mere repetition of temporality and thus holds out as a boon what the morally aspiring man most wants to escape, bondage to the round of circumstance. In this respect, indeed, the old Orphicism has the advantage of some of its modern substitutes; it did, apparently, contemplate, as the prize of those who have trodden the way of purgation to the end, escape from the “weary wheel”. Origen is alleged, truly or falsely, to have flirted with the fancy that, in a coming age, Christ and Caiaphas may change places; in our own days F. W. H. Myers could gravely give the preference to Buddhism over Christianity in one respect, on the ground that the former teaches, or is said to teach, that the Buddha had “often been in hell for his sins”.40 But clearly the ethical implication of such fancies is highly dubious. They mean that free spiritual personality is only achieved to be lost again; our completest moral victories are only passing incidents in a campaign which ends in nothing. A sane moralist may or may not be a believer in the dogmatic theology of Christianity; in either case he can hardly be blind to the ethical superiority of the religion which teaches that, “Christ being risen from the dead, dieth no more; death”—the supreme external manifestation of temporality—“hath no more dominion over him”.
On the other side, if the “wheel” is ever to be escaped, there seems to be no reason why the episode in our moral ascent which is terminated at death should necessarily be repeated. There may be many stages, and hard stages, still before us in our journey, but why should we assume that one march has to be accomplished twice? One would more naturally suppose, though all supposals are uncertain, that no day’s march repeats itself, just as within the life we know there is no recurrence of childhood, or adolescence, or the prime of manhood. I own that it is surprising to me to find a philosopher of the distinction of Dr. McTaggart favouring speculations of this type, on the ground that they provide opportunity for the making of a diversity of experiments in living. They give us, he says, the prospect of being Galahad in one life and Tristram in another.41 Now I do not know in what order Dr. McTaggart would propose to take these two lives, but, for my own part, I cannot conceive that it would be anything but an apostacy and a return to the flesh-pots of Egypt for one who had been Galahad to lead the life of Tristram, and though Tristram might come, after long and bitter purgation in the fires of adversity, to be something like Galahad, it could only be when he had thoroughly learned the lesson that it is not good to be Tristram. The kind of immortality contemplated is radically unethical; it is not an advance towards the achieving of a free personality, and therefore leaves no room for that giving and hazarding all that a man has by which free personality is won. Dr. McTaggart’s immortals, in fact, may put on in succession the masks of Galahad and Tristram, and, for all I know, of Mordred too, but all through these are only “impersonations”; there is no growing personality behind them. And hence Dr. McTaggart is strictly consistent in refusing to allow any weight to “moral” arguments for such an immortality, for the future he anticipates is, after all, a non-moral one. It may be a future of unending duration, but, against Dr. McTaggart’s own intention, it does not seem to have the quality of eternity about it. I should expect such a cycle of adventures to leave men, as it finds them, “quick-change artists”.
It is true, as I know, that Dr. McTaggart proposes to be certain on metaphysical grounds, most fully explained in the second volume of The Nature of Existence, that the succession of impersonations must culminate in a “timeless” perfection for each of us. But I am far from understanding clearly what “perfection” can mean in such a context. Whatever it means, it seems to be deprived of genuine moral significance by the consideration that, according to the system, it is something fated to happen to us, not something to be won by personal effort. Apparently we have it thrust upon us, whether we will or no, as Malvolio’s greatness was thrust on him.42
It seems to me important, again, to realise that if the only sort of continuation of life into the unseen for which we can hope to find justification in the analysis of the moral good is the completion of the process of putting off the temporal to put on the eternal, it follows that we do not know how much which, at our present stage in the pilgrimage, appears as though the very roots of our personality were twined about it may not have to be let go before the eternal is really put on, in the full measure possible to men. To speak imaginatively, we may reasonably anticipate that the law of dying into life holds good for Heaven itself, as well as for Earth and Purgatory. Like T. H. Green,43 I see no difficulty in conceiving of a society where there is no longer wrong to be put right in the relations of the members to one another, nor evil to be burnt away out of the individual desire and will. But even in such a community there need not cease to be differences of insight between the members, and, arguing by analogy from what we see of the life of personality, the deepest insight would be the reward of the completest self-abandonment, the most adventurous loss of self in the “divine dark” of the Godhead. There, no doubt, the dark would have its own special quality; it would not arise, as so often with us now, from the resistance of obstinately self-centred will to the rays of the spiritual sun, from coldness of heart, but from the very unap-proachableness of the light itself. That dark would be a “deep, but dazzling darkness”. And one would return from every adventure of the spirit simply enriched with a fuller insight, and a more vivid life, not, as we too often do from our present imperfectly pure adventures, maimed and numbed. And, again, the return would make us more and more complete givers and bestowers of all we had won by the adventure on every member of the society. But the rule would still be, there as here, that it is only he who will lose himself beyond rescue who finds himself to eternal life. The difference between the eternal life of face-to-face vision and the life of time, where we see only per speculum in aenigmate, would lie in the completeness of the abandonment of self and the consequent enrichment without compensatory loss with which the soul returns from the adventures.
While the self is still bound up in temporality, the self-abandonment is never quite complete, and by consequence the adventure always entails some element of loss amidst all its profit; there is always love which, because it has not been wholly converted from mere lusting into love, has to be starved. In eternity, all loves would be wholly subordinated to the supreme and irresistible love of God; all would be ventured and, for that very reason, all would be found to be completed and satisfied. But how they would find this completion is just what cannot be known by anticipation; that is the “transhumanisation” of humanity of which Dante44 says that it cannot be expressed per verba, and it is because any imagined Paradise, like Dante’s own, is an attempted description of the undescribable, a would-be “evaluation” of the everlasting “surd,” that all such imaginings leave us with some sense of hollowness. Even Dante’s must, at moments, have suggested to most of us the disquieting reflection that it has an unfortunate resemblance with a glorified firework night at the Crystal Palace, or a gaudy celebration of the Vespers of Our Lady. In principle, the note of austerity characteristic of all true morality is not silenced by the hope of Heaven. We cannot say of any of the relations to which we cling most fondly how much they might need to be transfigured to find their completion in eternity.
This is the answer to the kind of sceptical puzzles with which play is made in Appearance and Reality.45 Bradley asks, for example, whether two men who had buried their quarrel in a woman’s grave would be friends in the resurrection, or whether all of us would be content to sit down among the angels without recovering our dogs. The question only has serious point for those who sympathise with what Bradley calls modern Christendom’s “repeal of the austere sentence” of the Gospel.46 I venture to think that if modern Christians really abolish the “sentence” in question, that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage,” they are so far false both to their professed Christianity and to the fundamentals of a sound ethics. How all the loves which go to the making of moral personality are to be completed in a society where the love of God is supreme, we have no means of saying; Bradley’s difficulty arises from the assumption that, if completed at all, they must be completed in some way of which we, who are still distracted by conflicting loves, can form a clear picture. And this is false in principle and is the very error of the Sadducees, who erred “not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God”. Though this particular difficulty, I should have supposed, does sometimes find its solution even on earth. Even here, at our best, we do find doors of escape from “all the little emptiness” of merely competitive loves, so far as we learn to set our hearts more on giving than on taking. Eternal life in fruition would be a life which is all giving without taking, and therefore also all receiving; we think falsely of it if we import into it any relation not consonant with this principle.
It would not be honest to leave this subject without some reference to a further matter upon which clear thinking is much needed—the old problem of the fate of the “finally impenitent”. If we are to think ethically of human destiny, we must be prepared to face the possibility that there may be those who obstinately shut the windows of the soul against all influences from the divine, until they have made themselves impervious to them. A man may conceivably so harden himself against good that he ends by becoming incapable of it, or by sheer protracted sloth he may lose the power to make the surrender by which we die into true personality. At least we have, as moralists, no right to say that such a thing is intrinsically inconceivable. If it is conceivable, then it is conceivable that a man may finally and irretrievably miss the very end to which his being is ordained. There may be a definitive “second death” which is a death not into eternity, but into complete and hopeless temporality. We may, indeed, hope that none of us will ever actually incur this fate, that the long-suffering and bountifulness of the Giver of all good will, in the end, break down the wilfulness and sluggishness of the least responsive among us. But I do not see how we can be confident that it is so, and I am sure that if anything can frustrate attainment of our final good, it is the besotted fancy that this good is bound to come to us, unstriven for, in the course of things, whether we choose or not, and that we may therefore neglect the arduous business of the “making of the soul”. No dictum can be morally shallower than the often-repeated current assertion that “Hell” is only a nightmare begotten of superstitious fear of bad and vindictive gods.
Historically this is obviously untrue; it is clear, from considerations already dwelt on in an earlier lecture, that the belief that sinners are punished in Hell, like the belief that they are exposed to special “judgements” in this present life, is no induction from a misunderstood experience, but the expression, in crude forms, of a real a priori ethical conviction. Men argue that there is a Hell because they are convinced, on moral grounds, that there ought to be one, if eternal justice is not to be mocked. It is the faith that there is a moral order in the world, and that it is founded on justice, that is the parent of belief in retribution beyond the grave. What is felt to be morally intolerable is that by the mere fact of dying betimes the impenitent wrong-doer should triumphantly escape the operation of a law of universal justice. As Plato puts it, in his admonition to the young man who is led to the denial of God’s moral government of the world by the spectacle of apparently successful lifelong transgression, “You shall assuredly never be passed over by God’s judgement, not though you make yourself never so small, and hide in the bowels of the earth, or exalt yourself to heaven: you must pay the penalty due, either while you are still with us, or after your departure hence, in the house of Hades, or, it may be, by removal to some still more desolate region”.47 Belief in a penal and retributory Hell, as contrasted with the older and non-ethical conception of a shadowy continuation of this present existence in a ghost-world, arises directly from the moralisation of men’s outlook on the future, though it may take ages of deepening moral reflection before the misdeeds which are held to receive their deserts hereafter come to be identified wholly with what men with a lofty ethical rule of life recognise as moral guilt, in distinction from ceremonial and ritual shortcomings. And in principle, as we can readily see, the rose-coloured anticipations of an easy-going unethical Universalism are as illogical as unethical.
If there is a supreme good for man which yet is not to be attained without personal effort, it must follow that the man who refuses, or persistently neglects, to make the effort towards that good imperils his felicity. He is trying to live in an environment for which he is not designed, and to which he cannot adapt himself without ceasing to be truly man. “Heaven” is, of all others, the society in which such a man would be most utterly “in the wrong place”; he would there be the proverbial “fish out of the water,” and consequently miserable. It is idle to fancy that God, if He liked, could make the criminal, or the sensualist, or the trifler, happy by translating him to Heaven. To quote Plato once more, the supreme law needed to ensure moral order in the world is a very simple one; it is that men, like liquids, “find their level”; they are drawn, as by a sort of moral gravitation, into the company of the like-minded, and so they “do and have done to them what it befits them to do and to endure”.48 There we have the reality of which the various pictures of the fires of Hell are so many imaginative symbols, and in a morally ordered world it could be no otherwise. It is in mercy, not in wrath, that the way of the transgressor is made hard. There is a bottom of truth in a modern poet’s paradox that God’s mercy
I do think it well,
Is flashed back from the brazen gates of Hell,49
and in the better-known words of a greater poet, that the maker of the dreadful realm was
La divina potestate,
La somma sapienza e il primo amore.50
Once more we must remember that we are not to take our symbols for facts. We do not know that any man actually has sinned, or will sin, himself into complete death to the supreme good, and it is not surprising that Christian theologians, with no desire to be unorthodox, have sometimes reminded us that the united Christian Church has never formally condemned the doctrine of universal restoration, achieved through grim experience of the way of the transgressor, taught by some of the most eminent among the early Fathers. And, again, we do not know what the ultimate consequences of complete absorption in mere temporality would be. It is tempting to suppose that the culmination of such a process would be such a forfeiting of personality that the consciousness of the man who has wholly lost lo ben dell’ intelletto would resemble that of Leibniz’s “mere monad,” or, as I think Baron von Hügel has said somewhere, would be like mere awareness of what Bergson calls “clock-time”. Thus, by refusing to deepen his personality, a man would end by losing even what personality he has; “from him that hath not” there would literally be taken away “even that he hath”. And we could not imagine that such a process would be anything but grievous in the extreme to the man who, by his own fault, brought it upon himself, just as any one of us would be profoundly unhappy if he found himself steadily declining into physical and mental imbecility, with the knowledge that he had brought his fate on himself by his own vices.
All this is speculation about the unknown, and, as one of our divines sensibly says, it is not very profitable to speculate about a future which must receive us and may prove to be singularly unlike anything we had conjectured. But it should be plain that a genuinely ethical faith can have nothing to do with theories devised simply to get rid of the principle that the way of transgressors, in a reasonably ordered universe, is necessarily hard, and that if eternal life is a thing that has to be won, there is always the grim possibility that it may be lost. A creed constructed to reassure the careless can hardly be a morally sound creed. We need to contemplate the possibility of Hell not, as superficial caricaturists represent, in order to have the pleasure of consigning our enemies, or our neighbours, to it, but to warn ourselves against the risks we run by disloyalty to the best. I venture to think that this may be a sound ethical reason for dissatisfaction with the rather fashionable conception of a “conditional” immortality, which does not pertain to man as man, but may be achieved by a select few. To say nothing of the danger of spiritual pride involved, as the history of Gnosticism in its manifold forms shows, in any such distinction, all such theories seem to me to ignore that deep division of the soul, as we find it, against itself which testifies to man’s double environment—temporal and eternal. They conceive man as primarily a being with a strictly natural environment and destiny. This seems to me in conflict with our moral experience; the division of the soul against itself, its inability ever to be wholly content with natural good, are not, so far as I can see, peculiarities of a few, but are written large on the inner life of us all. And in principle Aristotle51 appears to me to be right when he denies that some members of a γένος can be perishable and others imperishable. A bad-living man, after all, or a carelessly living man, is not a “mere animal,” and it is not reasonable to anticipate for him a mere animal’s destiny.
The difficulty becomes acute when we remember that we have to take into account not two classes of men only, but three. There are those who seem never to have been awakened out of mere worldliness, those who have been wakened by the call of the eternal and have followed it, and there are also those who have heard the call and refused to follow, or have followed for a time and turned back. To me, as to von Hügel,52 it seems clear that the troublous problem is that of the destiny of this third class, the “apostates,” who make the “great refusal”.
I have indeed owned already to a doubt about the very existence of men who not only seem, but are, wholly unawakened. It is not clear to me that there are any merely “animal” men, who have never felt, however obscurely, the solicitation of a more than temporal good. But if there are such men, it would be conceivable that their destiny should be as limited as the good to which they respond. Their destination might conceivably be that suggested by von Hügel, unending enjoyment of a purely temporal good in a Limbo which is technically, indeed, “Hell,” but is, in fact, a more satisfactory habitat than Europe, even in the pre-war days.
But there is no doubt whatever about the existence of men who are “spiritually awake” and yet false to the good to which they are awake. James Boswell may serve as a tragic historical example of the class, and it is well with any of us whose conscience does not misgive him that he may be in the same group. What I find clearly incompatible with an ethical faith is the easy belief that the destiny of the “awakened” man who obstinately persists in disobedience to the heavenly vision can possibly be the same as that of the man, if there is one, whose “vegetable” slumber has never been disturbed at all. Good nature is surely at variance with ethics when it suggests that the man who chooses known evil, and persists in his choice, remains on the moral level of the “human animal” who makes no genuine choices. What the “second death” may be, I trust none of us may ever find out, but in a morally ordered world it must surely be a terrible possibility.
The world does not become unethical because it contains potentialities of tragedy; there is the possibility of the tragic in all ethical situations. It would become an unethical world if it were so constituted as to make human choice merely frivolous; μέγας ὁ ἀγών, οὐχ ὅσος δοκεῖ, τὸ χρηστὸν ἢ κακὸν γενέσθαι.
Hence there seems to me to be something seriously unethical in the view that we stand to win eternal life if we make our choice rightly, but to lose only temporal good if we persist in choosing wrongly. There is something, to my mind, unsuited to the moral dignity of man in the thought that the end of the man hardened in wrong is the “end of a dog”; it is worthier of humanity that there should be no escape from the law that, for good or bad, we gravitate to our likes and “do and have done to us what is befitting”. We are here in our life somewhere on a ladder, where there are as many rungs below us as above. Happily, we know that he who has descended very far and very often may begin to climb again, and may even outstrip some who had long been above him, but that every descent will be followed by a reascent seems to me to be what we may possibly hope, but have no sure ground for affirming.
As Glaucon said long ago to Socrates,53 there are always the disquieting examples which seem to show that even exceeding wickedness does not tend of itself to impair intense intellectual vitality. Stupidity and animality are not the special characteristics of the “incurables,” the greatly bad men who are the curse of humanity. It is perhaps not clear that even the sturdiest theistic optimism absolutely requires us to expect the complete elimination from the world of the spirit
der stets das Böse will, und stets das Gute schafft.
Even if this should be an implication of the ethical view of the world, at least it does not carry with it the further implication that we can escape the full consequences of our persistent evil-doing by simply “paying the debt of nature”. A living divine was recently reported, correctly or not, to have declared that “if there are really diabolical men, no doubt, their destiny is perdition, but I should hope that such men are very few”. I should like myself to hope that there are none such, but there is just one man, of the many whom I have known, about whom I feel it is salutary not to be over-sanguine, myself.
Some Dogmas of Religion, cc. vi.–viii.; Nature of Existence, ii. c. 43.
Phaedrus, 249 A.
At the end of the 1830 Essay on Jean Paul Friedrich Richter.
Eddington, Space, Time and Gravitation, pp. 141–2; Nature of Physical World, 50, 59.
J. H. Jeans in Evolution in the Light of Modern Knowledge, p. 14; Universe Around Us, 182–90.
See Leibniz, New System, 5, 8; Principles of Nature and Grace, 14, 15.
F. H. Bradley expressed himself to me, at the time of publication of Myers’ book, as highly indignant at the omission from the long discussion of “possession” of any reference to its commonest form, “diabolic possession”.
Some Dogmas of Religion, pp. 53 ff.
It is only fair to say that McTaggart only denies our right to assume as a premiss the proposition that “reality is not hopelessly evil”. He holds that it can be demonstrated, or at least proved sufficiently, that the good in the universe is enormously preponderant over the evil. But we must first prove human immortality, among other things, before we can advance to this conclusion. This, however, is enough to invalidate all “moral” arguments for immortality itself.
Or undergoing the doom Dante inflicts on the man who had taught him come l’uom s’etterna.
It might be said that McTaggart virtually admits what is here contended for, when, in the passage referred to, he confines his objection to the introduction of a premiss affirming the goodness of “reality” in the initial stage of the argument. I should reply that it is my conviction that unless the proposition is admitted in the initial stage, it will not be possible to establish it at all. I cannot believe that the reasoning of the second volume of the Nature of Existence would have appeared probative to its author had he not all along subconsciously made the very “venture of faith” which he wishes to discredit.
And the assumption is one which McTaggart’s own philosophy is a continuous attempt to disprove.
I am not thinking so much of bad conduct on the part of our opponents—though I am perfectly convinced by the evidence for some of this—as of bad conduct on our own side, such as the now admitted circulation, for purposes of propaganda, of discreditable stories against the enemy which were apparently not believed by the persons responsible for their circulation.
Cf. McTaggart, Some Dogmas of Religion, p. 57.
Cf. C. D. Broad, Five-Types of Ethical Theory, pp. 15–16, and T. Whittaker, Transcendence in Spinoza in Mind, N.S. 151.
See Life, Mind and Spirit, lect. v.
Euripides, H.F. 655 εἰ δὲ θεοῖς ἦν ξύνεσις | καὶσοφία κατ' ἄνδρας, | δίδυμον ἂν ἥβαν ἕφερον | φανερὸν χαρακτῆρ' ἀρετᾶς | ὅσοισιν μέτα, κτλ.
S.C.G. iii. 48.
And this is just the view taken, e.g., by Mill in his Utilitarianism: “The only self-renunciation which it [the utilitarian morality] applauds is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means of happiness, of others” (12th ed. p. 24).
Op. cit. p. 312, with its pleasantries about “medals” bestowed for doing our duty.
Appearance and Reality, p. 508.
I regret that I have failed to verify this reference, but I believe I have attributed the phrase to its true author.
Study in Moral Theory, p. 311.
Hellenism and Christianity, p. 173. Cf. the complaint of Arnold that
“Each day brings its petty dust
Our soon-choked souls to fill,
And we forget because we must
And not because we will.”
A Study in Moral Theory, p. 58.
Op. cit. p. 56, “The ultimate moral question for any of us is the best use of the whole of our resources, capacities, and opportunities”; p. 201, “It is self-evident that anyone ought to do the best he is able to do, and that, if any given action is not the best he can do, then it cannot be his duty to do it”.
Cicero, Tusculans, ii. 7. 17 sed Epicuro homini aspero et duro non est hoc satis, in Phalaridis tauro si erit, dicet: quam suave est, quam hoc non curo. Seneca, Epist. Moral. 66. 18 Epicurus quoque ait sapientem, si in Phalaridis tauro peruratur, exclamaturum: dulce est et ad me nihil pertinet. (For further references of the same kind in Cicero, Seneca, Lactantius, see Usener, Epicurea, pp. 338–339.)
Hellenism and Christianity, pp. 170–1.
Metrodorus, Fr. 5 (Koerte) ἀγαθὸν ψυχῆς τί ἄλλο ἢ τὸ σαρκὸς εὐσταθὲς κατάστημα καὶ τὸ περὶ ταύτης πιστὸν ἔλπισμα; Epicurus Fr. 68 (Usener) τὸ γὰρ εὑσταθὲς σαρκὸς κατάστημα καὶ τὸ περὶ ταύτης ἔλπισμα τὴν ἀκροτάτην χαρὰν καὶ βεβαιότητα ἔχει τοῖς ἐπιλογίζεσθαι δυναμένοις.
Bosanquet, Science and Philosophy, p. 334.
G. Lowes Dickinson, Meaning of Good, pp. III ff.
Cf. op. cit. p. 136.
This is what Goethe personifies as Frau Sorge in the closing scenes of Faust.
B. Russell, Philosophical Essays, pp. 59 ff.
Prometheus Unbound, i. I. 53.
Ethica, iv. 46 Corr. I, Schol.
Ethica, iv. 73 Schol.
See a passage in the composite volume Immortality: an Essay in Discovery (London, 1917), pp. 234–6.
Thus the Articles of the Anglican Church repudiate “the Romish doctrine of Purgatory,” whatever that may be; but Anglicans who think at all, regularly, as I should say, believe in a Purgatory, whether they call it by that name or not.
Human Personality, ii. 289.
Some Dogmas of Religion, p. 138.
Cf. the utterances on this point in Studies in Hegelian Cosmology, c. iv.
Prolegomena to Ethics, pp. 195, 328.
Paradiso, i. 70
Op. cit. p. 509.
Laws, 905 A.
Laws, 904 B-E.
Francis Thompson, The Child-woman.
Dante, Inferno, iii. 5–6.
Met. 1058 b 26.
Essays and Addresses (First Series), pp. 195 ff.
Republic 610 D 5.