We have now, only too inadequately, passed under review some of the outstanding characteristics of the great positive religions which might seem, at least on a surface view, least conciliable with the spirit of rational metaphysics, and may, I believe, say that such opposition as we have detected has, under all its varied forms, a single root. The intellectual discomfort of the metaphysician confronted with positive institutional religion is not due to any merely accidental features of the different great faiths and worships of the world; it has a deeper source in the way in which all these faiths apprehend God, the central object of religion. It is not that there is any ultimate conflict between the Theism of the great religions and a strictly philosophical Theism, based on a sound metaphysic. We have not to make our choice between a dieu des savants et des philosophes and a dieudes pauvres et des humbles, as Elijah bade the people make their choice between Baal and the Lord. The “god of the poor and lowly” is no other than the eternal source of all being demanded by the intellect of the metaphysician; neither the “head” nor the “heart” can be contented with less. Historically Christianity, the faith of the pauperes et humiles, has proved to be also the religion which has been most successful in assimilating the natural theology of the great philosophical thinkers. The actual tension between natural and revealed religion arises in a different way. Because they are historical, and in proportion as they are historical, all the great positive religions conceive the relation between man and God as itself involving an irreducible element of the historical; hence their insistence on the permanent significance of individual historical persons, incidents with a date and place, membership of definite historical societies, participation in acts and practices which belong to the web of physical becoming. The tendency of the metaphysical mind, on the other hand, is to find in God simply an answer to a problem about the rationale, it may be of nature, or of the moral, or of the specifically religious life, but, in any case, an answer to a problem which deals with universal features of the realm of becoming, prescinding from reference to the individual quality of this or that becoming. The problem being posed in this non–historical way, the answer given to it inevitably ignores history.
To reduce the element of permanent truth about God contained in actual religions and theologies simply to the contents of a rational “natural theology” involves committing ourselves to the view that though the metaphysical analysis of becoming, as such, may reveal the presence of God as its super–historical ground, the particular what of an individual piece of becoming can never disclose anything not already revealed by this general analysis. Hence acceptance of a positive historical religion requires us to ascribe a significance to time and temporal events and processes which is denied to them by that large body of metaphysicians, old and new, who regard temporality as a sort of illusion which must be overcome before we can reach truth. If time is only a dream, it is reasonable to hold that we shall attain truth about God, or indeed about anything else, only in proportion as we avoid attaching significance to the concrete detail of the historical. Our theologians par excellence should be metaphysicians as indifferent to history as Spinoza or Schopenhauer, and our chosen watchword should be Alles vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis, with a particular emphasis on the nur. If time is more than an illusion, the irrationality would be precisely in this indifference to the significance of the concrete historical person, or event, as revelatory of the character of the supra–historical source of all real becoming. At the end of our review we are once more thrown back on the same problem of the status of time of which we spoke, almost at the beginning of our discussions, as the most insistent and perplexing of all the questions of metaphysics.
We may illustrate the insistency of the problem, as well as its importance for theology, by a reference to the marked tendency of definitely Christian thinkers of our own day, under the influence of contemporary philosophical speculation, to revolt from the type of doctrine about God so common in the more philosophical of the Fathers, and, I suppose, universal in the great schoolmen, whose minds had been moulded on the study of Plato and Aristotle. Patristic and scholastic divinity is emphatic in its insistence on the kindred thoughts of the absolute unchangeableness and consequent utter “impassibility” of God. To admit becoming, still more to admit suffering of any kind into the divine nature itself is, from the point of view of this theology, on, if not over, the verge of formal blasphemy. Indeed, if we would be rigidly orthodox scholastics, we must not even admit the reality of any reciprocal relation between God and His creatures. When we speak of them as made by Him, as the objects of His love, or of His displeasure, we are at best using language which tells us something about the creatures, viz. that they depend in various ways on God, but nothing about God Himself. There is no “real” relation of God to anything ab extra.
As we know, this line of thought led, in the early centuries of the formation of dogma, to grave difficulties even about the reality of the redemptive sufferings of the God–Man. That Christ suffered in reality, not in mere semblance, in the Garden and on the Cross, could not be denied without plain and direct contradiction of the emphatic and repeated declarations of the New Testament Scriptures, and complete surrender to the Docetism which, almost from the first, threatened to evaporate the Gospel into a theosophical fairy–tale. But how difficult the Graeco–Roman mind found it to reconcile its conception of Deity with the conviction that the Passion of Christ is genuine historical fact is proved by the paradoxical phraseology, ἀπαθῶς ἔπαθεν and the like, in which the more metaphysically minded of the Fathers strove to express the thought. Nor are such phrases a mere antiquarian curiosity. Until well on in the last century they continued to flourish in the current language of Christian devotion among ourselves. I can myself well remember a hymn—I do not know whether it may not still be in use—in which it was said of the crucified Christ, in the very terminology of St. Gregory Nyssen, “impassive, he suffers, immortal, he dies”.
When we remember the marked contrast between Greek metaphysical speculation and the radically unmetaphysical, frankly anthropomorphic, tone of Hebrew prophecy, in which the language of human action and passion is unreservedly used about God, it should not be surprising that the last generation has seen a violent reaction, conducted in the name of Christianity itself, against this whole body of conceptions. Whether or not it is good divinity and metaphysics to look for process, suffering, defeat, in the very heart of the divine life itself, there is no doubt that language which implies the real presence of mutability and suffering in the life of God is constantly heard to–day from Christian pulpits—from those of the Roman Church, with all its tenacity of established theological formula, as well as from others—and that everywhere, outside the Roman Church at least, there is a marked tendency on the part of theological writers themselves to attempt an intellectual justification of such language. The late Dr. Fairbairn wrote years ago that “Patripassianism is only half a heresy”; more recent divines of more Churches than one seem ready to go further, and to maintain that Patripassianism is the true Christian orthodoxy, working itself clear at last of entanglement with the errors of Stoicism,1 that most unhistorical of the major philosophies of antiquity. The late Baron von Hügel has included in his second series of Essays and Addresses what to myself seems a wise and timely warning against the dangers of this excessively “Christocentric” theology. But to me the most significant thing about his admirable essay on Suffering and God is that the warning should have been felt by the author to be so imperatively needed. It could only be necessary in an age which ascribes to process and temporality a significance very different from that given to them in any Hellenic philosophy. For good or bad, the growth of the sense of the historical has made what our American friends call the metaphysical “status” of Time the most urgent of our philosophical problems.
It may be instructive to remind ourselves, at this point, that according to a view which has a great deal to say for itself, the permeation of Graeco–Roman civilisation by a great positive religion is actually the cause to which we owe it that European thought, unlike Indian, for example, has become, as a whole, thoroughly historical. The κόσμος of pre–Christian Greek thought only became a really historical world under the influence of Christianity and its ancestor, Judaism. The point is excellently put by a very recent writer on the history of philosophy in a passage which summarises the position of M. Laberthonnière—a position not accepted by the historian himself—in a few admirable sentences. “The κόσμος of the Greeks is, as we might say, a world without a history, an eternal order in which time counts for nothing, whether because it leaves that order always self–identical, or because it produces a series of events which always reverts to the same point through an indefinite repetition of cyclical changes. Is not even the history of mankind, according to Aristotle, a perpetual recurrence of the same civilisation? The antithetic thought that there really are radical changes, absolute beginnings, genuine discoveries, in a word, history and progress in the wide sense—such a thought was impossible until Christianity had swept away the Greek κόσμος. A world created from nothing, a destiny which man does not receive from without, but shapes for himself by his own obedience, or disobedience, to the divine law, a new and unforeseeable divine intervention to save man from sin, redemption purchased by the sufferings of the God–Man—in all this we have a dramatic picture of the universe … in which nature is effaced, and everything depends on the intimate spiritual history of man and his relations with God. Man sees before him a possible future of which he may be the author; he is delivered for the first time from Lucretius’ melancholy eadem sunt omnia semper, from the Fate of Stoicism, from the eternal geometrical scheme in which Plato and Aristotle imprisoned the real. This was the outstanding peculiarity which impressed the first pagans who took the Christians seriously. What is the reproach brought against them by Celsus? … That they worship a God who is not immutable, since He takes initiatives and decisions to meet circumstances, nor yet impassible, since He is touched by pity; that they believe in a kind of myth, that of the Christ, which ‘will not permit an allegorical explanation’; in other words, it is presented as genuine history, and cannot be made into a symbol of physical law.”
In reproducing Laberthonnière’s thought,2 M. Bréhier rightly warns the reader against the danger of making the antitheses too rigid, but the caution, though necessary if justice is to be done, for example, to the Platonic conception of the relation of Becoming to Being, leaves the substantial truth of the contrast unaffected. It is, in the main, true that all Greek philosophy au fond teaches the doctrine plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, exactly as the same thing is taught, with some small variations in the manner of the instruction, by the most illustrious of the modern philosophers who have been markedly in revolt against the traditions of historical Christianity, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche; that the moral consequence of brooding on such doctrines of self–sameness, or of eternal recurrence, has always been taedium vitae; that without new beginnings and non–reversible changes there is no genuine history, but only a surface illusion of history; that, in point of fact, the conception of history as a whole with a real significance, and consequently, the idea of a “philosophy of history,” makes its first appearance in the great literature of the world with Augustine’s De civitate Dei, and that its source must be found in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, with their doctrine of the redemptive purpose of God as the key to history.
These are facts which cannot well be gainsaid, and they have no real counterpart in the pre–Christian Hellenic world, not even in the philosophy which, of all the Hellenic doctrines, comes by far the nearest to a worthy appreciation of the historical, that of Plato. Plato and others might speak of human life as a divine puppet–play,3 in which God is at once the sole spectator and the manipulator of the marionettes; Thucydides might set himself to compose an accurate narrative of the doings and motives of the two great warring powers, the Athenian “empire” and the Peloponnesian confederacy,4 as a lesson in statesmanship for future generations, and might incidentally show himself to students who know how to read with understanding the noblest and austerest moralist who has ever written history.5 But even the “divine” Plato has not yet the clear conviction that the play is working out to an end in which its author–spectator takes a supreme interest, nor does Thucydides see the struggle of which he is the historian as an act in a drama which has significance as a whole, a stage in the “education of humanity.” To see things thus, you must understand what is meant by sic Deus dilexit mundum, and that thought is only very faintly adumbrated when Plato makes his Timaeus speak of the delight the Creator took in the perfection of his handiwork.6
The modern historian of civilisation, though often enough he may not know it, is what he is because he cannot get away from the influence of convictions born of the belief that human history has a significance which only became transparent in the concrete individual happening of certain events, which began with the call of Abraham out of Harran, reached their climax in the procuratorship of one Pontius Pilate, and the opening of their fifth act on the day of Pentecost. It is in the end the Jew, to whom the “oracles” were entrusted, from whom the Christian community, and through them the modern Western world, has learned to think historically, just because Judaism and Christianity are absolutely bound up with convictions about certain historical events as no system of philosophy is. We owe the “historical sense,” on which we sometimes pride ourselves, to the very peculiarity of the “Christian myth” which disconcerted Celsus, the impossibility of sublimating it into a symbol of “physical law,” its incorrigible and unabashed concreteness.
I believe we may trace a more subtle effect of the same influence of Christian theology in the fundamental distinction which separates our own most abstract “scientific world–view” from that of all Greek philosophers. If there is one thought rather than another about the physical order itself which is specially characteristic of the Hellenic natural philosophers, it is their conviction that all physical processes are reversible; whatever has taken the “way up” may always be expected, in time, to take the “way down” again, and vice versa. If vapour condenses into water, and water into earth, earth is once more rarefied into water, and water into vapour. If atoms once come together in an eddy and so form a “world,” they must scatter again, and the scattering will unmake the world;7 but the débris will again come together a second time after the scattering, and a “world” will be made over again. So in Aristotle’s universe, though it never was made and never is unmade, there is one, and only one, set of motions which are irreversible, the revolutions of the celestial “spheres,” and the reason of the irreversibility is precisely that these motions and no others have a direct supra–mundane source. In Plato’s Timaeus we are told, indeed, that the making of the world will not, in fact, be followed hereafter by an antithetic unmaking; but here again the reason for the irreversibility is a theological and supramundane one, the will of its Creator. “Ye are indeed not wholly immortal, nor indissoluble,” says the Creator in that dialogue to the “created gods,” who are, in fact, the stars, “yet ye shall have no dissolution, nor taste of death, since ye have in my will a greater and stronger bond than those with which ye were compacted in your making”.8
Our thought about nature, on the other hand, is dominated by the so–called principle of Carnot, the law of the “dissipation” of energy, which, by forbidding us to believe in the complete reversibility of any temporal processes, profoundly modifies our conception of time itself. For us the “world’s great age” does not and cannot “begin anew”; the images of the phoenix renewing its youth in its own funeral pyre,9 or the snake casting its senility with its skin, have lost their cosmic significance. What has happened once does not, and cannot, happen again, and thus the historical event has won for us an absolute and unique individuality which it could not have for any ancient thinker. To us it is not irreversibility but reversibility which would be the miraculum, demanding an immediate cause extra rerum naturam.
The reluctance of many men of science to accept Carnot’s principle as valid for natural processes at large without restriction, their readiness to make heavy draughts on imagination of what may be contained in inaccessible regions of space and time to upset it,10 are still with us to testify to the difficulty with which physical science accommodates itself to a strictly historical way of conceiving becoming. If, in spite of these protests, the mass of our scientific men look askance at ingenious devices for getting rid of the second law of Thermodynamics, the reason seems to be that they are antecedently prepossessed in favour of irreversibility by the distinctly modern “sense for the historical,” itself so largely a creation of Christian theology. It is from the history of human life that they have drawn the conviction that the past does not recur, and when they make its non–recurrence into a corner–stone of their physics, they are definitely breaking through the old classical Platonic tradition of a purely geometrical natural world. We see exactly the same tendency to make physical science historical, in a way in which it could not be historical under the classical tradition, from Plato to Newton, in the anxiety of Dr. Whitehead to save natural philosophy from becoming flatly “incredible” by making the eminently historical concept of “organism” its foundation.11 Must we not say, in the light of such considerations, that the peculiarity which Celsus alleged as a reproach against the spirit of Christianity, its insistence on a μῦθος which cannot be allegorised, is in fact its glory? What the complaint really means is that with Christianity there came, for the first time, into the Graeco–Roman world, a really adequate appreciation of individuality.12 We are still far from having done full justice in our philosophy and science to all the implications of this heightened sense of the reality of the individual, but we are on our way to do so. The historicising, if I may call it so, of the physical sciences, now apparently in process, is but one further step along the same road which has led, in our moral, social, and religious thinking, to the conquest of the great conception, so imperfectly grasped in ancient philosophy, of personality in God and man.
The particular point to which I would ask attention at present, then, is this. All the various tendencies, so familiar to us in the intellectual life of our age, which are most hostile to the recognition of the historical as an indispensable element in religion, the disparagement as merely temporary and accidental of everything in the positive religions which resists reduction to positions of general metaphysics, the hardly concealed desire of some even among our theologians to obliterate the distinctions between a faith like Christianity and the kind of religion possible to a Neo–Platonic philosopher, the anxiety of metaphysicians of various schools to interpret the affirmations of all the positive religions as no more than figurative expressions of some vague principle of “conservation of values,” all are, if we come to reflect, only forms of the old protest against the “myth which refuses to be allegorised.” And this means that they spring from inability to adjust one’s mind to the characteristically modern habit of thinking historically, as one sees, in fact, quite plainly in the efforts of the small minority who “follow the argument wherever it leads” to discard even the bare fact of the actual historical existence of a personal founder of Christianity.
It should be easy to see that the position of these extremists is at variance with sane judgement and common sense, and one takes no great risk in prophesying that their thesis, in its cruder forms, will soon be laughed out of the world. Men who can believe that Christ and the apostles are astral symbols, or Semitic nature–deities, or the creations of pious romancers, deserve to end by believing that Francis Bacon was the heir to the crown of England and the creator of Falstaff, or that the date of the Millennium is built into the Great Pyramid. But it is not so easy, in view of the tardiness with which the full implications of the significance of individuality are making their way from the human into the physical sciences, to guard our own thinking from infection by subtler forms of the same prejudice. We are all still too much, in a great part of our thinking, under the spell of the ancient conception of the unhistorical, purely geometrical, world. If we were not, it would surely strike us as something of a paradox that philosophers should be trying to make religion truer by the elimination of the historical in the same age in which they are trying to make physical science truer by its introduction. If the geometrising of nature, thoroughly carried out, leads to the incredible,13 is it likely that the geometrising of God will have any other result?
Perhaps I can best illustrate what I mean by the characteristic difference between the ancient geometrical and the modern historical conceptions of time and the temporal, if I start from a well–known and eloquent passage of Plato’s Timaeus, and consider how the description of time given there differs from that to which our own modern physical science appears to be finding its way. This may look like going a long way back for the purposes of the contrast, but it will, I think, be seen as we proceed that the ideas of Timaeus are in principle those which dominate the seventeenth–century classical mechanics from Galileo and Descartes to Newton. In the passage to which I refer, time is being described as a uniform “measure” of becoming, becoming having already been set in the strongest possible contrast with the stable and selfsame being of eternity. We have already been told in a general way that the world which becomes, the historical world, was fashioned by its Maker in the likeness of a model which does not become, but is, the αὐτὸ ὃ ἔστι ζῷον, or intelligible pattern of a supreme living organism embracing all other organisms. The narrative proceeds, “And when the Father who had begotten it beheld it, a created image of the eternal things,14 moving and quick, he was well–pleased, and rejoicing devised how to make it yet more like its model. Since, then, that model is, of a truth, a thing living and eternal, he essayed to make this All also such, so far as he might. Now the nature of that living thing was in truth eternal, and this it was impossible to bestow wholly on a creature. But he contrived the making of a moving likeness of eternity; so in his ordering of the heavens, he fashioned an everlasting likeness, proceeding by number, of eternity that abides in unity, even that we have named time.”15
There are several points in this passage deserving notice. In the first place, time is conceived, as it was to be in the classic mechanics of later days, as something in its nature independent of extension, or volume, and adventitious to it. We have already heard of “becoming,” and also of corporeality and its three dimensions as characteristic of “the creature,” before it is mentioned that it was endowed with temporality, as an added perfection. Timaeus clearly does not think of “that we have named time” as logically complicated with that which we name volume; to him it is manifestly conceivable that there might be volumes, and even movements, without time, though a world of this kind would be less “like its eternal model,” and therefore a worse world, than the one which is actual. This means that, like Dr. Whitehead, Timaeus distinguishes between “passage,” transitoriness, as a universal character of the physical world throughout its parts, and the measure of that passage which we call “time.” It is also implied that there is just one such measure of passage, one time which, in the well–known phrase of Newton, “flows equably.” We may, indeed, use the periodic movements of any of the heavenly bodies we please as our timepiece, and Timaeus is careful, in a later passage,16 to censure the dullness of mankind in general, who speak of the periods of sun and moon as “time,” but do not see that the name is equally applicable to those of any other “planets.” But all that he means by this is that the period of any one of these bodies may always be computed in terms of the period of any other, so that if you reckon by periods of Mars, for example, you will speak of a lapse of five such periods where another man, reckoning in the more customary way, would talk of a lapse of ten years. He really means only to complain of the general neglect to determine the periods of all the planets with proper precision.17 This complaint does not affect his fundamental assumption that any lapse or interval in the universe has an unambiguous measure; in the sense there is a single “universal” or “absolute” time, in which events may be unambiguously located, though we may use different unit–intervals for its computation, just as we may measure a single unambiguous interval of length either by the foot or by the metre.
The “time” of Timaeus is thus precisely the “true, absolute, or mathematical time” of Newton’s Principia. This explains what is perhaps the most striking feature of the description I have quoted. The temporality of “becoming,” because it has been thus carefully distinguished from its mere transitoriness, or successiveness, is dwelt upon not as the character which distinguishes what “becomes” from what “is,” but as the point of closest resemblance. The world is given the form of time, not to differentiate it from its “intelligible” model, but to make it as like that model as the case will permit. The thought is that by receiving its unambiguous location in the universal time–order, a given piece of becoming is de–individualised; it is taken out of the immediate concrete “flow” of things, and receives a kind of quasi–eternalisation by being made thus abstract. This is why time is said to be not merely an εἴδωλον or ἄγαλμα, an image, but an εἰκών, a true likeness of eternity.18
If we put all this together, may we not fairly state its implications thus? The temporal as we directly experience it, in all the concreteness of actually lived life, is at the furthest remove from the reality of things; “perceptual time,” durée réelle as Bergson calls it, with its indefinitely varied pulsations, is mostly according to the estimate suggested by the language of the Timaeus, illusion. It is the “abstract” and “conceptional” duration of the Newtonian scheme, divorced from all setting in a framework of individual experience, “clock–time,” as fixed by reference to a single flawless ideal timekeeper for the universe at large, and sharply contrasted with the personal and “local” time of a particular observer, which is the real time, so far as the epithet “real” is applicable to the temporal. The nearer we get to the locating of events in such a cosmic chronological scheme, the nearer we are getting to the “truth about the facts.” The further we are from it, the further from reality. When we speak of the “glorious hour of crowded life” as brief, and the hours of monotonous pain or boredom as intolerably long, we are nearest to concrete experience, but furthest from reality and truth. What is most vivid in the actual experience is also most delusive. If by “rationalisation” of the individual we mean what rationalists in philosophy have only too often meant, the reduction of it to a featureless uniformity of pattern, succession is all but completely rationalised in Newton’s account of “true, mathematical” time, or, what comes to much the same, Kant’s account of time as a pure “form of intuition”; the only element of the unrationalised “given” left is that provided by the bald fact that, as Timaeus says, the likeness is not the same thing as the model, that succession itself is irreducibly there, that there is “temporal location.” All that makes the tempo of one succession so recognisably different from that of another has been eliminated, exactly as, to use an arresting phrase of Dr. Whitehead, “the shapiness of shapes”19 is eliminated from pure geometry. In being thus reduced to uniformity succession has lost its significance for life and become unhistorical, just in proportion as it has lost its character of being mysterious and baffling. Time, thus standardised, becomes what it has been pronounced to be by an eminent philosopher recently lost to us, a form which reveals very little of the true nature of reality.20
Let me turn for a moment, by way of contrast, to very different conceptions which have been made widely current in our own day, first by the brilliant polemic of Bergson, and then by the rise among the physicists of the ideas to which we owe the “theory of Relativity,” in its various forms. I am speaking, of course, as an utter outsider in all matters of physical science, and I am not suggesting that either Bergson or any later Natur–philosoph has actually succeeded in working out a final and consistent metaphysic of time. We are, I take it, only at the beginning of a philosophical reinterpretation of nature which will need to be developed further, by men of the highest originality and acumen, before its deepest implications become fully clear to us. Yet both in Bergson and in the later theorists of Relativity we may note certain definite advances in the direction of a sound metaphysic of temporal process, which are bound to affect future “philosophy of history” very deeply.
To begin with Bergson. The permanently valuable feature of his treatment of succession appears to me to be simply his insistence on the real and profound difference between durée réelle and the artificial “mathematical” or “clock” time of our scientific manuals. That point, as I venture to think, Bergson made plain once for all in unusually impressive fashion in the three chapters of Les données immédiates de la conscience, though his own account of the process by which the second comes to be so easily confused with the first has always seemed to me unsatisfactory, since, so far as I can see, it both involves error of fact and also manifestly never gets to the heart of the problem. It is confusing and mischievous to see in intellect itself, as Bergson professes to do, a faculty inherently deceptive.21 Reasoned philosophy cannot credit intellect with this inherent deceptiveness without committing suicide. It is not, I should say, true that the intellect is what Bergson seems to think it, essentially a geometrising faculty, if by this is meant, as Bergson shows by the development of his argument that he means, a measuring faculty. If it were true that the fundamental operation of the understanding is to measure, surely metrical geometry ought not to be, as it appears in fact to be, a complex doctrine resting on the application of special metrical axioms and conventions to the simpler system of pure descriptive geometry; it should itself be the whole of the science, and descriptive non–metrical geometry ought to have no existence.22 And, again, there ought to be no sciences but those of measurement and calculation; there should be no such things as the historical sciences, whose task is not to measure, calculate, and compute, but to interpret; and, again, no branches even of the mathematical sciences in which the fundamental conception is neither magnitude, nor number, but order. Indeed, if the intellect were really limited in its procedure in the way Bergson assumes, it is hard to understand how it could ever have discovered and proclaimed its own defect.
Again, the evolutionary explanation of the alleged limitation offered us, by the suggestion that intelligence has been fashioned under the stress of the practical necessity of finding our way about among the bodies around us, and is therefore naturally only competent for that task, seems to be naught. Even if we accept this speculation about the “origins” of intellect without misgivings, as we are not all prepared to do, it is a dangerous assumption that a power “evolved” to meet a particular practical need, can, when it has been evolved, do nothing but meet that particular need. Consider, for example, our capacity to appreciate beauty. Either this appreciation has come into existence by being “evolved” to meet a practical need, or it has not. If it has not, there seems no reason to assume that our capacity of understanding must have its origin in the pressure of practical needs. If it has, then it is at least clear that a “faculty” originally called into existence to meet a practical need continues, in this case, to serve wholly different purposes, and why may not the same thing be true about the “intellectual powers”? Finally, if we agree to leave these questions unraised, even on the double assumption that intelligence has “originated” entirely under the pressure of specific practical needs, and can do nothing, now that it is in existence, but meet those particular needs, it is pertinent, is it not, to remember that ever since living creatures have existed, it has been as much a practical problem for them to understand one another and establish a modus vivendi among themselves as to pick their way among their inanimate surroundings. So that, even on Bergson’s own assumptions about the way in which intelligence has been developed, there seems to be no particular reason why its capacities should have the limitations he supposes.
Moreover, it seems a subordinate falsification of the facts to say, as Bergson apparently does,23 that the whole “distortion” effected by the intellect in its attempts to deal with time arises from the dependence of all measurement on the primary measurement of segments of straight lines. All measurement is not measurement of lengths on a straight line; there is a second most important measurement of intervals, independent of such measurement of lengths, the estimation of angles, or, what comes to the same thing, of the ratios of arcs of circles to the whole circumferences. In point of fact, it is by angular measurement that we habitually estimate temporal intervals, whenever we appeal to a watch or a clock, and in the prehistoric past, the first rough estimates of intervals within the natural day must presumably have been made, independently of measurement of lengths, by this same method, with the sky for clock–face. Measurement of temporal intervals is thus primarily angular measurement, and angular measurement is, in its origin, independent of measurement of straight lines.
It is true, of course, that when we come to the construction of a complete metrical theory, we find ourselves driven to establish a correlation between these two, originally independent, systems of measurement. For in practice I can only assure myself that two angular measurements are equal by reference to the circle, the one plane curve of constant curvature, and I satisfy myself that my curve of reference is a circle by ascertaining the equality of length of its diameters, and this is done by the rotation of a measuring–rod. This consideration suggests two observations. One is that the problem which has attracted Bergson’s special attention is not rightly conceived when it is spoken of as the translation of temporal into spatial magnitude, or the imposing of spatial form on the non–spatial. It is only one case of the more general problem of the “rectification of a circular arc,” which, of course, meets us in metrical geometry itself, independently of any application to the estimation of temporal intervals. The only inevitable “deformation” which arises in connection with measurement, so far as I can see, is the element of approximation and error introduced when we attempt to find an expression for the length of an arc of a curve, and this “deformation,” as I say, has no necessary correlation with time. The difference between durée réelle and “mathematical” time must therefore be due to some other cause than the alleged artificial establishment of a correlation between temporal intervals and intervals on a straight line. It must come in already in the first attempt to apply angular measurement to temporal lapses, if it comes at all.
It should be further observed that the estimation of linear intervals themselves, apparently assumed by Bergson to be the special function of the intellect, and therefore to involve no difficulty or mystery, presents a real problem on its own account. Measurements made with different straight lines as axes can only be compared if we presuppose that the rotation of a measuring–stick, or its transference from one point of application to another, either makes no difference to its length, or affects it in a way which we can precisely determine. If our measuring–rods can change their length as they are turned through an angle, or carried from one place to another, and that to an unknown extent, there is an end of all comparison between segments of different straight lines. We have to postulate that our measuring–stick either remains of constant length during the process of transference from one position to another, or, at any rate, that if it changes its length during the process, it does so in accord with some knowable law of functional dependence. For this reason, some reference to time would appear to be involved in any set of postulates of spatial measurement. The complication of space with time is thus more intimate than it would be on Bergson’s assumption that measurements primarily form an exclusively spatial framework into which duration is subsequently and, in fact, accidentally inserted, with a good deal of deformation, by the misguided “surface” intellect. This is what I had in mind in saying above that Bergson’s doctrine seems to me, after all, not to get to the heart of the real problem.
It is just here, as I think, that the broad philosophical implications of the theory of Relativity come to our aid, and would still be forced upon us as metaphysicians, even if there were not well–known specific difficulties in the details of physical science, which seem to be most readily disposed of by the theory. The general implications of which I am thinking are, so far as I can see, independent of the divergences between the versions of “Relativity” advocated by individual physicists; their value, as I think, is that they enable us to formulate the problem to which Bergson has the eminent merit of making the first approach in a clear and definite way, and to escape what I should call the impossible dualism to which Bergson’s own proposed solution commits him. So long as you think, as Bergson does, on the one hand, of an actual experience which is sheer qualitative flux and variety, and on the other, of a geometrical ready–made framework of sheer non–qualitative abidingness, there seems to be no possible answer to the question how such a “matter” comes to be forced into the strait–waistcoat of so inappropriate a “form,” except to lay the blame on some wilful culpa originalis of the intellect. But if the intellect suffers from a culpa originis, all philosophical or rational thinking, including Bergson’s own theorising about the purely qualitative nature of “real duration,” is vitiated at its source. If the intellect is so radically corrupted, philosophy or science ought to be as impossible without supernatural revelation as morality must be, if the human will had been totally “depraved by the fall of Adam.” Yet Bergson puts forward his own philosophy as the product of ordinary rational reflection, not of special supernatural illumination. Moreover, as I have said already, his speculation loses its attractiveness when we reflect that it must always have been as much an intellectual necessity for our ancestors to find a modus vivendi among themselves as to explore the topography of their habitat. The “social environment” is as old and as insistent a condition of life as the geographical. Hence, even if we feel no difficulty in bisecting our experience into two mutually exclusive domains, an “outer” acquaintance with the bodily environment, and an “inner” experience of social and moral environment—though meditation on Kant’s Refutation of Idealism24 ought surely to suggest serious difficulty—it is hard to see what features of the second, if Bergson has described it correctly, can have suggested the systematic deformation of it by the imposition of a radically alien type of structure. We should rather expect to find the whole given falling apart into two separate and disjunct fields, the intrinsically geometrical field of an “outer world,” devoid of temporal form, and an intrinsically durational “inner world,” ungeometrisable, and therefore wholly non–metrical. For it is obvious that not every “matter” is susceptible indifferently of every “form”; the “matter” which is to exhibit, on being subjected to certain operations, the metrical “form” must at least have dispositionem quandam ad formam.
I believe we escape this difficulty when we put ourselves at the point of view from which the various formulations of the theory of Relativity agree in taking their departure. In the recognition that the true source of the problem to which Bergson has called attention lies deeper than he supposed, in the impossibility of locating an experience temporally without reference to space, or spatially without reference to time, we reach a standpoint which no longer presupposes the primitive bisection of experience into “outer” and “inner” against which the Kantian refutation of “idealism” protested, and therefore no longer requires us to believe in the transference of metrical structure from one domain, where it is supposed to be wholly adequate, to another, where it is merely inappropriate. We do justice to the patent fact that in life as it is lived the “inner” and the “outer” are given to us inseparably conjoined in every pulse of experience, and that every constituent of the “given” thus has intrinsically, for each experient, its own orientation in an individual “space” and dating in an equally individual personal “time,” and the two are given together.
Every one of my concrete “experiences” has its own intrinsic when and its own intrinsic where in the “fourfold continuum” of my life of personal interaction with my “environment.” Our difficulties, the very difficulties which lead in the end to the formulation of the theory of Relativity, arise in the process of “transsubjective” intercourse between persons, because such communication imposes on us the necessity to devise a supra–personal system of reference by which experients at different wheres may adjust their statements about the when of an event, and experients at different whens their statements about its where. Thus it becomes necessary to construct a scheme of location in space without reference to “local time,” and of location in time without reference to the experient’s momentary where. This process, described by Bergson as the forcing of an alien geometrical form upon experiences of pure duration, is really something different; it is a process of cutting location in time and location in space, originally given in actual experience together, loose from one another, and the motive for the artificial separation now becomes obvious. It arises from the need of mutual understanding between a plurality of experients. The separation of space and time is thus seen to be no freak of the intellect presuming beyond its proper limits, but an inevitable and justified moment in the execution of its rightful business. We are thus delivered from the view, really fatal to serious thinking, that we can get nearer to understanding reality by merely setting ourselves to undo the results of intelligent reflection, and reverting to a primitive intuition which is only another name for crude apprehension of the unanalysed and not understood. At the same time, the discovery that all metrical comparison of spatial magnitudes involves reference to time and date, and all comparison of durational magnitudes reference to place, makes it clear that, necessary as the separation is, it can never be carried completely through.25
If there is to be intercommunication, the intercommunication must have a common “timeless space,” and a common “spaceless time,” which may be used indifferently as frameworks of reference by experients located in different whens and wheres, but it is inherently impossible to construct a single timeless space, or spaceless time, which could serve as schemes of reference indifferently for all experients whatsoever. Thus the most “spaceless” temporal scheme we can construct for the purpose of unambiguous dating is, after all, weighted with an inherent reference to our ubi; it is a “local” time, though independent of the particular ubi of the individual experient who uses it, exactly as “Greenwich time” provides a common scheme for unambiguous dating, but a scheme only common to experients who are related by the condition that their particular wheres are all on the surface of our planet, and that they thus all partake in the motions of the planet relative to other bodies. There can be no one unambiguous scheme of location in either space or time valid for all experients, independently of every restricting condition. And the restricting condition of a common supraindividual scheme of spatial location will always involve reference to time, that of a common impersonal scheme for dating reference to space.26 The presence of these restricting conditions plainly means that every supra–personal space or time system of reference is artificial, or “conventional,” and, to that extent, arbitrary. But the arbitrariness is not the same thing as wilful caprice.
The difference is this. As the exponents of the theory put it, all such schemes involve the making of a “cut” between separation in time and separation in space, and the precise way in which the “cut” is to be made depends on the position of the experient making it in the fourfold “space–time” continuum. This position is arbitrary, in the sense that it is not dictated by the intrinsic character of the continuum itself that A should have his position in it here and now, B there and then. But it is not capricious; A does not assign himself his position “at his own sweet will.” That his position is what it is is given fact from which A cannot get away. It is thus, to take a simple example, arbitrary that the “common time” of a plurality of human observers should be Greenwich time, or Paris time. But it is not a matter of caprice, of “postulation” in what seems to be the Pragmatist sense of the word,27 that the “common time” of human astronomers and cartographers should be based on the selection of a meridian of the earth for reference; this condition is dictated, not indeed by the intrinsic character of temporal reckoning, but by the given fact that these savants are human beings, and that the habitat of man is just this particular planet.
The impossibility of working out a single unambiguous scheme which shall make the “cut” between the spatial and the temporal in precisely the same way for all experients, without any cross–reference to their when in the one case, or their where in the other, once more illustrates the principle on which we have repeatedly insisted, that though “rationalisation” of the given is the rightful and sole function of human intellect, the rationalisation, from the very nature of the problem, can never be carried out to the point of resolving the whole content of the given into completely analysed connections. However far the process may be carried, we are always still left with an unexhausted residue of the simply given and unexplained. In the words of our homely proverb, there are always more fish in the sea than have ever come out of it, and this is why we need never fear that the successive triumphs of intellect will ever have the melancholy consequence that experience will cease to furnish men with mysteries which provoke their curiosity, and so supply the intellect itself with its necessary stimulus.
My point, then, is that Bergson was right in asserting that duration as lived through has a rich individual content, and that when the immediate experience is, for perfectly legitimate purposes, replaced by the concept of monotonous uniform clock–time, this actual content of experienced duration has been artificially eliminated. He is right, again, in holding that it is this wealth of unanalysed content which makes duration as experienced historical and individual, and the elimination of it which explains why chronology is so different from, and inferior to, history. But in his further speculation I should contend that he is doubly wrong: wrong in supposing, as he seems to suppose, that there is not a difference of exactly the same kind between real volume and the qualityless, purely “mathematical” volume of the geometer,28 and wrong, also, in treating the process of “abstraction” by which we form the concept of clock–time as a sort of wanton blunder of the intellect, which the philosopher is called on simply to undo. The abstractive process, indispensable if the given is to be understood, is as salutary as it is necessary; the only pure error which calls for mere reversal is the error, which there is no logical necessity to commit, of supposing that the result of abstractive analysis has preserved the whole content of the concrete experience, of forgetting the presence of the unexplored remainders, of taking the function of analysis, which is to discriminate features within an unexhausted whole, to be the substitution for the whole of something else. If we are clear on these points, we shall not be tempted to imagine that scientific analysis and persistent thinking are no more than an elaborate process of misunderstanding, or to believe that the way to understand an inexhaustible reality is to stop thinking about it, and surrender ourselves to an undirected impressionism.
The defect of Bergson’s method in philosophy has always seemed to me to be that, however sound his impressions may be, as they clearly were in his intense appreciation of the variety of durée réelle, by his depreciation of logical thinking he deprives himself of all means of convincing us that they are sound. This, I imagine, is why, in spite of what seems to be the ultra–Monism of his metaphysic, he could be so eagerly welcomed as a philosophical Messiah by a professed radical pluralist like William James. It really looks to me as though James was more anxious that a philosophy should be unreasoned than that it should be true. Whatever else the philosophical exponents of the “theory of Relativity” have done, or failed to do, they have at least succeeded in showing that the distinction between real “becoming” and the de–individualised events of an abstract kinematical scheme can be reached as surely (and more intelligently) by exceptionally resolute hard thinking as by surrender to first impressions.
The main point for which I am contending, then, is this. We have at last learned to think of the simplest processes of “becoming,” or “happening,” as historical in a sense to which none of the familiar classical philosophies of ancient or modern times does justice, unless we are to make an exception in favour of Leibniz. We can think of all such processes as individual to the core, as intrinsically irreducible to any mere kinematical scheme. None of them, it seems, can any longer be thought of as no more than a mere translation through a temporal interval of an object which is what it is, and all that it is, “at a mathematical instant,” so that the time through which the object “lasts” is external to its specific nature.
I may illustrate the point from an analogous difference remarked upon by M. Meyerson,29 between our view of the spatial character of events and that which reigned until yesterday. M. Meyerson observes that we find a difficulty to–day in conceiving the adventures of Gulliver in Lilliput and Brobdingnag which could not have been felt by a reader of the eighteenth century. To the men of that, and indeed of the greater part of the nineteenth century, there was no inherent incredibility in the fiction that there are somewhere on our planet creatures precisely like human beings in every respect but their “absolute size,” English and French, like the English and French we know, except for the single fact that they are constructed on a much smaller or larger physical scale.30 For such a supposition was in keeping with the standing assumption of the science of the period that the only difference between the “molar” and the “molecular,” or “sub–molecular” worlds is one of scale, groups of molecules or atoms, for example, behaving exactly after the fashion of reduced solar systems. Even after the rise of modern chemistry, as we know, the physics of the early nineteenth century was still dominated by this analogy; physicists and physical chemists were looking everywhere for explanations of natural processes based on the transference of the Newtonian conceptions of attraction and the law of the “inverse square” to molecules or atoms. To–day Swift’s fiction is incredible to us for a much more serious reason than the absence of Lilliput and Brobdingnag from the map. We are satisfied that size is not a purely external and accidental character; molecules do not simply behave after the fashion of big visible lumps of stuff, nor atoms or electrons after the fashion of molecules. The molecular world is not a reduced replica of the molar, nor the sub–molecular of the molecular.
No one, it appears, has so far succeeded in devising a wholly satisfactory account of the behaviour of the electrons which constitute an atom, but one thing, at least, seems clear, that they behave in ways to which the deportment of members of a solar system offers no analogy. Thus, our conviction is that, in some unexplained way, there is an intrinsic connection between the scale on which a thing is built and its qualitative behaviour. In the same way I should anticipate that the philosophy and science of the future will probably come to recognise an intrinsic connection between the quality of real “happenings” and their temporal scale. (Indeed, I presume it follows from the mutual implication of space and time by each other that the connection cannot show itself in the one without showing itself in the other as well.) We may, I think, take it that a piece of real becoming regularly has its own distinctive tempo, intrinsic to it in the same way in which the tempo of a musical “movement” may be said to be intrinsic. If one changes the tempo of a funeral march, what one gets is not a funeral march with the pace of a polka, but something which is not a funeral march at all. So, I feel confident, if we could cut down the duration of the rhythmic cycle of our daily physical existence from twenty–four hours to twelve, we should not have left the quality of the life standing. A being who got through two of his periods to our one would not be a man living twice as fast as the rest of us, but a creature with a new type and quality of life.
Now this, if it is true, means that every different type of “continuant” involved in the cosmic “becoming” has quite literally its own “biography”: the translation of the historical succession of its phases into events in an abstract scientific “absolute time” demands the same sort, though not necessarily the same degree, of artificial reconstruction and schematisation as does the transcription of a piece of living human experience, in which, as lived, time has now raced, now ambled, now crawled, into a succession of chronological dates. The differences between the tempi of various “becomings” in the infra–conscious world will not, of course, reveal themselves to the continuants involved as such differences disclose themselves in our human sense of the contrast between “swift–footed” and “slow–pacing” time, but, for all that, they will show themselves in the qualitative character of the contribution made by each continuant to the whole “becoming” of the world. And this should make a very real difference to a philosophy of history. The more thoroughly we are convinced that the course of events is a complex of patterns of which the ingredients are individual “lives,” or, if the suggestions of that word are thought unduly biological, individual “adventures,” with a bewildering maze of tempi, the more completely shall we be emancipated from the tendency to look on history as a mere transcription into temporal succession of some general “law,” capable of being formulated in advance of the facts, just as we are the more emancipated from the confusion of history with such disciplines as economics, the more vividly we apprehend the truth that human history is not made by “economic forces,” but by countless individual men and women, not one of whom is an “economic man.” To be aware that history, the course of the actual, is made by individual creatures, and therefore by agents saturated with contingency, is to be delivered from that a–priorism which has beset philosophies of history in the past just because the philosophers who have constructed them have not sufficiently understood the difference between the historical and the merely chronological.
I do not, of course, mean that, like too many who have fallen under the spell of Bergson’s admirable rhetoric, we should see in history nothing but sheer contingency, confused and meaningless flux, any more than we are condemned to see nothing but meaningless flux in the succession of the themes of a symphony, or the scenes of a drama, though both are typical examples of a durée réelle very different from the “time” of text–books of kinematics. The symphony, or the drama, can exhibit a wide range of different tempi, but the differences and their order are prescribed by the unitary purpose of the composer or dramatist, present to all, transcending all, and freely expressing itself through all. I mean that the artist’s purpose is at once really in control of the “flux,” and itself—apart from incidental conditions which hamper it, such as the need to make a living by pleasing the fancy of a particular patron or audience—subject to no overriding “law.” One cannot presume, for example, to say that the supremely significant passages which most definitely disclose the artist’s purpose, and have to be taken as the clues for our understanding of his work as a whole, must be looked for in such and such a place (at the beginning, let us say, or in the middle, or near the end), nor exactly what contrasts we may expect to find in his work, and where we may expect to find them. These things are the artist’s “secret”; they may come to us quite unexpectedly as daring surprises, though, when we have read the whole in the light of them, we may end by finding them as much “in place” as they are surprising. If we found that we had a formula which would, of itself, tell us where we must anticipate the peculiarly revelatory passages of a man’s work, or just what contrasts it had in store for us, we should judge at once that our artist was not at his best, that his mind had been working, as we say, “mechanically.” It is the capable tradesman in the arts, not the great artist, who works with a formula.
Similarly it is the second–rate critic who comes to the study of a genius like Shakespeare with a philosophical formula out of Aristotle or Hegel which determines for him in advance what a great tragedy must be like, and proceeds to estimate works like Macbeth or Othello by their conformity to the formula. The truly intelligent method in criticism, as I take it, is inductive and tentative. It is to discover what the tragedian, for example, can do and should do for us by attentive study of what the supreme tragedies actually have done. Of course, such a method is hard to apply, because the fruitful application of it presupposes the soundness of our initial immediate aesthetic response to the work of art. If our “taste” is initially wrong, so that we begin, for instance, by founding our induction on Seneca’s plays rather than Shakespeare’s, this initial want of perception will vitiate our whole consequent theory. To say this is only to say, with Aristotle, that where there is absence of some form of αἴσθησις, direct apprehension of an aspect of the immediately given, there must also be corresponding absence of the “science,” the reflective analysis, which presupposes that aspect of the given as its foundation.
All this applies to the philosophy of History as much as to Aesthetics. The conviction that history is a drama with a meaning, and with a divine author of the play, does not mean that we can hope to invent any general formula on the strength of which we could anticipate the actual march of events, or tell just where to look for the particular episodes in which the purport of the drama is most plainly unveiled. History would be much more mechanical than it is, if we could say, for example, that it is dominated by a definite law of progression (or retrogression) on such and such specific lines. This is, in fact, what writers like Spencer and Comte, and, to a minor degree, Hegel, have tried to do, with the result that though their influence has often supplied a potent stimulus to interest in historical studies, adherence to their dogmas has generally ended in the distortion of historical actuality to make it fit some preconceived scheme, usually one which flatters our own vanity. It is manifestly preposterous, for instance, to maintain that Proclus or Damascius, rather than Plato or Aristotle, must be the “high–water mark” of Greek philosophical development, merely because the fifth and sixth centuries of our era are so much later than the fourth century before Christ, or that, for a similar reason, “industrialism” must be a sounder basis for the organisation of society than “militarism.” The facts may be as alleged, but the point has to be established by examination of them on their merits, not by appeal to an assumed law of the order of historical development. Reliance on such laws is only possible for us, if we lose sight of the all–important consideration that the rhythm of history is a very complex one, built up out of a multitude of intensely individual processes, each with its own characteristic rhythm. A truly historically minded philosophy of history has, for this reason, to recognise contingency, the possibility of “being otherwise,” as something much more deeply ingrained in the character of all historical fact than most philosophies of history hitherto attempted have been willing to allow.
As for the old bold programme of contemplating the world of fact not as suggestive of that which transcends time, but as itself transcendent of time, “under a form of eternity,” is it not really a proposal to contemplate that which is in grain historical as unhistorical; in plainer words, to contemplate it as though it were just what it is not? Along those lines there seems to be only one goal for thought, the Indian denial that finite individuality is more than an illusion, and, I suppose, an illusion which deceives the very finite individual who is declared not to be there. We might, indeed, have reached these conclusions independently of the particular reflections which have occupied the greater part of this discourse, but it was necessary to my purpose to take the route we have taken, since it seems to be conscious or unconscious preoccupation with the de–individualised spatial framework, or system of reference, mistakenly assumed to be given reality, which commonly does more than anything else to create the prejudice against finite individuality, at least in our Western world.
Spinoza’s Deus sive natura., for instance, is plainly simply “Euclidean space,” assumed to be conscious of itself and of all its possible geometrical configurations. The intellectus of this “god,” for that reason, consists of awarenesses of all these configurations in their various interrelations, in Spinoza’s own phraseology, of “ideas” corresponding one to one with all the “modes” of the attribute “extension.” The “finitude” of my mind means the fact that my mind has as its correlate only one small selection out of this system of geometrical determinations, the successive configurations of my body (my body being conceived simply as so much figured extension). Since, in such a purely geometrical world of uniform spatial relations, there are no real boundaries between one region and adjacent regions, my individuality is, of course, an illusion. But so also, though Spinoza seems not aware of this, is the individuality of “God.” An infinite “Euclidean” space is not a whole, nor a unity, and a mind which is by definition simply awareness of the possible determinations of such a space, is not a unity either. So far as I can see, the only way in which personal individuality can get recognition as even an apparent fact, in such a system, is through consideration of the body. The finite body may perhaps be regarded as at least quasi–individual, on the ground that it is capable of being displaced relatively to other finite bodies, while retaining unchanged the geometrical relations between its sub–regions; i.e. it moves as a whole. But to urge this, as the explanation of the fact that I seem to myself to have an individuality, is to make the unity and individuality of my body depend on its character as a continuant through an interval of time, and time thus becomes an ultimate of the system, an “attribute of God” on exactly the same footing as space. The proposition that deus est res extensa31 ought to apply to extension through time exactly as it does to extension over space; duration should belong to God in the same way in which volume does.
“Adequate” knowledge, therefore, ought to involve knowledge of a “mode” under an “attribute” of duration, exactly as it does knowledge of it under an “attribute” of extension. Or, alternatively, if reference to duration is, as Spinoza maintains,32 characteristic of imaginatio, inadequate thinking, the same thing must be true of reference to extension. But this is just what Spinoza will not admit. He wants us to think of volume as real in some sense in which temporal continuance is not real. At the end of his short life, indeed, he seems to have become aware of the immense difficulty of his position, as we see from his significant admission to Tschirnhaus that “Descartes was wrong in defining matter by extension, whereas it must and ought to be explained by an attribute which expresses an infinite and eternal essence”.33 Now this is precisely what extension does “express,” according to the Ethics.34
Apparently, then, if Spinoza had lived to the normal term of man’s life, he would have reconstructed his doctrine on lines which require the disappearance of “extension” from the divine “attributes.” Such a reconstruction from the foundations might or might not have led him to an agnosticism as complete as that in which Parmenides in Plato tries to entangle the youthful Socrates;35 in either case it would have been completely destructive of the “double–aspect” metaphysic of mind and body which recommends Spinoza to so many of our contemporaries. In view of the thoroughly unhistorical character of Spinoza’s ideal of knowledge, complete agnosticism would seem to be the reconstruction requiring the minimum amount of transformation in the system, since it would follow naturally from the combination of two positions—the elementary one that kinematics can no more dispense with the notion of duration than with that of configuration, and the familiar Spinozistic rejection of duration from “adequate cognition.” This would bring us back to the doctrine, with which Greek philosophy ended in the hands of Damascius, that the historical “phenomenal world” is throughout dependent upon a supra–historical principle, but a principle which is strictly “ineffable,” since we have, and can have, not even so much as an “analogical” knowledge of its nature. Metaphysics would have uttered its last word in formulating the doctrine of absolute nescience. This is, in fact, the goal which has been historically reached by all those theologies, within and without Christendom, which, starting from the sharp and absolute antithesis between the eternal and the temporal, foreclose all avenues to knowledge of God except that of the via remotionis, the rejection on principle of all propositions which characterise the divine by definite predicates.
How we are to escape from such a conclusion has, I think, been already indicated. If we look a little closely, we may see that, as I have suggested, what all philosophers of the Spinozistic type really resent in their experience of life is not so much its successiveness as its individuality. It is individuality they are trying to strip from the real when they bid us conceive it under what they call a “form of eternity”; they would like to get the hoc aliquid with no haecceitas about it. But in fact, to preserve reality as real, without its individuality as the given and this, is as impossible as it is to divest a man of his skin without killing him. The supra–historical, if sought along these lines, turns out to be nothing but the mere abstract forms of Newtonian uniform space and time themselves. Whatever is “in” them has a history and individuality of its own, and must therefore be relegated to the level of the merely contingent, the “passing” show. When we are in earnest with this way of thinking, we readily find that nothing is left of which we can say that it is not “in” time and space, beyond the time and space of the Newtonian kinematics themselves; they, and only they, are left standing as the “eternal” reality. And of them, as distinct from configurations and patterns within them, there is really nothing significant to be said; they are the merely formless, and consequently ineffable.36
It is this, I suppose, which explains the lifelong furious crusade of that half–educated man of genius, William Blake, against the work and name of Newton, a hatred springing from Blake’s intensely vivid sense of individual historical reality, the “minute particular,” as he repeatedly calls it. Like William Morris after him, Blake “looked on science as the enemy”—you may remember that his chosen name for the Aristotelian logic which he supposed to be its characteristic method was “the mills of Satan”37—because to him also science seemed to aim on principle at depriving things of the individual character which gives them their interest for the artist. It is suggestive, in this connection, to take note of the support Blake has incidentally received at the moment at which I am writing these words from a recent public utterance of one of our most distinguished mathematicians, who certainly intended no reflection on the fame or genius of Newton. In his address to the mathematical section of the British Association, delivered in the summer of 1927, Professor E. T. Whittaker contrasts the attitude of the “modern” physicist to geometry with that of the classical physicists of the seventeenth century, and, in doing so, makes striking use of a simile we have ourselves employed in an earlier passage. Geometry, he says, was formerly imagined to set the stage for the play in which the physicist’s atoms and molecules are the dramatis personae; now we have come to think of the characters of the play as making their own stage, as they move about. That is, I take it, we think of our protons and electrons historically, as genuine individuals, with real characters of their own, which determine the situations in which they find themselves, much as the personalities of men and women determine the situations to which they are called on to respond; on the older, classical view, the physicist’s atom could hardly be said to have an intrinsic character of its own; its adventures were prescribed for it by a situation it did nothing to make, and this was why it could be called a “manufactured article”.
It is true, indeed, that the simplest and minutest corpuscles with which the classical physicist could actually work were supposed to have at least one intrinsic endowment which contributed to determine their adventures, their mass, and that the masses of the atoms of different chemical elements had to be taken as differing. But in theory the hope was persistently cherished that the chemist’s atoms might still some day be resolved into complexes of still more primitive “prime atoms,” all indistinguishably alike even in mass. To–day, I understand, we are told that even the mass of the atom is not strictly invariable, but undergoes modification in the course of its adventures. To say that for the physicist of the future the personages of the play will be envisaged as creating their own stage is definitely to say that they must henceforth be thought of as genuine historical individuals, whose adventures will at once determine and be determined by their intrinsic characters, not be prescribed for them by the restrictions imposed by an external framework. Geometry will, in fact, apparently stand to physics much as “sociology,” if there really is such a study, stands to history.
If this is really so, we seem to be on the verge of a new and fruitful conception of the relation between the eternal and the temporal. Everywhere in the world which science appears to be opening to us we are dealing with the adventures and reactions on one another of genuinely historical individuals. Nowhere do we come on anything which has no more individuality than that of being located here and now, rather than there and then, in an external framework. It looks as though the conception of a “matter” which is no more than a name for the here and now as a sufficient “principle of individuation” had received a death–blow. But within the world of historic individuals there are indefinitely numerous conceivable degrees of wealth of individual character. A man has a richer individuality of his own than a terrier, and a terrier than a cabbage. And below the level of the animate there may well be a whole complicated hierarchy of types of individual, all lower than the cabbage, yet all graded among themselves. If so, the richer the type of an individual’s individuality, the more will his adventures on his course through history be seen to be determined by his own intrinsic character and his relations with individuals of his own or a higher type; the less will they appear to be prescribed for him by anything which can be plausibly mistaken for an indifferent and homogeneous framework. One might suggest (and I presume this is the significance for metaphysics of Professor Whittaker’s statement that in future the starting–point for the physicist’s construction of space will be the Riemannian geometry of infinitesimal regions) that what wears the look of such an indifferent framework, in reference to the adventures of creatures among their equals and superiors, is in truth itself a complex of adventures of individuals of poorer types among their equals.
Thus, to make my meaning clear by an example, since a man has a richer type of individuality than a beast, or a lifeless thing, it is the man’s relations with his fellowmen, much more than his relations with the brutes, or with inanimate nature, that determine his course through life; for they, in the main, make his personality what it is, and personality counts increasingly as shaping a man’s destiny, as we advance from the life of the savage “child of nature” to that of the civilised man who has an organised and conscious “personal” code of duties and rights. Similarly, among the beasts themselves, it is just those which have been admitted to some degree of intimate fellowship with men, such as our household dogs, among whom we most readily detect something analogous to an individual, not a merely specific, character as a determinant of the course of the creature’s life.
In practice the inanimate and the merely animate world are here for us as something to be increasingly overcome and moulded to our own characteristic human purposes, not as a source of fixed and final checks and limitations. Man, as we read in Genesis, was placed among the beasts “to have domination over the fish of the sea, and the fowls of heaven, and all living creatures which move on the earth.” Even the apparent indifference of inanimate nature to human purposes, the apparent ruthlessness which caused searchings of heart to Tennyson and his contemporaries, may most truly be read as an indication that this nature is there to be subdued increasingly to the real dominant interest of a fully human life, the establishment of right relations between a man and his fellows, or his God. Our main business in life is not that of the electron, to come to an understanding, if I may so express myself, with an environment of electrons; it is to “follow God,” and to be Mensch mit Menschen. It is the electron, not the man, for which the principal thing is to steer its way in the whirl of electrons. And yet this very complex of individuals of poorer content, which for us wears the prima facie appearance of an external framework of limitation to human individuality, is itself seen on closer inspection to be a complex of individuals with their own histories of adventure. Neither do we seem to come upon a reality which is, like the space and time of the classical kinematics, wholly de–individualised; that is a useful fiction constructed by selective abstraction, and nothing more.
It should follow that, with a strictly historical interpretation of individuality, we are forced to recognise that the ideal type of individuality, perfect and complete personality, can only be actual in an individual whose own inner character is not only the dominant and principal, but the complete and sole, determinant of the individual life, and such an individual could be no other than the ens realissimum, God. Here, with the complete disappearance of “outside,” or background, we should at last have transcended the historical, and risen from “becoming” or “process” to a life which is all activity of self–expression. And this, I believe, is the right way in which to understand the antithesis between the temporal and the eternal. When we say of God that He, and He only, is strictly and fully the eternal being who knows “no change, nor shadow of turning,” but is immotus in se permanens, we do not mean that there is nothing in this life in any way answering to what we experience as movement and process; we mean that the experience is there, but that in Him it is not, as it is in varying degree with all His creatures, one of being, more or less, “at the mercy” of circumstance; there is nothing in Him like what we experience as movement to an unknown or half–known, goal. He cannot say, as all of us have to say, “we know not what to–morrow will bring forth,” “we know not yet what we shall be.” For Him there is neither “unborn to–morrow,” nor “dead yesterday.” We are temporal, not because there is a foreign element in our being which does not come from God, but because what there is in us is not the whole plenitude of the riches of God’s being. That is withheld from us, not because “deity is jealous,” or is subjected in its generosity to some external limitation, but because full and perfect personality is unique in its very nature. And for us the meaning of this is that God always has in reserve more to give than we can either “deserve or desire”.
The bearing of all this on the problem to which we find ourselves once more recurring, of the relation of time as experienced, durée réelle, to eternity, would be briefly this. “Becoming” and time, as we know them by actual acquaintance, should be thought of not as the logical “contraries” of being and eternity, but as depotentialised, imperfectly communicated, being and eternity. Even at the lowest level of individuality to be met with in the actual world, what I have called the “adventures” of the humblest individual are not mere “becoming,” mere absolutes Werden, incessant “turning into something else,” such as Plato has in mind when he speaks of a γιγνόμενον ἀεί, ὂν δὲ οὐδέποτε. A real becoming is rather what the Philebus calls a γένεσις εἰς οὐσίαν, change, or process, tending to the establishment of self–maintaining activity of self–expression,
Still as while Saturn whirls, his luminous shade
Sleeps on his steadfast ring.
In the degree to which there is such self–expression on the part of the individual, its formal character is, so far, abidingness, not successiveness, eternity, not time; it does not become, but is. In the case of individuality which has reached the level of conscious personality in proportion as personality is realised, it is always possible to say
And what I was, I am,
and this is to possess a communicated and imperfect, but still a conscious, “form of eternity.” In our moral life, the word moral being taken in its widest sense to cover the whole of specifically human endeavour, our one omnipresent task is to convert mere γένεσις, transition, into γένεσις εἰς οὐσίαν, transition into abiding being, a task only completed as, in theological language, grace, the supernatural, comes to and crowns the achievement of effort, the natural. In so far as what has been said in our earlier discussion of eternity and temporality may seem, for expository purposes, to have treated the conversion of succession into abidingness almost as though it began, without any “natural” preparation, with a sudden passage from nature to supernature—though I doubt whether anything we said really implied so much—it calls for rectification in the light of this subsequent reconsideration, and in virtue of the sound and familiar principle that the work of grace is not to undo nature, but to complete it.
Now this has a direct bearing, both on the claims of institutional religion, with all its apparent contingency and externality, on our allegiance, and on the more speculative difficulties connected with the conception of divine immobility and impassivity. If abiding being is not the mere contrary opposite of becoming, but the end to which all real becoming strives, and which all, in varying degrees of fullness, achieves, we shall not be acting advisedly in trying to attain the “form of eternity” within our own souls by simply cutting ourselves off from participation in and profit by the ordinances of an institutional religion, on the ground that they are full of contingency as to their origin and suffer strange vicissitudes in their historical development. It will be an entirely invalid reason for denying that these ordinances may be for us eminently precious ways of access to God to urge that their worth could never have been discovered ante eventum by speculative metaphysics or “philosophy of religion,” that they are possibly historically continuous with practices which had at first no such spiritual value, or that their significance has undergone traceable modifications within historical times. For they, also, are γενέσεις, but γενέσεις εἰς οὐσίαν, and the question which really concerns us in practice is not how they began, or what transitions they have passed through, but what they succeed in being. If eternity does not simply stand outside time and opposed to it, but permeates it, contingency of origins and fortunes is compatible with abiding significance and value, and there is an end at once of two great prejudices which have done much to impoverish the spiritual life of serious aspirants after the eternal in all ages; the prejudice which is perpetually trying to create a fatal divorce between the “intellectual”—a phrase only too often virtually equivalent to the “conceited and half–educated”—and the “common people” in matters of religion (as though there were some special route to Heaven for the graduates of Universities), and the rival prejudice which sets up the real or supposed practice of some one age, the age of the Councils, or of the apostles, or of the little Galilean community of the years or months before the “giving of the Spirit,” as a stereotyped model for the spiritual worship of all mankind in all times, and at all places.
It ought, indeed, to be evident that the presence of contingency throughout the historical domain makes the establishment of such a fixed model once for all impossible. We know so little of what the future may hold for us, that we cannot say, for example, that Europe will hereafter continue to be, as it has been for so many centuries, the main home of the Christian tradition of worship. If it should ever happen, and we do not know that it may not, that the living centre of the Christian religion should be in India or China—or even in the younger of the United States—we may safely predict that the effects of such a change may be even more marked than the known past effects of the transplantation of that centre from Jerusalem to Rome.
Let us suppose, merely for the sake of illustration, that the existing dissipation of Christians into a plurality of conflicting Churches and sects should end in a general submission to the Papal See, with a full acknowledgement of the claims advanced for the Roman Pontiff. Even were that to happen, it is at least fairly certain that a Catholicism in which Popes and Cardinals were regularly Chinese, or Indian, or even Western Americans, steeped in the general national traditions of China, India, or, if the suggestion is thought too fantastic, even of the Pacific States, would be something very different in all sorts of unpredictable ways from a Catholicism such as we see to–day, with its long established traditions of exclusively Italian Popes and a preponderantly Italian Cardinalate. The “deposit” might be retained substantially intact through the transmigration, but the experience of the transmigration would certainly entail interesting discoveries about the precise nature and limits of this unchanging deposit.
And, again, with reference to the speculative problems of the meaning of divine immutability and impassivity, and the difficulties these conceptions suggest about the attitude of God to human folly, perversity, and wickedness. If we conceive the relation of time to eternity rightly, it will hardly be possible for us to interpret immutability and impassivity as though they meant that there is nothing at all in the divine life corresponding to the experiences we know as sorrow, disappointment, distress due to the disloyalty of those who profess to love us, and the ingratitude of those for whom we have done much, honest indignation at wrong. We shall hardly be satisfied to explain away the strongly anthropomorphic language of the Old Testament prophets on all these topics, after a fashion too prevalent among some older divines, as though it all meant nothing very much in particular, or to think of our Maker as a martinet schoolmaster, who makes a hollow pretence of prefacing his flagellations with the formula, never seriously believed by the victims, that “it hurts me more than it hurts you.” Nor, again, shall we be likely to take the “easy way out” adopted by many, really ditheistic, pietists of our own early days, who transferred all the real feeling to the human Christ, and at heart thought of the Father as looking on at the Passion from the outside, much as Edward III. is said to have looked on at the Black Prince’s struggle at Creçy from his safe observation–post in the windmill. If we have once understood that eternity is the characteristic form not of inaction, but of activity of selfexpression, we shall hardly be likely to retain the prejudice that emotion has no place in a strictly eternal life, or the fancy that any such phrase as Aristotle’s “thinking upon thinking” can be adequate as a description of the abiding self–expression of Deity. There will be as good reason for believing that emotion has its place in the divine life as for holding the same thing of intellectual apprehension.
In neither case, indeed, can we possibly think of the divine activity as merely identical with the poor human counterpart we know in ourselves. Emotion in God must be of a different tonality from emotion in ourselves, since there it cannot have the special characters which tinge even our richest emotional life, derived as it is from the experiences of aspiration to an unattained self–expression, of baffled endeavour, endurance of final impoverishment or defeat. But we may learn something from those richest of emotional experiences which in us accompany patient conflict with opposition and acceptance of wounds, when there is also serene and confident faith in the victory which is to crown the conflict. These experiences we should rightly refuse to describe by the superficial name of pleasures, but we should hardly hesitate to say that they are experiences of a joy which is all the richer for its costliness.
Imagine the experience Shelley has in mind when he tells us
To love and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent,
as it would be if vision took the place of hope. Would not that be to “enter into the joy of the Lord”? It is along such lines, I should say, that we must try to find a real meaning in the traditional language about the “impassivity” of the Supreme. Nor is it really harder to conceive of an emotional life which transcends our own in this fashion, in virtue of its freedom from transition, whether from a less to a more perfect, or from a more perfect to a less perfect, activity, than it is to conceive of an intellectual life free from our human need of crawling, hardly and slowly, from truth to truth by groping and inference. Neither in our own experience of knowing nor in our own experience of feeling do we ever reach the point at which there is actual achieved and complete saturation of subject by object, full and final possession of object by subject. Yet we may be sure that this point is always reached and rested in in God’s perfect possession of His own being. Our joy, and our self–apprehension, at their highest, can only be distant analogues of such an experience; but it is as true that the analogy is real as it is that it is distant.
I may refer for an account of this tendency in contemporary divinity to the careful study of J. K. Mozley, The Impassibility of God (Cambridge, 1926).
E. Bréhier, Histoire de la philosophie, i. 489–90.
1Laws, 803 C φύσει δὲ εἶναι θεὸν μὲν πάσης μακαρίου σπουδῆς ἄξιον, ἄνθρωπον δέ, ὅπερ εἴπομεν ἔμπροσθεν, θεοῦ τι παίγνιον εἶναι μεμηχανημένον, καὶ ὄντως τοῦτο αὐτοῦ τὸ βέλτιστον γεγονέναι.
Thuc. i. 22, 4.
Though he has been strangely mistaken for a Machiavellian by Nietzsche, who does not know how to appreciate the great men of the fifth century B.C. historically.
Tim. 37 C ὡς δὲ κινηθὲν αὐτὸ καὶ ζῶν ἐνόησεν … ὁ γεννήσας πατήρ, ἠγάσθη. This is an exact counterpart of “God saw his work that it was good”; but even Plato does not know that God loves sinners.
Cf. Lucretius, v. 243:
quapropter maxima mundi
cum videam membra ac partis consumpta regigni,
scire licet caeli quoque item terraeque fuisse
principiale aliquod tempus clademque futuram;
sic igitur magni quoque circum moenia mundi
expugnata dabunt labem putrisque ruinas:
omnia debet enim cibus integrare novando
et fulcire cibus, etc.
The Christians agreed with Lucretius in expecting an “end” of the “world,” but they looked forward to this end as the entrance on a better and abiding world, not as a recurrence to the beginning of an old and tedious story.
Tim. 41 B.
The phoenix has its meaning as a Christian symbol too, as when Crashaw writes “the phoenix builds the phoenix’ nest,” but it does not mean the κόσμος.
Cf. É. Meyerson, L’Explication dans les sciences, i. 206, ii. 405–6.
Cf. Science and the Modern World, cc. 5, 6.
I suppose the nearest Greek equivalent to “individual” is the Aristotelian τόδε τι. But the equivalence is most imperfect. The most commonplace John Smith is something a great deal more than ἄνθρωπός τις.
Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 80: “It”—i.e. the Newtonian scheme taken as an account of the real world—“is fully worthy of the genius of the century which produced it. … It is not only reigning, but it is without a rival. And yet—it is quite unbelievable.”
Tim. 37 C. The MSS. read τῶν ἀιδίων θεῶν “of the eternal gods,” but θεῶν is pretty certainly an old corruption.
Tim. 37 C–D.
Tim. 39 c.
In fact, his point seems to be simply that mankind at large do not understand that the revolutions of all the planets—the word means literally the “tramps” of the sky—are as much embodiments of “natural law” as those of the sun and moon upon which man depends for his knowledge of times and seasons. The “tramps” are not really vagabonds.
It is also why “time,” like the exact geometrical structure of the corpuscles of Timaeus, is expressly said to be contributed to the physical world by νοῦς or God, the intelligent and purposive “cause,” not by ἀνάγκη.
Science and the Modern World, p. 38: “This fact, that the general conditions transcend any one set of particular entities, is the ground for the entry into mathematics, and into mathematical knowledge, of the notion of the ‘variable’. It is by the employment of this notion that general conditions are investigated without any specification of particular entities. This irrelevance of the particular entities has not been generally understood; for example, the shapiness of shapes, e.g. circularity and sphericity and cubicality as in actual experience, do not enter into the geometrical reasoning.”
Bosanquet, Logic2, i. 258: “Time is real as a condition of the experience of sensitive subjects, but it is not a form which profoundly exhibits the unity of things.”
Cf. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 74: “I agree with Bergson in his protest; but I do not agree that such distortion is a vice necessary to the intellectual apprehension of nature.”
On the relation of metrical to projective and descriptive geometry see Russell, Principles of Mathematics, cc. xlvii., xlviii.; Couturat, Les Principes des mathématiques, pp. 190 ff.
At least this seems to be assumed throughout the argument (op. cit. c. 2) offered to show that time “as a homogeneous medium” is reducible to space. (E. Tr. Time and Free Will, p. 98.) It seems to be forgotten that “spatial” measurement itself has its own problems.
Kdr V2 274 [Werke, iii. 197]. Cf. N. Kemp Smith, Commentary on Critique of Pure Reason, 298 ff.
The process is necessary, because it is part of that “rationalisation” of experience without which communication between persons would be impossible, and the communication of experience is necessary for the understanding of it. It can never be fully carried through, because no experience is completely communicable in its concreteness. Plato understood this better, perhaps, than any philosopher before or since. Ep. vii. 343 E ἡ δὲ διὰ πάντων αὐτῶν (sc. names, λόγοι, δόξαι, etc.) διαγωγή, ἄνω καὶ κάτω μεταβαίνουσα ἐφ᾽ ἕκαστον, μόγις ἐπιστήμην ἐνέτεκεν εὖ πεφυκότος εὖ πεφυκότι, and yet none of the indispensable means of communicating ἐπιστήμη can ever communicate it whole and unambiguous. Ib. 343 B μυρίος δὲ λόγος αὖ περὶ ἑκάστου τῶν τεττάρων, ὡς ἀσαφές.
Cf. Whitehead, Principles of Natural Knowledge, cc. 9–12; Theory of Relativity, c. 2; Eddington, Nature of the Physical World, lecture 3.
I say “seems,” because I have never been able to discover with certainty whether the leading professed “Pragmatists” really mean what their insistence on the “personal factor” ought to imply, or something much more moderate, to which I, for one, should have no objection, or both at once.
I am thinking of Prof. Whitehead’s happy references to the mathematician’s complete neglect of the “shapiness of shapes” already quoted.
É. Meyerson, L’Explication dans les sciences, i. 273 ff.
Johnson, who was prejudiced against Swift, it may be remembered, denied that his fiction showed any real invention. “When once you have thought of big men and little men,” he said at the Club on Friday, March 24, 1775, “it is very easy to do all the rest.”
Ethics, ii. 2.
Ib. ii. 30, 31, 44, cor. 2.
Ep. 73 (V.V.L.).
I. 15 Schol., ii. 2.
Plato, Parm. 133 A ff.
Cf. Plato, Tim. 50 E πάντων ἐκτὸς εἰδῶν εἶναι χρεὼν τὸ τὰ πάντα ἐκδεξόμενον ἐν αὑτᾦ γένη, 51 A ἀνόρατον εἶδός τι καὶ ἄμορφον, πανδεχές, μεταλαμβάνον δὲ ἀπορώτατά πῃ τοῦ νοητοῦ καὶ δυσαλωτότατον.
When Blake asks
“And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?”
he must not be supposed to be making a prophetic attack on factories and “industrialism.”