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Lecture 9: Religion and Philosophy

THE preceding Lectures will have, I think, brought out the fact that the problem of Personality in God is the same as that which is expressed in asking “Is God the Absolute?” or again: “What is the relation of Philosophy to Religion?” It may at first sight seem as though the undeniable existence of religions and even of great religious systems which do not ascribe Personality to God were a sufficient argument against this identification. It may be remembered that in the historical portion of this course I was so far from disputing the existence of Religion apart from a doctrine of Divine Personality that I dwelt upon the evidence that such a doctrine it was not easy to find explicitly held outside of Christianity, and that the expression “Personality of God” as distinguished from “personality in God” will be sought in vain in the authorized formularies (or at least in those of not quite recent origin) accepted by any of that large majority of Christian Churches and sects which has adhered to the main Christian tradition by retaining the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in the Unity of the Godhead.1 Nevertheless I think it will be found that it is just in proportion as we interpret our relation to God as a personal relation —and only in such an interpretation can I find a sound basis for a doctrine of Divine Personality—that our religious experience will prevent us from being overborne by what we may call the dialectical difficulties, drawn from considerations which abstract from the specifically religious consciousness, that beset the attribution of personality to the supreme Reality. It is the fact that Religion is, in the words of Lord Gifford's will, a felt knowledge of God, calling into play emotions unmistakably akin to those excited towards our fellow-men in intercourse with them—emotions of reverence and of love—which differentiates it from Philosophy, and gives meaning to the remark which comes naturally to our lips in reading certain passages in the Metaphysics of Aristotle and in the Ethics of Spinoza, that those great men, who seem beyond most others of the famous teachers of our race to move in a region of thought remote from ordinary religious practices, have after all found in their philosophy itself what is unquestionably a religion.

Perhaps I may be allowed to state what I take to be the truth as to the relation of Religion to Philosophy in words which I have already used elsewhere when dealing with the same subject.

“When men have begun to put to themselves questions of the kind in attempting to answer which Philosophy consists, and to ask what is the true nature of this mysterious world in which they find themselves, how it comes to be there and what is at the back of it all, they have never approached these inquiries with a mind completely free from prepossessions. In a far-distant past their fathers had begun dimly to feel the presence of the mystery which encompassed them on every side. With a fearful sense of its strangeness to them, its weirdness and uncanniness, there was mingled an anticipation of the possibility of establishing a familiarity or of proving a kinship with it, which might be the hope of a securer, freer, more powerful existence for themselves than was possible under other conditions. During a long course of ages such fear of the mystery and desire of coming to terms with it, in combination with the more disinterested emotions of awe and curiosity, had everywhere given rise to some complicated system of forbearances and actions, of ceremonies and stories, expressive of the habitual attitude of a people towards the powers that surround them and whose ways are not as theirs—in a word, to a religion. Thus the philosopher, when he begins to philosophize, is already accustomed to a certain way of approaching the riddle which he desires to solve, by which he cannot fail to be affected, whether or no he be himself inclined to take it for a clue in his own investigations. But it belongs to the very essence of Philosophy that it should not so take anything for granted as to refuse to test and examine it before admitting it as true. And so neither the initiators of a new philosophical movement nor an individual who is beginning philosophical studies for himself can avoid in the first instance taking up an attitude of independence towards religious tradition, which, if the representatives of that tradition do not tolerate it, may easily pass into hostility. The opposition between Philosophy and Religion, which we so frequently observe, is thus both natural and inevitable. It arises from the fact that they are both concerned with the same object.

“It does not, however, follow that Philosophy must eventually take the place of Religion as a better way of doing what Religion has tried to do in an inferior manner. This might be so if the theories of the origin and course of nature which, often form part of a religious tradition constituted the whole or the most important part of Religion.2 But this is not so. Rather it would seem that men do not cease to find in the universe that which evokes and “in divers portions and divers manners” satisfies their instinct of reverence, their impulse to worship. This experience can only find expression in some sort of Religion. But, just because Religion is a response to what is felt to be the innermost heart of Reality as a whole, the whole nature of man necessarily claims to take part in it. Hence a religion when once the level of spiritual development is reached at which Philosophy can come into existence, can no more ignore or evade the criticism of Philosophy, without abdicating its claim to express the response of the whole man to the Divine, than Philosophy can in its turn without self-mutilation ignore the testimony of religious experience to the nature of that ultimate Reality which it seeks to apprehend as it truly is.”3

Philosophy is from the first and throughout a search for the one in the many, which, if successful, must issue in the knowledge of a single ground of all things, or of an all-inclusive unity—in other words, of ‘the Absolute’ of modern philosophers. Now the aspiration after such a knowledge has its original and constant stimulus in that hope and promise of its fulfilment which the religious experience supplies,4 so that I think it would not be too much to say, not only that Philosophy could not have arisen, but that it can never long flourish, except in the soil of Religion.5

An industrious school of thinkers in France who lay especial claim for themselves to the title of sociologists—I regret that we have had within the last year to lament the death of their distinguished leader, M. Emile Durkheim—have contended that such elementary and, to science, indispensable notions or ‘categories’ as those of Time, Space, Number, Causality, have their origin in the arrangements of primitive society, arrangements which excite in the members of the groups to which they belong emotions of the kind which we call religious. I have elsewhere attempted to deal somewhat fully with this theory, which has been presented by the writers of whom I have just spoken in a form which appears to me to be highly misleading, and in connexion with a general view which I take to be philosophically unsound. Nevertheless in my judgment it contains, although mixed with some error, a genuine truth of high importance.

This truth may be stated as follows. It is characteristic of the human mind to concern itself with the All; it is, indeed, in virtue of this characteristic that it can properly be called rational. But in thus concerning itself with the All it always starts with its immediate social environment. The measures of Time and Space used by primitive man, the interest taken by them in certain numbers, the ways in which they account for striking events in their experience, although, since they presuppose the notions of Time and Space, Number and Causality, they cannot without a fallacy be described as the source of these notions, yet are certainly determined by this immediate social environment. Only gradually have men come to realize that their immediate social environment is not the dominant fact in the universe. Only gradually has their consciousness of the world, which at first was, as we may put it, mediated to them through the consciousness of their group, become the consciousness of a Reality which cannot be identified with even the most comprehensive of human communities. But, as ever wider and wider horizons have opened to their view, the religious emotion which was from the first excited in the performance of those actions whereby men shared in the common life of their tribe has continued to attend the consciousness of the all-embracing Unity wherein they “live and move and have their being.”6 The French sociologists whom I mentioned above are apt to speak of the object of their religious consciousness as though it were a merely subjective fact, the product of man's social nature. But it would in my judgment be better to acknowledge that the very social consciousness wherein consciousness of the supreme Unity has from the first been implicit is rooted in the spiritual nature of that supreme Unity itself, which in the movement of man's spiritual and social life has been carrying on that perpetual revelation and communication of itself which belongs to its own innermost being.

Although it would no doubt be idle to contend that whatever has at any time “been called God and worshipped”7 has been explicitly conceived as a single Ground of all existence or as an all-inclusive Unity, the ‘Absolute’ of modern philosophers, yet I am persuaded that no God that is explicitly distinguished from the Absolute can prove a satisfying object to the religious consciousness in any one who has attained to the level of intellectual development at which he can ask himself the question what is behind and beyond the God whom he worships. Anthropologists have been puzzled by the ‘high gods’ of primitive peoples, who are but little worshipped themselves but are thought of as older and more venerable than deities more frequently in the thoughts of their adorers. I suspect that these ‘high gods,’ whatever the original application of the names given to them (which may differ widely in different instances), reflect an early and embryonic form of speculation upon that one ultimate Ground of all existence which philosophers call the Absolute, and which, as soon as it is distinguished from “whatever gods there be,”8 at once appropriates to itself the attributes of genuine and primary Godhead, reducing all other objects of worship to a comparatively lower grade. These lower gods may be more familiar, more intimately known, more practically worth propitiating; but they are as Gods inferior to the Beings who stand for the ultimate Reality at the back of everything in these rudimentary attempts at a metaphysical system for the Absolute. Thus something less than the Absolute, or what stands for the Absolute in any particular system, may be and often is “called God and worshipped” and may even be far more considered and worshipped, and that, very likely, because more feared, than that which does stand for the Absolute. But it is to that which stands for the Absolute that in the end the greatest reverence must be paid; nor can the religious consciousness forbear the demand that the supreme God should be the supreme Reality, the Absolute and nothing less. Over against this statement, however, must be set another, namely, that apart from the religious consciousness the Absolute cannot be known as God. The former statement indicates the intimate connexion, the latter the distinction, never to be neglected, between Religion and Philosophy.

When modern philosophers speak of the Absolute and ask what is or stands for the Absolute in any particular system of thought, what they have in view is the principle of Unity which is reached at last by that search for a ‘One in the Many’ upon which every philosophy is engaged. But of course a search for a ‘One in the Many’ may not go further than the attainment of some subordinate principle which claims to unify not the whole multitude of appearances which make up the world of our experience but only some restricted group of them. And we may, I think, learn something to our purpose from a study of some subordinate principles of unity, and of the light which may be thrown by such a study upon the nature of that more comprehensive principle with the discovery of which we could be satisfied and find rest from our labours.

A principle of unity in multiplicity which early attracted the notice of philosophers is the Universal. We may perhaps profitably ask how far the manner in which the Universal unifies its particulars can be supposed to throw light on the nature of the supreme principle of unity—the Absolute.

A Universal, taken in its widest sense, is an identical nature manifested in many instances each of which is, as an instance of it, entitled to the common name. For example, the common name ‘horse’ is used with an equal right of every animal which exhibits a certain nature which we may call ‘horse-ness.’

Now it is clear that we cannot regard the Absolute as a ‘universal’ in the sense that it is an identical nature exhibited by many instances, each of which may bear the common name and be called an Absolute. To speak of many Absolutes would be self-contradictory. When Mr. Bosanquet9 insists that the Absolute is individual—is, indeed, according to him the only genuine individual—he is calling attention to that feature in any notion that we can form of the Supreme Unity which differentiates it from a logical ‘universal.’ On the other hand, the expression ‘universal’ is sometimes used (often, as I venture to think, without sufficient care being taken to indicate that we have here passed beyond the limits of the meaning given to it above) for a ‘systematic whole.’ It is not difficult to understand how this use is connected with the former. The identical nature may appear in each of its instances with a definite modification; a genus is a ‘universal’ of this kind, and the species are its ‘particulars.’ Where these species can be arranged in a serial order and exhaust between them all the possible alternatives of which the identical nature common to them all is capable, there we may be said to have a systematic whole which determines the mutual distinctions and relations of all its parts. It is among the abstract objects of mathematical science that one can most readily find illustrations of an exhaustive series of alternative species whose differences are determined by nothing but the generic nature itself. It is thus that numbers must be either odd or even, lines either straight or curved, triangles equilateral, isosceles, or scalene, and so forth. But of course for the construction of an ideal of a systematic whole we should be far from finding an adequate pattern in this region of mere abstractions. We should gain more from reflection on the nature of a complex work of art, or of a rich and many-sided character. Such wholes as these are (what ‘number’ and the like are not) eminently individual; and the supreme Unity must certainly be conceived as possessing in the highest degree the attribute of individuality.

We may now turn to another principle of unity, that of Substance: and in this case the attempt to construe the Absolute in terms of it has been made, as is well known, by one of the world's greatest thinkers. But the few observations which I shall submit to you will make no sort of pretension to be a general criticism of the philosophy of Spinoza. It would be rash to take for granted that by pointing out the inadequacy of the common account of Substance as a description of the nature of the Absolute one must be disposing of any system in the terminology of which the word ‘Substance’ happens to play an important part. Words are, indeed, less amenable to dictation in respect of their meanings than Lewis Carroll's ‘Humpty-Dumpty’10 supposed: but as “customs,” according to Shakespeare,11 “curtsey to great kings,” so do the usages of language to great philosophers.

The ancient contrast of Substance and Accident will not, I think, help us in the present inquiry. It belongs to the Aristotelian philosophy, in which substances coexist with other substances as real as themselves. But the Absolute cannot thus coexist with other Absolutes. Hence we find the Schoolmen maintaining that in God there are no Accidents; and when Spinoza confines the term ‘Substance’ to the Absolute, we find that its correlate in his system is not Accident but Attribute. It is possible to speculate on the possibility of a Substance existing without Accidents; but a Substance is nothing apart from its Attributes, nor Attributes apart from the Substance to which they belong; thus only bodies can gravitate, and gravity can only belong to bodies. It may seem that an ultimate principle of unity, such as we seek under the name of the Absolute, would not be what we are looking for, if it were not a unity of this type—if the detail of the Universe were not in the last resort such as could only belong to this Universe or (to express the same thing in other words) if the Universe might have equally well been differently constituted. But here serious difficulties seem to threaten us. Can we, and especially can our religious consciousness, acquiesce in what would appear to be a system of rigid determination throughout, wherein nothing can be otherwise than it is and whatever is is at once the best and the worst because the only thing possible? It is just because of these difficulties that so many have found themselves unable to subscribe to that famous doctrine of the Absolute Substance to which I have already referred, and that the religious world in particular, both in Spinoza's own day and long after, could see in him, though he wrote as one to whom God was all in all, the very prince of atheists.

The inadequacy of the notion of Substance as a guide to the nature of the Absolute is seen most obviously in this, that it is no less applicable to the inanimate or material than to Life and Spirit. Since, however, the Absolute manifests itself in Life and Spirit as well as in lifeless Matter, a notion which abstracts from the difference between these two spheres of being cannot be the adequate ground and principle of both and also of the distinction between them. And that universal determinism which strikes so terrible a chill to the heart does so because what it at once suggests to the mind is not a spiritual activity, such as we know in our own thought and will, but rather some kind of blind mechanical process, the discovery of the universality of which would make our thought and will themselves a mockery and an illusion.

Can we, then, find in Life the clue we desire? Life too is a principle of unity with an infinite variety of manifestations. In our own day the imaginative genius and persuasive eloquence of M. Bergson have been lavished on a brilliant presentation of Life in the character of the Absolute.

In this philosophy of ‘creative evolution’ we are offered, in place of the determinism associated with the doctrine of the Absolute as Substance, a theory which, denying that the road yet to be traversed by Life is determined beforehand either after the manner of the regular working of a machine or after that of a plan directed to a predestined end, leaves, in M. Bergson's striking phrase, “the gates of the future open”12; a theory which has seemed to many to be an inspiring call to adventure and a message of hope. Yet after all perhaps it is only to cheerful and sanguine temperaments that we can fairly expect it to be a message of hope; for to persons of a timid and apprehensive disposition the thought of those open gates might become rather a source of fear and trembling in the presence of a boundless uncertainty.

I am convinced that we should do better to follow M. Bergson in representing to ourselves the Absolute as a universal Life than to think of it as a lifeless Mechanism And, before indicating what notwithstanding seems to me wanting even in this representation of it as Life, I will dwell briefly on some especial advantages which it may be held to possess, not only over any attempt to conceive the Absolute after the analogy of a lifeless mechanism, but even over views which seek for a clue to its nature rather in Thought or Will than in mere Life.

These advantages consist mainly in this, that animated nature, when studied apart from any metaphysical or theological presuppositions, appears to present the spectacle of a constant effort after adaptation to environment, not such as to indicate some determinate end in view to which we could give a name and could fancy it as established beforehand by some external designer, but rather such as to suggest in the case of each species of organism an instinctive desire to preserve and perpetuate itself, without any regard to the interest of other species; and also what we can hardly describe otherwise than as a wonderful ingenuity displayed in the gratification of this desire, although at the same time an ingenuity divorced from any appearance of those processes of discursive reasoning and calculation which we associate with ingenuity in the case of human beings.

Now it has always been the grand obstacle to the adoption either of a theistic theory of the universe, or even of a pantheistic theory which would emphasize the unity and goodness of the immanent Spirit, the Soul of the ‘one stupendous whole’ (to quote the poet Pope's classical expression of this kind of view),13 that the world of living beings is revealed to our most careful inspection as the theatre of a vast conflict, ‘a struggle for existence,’ wherein pain and self-seeking (the typical instances of physical and moral evil respectively) are indispensable conditions of the result achieved, and in which there occur not only success and victory, but also failure and defeat. Can we not, it may plausibly be asked, avoid these difficulties by frankly admitting that in contemplating Life, the impulse manifested in this great movement with its general upward tendency attested by the actual evolution of reason and civilization, science and morality, but also with its patent indifference to the standards by which we judge of individual human conduct we are face to face with the general character of the ultimate Reality? And we must not overlook, in estimating the attraction of such an admission, the appeal which it is found to make to the poetical or artistic temperament. The possessor of such a temperament is quick to see interest and beauty in situations from which the moralist turns away with disgust and condemnation, and is accustomed to rely rather upon intuition than upon reasoning. It is here interesting to note, though I do not propose to examine the affiliation by M. Bergson of artistic intuition to the ‘instinct’ which is most strikingly exhibited in bees and ants rather than to the ‘intellect’ characteristic of human beings alone among the living inhabitants of this planet.

To one more point in favour of this representation of the Absolute after the fashion of an all-pervading Life I must call your attention. It undoubtedly is capable of meeting, to a certain extent at least, the demands of the religious consciousness.

‘Half a beast is the great god Pan’14; yet he is a great god too. The felt presence of that mysterious Power has at all times availed to call forth from the hearts of men the sentiment of solemn awe, in intimate fusion, however, with the sensuous excitement proper to the mood of abandonment to impulses which are the very vehicles and instruments of Nature's divine fecundity.15 Nay, to tell the truth, religious emotion is perhaps more easily to be found in such worship as this than in one paid to a God conceived mainly as a Supreme Reason and Goodness; although no doubt at what we are accustomed to call higher levels of religious experience there is found in exceptional cases a mysticism like that of the “undaunted daughter of desire,”16 which, although disassociated from the satisfaction of animal instincts, is for all its “large draughts of intellectual day” at least no less passionate than any that the most orgiastic rites of nature-worship could show.

In passing from the description of this mode of conceiving the Absolute to the criticism of it, I would emphasize the point that it is not the positive side of it, the importance attached to Life as a manifestation of the ultimate Reality, but the negative side of it, the depreciation in comparison of Reason and Goodness, which seems to me open to objection. The Reason and Goodness for which a claim can be made with any hope of success to be regarded as characteristic of the Supreme Being will certainly be a living Reason and an active Goodness, no mere stereotyped formula or rule for thought or action such as is (it would appear) suggested to some minds by the mention of these words.

I will do no more than mention in passing that those who conceive the Absolute on the analogy of Life, no less than those who conceive it as Mind or Spirit, may be challenged to give an account consistent with their view of what we call the material world, which is not alive, and yet is commonly regarded as indisputably real. Attempts to explain material things as no more than ‘ideas,’ in the sense of modifications of the spirit or soul that ‘perceives’ or ‘conceives’ them, will be uncongenial to thinkers to whom part of the attraction of the notion of Life as that which will bring us nearest to the nature of the ultimate Reality is certainly its comprehension of subconscious and unconscious processes along with such as rise, in the phrase now so familiar, ‘above the threshold of consciousness.’

M. Bergson, whom I have already taken as the chief representative at present of the mode of thought which I am now considering, sees in inert matter only the living movement around us observed from the point of view of one particular living and moving individual, or perhaps it would be more strictly in accordance with the spirit of M. Bergson's philosophy to say, an individual life and movement; for there is for this philosophy no individual substance of which movement and life are states alternative to rest and death. Just as from a train in motion another train moving alongside at an equal speed appears to be standing still, so to us as individuals the movement of life around us presents the appearance of motionlessness and gives rise to the notion of an inert matter existing, where in fact there is a life going on no less real than that of which we are aware in ourselves.17 I will candidly confess that this account of Matter has never struck me as illuminating; but rather as an example of a certain tendency, characteristic of M. Bergson, to disappoint his readers by offering a vivid picture of a familiar object as the explanation of something else of a quite different nature which we find it difficult to understand. I think that this objection to M. Bergson's account of Matter would hold even if one were able to admit more fully than I could admit the principle of his philosophy to which it is accommodated, namely that there are in very truth no moving things but only movement itself, not, strictly speaking, even many distinct movements; but only one continuous indivisible movement, which needs no substance in which to inhere and is itself the only Reality, itself at once the World and Life and Time.

It is not, indeed, necessary that all partisans of the claim of Life to be our sufficient clue to the nature of the Absolute should adopt this particular theory of Matter which we find in M. Bergson. But it is, as I have said, worth noting that they will in any case be in no better position in this respect than the defenders of other views which are not naturalistic. The fact that Life may seem to be, so to speak, more deeply immersed in matter than Spirit does not enable us any the more to explain Matter out of that which we contrast with it, whether that be Spirit or whether it be Life. In either case Matter is within our experience, the medium of its manifestation, the instrument of its communication, the treasury of its past gains. We may not unreasonably suppose that it exists for its sake and in order to its service. But this is no less reasonably to be supposed in the case of Spirit than of Life, no more capable of demonstration in the case of Life than of Spirit. The assertion must in both cases rest upon a judgment of value which declares the subordination in some such fashion as has been suggested of Matter to Spirit or Life, as the case may be, to be preferable to that of Spirit or Life to Matter as a mere by-product of the latter. For, as the history of the Cartesian philosophy proved long ago, a theory which makes them quite independent of each other will never be found tenable in view of their intimate mutual relations, especially in the case nearest and most interesting to ourselves, that of the union of body and soul in human beings. I am in no way inclined to dispute the judgment of value in question; but it is quite as necessary to the position of the thinker who envisages the Absolute as Life as it is to him who envisages it as Spirit.

Nor can I feel satisfied that there is not in the tendency to emphasize Life rather than Spirit or Reason or Goodness as the highest category under which we can consider Reality a risk of taking refuge from certain difficulties which beset the adoption of these rival claimants in what is after all an evasion rather than a solution of the problems raised. That Spirit is more than Life and that in Spirit we have made explicit what in Life was only implicit it would be hard for any one to deny who was influenced in his preference for Life as the most important characteristic of Reality by such notions as have been described above. But if so, must it not be in Spirit rather than in Life that we shall find the secret even of the latter? Again, while it has seemed sometimes as though Life would afford a satisfactory mean between mere Mechanism, which seems plainly inadequate to our purpose, and Reason or Intelligence, to which the facts of experience seem to be inadequate, are we sure that this is not only because we have not made up our minds as to whether Life is in truth Mechanism or Intelligence and willingly leave it to be taken for either or both and so avoid the responsibility of decision? For my part I suspect that the words used in a remarkable article on Mechanism, Intelligence, and Life contributed some time ago to the Hibbert Journal18 may contain the truth on this subject. “It will, I think, appear,” says Mr. Joseph in this article, “that the real antithesis to Mechanism is Intelligence, and that Vitalism assumes in living things activity such as nothing known to us except Intelligence can show.”

Lastly, if we study the language used of Life by its devotees, we shall, unless I am much mistaken, discover a singular oscillation in this view of it as respects its relation to Goodness. On the one hand they seem to regard it as a point in its favour that it is, so to say, indifferent to our values, whether ethical or economic (to use a distinction brought into use by Signer Croce). On the other hand, they sometimes appear to find in this very indifference something of greater worth, and more apt to stir us to awe and reverence—something, in fact, in the widest sense better, at the heart of things, than would be a puritanically rigorous Moral Law or a Providence solicitous of our private comfort. We are thus led to wonder whether we can really get away, under cover of accepting Life for the Supreme Reality, from that search for Reason and Goodness as the ultimate moving principle of the Universe in which the classical tradition of philosophy from Plato and Aristotle downwards has found the true business of the would-be ‘spectator of all time and all existence.’19

Yet perhaps the attempt to set up Life as the true type of Absolute Reality may serve a useful purpose in counter acting a tendency to interpret too narrowly the words ‘Reason’ and ‘Goodness’ as designations of the object of our search. We have seen that this attempt makes a special appeal to the artistic temperament; and it may be that theists have too often, especially in their arguments for the existence of God, shown a disposition to represent the Divine Intelligence too exclusively after the pattern of a philosopher rejoicing in the faultless concatenation of his inferences; of a judge dispensing rewards and punishments according to exact desert; or of a skilled mechanic adapting means ingeniously to ends; forgetting that not only in such as these, but also in the creative passion of the artist (of whom we are more reminded by the study of Nature), we have an image of the eternal Love “che move il sole e l'altre stelle.”20 “The world,” it has been said, in scornful rejection of what seemed to the author of the epigram an ignoble optimism—“the world is a tragedy, and not a pudding.” The saying expresses in a striking way a sentiment which is probably widely spread among cultivated men to-day. But does not it point to the fact that a view of the world which ignored the tragedy in it or was content to suppose it merely abolished as if it had not been, would not be a veritable optimism?

The great religious poet of Italy had such happy thoughts of the ultimate issues of universal experience that he could call the pilgrimage in the course whereof he imagined himself as entering into all its phases not a tragedy but a comedy. Nevertheless, it was certainly for him a comedy which enclosed a tragedy within itself, yet a tragedy of which he could ascribe the authorship to no less than la somma sapienza e il primo amore.21

I am far from saying that there may not be in the details of Dante's exposition of his tremendous theme much which as it stands one could not accept; that we may not miss in his mood some strains of feeling which we might think of too high worth to be thus missing without grave loss. But at least he bears impressive witness to the power of the religious consciousness to recognize the supremacy of Reason and Goodness in the world, while in no way failing to appreciate the place of tragedy therein.

It is, I think, from Plato that we shall best learn the possibilities of a view which finds in Reason and Goodness that supreme principle of unity in the search for which Philosophy may be said to consist. I speak here of Reason and Goodness together, for the intimate connexion of the two is fundamental in his teaching. He has told us22 of the disappointment which his master Socrates expressed with the work of Anaxagoras wherein after the promise, which had seemed to Socrates so full of hope that he would account for the order of the world by Reason, he fell back in every particular case on merely mechanical explanations and did not give the kind of answer which his announcement of Reason as the grand principle of explanation had led his readers to expect. For when we ask the reason of a man's, of a reasonable being's actions, we look for a statement of his motives—that is, for an answer to the question: ‘What is the good of doing that?’ If we ask why Socrates does not escape from his prison, as his friends urge him to do, we do not give a reasonable reply if we simply describe the mechanism of his limbs which make it impossible for him to move while he is sitting still; but we do give a reasonable reply if we allege his conscientious objection to disobeying his country's laws, The famous doctrine of the Idea or Form of Good in the Republic of Plato is but the expansion of this Socratic thought.

In that dialogue23 we are shown how the soul comes to distinguish among the objects of perception by the senses a solid body from what seems at first to be a solid body, but proves, on the application of the rational principle that what is real cannot be self-contradictory, to be only the reflection or shadow of a solid body. Then we watch the same principle applied even to these real objects of sense, as we may call them, and find that they too are found to be full of contradictions, if we essay to treat them as objects of Knowledge or Science properly so called.

The line A is long compared with the line B, but short compared with the line C; this act is just done here and now, but unjust done there and then; we may be mistaken about the straightness of a visible track, or the courage of a particular man; but what straightness is, and what courage is, we know; and, if we did not, the question whether this road is straight or this man brave would be as idle as the celebrated riddle propounded at the mad tea party about the raven and the writing desk.24 It is with the ‘Ideas’ or ‘Forms,’ the eternal natures which are single and permanent in all the shifting multitude of instances, that Knowledge in its various departments is concerned. But the impulse to seek the one in the many must drive us farther yet. We must ask the reason why the different orders of reality stand, as it were, side by side, the science of each resting upon its own peculiar principles, yet in the world wherein we find ourselves intricately intermingled. We may think—I do not here pretend to be closely following my Platonic text—of the indifference of the mechanism of Nature to considerations of Beauty or of Duty, while yet the worlds which it is the business of the artist or the moralist to explore rest upon the foundation of the physical order and presuppose it at every point. We may note that, as Lotze25 has well pointed out, except in a world of necessary connexion, wherein the issues of actions may be depended upon, the freedom of the will could have no scope for exercise. Yet to seek to subordinate the laws of one kind of science to the principles of another—for instance, to deduce mathematical truths from moral premises or vice versa—can only lead to sophistry and confusion. Everything, in Butler's often-quoted phrase,26 is what it is, and not another thing. The only hope of reaching an ultimate satisfaction of that aspiration after unity which is the very mainspring of Reason and to which the sciences which we already possess themselves owe their origin, must lie, I am persuaded, in the direction which Plato has indicated to us, when he speaks of the vision of an Idea or Form of the Good, in the light whereof all the orders of Reality should be exhibited as good, because filling a place in one supreme system, which would not satisfy us were any of them missing from it. Should we not readily allow that with the absence of any of them the world would be worse off? And if we could, like the Creator in the Book of Genesis,27 see the whole world to be ‘very good,’ would not that give satisfaction to our reason, so that we should not feel constrained to ask any further ‘Why is this, or wherefore is that?’

It will be evident from what I have just said that, in speaking of the Reason and Goodness in which our search for an ultimate principle of unity in the world of our experience could come to rest, we must not suppose ourselves to have to do with some restricted type of the one or of the other. It would be wholly in vain to ask, for example, that a reason should be given for everything, if by reason we mean a syllogistic premise or a mathematical axiom. We see quite clearly that neither syllogism nor mathematics can from their own resources account for, say, poetry or patriotism or self-sacrifice. Nor, when I speak of Goodness as the supreme principle, have I in view merely the right conduct of men in society. Great art has no moral nor has exact science. Yet these things are most certainly good. On the other hand, we have not to do with a mere verbal equivocation, for, in speaking of Reason and Goodness as the goal of our inquiries, we do not lay aside what we have learned of their nature in the narrower field of mathematics or of morals. In thus meaning by Reason and Goodness, when regarded as one supreme principle, at once far more than the reason used in mathematics, or than the goodness of human conduct, and yet as that for the contemplation of which the soul is educated by the mathematical sciences and by the discipline of social life, I am, as all who recollect his Republic will perceive, merely repeating what we find in Plato's account of the methods and aims of the philosophical life, an account which on the whole has, I think, not been bettered by any of his successors.

But, while we acknowledge the profundity of Plato's insight into the intimate connexion of Reason with Goodness, and the significance of the assertion that Goodness, as the satisfaction of Reason, is the supreme principle of unity in the world, we have to observe that he does not give so clear an answer as we might desire to the question which we may naturally raise as to the relation of this supreme principle of Goodness or the Good to God. This may seem surprising if, as Professor Burnet says,28 it was no other than Plato that first made Theism a philosophic issue. But, when we turn to the treatment of this theme in the tenth book of the Laws, we find that what Plato is there concerned to maintain is that the movements of the heavenly bodies attest the existence of a Soul or Souls, having every sort of excellence, by which these movements are directed. Yet the “visible gods,” the stars with the sun as their chief and centre, or rather the intelligences or souls which guide these in their courses, are not for Plato the supreme and ultimate Reality. This is to be found in the eternal Ideas or Forms, forming a single system under their unifying principle, the Form or Idea of Good, which is the Sun of the intelligible universe.29 It is no doubt of this highest reality of all that he is speaking in a figure when he says in the Timæus30 that the Maker and Father of the world is hard to discover, and to speak of his nature to all men impossible. But it is only in a figure that he is here speaking. Where he speaks of God plainly, it is of a Soul most excellent that he speaks, not of the Good which is no Soul but a Form or Idea. Professor Burnet has well pointed out (as I have already observed31) that the controversies determined at the Council of Nicæa have as their philosophical background the problems to which this Platonic distinction of God from the Good necessarily gave rise. We may put it thus, that the religious consciousness of the Christian Church (whose thinkers were at that time trained for the most part in Platonic traditions) could not find satisfaction in an object of worship which, however exalted, was less than the Highest; and hence was driven to affirm an absolute equality between the Logos, the Word or Manifestation of God, and the Supreme Father, whose manifestation and utterance he was acknowledged to be. Apart from this affirmation we may say that an impersonal Goodness is left beyond and above the personal God—the divine Being with whom personal relations are possible. According to this affirmation, on the other hand, the Highest is personal. He is not, indeed, a person, because the highest personal activities, those of knowledge and love, demand an intercourse of person with person; and yet the Highest (it was thought) could not be dependent for what is intrinsically necessary to its nature upon beings less exalted. But there is nothing impersonal above and beyond the Persons to whom the supreme Good belongs, or rather who in their eternal mutual intercourse are that supreme Good.

The view thus outlined is one which it is quite possible to criticize. Especially perhaps is this the case with respect to the insistence implied in it upon the transcendent self-sufficiency of the Divine Being. But it is not to this that I now wish particularly to call attention. It is rather to the following two points. In the first place, though we certainly do not conceive that Goodness is no more than an affection of this or that good person; for we may recognize the imperfection by which every good person falls short of the ideal in virtue of his approximation to which he is called ‘good’ at all; yet on the other hand an impersonal Goodness seems something incomplete and abstract. “There is none good but one, that is God,”32 because none other is Goodness, the Good. But if not even God is that, then there is no exception to the statement that none is in the fullest sense good; and where in that case is this Goodness really after all? In the second place, we see the peculiar contribution of the religious experience to the metaphysical problem of the ultimate principle of unity in its consciousness of a personal intercourse therewith, which will not be content to regard itself as consciousness of a personal intercourse with anything less than ultimate Reality; though it welcomes the conviction that this personal intercourse is not something accidental, as it were, to the essence of that ultimate Reality, but is an admission to participation in what is from all eternity its inner activity.

It is a familiar reflection that in the activity of right thinking or knowing we take our thought to be just what must be in any mind that is occupied with the same objects, so far as it is thinking aright, or genuinely knowing. We have no such sense of a private property in knowledge as we may have in opinions in respect of which we may agree to differ. It belongs, we may say, to the nature of Mind as such so to think. If we care to introduce the mention of a Divine Mind, we may put it that we are rethinking the thoughts of God; or we may prefer the expression that God is thinking thus in us. In Aristotle's theology the Divine Life is conceived as nothing else than an activity of knowledge; and our highest intellectual activity is represented as not distinguishable from God's except by being temporary and intermittent, while his is eternal.33 Just in the same way does the religious experience which has expressed itself in the dogmatic system of Christianity recognize its consciousness of personal intercourse as nothing less than the consciousness of an eternal process within the Godhead.

We have now reached what appears to be a definite contribution made by the religious experience to our conception of the supreme principle of unity. As the æsthetic experience reveals in Nature a spirituality which apart from that experience cannot be shown to be there, so does the religious experience reveal in the ultimate Reality something which apart from religious experience is not there discoverable. This may be properly called Personality, for it is revealed in and through an experience of personal intercourse. It will be my task in the concluding Lecture of the present course to dwell more in detail upon the implications of the revelation in such experience of this aspect of the Divine Nature.

  • 1.

    See Lecture III.

  • 2.

    Thus Croce, who thinks that Religion is doomed to vanish in Philosophy, states expressly that “Religion is nothing but knowledge” (Estetica I, c. 8, Eng. tr. p. 102).

  • 3.

    History of Philosophy in Home University Library, pp. 78–80.

  • 4.

    Group Theories of Religion, p. 189.

  • 5.

    Group Theories of Religion, p. 188.

  • 6.

    Acts xvii. 28.

  • 7.

    2 Thess. ii. 4.

  • 8.

    Swinburne, The Garden of Proserpine.

  • 9.

    See above, Lecture I, pp. 18 f.

  • 10.

    Alice Through the Looking Glass, c. 6.

  • 11.

    Henry V, Act V, Sc. 2.

  • 12.

    Devant l’évolution de la vie…les portes de l'avenir restent grandes ouvertes (L'Évolution creatrice, p. 114). Cp. Bosanquet, Value and Destiny of the Individual, Lecture X.

  • 13.

    Essay on Man, Ep. i. 9.

  • 14.

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning, A Musical Instrument.

  • 15.

    I borrow the expression from the title of an essay by the late George Tyrrell, read to the Philosophical Society at Oxford very shortly before his lamented death; see Essays on Faith and Immortality, pt. 2, c. 14

  • 16.

    Crashaw, The Flaming Heart (of St. Teresa).

  • 17.

    See L'évol. créatr. p. 273. I follow the interpretation of Dr. Wildon Carr, Henri Bergson, p. 30.

  • 18.

    Of April 1914.

  • 19.

    See Plato, Rep. vi. 486 A

  • 20.

    Dante, Paradiso, xxxiii. 145.

  • 21.

    Inferno, iii. 6.

  • 22.

    Phædo, 97 B ff.

  • 23.

    vi. 509 c ff.

  • 24.

    Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, c. 7.

  • 25.

    Philosophy of Religion, c. 7 § 61, tr. Ladd, p. 102.

  • 26.

    Preface to the Sermons.

  • 27.

    Gen. i. 31.

  • 28.

    See Greek Philosophy, Thales to Plato, § 254, p. 336.

  • 29.

    Cp. Studies in the History of Natural Theology, p. 94.

  • 30.

    Tim. 28 c.

  • 31.

    Lecture VII, p. 174. See Burnet, Greek Philosophy, Thales to Plato, § 255, p. 337.

  • 32.

    Mark x. 18.

  • 33.

    Eth. Nic. x. 8. 1178 B 25 ff.

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