You are here

Lecture Eleventh. The Problem of Evil

THE special view taken of evil is naturally determined by the general conception which we form in regard to the fundamental nature of reality. The problem as it presents itself to those who adopt the deistic conception of the universe is to explain how evil can exist in a world which, as it is assumed, has come from the hand of an infinitely wise, all-powerful, absolutely holy and perfectly good Creator and Governor. The world as we experience it seems at first sight to be incompatible with its assumed origin. For, not only are pain and suffering the lot of all sentient creatures, but it seems difficult to understand how an all-wise, all-powerful and all-loving God should have created a world apparently full of imperfection. Why should disease and premature death carry off their thousands? How are we to explain the terrible havoc produced by tempests, floods, droughts, earthquakes and volcanoes? Surely in a world governed by divine wisdom there would be no epidemic or endemic maladies to fasten upon animal organisms and inflict upon them suffering and death. Is it compatible with the government of a loving God that nature should be “red of tooth and claw”? Could no better means of perpetuating life have been devised than the law of prey by which the life of one species must be sacrificed to the necessities of another? And when we come to man, does not the conception of a world ruled by absolute wisdom become almost ludicrously inadequate? Man “looks before and after”: he lives, not only in the present, but in the remembrance of the past and the anticipation of the future, and thus a kind of eternity is given to the sufferings that otherwise would be momentary. Sorrow takes hold of him and will not be laid to rest; anxiety goes before him, and poisons his enjoyment of the present. Still more terrible is the moral evil which spreads its poisonous miasma over all that is his. Why should a good God create beings whose ignorance and physical weakness and strength of passion inevitably lead to action that entails the keenest pain and suffering on themselves and on their innocent children? Must we not sympathize with Huxley, when he exclaims: “I protest that if some great Power would agree to make me think always what is true and do what is right on condition of being turned into a sort of clock…I should instantly close with the bargain. The only freedom I care about is the freedom to do right; the freedom to do wrong I am ready to part with on the cheapest terms to anyone who will take it of me.”1 If, again, we turn to the pages of history, do we not find there convincing evidence that force is stronger than reason? In Hannibal do we not see “the baffled heroism of an extinguished country, and in the victims of an Alva the fruitless martyrdoms of a crushed faith”?2 Can anyone believe in the wisdom which allowed the rude soldiery of Macedon to trample upon the civilization of Greece? Was the triumph of the Barbarian over imperial Rome a triumph of reason? In the presence of the ruthless slaughter of a St. Bartholomew's night can we retain our faith in the watchful providence of a compassionate God?

These and other objections to the conception of a world created by a wise and good Being cannot be adequately met from the point of view of deism. So long as the world is assimilated to the material to which an artificer gives form, it must always be possible to object that, as no finite being can possibly be absolutely perfect, the world cannot conform to the ideal. The creator of an independent world must necessarily be limited by what he has created, and therefore the most that he can accomplish must be the fashioning of the universe into as perfect a form as is consistent with the imperfect character of his material. The only way, it would seem, in which the pain and evil that admittedly exist in the world can be explained, is by the supposition that in no other way could the final cause of the world be realized. Thus we must conclude with Leibnitz that, while the world is not absolutely perfect, it is the “best of all possible worlds.” This answer, however, seems to have the fatal defect that it starts with the assumption of an absolutely perfect being, and proceeds to maintain that the world must therefore be the product of divine wisdom and goodness. But it may surely be argued with equal fairness, that if the world is imperfect, it cannot be the product of a perfect Being. Deism therefore seems to lie open to the objection that its conception of the world contradicts its conception of God. There is no possible way of advancing from an imperfect world to a perfect creator; only by denying the former can we establish the latter. “God and evil,” as Dr. Ward says, “are contraries; if the problem of evil is altogether insoluble, there is an end of theism: if God exists there is nothing absolutely evil.”3

As deism can give no real solution of the general problem of evil, it must fail in its attempt to explain moral evil. A perfectly good God must, it is argued, have so constituted the world that it must be possible for man to obtain the happiness which his nature craves. Now, the assumption that happiness is the end of life seems to break down when it is confronted with the actual facts of experience. The most that the hedonist can venture to claim is that there is on the whole a preponderance of pleasure over pain. Without urging the objections that have been frequently made to the possibility of a calculus of pleasures, such as would enable us to strike a balance between pleasures and pains, it is enough to point out that, even granting that life on the whole brings more pleasure than pain, this does not explain how in a world governed by a Being of perfect goodness there should be pain at all. Here, in fact, we have in a special form the fundamental difficulty which lies at the root of deism, the incompatibility of an imperfect world with the inference to a perfect Creator and governor.

Shall we then fall back in despair on the doctrine of Naturalism, that pain and pleasure, good and evil, have no meaning when we realize that everything occurs in accordance with the unchangeable constitution of the world and the inviolable laws by which its processes are determined? On this view, what we call evil is just as inevitable as what we call good; and, in truth, these terms are purely anthropomorphic, being based upon the false supposition that we have power to act in one way rather than in another, whereas all action, good or bad, is as absolutely determined as the fall of a stone or the movement of a planet. I shall not repeat what has already been said as to the untenable character of Naturalism; it is enough to say that it is incompatible with our experience, both on its theoretical and on its practical side. It cannot explain knowledge, because the inviolable law to which it declares the world to be subject has no meaning unless under presupposition of a rational principle; and it equally fails to account for action, because only a free or self-determining subject, who as such is lifted above the world, can possibly act at all.

Nor can we accept the solution of Absolutism, which maintains that in the Absolute pain and evil disappear, being absorbed in a higher unity. From this point of view pessimism and optimism are alike indifferent; for whether we say that the world of our experience is the worst or the best of all possible worlds, it will remain true that these predicates have a meaning only from the relative or phenomenal point of view of our ordinary consciousness, whereas from the point of view of the Absolute there is no good or evil, but all is transmuted and glorified. Whether or not this may be regarded as the ultimate conclusion of a comprehensive theory of the universe, it at least does not seem to explain the moral distinction of good and evil, but rather to explain it away. In Schopenhauer, however, an attempt is made to combine an absolutist metaphysic with a pessimistic theory of ethics, and it may throw some light on our special problem to consider his method of reconciling the one with the other.

The philosophy of Schopenhauer claims not inaptly to be the expression of “a single thought,” which reveals itself in knowledge, in being, in art and in conduct. That thought is that the ultimate nature of reality is will; an idea which Schopenhauer developed, under the influence of Fichte, from his teacher Bouterwek, who maintained that we become aware of our own reality only in will, and of the reality of other things by finding that they offer resistance to our will. In Schopenhauer this psychological theory is boldly transformed into a metaphysic of the universe. Will is the very essence of the world, the true thing-in-itself. This being so, the world of our ordinary experience is not the world as it truly is, but an appearance generated by our understanding out of impressions of sense, which correspond only to the changes that occur in our body. These impressions are at once referred by an unconscious act of the understanding to an external cause, which is conceived to act in time and to be spatially separate from our bodies. From this world of perception materialism is developed by a natural misunderstanding; for materialism is not aware that the world of objects and events in time and space is not the world as it is in itself, but is merely the world as it presents itself to our minds. Under the false assumption that it is dealing with absolute reality science has reduced the universe to a mere dead body, a thing of cogs and wheels and the eternal monotonous whirr of machinery. But life is more than knowledge. That which science regards as realities are but “phantoms of the brain,” the translation of a reality that lies beyond our experience into a system of ideas ever changing in place and time. Never in this way shall we reach true reality. Under the guidance of the category of causality, we refer one event to another, this to a precedent event, and so on to infinity, vainly seeking to penetrate to the true nature of things. Only when we entirely change our point of view and throw the light back upon ourselves, do we solve the mystery of the world. Then we discern by a direct intuition that will is the real nature of things. Thus we reach the real kernel of being. It is will, energy, activity, that constitutes our own true nature. At bottom “my body and my will are one”; the one being myself as I appear when I bring myself under the divisive forms of space, time and causality; the other, when I apprehend myself directly by intuition. Only when I feel myself as active do I escape from the limitation of the sensible world. If it is objected that will, as we know it in ourselves, only acts under the stimulation of a motive, and therefore must be brought under one form of the category of causation, Schopenhauer replies that, though will as we apprehend it in ourselves may not be the ultimate form of reality, yet we must regard it as indicating that reality. From the beginning it is will that guides the course of our ideas, though of this we are not in our ordinary experience aware. Knowledge, in fact, is the servant of the will. There is in us an ineradicable will to live, and in order to find the means by which this blind impulse may be realized, we have to learn how we are related to things. For will is the unity which is presupposed in all the emotions, desires and volitions. Not self-consciousness, as Kant affirmed, is the ultimate principle, but will; and upon will, not upon self-consciousness, personal identity depends.

Now, if will is the nature of all things, it must be manifested in all modes of being. Mind and body are not two distinct things, but what to our self-consciousness is will is for our knowledge body. Bodily movements are not effects of will, but its sensible appearance. So the various natural forces are expressions of the one identical will. What science regards as the impact of one body on another, or as the attraction of masses, or the oscillations of the magnetic needle, or the process of chemical combinations, or, finally, the phenomena of organic growth, are all at bottom but different forms and degrees of that will which in us “pursues its aims by the light of knowledge.” “What truly is, is a world which is one and all, where there is no earlier and later, no here and there—where ‘a thousand years are as one day’—a world which concentrates eternities and infinities into an absolute omnipresence and unity.”4 Man and nature are mere phenomenal divisions of the one indivisible will. The intellect, cutting up and isolating one thing from another, cannot comprehend the indissoluble unity of will. Employed at first only as the instrument of will, it never entirely loses this character even in the highest generalizations of science. Thus knowledge nourishes the will to live, which is the power that ever pushes us onwards from behind, though all the time we imagine that we are making for our own freely chosen ends. In this way Schopenhauer explains the passion of love, which, he says, is “the genius of the race manifesting itself in the feelings of two people for the purpose of its own perpetuation.”5 In truth the impulse to exist underlies all things, inorganic, organic and conscious. This impulse, however, is at once blind, irrational and objectless; and as it can never be satisfied, having no definite goal as its end, it is the source of all unhappiness. In support of this contention Schopenhauer appeals to experience. To will is to suffer, for will proceeds from the unceasing desire after an unattainable satisfaction. No sooner is this inner fire quenched for a moment than it breaks out anew, calling for a relief that is never found. Pleasure is therefore not positive but negative, consisting as it does merely in the momentary relief from pain. Hence under all circumstances pain must be in preponderance. The beast that devours experiences only a momentary pleasure, but that which is devoured suffers intense pain. If the majority of men do not realize the misery that underlies all things, it lies wide open to the man of genius, because he has immense capacities for joy, and therefore his disappointments are proportionately keen. Byron but expresses the experience of all higher minds:

“Count o'er the joys thine eyes have seen,

Count o'er thy days from anguish free,

And know, whatever thou hast been,

’Tis something better not to be.”

Even if uninterrupted happiness were possible, we should experience nothing positive. “If we could even approximately conceive the sum of want and pain and misery of every sort on which in its course the sun daily shines, we should acknowledge that it would have been better if the earth like the moon had been but a lifeless mass.”6

Nothing can alter the fundamental nature of will, but knowledge may escape from its original bondage to it by the disinterested contemplation of works of art. As the ultimate reality, will cannot be made a direct object of knowledge, for that would be to compress it within the framework of the understanding; but the typical individualities, which are the external product of will, as divined by artistic perception, bring a satisfaction which liberates us from the will to live and from all the wretched desires that govern us in our everyday experience. Genius interprets the confused speech of nature, creating what she tries in vain herself to create. By absorption in the products of art the will to live is for the moment suspended, and with that suspension the consciousness of pain and suffering is stilled.

Art, then, shows us things as they really are, free from that restless striving which is the curse of will. But the relief thus obtained is evanescent, for the will to live revives and urges us to turn the whole world into a means of appeasing our inappeasable desires. Thus men attack one another, vainly hoping thereby to be rid of their torment. This unbridled selfishness the State tries to remedy by inflicting punishment on the aggressor; but in vain, for there is no external cure for a disease that is internal. Selfishness cannot be overcome until we realize that one and the same life is lived in each of us. Morality only arises when we see that the divisions which are conceived to isolate men from one another are but illusions; then we learn that the supreme principle of positive ethics is the consciousness of the underlying identity of all men. Sympathy is therefore the ultimate basis of ethics. But absolute rest cannot be found even in this way, for love of others can never do away with the pain and sorrow which are inseparable from the will to live. Nothing can do so but the absolute negation of all desire. Perfect peace can be found only when the will to live has died completely away, as in the ascetic and the saint, the Buddhist and the early Christian, who, lifted above the illusion of individuality, ceased to desire the continuance of their individual selves or the perpetuation of the race. The happiness of a community, or even of all sentient beings, is a mirage. “All life is essentially sorrow,” and the sorrows of man can at the best but lessen an incurable misery. There is no possible removal of the endless pain of life. Progress there is none, but only the repetition in generation after generation of the same sordid tragedy. It is therefore hopeless to attempt a reformation of the will; the only thing to do is to annihilate it. In the pure light of disinterested knowledge we see that will, as the source of all pain and evil, must be done away. How that can be accomplished it is hard to see, but it is certain that only in the transcendence of the will to live can salvation be found.

Schopenhauer's contrast of knowledge and will is due to the further development of that opposition of theoretical and practical reason, which is affirmed by Kant and endorsed by Fichte. Knowledge was by Kant assumed to be limited to the world of nature, as determined by the categories of the understanding; and this world, he maintained, cannot be identical with reality as it is in itself, because reality must be a perfect whole, which the sensible world cannot possibly be. It is impossible, he said, to make reality a direct object of knowledge, because the unconditioned is merely the Idea of a possible reality, which cannot be converted into actual knowledge because the categories of the understanding cannot yield knowledge unless when a sensible element is given to them to which they can be applied. The consciousness of self, on the other hand, gives rise to the Idea of a pure intelligence, in which the opposition of subject and object, which for us is theoretically absolute, is completely transcended. Thus we reach the conception of a subject which determines itself as an object and yet maintains its own unity. And though such a self-conscious unity can never be made an object of knowledge, it must be postulated as the explanation of the moral consciousness. Thus practical reason gives us a certitude of the value of life to which theoretical reason cannot possibly attain. It is through the absolute obligation of the moral law that we learn our own freedom, for a moral being must necessarily be a free being. A free being is one that in all its actions is absolutely uninfluenced by desire, since desire as a phenomenon in time comes under the same law of causality as other phenomena.

This doctrine of Kant has in it an element of truth and an element of error. It contains the important truth, that the actions of man cannot be merely links in a chain of natural causation, but can only be truly determined when they are conceived as modes in which a free subject determines himself. The error into which Kant falls is to remove this free subject entirely from the realm of knowledge. Such a doctrine obviously springs from the false assumption that knowledge can never transcend the realm of external nature, an assumption which is arbitrary and untenable. If this line of thought is developed to its logical conclusion, practical reason or will becomes a form of activity which is blindly directed to an end that cannot be brought within the sphere of knowledge. From this conclusion Kant was saved by his conception of the moral law as supplying a standard by reference to which actions are determined as good or bad. Thus in an indirect way he restored the intelligibility which ostensibly he denied. The moral consciousness is only not knowledge, because it is a higher form of knowledge than that of the world of nature. Thus the opposition of knowledge and will is virtually transcended. Schopenhauer, on the other hand, carries out unflinchingly the untrue element in Kant, with the result that will is held to be absolutely blind and irrational. Not only does he convert the world of nature into an illusion based upon the finite forms of space, time and causality, but he rejects all modes of causation, even that of self-cause. The will is therefore not, as with Kant, the expression of reason in its highest form, but it is fundamentally and absolutely irrational Since knowledge never gets beyond the mechanical determination of the world, and the mechanical determination of the world is an illusion, will can have in it no element of knowledge; which for Schopenhauer means that it is utterly mysterious and unintelligible. It is little wonder that a world of which an irrational will is declared to be the underlying principle should be declared to be one that brings to man nothing but pain and misery. What else could such a world bring to a being who can be satisfied with nothing short of that which conforms to the demands of his intellect and his conscience? We must, therefore, if we are really to understand the world, reverse the method of Schopenhauer. Not by a process of abstraction, in which the world of our ordinary experience is pronounced illusory, and we are asked to fall back upon the immediate consciousness of self; not by eliminating from the self all the intellectual elements that give it meaning; not by eliminating from will all that distinguishes it from the fall of a stone or the attraction of a magnet; in none of these ways can we expect to comprehend the nature of the world or of ourselves. Only by a synthetic process, in which nature is viewed in the light of the rational principle manifested in it, and in human life conceived in its concrete form as at once intellectual and practical, can we reach a complete and adequate view of the nature of things. Knowledge is neither the slave of a blind and irrational will, as Schopenhauer declares, nor is it a separate and independent faculty, which operates apart from will, but knowing and willing are but different aspects of the one self-conscious mind. To talk of the primacy of either is simply to substantiate an abstraction. Nor can will be identified with blind feeling, as Schopenhauer assumes. To this conclusion he is led by his purely abstract conception of will as an objectless activity. Feeling, like knowledge and will, is but one aspect of the concrete subject—that aspect in which its personal response to the world is manifested. Schopenhauer, eliminating as he does all distinction of one person from another, and maintaining that there is nothing but the blind activity of the absolute will, naturally has no place for feeling any more than for knowledge. His philosophy is indeed the expression of “a single thought,” but its simplicity is the result of abstraction from all that gives meaning to reality.

When Schopenhauer goes on to explain how the one irrational will is manifested in the world, he adopts the same method of abstraction as in the derivation of the fundamental nature of reality. There is no real distinction between mind and body, because body is but the phenomenal appearance of what inwardly is will. Now, we have seen that the identity of mind and body is a true solution of the problem which epiphenomenalism and psycho-physical parallelism fail to solve; but the solution does not consist in the reduction of both to a blind activity, but in showing that body is a lower manifestation of the rational principle which in mind attains to self-consciousness. Schopenhauer, on the other hand, expressly denies that self-consciousness is the highest form in which reality is manifested, maintaining that the true form of reality is a will which is beyond the distinction of subject and object. Thus mind and body are only held to be identical because they are each the expression of the blind activity which Schopenhauer calls will. No doubt in thus maintaining a principle which transcends the distinction of subject and object, self and not self, he means to combine both in a higher synthesis; but in reality what he does is merely to fix upon the activity found in each, abstracting from the diverse modes in which that activity is manifested. After the same manner he finds will assuming the form of gravitation, magnetism, electricity and organic growth; and therefore he places these on the same level as self-conscious mind. Thus his method is in all cases one of abstraction. No real unity is reached, but merely a dead unchanging identity, which is absolutely unaffected by all the apparent changes of the world. There is from this point of view no development and no history. The efforts of man to attain to happiness are necessarily futile, because in a will that is divorced from knowledge there is no end to be attained, and if there were, no means of attaining it. Will as it operates in man is ever seeking for a satisfaction which cannot be secured, just because it can only provide an anodyne for a desire that immediately springs up in a new form. With his general conception of pleasure as the temporary removal of pain, Schopenhauer combines a hedonistic theory of morality. Man is ever seeking for happiness, under the instigation of blind will, but happiness cannot possibly be secured, because pain is positive, pleasure negative, and therefore the sum of pain must necessarily be in excess of the sum of pleasure—if indeed we can properly speak of that as capable of being summed which is at most but the absence of pain. It is hardly necessary to point out that to make pleasure the end of life is but another way of saying that there is no rational end. If it were really true that man always aims, and rightly aims, at a life of uninterrupted pleasure, it must be admitted that he is following a phantom which can never be captured. Moreover, such an end is immoral, because it regards the experience of pleasure as an absolute end, and therefore logically abolishes all other ends. Even if a life of uninterrupted pleasure were possible, it would not be a rational end; for no rational end is conceivable which does not include the development of the spiritual nature, even if that should involve the sacrifice of pleasure. There can be no rational end which is not recognized to be rational by every rational subject; whereas, in the fluctuation and uncertainty of feelings of pleasure, which vary not only with the susceptibility of different individuals, but even with every change of the same individual, no universal laws of conduct can be found. In Schopenhauer's conclusion that even life itself is an evil, we may see a tacit admission that evil is not identical with pain or good with pleasure, but that both have a meaning only in relation to an intelligent and self-active subject.

This admission underlies Schopenhauer's theory of art, for the influence of art he regards as due to its tendency to put the spectator into a state of mind in which all that belongs to his merely individual self fades from his consciousness. Even here, however, Schopenhauer's conception of will as a blind and irrational activity perverts his doctrine. Art for him derives its power, not from its presentation of reality as it really is, but because it temporarily soothes the insatiable will to live. Thus the aesthetic theory of Schopenhauer does not recognize the real power of art, which consists, not in mitigating the desire after self-realization, but in the presentation of ideal types of self-realization. It is true that art implies the disinterested contemplation of nature and human life, as Schopenhauer learned from Kant; but disinterested contemplation does not consist in turning away from what concerns the individual self, but in the intuition of that larger self which constitutes the individual man as he truly is. Thus the influence of art is not merely negative, as Schopenhauer assumes; it is positive in this sense, that by the presentation of ideal types, which body forth the hidden nature of things, it tends to call forth the love of what is true and beautiful and good.

A similar defect besets Schopenhauer's theory of society. In the State he sees nothing more than the attempt to destroy the selfishness of man by the infliction of an external punishment, which can never secure the object aimed at, because it can only affect the actions of men without changing the heart. This is Schopenhauer's version of the Kantian doctrine, that the State can only aid in promoting the happiness of man, while his will can only be changed by a radical change of heart. This theory even in Kant is based upon an untenable opposition of desire and reason, but in Schopenhauer it becomes an arraignment of all society as external and superficial. In truth no free or rational subject is possible at all except in the spiritual organism of society. Nor is punishment a merely external means of avoiding the anarchy of a number of arbitrary and selfish wills, but a method of bringing home to the individual those rational principles of conduct which have been developed as the result of the toil and tears and self-sacrifice of centuries. The State is, therefore, not simply a means of mitigating or preventing the fierce conflict of selfish wills, but a spiritual medium in which an unselfish and therefore rational will is generated.

Schopenhauer finds in sympathy the ultimate basis of ethics. And naturally so; for “all life is essentially sorrow” just because of the will to live, which involves the contradiction of ever striving after that which is by the very nature of will unattainable. Morality is therefore held to lie in a recognition of the artificial character of all dictinctions which separate one man from another, and indeed of the falsity of the individual consciousness of self. Thus for Schopenhauer it does not consist in a recognition of the essential kinship of all men in their rational nature, but only in the absence of any positive distinction between them. But even morality fails to destroy the will to live which is the root of all evil; and hence Schopenhauer regards the absolute negation of the will to live as the true secret of life. How the will to live can be annihilated without the exercise of will he does not explain; and, like other thinkers, he covers up the failure of his philosophy by calling this will to negate will a “mystery.” In truth the only “mystery” it involves is how a doctrine which contradicts itself can possibly be true. We may however see, in this will to destroy will, the blind suggestion of a form of will which, unlike the will to live, is the real expression of the rational and self-conscious nature. Religion certainly does not consist in the destruction of the will to live, but in its spiritualization. Christianity never maintained that the secret of existence consists in the annihilation of the desire to live; what it affirmed was that it consists in the annihilation of the desire to live at all costs. Even in the inadequate form of medieval piety, which comes nearest to Schopenhauer's ideal of pure negation, it insisted upon self-mortification only as a stage towards a higher self-affirmation; and in its modern form, so far from insisting upon the annihilation of will, what it affirms is that only by identification with the divine will can man realize a truly free will.

These remarks will receive further confirmation by looking at the manner in which Nietzsche developed the central idea of Schopenhauer. Starting from the view of Schopenhauer that intelligence is a secondary and derivative power, which works in the interest of will, Nietzsche goes on to say that “consciousness does not properly belong to the individual existence of man, but only to that part in him which is of the nature of community and gregariousness.” Men come together in society because they are too weak to stand alone. Consciousness is developed by the intercourse of men, and only accomplishes in a feeble and hesitating way that which is secured by the infallible energy of instinct. Intellectualism will have nothing short of perfect clearness and intelligibility. It demands clear-cut definitions, and will admit nothing that it cannot prove. Hence it lets drop the full reality in favour of its pallid abstractions. Art brings us nearer to the undivided will of the universe, for the true language of man is the myth, which is concrete and individual; it is not abstract thought, which is but a mutilated copy of reality. Religion, perhaps the supreme form of art, is employed by the will to live in its struggle against the hostile forces of the universe, and indeed it is this and not any truth that it is supposed to contain which constitutes its real value. But even art and religion, though they lift us above the fluctuations of time and change, are but stages in the onward and upward course of humanity. The present age is parasitic and self-distrustful; it has no confidence in itself, and is therefore ready to listen to any voice from the past; it is in short a period of decadence. We must have “a new gospel, the gospel of a new humanity, which, instead of sacrificing the individual to the mass, and the earthly Here to a heavenly Hereafter, shall be realized on earth in a more than human race, a race for which society shall not be an obstacle but, as it were, a fostering garden where men may grow in grace and strength, and for which deity shall be the inspiring faith in perfectibility, not a fixed power impending as a menace and check upon the path of progress.” This golden age can never arrive until we have abolished Utilitarianism and Asceticism. The former seeks only to secure the comfort of the masses, and to this mean end are sacrificed the claims of science and morality; the latter frowns on all natural impulses, and teaches an altruism that sacrifices the just claims of the individual. Man is only in the making, and before he can become what he is to be, he must undergo effort, suffering and sacrifice. We must get rid of the superstition that we have already discovered a number of immutable rules of morality. There is no finality in any observance or institution however venerable. True, we cannot measure out and define the ideal: we can only break away from the narrow creed of the philistine and the ascetic, and in a bold venture of idealism teach and discipline ourselves in preparation for the advent of the man that is to be. In view of this ideal we must spare neither one's neighbour nor oneself. Sympathy is not, as Schopenhauer supposed, the true principle of conduct. “There is a wholesome and healthy selfishness, which springs from a mighty soul,” and indeed “to learn how to be one's self is the finest and cunningest of arts.” If the heavy and the weary weight of the past is crushing down the spirit of man, how are we to escape from it? Only, it would seem, by an act of faith, in which man sees that in his true nature he is essentially identical with “the supreme freedom and unchartered spirit of life in all its range and sweep.”

Nietzsche, then, so far agrees with Schopenhauer that “the world is very evil”; but, unlike him, he extracts an optimism from the very heart of pessimism. Like his early master, he regards consciousness as a poor and inadequate substitute for instinct, and in accordance with this contrast his final solution is a faith in the potential identity of man with the underlying principle of the universe. The pride of the intellect in its clear-cut distinctions, which are only clear-cut because they abstract from the fulness of life, must be struck down, if man is to effect the transition to that “over-man” of whom Nietzsche dreams. This point is one that has already been dealt with in various forms. It rests upon a confusion between abstract ideas and really synthetic principles, and between the function of philosophy as not itself life but a formulation of the principles lying at the basis of life. When Nietzsche goes on to say that art is the true interpreter of life, he is merely stating in another form his objection to the substitution of abstractions for the concrete fulness of experience; and if that substitution were really made by a true philosophy, his conclusion would inevitably follow. No theory of life can do more than bring to light the principles which underlie existence, and therefore art is in one way nearer, though in another way further from, reality than philosophy: nearer, in so far as it embodies the universal in the particular; more remote, because in it the universal is still immersed in the particular. Thus art and philosophy are really complementary; so that it is a mistake to oppose them, as if art must exclude philosophy, and philosophy art. Such an opposition is like that between the unreflective judgments of common sense and the reflective judgments of science; which are not really related as opposites, but only as less and more explicit forms of the same truth.

Nietzsche is no doubt right in protesting against a narrow utilitarianism and an asceticism which finds the last word of morality in an altruism that is identified with self-negation. But when he goes on to affirm that the morality of the past has been entirely on the side of altruism, he manifestly paints in too glaring colours. We cannot divide history into opposite halves—that in which the claims of the individual were overridden by the might of society, and that in which men shall be liberated from this intolerable yoke and work only for the perfection of the individual. It is no doubt a fatal mistake to regard the individual as merely a means for the perfection of the whole, but it is a much greater mistake to affirm that the individual must seek only to develop himself irrespective of the development of others. Absolute negation of self leads to the encouragement of enormous selfishness in others, while absolute self-assertion must result in fostering enormous selfishness in the individual. The problem of society therefore is to provide for the fullest development of every individual—not of “the greatest number,” as the utilitarian formula runs—and that can only be done by the reconciliation of the competing claims of individuals. Nietzsche's protest against the utilitarian and the ascetic ideal is of great value as an assertion of the claims of the spiritual individual; but he does not seem clearly to have realized that those claims are just as incompatible with the passionate self-assertion of the absolute rights of the natural man as with an impossible asceticism. Morality involves a negative as well as a positive element, and the attempt to resolve it into pure self-assertion can only result in its destruction. The “over-man” of Nietzsche is but man as he now is, developed in the direction of the ideal. It is therefore a mistake to condemn the past or the narrow morality of the ordinary good citizen, as if they were the negation of the higher life. There can be no “over-man,” if the past has not prepared for the future; and no “over-man” may spurn the ordinary morality of everyday life, which after all contains in it principles that, when they are developed, must carry it on to the widest and highest forms of the spirit. Because he has neglected this simple truth, Nietzsche has to confess that what the “over-man” is, or how the present man is to be transformed, he does not know; and therefore he falls back upon a faith in the ultimate identity of man with the underlying principle of the universe. That faith is no doubt capable of justification, but not by the fatal method of abstraction upon which Nietzsche has entered; its justification can come only from a philosophy which is able to show that “morality is the nature of things,” and that man in the whole course of his history has been ever tending towards a fuller and higher because a more rational life.

In thus affirming the possibility and necessity for the highest life of identification with the divine will, we must be careful to avoid the mistake of Mysticism, which does not really admit the reality of the human will, but regards it as abolished and transcended in the religious consciousness. In the mystic intuition of God all distinctions are supposed to vanish away, including the distinction between the self and God. Thus self-consciousness would disappear, and with its abolition, could it be accomplished, man would not be brought nearer to God, but simply would cease to be. It is only because the mystic thinks of the transcendence of all definite thought as an ascent to a higher state of being, including all that thought fails to grasp, that he believes himself to find in a God who is indistinguishable from pure being a depth of meaning too great for utterance. The false path upon which he has thus blindly entered under the stress of religious emotion, necessarily leads to an inadequate comprehension of human life, and especially to a false conception of evil. Even Christian mystics, though they live in the faith that God is Love, are prone to turn away from active conflict with the evil of the world, and to believe that man attains to the highest religious life in a mystical contemplation of the eternal. And where mysticism is not modified by the higher positive consciousness of Christianity, evil is regarded as ceasing to have any reality when it is brought into relation with the absolute perfection of God. It is not merely that, from the highest point of view, evil must be viewed as a stage in the evolution of good, but that it ceases to have any reality whatever. What we call evil is held to be simply the inevitable want of true or absolute being which attaches to everything finite. No finite being can possibly be good; and therefore only by such a transcendence of finitude as implies complete absorption in the infinite, can man pass into the true life. Even God cannot transform a being, who exists as a self-conscious subject only in virtue of his inherent limitation, into a being free from all limitation, and therefore evil is for such a subject inseparable from his existence.

It is quite in accordance with this fundamental conception of evil as inseparable from individuality, that the mystic tends to regard the association of the soul with the body as necessarily evil. The true life of man being that of identity with the absolute, the earthly life, in which the soul is prevented from realizing its true nature by the body, is regarded as contrary to its true nature. In order to free the soul from the desires which spring from the body, the soul must continually war against them, seeking to suppress the fatal influence by which they drag it down to earthly things, instead of allowing it to soar freely into the pure ether of the eternal. Since the desires are by their nature directed to the preservation of finitude and individuality, they are essentially evil; and therefore only in so far as the soul suppresses their malign influence can any approximation be made to the highest life. Obviously morality, conceived in this way as purely negative, can only be a hopeless struggle with the natural desires, and nothing can bring the struggle to an end but the complete separation of the soul from the body. Morality can therefore have no meaning except as a conflict in which the soul is ever vainly struggling to free itself from the limitations imposed upon it by the body. At the most this conflict is but a preparation for that complete absorption in the divine, which is the end towards which the soul is ever striving. As morality is the fruitless effort to convert the finite into the infinite, the religious life can only consist in the complete transcendence of all finite interests, and therefore Mysticism logically leads to indifference to morality. Instead of saying that religion reveals the principle which justifies morality, showing it to be in harmony with the nature of things, Mysticism speaks of it as lifting man into a region where it ceases to have any meaning. Thus the moral and the religious life are not only different but essentially discrepant; for the real meaning of morality is the organization of the higher interests of man as a means of realizing his practical ideals, whereas religion, as the mystic conceives of it, consists in devotion to an ideal which has nothing in common with everyday life. To pursue any definite end seems to the mystic to be a method of seeking to perpetuate that divisive self which separates man from God; and therefore man can be religious only as he soars above all limited ends and is immersed in the infinite ocean of absolute being.

  • 1.

    Quoted in Ward's The Realm of Ends, pp. 372-3.

  • 2.

    Martineau's A Study, of Religion, p. 117.

  • 3.

    J. Ward, The Realm of Ends, p. 319.

  • 4.

    Quoted in Wallace's Life of Schopenhauer, p. 126.

  • 5.

    This is the central idea which George Bernard Shaw in his whimsical way illustrates in Man and Superman.

  • 6.

    Parerga and Paralipomena, bk. ii. pp. 150 ff. Quoted by Ward, The Realm of Ends, p. 323.