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13: The Moral Argument

THE three traditional proofs already examined may all be regarded as forms of one of them—the cosmological. Each in a different way is an attempt at an explanation of the world. Even the ontological argument, which stands by itself and has been regarded by Kant as implied in the others, may be looked at from this point of view: for the datum from which it proceeds—the idea of God—is itself a factor in human consciousness and therefore belongs to the world of which man forms a part. And the teleological argument also is allied to the cosmological, and distinguished from the argument that bears this name by proceeding from certain special characteristics of the world-order, and not simply from the fact of there being a world whose existence is to be accounted for.

The same holds of the Moral Argument, as it is called, to which we now proceed. Morality is a fact in the history of the world, and we have found that moral ideas have an objective validity which is such that reality as a whole cannot be understood without them. But morality is only one factor in the whole which theism professes to interpret. We cannot take it alone, as something independent of all other features of reality. And, if we do take it by itself, we cannot expect to reach a demonstration of the being of God along this one line of reflexion. The same inadequacy of any single line of argument has been brought out by the examination of the three traditional proofs. They do serve to define our conception of the universe to which we belong; they bring out the insufficiency of any merely material or naturalistic explanation of it; but they do not compel the reason to acknowledge that the world reveals a being whom we may properly call God, and, in particular, they fall short of justifying the idea of the goodness of God. If we are justified in speaking of the goodness of God, then this justification may be expected to come from the, moral argument.

The moral argument, in, the form in which it is usually presented, is due to Kant, who regarded it as giving us a practical certainty of the existence of God—a problem which the theoretical reason had left unsolved. “Admitting” he said1 “that the pure moral law inexorably binds every man as a command (not as a rule of prudence), the righteous man may say: I will that there be a God.… I firmly abide by this, and will not let this faith be taken from me.” “If it be asked,” he said in another place2, “why it is incumbent upon us to have any theology at all, it appears clear that it is not needed for the extension or correction of our cognition of nature or in general for any theory, but simply in a subjective point of view for religion, i.e., the practical or moral use of our reason. If it is found that the only argument which leads to a definite concept of the object of theology is itself moral, it is not only not strange, but we miss nothing in respect of its final purpose as regards the sufficiency of belief from this ground of proof, provided that it be admitted that such an argument only establishes the being of God sufficiently for our moral destination, i.e., in a practical point of view.” That is to say, the moral law the inexorable fact of duty, requires us to assume, the being of God, not as a speculative truth for explaining, nature but as a practical postulate necessitated by the moral reason.

Kant's argument is open to criticism in detail; but it is remarkable as the first clear statement of the truth that a metaphysical theory cannot be adequate, unless founded on a recognition, of` the realm of ends as well as the realm of nature, to which man belongs. The theistic belief, which the pure reason failed to justify, was, he thought, demanded by the practical or moral reason. He must have been aware, however, that it is the facts of morality itself—the distribution of good and evil in the world—that offer the most profound difficulty for any theistic view, that every religion almost has moulded its theory in some way to account for these facts, and that some religions have even been willing to say that the things of time are all an illusion, and others to acknowledge a second and hostile world-power, so that, by any means, if it be possible, God and goodness may be saved together. And, shortly before Kant's own day, the moral objections to theism had been pressed home with unexampled power by David Hume. I will quote some sentences from his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, for they contain the gist of all that has been said on this side of the question before or since. “In many views of the universe, and of its parts, particularly the latter, the beauty and fitness of final causes strike us with such irresistible force, that all objections appear (what I believe they really are) mere cavils and sophisms; nor can we then imagine how it was ever possible for us to repose any weight on them. But there is no view of human life or of the condition of mankind, from which, without the greatest violence, we can infer the moral attributes, or learn that infinite benevolence, conjoined with infinite power and infinite wisdom, which we must discover by the eyes of faith alone.” “As this goodness [of the Deity] is not antecedently established, but must be inferred from the phenomena, there can be no grounds for such an inference, while there are so many ills in the universe, and while these ills might so easily have been remedied, as far as human understanding can be allowed to judge on such a subject.… Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children!” “Epicurus's old questions are yet unanswered. Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” “The true conclusion is, that the original source of all things is entirely indifferent to all these principles, and has no more regard to good above ill than to heat above cold, or, to drought above moisture, or to light above heavy3.”

How is it, we may ask, that reflexion upon good and evil should lead two great thinkers to such opposite results?—that Hume should regard the power behind nature as a life-force regardless of the fate of its offspring, whereas Kant holds that the righteous man is justified in saying “I will that there be a God”? The reason is that they were looking from different points of view. Hume, we may say, had regard only to the facts of what men did and what men suffered. His privilege as a sceptic, to which he often appealed, carried some disadvantages with it. He saw the struggle and the pain, the cruelty of the world and the havoc of life, and he hesitated to go behind the facts. Kant may not have shared Hume's view of the morality of nature; but he would not have been appalled by it. Even if a perfectly good deed had never occurred in the world, he said, his, position would still stand secure4. He was not looking upon outward performance, but upon the inward law of goodness and the power it reveals in the mind which is conscious of it. His reflexions were not based, like Hume's, upon the measure in which goodness is actually realised in the world—as to that he would have been willing to admit that it argues nothing for the goodness of the author of the world. It was the idea of goodness, which consciousness revealed to him, that formed his starting-point. He was aware of a, moral law whose validity he could not question and the recognition of which secured him a position, above the play of merely, natural forces.

Hence Kant's doctrine of the postulates of the practical reason. The moral consciousness carries with it a demand that reality shall be in accordance with it. And this demand requires us, to postulate the freedom of man and his immortality and the existence of the one perfect being or God. We are therefore justified in affirming these as postulates of the moral life. The postulates are all implied in the moral law, but not all with the same degree of directness. Freedom is arrived at in a more immediate way than the other two. It is necessary in order that the moral law may work at all; the moral consciousness depends upon it so closely that its absence would deprive morality of its basis. Were man not free from the compulsion of impulse and desire he would be unable to take the law as the guide of his will. Freedom is, indeed, just the practical aspect of that which in its rational aspect is moral law.

The two other postulates are arrived at indirectly. They are not necessary for the bare validity of moral law. They are required in order to, bring about a harmony between morality and the system of nature—to enable the moral order, which is the order of the ‘intelligible world,’ to become actual in the ‘world of sense.’ The moral law demands perfect obedience from each individual; and an infinite time is required in order that the individual character with its sensuous desires and inclinations may become fully subject to the categorical imperative: hence Immortality is postulated. The reign of law in nature is not the same thing as the system of moral law; and the agreement of morality with the, laws of actual occurrence can be brought about only by a being who will make happiness follow in the wake of virtue and fashion the order of nature after the pattern of goodness. The ground for postulating the being of God is therefore this, that without God our moral ideas would not be capable of realisation in the world. We ourselves are unable so to realise them—that is to make the world-order a moral order—because the causal laws which constitute the world of experience are entirely outside of and indifferent to the ethical laws which make up morality. The being of God is thus introduced by Kant as a means of uniting two disparate systems of conceptions, which have been sundered in his thought.

The postulate of Freedom alone, as has been said, is required for the possibility of the moral life itself. The two other postulates are required for the complete realisation of morality in the character of a being with sensuous impulses and throughout a system of things that has been exhibited as without ethical qualities. The infusion of goodness through the non-moral or natural—its victory over impulse and desire and its manifestation in the world of interacting forces—this is the problem that calls for so lofty a solution. The two systems have to be connected externally because they have no common terms. One of them is concerned solely with the causal connexions of phenomena. The other is compelled to seek out their final significance in relation to the ideals which practical reason discloses. Self-consciousness is indeed the fundamental conception in both systems. But in the one it is merely the most general condition of synthesis through whose forms phenomena are apprehended in definite and constant connexions: in the apprehension of these relations the work of knowledge is completed. In the other or moral system the self is contemplated as a will which manifests itself in character and acts under the conception of a moral law which is the law of its own reason.

Thus the peculiarity of Kant's view is that the two systems—the realm of nature and the moral realm—are at first regarded as independent; they are subject to different laws and their manifestations are of divergent character. Yet the moral order claims unlimited sovereignty, even over the realm of nature, while nature proceeds on its way regardless of the claim. Reconciliation can only be effected by an external power, and God is the great Reconciler. It would seem as if neither system—neither nature nor morality—by itself stood in need of God; and as if, if they had happened to be in better agreement with one another, God would have been equally superfluous. It is only because they differ, and because there is nevertheless an imperious rational demand for their harmony, that a being is necessary to bring them together sometime; and in this being infinite power, must be united with infinite goodness. Goodness is found wherever there is a will in harmony with moral law; but, goodness alone does not make God. Power is found in nature; but power alone does not make God. Now, for Kant, nature is a closed and self-consistent system; so is morality. Neither, therefore, proves God; but he is needed to weld them together; and the moral reason demands their ultimate harmony. Hence God is a postulate of the moral, or practical reason.

The special form taken by Kant's moral proof is accordingly a result of the distinction which he draws between, the two worlds—the sensible or phenomenal world and the intelligible world. The former of these is ruled by mechanical causation, and is the world of natural law; the latter is the realm of freedom and in it moral ideas rule. But each is a closed system, complete in itself. Kant's own thought, however, points beyond this distinction. His practical postulates are a demand for harmony between the two realms of physical causation and of moral ideas, while his third Critique, exhibits a way in which this harmony can be brought about through the conception of purpose. And here it may be taken for granted that the first distinction on which he founds is not absolute. The order of interacting forces may be a self-consistent system; but it is not a complete account even of the things which form the objects of science, and it is not a closed system. Moral values also—though their system may be self-consistent—do not form a closed system. They are manifested in selves or persons; and persons live in and interact with the world of nature. The causal system may be considered by itself; but the abstraction is made for the purposes of science, and is in this respect, arbitrary: it is only one aspect of the world. And moral values, as we have found, are another aspect of reality, dominating or claiming to dominate the lives of persons. We must regard the two systems, therefore, not as the orders of two entirely different worlds, but rather as different aspects of the same reality.

From this point of view the moral argument will require to be formulated in a different way from that in which it is set forth by Kant. It will be necessary to have regard not to a connexion between two worlds, but to relations within the one system of reality; and we shall have to enquire what kind of general view is justified when both moral ideas and our experience of nature are taken into account. Two things will be necessary to vindicate the position that the world is a moral system, or that goodness belongs to the cause or ground of the world. We must be satisfied in the first place that the moral order is an objectively valid order, that moral values belong to the nature of reality; and, in the second place, that actual experience, the history of the world process, is fitted to realise this order. The first of these positions has been already argued at length and may now be assumed in this general form of the objectivity of moral values. The other position involves an estimate of the detailed features of experience which we can hardly expect to be complete or conclusive, but upon which we must venture.

It is possible to regard the power behind nature in the way Hume regarded it, as a teeming source of life which is careless of the fate of its offspring. Or, to use another metaphor, if we look at life as a composition which (if it have any design at all) must be designed to produce happiness in every part, we shall be likely enough to say that the picture must have come from the hands of an imperfect workman—one of nature's journeymen—if from any mind at all. But behind this argument lies an important assumption—the assumption that, happiness is the chief or sole end of creation; and have we any right to, make the, assumption? Can we even assert that happiness alone would be an end worthy of the artist? If we recognise the supreme worth of goodness, can anything short of goodness be the purpose of conscious life? And goodness has this peculiarity that it needs persons and their free activity for its realisation.

It is not necessary to accept Hume's idea of the vital impulse; but certain views of the world's purpose seem put out of court on any impartial judgment of the facts. The world cannot exist simply for the purpose of producing happiness or pleasure among sentient beings else every sufferer might have given hints to the Creator for the improvement of his handiwork. Nor can we rest in the old-time conventional theory that pleasure and pain are distributed according to the merit or demerit of the persons to whose lot they fall. The wicked often flourish, and misfortunes befall the righteous. That the course of the world shows some relation between sin and suffering may be very true; but the relation is not a proportion that can be calculated by the rule of three. True, only a brief span of life is open to our observation; and, after the death of the body, it is possible that the individual life may be continued indefinitely, while it is also conceivable that it had a history before its present incarnation. The hypothesis is therefore open that a future life will rectify the inequalities of the present, or that we now suffer in the flesh for the misdeeds of a previous career. In this way it might be possible to vindicate the required proportion between virtue and happiness, vice and suffering. But are we justified in relying on a hypothesis according to which the unknown larger life, which surrounds the present is contemplated as depending on a principle which the present life alone, open to our observation, does so little to verify?

Let us suppose that the present life is only a fragment of a larger scheme, The hypothesis is at least permissible; for our life bears many marks of incompleteness. We bring—if not character—at least characteristic tendencies with us into the world, and our life breaks off with our purposes unachieved and mind and will still imperfect. But we may reasonably expect that the present fragment should bear some resemblance in its order to the laws or purpose of its neighbouring fragments and of the whole. If the proportion of rewards and punishments to desert can be so imperfectly verified in the rule of this life, have we good reason to suppose that it will be fully verified in another? It may be said that the rewards and punishments of a future life are intended for the guidance of our earthly career. But if reward and punishment in prospect are to be regarded in this way as a means for controlling conduct or training character, do they not lose their effectiveness by being left uncertain, and even by being postponed?

There is, however, one point in this life where nature and morality meet. Every individual life has before it the possibility of good. Other values and the opportunity for them, may be distributed more unequally. The enjoyment of art and the cultivation of knowledge stand in need of material instruments which are not, in any abundant measure, at every man's service. But opportunities of realising moral values are not thus limited. They are offered in every sphere of life and in all kinds of material and historical conditions; for their realisation needs the good will only and is not dependent upon circumstances. I do not say that the opportunities are equal, but they are always there: whatever the circumstances, there is an attitude to them in which goodness can be realised and the sum of realised values in the world increased5.

The obstacles to the realisation of goodness in the individual proceed mainly from other wills—from the example or influence of other persons. And this fact reminds us that we must not take a merely individual view of things and expect the world to be suited to the interests of each man considered alone. It is not only our joys and sorrows that we share with others. In good and evil also we are members of the family, the nation, and the race. No man lives to himself alone. The evil that he does lives after him, the good is never interred with his bones. Men are bound together, working out their own and their neighbours’ salvation—or the reverse. The influence of wills that choose the evil in preference to, the good cannot fail to affect others in a world of free wills freely interacting. The same reality of influence of one man upon another, but in an opposite direction, is an earnest of the realisation of goodness not only in selected individuals but through-out the human family, and an indication of the true purpose of social order.

These considerations seem to point to a solution of the question before us. The question is whether the facts of our experience, and the course of nature as shown in this experience, can be brought into consistent relation with our ideas of good and evil, so that nature may be regarded as a fitting field for the realisation of goodness. In other words, do the facts of experience agree with and support the doctrine of the moral government of the world—an ethical conception of ultimate reality, that is to say—or do they oppose such a conception? The answer to this question depends on the kind of ethical view of the world which we put forward. If by an ethical view of the world, we mean the doctrine that the creative purpose must have been to provide the maximum of happiness for conscious beings, or to distribute that happiness equally among them, then it is impossible to regard the world-order as a moral order. Hedonism and theism, once their consequences are worked out, prove to be in fundamental opposition. If pleasure is the sole constituent of value, then this value has been largely disregarded in creation. Nature has been very imperfectly adapted to the desires of man, and human passions have been allowed to poison the wells of happiness. We may try to get out of the difficulty by imagining a creator of limited power and, perhaps of defective foresight. But even human intelligence might have foreseen and avoided many of the ills which flesh is heir to; and no one would attribute a higher degree of understanding to man than to his Maker. If mind is really the master of things, then that mind cannot have framed the order of the world with a view to happiness alone6.

If we take the other and common view that happiness is distributed in proportion to merit, and that the moral government of the world consists in this just distribution, then also it must be said that experience does not support this view, and that it can be brought into agreement with the facts only by the somewhat violent device of postulating another life which differs radically from the present in the method of its government. This view admits a value beyond and higher than pleasure; but it looks upon a due proportion between merit and happiness as the sole and sufficient criterion of the moral government of the world. And therein it displays a narrow and partial view of ethical values. The notion which it follows, and which for it may be said to be the whole of ethics, is the notion of justice; it treats all individuals as simply the doers of acts good or evil, and deserving therefor suitable reward or punishment; it leaves out of account the consideration that individuals or selves, and the communities of individuals which make up the human race, are all of them in the making, and that in some sense they are their own makers—fashioners of their own characters. An ethical view of the world, in which these points are recognised, will not be open to the same objections as before. The world will be contemplated as providing a medium for the realisation of goodness, and not simply as a court of justice distributing rewards and penalties.

I do not assert that this more completely ethical view gets rid of all difficulties. But it does avoid that special difficulty arising from the unequal distribution of happiness relatively to goodness, which forms an almost conclusive objection to the acceptance of the former doctrine. And that difficulty has been more than any other, or than all others combined, the burden of lament and the ground of pessimism. The struggle and pain of the world are the lot of the good as well as of the evil. But if they can be turned to the increase and refinement of goodness, to the lessening and conquest of evil, then their existence is not an insuperable obstacle to the ethical view of reality; it may even be regarded as an essential condition of such a view. Account for it how we may, the fact remains that the heroes and saints of history have passed through much tribulation, and that man is made perfect only by suffering;

But he that creeps from cradle on to grave,

Unskill'd save in the velvet course of fortune,

Hath miss'd the discipline of noble hearts.

The character of a free agent is made by facing and fighting with obstacles; it is not formed along the line of easy successful reaction to stimulus. Facile adaptation to familiar environment is no test of character nor training in character. The personal life cannot grow into the values of which it is capable without facing the hardness, of circumstance and the strain of conflict, or without experience of failure. Herbert Spencer, in his own way, has preached adaptation to environment as the essence of goodness. Only in a world where all surrounding circumstances correspond exactly with human desire will it be possible for a truly good man to exist. “The coexistence of a perfect man and an imperfect society is impossible,” he thinks7. But the question at present is not the kind of world in which perfect goodness can exist, but the kind of world in which goodness can begin to grow and make progress towards perfection. Perfect adaptation would mean automatism; it is not and cannot be a school of morality. It is even inconsistent with morality as I have conceived it, which implies freedom and the personal discovery and production of values. And I will hazard the statement that an imperfect world is necessary for the growth and training of moral beings. If there were no possibility of missing the mark there would be no value in taking a true aim. A world of completely unerring finite beings created and maintained so by the conditions of their life, would be a world of marionettes. They might exhibit perfect propriety of behaviour. They might dance through their span of existence to the amusement of a casual spectator (if such may be imagined); but their movements would be all predetermined by their Maker; they would have neither goodness nor the consciousness of good, nor any point of sympathy with the mind of a free spirit. Not such are the beings whom God is conceived as having created for communion with himself:

Freundlos war der grosse Weltenmeister;

Fühlte Mangel: darum schuf er Geister,

Selige Spiegel seiner Seligkeit8.

These spirits have had their beginnings at the lowest levels of organic life. They must fight their way upwards through the long stages of man's development. In this progress they have to attain reason and freedom, so that the good may be known and chosen: until, tried by every kind of circumstance, they find and assimilate the values which can transform the world and make themselves fit for the higher spiritual life.

On this upward way man has to pass through many fiery trials. No facile optimism can mitigate the pain of his wounds when the body is racked by disease or the heart is torn with grief or when he listens to the agony of the world in one of the great crises of its history. Yet, in reflecting upon these things, our judgment is apt to outrun our experience. As it is forced upon our view, we seem to bear the whole burden of the pain of the world; all the suffering of creation weighs upon our minds, and the pain seems purposeless and cruel because we observe its effects and cannot divine its meaning. But this great mass of human pain is distributed amongst a countless multitude of souls. Each bears his own burden and every heart knows its own bitterness; but each knows also, better than any other can, what he is able to suffer and to do, and in the darkest hour he may descry a promise of dawn unseen by the onlooker. The spectator who sees the causes of suffering often lacks insight into the way in which it is faced by the soul that is on trial, and fails to allow for the faith that frees the spirit. To estimate the true inwardness of suffering we must not go to the professional pessimist who counts up the grievances of humanity, as often as not from the vantage ground of a position of personal comfort. The sufferer himself has often a deeper sense of the significance of his experience. “That which we suffer ourselves has no longer the same air of monstrous injustice and wanton cruelty that suffering wears when we see it in the case of others9.” This was the verdict of a man of letters whose whole life was a battle with disease and suffering, but who did his life's work with high courage and in serenity of soul. Such a judgment cannot lightly be set aside.

Are we justified in saying that the imperfect and puzzling world that surrounds us is an unfit medium for the moral life—if by the moral life we mean the triumph of the spirit—or that it makes impossible the adoption of an ethical point of view in interpreting reality? I do not say that experience of the relation of natural forces to moral ideas and moral volitions justifies of itself the inference to divine goodness at the heart of all things. The mere fragment of life with which we are acquainted is too scanty to bear so weighty a superstructure. All I have argued is that our experience is not inconsistent with such a conclusion. And, if there are other reasons for saying that goodness belongs to the ground of reality, and that the realisation of goodness is the purpose and explanation of finite minds, then the structure of the world as we know it is not such as to make us relinquish this view; on the contrary a view of the kind is supported by the general lines of what we know about the world and its history.

The result so far is that the events of the world as a causal system are not inconsistent with the view that this same world is a moral order, that its purpose is a moral purpose. The empirical discrepancies between the two orders, and the obstacles which the world puts in the way of morality, are capable of explanation when we allow that ideals of goodness have not only to be discovered by finite minds, but that for their realisation they need to be freely accepted by individual wills and gradually organised in individual characters. If this principle still leaves many particular difficulties unresolved, it may at least be claimed that it provides the general plan of an explanation of the relation of moral value to experience, and that a larger knowledge of the issues of life than is open to us might be expected to show that the particular difficulties also are not incapable of solution.

This means that it is possible to regard God as the author and ruler of the world, as it appears in space and time, and at the same time to hold that the moral values of which we are conscious and the moral ideal which we come to apprehend with increasing clearness express his nature. But the question remains, Are we to regard morality—its values, laws, and ideal—as belonging to a Supreme Mind, that is, to God? It is as an answer to this question that the specific Moral Argument enters. And here I cannot do better than give the argument in the words of Dr Rashdall:

“An absolute Moral Law or moral ideal cannot exist in material things. And it does not exist in the mind of this or that individual. Only if we believe in the existence of a Mind for which the true moral ideal is already in some sense real, a Mind which is the source of whatever is true in our own moral judgments, can we rationally think of the moral ideal as no less real than the world itself. Only so can we believe in an absolute standard of right and wrong, which is as independent of this or that man's actual ideas and actual desires as the facts of material nature. The belief in God, though not (like the belief in a real and an active self) a postulate of there being any such thing as Morality at all, is the logical presupposition of an ‘objective’ or absolute Morality. A moral ideal can exist nowhere and nohow but in a mind; an absolute moral ideal can exist only in a Mind from which all Reality is derived10. Our moral ideal can only claim objective validity in so far as it can rationally be regarded as the revelation of a moral ideal eternally existing in the mind of God11.”

The argument as thus put may be looked upon as a, special and striking extension of the cosmological argument. In its first and most elementary form the cosmological argument seeks a cause for the bare existence of the world and man: to account for them there must be something able to bring them into being God is the First Cause. Then the order of nature impresses us by its regularity, and we come by degrees to understand the principles of its working and the laws under which the material whole maintains its equilibrium and the ordered procession of its changes: these laws and this order call for explanation, and we conceive God as the Great Lawgiver. But beyond this material world, we understand relations and principles of a still more general kind; and the intellect of man recognises abstract truths so evident that, once understood, they cannot be questioned, while inferences are drawn from these which only the more expert minds can appreciate, and yet which they recognise as eternally valid. To what order do these belong and what was their home when man as yet was unconscious of them? Surely if their validity is eternal they must have had existence somewhere, and we can only suppose them to have existed in the one eternal mind: God is therefore the God of Truth. Furthers, persons are conscious of values and of an ideal of goodness, which they recognise as having undoubted authority for the direction of their activity; the validity of these values or laws and of this ideal, however, does not depend upon their recognition: it is objective and eternal; and how could this eternal validity stand alone, not embodied in matter and neither seen nor realised by finite minds, unless there were an eternal mind whose thought and will were therein expressed? God must therefore exist and his nature be goodness.

The argument in this its latest phase has a new feature which distinguishes it from the preceding phases. The laws or relations of interacting phenomena which we discover in nature are already embodied in the processes of nature. It may be argued that they have their reality therein: that in cognising them we are simply cognising an aspect of the actual world in space and time, and consequently that, if the mere existence of things does not require God to account for it (on the ground urged by Hume that the world, being a singular event, justifies no inference as to its cause), then, equally, we are not justified in seeking a cause for those laws or relations which are, after all, but one aspect of the existing world. It may be urged that the same holds of mathematical relations: that they are merely an abstract of the actual order, when considered solely in its formal aspect. It is more difficult to treat the still more general logical relations in the same fashion; but they too receive verification in reality and in our thought so far as it does not end in confusion. But it is different with ethical values. Their validity could not be verified in external phenomena; they cannot be established by observation of the course of nature. They hold good for persons only: and their peculiarity consists in the fact that their validity is not in any way dependent upon their being manifested in the character or conduct of persons, or even on their being recognised in the thoughts of persons. We acknowledge the good and its objective claim upon us even when we are conscious that our will has not yielded to the claim; and we admit that its validity existed before we recognised it.

This leading characteristic makes the theistic argument founded upon moral values or the moral law both stronger in one respect and weaker in another respect than the corresponding argument from natural law and intelligible relations. It is weaker because it is easier to deny the premiss from which it starts—that is, the objective validity of moral law—than it is to deny the objective validity of natural or mathematical or logical relations. But I am here assuming the objective validity of morality as already established by our previous enquiries; and it is unnecessary to go back upon the question. And, granted this premiss, the argument adds an important point. Other relations and laws (it may be said, and the statement is true of laws of nature at any rate) are embodied in actually existing objects. But the same cannot be said of the moral law or moral ideal. We acknowledge that there are objective values, although men may not recognise them, that the moral law is not abrogated by being ignored, and that our consciousness is striving towards the apprehension of an ideal which no finite mind has clearly grasped but which is none the less valid although it is not realised and is not even apprehended by us in its truth and fulness. Where then is this ideal? It cannot be valid at one time and not at another. It must be eternal as well as objective. As Dr Rashdall urges, it is not in material things, and it is not in the mind of this or that individual; but “it can exist nowhere and nohow but in a mind”; it requires therefore the mind of God.

Against this argument, however, it may be contended that it disregards the distinction between validity and existence. Why is it assumed that the moral ideal must exist somehow and somewhere? Validity, it may be said, is a unique concept, as unique as existence, and different from it. And this is true. At the same time it is also true that the validity of the moral ideal, like all validity, is a validity for existents. Without this reference to existence there seems no meaning in asserting validity. At any rate it is clear that it is for existents—namely, for the realm of persons—that the moral ideal is valid. It is also true that the perfect moral ideal does not exist in the volitional, or even in the intellectual, consciousness of these persons: they have not achieved agreement with it in their lives, and even their understanding of it is incomplete. Seeing then that it is not manifested by finite existents, how are we to conceive its validity? Other truths are displayed in the order of the existing world; but it is not so with moral values. And yet the system of moral values has been acknowledged to be an aspect of the real universe to which existing things belong. How are we to conceive its relation to them? A particular instance of goodness can exist only in the character of an individual person or group of persons; an idea of goodness such as we have is found only in minds such as ours. But the ideal of goodness does not exist in finite minds or in their material environment. What then is its status in the system of reality?

The question is answered if we regard the moral order as the order of a Supreme Mind and the ideal of goodness as belonging to this Mind. The difficulty for this view is to show that the Mind which is the home of goodness may also be regarded as the ground of the existing world. That reality as a whole, both in its actual events and in its moral order, can be consistently regarded as the expression of a Supreme Mind is the result of the present argument. But it has not yet been shown that this is the only view consistent with the recognition of an objective morality. Other solutions of the problem have been put forward. We are here at the parting of the ways, where different synoptic views diverge. On the one hand is the theistic view, which is suggested by the highest form of reality known to us in experience, and which finds the ground of all reality—nature and persons, laws and values—in a mind whose purpose is being gradually unfolded in the history of the world. On the other hand are the non-theistic theories, and they also must attempt to reach a consistent view of the relation of the moral order to the realm of existents. They may admit an order of values and may look to the active and rational processes of persons for the more complete realisation of these values and the fuller apprehension of goodness. To this system of moral values they may even be willing, with Fichte12, to give the name of God; but, if so, they will mean by ‘God’ nothing more than the moral order of the universe, and this moral order will be allowed to have a claim to validity only, not to existence. It will exist only in so far as manifested in the thought or character of finite beings, and no other consciousness than that of finite persons will be postulated. A view of this sort may be pluralistic, postulating a realm of finite minds or monads of some sort as the only existing realities, but beyond them and independent of them truths and values that have somehow being and are valid for existents without themselves existing. Or, if we can envisage a harmony between the moral order and the orders of nature and of truth, and so see all reality as one, the view will take the form of monism or pantheism. The solutions offered by both these views need examination.

  • 1.

    Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, book II, chap. ii, § 2 (Abbott's transl. p. 241).

  • 2.

    Kritik der Urtheilskraft, § 91 (Bernard's transl. p. 424).

  • 3.

    Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, parts x, xi, ed. McEwen, pp. 141, 158–9, 134, 160. (Human Nature, ed. Green and Grose, vol. II, pp. 443, 452,440, 452.)

  • 4.

    Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, sect. ii. (Abbott's transl. p. 24); Werke, ed. Hartenstein, vol. IV, p. 255.

  • 5.

    “It is never in principle impossible for an adequate solution to be found by will for any situation whatever.”—Bosanquet, Value and Destiny of the Individual (1913), p. 120.

  • 6.

    As Hume recognised, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, part x, ed. McEwen, p. 133. (Human Nature, ed. Green and Grose, vol. II, p. 440.)

  • 7.

    Principles of Ethics, vol. I, p. 279.

  • 8.
    Friendless was the great world-master,

    Lonely in his realms above:

    Called to life an empire vaster—

    Kindred souls to share his love.

  • 9.

    R. L. Stevenson, Letters (1899), vol. I, p. 370. Alongside of Stevenson's reflexion, I may venture to quote the words used by an officer-friend of my own in a letter to his mother written after the death in action of his sole remaining brother: “We can never understand it yet, but it is this same swift bright stroke that seems to summon away the bravest and most precious spirits. I have seen it with my own eyes, and I cannot believe it is cruelty.” (June 1917.)

  • 10.

    “Or at least a mind by which all Reality is controlled.”—Dr Rashdall's footnote.

  • 11.

    H. Rashdall, The Theory of Good and Evil (1907), vol. II, p. 212.

  • 12.

    “Jene lebendige und wirkende moralische Ordnung ist selbst Gott; wir bedürfen keines anderen Gottes, und können keinen anderen fassen.”—Fichte, Werke.(1845), vol. v, p. 186.