As we have seen, neither pluralism nor monism is able to give an interpretation of reality in which both the moral order and the order of nature are adequately recognised. The failure of the latter theory was mainly due to its refusal to admit the ideas of purpose and of freedom into its account. And its rejection of these ideas was due to the requirements of its theory rather than to an unprejudiced study of the facts. We have found that, even if experience does not compel us to admit the reality of purpose in nature and of individual freedom, at least it does not exclude these ideas, and it justifies our acceptance of them as postulates in the formation of a comprehensive view of reality as a whole.
We must therefore return to the point which was reached in examining the moral argument. The result of that examination had about it—I am willing to admit—a certain air of paradox. If we were asked to state the strongest objection to the theistic view of the world which is felt at the present time, we should reply without hesitation that it lies in the existence and power of evil in the world. The dilemma of Epicurus is still with us: If God wishes to prevent evil but cannot, then he is impotent; if he could but will not, he is malevolent; if he has both the power and the will, whence then is evil? If the world had been so constructed that only good appeared in it and no evil, then (it is supposed) the theistic interpretation might hold; but it fails to account for a world like this of mingled good and evil. The paradox of which I have been guilty consists in taking this very fact of evil and founding upon it a theistic argument. Had everything in the world been harmonious, had there been no discord, pain, or evil, had all actual events brought forth moral values and been examples of moral law, then it might have seemed as if, in our explanation of the universe, we need not go beyond this one universal law, at once natural and moral, which would be displayed by all things and at all times. Now, such an explanation will not fit our world, just because of the discord between nature (including man) and morality. But the moral order, as well as the order of nature, is of the essence of reality; and they can be harmoniously united in one universe only when nature is understood not merely in its present appearance but as working out a purpose—that purpose being or including the making of moral beings. To repeat what has been already said, “If we do not interpret the world as purposive, our view of it cannot find room for both the natural order and the moral order. If we do interpret it as purposive, we must attribute an idea and purpose of good to the ground of the world”: that is to say, our view will be an ethical theism. If the purpose be the production of finite selves who will freely realise goodness, we have a point of view from which it is possible to explain, in general terms, both the slow stages and frequent lapses in their moralisation, and also the nature of the medium in which this moralisation has to be achieved. Epicurus's dilemma has made an assumption in formulating its alternatives. It regards goodness as something that can be produced by compulsion. It overlooks the possibility that the will to goodness means the creation of beings who will achieve goodness freely and whose freedom needs experience of all sorts of circumstances that it may develop into secure harmony with the moral order.
If we look at the theistic interpretation of reality from this point of view, we shall see that certain modifications have to be made in that doctrine of the unity of the world which led to and was expressed in the monistic theory. In the first place, the time-process as a whole, that is to say, the course of the world or system of nature, will have to be regarded as purposive. Taking it at any moment, we cannot say that it is perfect or a complete expression of a divine meaning: that divine meaning can only be gathered from its course as a whole. And, in the second place, the finite individuals, in whom the spiritual nature of reality is manifested, must be acknowledged as agents in the accomplishment of the world-purpose, as possessing a real though limited power of initiative, and therefore a certain measure of independence. The time-process is the means whereby this freedom and independence are made contributory to complete ethical harmony or unity.
This ethical unity, be it noted, could not be arrived at in any other way, if the view is correct that the realisation of moral values requires freedom. At the same time, the attainment of this ethical unity, just because it requires freedom involves in its process a certain modification of the doctrine of the actual unity of the universe. It is impossible to take any and every particular situation or event, especially those involving human factors, and to say “here the divine is manifested,” or “the perfection of the universe required just this act; anything else would have been inconsistent with the completeness of the whole.” Yet in this way the monist must interpret things. In practice, he may be as ardent as any reformer in discussing the good and evil of conduct in contemplation, and in preferring good to evil; but, looking at the matter as a philosopher, he must regard the event as inevitable: anything else would have contradicted the nature of things, which is also the nature of God: to regret it or wish it undone is to quarrel with that which alone is—to sin against the holy ghost of logic. Now, unity of this sort is inconsistent with a due appreciation of the moral aspect of reality. The ethical unity of the universe is a unity to be attained. It does not belong in its completeness to any particular stage of the time-process, but only to its realised purpose. In its working out ethical unity requires a very real diversity, for it needs the cooperation of free individuals. We cannot identify these individuals with God or refer each action of theirs to the divine nature as its cause. As possessing in himself the purpose, or an idea of the purpose, of the whole time-process, God must be regarded as transcending the process itself; as communicating freedom to the individual minds whose being depends upon his, he must be regarded as transcending them also, for their actual volitions may be alien to his nature; and we may have to interpret this transcendence as self-limitation.
The theistic view of the world is so familiar to us that there is some difficulty in adopting an objective attitude to it. We are accustomed to think of God as the author and ruler of the world, and as giving reality and power to our highest values; but fully to describe this attitude we have to think ourselves into a neutral and outside point of view—to reflect and explain instead of simply believing. At present we are seeking only to understand the theory, and to understand it critically, as was done in the case of pluralism and monism. The latter theory presents us with certain points of contrast; and other points of contrast, of a different kind, may also be obtained if we take into account another theory—that known as deism, which may be regarded as the direct contrary of pantheism.
With regard to deism, at any rate, we have no difficulty in adopting the requisite objectivity of attitude. For deism is scarcely more than a historical theory. We do not any longer meet with philosophers or theologians who profess themselves deists rather theists. The deists were indeed a famous school of thinkers, especially in England in the eighteenth century; and yet it is not easy to give an exact definition of their creed, so as to distinguish it from that of their contemporary opponents. If we ask what deism means, a perfectly clear answer is not forthcoming either from the deists themselves or from their critics. But the best contemporary account known to me is that given by a prominent critic of the school of thought, Samuel Clarke1. He distinguished four classes of deists: (1) those who “pretend to believe the existence of an eternal, infinite, independent, intelligent Being; and…teach also that this Supreme Being made the world: though at the same time…they fancy that God does not at all concern himself in the government of the world, nor has any regard to, or care of, what is done therein”; (2) those who also admit divine providence in nature; (3) those who, further, have some notion of the moral perfections of God; and (4) those who, in addition, acknowledge man's duties to God, and see the need for a future state of rewards and punishments—but all this only “so far as 'tis discoverable by the light of nature.”
If we look into this classification of the forms of deism, we see that, for those of the first class, God is simply an external Creator, who made the world, set it under certain laws, and then left it alone. This is indeed the essential principle of deism and is commonly regarded as such by historians of philosophy and theology. But certain additions are made to the idea of God in the other forms of deism enumerated by Clarke. To God as creator must be attributed sufficient intelligence and power to produce the world, and the intelligence and power required may easily be regarded as so great as to be described as infinite. But other qualities might be added to this idea by different thinkers. God might be regarded as having foresight and control over the world as well as power to create it; he might be credited with moral attributes as well as with power and intelligence; and, when the world's course is run, he might intend a final judgment upon it and a just distribution of rewards and punishments.
All that is done in these secondary forms of deism is to add a characteristic here and there to the idea of God, without changing it in any essential way. God remains for the deist an external Creator, as distinct from the world that he has made as a mechanic is from the machine that he turns out. God stands to the rest of the universe in the relation of one part to another part. He is a very unique part, certainly, for he has brought the remaining parts into being, and has some sort of control over them—a control which may be exercised on rare occasions or never at all. Different forms of deism are distinguished by the amount and kind of the control which they attribute in this way to God. And indeed the main distinction between the deists and their orthodox opponents in the eighteenth century lies just at this point. The latter attributed to God a greater measure of control over the world and more frequent manifestations of this control. In particular they found evidence of it in the Scriptures and in the miracles and prophecy therein recorded. The main topic of controversy concerned the credibility and importance of these recorded manifestations of divine activity: Did they actually happen and were they required? Or was natural religion (as it was called) adequate for the guidance of men? The deists questioned these manifestations, and held them to be superfluous: the light of nature sufficed to show the being of God and the obligation of morality. The ideal of the strict deist was a God who did not interfere. He had the power of a creator and the intelligence of a designer; he might also have the moral qualities of a provider of good things and of a judge between right and wrong; and he might foresee and even intend the course of the world; but, for the rest, he held his hand and he bided his time.
This idea of a non-interfering God is the conception that brings out most clearly the essential features of deism2. Its inadequacy is apparent. To begin with, it establishes a very incomplete view of the unity of the universe. Things are indeed all connected because they have all been created by God and are all governed by the laws which he ordained in creating them. But, once created, they are left to their own fate, though controlled by laws which were regarded as due to the arbitrary fiat of the divine will. Men stand related to one another in many ways, cooperating and competing, but each working out his own destiny; man and nature stand over against one another in help and hindrance; but God stands aloof, infinitely above all, not mingling in the strife of the beings he has made—at any rate, not until that far-off divine event when the whole world will come up for judgment. God's work is done, and things now go on much the same—or altogether the same—as they would do if there were no God. Since the creation he has rested; though it may be that, when the created world has run its course and has to hand in its accounts, there will be a new period of divine activity.
Let us ask what difference a doctrine of this sort makes in our manner of interpreting the world as a whole. God is necessary to account for the beginning of the world; his presence may again be found at the end of the world. But apart from origins and endings, what difference does his being make to our view of the actual world in its historical course? Suppose a deist to change his mind on the question of origin. He is aware that there are arguments which some have accepted in favour of the eternity of matter and the equal eternity of the laws which have in the fulness of time given birth to man and his varied activity. But he has held that the arguments in favour of a divine creation of the world are of superior cogency, though he admits that his view depends on balancing the strength of opposed arguments. Suppose now that further reflexion convinces him that, on the whole, the balance of argument is in favour of the theory of the eternity of matter and law. How will his view of the world be affected? He adopts a new theory as to the way in which it originated; he modifies or transforms his expectation of what is to happen in the end. But, as to the actual world and the course of history, what difference does it make? Matter and law remain the same; of man's mind he may have held before the same view that he holds now. Surely a God that does not interfere will hardly be missed.
On this ground it appears to me that the idea of God, as conceived by the deists, fails to give adequate unity to our view of reality. Their theory gave an imperfect view of the whole; and the imperfection was due to the method which they shared with most of their contemporary opponents. This method was the method of Rationalism. Various attempts have been made to define Rationalism; and the definition in favour with some recent writers lays stress on its negative results: rationalism is identified with a destructive criticism only. “Rationalism,” says its historian3, “is the mental habit of using reason for the destruction of religious belief.” The definition seems tome confused. It is the method which we wish to understand; the results will take care of themselves. It is besides historically unfair. It implies that the so-called rationalists intended to reach negative results before they set out, and were therefore governed by prejudice. Further, it disregards the large amount of agreement between the two sides in the great controversy. Reason was appealed to by the orthodox opponents of the deists as much as it was by the most negative of their followers. Both sides professed to follow reason, Clarke and Butler as much as Collins and Tindal. The essential point in the method called rationalism was the limited view taken of reason; and this feature was common to the writers in both camps. I do not undervalue the immense service which these writers, on both sides of the controversy, and the whole century to which they belonged, rendered to the cause of clear thinking. But their method, if clear, was also somewhat narrowly restricted. By ‘reason’ they meant the passage from proposition to proposition by the ordinary processes of deduction and induction. They brought to light what could and what could not be arrived at in this way; but they sought to apply to the interpretation of the universe as a whole the same kind of intellectual process as that by which one passes from part to part in the examination of finite things or from proposition to proposition in a chain of reasoning. They ignored what has been called the synoptic method—the ‘reason’ as distinguished from the ‘understanding’ of Plato and Kant and Hegel. They distrusted the; intellectual insight which achieves a view of the whole, even although it is willing to test that view by its adequacy to comprehend the facts. By their more pedestrian method they ought never to have reached the idea of God at all, and never would have reached it, had it not been provided for them by tradition.
Hence their difficulty in connecting their idea of God with their idea of the world. Hence also the line the controversy took, and the discussion as to whether and how much God interfered in the order of nature. On the one hand the non-interfering God of the deists seemed a superfluous hypothesis for interpreting the actual world. He was treated as a sort of absentee landlord, who failed even to get in his rents. On the other hand the God that interferes on occasions to set things right seems an equally difficult idea: for so long as he does not intervene, the world must be interpreted as going on without him; and when he does intervene, it must be to upset his own laws: so that the doctrine as a whole appears to be only an incomplete deism. Thus it appears that deism in its essential form, as the theory of a God that does not interfere with the world and is external to it, is at the opposite pole from pantheism, the theory which identifies the world and God. Somewhere between these two the theistic world-view must find its place.
How then are we to conceive the world in the light of the idea of God? We have discarded the answer to the question, which identifies the world with God; and we have equally rejected the deistic view which regards God as a being external and aloof. But the positive conception is more difficult to define. It must be something intermediate between the two impossible extremes. Neither identity on the one hand, nor complete distinction, on the other hand, will satisfy our quest for a view of the relation of the world to God. It would seem, therefore, that we are forced to adopt a principle of selection amongst the facts of the world; and selection is an awkward business and hard to apply without arbitrariness, still harder to apply without the appearance of arbitrariness. Yet arbitrariness must be avoided. We may not say “I see God's hand here, in the providence that saved my fall, when ruin encompassed others; but I cannot see it there, where misfortune awaited myself.” If there is to be selection it must be in accordance with a definite principle, and that principle must be well grounded.
Where can we find a guiding principle? Is there anywhere in the world a standard for discriminating the divine from that which is not divine, so that we may lay hold of the standard and by means of it get a point of view from which reality as a whole may be seen as a revelation of God? If there is any such, we must find it in one or other of the realms into which we have found the real in our experience to divide itself—in the realm of nature and its laws, or in that of finite selves and their wills, or in that of intrinsic values. But the first will not serve, for we have seen that imperfection clings to it. For the same reason the second region—that of finite selves—is an insecure guide; and besides, we have attributed to these selves a freedom which is inconsistent not indeed with their dependence upon God, but with their being regarded as a true mirror of the divine nature. There remains then the realm of values—an ideal realm, very imperfectly realised in our experience, and only incompletely conceived in our consciousness. It is possible for us to mistake the true meaning of these ideal values; but the possibility of error does not affect the validity of truth when discovered. The values are there, and in our apprehension of them we have at least a guide which gives us a principle for selecting between the worthy and the unworthy, and enables us to attain a certain insight into the purpose of the whole.
Is it a misleading instinct which has led men almost uniformly to use the adjective ‘divine’ in speaking of these higher values—of beauty and truth and goodness? The poets and artists have used this language in speaking of beauty; and though they may not have meant to convey a dogma by it, they intended it to express their admiration of what was highest. The philosophers have often employed similar language, when their theory allowed them to see more in the world than mechanical law and to regard the quest for truth as of greater significance than dialectical dispute. And to the moralist it has often been almost an axiom that goodness and God mean the same thing. Of the other values I will not speak, for my topic is the moral values and their bearing on our interpretation of reality.
Now of the moral order of the universe we have discovered that it does belong to the order of reality, and further that it cannot be fitted into a pantheistic conception of that order. Its distinction from, and yet intricate relation to, the natural order, and its implication of freedom in the lives which it claims to rule, forbid the easy solution that the All is simply One. But if the moral order is not altogether sundered from the natural order, if the universe is really a universe and not a multiverse, then we must hold that the moral order is the order of that one mind whose purpose nature and man are slowly fulfilling. Here therefore we have a key to the theistic interpretation of the world. The moral order expresses the divine nature; and things partake of this nature in so far as they conform to that order or manifest goodness.
This gives us the principle of which we are in search. The theistic universe is fundamentally ethical. The central point in our idea of God is not the pantheistic conception of a substance of infinite attributes or an Absolute free from all determinations; nor is it the deistic conception of an external Creator or First Cause. Neither ‘Own Cause’ nor ‘First Cause’ will be our conception, but—if we must speak of cause at all—then it will be Final Cause. And Final Cause must mean the purpose of realizing goodness. The difficulty of the conception of Creation is mixed up with the difficulty of the relation of the time-process as a whole to ultimate reality; and with that difficulty I am not making any attempt to deal. But the notion of Creation involves a more essential point than the idea either of a beginning in time or of a beginning of time. It involves the idea of God as the ground or support of the world—not merely its beginning—for without him it could not at any moment exist. For this reason, while we may not see God in each natural event, we must yet look through nature to God and see his mind in its final purpose.
I have already spoken of nature as the medium for the production and perfection of goodness in finite minds. This interpretation we may give—indeed, we must give—if we accept the moral and the natural orders as belonging together. But it does not follow that it will explain everything in nature. It would be too proud an assumption to assert that the whole of nature, of which we know only the barest fragment, has no other purpose than this one which concerns ourselves. Omniscience is a foible against which the modest philosopher should be on his guard. What other purposes than this there may be in the wealth of worlds which people space, or even in the small world known to ourselves, we cannot tell; and, except as a matter of speculative interest, it does not concern us to know. On such questions the only safe attitude is one of provisional agnosticism. But these doubtful issues do not interfere with our interpretation of our own consciousness and the world which environs it. The certainty of the moral law is not affected by anything that lies hidden among the unexplored recesses of the starry heavens.
The same conception of purpose, which guides the theist in the explanation of the world of nature, must serve him also in the interpretation of the realm of finite spirits. They too must be interpreted through their purpose, and this purpose will be, as before, the realisation of goodness. But there is this difference. Nature is a medium only; through it the end is to be reached. But minds are not a mere medium: it is in and by them that values are to be realised. They must themselves attain these values and not merely receive them. To nature we can ascribe no power or freedom of its own; each of its operations must be regarded as prescribed for it. But finite spirits themselves either contribute to working out the world-purpose or else oppose their wills to it.
The question of freedom has been already discussed, and the validity of the idea defended. And I may now venture to express the opinion that it is essential to the theistic interpretation of reality. So many theists are convinced determinists, that this statement may have an appearance of arrogance. Yet no other view seems to me really open. If there is no freedom in man's volition, and each act is rigidly determined by his inherited disposition and his environment, then it is plain that every act of man is really caused by that being who is the author at once of his nature and of the world in which he lives. To his Creator, and only to his Creator, it ought to be imputed. And, if this is so, we are left without any kind of hypothesis by which to explain the preference of the worse to the better course, or to render that preference consistent with the goodness of God. On the determinist theory, as on the assumption of freedom, man and nature may be purposive, and in the end harmony may be established and goodness triumph. But, on the former theory, we can think of no reason why goodness should not have been established from the outset, or why men should have been formed with dispositions that led them to sin. The evil in the world has to be referred to God as its author; and ethical theism falls to the ground.
If ethical theism is to stand, the evil in the world cannot be referred to God in the same way as the good is referred to him; and the only way to avoid this reference is by the postulate of human freedom. This freedom must be a real freedom, so that it may account for the actual choice of evil when good might have been chosen. We have therefore to face the inference that there is a limitation of the divine activity: that things occur in the universe which are not due to God's will, though they must have happened with his permission, that is, through his self-limitation. Nor does this view justify the objection that we are making the divine nature finite; for, if it is conceived as limited, it is not limited by anything outside itself. Rather we may say that a higher range ofpower and perfection is shown in the creation of free beings than in the creation of beings whose every thought and action are pre-determined by their Creator.
On the other hand, individual freedom is not, and cannot be, unlimited: otherwise each free being would require a world of his own, and there would be no universe. And clearly man's freedom is restricted by the conditions both of heredity and of environment. The range of his selection is limited by the experience which gives content to his life, as well as by the inherited tendencies which are his from the beginning of his career. These afford ample opportunity for freedom in the development of his activity, but not unrestricted openings for any and every kind of life. A man cannot at will choose to be a mathematician, an artist, a statesman, or even a millionaire. But there is one form of activity which is never closed, and that is the realisation of moral values; one choice before every man, the choice of good or evil.
This is the limitation of human freedom which applies to man as a part of nature; and it is such that the line which nature restricts least, and leaves most open to free determination, is that concerned with the production and increase of moral values. But the more important aspect of the limitation remains. Man's freedom must surely be limited from the side not of nature only, as the medium in which it is exercised, but also of God. How then are we to conceive this limitation without man being altogether absorbed by God? The world as a time-process has a certain unity through natural law, but this law fails to cover or to account for the volitions of free minds; it has a further unity in the moral order, but this unity is still an ideal and never in our experience completely realised. Its full unity must therefore come from the fact that it is a purposive system, in which nature is the medium of moralisation, and finite minds are the agents who, in free alliance and free struggle, work out this unity in achieving their own perfection. The purpose exists eternally in the divine mind, and the time-process is the scene on which finite minds bring, it about. Their agency must therefore be somehow directed—or, as the theologians say, overruled—towards the attainment of this end.
But may not the time-process end, after all, simply in confusion, perhaps in disaster, and its purpose fail? This is indeed a suggestion that has found a place in many theologies, which have imagined a hostile spirit—a prince of this world—who, although of lower rank and power, can yet frustrate the designs of the Supreme Mind by his implacable enmity. This is only one of the ways in which the unity of nature and morality is denied. It presents a vivid picture of the world struggle, but no solution of the universal problem, beyond denying that there is a true universe. Short of this supposition, and on the lines of our own reflexion, may it not be imagined that the world-plan meets only with partial success tempered by partial failure, that multitudes of finite spirits fail for ever to realise the good that is in their power? Freedom is a dangerous gift, and is the danger only to the recipient? In conferring this gift on finite beings may not the Supreme Mind have called into existence a power which he can no longer control, in the only way in which free spirits can be controlled?
This suggestion, again, cannot be refuted by conclusive argument. It is less violent and imaginative than the previous suggestion, but it is equally inconsistent with any view of a complete unity of the universe. My argument has been all along that, ultimately, the unity of the universe must be conceived as ethical; and this conception would bring moral discord into the heart of things. Can we regard the Supreme Mind as having so little foresight as to be unable to see the result of his own purpose? It has usually been maintained that this must be so, if free will be admitted. It is said that foreknowledge is inconsistent with freedom, so that, if men are free, their volitions cannot be foreseen even by divine intelligence, and God must be frequently taken by surprise by their actions. This view calls for examination, for it seems to me that it tends to misinterpret the nature of free activity, and that it assumes that divine and human foreknowledge follow the same method.
A man's free actions proceed from himself, that is, from his character. But what is his character? It is not simply a combination of distinct factors whose growth may be traced separately. None of these factors has any reality except in the unity of the conscious life; and this unity is not open to the inspection of an observer. The latter's knowledge of another self is always external and therefore incomplete. He is thus liable to surprises, not because an incalculable force may irrupt here and there into the otherwise orderly processes of volition, but because there is something within the circle of a man's character and dispositions that can never be adequately known to another, and that something is its centre. But God's knowledge need not be external, like that of the human observer. To him man's mind must be known from within, and, at the same time, without the obscurity and imperfection with which the man knows himself.
Even this, it may be urged, does not show that a choice which is truly spontaneous can be foretold. Such a choice implies a real possibility of opposites, a real absence of pre-determination, so that it could not be fore-told even by complete knowledge from within of a man's character. Perhaps this is so. But it does not follow that divine foreknowledge works by the same method as human anticipation. It need not be of the nature of an inference from character as the cause to action as the effect. We can conceive another way, though its use is not open to us. The event which we perceive is never strictly instantaneous; it has a certain duration, very short, indeed, but not infinitesimal. This is our time-span, and in it we see at a glance what is really a succession. If this time-span were considerably enlarged, we should have immediate knowledge of a longer series, for example, of a succession of actions in which a resolution is made and carried out. Within the time-span differences of past and future do not interfere with immediacy. Why then should not all time be seen as one by an infinite intelligence? Assuming that God's knowledge is not limited to a finite span of the time-process, the whole course of the world's history will be seen by him in a single or immediate intuition. The question how a particular event, such as the action of a man, comes about—whether by free will or by mechanical necessity—will make no difference to the immediacy of that intuition. What we call foreknowledge will be just knowledge: past and future, equally with present, lie open to the mind of infinite time-span.
For this reason it appears to me that freedom is not related to foreknowledge in the same way as it is to pre-determination. Universal determination contradicts freedom; universal knowledge does not. And we cannot suppose that God, to whose view all time lies open, would call into existence spirits whose activity would frustrate his purpose in their creation.
Apart, therefore, from solutions which limit either the power or the knowledge or the goodness of God, the theistic world-view must maintain not only that the moral purpose of the universe is eternally present in the mind of God, but also that it will attain actual fulfilment in the finite minds through whom it is being worked out. And for this reason God must be regarded as not far off from each individual spirit. In what way this divine providence, direction, or overruling actually operates is a problem which philosophy cannot undertake to solve without assistance from that range of experience which I have not taken into account—the facts of the religious consciousness.
But one result emerges. I have said before, and the assertion followed from the preceding argument, that, in interpreting the world, theism has to proceed by selection when it seeks in the world or in men traces of the divine. The principle of selection cannot be anything else than the moral order which has been taken as the ground from which we must explain the course of the world. In all goodness we must see the manifestation of the divine purpose, in all evil a temporary failure in its realisation. In so far as men strive for its realisation they are ethically at one with God; in so far as they lose sight of this end they are ethically at variance with him. And this principle is not arbitrary; it follows directly from the position given to the moral order and from the way in which the order of nature and finite minds is related thereto. The old moralists who explained ‘conscience’ as meaning ‘knowledge with God,’ may have given a fanciful derivation of the word. But the idea which prompted the derivation was not far wrong. In the moral consciousness we have some apprehension of the value which gives meaning to the world and which has been interpreted as a divine purpose; and in moral practice we cooperate towards the fulfilment of this purpose.
The theistic view of the world which I have been considering is definitely an ethical view. It was led up to by an enquiry into the facts of value in the world and by the conception of a moral order of the world; and it issues in a view which finds the moral purpose of the world to be the purpose of a Supreme Mind and which regards finite minds as attaining unity with this Supreme Mind not by the absorption of their individuality but by the perfecting of their character in cooperating with the divine purpose. Other values than the ethical have dropped out of sight in the course of the argument. Yet the general view which has been reached might be extended so as to cover them also. Wherever there is intrinsic worth in the world, there also, as well as in moral goodness, we may see a manifestation of the divine. God must therefore be conceived as the final home of values the Supreme Worth—as possessing the fulness of knowledge and beauty and goodness and whatever else is of value for its own sake.
This view has not been put forward on account of its religious importance. That is a side of things which I have hardly ventured to touch. It is given as an interpretation of reality which takes equal account of existents and laws and moral values. And, as such, it is neither inadequate to cover the facts of experience, as any naturalistic theory is, nor does it betray the hopeless incongruity on fundamental points which we find both in pluralism and in monism. At the same time, it is not contended that the view solves all questions or that it does not raise problems of its own. The solutions it gives are for the most part general; they offer a principle of explanation rather than an explanation of each event in detail. If particulars can be explained by it, it is mostly by the help of the religious consciousness which claims a more intimate apprehension of God than morality can offer. And the conception of a unity which is not yet but is to be realised, and which when realised will be ethically complete, though individualities remain distinct, raises speculative problems. Is God the Absolute? it may be asked; and if not, is he not therefore finite, so that the universe is incompletely unified by the idea of God? It may be answered that, if by the Absolute is meant the sum-total of reality, then there are real events and real beings which do not as we see them manifest the divine nature, so that God and the Absolute will not be identical. But there is nothing outside. God in the sense of being fully independent of his being and will. The independence of finite beings is a restricted independence communicated by the divine will. If we conceive God as unable to limit himself in this way, then this conception also limits his power. It appears to me that the idea of the self-limitation of God involves no greater difficulty than the idea of the manifestation or appearance of the Absolute in things and persons. And, on the most rigid theory of the Absolute, the diversity of its appearances must be admitted—even if they are held to be only the appearance of diversity. These questions, however, call for further discussion.
A Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God, 9th ed. (1738), pp. 159 ff.
Though it does not agree exactly with the historical usage of the term. As Mr C. C. J. Webb points out (Studies in the History of Natural Theology, 1915, p. 348) the term ‘deism’ was commonly used to signify belief in the sufficiency of natural religion independently of revelation, and writers ordinarily called deists (e.g., Herbert of Cherbury) did not always deny the possibility of direct communion between the soul and God.
A. W. Benn, The History of English Rationalism in the Nineteenth Century (1906), vol. I, p. 4.