You are here

Preface

The most agreeable experiences in life are those which are marked by a coincidence of duty and pleasure. I have that happiness as I express my thanks to the Principal and the Senatus of Glasgow University for the honour which they did me in the invitation to deliver Gifford Lectures, and the abundant kindness which they showed me during my visits to Glasgow for that purpose. I have especially to express my gratitude to Sir Robert and Lady Rait, and to Professor Paton, for their delightful hospitality.

I must also here record my obligation to Canon Quick, the Rev. Lancelot Mason, and Mr. T. Hodgkin, who read the whole book in galley-proof and made very numerous suggestions for the clarification of statement and, in some material instances, of thought. I wish I could honestly suppose my work to deserve the labour that they have expended on it. I also cordially thank the Rev. A. E. Baker for his kindness in reading the page-proofs; and I am specially indebted to my friend and chaplain, the Rev. H. C. Warner, Vicar of Bishopthorpe, for the compilation of the Index.

One serious omission among authorities mentioned seems to call for explanation. I have nowhere referred to Dr. Tennant’s great book Philosophical Theology. But his method of approach is so different from mine that I thought it would be more misleading than illuminative to draw attention to the many points on which I am happy to find myself in agreement with his conclusions. The difference is fundamentally one of epistemology; but this difference leads to another affecting the use of religious experience as part of the data to be handled in the enquiry.

My purpose has not been to construct, stage by stage, a philosophical fabric where each conclusion becomes the basis of the next advance. I fully recognise the value of that method of thought, though I believe it to be more fruitful in exposition than in enquiry. For I am persuaded that the initial “certainties” of that method are bound to be abstractions, so that the cogency and clarity of the argument is purchased at the cost of detachment from actuality. My own endeavour is rather to provide a coherent articulation of an experience which has found some measure of co-ordination through adherence to certain principles. The endeavour is exposed to perils of its own, because the experience may contain illusions, and the analysis can never be carried to an ideal limit; but so far as it is successful it has the advantage of contact with actuality at every stage. I do not claim that my method is the best, or only really sound, method of philosophical thought. But I claim that it is legitimate and that it has certain merits of its own.

Men seem to differ very profoundly in the fashion of their thinking. If two men are presented with a novel suggestion and both exclaim “I must think about that”, one will begin by putting together what he knows with reference to the subject, his former opinions based upon that knowledge, his general theories concerning that department of enquiry, and so forth; piece by piece he will work out his conclusion with regard to the suggestion made to him. The other will find that his mind goes blank; he will stare into the fire or walk about the room or otherwise keep conscious attention diverted from the problem. Then abruptly he will find that he has a question to ask, or a counter-suggestion to make, after which the mental blank returns. At last he is aware, once more abruptly, what is his judgement on the suggestion, and subsequently, though sometimes very rapidly, he also becomes aware of the reasons which support or necessitate it.

My own mind is of the latter sort. All my decisive thinking goes on behind the scenes; I seldom know when it takes place—much of it certainly on walks or during sleep—and I never know the processes which it has followed. Often when teaching I have found myself expressing rooted convictions which until that moment I had no notion that I held. Yet they are genuinely rooted convictions—the response, not of my ratiocinative intellect, but of my whole being, to certain theoretical or practical propositions.

This characteristic must needs affect the philosophical method of him who suffers (or gains) from it. In discussion with others I frequently find myself eager to know to which of the two types described—are they the Aristotelian and Platonic, the Pauline and Johannine, respectively?—my interlocutor belongs. So, following the Golden Rule, I expose myself to the contempt of whoso may think my own type to be contemptible.

At one time I thought of giving to these Lectures a descriptive sub-title: A Study in Dialectical Realism. But that might suggest an ambition to inaugurate a philosophical tradition suitably so designated. I have no such desire. But I believe that the Dialectical Materialism of Marx, Engels and Lenin has so strong an appeal to the minds of many of our contemporaries, and has so strong a foundation in contemporary experience, that only a Dialectic more comprehensive in its range of apprehension and more thorough in its appreciation of the inter-play of factors in the real world, can overthrow it or seriously modify it as a guide to action. I certainly have not supplied that more comprehensive and more thorough Dialectic; but I have sought to make a contribution towards it.

Such method in thought as I possess, and especially such grasp of the principles of Dialectic as I have acquired, I believe myself to owe to my Master at Balliol, Edward Caird. His name is venerated in Glasgow no less than in Oxford, and I have therefore ventured to confer upon my book at least this measure of distinction, that it is dedicated to his memory.

William Ebor:

Bishopthorpe,

June 1934

From the book: