You are here

Chapter Ten: The Personal Universe

We have reached the term of our long argument and it remains only to look at our results as a whole and in the light of these to ask the question which is set for every Gifford Lecturer by the articles of his office. ‘What contribution does this philosophical study make to the problem of the validity of religious belief? Are there or are there not rational grounds for a belief in God?’

It might seem proper in such a connection to make reference to the traditional proofs of the existence of God. But this would serve little purpose. For they belong to a mode of philosophy which we have been compelled to reject and even in that mode they failed to stand. We began with the admission that modern philosophy from Descartes onwards has been driven by its own logic towards an atheistic conclusion.1 If we refer to these proofs at all it is only to underline their failure and to add a further reason for it which has arisen from our own study. Any dualistic mode of thinking is incompatible with religion. For the root of dualism is the intentional dissociation of thought and action; while religion when it is full-grown demands their integration. From the point of view of any dualist thought whether in its pragmatic or its contemplative mode whether from an idealist or a realist attitude religion cannot even be rightly conceived; and the traditional proofs even if they were logically unassailable could only conclude to some infinite or absolute being which lacks any quality deserving of reverence or worship. The God of the traditional proofs is not the God of religion.

One of these proofs the argument from design has seemed more resistant to criticism than the others. Kant who more than any other philosopher was responsible for unearthing the logical flaw in these arguments gave it a qualified approval. I should not wish to rest the case for religion upon it; but it may be worth while pointing out in passing that contrary to a good deal of current belief the progress of science has enormously strengthened the argument from design. The original argument was based upon macroscopic and superficial evidences of design in Nature; and to these could be opposed similar evidences of the absence of design. But science has silenced this opposition by revealing its superficial and merely prima facie character. It has revealed a microscopic orderliness of structure in Nature underlying and sustaining both what looks like order and what looks like disorder on the surface. This structured order is breathtaking in its intricacy and seems infinite in its extent. Every increase in the adequacy of our instruments of investigation serves only to reveal a further delicacy of structure in the order of nature. But science has only revealed and described this infinite orderliness with increasing adequacy. It has done nothing at all to explain it. It is a total error to think that science has provided an alternative explanation. We must conclude from this that if the argument from design in nature to the existence of God ever had any cogency—and this is indeed doubtful—the advance of science has increased its cogency a thousandfold.

If this were all it would yield little to the point. For the existence of orderly structure however fine is not in itself evidence of design. Design implies a purposeful adaptation of means to ends. There is another aspect of the matter however which Kant with his usual penetration has called to our notice. It is that the order of nature is adapted to our modes of knowing and so comprehensible to us. Why should this be so? Why should the world not have been structured with infinite delicacy but in a mode which passed our comprehension and of which we had no means even to be aware? How does it come about that at times the scientist by purely theoretical calculation can define in advance an unknown aspect of the order of nature which is then looked for and found? And all these ways of thinking such as mathematical calculation have their origin and their primary uses in the service of our human purposes. They are devices we have elaborated as means to our ends. Is it not something of a miracle then that they should turn out to be means to a comprehension of the orderly structure of the world? Unless perhaps something like that capacity for thought which enables us to order our activities is at work in the ordering of the world? It is this rather than the mere fact of orderliness which is the nerve of the argument from design. It was this consideration no doubt that led Kant to except this argument from his condemnation of the others. Even so and here we must follow Kant it does not prove the existence of God since existence cannot be proved. At the most it makes the belief in God a reasonable belief.

All these traditional proofs fall within the framework of a philosophy which starts from the ‘I think’ and is committed by its starting-point to an ineradicable dualism. The knower is then a pure subject a mere observer an isolated self imprisoned in the fortress of his own ideas and incapable of breaking out. Starting from the ideas he finds in himself he can reach out to other ideas but he can never reach anything that exists. Existence can never be proved. But in this situation—if it were a possible situation—existence could never be given. To stand over against reality is to be excluded from reality. The only account that can be given of knowledge from such a standpoint is that it is the ordering of ideas in a fashion that satisfies the mind. But knowledge is not what satisfies the mind. To think this is to confuse the distinction between true and false with the distinction between satisfactory and unsatisfactory; to confuse the problematic of science with the problematic of art. Then it becomes impossible to distinguish fact from fiction the apparent from the real the imaginary from the existent.

For such reasons we found ourselves compelled to abandon the theoretical attitude and to start not from the ‘I think’ but from the ‘I do’; to adopt the standpoint not of the observer but of the participant; not of the thinker but the agent. When we did this we found that we were dealing not with the isolated self excluded from existence but with persons in dynamic relation each an existing part of an existing world. From this standpoint existence—both of the knower and of the world he knows—is given and given as a togetherness of self and other.

This new standpoint is not merely one alternative among others. It is a more inclusive standpoint. It necessarily includes the ‘I think’ but in a more fundamental form as the ‘I know’. For if I do something then I know that I do something. The ‘I think’ thus refers to a reflective activity which isolates and has its origin in the ‘I know’. So thought presupposes knowledge and knowledge presupposes action and exists only in action. The reason lies in this that in acting I am not ‘over against’ an object but in contact with the Other. In acting I meet the Other as support and resistance to my action and in this meeting lies my existence. Consequently I am aware of the Other and of myself as dependent upon and limited by the Other. This awareness is knowledge for it is awareness of the existence of the Other and of my own existence in dynamic relation with the Other. It follows from this that there is no need to prove existence since existence and the knowledge of it are given from the start. The ‘I do’ is existence and includes as its negative aspect the knowledge of existence; primarily and positively the existence of the Other; and negatively and derivatively my own existence in dependence upon the Other and limited by the Other. This is the formal analysis of the structure of action; and it yields as we have seen2 the form of the personal as a positive which includes subordinates and is constituted through its own negative.

The ‘I do’ then is the primary certainty and it is the certainty of existence. But what the Other is and what I am remain problematical. This problematic is primarily practical. I must act in terms of a distinction between right and wrong. This means that I must choose what to do and in this choice there is a permanent possibility of doing the wrong thing. If I act wrongly my freedom as an agent—my capacity to determine the future in accordance with my intention—cannot be realized and in that case what is determined through my activity is not really but only apparently determined by me.

This positive problematic of action contains as its negative constituent a double problematic of reflection which is in terms of the distinction between true and false in one aspect and between satisfactory and unsatisfactory in the other. The possibility of action depends upon the knowledge which is integrated with my expenditure of energy. This knowledge has two aspects. For my action may go wrong in two ways either in my choice of ends to be realized or in my choice of means for their realization. If I choose the wrong end I shall find if I achieve it that it is unsatisfactory; that it is not what I really intended though it appeared to be. From this failure there arises the reflective problematic of valuation which is a search for a fuller knowledge of what is intrinsically good or bad that is satisfactory or unsatisfactory for contemplation. This knowledge is aesthetic and involves an activity of emotional reflection. It is knowledge of the good; and it aims at the reflective determination of a centre or focus of valuation—a summum bonum—in relation to which other intrinsic values may be assigned an order of priority for intention. This is of course a formal ideal. Any actual determination of value remains problematical; and therefore as knowledge hypothetical only requiring verification and liable to revision in the light of practical experience. The systematic pursuit of this type of reflective knowledge is the function of the artist.

If on the other hand I choose the wrong means for the realization of my intention I shall discover that what I have done is not what I intended but something which I did not intend. From such failure there arises a reflective activity concerned with the knowledge of the world as the means of action; a knowledge of the causal properties of things which make them usable for this or that kind of purpose and of the constants and types of continuance which support and by their resistance limit our freedom of action. Any failure in the choice of means frustrates our activity by leading to results which were not intended and forces us into reflection. This mode of reflection is intellectual and the effort to extend and clarify our knowledge of the means of action by systematic reflection is the province of the scientist.

That my end should be good and my chosen means effective are then conditions of my freedom in action. But they are not sufficient conditions. For I am not alone in the world; there are other agents and if they will not allow me to do what I desire to do I cannot do it. Moreover there are few things which I can desire to do and none that are of personal significance which do not depend upon the active co-operation of others. We need one another to be ourselves. This complete and unlimited dependence of each of us upon the others is the central and crucial fact of personal existence. Individual independence is an illusion; and the independent individual the isolated self is a nonentity. In ourselves we are nothing; and when we turn our eyes inward in search of ourselves we find a vacuum. Being nothing in ourselves we have no value in ourselves and are of no importance whatever wholly without meaning or significance. It is only in relation to others that we exist as persons; we are invested with significance by others who have need of us; and borrow our reality from those who care for us. We live and move and have our being not in ourselves but in one another; and what rights or powers or freedom we possess are ours by the grace and favour of our fellows. Here is the basic fact of our human condition; which all of us can know if we stop pretending and do know in moments when the veil of self-deception is stripped from us and we are forced to look upon our own nakedness.

This mutuality provides the primary condition of our freedom. Freedom is the capacity to determine the future by action. We are agents; but this capacity to act is itself problematical. It has to be realized through the resolution of the problems it presents and the resolution of these rests upon the development of our knowledge. The fundamental condition for the resolution of the problem of freedom is our knowledge of one another. But this knowledge is one in which the dissociation of fact and value is impossible so that neither science nor art can extend it. For the knowledge of one another and so of ourselves can be realized only through a mutual self-revelation; and this is possible only when we love one another. If we fear one another we must defend and hide ourselves. Moreover since our knowledge of one another conditions all our activities both practical and reflective we find here the ultimate condition of all our knowing and of all our action. This is the field of religion; and in this field the conditions of interpersonal knowledge have to be created by the overcoming of fear and so by the transformation of motives.

But this is not a full statement of the function of religion nor of the character of religious knowledge. For we have spoken only of our personal knowledge of one another and of the conditions of its realization without reference to the common world in which we live. We have envisaged as the religious ideal the community of man; but we have forgotten Nature; and in consequence we have unwittingly created a dualism between man and the world. The community of agents now stands in our thought over against the natural world excluded from it and therefore unreal. For a community of agents like any individual agent must be part of the world in which it acts. Man is therefore a part of Nature; and we individual men and women are not merely members of the human community but elements of the natural world. We have in the end to face the question of our relation to the world. How is it to be conceived? How must we represent the world and the relation between ourselves and the world?

The classical way of dealing with this problem is to represent ourselves as consisting of an immortal soul in a mortal body. The body is material like the world in which it moves and to which it belongs. The soul on the contrary is immaterial and quite other than the world; a spiritual entity belonging to an order of being which has no counterpart in the natural world and so to another world entirely. This is the traditional dualism which we have rejected. The reasons for this rejection have been stated at length in an earlier part of our discussion.3 We may summarize them by saying simply that this way of representing the relation of man to the world fails to do what it sets out to do. Instead of symbolizing the relation it denies it. To represent spirit and matter as wholly incongruous with one another is to deny the possibility of any relation between them. The relation between man and the world is merely reflected back into man himself and becomes the problem of the relation of body and mind. And that relation is unthinkable; for the manner in which mind and matter are represented is such that no relation between them can be conceived. There is no place at all for spirit in a material universe; nor for matter in a spiritual universe. This can only mean that both matter and spirit are misconceptions. The radical objection to dualism is that it denies the ‘I do’ and substitutes on the one hand an ‘I think’ and on the other an ‘it happens’. Action is the integration of knowledge and movement. Dualism denies the possibility of this integration. Consequently any systematic effort to think out the implications of dualism must either assert that the relation of mind and matter is an insoluble mystery which if it is accepted must rest upon a dogmatic Credo quia impossible or it must deny either the reality of matter or the reality of mind and have resort either to a pure materialism or a pure spiritualism. In either case what is denied is action. For if there are only bodies our behaviour is merely a particular set of events which happen in accordance with determinate laws. And if there are only minds then there is only a multiplicity of systems of appearances which have no connection with one another. For we communicate with one another only through our bodies; by acting in a material world. The community of knowledge is itself possible only through a community of action.

This dualistic representation then we have put completely aside and taken our stand upon the ‘I do’ as the primary certainty. We know that we are agents; and any theory which explicitly or implicitly denies this is necessarily in error. We have tried to follow step by step the implications of this starting-point. It has led us to the community of persons in relation realizing their unity as the condition of freedom for every agent. But this community can act only through the Other which is both its support and its resistance; and this Other is the world of which the community of agents is only a part in dynamic relation with the other parts. How are we to represent to ourselves this universe of existence and our relation to it as the common world of which we form part? The answer to which we are led by the logic of this whole argument is that we must conceive it through the form of the personal and therefore as a personal universe.

From the standpoint of the agent which is the presupposition of our whole argument the question whether the world is personal is the question whether God exists; or rather it is the form into which the latter question must be translated. To ask ‘Does God exist?’ implies the primacy of the theoretical. For it presupposes an idea of God which arises independently of a knowledge of His existence and enquires whether this idea refers to any existent object. The problem so formulated is insoluble for the reason that Kant advanced that ‘existence’ is not a predicate. In reflection we are in a world of ideas—of images and symbols—and there is no way out. We can move only from one idea to another idea never to an existing entity. But in action existence is given—as an existing self in relation with an existing Other. There is then no question of proving existence but only of determining its character. This determination is by means of ideas which refer to it. The knowledge that the Other exists together with me is certain; but so soon as I go farther as I must and determine in idea what the Other is and what I am and how we are related knowledge becomes problematical. The general question that arises is whether my representation of what exists is adequate or inadequate. This adequacy refers to action in which we are in existence; and the resolution of the problematic lies in the function of knowledge that it makes possible if it is adequate the full realization of our capacity to act that is our freedom. Apart from our knowledge of existence in action which is the mere zero of knowledge all our reflective knowledge is hypothetical and requires to be verified in action; and in action it may prove inadequate to what is required of it. This is the case whether it be perceptual or conceptual whether it be knowledge of fact or of value or knowledge of the personal Other.

Consequently the theological question is improperly represented in the form ‘Does God exist?’ It must be expressed in the form ‘Is what exists personal?’ More adequately stated this might run ‘Is the universal Other from which the community of persons distinguishes itself and which is the same for all persons a personal or an impersonal Other?’ More simply if we distinguish ourselves—that is all finite personal individuals whatever—from the world we have to ask whether the world is personal or impersonal. We must remember however that this is a real question only if it has a reference to action. If it made no difference to action it would be meaningless—a merely speculative metaphysical conundrum. It would be incapable of any verification. But clearly we can live in the world in a fashion that is grounded either in a belief that the world is personal or that it is impersonal; and these two ways of life will be different. Consequently the verification of the belief in God must lie in their difference; and in particular in the difference between the realization of freedom in the one and in the other.

The formal question however is in a somewhat different case. What is verified in action is necessarily a conception of God which presupposes a practical belief in His reality. But if we attend merely to the logical form of any belief in the personal character of the universal Other we can ask whether it is adequate as a form of apperception. We can consider its formal implications contrast them with the implications of alternative forms and refer them to our experience of practical life. For the difference between a personal conception of the world and an impersonal one is a difference of apperception and modes of apperception may be more or less adequate. We can be more precise than this for the adequacy of which we are speaking refers to the representation of our relation as persons to the world in which we live.

The contemporary decay of religious belief and the spread of atheism is doubtless not unconnected with the rise and steady progress of science and the technologies which are based upon it. But it has nothing to do with anything that scientists have discovered about the world. What brought religion and science into conflict and presented them as alternative systems of belief was the attempt of religious authorities to suppress scientific research in favour of a primitive cosmology and a Graeco-Roman philosophy. This religious stupidity compelled science to fight for its right to discover the truth against a religious obscurantism which fought to secure its own power as the arbiter of truth and of right in all fields. The inevitable result was the destruction of religious reality. A dogmatic theology which failed to face up to its own problematic and refused to recognize the hypothetical character of all our knowledge presented the relation of science and religion as an opposition of two incompatible systems of belief about the world between which we must choose. Once science and religion were thus brought into conflict the triumph of science was as certain as it was justified. The truth which gave the victory to science and which justified its triumph lay not at all in the results of scientific enquiry but in the recognition that all knowledge is problematical; that all reflective representations of the world are hypothetical and require to be verified by reference to action. Science exchanged certainty for an increasing probability in knowledge guaranteed by practical achievement. Theology demanded certainty and was prepared to guarantee certainty by authority. In this it revealed its own unreality. For the demand for certainty is the reflective aspect of the demand for security; and the demand for security is the expression of fear and betrays the dominance of the negative in our motivation. As we have seen a negatively motived religion is unreal.

This confrontation of religion and science as two incompatible conceptions of the world is an error which distorts our understanding of both. There is however an underlying difference of apperception. Religion apperceives the world personally; science impersonally. This implies two different conceptions of the relation between man and the world. For science this relation is an impersonal one; for religion it is personal. The scientific apperception is pragmatic. The world is material for our use and science seeks to develop that knowledge of the world through which we can use it as the instrument of our intentions. The religious apperception is communal. The relation of man to the world is his relation to God; and we relate ourselves rightly to the world by entering into communion with God and seeking to understand and to fulfil his intention. The conflict between religion and science is at bottom a conflict between these two apperceptions conceived as opposite and incompatible.

This incompatibility however is a misconception. To apperceive the world personally is to conceive it through the form of the personal and this form is a positive which contains subordinates and is constituted by its own negative. A personal apperception of the world then necessarily includes an impersonal apperception in its constitution. The impersonal apperception of science is merely a limitation of the personal apperception to its negative dimension. Formally therefore religion necessarily includes and is constituted by science; while science appears to be in conflict with religion only through a limitation of attention to the negative aspect of our relation to the world. It excludes from attention not merely the religious but also the aesthetic aspect of the relation. Indeed what is referred to as the conflict of science and religion is very often a conflict between science and art which are constituted by opposite and compensating limitations of attention. The artistic apperception apprehends the world not as material to be used but as a spectacle to be enjoyed. If for example we base the distinction between science and religion on the distinction between reason and emotion—itself a faulty dichotomy—and consider religion to express an emotional attitude to the world we are confusing aesthetic with religious apperception. One common way of falling into this error is to ground religion on mystical experience.

The proper way of representing the relation between religion and science then is to say that religion is the expression of an adequate apperception of our relation to the world while science is the expression of a limited partial and therefore inadequate apperception. This is of course not a criticism of science. The inadequacy is not scientific but philosophical; the limitation is that science does not seek to answer every question that can legitimately be asked but only a certain range of questions. The limitation of attention which constitutes science is necessary to the performance of its function in the economy of personal life. It deals only with questions about matter of fact. It is only if religion and science are represented as alternative ways of apprehending the world both of which claim to provide an adequate expression of our relation to the world and between which we must choose that we must say that the religious mode is comprehensive and adequate while the scientific mode is limited and therefore inadequate.

It remains therefore only to exhibit the inadequacy of any impersonal conception of the world. Our long discussion has provided us with many ways of doing this only some of which need to be considered now. First then let us notice that the world which has to be represented is the world in which we live and to which we belong. We are elements of the world which we represent to ourselves and which in reflection we distinguish from ourselves; and all our activities are integral with the total activity of the world. Even if one of us takes the attitude of an observer the world which he observes includes all the rest of us with our activities both practical and reflective. Thus when Wittgenstein begins the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus with the statement ‘The world is everything that is the case’ he is already in error. This is equivalent to asserting that the world is mere matter of fact; that nothing in the world is problematic. The world contains no doubt everything that is the case but it contains also everything that appears to be the case and is not. Error stupidity and evil; the illusions of the wishful thinker and the ‘nonsense’ of the metaphysician are in the world; and any conception of the world which excludes them is an inadequate conception. It is of no avail to say that all these are only in us and not in the world. If these are in us we are in the world and our stupidities and illusions play their part in determining the history of the world. Since we are as much a part of the world as the hills or the sea and our existence is personal and problematic it follows that the world must be such that it can produce such creatures as we are and must contain in itself the possibility of a problematical activity like our own. Any apperception which excludes this possibility is necessarily inadequate.

Secondly we should consider the character of the scientific conception itself. The scientific world is a physical world. It consists of events which happen in accordance with unchanging natural laws and which constitute a continuum of happenings in space-time. All changes in this world are determinate and are understood in terms of energy expressing itself in the displacement of mass. This world of infinitesimal particles in ceaseless but systematic movement is clearly not the world in which we live and of which we form part. For there is no action in it and no knowledge. Everything in it happens; nothing is ever done; and none of its constituent elements is capable of reflection. None of its atoms nor any of its complex systems of atoms can make a mistake or commit a folly. We ourselves from the scientific point of view are complex systems of atoms obeying without fail the laws of the transformation of energy. All our movements are events which happen not actions for which we are responsible and which realize or fail to realize our intentions. If we are thought as parts of the scientist's world then we cannot make mistakes or be in error or have illusions not even the illusion that we are free to act. We cannot then frame a hypothesis and make an experiment to discover whether it is true or not. In the ‘scientific’ world there is no place for scientists. It can include their movements but not their action; their habits of behaviour but not their intentions.

The natural effect of these considerations is to produce a philosophical dualism. The material world must be supplemented by a mental world to provide for subjects who know the material world though they are not included in it. But this way out is closed to us since it is not merely knowledge that is excluded but action. As agents we are part of the world we know. We must conclude therefore that the physical world is an imaginary world and not the world in which we exist. A world in which there are no persons is not the real world. But if the physical world is a construct of the imagination it is a valid construct not mere phantasy. It refers even if problematically to the real world in one of its aspects. What excludes the personal from this imaginary world is the intention of science. The scientist—and of course the ordinary man when he is using things to achieve his purposes—limits his attention to the impersonal aspect of the world and so excludes its personal aspect. On the other hand if we apperceive the world personally its impersonal aspect is not excluded. It is necessary to the constitution of its personal character. The religious apperception is inclusive and adequate; the scientific exclusive and inadequate.

Thirdly the same conclusion is reached if we consider the character of our knowledge of existence. What is given immediately in action is the existence of self and other in practical relation. In action I know that I exist as agent and that the Other exists as resistance and support of my action. The rule governing the process through which I seek to determine the character of the Other is this; I must determine myself and the Other reciprocally by means of the same categories. Whatever formal characters I ascribe to the Other I must ascribe to myself and vice versa. If I determine the Other merely as body I must determine myself merely as body; if as a system of energy then I must determine myself reciprocally as a system of energy. But I know that the energy I exert in action is intentionally determined and this I express by saying that I am an agent who does things and whose acts are not merely events which happen. Consequently I must characterize the Other in the same terms as an Agent acting intentionally in relation to me. If I determine myself as agent and the world as a system of energy which is impersonal then I conclude irrationally that I am the only agent and that I am not part of the world in which I act. We should recall here an earlier conclusion that the personal conception of the world is not the result of personifying what is first recognized as non-personal. The personal conception of the Other is original; and the conception of the impersonal is reached through a process of depersonalization and remains always more or less ambiguous.4

Finally we come back to the common-sense distinction between ‘what is done’ and ‘what simply happens’ which forms the prima facie starting-point of any attempt to understand action. We understand what is done by reference to the intention of an agent. What merely happens we refer to another happening which we call its cause. Actions are the realization of intentions; events the effects of causes. But these two sorts of change which we distinguish are so closely intertwined in the process of the world and so indistinguishable by observation that it is impossible to accept the distinction as ultimate. What happens in the world determines through our knowledge of it the changes in our intentions; and the actions we perform have consequences which were not intended. The world is one continuum in time and our actions as well as the events which happen are equally elements and necessarily interrelated elements in this single continuum. There would appear then to be only two ways in which this unity of doings and happenings can be thought. We may reduce actions to events; or we may raise events to the level of action. We may say that either what appears to be action is really event or that what appears to be mere happening is really action. Have we any grounds for choosing between these two alternatives?

We have the best of reasons. Only one of the alternatives is thinkable. Because the ‘I do’ is our primary certainty it is impossible to think that all our actions are merely events which happen and which must be ascribed to causes not to intentions. To think this would be to think that the world is a complex process of events in time which is informed by no intention and is therefore completely meaningless. But this process includes ourselves and all our activities and as parts of the process they too must be meaningless and devoid of intention. This must be taken strictly: it must mean that we never act; that we cannot form an intention and seek to realize it; that nothing that we do or say or think is or can be meaningful. All our freedom theoretical as well as practical must be an illusion. In that case we cannot know that the world is a process of events for nothing that we say can be meaningful. And this is self-contradictory; for if it were true we could not know that it was true; indeed we should be creatures who could not even provide an asylum for illusions.

There is then only one way in which we can think our relation to the world and that is to think it as a personal relation through the form of the personal. We must think that the world is one action and that its impersonal aspect is the negative aspect of this unity of action contained in it subordinated within it and necessary to its constitution. To conceive the world thus is to conceive it as the act of God the Creator of the world and ourselves as created agents with a limited and dependent freedom to determine the future which can be realized only on the condition that our intentions are in harmony with His intention and which must frustrate itself if they are not.

There are two further points which I feel it necessary to make; one to prevent a possible misunderstanding of this conclusion and the other to make the study we have undertaken formally complete. The first is that the conception of God at which we have arrived is not pantheistic. Pantheism results from the attempt to give a religious colour to an organic conception of the world. A personal conception alone is fully theistic and fully religious. For there can be no action without an agent and an agent whether finite or infinite though he is immanent in existence necessarily transcends it. For the existent is what has been determined and the agent is the determiner. What has been determined is the past; but the agent is concerned with the future and its determination. So in action he passes beyond his existence transcending the past which constitutes his determinate being. His reality as agent lies in his continual self-transcendence. God therefore as the infinite Agent is immanent in the world which is his act but transcendent of it. The terms ‘transcendent’ and ‘immanent’ refer to the nature of persons as agents and they are strictly correlative. Pure immanence like pure transcendence is meaningless. Whatever is transcendent is necessarily immanent; and immanence in turn implies transcendence.

It would be a mistake to suppose that this vindication of the validity of religious belief in general constitutes an argument for the truth of any system of religious belief in particular. Religious doctrines are as problematic as scientific theories and require like them a constant revision and a continual verification in action. Their verification differs in this that it cannot be experimental since they are not merely pragmatic; they can be verified only by persons who are prepared to commit themselves intentionally to the way of life which they prescribe.

The second point concerns the nature of philosophy itself. In our discussion of the modes of reflection we considered history science art and religion. Philosophy was conspicuous by its absence. The excuse for this silence is to be found in the uncertainty on this issue which is characteristic of contemporary philosophy itself. For a long time now philosophers have debated the question ‘What is philosophy?’ and have found divergent and incompatible answers. But it has been characteristic of the development of the debate that the claims of philosophy have been steadily reduced until in contemporary positivism it has shrunk to a mere shadow of itself. All its positive content has been declared to be organized nonsense; all its traditional problems are pronounced meaningless questions. Its sole primary function is held to be the clarification of language through a formal logical analysis. We began by noting that modern philosophy had been driven by its own logic in the direction of atheism. We may end by recognizing that the nearer it draws to this conclusion the nearer it comes to its own extinction. The opposition of science and religion has compelled philosophy to distinguish itself more and more from religion and to model itself upon science. Once philosophy was the handmaid of theology; now it knocks at the door of science and asks for employment as a general cleaner-up. But science has really no need of such assistance. It prefers to tidy up for itself.

By shifting our standpoint from the ‘I think’ to the ‘I do’ we have restored the reference of thought to action and in the result have found that we are driven to conceive a personal universe in which God is the ultimate reality. This transformation restores its whole substance to philosophy which again becomes the intellectual aspect of the search for the real. The problematic of philosophy lies then in the distinction between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’. Now this we have seen is the problematic of religious reflection; and philosophy if it is concerned with the intellectual aspect of this problematic must be identical with theology with an undogmatic theology which like science has abandoned certainty and which has recognized that religious doctrines too are all hypothetical. Philosophy we must conclude is theology which has abandoned dogmatism and has become in a new and wider sense a Natural Theology.

  • 1. The Self as Agent, p. 19.
  • 2. The Self as Agent, pp. 98, 104 it al.
  • 3. The Self as Agent, Chap. III.
  • 4. Supra, pp. 74 f.
From the book: