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Chapter 3: The Question as Affected by the Problem of Evil


§ I. Πόθϵν τὸ κακόν

1. THE doctrine that man's nature embodies a moral ideal which he is bound to realize, is more easy to believe and to vindicate when stated in the abstract than when set face to face with the facts of life. For, as a matter of experience, man has not realized the moral ideal. If theology knows depravity, history is acquainted with cruelty and wickedness in high places and in low; ethics are as familiar with vice as religion is with sin; and philosophy has no harder or more obstinate questions than those connected with the origin and the existence of evil. Indeed there is no problem that has so perplexed our finest spirits, reducing some to silent despair, rousing some to eloquent doubt, and forcing not a few into unbelief; while probably a multitude no man can number have saved faith by forcing their reason to sit dumb and blind before the mystery it could not penetrate or unravel. One of the most beautiful and pious spirits it has ever been my privilege to know, was a man who had been trained to the office of the preacher, who had distinguished himself as a scholar and as a thinker, and who had become the hope of his college, his professors, and his Church. One day it fell to him to proclaim in public what he had tried to learn in the study and in the classroom; but, as he stood and faced the upturned eyes of men, there came such a vision of the evils that filled life and the impotence of the Will which seemed to rule the world, as well as of the preacher and of the word he preached either to mend or to end them, that he vowed unto the God in whose goodness he still believed, that were he only allowed to escape with his reason from that appalling place, he would not again lift up his voice in a pulpit until he had a message better fitted for the supreme crisis of the soul sojourning amid scenes so confused and perplexing. That message never came to him, and he retired into a silence that nothing could tempt him to break, vanquished by the potency of evil.

Another and more distinguished thinker has charged nature with perpetrating on the most stupendous scale every crime and cruelty man has ever been guilty of: “Nature impales men, breaks them as if on the wheel, casts them to be devoured by wild beasts, burns them to death, crushes them with stones like the first Christian martyr, starves them with hunger, freezes them with cold, poisons them by the quick or slow venom of her exhalations, and has hundreds of other hideous deaths in reserve, such as the ingenious cruelty of a Nabis or a Domitian never surpassed.” And he has made out a dread catalogue of the deeds which “Nature does with the most supercilious disregard both of mercy and justice,” ending with “the hurricane and the pestilence” which overmatch “anarchy and the Reign of Terror” “in injustice, ruin, and death.”1 That indictment by John Stuart Mill may, as was long ago noted, recall the famous stanzas of Tennyson on the man—

“Who trusted God was love indeed,

And love creation's final law—

Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw

With ravin, shrieked against his creed.”

But while there is in both an equal feeling of the savagery of nature, there was not in Mill any sense of the “love indeed.” It was the conflict of nature's way with man's sense of justice that compelled him to judge her so terribly; it was not its contradiction to a heart of infinite pity in the God who had made man.

2. But the evil that perplexes most is not physical or natural; were it only this, man might bear it with patience or fight against it with courage, or at least refuse to let it vanquish his better manhood. The evil which perplexes his reason, enfeebles his will, and confounds his conscience, is moral, not physical. Crime, vice, sin, the lusts that in their search for pleasure make pain, the passions, the lecheries, and the brutalities that possess man and desolate men, are the evils that create astonishment and dismay, for they do not simply inflict suffering, they waste what is the most god-like thing known to time—the soul and its happiness. The darkest of all the visions that can appal the imagination is that of the wasted manhood of the world; the savage peoples that, on dark or fertile continents or beautiful sun-lit islands, have lived and died hardly men; the wasted men and women, possibly a vaster multitude than all the savage peoples in the heart of Africa and in the Southern Seas, who in civilized lands and in Christian cities have lived to be little else than the causes or instruments or victims of sin. And the vision, if it be that of a religious imagination, will not be confined to time; it will range into eternity as well. The thought of a man who has been base enough to seduce, or of a woman wretched enough to be seduced, and to avenge her seduction by becoming in turn a seducer; the thought of the miseries and the diseases that have gone on multiplying themselves at an almost incalculable ratio through generations of mortals who are, or who ought to be, on their way to immortality, is, in all soberness and truth, a thought oppressive and painful beyond what the most solid reason can calmly bear. And if consolation be sought in the faith that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but will have all men to be saved, then out of that very comfort new perplexities come—Why then is His will so impotent? Why do so many perish as if the Maker cared for them no more than the slaver cares for the slaves he carries in his hold? That old mystery of evil is still a new mystery—most invincible of all the obstinate spectres which haunt human thought, and which will not be exorcized. To face it and to feel its force is to taste to the full that misery which Pascal said “proved the grandeur of man,” the misery of a being who knows himself suspended between the abysses of nonentity and infinity; a nothing as compared with the universe, a universe as contrasted with nothing. In the moment when that misery is keenest and the knowledge it brings most vivid, the words of the ancient poet speak to us as if they voiced the truth—the happiest thing would have been never to be born; the next in happiness is for the living to return as quickly as possible to the place whence he came.

3. Our perplexity is further increased by the fact that this mystery is made more mysterious by those high and sacred beliefs which ought to be its full and final explanation. The shadow that Theism so feels and fears Theism deepens and darkens, if, indeed, it does not altogether make the shadow. For if men did not believe in a good God, or if they had not the mood or disposition that this belief has created in humanity, they would not feel evil to be so insoluble a mystery. To a man who believes in mechanical necessity, or a fixed fate, every fact of life, including its evil, will remain as it is; but then his conscience will not be burdened, nor his heart afflicted, nor his reason perplexed, as they will be if he believes in a free and beneficent Deity. If he imagines that the only sovereign in the universe is the force which holds every individual in its iron grasp, and necessitates every act he does, every thought he thinks, and every event that happens to him; if he believes that man can only do what he must, that there is for him no pity anywhere in nature, and that there is no higher will to which his miseries can make their dumb appeal for mercy,—then he may, perhaps, regard evil, and with it existence, as a thing intolerable to him as an individual, but he will not feel compelled to pronounce judgment against the almighty Energy which produced both him and it. For where there is no choice and no morality, there can be no responsibility and no condemnation. But if a man believes that there is a powerful and righteous God, the Creator and Ruler of the world, he is, in the very degree that he is thoughtful, certain to be perplexed by the problem, ‘Why has He allowed evil to exist?’ And he may fall a victim to some swift and dexterous piece of logic like this: ‘Either He could have prevented evil, but would not; or He would have prevented it, but could not. If I accept the first alternative, then I must conclude that He is a being of imperfect goodness; if I accept the second, the conclusion must be that He is a being of imperfect power. In either case He is less perfect than the God I had imagined myself to believe in. It is inconceivable that a perfectly good being could have allowed so much evil to enter, and to devastate the world.’

Evil, then, when viewed in relation to existence and to its Author, formulates the gravest problem that a man who believes in a personal God can face. But whether he believes in Him or not, it remains a problem, acute in the degree that his view of life is moral. Two antithetical systems of thought—the one either personal and theistic or impersonal and pantheistic, and the other either mechanical and non-theistic, or conceiving creation as the work of an irresponsible and unconscious, though motived, cause—have attempted to deal seriously with this question. The one which it is customary to term Optimism, conceives existence as good in spite of its evil, or even, in certain cases, because of evil and through it. The other, which as its antithesis bears the name of Pessimism, is a philosophy which gives scientific expression to the view that life is hateful because of its attendant evils, and it may even conceive existence as in its essence so bad that it had better never have been.

§ II. Optimism and Evil

1. Optimism is, in a sense, implicit in Theism. The more perfect we conceive God to be, the less can we predicate evil of His works. As Plato said, “the deeds of the Best could never be or have been other than the fairest”; and so the world He created was “by nature fairest and best,”2 “as far as possible a perfect whole and of perfect parts,”3 and could be described, in terms that become the Maker rather than the thing made, as the “visible God, the image of the Intelligible, the greatest, best, fairest, most perfect, the one only begotten heaven.”4 But this is nature interpreted through God, while the very essence of the problem is the interpretation of the character and ways of God through nature. The Stoic was even more certain than Plato that the creation was, in its kind and measure, as perfect as the Creator, but he had to maintain his belief in the face of an acuter moral sense and a more emphasized moral law. And he did this by affirming, in spite of his belief in an invincible fate, that there were limits to Divine power which could as little keep man free from moral evil as from physical disease;5 that it was as irrational to think that God could connive at wickedness as that law could be guilty of crime;6 that like the vulgar jest in the play, evil might be offensive, but, blended with the whole, it heightened the general effect;7 and that it was here to train character and to be, therefore, finally transmuted into good.8 But the difficulty became vaster and more acute to Christian than it had been to Hellenic thought, for to the Christian mind God was more personal, more august and beneficent, while sin was a subtler and more terrible conception than evil, a power more destructive while less destructible. For sin was conceived as a sort of impersonal and diabolical counterpart of God, able to maintain itself against Him, with a kingdom of its own, propagating itself and multiplying its effects by means of the order He had instituted, compelling His very justice to encourage its growth and continue its being by making the habit of sinning the supreme penalty of the act of sin. And so it was no mere ironical Nemesis, but an inexorable law of logic, that laid upon Augustine, the Father who was mainly responsible for this doctrine, the duty of vindicating the Providence whose ways it seemed so seriously to impugn. His apology followed several distinct lines, some of which were more germane to the notion of evil than of sin, having been suggested by the Greeks themselves, who had chiefly influenced him. Thus he argues, after Plotinus, that evil is nothing real, but is simply negative, a negation of being, and especially of God, who is the most real of all beings. Hence he boldly formulated the position, “in quantum est, quidquid est, bonum est.”9 There is but one God, one supreme essence, from whom whatever is holds its existence. As He is good, all His works, i.e. all created being, must be the same; and so evil ought to be conceived as negative, an attempt to deny or abolish the works and the acts of God. The more being abounds, the more abundant becomes the good; the more it is restricted or encroached on by the unreal, the more evil prevails. But Augustine knew that metaphysics of this sort could do little to comfort those to whom misery was an actual experience and sin a profound reality. So he argued, as the Stoics had done, that evil is needed to enhance the beauty and the glory of the world.10 It is like the barbarisms which the poets love to use now and then as a foil to their own elegance.11 Time is like a picture which needs the shadows as well as the light for its loveliest effects.12 Even the eternal fires of hell, however penal to the sinner, tend to magnify the beauty of the whole, and exalt the glory of the mighty Artificer.13 But Augustine's own contribution as a theologian to the solution of the problem was of a nobler and more satisfactory order. Over against the potency of sin he placed the omnipotence of God; over against its power to ruin he set the grace that saved. Sin must be conceived through an antithesis, without which it never could have been. Christ was not because of Adam, but Adam because of Christ. Man had not been allowed to sin that God might be free to punish, but that He might have the opportunity to save. Sin entered that grace might abound. Through sin as occasion, though not by means of it as cause, God was brought nearer to man, suffered with him, endured sacrifice for him, and lifted him out of his evil to a higher glory than he could without it have attained. But it was a dangerous, if a daring, feat to raise evil into a means of good: it invited a damaging retort as to the bungling character of the workman who had to mar his work in order that he might find some way of perfecting it. As a matter of fact the retort was given, for the thought which so lightly touched evil could not bear to feel the shadow of sin. But ancient philosophy in all its classical forms had been struck with decrepitude, and the criticism of the decrepit is more querulous than creative or illuminative. On the other hand the eclectic speculations which Augustine had so largely absorbed, made no notable contribution to the discussion, while in theology the reign of dogma was at hand, and thought moved from the problems of the reason to the more pressing and practical questions of ecclesiastical organization.

The mediæval schoolmen were, on the whole (there were certain conspicuous exceptions), faithful to Augustine, lived in his intellectual world, faced his problems, and acutely discussed such questions as, Whether all things, in so far as they really exist, are good. But the hour came when the ancient world awoke, and mind, hearing its voice, awoke with it and tried to look at life in the light of the common reason; but though the classical literatures helped to open the eyes, yet they could not silence the conscience. And so while the thinkers of the Renaissance learned to speak of evil, they still thought of sin; but sin was less amenable to the categories of ancient thought than evil. The first Teutonic scholar to be renewed by the knowledge of antiquity, Nicholas of Cusa, is also here the finest exponent of the new mind. While Greece awoke in him the feeling for nature, it did not take from him his inherited passion for God; rather, as he himself tells us, it begot in him the ambition of uniting the two in a single conception.14 God is superessential, and can be expressed in no category.15 He is the eternal Unity which is prior to all variety, and the ground of all change.16 He is the synthesis of all being, all is in Him, and He is in all.17 Nature is an organism whose soul is God,18 and whose organs are the infinite multitude of persons who live and move and exist in Him. The world is nothing but the apparition of the invisible God; God is but the invisibility of all visible existences.19 Since the two are so related, each must be as the other is; disharmony can neither mar its life nor disturb His; He is the absolutely perfect Being, and it is the most perfect world possible.20 The philosophical successor of Nicholas was Giordano Bruno, who developed the notion of God as the Unity of all difference into an explicit and conscious Pantheism.

2. But our concern is not with the logic that made men pantheists; it is with the modes in which the ideas of God and evil affected each other in minds that had ceased to believe in Christian theology while living face to face with the Christian religion. Now the remarkable thing is that just as thought became less Christian, the problem of evil grew at once more mysterious and more imperative. Christianity is the only religion that has dared to articulate a theology from the premiss not simply of God's sole sovereignty, but of His direct responsibility for man; and has had at the same time the courage to conceive man as capable of alienating himself from God and of making evil his deity. For centuries the Christian notion of sin had held man in its burning hands, magnifying his power, but darkening his state and his destiny; for many centuries he had believed in a God infinitely good and gracious, the Maker of a race that had chosen to become bad, the Redeemer of the race from the evil its own choice had made. These things stood indissolubly together: man's act, or the sin that alienated; God's action, or the grace that saved. But the denial of the Christian redemption left men standing face to face with two idea's they could neither deny nor relate and reconcile, God and evil. This antithesis stood at its sharpest in Deism, which loved to describe itself as a system of natural religion, but which we may describe as an attempt to conceive God in the manner of the Christian religion without any of the experiences, beliefs, and associations that had made it possible so to conceive Him. God was good, and evil was the grimmest of all realities. He had made the world, and had allowed sin to enter it, yet He would not touch the world He had made or do anything to save it from the evil He had allowed. Hence came a stupendous problem, which Deism did its best not to see; and the easiest way not to see it was to say, and keep on saying, “Everything which exists is according to a good order, and for the best.” The “perfect Theist” was defined to be the man who “believed that everything is governed, ordered, or regulated for the best by a designing principle or mind, necessarily good and permanent.”21 This is the optimism of the eighteenth century, and it has two classical representatives—Leibnitz and Pope. It is hardly fair, indeed, to bracket two such men together, for Leibnitz was the most original speculative intellect of his day, an orthodox Protestant, while a rational theist; but Pope was, while a Catholic, a very conventional and derivative deist, who proudly acknowledged that the views unfolded in his rhymed argumentation were borrowed.

(i.) Leibnitz expressed his view, philosophically, in his Théodicée,22 and its formula has passed into general literature—“This is the best of all possible worlds.” He emphasized the word “possible.” Nature did not exist by necessity; it might or it might not have been, and it was because God had so willed. A better world might be imagined, but no better could have been made. Leibnitz's idea had a positive and a negative basis; the positive was the goodness and wisdom of God. Since He was what He was, He could be satisfied with nothing less than the best attainable. The negative basis may be termed the limitations which thought must set to the Divine power. God could accomplish only the possible, and a moral world without evil was beyond the resources even of Omnipotence. The only perfect being was the Infinite, but the Infinite could not be made; the created must be limited, and where limitation is, there evil, in one form or another, must be. Leibnitz distinguished evil as of three classes—metaphysical, physical, and ethical.23 (α) The metaphysical evil was primary; it was limitation of being, it belonged to everything less than God. Whatever had its being in time, whatever had less than infinite being, suffered from metaphysical evil; i.e. was forbidden by the very terms of its existence to possess within itself the beatitude, the absolute knowledge, the power, experience, and benevolence of the Deity. (β) Physical evil was due to metaphysical; wherever an essentially limited being existed there was not only the capability but the necessity of suffering in some form, either privative, because the limited being was without the beatitude of the divine; or positive, from the operation upon the finite or limited of the infinite multitude of causes that make up the created universe. (γ) Ethical evil was the free and voluntary disobedience of a moral being. The ability to sin, nay, the certainty of sinning, was rooted in the original or metaphysical imperfection of the creature.24 Where there was limitation of knowledge and experience there could not but be subjection to an outer and regulative or higher Will. But since moral obedience could not be necessitated, moral disobedience was certain; for inexperience could not but be unstable, and where experiment was needed failure might be the surest way to success.

These three kinds of evil so co-existed in the very idea of a moral universe that one could not possibly be framed so as to exclude them. This was obvious to the Divine Intelligence. An infinite multitude of possible worlds lay before the vision of God. Evil was involved in every one which He conceived as possible, but out of all this infinitude of possibilities He selected for realization the best possible. As absolutely good and wise, He could select no other. And this world He selected, not because of its evil, but in spite of its evil, resolved to overrule the evil, which was inseparable from created being, to its greater good and His own greater glory. The only alternatives, therefore, which Leibnitz allowed were not between a more and a less imperfect world, but between the best possible and no world at all. If there was to be no evil, there must be no creation; if God chose to create, He had no choice but to create the metaphysically imperfect, i.e. those capable of suffering and of doing evil. And here he introduced two important modifying ideas: (α) Creation was not a completed event, but a continuous process;25 if God ceased to act, nature and man would cease to be; and He acts freely, ever willing and working the creature's good. And (β) this good is progressive; as man improves evil decays, the improvement being the work of God, the deterioration, or delay in realizing the good, the work of man. God is related to the world of actual forces as the stream to the boat which floats upon it. If the progress of the boat is hindered, it is not by the stream, but by obstacles on the banks or in its course. “And God is as little the cause of evil as the current of the river is the cause which retards the movement of the boat.”26 He so guides and controls the world, which His creative action ever renews, that even from its evil we shall yet reap a large harvest of good.

(ii.) Pope's view was expressed in his “Essay on Man,” which crudely, though poetically, summarized the deistic optimism that had in Bolingbroke its elegant and prolix exponent. His optimism had its formula in the familiar words—

“Whatever is, is right,”

and it had, in effect, three principles. First, the sovereign will was cosmical rather than ethical; its absolute might made all its deeds and decrees right. Hence he did not so much explain how moral evil came to be as deny that it was.

“If plagues or earthquakes break not heaven's design,

Why then a Borgia or a Cataline?”

The Creator

“Pours fierce ambition in a Cæsar's mind.”

And it was as little natural to expect

“Eternal springs and cloudless skies,

As men for ever temp'rate, calm, and wise.”

He so works out the parallel between nature and man, between physical events and moral characters and acts, that the moral becomes even as the physical; and his right is too much the product of might to be the equivalent of Augustine's “good” or Leibnitz's “best possible.” Hence, secondly, he is as unjust to suffering as to sin, and sacrifices without scruple the individual to the universal. The principle that “partial evil is universal good” is construed to mean that the person who suffers ought to be content to bear the evil he suffers from because it serves great universal ends. He should not rebuke nature for enforcing her laws, even though it be at his expense, for only by such enforcement can harmony be secured. And all the evil that disturbed and distressed us was harmony not understood. It was, as it were, the discord in the universal symphony which made its music more majestic and more complete.

“Respecting man, whatever wrong we call,

May, must be right, as relative to all.”

And, thirdly, there was the principle that evil ought not to be judged simply from this life, but also from man's relation to the future, which had to be invoked if the present was to be comprehended. The balance of our judgment needed, in order to its perfect equilibrium, to have time counter-weighted with eternity. And so we were bidden to

“Hope humbly, and with trembling pinions soar.”

We might not know the future, but hope could make its blessings a present experience.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

Man never is, but always to be blessed.”

3. We may frankly confess that Pope's optimism seems to us of the shallowest. It was but the smug content of the well-to-do, praising in polished metres the Providence which had been wise enough to make him comfortable. He rejoices to find his happiness set off by the abounding misery. The God he so often names does not live; He is a mere abstract term adjusted to suit now the premiss, now the conclusion of a rhymed syllogism. What is true of English Deism as a whole, is true of this its most brilliant production: it “was only a particular way of repudiating Christianity. There was as little of God in it as could well be.”27 Candide is a satire on optimism; but though it was a piece of insolent impiety, I would rather have Voltaire's attitude to this question than Pope's. For he showed that he could be moved by suffering, and could feel as intensely about the calamities man endured from the forces of nature as about the injustice he experienced at the hands of man. The earthquake of Lisbon stirs him almost as much as the tragedy of Calas, and one respects him the more for the passion he shows, for the indignation with which he rejects the idea that eternal law can justify the massacre of the innocents. Was Lisbon more wicked than London or Paris? Yet

Lisbonne est abîmée, et l'on danse à Paris.

In this moral fury there was an unconscious Theodicy; if the Sovereign of the universe be moral, it would be infinitely more agreeable to Him than the epigrammatical eulogies of a poet more intent on refining his numbers than touching the heart of things. The optimism which has not gravely faced the immensity and the intensity of the world's misery has no claim to be heard. And Pope's claims are the fewer that he so played with the greatest of human hopes and the deepest of human facts; for if time cannot be justified without eternity, then, as time is all that is known to our experience, the result is a serious impeachment of the divine rectitude. We may be quite unable to judge a complete work until the work be completed, yet it is mischievous logic which seeks to make the universe we know a thing incapable of vindication without the help of a universe we do not know. If Butler's plea—that most of the difficulties of faith are due to a system imperfectly understood, were valid, then, it might fairly be argued, so would its converse be, viz., that a system which stood embodied in our own experience could not be justified by a system which was so far beyond it as to have no real being for it. And what could two such opposites do save neutralize each other? Time, therefore, ought to have within itself its own apology and ought not to require to depend for justification on an appeal from itself to eternity.

It may be of more interest to remark that Pope's plea for “partial evil” as “universal good” has almost an equivalent in the speculative physicism of to-day. It is wonderful how our intellectual and moral thought has been so penetrated by the doctrine of the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest that we almost feel as if it were an eternal law, even though the fittest be so often the strongest rather than the wisest or the best. But in this law of survival there are two sides—one affecting the victor, another affecting the vanquished. It may be an excellent thing to the survivor to survive, but this does not sweeten the lot of the victim who has had to succumb. And the vanquished, as much as the victor, belongs to the whole of life; he is as integral a part of the universe, and has, therefore, such rights as the fact of being may carry with it. And it is the whole of being that needs to be vindicated. It is possible to purchase the continuance of the elect few at too high a price; and it is so purchased when it means the sacrifice of the infinite multitude of the rejected, each unit of which had all the possibilities of happiness or misery, of sensitiveness to suffering and susceptibility to joy which the survivor himself possessed. And if we are to vindicate the law or order of the universe, it must not simply be in the eye and judgment of him who has survived—the fact of his own survival is to him justification enough—but in the eye of him who has been vanquished. It is the sufferer who needs to be consoled. It is not the man who never had a son who needs to be comforted when a mother mourns beside the bier of her dead boy. We cannot, therefore, exclude from consideration the weak who suffer, and only magnify the strong who survive. If there be partial evil, we are not to say that it is made righteous by the existence of universal good, which is the very point in dispute; we must tell those to whom partial evil has been the whole of life what their evil means, why their evil is, and how it stands related to Him who, as the Author of their being, has sent them where they have had to suffer so severely.

4. With what many would regard as pantheistic optimism we do not need to concern ourselves. It has two distinct types—one with a specially ethical temper, represented by Spinoza; another with a more intellectual or logical mind, represented by Hegel. Neither of their systems is indeed properly pantheistic; both may better be described as simply speculative or philosophical theisms. Spinoza held evil to be a thing natural; vice to be something not to be condemned, but to be explained. All that is he conceived as a mode of the infinite Being or Substance, and evil as a necessary element in the infinite modes which, as modifications of the Infinite or God, were inseparable from Him. Evil was necessary because it was privative, imperfection being mere negation of being, therefore proper to every mode in the degree of its remoteness from the whole of being. He thus affirmed that he could not concede sin and evil to be anything positive, still less could anything be or become contrary to the will of God.28 The optimism of Spinoza was thus due to his inability to recognize vice as voluntary, wrong as optional; all was part of a necessary system, and justified by its necessity. The Hegelian view was formulated in the principle that the actual was the rational. Find a reason for what is, and what is will be found to be reasonable. Hegel's was the optimism of a universal logic which attempted to represent the whole of time as a dialectical movement, and conceived life under the categories of thought; and which, therefore, by its constant need of theses and antitheses and syntheses, could find no place for that which ought not to have been. This, of course, is a vague and general statement as to Hegel's position, truer in the abstract than in the concrete. It is hard, nay impossible, in any rational philosophy to find a place or a reason for an irrational thing, which evil essentially is. While no man ever argued more cogently than Hegel to the negative character of evil, no man ever stated more emphatically its incompatibility in the concrete with the moral ideal. Evil, speculatively construed, was “a negative which, though it would fain assert itself, has no real persistence, and is, in fact, only the absolute sham existence of negativity in itself” (der absolute Schein der Negativatät in sich).29 But moral evil could not be otherwise conceived and described than as the incongruity (Unangemessenheit) of what is with what ought to be.30

§ III. Pessimism Ancient and Modern

1. From Optimism in its several types Pessimism stands distinguished thus: Evil is not an incident capable of an explanation which justifies either God as the Author of existence, or existence as the handiwork of God; but it is, as it were, the whole of being; it composes and constitutes the whole picture, occupies the eye and prospect of the soul, which cannot see life save through evil. Pessimism thus makes evil as of the very essence of being, and so conceives the universe that it does not seek the preservation of being by the expulsion of evil, but rather the expulsion of evil by the abolition of existence. This means that it cannot regard the actual as the rational, but as the irrational; or the good as universal and evil as partial, but, on the contrary, evil is universal, and there is no good. It is so far from conceiving this as the best of all possible worlds that it describes it as so bad that no-world would have been better. Pessimism knows no creator whom, it can hold responsible for evil, nor any sovereign through whose benevolence or wisdom it can be removed. Hence it is a philosophy which aims not only at explaining how existence happened to arise, but how it may most surely and utterly cease to be.

But perhaps we shall make its real meaning more intelligible if, instead of confining ourselves to the exposition of a single term, we attempt to present it in certain of its historical forms, and in relation to the mood or temper which they express. It is peculiar neither to Western thought nor to our own century. It did not owe its being to Schopenhauer nor its vogue to Von Hartmann; it expresses a temper which is too near the surface, and too ready to express itself in poignant speech to have been so late of birth. It has arisen in different countries and at different times, though always under similar conditions; and it implies the operation of similar causes, general and personal. We find it emerging wherever great wealth, luxury, and refinement co-exist with want, famine, and the savage mood which these beget in civilized men. It belongs to times when the forces that work for evil overpower the individual will, and undertake to command masses of men. And it springs from the feeling, whether in a few or in many minds, which may be described as an attitude either of despondency, or of despair, or the contempt of life. It is not a normal or a healthy feeling. The normal healthy man does not ask, “Is life worth living?” He lives his life, or he may try to live it, worthily, and to fill it with such worth as he himself possesses. It is the man who despairs of life who feels it a burden, doubts whether it be worth his while to go through with it, and concludes that if it be worth the trouble to do so, it is only in order that he may benefit man by helping him to bring his existence to a final and more utter end.

2. Pessimism was not a mood very congenial to the classical mind, especially as it expressed itself in Hellenic philosophy. The nearest approach to it we can find is in Cynicism, but Cynicism was in many respects the converse of Pessimism. It was marked not so much by a contempt for life in the abstract as a contempt for men who did not live worthily. It believed that life was good, and that it became bad only when its accidents were taken for its essence. It believed in a law that bound all men to be virtuous; and it despised those who claimed to be men of worth, yet did not observe or obey the law they claimed to embody. It may be described as a cruder, a more primitive, and, in a sense, a more savage Stoicism. Greek Stoicism and, in an even higher degree, Roman was positive, an attempt to realize the idea of manhood implanted in the nature of man; but Cynicism was negative, a criticism of the lives of men in the light of the ideal. Yet the Cynic was not simply a critic; on the contrary, his criticism rested on a doctrine of human nature as ethical as the Stoic, though he had not worked out as genial a method of perfecting character. In his scorn of those who made the accessories into the essence of life, he tended to dispense with even what was good in these, and to despise refinement as well as the luxuries in which it imagined it seemly to be clothed, in order that the nakedness of the natural man might be the better hidden. He made his protest against the conventional habits which suggested the shameful and stimulated the sordid they were professedly used to conceal, by attempting to live as a barbarian. Thus the element of Pessimism in his thought was due to the clearness with which he saw the evil in existing tendencies, societies, characters, and persons; but so far was he from identifying the shams which he hated with the whole of being which he loved, that he conceived evil as a contradiction of that law of right and duty or virtue which was the highest of all laws, written in the heart and soul of man for realization in his conduct and in society.

Again, mediæval Asceticism had certain principles and features in common with Pessimism. It thought the world wrong, too unclean to be a fit home for a holy man; therefore a place to be forsaken of him who would save his own soul. The existing order of society was conceived to be evil, and it was thought better that the good man should take himself out of that order than endanger his own soul by remaining within it. On its personal side it was a doctrine of salvation, but on its social side it was a doctrine of annihilation, so far at least as its attitude signified that the world was so bad that the pious man could neither desire its continuance, nor do anything to promote it. It was in this latter aspect that it agreed with Pessimism, for it conceived secular society as so under the power of evil that the happiest thing for it was to pass away and perish. But here the similarity ended, for Asceticism cultivated the hope that One who was more potent than the world might be persuaded, through the penance and self-denial it practized, to save the poor soul of man, and to replace the dissolved secular society by the new and higher spiritual order called the Church.

3. These classical and catholic tendencies are typical of the pessimistic mood which is never very remote from any of us. The first impulse of the man angry at the emptinesses and unrealities of human life, is to rage at it as all vanity and vexation of spirit. And the quick overmastering passion of the man who has just been seized and possessed by belief in the reality of spiritual and eternal things, is to forsake a world which is absorbed in the enjoyment of things temporal, and to retire to a solitude where he may cultivate his fears and watch from a distance sure-footed fate overtake those who are too blind to see its approach or too sodden to care for it. But common tendencies have many forms besides the ethical and the religious; and some of these the modern pessimistic mood has readily assumed. In the first decades of our century it took an imaginative and emotional or sentimental shape, and had, in the poetry of revolt, extraordinary vogue. Goethe, in his earlier period, passed through it, but he cultivated contempt of life only that he might the more enjoy it. He loved the bitter because it helped to flavour the sweet. With Byron there is more of the genuine pessimistic spirit—the feeling that made him love to think of himself as a kind of martyr, sacrificed by a too conventional society because of his own too conventional vices. He had a vanity that only sang the more that it sat in the cold shadow of criticism, though the song into which it broke was one of vehement satire and vicious denial. He had the sense of being an outcast from his country and his kind.

“With pleasure drugg'd, he almost longed for woe,

And e'en for change of scene would seek the shades below.”

But even in him it was a mood, a temper, now petulant, now imaginative, expressing personal feeling rather than reasoned conviction. He had a pessimistic hatred of life, not unmingled, as far as his vanity allowed it, with contempt of himself; and this, of course, was only the obverse of his dislike to the society which would not indulge him with the praise his temper imperiously claimed. How much it was mood and how little it was reasoned belief may be seen from its vivid contrast to the jubilant imaginative idealism of Shelley, who so feels the joy of existence that he carries, as it were, his own skylark singing within his breast, making him feel as if the only true philosophy of life was a kind of divine intermingling of being with love and of love with being. But we must distinguish the imaginative temper, which is strictly personal, from the philosophical, which is intellectual and universal; and Pessimism is not the poetic expression of a mood, but the dialectical explication of an idea which seeks to cover and comprehend the whole of life.

The Pessimism in politics which is known to us as Anarchy or Nihilism is as significant of the close of the nineteenth century as the poetry of revolt was of its opening. Nihilism does not, like Socialism, express the belief that there is an ideal order which not only may be, but which ought to be, realized; on the contrary, it expresses, in the true pessimistic vein, the precisely opposite belief—that the social system is so bad that it had better cease to be, i.e. that society should be resolved into its primitive elements. Socialism may be described as Utopian, i.e. it is a form of ideal Optimism, the belief that though the best of all possible societies has not yet existed, it may be made to exist; and indeed the whole effort of human society and the sole function of legislation is to turn as quickly and as painlessly as may be practicable this possible best into a beneficent reality. But Nihilism springs from the despair of beneficent change, and simply proposes the total abolition of things as they are without any scheme for their amelioration or any suggestion of a better or a worthier order. It is instructive to note the conditions under which Nihilism springs up. It is a native of countries where absolute authority reigns, which are governed by a despotism that will not allow free speech, or the distribution of the literature that may educate and enlighten the mind, or the expression of the opinion that, by telling of social discontent, reveals its causes and shows how it may be changed into contentment. We may take it as a certain law of history and society that where mind feels unable to modify the system under which it lives, it will seek good by the dissolution of the order which dooms it to impotence. The system that has no room for reason, reason can neither respect nor spare. On the other hand, in the political conditions where speech is free, where combination is allowed and where the main factors of amelioration are in the hands of those who feel the hardships of life, the tendency will be to seek help from constructive ideas in social politics. Hence in free countries dissatisfaction with an existing order becomes either, if political, the dream of a broader freedom; or, if economical, the dream of a more ideal society, where the units are to be equal in wealth and in well-being. But Nihilism expresses the awful impotence of the individual in the face of an absolute power; while Socialism implies the competence of those who have power to change the existing system from one that works to the benefit of a class or classes into one that works for the equal benefit of the whole. The significance of Nihilism as Pessimism in politics for our present discussion is that it illustrates the conditions which produce the pessimistic mood, and make inevitable the pessimistic idea. Men may well think that where being cannot be improved, even when it works disastrously, it is better that it should be destroyed than continue to destroy.

§ IV. Eastern and Western Pessimism

1. But poetry and politics are here only incidental and illustrative; the theme that concerns us is philosophical Pessimism. It may be described as the sense of evil turned into a theory of being and formulated in a law for the regulation and conduct of life. Speaking in the most general terms, we may say that, both as a mood and as a philosophy, it is more native to the East than to the West. In the East it has had its completest expression not exactly in popular Buddhism, which is too ethical, too eclectic, and too wishful to help where it pities to be properly described as pessimistic; but in philosophical Buddhism, the speculative theory which may have been at the root of the Master's mind and certainly was in the mind of his disciples. It has characteristic analogues in certain types of Hindu philosophy, in the fatalism of Islam, and in at least one of the great sects of China. If this Pessimism is to be understood in its basis and in its essence, it ought to be studied in and through the conditions which created what we have termed its most perfect expression—the Philosophy of Buddhism.

Let us distinctly conceive the conditions under which the system arose. It stood in a two-fold antithesis to the speculative tendencies it found in India, even though it was a dialectical evolution from them. The philosophy that made it was that of the ascetic communities, or the forest schools, where men cultivated the meditation by which they hoped to escape from the conditions of their mortal being. In these schools there was a kind of aristocracy both of blood and of idea. The scholars sprang from the castes of the twice born, i.e. they were men of Aryan descent; and the ideas on which they meditated had been born of the Aryan mind, and were rooted in its experience and history. They conceived man as an emanation from the great abstract Being whom they had evolved from their old and simple theistic beliefs. This being was not personal and masculine, but abstract and neuter, a Substance or Essence rather than a God. They called him now Brahma, now Atman or Paramatman, Soul or Supreme Soul, now the One or the That, which breathed breathless,31 within whom had somehow arisen a sort of dim desire to realize himself, whence had come creation and all the souls of men. These souls were like so many atoms singly and collectively imperishable, each capable of conversion, but incapable of destruction; all issued from Brahma, all were destined to absorption in Brahma; but from the moment of origin to the moment of absorption—points infinitely remote from each other—there ceaselessly revolved the wheel of existence, and they with it. And this wheel, to which all being was bound and with which all moved, carried the individualized soul, or the separated atom, round and round in cycles and epicycles of incalculable change till the supreme moment arrived when he could escape from it back into the undifferentiated and undistributed Brahma. In one age he might be born a man, in another a wild beast ravening in the forest; in his human cycle he might move downward from king to beggar, or upward from low-born fool and sinner to high-born sage and saint, or he might fall from the seraphic to the demoniac state; in one existence he might live like a god, in another he might be humiliated to the lowest ranks of the brute creation. But rest, the end he was bound ever to seek and to crave, was of all things the hardest to attain; and here the cruel and inexorable partiality of the conditions which regulated these changes appeared. They were made to depend on acts done in states of existence prior to the one in which the man for the time found himself—states of which he had no recollection, and acts whose consequences he bore, but whose performance lay outside his consciousness. These acts were the thongs which bound him to the wheel of existence as it ceaselessly revolved, now lifting him to the summit, now plunging him to the depths, but never allowing him to escape from the life which was destiny. The theory was, therefore, not simply metaphysical or philosophical, but also intensely practical because applied, in the most ghastly way, to character and conduct. It had been worked into a social order, sanctioned by a religious system, guarded by ceremonies and sacerdotal sanctions of the most ubiquitous and imperious kind. The misuse of ritual, offences against caste, neglect of observances belonging to the ceremonial of religion, violation of the customs, order, or organization of society, might have effects on souls living here that could not be exhausted by ages of downward, upward, or dubious change. And this social system was administered by men who were neighbours, but could not be relations; men who as priests held the approaches to God, and in right of their divine descent regulated human affairs with a higher authority than belonged to kings. And as Buddha stood face to face with this system of eternal change, conditioned in its operation, in its good or ill, by external acts, he said: “What is life on these terms? Can it be called a good? Is it not rather a misery? And can there be any benevolence in continuing an existence which must be either in idea or experience miserable? The existence which possesses such eternal possibilities of sorrow, nay, such dreadful temporal certainties, cannot be good; its very essence is evil; instability marks it; birth introduces to a world of suffering; death is departure to a world of greater suffering, if not in actual experience at least in possible event. And where the possibilities of evil are in number and in duration so nearly infinite, can existence be other than an agony to him who contemplates it with a serious and sober eye?”

Existence, then, seemed to Buddha to be in its very essence sorrow; sorrow for misery that either had been, or was being, or was to be, endured, whether by ourselves or by others or by all combined, the whole creation which groaned and travailed in pain together. Now sorrow is not good, but where it is inseparable from being the only possible escape from sorrow is escape from existence. But how can we escape it? Buddha's answer sprang out of the philosophy which he had learned in the ascetic communities, but its conclusion, the negation in which it ended, was due to the negation from which he started, the denial of Brahma and of the soul with which he was identified. With the Hindu schools, Buddha said: “If we live to-day, it is because we have in some past existence accumulated the merit that calls for reward, or the demerit that cries for punishment. Merit is only a less evil than demerit, for it maintains in being, and by means of this continuance perpetuates the eternal possibility of some downward change through some act of conscious or unconscious sin.” And then he added: “in order to escape from being we must escape equally from merit and demerit; but to do this we cannot live among men, where we must do the things which entitle to penalty or reward. We must retire from the world and cultivate the suppression of the very desire to live, the surrender of the capability to act, the quenching of the thirst that by goading us into action binds by merit or demerit to the wheel of life. When we have ceased to desire, we shall cease to will, cease to act, to acquire, or to lose merit. The law that maintains being and enforces change will then cease to operate, and released from the ever revolving wheel, we shall attain Nirvana and return no more.”

Buddha's theory was pessimistic, for it conceived being as sorrow, and the discipline he enforced was a method for the cessation of personal existence; but it was a pessimism which could be so justified and construed as to be translated into its contrary. On the principles which he assumed, and under the conditions in which he lived, it may almost be termed an Optimism. For if personal being is an endless cycle of change, now upward, now downward, conditioned on acts seldom ethical and still more seldom evitable, then certainly the noblest conception we can form of it is that it is bad, and the most benevolent thing we can propose to do with it is to abolish it. If to be is to suffer, if to continue in being is to be confronted with the eternal possibility of ever darker and deeper suffering, then being is a thing better ended than mended. Buddhism measured by the purpose of Buddha, and the principles which were the assumed basis of all his thought and of the thinking of all India in his day, is only formally pessimistic, in spirit and design it is an Optimism.

2. If now we turn from India and Buddha to Europe and Western Pessimism, we shall see what material differences He within their formal agreements.

Pessimism first received conscious philosophical expression in the West at the hands of Schopenhauer, who was born in 1788 and died in 1860. I have no intention to enter into any details of biographical criticism, though no philosophy owes more to its author's peculiar psychology or more faithfully reflects the collision of the forces which now lifted him to heaven and now cast him into the dust. His life was rather mean and sordid than noble, the life of a man who never knew how to live in harmony and peace either with himself or with men, who quarrelled, spitefully, now with his mother, now with his sister, now with his publisher, now with his landlady, now with the obscurest and least reputable of the neighbours about him, and quarrelled ever in the meanest and most implacable way. It is too undignified a life to be alluded to further than to say that in judging a system we must ever remember its author's personal equation, reckon with his character, his intellectual and ethical qualities. He had moods when he reverently studied “Plato the divine and the marvellous Kant,” and moods when his hatred of Hegel broke into virulent and scurrilous speech. He had a temper that now gloried in depicting “the utter despicability” of mankind in general and great men in particular, and now so pitied man that he could not admire the beauty of nature for thinking of the human suffering hidden within it.

Now, though this peculiar temper and mood may not explain his philosophical principles, yet they help to explain the use to which he turned them, the spirit he breathed into them, and the form they assumed in his hands. So far as his system owes its being to external causes it was the result of two tendencies—one specifically German, the other distinctively Oriental. The German tendency supplied his thought with its philosophic groundwork, but the Oriental, though it came from an East ill understood, gave the impulse that built into a system of Pessimism the principles he had inherited. He had philosophical antecedents in Kant and in Fichte; but the impetus which determined the direction he took was given, though mediately, by Buddha. His thought stood rooted not so much in the transcendental as in the practical dialectic of Kant; or rather, to be more accurate, the transcendental dialectic gave him his critical idea, but the practical suggested, if it did not already contain, his positive doctrine. He learned from Kant's speculative system to affirm the subjectivity and limitations of knowledge; to argue that the realities of science and vulgar experience are only appearances, mere ideas of the mind, and that if we are to find reality we must seek it in man rather than in nature. And in the search for reality Kant was again his guide, though it was the Kant that Fichte had made known rather than the Kant of Schelling and Hegel. Fichte started from the ethical philosophy, especially the idea of the categorical imperative and the freedom that was necessary to it. In his hands the Ego became the creative idea; it not only organized and constituted, but it made the world. The categorical imperative and the Will that obeyed it represented the ultimate reality, the law that fulfilled itself in the Ego, and became through its acts and by its means the divine force in history and religion, the true moral order of the universe. And it is significant, as indicating an unsuspected unity in the two main sources of Schopenhauer's system, that Fichte's idea of moral order as deity had a curious kinship with Buddha's karma, which represented the inexorable concatenation of act and result, merit and reward, demerit and penalty. Will thus, as the Ego in action, became the chief factor of life, its qualities, and the order within which it was lived; in other words, it was the Providence that governed the lives of men. Schopenhauer took this idea, and made Will the supreme reality and the cause of existence; by it being was realized. The idea is the object which exists for a subject, things as perceived, but the force which objectifies is the Will, which may be described as causation interpreted in the terms of psychology or volition rather than of physics or energy. It is more a motived than a mechanical force; it is one and universal, lies outside time and space, yet is ever objectifying itself in the things that arise therein. As individuated in man, it is noumenal, and is inseparable from the person, distributed through the whole organism, acts in it and through it; the organism is the incorporated Will. It is therefore because of this Will that we live, and willing is living; we create life by willing to live. This function of the Will, while it grew out of Kant as interpreted by Fichte, was the correlative of Buddha's Upadana, or the grasping at existence, which is the cause of continued being. The Will, which was the essence of the Ego, became thus the symbol of the universal cause; it was the root alike of individual and of universal life. It was because of the Will to be that we had personal being; this Will was indeed unconscious, it acted with purpose, for it willed to live, but without design. It held a sort of reason in it, for all will is reasonable, and so could not be conceived or represented as force, which is mechanical but not rational. This universal Will to live, as everywhere distributed, was a passion for being, a struggle to live, a yearning towards realization; but this passion was blind, save in so far as its end was being, and the maintenance of being. Schopenhauer agreed with Spinoza in conceiving thought as essential to the ultimate Being, though the thought which was to Spinoza an attribute of his infinite Substance was to Schopenhauer involved in his rational Will; but he differed from Spinoza in recognizing a sort of teleology. Spinoza's thought was conceived in the terms of mechanics, Schopenhauer's in the terms of transcendental metaphysic; and so he could never accept the coarse materialism which seemed its only alternative. He said, “I am a metaphysician, though I do not believe in metaphysics,” and he turned scornfully from men who argued as if organization could explain thought. That he said was the philosophy of the barber's man and the apothecary's apprentice; it was not the philosophy of reason which conceived that since thought as Will explained organization, it was incapable of explanation by it. Will, as he conceived it, was therefore a kind of reasonable though unconscious struggle towards being and towards its continuance.

But the existence which the Will struggled to realize was misery; it was sorrow. He said that if creation as we know it, life as we possess or undergo it, were the work of a conscious creator, then he was the greatest of all wrong-doers. He must have been an ill-advised god, who could make no better sport than to change himself into so lean and hungry a world. Consciousness, therefore, he denied to the creator: the existence that was misery could not have been designed, or its designer would have been guilty of an unpardonable crime. He did not say, imitating the phrase but reversing the sense of Leibnitz, “This is the worst of all possible worlds”; but he said, “This world is so bad that no world would have been better; it is something that had better never have been.” What then was to be done with it? Since it could not be mended, it ought to be ended; since the only way of escape from sorrow was by escaping from existence, then the best thing to do was to make this escape. And so he preached a doctrine of resignation or abdication of will, praised the action by which man gave “the lie to his phenomenal existence,” and suppressed “the Will to live, the kernel and inner nature of that world which is recognized as full of misery,” and which excites in us when we really know it a feeling of “horror.” Men were, by the suppression of the personal, to suppress the universal Will. Since all being was due to Will and the world was as we willed, it was by extinction of the Will that extinction of being was to be attained. “Voluntary and complete chastity is the first step in asceticism or the denial of the Will to live.”32

In this exposition of Schopenhauer we have found in how remarkable a degree he repeated or echoed Buddha; but it would be a mistake to conclude that their systems were either identical or parallel. While they may have agreed in certain metaphysical principles, in ethical spirit and intention they differed absolutely. Where men are so utterly unlike their thoughts cannot be the same. The heart of Buddha's Pessimism was pity; he loved man, and because of his love of man he hated the existence that was sorrow. The heart of Schopenhauer's pessimism was more contemptuous than pitiful; his scorn was not so much for life as for the men who lived it. There was nothing so alien to Buddha as Cynicism, nothing more native to Schopenhauer. The Hindu was moved by compassion for his kind, he wished to strike the fetters from off the enslaved soul; but behind the thought of the German was a colossal vanity. And when vanity measures the worth of men, its judgments tend to be as falsely low for others as they are fabulously high for self. Then Buddha was a rare and beautiful personality—tender, the ideal of all that was attractive and gracious to his people, who did not so much believe in his pessimistic Nihilism as in his ethical transcendence and the beneficence of his will. It was as the ideal of human grace, the realization of human loveliness that he was followed. But no process of idealization could have made the character of Schopenhauer admirable; and as a beautiful mythology could not gather round him, as worship of himself could not redeem his system from its native hopelessness, so his Pessimism remains an unadorned abstraction, appealing to the intellect without any fascination for the heart. Buddha, by his personal transcendence, raised his system into a religion; but Schopenhauer's personal qualities made it necessary to divorce the man from his thought, which became therefore a matter for rational criticism rather than imaginative appreciation.

But perhaps this contrast would convey a false idea if we did not add that Schopenhauer was not without disciples. He indeed lived long an unbefriended man, for he was a man hard to befriend, and ceaseless warfare against things that commonly awaken enthusiasm may be due even more to the unamiable than to the heroic in character, and the unamiable is never an attractive man. But in his later years disciples began to gather round him; and though his system never obtained, like the old transcendentalism, the sovereignty of the academic chair, yet he secured from men who loved to apply philosophy to life recognition and even acceptance.

Von Hartmann is the best known of his disciples, and he has attempted at once to qualify and to develop his master's system. He has attempted so to unite the idea of intelligence with that of unconscious Will as to be a speculative theist, who speaks of the “Unconscious” when he really means the “Over-conscious.” He is penetrated, as his master was not, with the idea of evolution, though he has criticised its Darwinian and scientific forms in very drastic terms; and he has endeavoured to apply it at once to history and religion. In his historical theory he has made mankind the victim of successive illusions; as one illusion vanishes another comes, leaving the process of final disillusionment, as its supreme problem, to the philosophy which, by preaching the vanity of human expectations, hopes to promote the beatitude of the future. The first illusion, belonging to the childhood of the race, was the dream of happiness in the life that is, which was soon discovered to be a vain illusion. It was followed by the dream of happiness in a life to come. That, too, has proved empty; and in its place there came the dream of happiness for the race in another age, in a great future for humanity. That too has proved an illusion; and now man, disillusioned or in process of disillusionment, has before him the problem of how to bring this march of misery consoled by illusion to its final close, when misery will end with the ending of existence.

3. Now Pessimism has certainly various elements of worth. It takes a serious view of the evils of life, and that is a matter on which too serious a view is hardly possible. There is something admirable in moral passion against suffering, and in no respect do we more feel the superficiality of a thinker like Strauss than in his smart but unworthy retort: “Von Hartmann says that this world is so bad that none would have been better; Von Hartmann's philosophy is part of the world; and as such it is so bad that it would have been better if it had never been.” We feel the question to be too grave to be so lightly handled and so cavalierly dismissed. We recognize, too, that Schopenhauer was not simply indulging his own cynical mood, nor imitating in the West the temper and the speculations of the distant East, but representing a deep underlying tendency of the time. Our idea of the necessity of things, our belief in physical law and order, and the inexorable connexion between cause and effect, has seriously affected our view of life and of evil. It is an instructive as well as a most serious and significant fact, that the more a merely mechanical notion of nature and of man prevails, the less hopeful and the less cheerful becomes the outlook upon life. The individual is lost in the universal, and in losing freedom he loses the power to contend against circumstances, and becomes the mere victim of chance. If the miseries that happen to us must be, and if we too must be, then they and we are equally integral and equally necessitated parts of being; amelioration is impossible to us, change is impossible to them, and what remains but hate for what we can neither avoid nor change? If in the midst of this necessity man is conceived as only the highest organism in the universal struggle for existence, then there is added a peculiar element of pathos to the situation; for in a nature where only the strongest survive it means that the feeble have no function save that of perishing, and that the system under which we live reserves all its mercies for strength and cunning. The system where the individual is nothing and the whole is all in all, is the system of all others most provocative in the individual, especially when he is at once conscious of feebleness, and ambitious of pre-eminence and strength, of the most pessimistic theory. In other words, Pessimism is of the nature of a philosophical protest against the idea that an unethical force can be the sovereign and ultimate arbiter of ethical existence, personal and social. And in making this protest it speaks for the common reason and heart, which cannot bear to be the tools or the playthings of an unheeding mechanical energy. But where Pessimism errs is, on the one hand, in making its appeal to an unconscious will, and in assuming, on the other hand, that the creative Will has done its last and best with existence. For the fact that evil exists, so far from lessening, really augments the need of an ethical Will in the universe to contend against it and in behalf of good, and for the rescue of life from the dominion of sorrow or suffering. Let us grant that evil is, and then let us subtract from man his faith in God, and what have we gained—or rather, what have we lost? We have lost, first, a thing that is above all others needed for the amelioration of life, to wit, hope. Hope cannot live if the individual feels that he stands possessed of a being that is misery, helpless, in the face of a mechanical order, to which he is no more than an atom or an aggregate of atoms, or in the face of an unconscious creator, to whom he is less than nothing and vanity. We have lost, secondly, the faith through which hope lives, for it would be void of energy and inspiration were it without the belief that man is part of a system which incorporates a mighty moral Will, able by its inexhaustible power of initiative to work towards the higher moral ends. When he stands in such a system, he feels that he can help to create the conditions of amelioration, and take part in the struggle needed to secure the expulsion of evil from the realm it would fain rule. And, thirdly, we have lost love as a motive to service, and have gotten in exchange the emotion of pity, which is more beautiful as a feeling than strong as a helper. And pity, when it takes counsel of despair, ceases to be beautiful and becomes either indignation against the doer of the wrong it cannot redress, or scorn of him, or it grows cynical in the face of suffering, or it turns sentimental, shedding tears that both emasculate itself and exasperate the patient. Pessimism may spring from pity, but it does not produce philanthropy or benevolence; and in what respect does a will that is not goodwill differ for the better from a mechanical energy or a physical force?

But Pessimism is not simply ethically unsuited to the temper and mood of the time, its notion of being is unsatisfactory to the common reason. Existence is not an evil, though evil exists. Life is not simply something which is capable of being enjoyed, but something capable of being improved, and the greatest of all pleasures is to work for its improvement. It is all the more to be valued that it is not perfect, only capable of perfection. The normal attitude of man to life has something infinitely more healthy in it and truer to the truth of things than the attitude of the man who identifies negative evil with positive good. To speak of non-existence as better than existence, or to speak of the world as so bad that it had better never have been, is to say, what no man of healthy mind can be got in the heart of him or in his higher and better moments to believe. Let us try to give the notion concrete form, and, in contrast with our sunlit, star-filled space, to imagine an infinite void,—though the very attempt to imagine it will prove its impossibility, for non-entity can only be conceived by being translated into some form of being. Still let us think we can do it, and attempt to make the bold essay to represent in our fancy nothing but vacant space where now circle the worlds that shine to each other as stars—nothing but darkness, no sunlight to make the day, no starlight to break or beautify the night; nothing but death where now there is life; no glad, swift-darting fish in the waters of river or sea; no river or sea for them to be glad in; no green earth for flocks to feed on or flocks for the green earth; no fragrant and lovely flowers, no laden bees to hum, no lark that, like a blithe spirit, soars as it sings,—

“In the golden lightning of the sunken sun,

O'er which clouds are brightening,

Thou dost float and run

Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun”;

no man to think great thoughts, to do battle for the true and right; no woman to love, to grow strong and happy by loving; no race to weave the wreath that crowns it with beauty out of the pale lilies of death and the warm red roses of life; nothing but utter, absolute vacancy, a dismal, dark, dumb infinite, where now lives and moves and abides a vivid and vocal and reasonable universe, peopled by minds that look before and after, and read in things visible the mysteries and the presence of the Eternal God. And then, when we have fairly envisaged the two alternatives, let us try to compare them,—if, indeed, a glorious reality be comparable with an irrational impossibility,—and let us ask soberly, whether the negation of being can stand in thought alongside the idea of a world which is radiant in its very shadow, and, in spite of all its evil, is good, because capable of being made ever better? What the answer would be does not lie open to doubt: the normal man loves being by the compulsion of his rational nature, and not simply by the force of an irrational Will; and it is not his own existence that he loves,—did it stand alone he would hate it,—but he loves being as a whole, for as a whole it lives in him, and in the whole he lives.

  • 1.

    J. S. Mill, Essays on Religion, pp. 29–31.

  • 2.

    Timœus, p. 30.

  • 3.

    Timœus, p. 32.

  • 4.

    Timœus, p. 92.

  • 5.

    Cleanthes, Hymn, 17 ff.; Plutarch, De Stoic. Repub., 21, 44; 36, 1.

  • 6.

    Chrysippus in Plut. De Stoic. Repub., 33, 2.

  • 7.

    Marcus Aurelius, vi. 42, with the reference to Chrysippus, Plut., Adv. Stoic., 14.

  • 8.

    Chrysippus in Plut., Adv. Stoic., 13; cf. De Stoic. Rep., 35, 3.

  • 9.

    De Vera Rel., 9; cf. De Civ. Dei, xii. 6, 7; De Ord., ii. 20.

  • 10.

    De Civ. Dei, xiv. 27.

  • 11.

    De Civ. Dei, xi. 18.

  • 12.

    De Civ. Dei, xi.; De Ord., i. 18.

  • 13.

    De Civ. Dei, xii. 4.

  • 14.

    De docta Ignor., iii. ad fin.

  • 15.

    De docta Ignor., ii. 8.

  • 16.

    De docta Ignor., ii. 5.

  • 17.

    De docta Ignor., iii. 4.

  • 18.

    De docta Ignor., ii. 13. Nicholas' phrase is mens mundi; cf. De Poss., 175.

  • 19.

    De docta Ignor., i. 11; cf. De Conjecturis, ii. 10.

  • 20.

    De docta Ignor., ii. 4; De ludo Globi, i. 154.

  • 21.

    Shaftesbury, Characteristics, vol. ii. pp. 4, 5.

  • 22.

    Essais de Théodicée sur la Bonté de Dieu, la Liberté de l'homme et l'Origine du Mai, 1710.

  • 23.

    Essais de Théodicée sur la Bonté de Dieu, la Liberté de l'homme et l'Origine du Mai p. 85, § 21.

  • 24.

    Essais de Théodicée sur la Bonté de Dieu, la Liberté de l'homme et l'Origine du Mai p. 199, § 156.

  • 25.

    Théodicée, pp. 375–378, § § 382–385.

  • 26.

    Théodicée, p. 91, § 30.

  • 27.

    Mr. John Morley, Voltaire, p. 95.

  • 28.

    Ep. xix., Opera, ii. p. 66 (Van Vloten et Land).

  • 29.

    Encyclopädie, vol. i. p. 73; Wallace's Logic of Hegel, p. 71.

  • 30.

    Encyclopädie, vol iii. p. 364; Wallace's Hegel's Philosophy of Mind, p. 94.

  • 31.

    Rig Veda, bk. x. 129.

  • 32.

    Die Well als Wille and Vorstellung, § 68, p. 449. English Translation, vol. i. 491.