You are here

Lecture 10. The Mystery of Death: Destiny of Men.

Philosophical meditation upon Death.

PHILOSOPHY according to Plato, is meditation upon death. This is the voice of poets and thinkers outside Christendom and within Christendom. That the expectation of death makes human life miserable, and that this Misery may be removed by time philosophy which sees the peace of eternal sleep in the dissolution of the body, is the key-note of the most sublime poem in Roman literature. The meaning of human life and the destiny of men has attracted contemplative thought in the generations of mankind which have passed one after another into the darkness, asking whence they have come, and whither they are going? The books which record human conjectures about the secret kept by death might form a large library. They belong to ancient, medieval, and modern times, in all countries and races that have produced books. Not the least interesting to some of us is the “Cypress Grove” of our countryman William Drummond, the pensive poet of Hawthornden, in which this passing world is conceived as a show-room, where it is unreasonable to wish to continue, after one has looked at it, with the vision of a reality that waits for him when by his departure he has made a place for succeeding spectators. The meditative tenderness of Wordsworth's “Essay upon Epitaphs” presents the subject in another aspect, taken again at a higher point in his “Ode on Intimations of Immortality.” Moral faith in Death, tempered by modern doubt, is the prevailing note of Tennyson in “In Memoriam.” Isaac Taylor's ‘Theory of Another Life’ is an ingenious exercise of physical imagination for the support of faith in what is apt to be distrusted or disregarded as absolutely unimaginable.

The final problem of the universe of reality, as related to the Death of persons.

Death is concerned with the problem of the universe more immediately in one of its three presupposed existences—namely, the individual person—as distinguished from visible things and from the invisible God. Am I after all really a third existence that is finally distinguishable from outward things and from God? Or, on the contrary, am I only a transitory phase of what is really One Substance, called indifferently Matter or Nature or God. Am I so mixed up with the material world, in which I find myself now incarnated, that I must share the fate of my visible organism, and cease for ever to be personally conscious as soon as I have ceased at death to be visibly incarnate? The sensible world, of which through my bodily organism I am now a part, is the subject of constant metamorphoses. Is my conscious self, after all, not a third sort of existence, but only one of the many metamorphoses into which ever-changing Being under certain conditions naturally resolves itself? But how can I be only this, if I find myself uniquely distinguished by a persistent identity through all past changes of conscious life, in the experience of memory;—identity to which I find nothing corresponding in the changing phenomena that are presented to the senses. Our bodies and all outward things are in a constant flux: the words “sameness” or “identity” apply to outward things metaphorically only, as compared with the application of those words to our self-conscious personality. The person of yesterday, or of half a century ago, is connected with the person of to-day, in a way that is different in kind from that in which our bodies, or surrounding things, are connected with our bodies and their surroundings of yesterday or of half a century ago. After a faint, or a dreamless sleep, we are still obliged to connect the self before these intervals of unconsciousness with the self of which we are conscious when we awake, as one and the same individual person. It is one of the conditions of mental sanity that man should practically recognise this unique sameness or persistency. It is not one of the conditions of sanity there should be recognition of like sameness in the individual things that are presented to our senses. Further, we are obliged to believe that self-conscious persons, in addition to this imperfectly comprehensible difference between themselves and unconscious things, have a self-centred power of making and keeping themselves good or bad, of which one finds no trace in visible things.

Does the self-conscious person finally cease to be conscious and percipient in the dissolution of his body?

Here the gravest of human questions rises. What in reason should men believe about the relation of this persistent conscious person—this one subject of ever-changing pains and pleasures—this creator of innumerable good or evil acts—to the dissolution by death of the visible organism, through which lie now finds himself naturally connected with the world of sensible things outside? Is the continuous moral identity of the self-conscious person also transitory, so that at death, like the bodily organism on which his conscious life now depends, the hitherto continuous self-consciousness finally ceases, and resolves itself into unconscious elements? Do persons cease for ever to be conscious when they finally cease to signify visibly their conscious activity to other persons?—for cessation of manifested personal activity is of course the consequence of the disintegration by death of the visible organism, through which the otherwise invisible conscious life and history of one person is more or less signified to another person. On this planet alone one finds hundreds of millions of conscious persons in each generation signifying to one another their invisible conscious life—some of them showing signs only for a few hours, a few it may be for a hundred years—after which each organism dissolves, and there is no more any sensible sign of continued consciousness.

The uniqueness of the invisible self-conscious person, in contrast with the perennial change in the world.

But are there not facts, which each living person may recognise, which suggest that this conscious person, morally responsible for states into which he puts himself, and for states into which he brings others, may not be so involved in the flux of visible things as that the dissolution of his body in death must mean the final cessation of his self-conscious life? Is there not, as already suggested, something absolutely unique in the invisible self-conscious personality? Do we not recognise that individual persons are under spiritual relations, as well as under physical relations, and that, by their individual personality, they arc distinguished both from the reality implied in theistic faith and from things presented to sense? Can we, with due regard to reason, think of morally responsible persons and of non-moral things as alike in their destiny,—save and except the unique rational consciousness, continuous identity, and moral responsibility, which persons possess during an ephemeral embodied existence? Must we say that men and brutes are at last alike in what befalls them? “As the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast; for all is vanity. All go unto one place: all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” On the contrary, does theistic faith and hope—in the light of which we seem to find a humanly related interpretation of the universe that assimilates the merely physical or non-moral one—does this final moral trust justify us in prevision, not only of some future events in this life that comes before death, but also of persistent personal consciousness after the dissolution of our bodies? Without implied moral faith in the absolute trustworthiness of the universe, we have no reasonable assurance about anything that is future: what we regard as our most reasonable anticipations may all be put to confusion: we cannot even count on order in nature. It is in a moral trust in the worth of the, Power finally at work on the universe that we all live now. Does this fundamental faith also involve reasonable hope that physical death will not make an end of personal life, and that something more manifestly divine than the present strangely mixed world may be expected by conscious persons? Our bodies are not our unique invisible personality: they are this revealed to the senses.

Can atheists reasonably believe in personal life after physical death?

It is a question whether an atheist can reasonably believe in a person's life after physical death? I would put a previous question,—Whether atheists, with their unreason at the root of All, can consistently have faith in any future event, either before or after death? For faith in God is faith in universally active moral reason or love as the moving life of the universe, and apart from this moral trustworthiness the previsions of science, and the expectations of common life, have no reliable reason. What is called scientific verification presupposes the existence of analogies in nature, and the reasonableness of reposing trust in natural analogies, according to a postulated uniformity in nature. The logical atheist, who virtually rejects this innate trustworthy reasonableness or interpretability of things, is incapable of intelligent prevision; for, at his point of view, the universe may become physically chaotic, and all unfit to be reasoned about or otherwise dealt with. An atheistic universe has no root in ethical reason. All after the present moment may become an experience in which all persons become finally miserable. Physical death would then be naturally welcomed, as a change which should for ever withdraw the conscious person from endless physical and moral chaos. Fear of the incalculable possibilities of the future would make final cessation of conscious life seem the supreme hope, in the nothingness in which alone relief is assured. It was in order to awaken among men this hope that Lucretius recommended a finally anarchic conception of the universe. But under a still more intrepid agnosticism, the negative hope of endless unconsciousness is as little to be depended on for its reasonableness as any other expectation about the future, in an untrustworthy universe. Absolutely reliable expectation is essentially theistic, because theism is just the principle of finally operative moral reasonableness or goodness.

The relation of all previsive faith to theistic of moral trust.

The infinite interest of the final question about this life of change in which conscious persons actually find themselves disappears, on the hypothesis that the persons—after an interval of, it may be, a few hours or a hundred years of life on this planet—all dissolve finally, and become unconscious things. Living habitually under this pathetic conception, men subside into hopelessness if they are thoughtful, or into wholly secular indifference if, like the majority, they are unreflecting. It may be true that theistic faith is indispensable for hopeful, or even for expectant, life, during the continuance of the bodily organism, in its natural state of continuous change of its constitutive atoms; and it may also be true that the idea of eternal moral obligation equally remains, whether persons exist, morally obliged to be good, only during the interval between birth and death or for a longer time. On the other hand, the moral or theistic conception of the universe takes its sublime interest for persons in and through their faith that they are themselves destined to continue in conscious connection with the realities during more than the short life that now depends on the mortal body. And this continuance seems foreshadowed by man's possessing ideas of the eternal and infinite, and by his moral power of making himself bad or good,—of living during the embodied interval either in harmony or not with his true ideal, even under a distribution of happiness that often seems capricious. Must this intellectual and moral agent be annihilated, only because the visible organism through which his conscious life is now signified to other persons disintegrates?

suggested natural analogies to a continuance of life after physical death, and their insufficiency.

But while all expectation is essentially faith, and all reasonable and hopeful expectation is essentially theistic faith, there is an obvious difference between physical prevision of the temporal future within this rationally organised world, and a prevision of the persistent life of the unique self-conscious person, after the visible dissolution of the organism through which the person now reveals himself to other persons, and lives incarnate in his place and time. If the conscious and continuous individual ego is a unique sort of being in the universe, the death and disappearance of the organism, in and through which personal life is manifested, is also a unique fact, in the sense that no adequate analogy to death can be found within the experience of any living person. No doubt the life of human persons has persisted through several critical changes: all animal life illustrates this. Life in the womb and life after birth; life with the body entire, and life after the body has been deprived by accident or by surgical operation of important organs—these are familiar physical changes, after which the personal consciousness is still found persisting continuously. In a dreamless sleep, or in a swoon, the continuity of conscious life seems to be interrupted. “Sleep,” says Sir Thomas More, “is the brother of death, in which we seem to die without really dying.” With Shakespeare sleep is the “death of each day's life,” and “all our little lives are rounded with a sleep.” But in all this sufficient analogy with death is wanting: the persistency of the person is here actually Verified: the broken consciousness returns in continuity with the past: memory can cross the interval of this temporary death as if it had never occurred: moreover, the organism of the person was undissolved, instead of sharing in the unconsciousness of sleep by a corresponding disappearance, in temporary analogy with the dissolution of the body in death. (That memory can now bridge over intervals of unconsciousness in sleep may, however, suggest the possibility of a personal life before birth, the memory of which may, in this life, be latent, but ready to be revived in a posthumous life, under more favourable conditions for revival.) The suggested analogies of animal transformations—the caterpillar transformed into the butterfly, for instance—are all inadequate, when compared with the visible consequences of death.

Uniqueness of the phenomenon of physical death: it is wholly foreign to the individual experience of still living persons; and it destroys their only natural means of communication with persons who have died.

The probable effect of physical death, and of the disappearance of a person's physical organism upon his self-conscious and percipient life, can hardly be determined by facts like these. For the problem which the final dissolution of the human body presents is absolutely singular in several ways. Persons still living cannot settle it by experiment, as they can determine by experiment the outcome of a dreamless sleep; for in order to do this they would need to die, and then have personal experience of the issue of death. Nor can the enigma be solved by communication with persons who have died, inasmuch as the effect of death is to withdraw the means of communication between the living and the dead. The issue of death is not physically communicated by the dead; and of course no living person has made the experiment, so as to be independent of the now withdrawn physical means of communication with persons who have died. If faith in the continued consciousness of persons after their death must depend upon either of these two means of forecast, it may be said to have no support in familiar evidence.

Faith in the persistence of personal consciousness after death is not on that account necessarily baseless.

Yet it does not necessarily follow that the hope that physical death is not the final end of individual persons is a baseless expectation. No doubt the case is not sufficiently analogous to physical prevision, as illustrated in the theistically sustained expectations either of common life or of natural science; for its very singularity lies in this—that the physical medium of verification is naturally dissolved in death. But to assume, without further proof, that the invisible conscious person is so dependent for his conscious and continuous life upon an organism that his self-consciousness must cease when the organism dissolves, is to beg the question we are meditating about in a very palpable manner. The question is, whether the visible dissolution signifies the invisible dissolution; and it will not serve the interest of reason to assume—without permitting any questioning, or any other mode of determining the probabilities of the case than the physically scientific—that this must be so.

it is, in innumerable forms of conception, a common faith.

For one thing we find a widespread faith, in all ages, and among various nations and races of mankind, that human persons somehow survive the physical crisis of organic dissolution. The more articulate conception of what follows death doubtless differs widely in the traditions and religions of mankind. But while there has usually been a sceptical minority, the mass of mankind, in the ancient, medieval, and modern world—in the East and in the West, in Egypt, Persia, India, Greece, and Rome, Jews, Mohammedans, Christians—spontaneously entertain the unique and sublime faith that persons persist after death, whether in a lower and more attenuated, or in a nobler personal existence than that consciously experienced before they died physically. Their faith in most cases also implies that the continued existence is not wholly unembodied, but that tile person retains, or gains, after death, some intangible ghostly form of embodiment; or else, after an interval of unembodiment, recovers physical relations in some worthier form—a “body spiritual” instead of the present natural body. That there is a spiritual body after the natural body is involved in the theistic faith of Christians.

the presumed divinity or absolute rationality of genuine common faith.

That the genuine common faith of mankind is to be presumed trustworthy is a postulate on which all natural science tacitly rests, in all the previsive inferences by which the sciences are built up. Scientific verification, as I have throughout argued is finally theistic faith. One is said to have got it scientifically verified, that the sun will rise to-morrow; but till the sun shall have actually risen the assertion only expresses a faith. All expectation, scientific or common is so far a leap in the dark; for it is taken without the light of sense. The expected event has not the proof afforded by actual perception, till the event has actually happened. If sense is our only light, it follows that we must remain in the darkness of doubt about every future event: all expectation must be unreasonable. To be consistent in insisting upon that only being reasonable into which no ingredient of faith enters, we must cease to live; for life depends upon the reasonableness of expectation. Expectation involves faith in the reasonableness of the universe; and the reasonableness or moral reliability of the Universal Power implies that men will not he finally put to confusion by submission to an indispensable faith. If they could, the universe of reality must be essentially deceptive illusion, and therefore undivine.

All scientific prevision, as well as the expectations of common life, and even memory, involve faith in what is unseen actually?

The widespread faith in personal persistence, through and after physical death, may be incapable of experimental verification to those who have not died. But is it less irrational to resist it, merely on the ground that it is only unverified faith and not actual sight, than it would be to resist the still unfulfilled expectation that the sun will rise to-morrow, or be eclipsed the day after, merely on the ground that this too is as yet only faith and not sight? For no one can to-day see the sun rising to-morrow, or its eclipse the day after. The expectation is rested on reasonable faith or trust, which the course of events has not yet confirmed by the actual occurrence of the event believed in. Actual sense, in short, is a wholly inadequate measure of what it is necessary in reason to believe, and so of what it is unreasonable, and therefore unphilosophical, to disbelieve.

May there not be reasonableness in the expectation of personal life, after dissolution of the personal organism, equally as in scientific prevision of the future?

It must be granted that there is sufficient reason for the faith implied in ordinary expectations of natural events; notwithstanding that it is only faith, or rather reason in its final human form of moral faith. To refuse this would be to reduce human reason to narrow dimensions indeed, or rather to extinguish it altogether. But a confinement of reason which excludes, as necessarily irrational, the widespread expectation that personal consciousness will persist after its present connection with its visible organism has been dissolved by death, may be due to dogmatic narrowness of mind. It may be neglect to recognise, not only that actual sense is not the measure of reasonable judgments about physical nature, but also that reasonable faith in physical nature is not the measure of reasonable faith regarding the destiny—not of things—but of unique self-conscious and morally responsible persons. May there not be more in earth and heaven than is recognised in wholly physical philosophy? If so, this wholly physical must be unphilosophical philosophy.

Is this larger expectant faith found not unreasonable, when tested by physical, or metaphysical, or moral criteria?

Look a little further into the larger faith or reason. It may be measured by physical, or metaphysical, or moral criteria. Of these three tests one or more May be inadequate, as regards this unique sort of future event, and yet satisfaction may be found in what remains, Or if satisfaction is Still wanting, it may be because there is not unanimity about what premises are legitimate—physical tests alone being recognised as reasonable by the sceptic. None of the criteria need admit as reasonable the crude materialistic fancies so largely mixed up with the idea that the evanescent embodied personal life does not exhaust the individual personality.

An exclusively physical conception of death, as visibly presented in the dissolution of the organism, affords, per se, no reason for expecting survival of the invisible person.

The physical presumption that self-conscious personal life finally ceases, when it ceases to manifest its continuance, in consequence of the withdrawal by death of the manifesting medium, seems strong, so that if trust in its continuance is wholly dependent on what we see, or on what can be inferred merely from what is seen, the idea of personal persistence looks baseless and illusory—a widespread human delusion and anachronism, which may be expected to disappear with the gradual increase of human intelligence and culture. A generation in which leading men are physically scientific in their habits of reasoning is therefore naturally sceptical about what cannot be tested by visible experiments, distrustful of metaphysical postulates, and of the moral faith on which their physical faith itself, perhaps unconsciously to themselves, virtually depends. If one dogmatically assumes that all questions of fact, whether about visible things or invisible self-conscious persons, must be decided by physical arguments only, and that all hyper-physical arguments must be abstract and therefore wholly hypothetical,—the issue of the death of persons is of course removed from the list of reasonable questions, along with the removal of the only element in it that is physical and perceptible to the senses—the visible and tangible organism. Only, as I have said, the same dogmatic assumption is bound to remove, along with this question, all scientific questions together; for they all at last depend upon a faith that is hyper-physical. Unless we hyper-physically assume the rationality and trustworthiness of external nature, external nature must remain scientifically uninterpretable, beyond the momentary datum of actual sense, which datum per se is meaningless.

Physical difficulties that beset faith in posthumous personal consciousness, which are apt to induce its decay, in a physically scientific age like the present.

But let us look further into some of the physical difficulties that lie in the way of faith in a posthumous conscious persistence of the individual and invisible person. For one thing, human experience of the present relation between the organism and the invisible conscious life is, that changes in the one are found in a constant corresponding connection with changes in the other: the ordinary course of experimental inference would, accordingly, lead to the conclusion, that greater changes in the body must, under physical law, be followed by correspondingly greater changes in the self-conscious personality; and that the total dissolution of the body must involve the final dissolution of the continuous and invisible personal life that has been made manifest to other persons only in and through the body. Again, an entire separation of the personal consciousness from the organised matter in which it is involved in its present life is physically unimaginable. When the sensuous imagination tries to realise what a self-conscious life must be, after it has ceased to be incarnate, the alteration must be recognised as infinitely more mysterious than any supposable change of locality or date which an embodied spirit could pass through in this material world. To be transported in the body into one of the neighbouring planets in our solar system, still more into one of the immeasurably remote stellar systems, would indeed be an appalling prospect; but it would not be a prospect of life out of all embodied connection with the material world—spaceless, timeless, as it must seem to be; and solitary too, the dissolution of the only known medium of communication between persons. Timeless and spaceless, I have said; for without perception of motion in space, what conceivable measure of duration remains;—without that reliable measure of duration which the periodic movements of the planets now supply, it would seem that any distinct idea of duration must disappear, leaving the person practically in a placeless and timeless life. Memory, too, in a mind thus emptied of the idea of time, is confronted not only by this obstacle, but by the difficulty of recollecting a continuous personal history spread over millions of years; not to speak of a supposed endlessness, which raises an absolutely inconceivable issue. Language, too, or sensible symbol, is now not only the medium of communication between persons, but also an indispensable condition of solitary thought. Language is an aggregate of visible or audible signs, which needs contained relation of the invisible personal consciousness with the sensible world. The total and final dissolution of this connection seems to involve a withdrawal of an indispensable instrument of intelligent life, without which all living thought must dissolve. The only self-conscious life of which persons on earth have any example, is embodied conscious life. And the commonly assumed unconsciousness or non-existence of persons before the gradual organisation of their bodies at birth seems to be in physical analogy with the assumption of their unconsciousness after this organisation is seen to dissolve finally in physical death. Then too the merely sensuous imagination sometimes works in another way. An exclusive attention to the visible and tangible phenomena of things makes the invisible and intangible realities of self-conscious personality look like empty abstractions: so it is assumed that if the conscious spirit persists, after the death of its present visible organism, it must be in and through an organism subject to conditions of place and time too like those with which we are familiar. And this restricted conception of future possibilities gives rise to the physical difficulty of an overcrowded material universe, in which, in the infinite future, with its endless accumulation of personal organisms, room cannot be found, in planetary homes, for the overwhelming number of persons. As they may be supposed to be accumulating in thousands of millions in connection with every star or planet, the accumulation must issue in a lack of places to hold the organisms.

The inadequacy of physical arguments for personal life after death.

These are illustrations of perplexities of the wholly physical or sensuous imagination, when it is dealing with a question that is necessarily foreign to the course of nature, as the course of nature comes within the experience of persons not yet dead. Sceptical silence seems the appropriate mental attitude, on this question, of those who suppose that faithfulness to truth makes it necessary to reject all but physical criteria and sensuous imagination for the determination of concrete questions. They ask with reason what physical analogies, presented in the ordinary course of nature in the present life, can prove the reality of a state of life which no one now can conceive, or is able to verify by Natural experiments; which is absolutely abstracted from all that is physical, and which can in no way resemble anything that has been or can now be perceived by human beings. Who can rest upon premisses of ordinary experience an inference so absolutely singular, regarding the invisible destiny of conscious persons, who thus far find themselves always incarnate?

Metaphysical arguments show the abstract possibility, rather than the actual fact, of self-conscious survival.

But if continuous personal life after physical death seems incapable of analogical proof through the senses, perhaps it can be shown, Nevertheless, to be metaphysically necessary. A supposed abstract impossibility of the final extinction of any self-conscious entity has been sometimes offered as a Hyper-physical reason for the persistence of conscious personality, notwithstanding the death of the body. But this abstraction can hardly be accepted as a legitimate foundation for a conclusion about a matter of fact; although it may suggest need for so unique a fact as this of personal life being treated differently from all facts in the universe that are presentable to the senses. The dogma of the natural immortality or deathlessness (variously defined) of the self-conscious principle is another form of metaphysical postulate. This “natural immortality” need not mean that the conscious person cannot be finally reduced to nothingness by the Omnipotent Power, but only that continuous personal existence is not found to be so conditioned by the mechanical laws of motion, to which the constituent atoms of the body are subject, as that the bodily disintegration naturally involves its cessation. “Nothing call be plainer,” we are told, “than that the changes, decays, and dissolutions which we are continually seeing in natural bodies cannot possibly affect the active, simple, invisible substance of which we are conscious: such a being is indissoluble by the force of external nature: that is to say, it is naturally immortal.” Bishop butler seems to argue that presumption of death being the destruction of persons must go upon the supposition that they are composed of atoms, and so capable of being dissolved. Referring to the fact that each human person is now an embodied person, he even argues that, upon the supposition that what each man calls himself is truly a single being, incapable of being classed with physical things, which are all aggregates of molecules, it follows that “what we call our bodies are no more ourselves, or part of ourselves, than any other matter around them.” It is, abstractly speaking, as easy to suppose that we call exist without bodies as with them; or that we may after death animate other bodies as that we animate our present ones now the deaths of our successive bodies may have no snore tendency to annihilate the continuous personal consciousness than the dissolution of any material object outside our bodies has. It is in this way easy at least to imagine the invisible personal consciousness going on, uninterrupted by the physical dissolution, nay, even having all its present sensible experiences, without the intervention of what we call “our bodies.” It is possible to suppose a living perception of colours without the percipient possessing eyes, and of sounds without cars; for seeing and hearing are invisible states of living consciousness, which may be conceived as going on independently of an organisation of “living matter.”

They fail to overcome the skeptical presumption suggested by the final disappearance of the organism.

Yet these are only abstract Speculations. They tend to show the abstract possibility of much that transcends physical imagination and sensuous experience; but they are too remote from ascertained matter of fact to overcome the skeptical presumption to which the visible dissolution of the personal organism gives rise. Abstract reasonings and “easiness to suppose” leave us still in a hypothetical universe: they may suggest dreams, but without do determining the reasonableness of faith in the dream.

The ethical basis of faith in personal life death.

Thus experience through the senses seems to afford no evidence that a person persists in conscious life after his visible manifestation of himself has finally ended—indeed suggests on the whole that the self-conscious Person has finally ended too; and metaphysical speculation about the invisible personality expands speculative vision, yet without being able to sustain a reasonable faith in the speculation, as an actual reality. But are we still left in sceptical helplessness, when we turn from outward phenomena and abstract metaphysical reasonings to the necessary rational implicates of moral or theistic faith; when we acknowledge the finally reconciling divine existence presupposed in the triplicity of actual reality; and when we reflect upon the spiritual ideas and convictions that are latent in man, although hardly evoked into consciousness in many, and not fully evoked in any? Does not the spiritual constitution of man's self-conscious life suggest that the conditions under which it is maintained in its present physical organisation are inadequate to its moral meaning and purpose; so that the supposition of the cessation of individual personal life, after a continuous existence “in the body” of only a few days, or even a hundred years, would somehow put moral intelligence to confusion, and so raise doubt even about the physical interpretability of external nature, when such a life as the life of man ought to be could be thus hollow and transitory? Is there not something, too, in the involuntary entrance into existence of persons, who, unlike things and their constant passive metamorphoses, are each of them able to make their own character—who are able to resist as well as to assimilate with their true ideal, and who are therefore morally responsible for their management of themselves—is there not something in those characteristics of individual persons that opposes itself to the idea of their being finally withdrawn from moral personality into nonentity, almost as soon as their moral personality begins? Is not the supposition of the annihilation of all beings of this sort, when they had hardly time enough to become aware of the infinite miraculousness of existence, a supposition that is out of harmony with the implicates of theistic faith and hope in the omnipotent goodness and mercy of God? Does not this so transitory an admission of individual persons into a dangerous moral life, on a planet that seems to have been gradually prepared for them, look like caprice of unreason rather than a revelation of eternally active moral reason or goodness? Can the supposition of the final unconsciousness of conscious persons after the death of their bodies be reconciled with theistic trust and hope in that moral reasonableness of the universe, which I have already urged as at once the tacit assumption in all human experience and the last word of true philosophy? If positive answers to these questions seem presumptuous, at the point of view which the human philosopher has to occupy—so remote intellectually from the infinite or divine centre of intelligence,—does not theistic faith at least imply that absolute trust and hope in the infinite love of God is the eternal and only reasonable principle according to which man can die; and that to live and die in this moral trust and hope may be ethically better for the persons who rest in it than intellectual demonstration, which would supersede the education of moral faith regarding that to which the sensuous imagination is inadequate? To those whose lives are habitually directed in theistic trust towards fulfilment of the divine will, or the realisation of their true spiritual ideal, physical death cannot be a leap in the Clark when it may be taken in this divine light. Faith in the persistence of morally responsible persons, notwithstanding the visible dissolution of their bodily organisms, is not, indeed, like philosophical faith or theistic trust, the indispensable postulate of all reliable intercourse with the evolving universe of things and persons; but its sceptical disintegration may disturb this final faith, and so lead indirectly to universal doubt and pessimism.

An unsolved Problem.

The enigma of evil leaves us in front of a further question, raised by moral faith in the posthumous persistence of persons, which I do not find that philosophy can answer. Is the existence of those persons who make and keep themselves bad, only a transitory episode, or is it an endless element in the universe Notwithstanding the ambiguous appearances which the world of sentient and moral beings presents in this corner, and the uncertain adjustments of pleasure and pain to their good and evil acts—so apt to paralyse theistic faith and hope,—are pain and error and vice divinely destined in the end to disappear? Are all self-conscious persons in the universe certain at last to become what they ought to be; and are all men destined in the end to realise in their individual personalities the divine ideal of man, or at least to be for ever approaching to this, on the path of the, just, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day?

Hypothetical solutions.

The alternative answers to this grave question are full of difficulties which seem to be incapable of relief from the resources of reason. That the freedom of persons—their power to put themselves into states that are at variance with the true moral ideal—states deepened and it may seem finally confirmed by habit—may become an absolutely final election to evil by themselves, which even the moral obligation of omnipotent love cannot overcome, consistently with the continued free personality of the persons who thus persist in thus keeping themselves evil, is one supposition: it involves the overwhelming mystery of the existence in the divine universe of persons living endlessly, increasing in number, and always becoming morally worse. On the other hand, that self-conscious persons, as well as the things presented to sense, may be all naturally capable of dissolution; or at least that only the morally progressive, whose determining motive is towards the higher or divine life, are finally to retain conscious personal life, while all others, on the downward grade, are finally annihilated, so that evil naturally dies out of existence, or is continued only in new equally transitory persons, is a second alternative:—the plausible hypothesis of some religious thinkers, including among others the philosopher Locke. It is yet another alternative that, in mysterious consistency with the conditions of free personality, all moral perversion, along with the suffering thus introduced among sentient beings, will in the end disappear, in a final rise into goodness, through God's love of goodness, of all the persons who make themselves bad. A universe that is thus at last and eternally perfect, is the hypothesis which divine love of goodness, and the consequent divine will for its universal prevalence, may seem ethically to require. Yet to assume that this must be the final issue, indeed that it can be, consistently with free moral agency, or that it is otherwise possible, may be undue presumption, under our finite intelligence and experience of the realities. Perhaps plan's present moral discipline requires that in the now embodied life this mystery should remain unrelieved.

The final meanings of the universe or of man's life and experience an old yet ever new problem for mankind.

With this cloud resting on mankind, the course of meditative thought, awakened by the final problem of changing universe and our personal relations to its changes, from which it took our departure at the commencement, comes to an end. It is time perennial question for humanity, which in each successive generation has attracted those who can recognise the pathos of the life and its surroundings in which human beings are incarnated at birth, and in which, within a little interval of time, they disappear at death. The meaning of personal life has more than exhausted the speculative genius of Plato and Aquinas, of Spinoza and Hume, of Leibniz and Hegel, and far transcends the sublime imagination even of Dante or Milton. The theological conception of things and the question of the destiny of persons may always be new, although it has engaged men from the beginning, and it necessarily takes new forms in advancing thought. When the final problem is approached only in the spirit of speculative curiosity, or with the preconception that it must be intellectually soluble or else an unintelligible contradiction, it seems then to avoid the only human solution. Those again who insist upon the need in reason for the physical method as the only legitimate method logically conclude that the final question is an idle question. But its abstract and its physical insolubility, I have tried to show, need be no insuperable bar to its reasonable treatment in moral trust and hope; unless speculation is able to Show that the Power that is supreme in the universe must be intellectually and morally incoherent if not diabolic, and that accordingly Self-conscious life is not worth living;—for faith in all the relations mini to his surroundings is bound to dissolve, along with the supreme moral faith, in universal uncertainty and despair. No one call be more aware than I alms how inadequately I have delivered myself in these lectures of the true ultimate thought about things and persons. Let me now at the close offer a comprehensive retrospect of the whole.

Synoptical retrospect of the theistic argument. The starting point

At the outset of this Gifford enterprise, I sought to evoke our latent sense of the mysterious infinitude of ever-changing Universe, into which we are ushered—as strangers and without our leave—when we become percipient, and from which, after an uncertain period of morally responsible life, men disappear in the mysterious change called Death, which all organisms of “living matter” are found to undergo.

Is the reality in which we all find ourselves absolutely One and unethical or an essentially ethical triplicity?

Meditation upon the predicament in which we thus involuntarily find ourselves, urges final questions about one's self, one's environment, and the Power that is universally operative in the changes that are going on in things and in persons, of all which history (in the largest sense) is the imperfect record. One is moved to ask the meaning of this short term of personal life, so dimly lighted amidst the surrounding darkness? What, too, is the office and significance of its ever fluctuating organic and extra-organic environment? Above all, what means the invisible Power that instinctive faith in all and reflective faith in a few recognise, as the finally synthetic or reconciling principle of the fluctuating universe of things and persons? Are the ever-changing manifestations—the properties and metamorphoses of things, and the self-conscious states and acts of persons—the manifestations of One and only One infinite non-moral Substance and Power? Or must the persistent personality of which I and other men are conscious in the brief interval between birth and death; the world of perceptible things which surrounds and assimilates us all; and the invisible Power revealed in and through persons and things,—must these three be finally or philosophically distinguished from one another, in a threefold articulation of the realities.

Neither the data presented to sense, nor the logic of pure intellect, can determine the answer to this question.

When, in sympathy with monist philosophers—materialistic, panegoistic, and pantheistic—I tried to adopt the former of these two alternatives, I found the to that even the fragments of interpretation of our surroundings which in daily life we all tacitly assume that we are in possession of, and to which the natural sciences are supposed to be gradually adding,—I found that these seemed to have lost their trust-worthy reconciling principle, and that thus even the dim philosophical light of physical science was threatened with extinction. I seemed to be losing myself in purposeless struggle in a meaningless universe—the One infinite Reality reduced to non-moral infinite Thing—a universe empty of persons either moral or immoral—man with all his science only the latest phenomenon in all inexplicable procession of changes, the revelations, if they can be called revelations, of irrationality, but it may he of diabolic power and purpose, or at least of Power concerning which I am forbidden to postulate enough to justify me in concluding anything, or in doing anything. So what we call science and morality become transitory events in a purposeless succession. A resigned despair accordingly appears to be the last issue of man's endeavour, either empirically or by abstract unaided reasoning, to comprehend as One the finally mysterious existence in which we participate when we become percipient and self-conscious. The boundless and endless reality necessarily escapes the grasp of a purely logical intelligence measured by mere sense, and of abstract intellect unaided by the moral and spiritual experience of Man. Absolutely unique—“a singular effect”—the infinite universe of change repels as inadequate all physical analogies, and refuses to be contemplated cab extra, as if it were only one of the innumerable finite objects of empirical science. For one cannot get outside one's faculties, or compare with other universes the infinite universe of what we call “reality,” in the way objects and events are compared with other objects and events in our ordinary interpretations of external nature.

The homo mensura method of dealing with the final question about the universe of realities.

But is there not, I proceeded to ask,—is there not another method in which this final question about life and the universe may be dealt with? Although I cannot grasp the infinite reality as if it were a physical fact or a sufficiently intelligible premiss in a scientific, argument, may I not come into sufficient final relation with it as it were ab intra? May I: not live in intellectual and practical intercourse with it, under the final relations of a knowledge that is human—relations which may be eternally necessary at man's only limited and intermediate point of view? May not the universal reality be sufficiently interpretable finally, by and for man, on this homo mensura principle aid method? But then it must be the complete ideal Alan, not the sensuous intelligence only, nor the purely intellectual intelligence,—unaided by the moral and spiritual experience which is distinctive of Man in his true selfhood. The natural sciences, concerned with non-moral things, therefore, afford a very inadequate application of the homo mensura method to the realities. But by a deeper and truer use of that method, the otherwise unknowable Power, that is now revealed through the universe of things and persons, may be regarded by man as loving righteousness personified,—as Perfect Person, and not merely physically as Boundless Thin in the way Spinoza according to purely intellectual method, and David Hume in empirical fashion, virtually postulate.

The via media

The final conception of the universe of things and persons, worked out on this enlarged homo mensura principle, does not logically explicate the infinite reality in its infinitude as Spinoza tries to do, nor does it leave man paralysed in universal uncertainty with tine sceptic. But it postulates morally perfect Power as at the root of the physical, æsthetical, and spiritual experience of mankind, although with a background of inevitable mystery,—a revelation this which may become enough for directing life and conduct, while it leaves un-eliminated innumerable unanswerable questions. It recognises us on the via media which seems alone adapted to man's place, intellectually intermediate between omniscience and mere sense.

The moral or theistic postulate which underlies experience of things and persons.

Accordingly, in the present series of lectures I have tried to deal with the final questions of existence, neither in the method of sensuous empiricism nor in their abstract rationality, but in their application to man as a moral and spiritual being who is in correlation with a moral and spiritual universe. Unable to comprehend our environment as at the centre, I have considered whether an assumption of its essential divineness or moral trustworthiness must not be the postulate that always underlies man's personal intercourse with manifested reality—a working postulate found charged with more or less meaning in proportion as the persons who think and act upon it approach in spiritual development to the ideal Alan. How has this method fared with us on trial?

In the first place, the theistic postulate seemed to be justified by the impossibility of even making a beginning in the way of intelligible experience or moral conduct without an absolute, conscious or unconscious, trust and hope in the Power that is manifested in the unceasing change of which life in the universe is made up. All our intercourse with things and persons presumes filial faith in the Power that is at work throughout the Whole. To attribute what amounts to dishonesty, deceit, injustice, want of goodness, to the Power supremely at work in the universe, is virtually to forbid all intellectual and practical intercourse with its manifestations presented in experience. We should avoid a finally un-divine environment as we should avoid a suspected person. In all calculated activity I practically take for granted the ethical reliability or goodness of the infinite or mysterious Reality that I am obliged to suppose is being continuously revealed in the universe of change. The timeless necessity of ethical obligation, and the impossibility of at all interpreting ourselves and any of our surroundings, if the universal process is either a prolonged accident, emptied of all moral meaning, or the revelation of a final purpose that may be more or less deluding and diabolical—in any of these ways putting us to intellectual and moral confusion at last—all this justifies the theistic or moral conception as the final one. The sufficient moral reason found for its adoption is, that unless theistic or optimist faith is the final truth about the universe there can be no truth about anything. If the self-conscious life that emerges between birth and death rises at birth out of, and at death subsides in, a morally meaningless, purposeless, and therefore un-trustworthy, universe—or if it may be in this way the sport of Power that is essentially diabolic,—then, one is ready to say,—Let me at once escape from conscious existence, and return if it be possible into the unconsciousness out of which I involuntarily emerged when I was born. Personal annihilation becomes the chief end of life, if indeed, after paralysis of the fundamental ethical postulate, I can still be said to have any end, chief or other, to struggle for, and must not rather passively subside in despair into a speechless, motionless agnosticism.

For surrender of the moral or theistic postulate paralyses and disintegrates human experience.

In all my intercourse with the universe let me therefore regard myself as an individual person dealing with the infinite or perfect moral Person therein revealed—not as an individual thing, or conscious automaton, that is only an evanescent phase of the eternal Thing or non-moral Being. Let me take this as virtually the constant postulate in all my interpretations of the experiences, lower and higher, through which I pass—physical, æsthetical, spiritual. But this is just to argue that theistic or ethical faith and expectation is the indispensable basis and rationale of Human life—at once its silently accepted preliminary, and the culmination of the deepest and truest human philosophy. Moral faith is therefore deeper than the deepest possible intellectual doubt, and presupposed in all doubt that is reasonable. And the ethical trust that is needed for the progressive interpretation of experience must be more fundamental than the pessimist doubt and despair about everything, into which one found that all strictly monist philosophies at last resolve themselves. However sympathetically one tried to enter into a wholly agnostic conception as final, there was always found below it a germ of theistic trust and expectation—moral confidence in the character of the Power that is universally operative,—a Power that is neither finally indifferent to rational order, nor diabolic in its final ends, but perfectly good, and therefore making for the goodness of all good and all bad agents. Thus the main drift of the time process, as far as man is related to it, may be presumed to be—to make and keep persons in the state in which they ought to be, or to restore them to their true ideal, if they have made themselves what they ought not to be—so far as their own righteously delegated power to make and keep themselves bad is not in contradiction to the idea of a universe of persons all of whom are kept by God progressively unselfish or good.

The ever-changing universe, under its moral implicates, the revelation to individual persons of the absolutely perfect moral Person.

This virtually moral and spiritual personification of the universally pervading Power, implied in reason and not capriciously postulated, justifies man when he, takes for granted the scientific interpretability of the changing phenomena of the universe, and the ultimate interpretation of things as significant of perfectly reliable, because perfectly good, moral purpose;—so that the temporal procession may be read throughout as a historical revelation to us of the eternal life of God—save and except the changes for the worse which human or other personal agents are able to make, when they become what they ought not to become, and what there is no divine necessity for their becoming, as when they isolate themselves in selfish separation from the moral universe. To this extent the universe of things and persons presented in human experience, and including of course the eternally necessary intellectual and moral implicates of that experience, becomes (for man) the perpetual progressive revelation of the otherwise unknown and unknowable Universal Power.

The incarnation of God in Nature, through moral Universal Power is virtually on speaking terms with men.

The otherwise infinite or mysterious all-pervading Power may in this way be truly said to be on speaking terms with man, in and through a cosmical and moral order which in all its ramifications is presumed to be interpretable because charged with moral purpose. The intelligibility is also presumed to be ideally perfect; the purpose not capricious, but absolutely good—although the human position necessarily leaves much that is by man physically and morally inexplicable. That the infinite Power should be on speaking terms with man, through the sense symbolism of outward nature and the inward light of the spirit—incarnate in the natural order, and, above all, in the ideal Man—this is surely no derogation from the abstract infinity and ultimately inaccessible mysteriousness of the Reality we have continually to do with. A revelation through sensible and spiritual signs, charged with meaning and moral purpose intelligible enough to regulate man's life in an otherwise mysterious universe, seems to be the only way for answering the final questions that is adapted to man's receptive capacity. The presence throughout the whole of latent meaning and moral purpose is not indeed a conclusion that call be logically drawn from the few physical or moral phenomena themselves that are actually offered to us in our experience; but the assumption is warranted if it can be shown to be rationally involved in the phenomena, as the needed condition of our escape from speechless and motionless Pyrrhonist despair. If the universal change—the temporal procession—supposed to be interpretable—may possibly be a lie, faith in the meaning of any event presented in that experience is paralysed, and the world becomes uninterpretable even in part. The only escape from this which I can find is in the preliminary postulate that the cosmical utterances must be morally rational or divine,—not diabolic—not a mixture of good and evil—not wholly chance or purposeless. Thus faith and hope in God is the true motive force of life and conduct, of our scientific reasonings about things and persons, and of our sceptical questionings themselves, so far as they are coherent and not wholly suicidal.

The Rationale of Theism.

The earlier part of this second course was concerned with the rationale of theistically founded philosophy, as applicable to the ultimate interpretation of Nature, causally and teleologically, so far as man's limited relations and intermediate position permit him to go.

The Enigma of theism

The five remaining lectures were connected with one central fact, obtruded in human experience, which seemed flatly to contradict the finally ethical and spiritual construction of experience. For the Universal Power seems to speak to its, in the divine language of human life, in an ambiguous way, in terms that are apt to give rise to moral distrust. It seems to reveal at the best an uncertain purpose of mingled good and evil, unless we annihilate morality and suppose that good and evil is determined by arbitrary will. This conclusion seems inevitable if the past and present state of sentient beings and persons, as found on this planet, must be taken as the sole evidence of the character of the Power universally at work. The tragedy that is continually going on here seems to forbid the postulated moral trust and hope which inspires and elevates personal life. How can the universe as we find it be a revelation of omnipotent goodness? This is largely a world of suffering and sin. The unsatisfactory social conditions of mankind on this planet, the irregular distribution of happiness and pairs among its sentient inhabitants, the appalling severity of the sufferings, the morally abnormal persons who introduce what ought not and needs not to exist, makes the whole, to a gradually developing and now comparatively refined sense of justice and mercy, more like moral chaos than the moral cosmos which indispensable moral trust in the Power that is speaking to us would require. With this appalling spectacle, daily presented, can we still retain hold of the primary postulate of an essentially trustworthy universe? Must we surrender it, and so cease to have an elevating motive and adequate foundation for intelligent and good life? Or can the suspicious facts lie reconciled with the postulate, and this breakdown of experience be avoided—in consideration, let us suppose, of the limited intelligence and experience of Man, whose reason necessarily culminates in what is unimaginable, mysterious, or infinite; so that the enigma of a morally mixed universe, which might seem to precipitate men into speechless and motionless sceptical despair, may, without proved inconsistency, be brought under the optimist or theistic ideal?

Considerations which mitigate the pressure of the dilemma of a morally trustworthy universe and seeming signs of its un-trustworthiness. Persons can make themselves bad.

In this dilemma between theistic faith in life and negation various considerations were suggested to mitigate the pressure of the strange facts which threaten to subvert needed initial moral trust in the supreme Power. For one thing, for all that we can show to the contrary, it may be a sign of perfect goodness that there should be in existence, on educational trial, individual persons who, as persons, must have absolute power to make and keep themselves bad, with all the, implied risks, as we might call them, of this divine experiment in personal responsibility—rather than that there should not be individual persons thus oil moral trial at all, and instead a wholly physical, non-moral, and physically necessitated, universe. If one takes account of finite and fallible moral agents, on educational probation, as the humanly regarded purpose which the Whole is making for, seen at the limited human point of view and in relation to Man, it may well be that the universe emptied of persons such as mien have made themselves would realise a less perfect ideal than that in Which men appear—trusted, for a time at least—if not finally—with their own character or moral destiny; and this although temporary, or even persistent, antagonism or indifference to the higher life, on the part of some or all of them, should seem to darken a universe that may nevertheless be consistent

Signs of progressive improvement.

Moreover, one play well suppose that the enigma of theistic trust in omnipotent goodness immanent in a morally mixed universe, is further relieved by the signs of progressive development which are presented in the history of man, when it is interpreted as the history of a divinely conducted education in individual self-sacrifice and active moral reason of all persons who permit themselves to be divinely educated. Progressive improvement, in a resisting medium which often seems to convert progress into regress, rather than original and endless moral perfection, may be the economy truly adapted to a world that consists of persons.

A larger revelation than the physical one, more adapted to the recovery of the bad

Still more when reason leaves room for the reinforcement of the progressive movement by the action of the Divine Power, “at sundry times and in divers manners,” according to a rational order more comprehensive than that which men are accustomed to recognise in ordinary physical experience, and which in this sense may be called supernatural or marvellous, determined by its relations especially to persons who have made themselves bad in rejecting their true ideal, so that their theistic faith and hope has to be awakened, vivified, and enlightened, in order to their moral recovery—all through divine incarnation in the perfect Man, in consummation of the divine incarnation in physical nature.

The conditions of human life on earth seem to ask under the theistic postulate, for its rectification or explanation.

Furthermore, sceptical disintegration of theistic faith may be arrested by the consideration that the temporal drama of personal life on this planet is not enough in time to justify or explain its own final meaning and issues. The curtain falls almost at the beginning of the first act. If men are really living in a morally trustworthy universe, in filial confidence that the issues cannot in the end put personal agents to intellectual and moral confusion, this would seem to imply a further development of the initial conditions, and an assimilation of the personal agents themselves in a larger life, in which a manifestly perfect moral government shall be found by the morally tried agents to underlie the apparent indifference, caprice, and cruelty of the present physically organised discipline. More may therefore not unreasonably be expected to follow death, ill the personal history and experience of Inch person; and perhaps more than can now be recollected by him may have preceded, in the prenatal history of persons who seem disposed, when they enter life, to keep themselves bad. The semblance of moral chaos on this planet, so unsatisfying and disintegrative of moral trust in the Power universally at work, seems to be causally connected with the history of the moral agents after the curtain falls in death, if not also before it was raised at birth.

Aids to perplexed faith.

These, at any rate, are aids to theistic faith, afforded by a larger philosophy than that which is wholly physical and sentient, all tending to sustain the moral trust and hope in the Universal Power at the root of all fruitful experience, without which human life is a hollow illusion,—after suppression of the divide voice otherwise expressed in the sense symbolism of outward nature and in the inner light of moral reason, and in every form of natural or extra-natural revelation,—the whole transformed into an uninterpretable lie, with human consciousness in all its faculties a vain illusion. It is the irrational alternative in this dilemma that makes optimist trust the highest human philosophy, instead of the pessimist doubt that subverts personal life, in subverting the necessary postulates of intelligence and moral obligation; so that we are obliged in reason to accept it, unless moral and intellectual incoherence can be shown to be involved also in theistic trust, dissolving experience and its moral implicates in a common ruin.

The highest end of human life under the theistical interpretation of its existence and meaning.

Deus illuminatio nostra. It follows that the highest end of life of persons on this planet, during the, uncertain interval between conscious birth and death, under this final conception of the realities of existence, is the deepening and enlightening of moral or theistic faith and hope, through increasing discernment of spiritual law in the natural world—the elevating emotional expression of this faith in religious gratitude and aspiration—with a practical outcome in that approximation to its divine ideal which those present who “do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.”

Perverted religion.

Optimi corruptio pessima. There is another side of the shield. That morally elevating faith in the Universal Power, with its implied eternal gospel for mankind, which might sustain the higher life in men, making them more reverential, less intolerant, more charitable, more hopeful, and more helpful to one another, has been perverted into an occasion of some of the most signal instances of the moral evil that makes the whole history of mankind so mysterious. Instead of hopeful trust in God, what man has called Religion has been largely craven fear, or worship of diabolic Power—in the cruel forms it has assumed, and in the degrading customs and frivolous controversies which it has encouraged in the course of its gradual development,—making men more hateful, not more helpful, to one another—so that even Christendom is as noted for the persecutions and sectarian separations by which its unity is broken as for victorious union in the struggle with Evil,—all this perhaps the most memorable and surprising illustration of the great enigma which perplexes us in the history of the world. This corruption and reversal of theistic faith and hope opens a field for meditation hardly less extensive than that which has been travelled over in these lectures; but further consideration of what it contains is foreign to their immediate design.