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Lecture 4. Divine Necessity: Ontological.

The Science of Religions has collected facts which suggest that critical analysis will discover reason in theistic faith.

I HAVE been trying to show that those are proceeding unreasonably, and therefore unphilosophically, who treat theistic faith, or the disposition to put finally an ethical and religious interpretation upon the universe, as in every form only a subjective sentiment, characteristic of some men, or some races of men, or of certain stages in the history of mankind—a sentiment which may take the form of what is called religious thought, but which after all is only transitory fancy that is likely to become an anachronism, if it is not already this among the educated. The great historic fact of the permanence, in many forms, of the disposition to put a morally obligatory or supernatural background to human life, and especially to extraordinary events that happen in the world, with the immense influence the religious instinct has in the history and development of mankind, suggests that theistic faith in the Power at work around us must be reconcilable with reason, if it is not even reason itself, in its deepest and truest human manifestation. The modern Science of Religions has accumulated abundant evidence that Religion is this potent factor in history; although the human disposition to interpret experience in the light of supernatural power darkens and degrades the interpreter, when a faith that is essentially ethical presents itself as non-moral, or immoral superstitions. But even in superstitions, one can trace the ineradicable dissatisfaction with what is merely finite, and some sense of dutiful conformity to eternal and ennobling ideals. And in all this theism appears in germ.

Theists may be indistinctly unconscious of the fundamental rationality of their theistic faith.

The individual subjects of moral and religious experience of course may not themselves see what their own disposition to read the world religiously means when regarded philosophically; they may fail to see in our morally religious faith the most rational conception that man can finally form of the changing universe. Those even in whore the religions instinct is strong and pure are not on that account intellectually awake to its essential reconcilableness with reason, or with the physically scientific interpretation of the world, which so many now treat as if it exclusively were the final reason that is the proper criterion of all reasonableness and unreasonableness.

The rationale of theistic faith so far found in the cosmological or causal “proof” of the validity of this faith.

My last three lectures were meant to show that in yielding to the religious tendency, which, in its developed form, huts a theistic interpretation upon everything in nature, we are not only not contradicting physical science, but are really explaining and sustaining the physically scientific interpretation of the world. What is there in reason which forbids us to think of the laws or customary sequences in physical nature as finally the outcome and revelation of perfectly reasonable Will—in other words, as one at least of the modes of the self-revelation of God? Natural laws are not disparaged surely when they are not only believed in on the faith of experiments, but also accepted at last in moral and religious faith. Thus, instead of banishing God from their sphere, they are, so far as they go, an articulate revelation of the perfectly rational Will that man's natural environment should be a concatenated and calculable physical order, and not an incalculable procession of chaotic events or chance changes. When Nature is looked at thus, each advance in the discovery of its scientific meaning is seen to be also an advance in the theological interpretation of the universe. The customary procedure in the natural evolution of phenomena becomes in our thought God's natural, and therefore reasonable, mode of acting; referred to God because there is no trace in human experience of any other absolute or final cause than intending will, or moral agency, which divinely raises what would be otherwise only a natural into a supernatural reality. This consideration is what one seems to find at the root of the so-called cosmological argument for God, or for sustenance of faith in the religious interpretation of all natural changes and their laws. Vaguely and at first the idea of cause expresses only the deep-rooted human sense of dissatisfaction with chance changes, and the implied need for an unconditioned cause, by which this causal dissatisfaction—only provisionally relieved by scientific discoveries of natural causes—may be finally and reasonably satisfied and put to rest. It seems to be true philosophy that man should accept the only arresting and final sort of cause that human experience offers—that found involved in his own moral responsibility, under the necessary postulate of moral reason. And this transforms the otherwise wholly physical and spiritually unsatisfying universe, into what turns out to be more than physical: when thus more deeply conceived, and more seriously lived in, it is found to be providential moral order.

The immanence of Design in Nature as a whole, and therefore in all natural constructions and changes.

But this impotence of mere physical phenomena, abstracted from the spiritual activity which they may be believed to manifest, and of which they and their natural orderliness are the significant signs—this, their seeming impotence, is not the only ground in reason which sustains theistic faith in the power at work in the universe. A sense of the powerlessness, per se, of outwardly manifested Nature indeed welcomes immanent intelligence and moral agency, and is ready to say—Mens agitat molem. Yet this is not all that the outward changing world suggests. In last lecture I turned to those more precise signs of the immanence of Mind in nature which observation claims to detect, in the form of means obviously related to useful or beautiful ends, in which the organised matter of the world naturally abounds. This illustration of calculating thoughtfulness in external Nature becomes more impressive with each advance of natural science, and especially since the comprehensive idea of organic evolution has more and more formulated the physical interpretations which pass current in this nineteenth century. For what, at our human point of view, is called divine Design is now recognisable, not only in particular instances of natural adaptation, like those on which Paley dwells, but universally in the very notion of natural evolution and progressive orderly change itself. The isolated examples, singled out by the old-fashioned natural theologians, as proofs of the past interference of a calculating and contriving God, are now found to be provisionally explained as gradual processes that can be expressed in terms of natural law. In the imperfect causal vocabulary of exclusively physical science, the human body, including of course the human eye and man's other organs, may be all naturally accounted for, we find, by “natural causes,” causes long and slowly in evolutionary operation. Thus the whole history of the physical world may turn out, in the progress of physical science, to be a history of slowly forming special instances of natural construction—increasingly useful or beautiful adaptations of means to human ends,—but all arising as sequences in the successive processes of what science calls natural causation. The visible machine of Nature seems to be giving rise to the outcoming constructions and adaptations, and this according to discovered processes of “natural selection,” or other natural modes of behaviour. But what if the ambiguous Power, called Nature, is only metaphorically “doing” this or anything else? What if its phenomena present to experimental inquiry no proof of their own final and proper agency, while man has proof of final and proper agency that must be supernatural, because it is moral or immoral. In that view of things the great natural machine is really charged with supernaturalness, so that all its natural evolutions not only admit of, but require, a teleological as well as a physical interpretation. Natural causes explain, for sense and sensuous imagination, the bodily organisation of man, as well as its special organs, such as the eye or the ear. But then the merely physical explanation is always only a provisional explanation. It may in addition be thought of as the design of what, at the human point of view, seems predestinating Mind, so that continuously operative Reason may, at the end, be credited with all the adaptations that are gradually elaborated in the natural time-process. On the supposition that scientific inquiry verifies a universal natural evolution, as I am now supposing, science is only revealing a universe of natural adaptations that are in process of slow continuous formation, the natural laws or modes of procedure being the scientific expression of how creation proceeds. The Power that keeps the whole in motion is then thought of as Power that is making more and more for useful and elaborate relations of means to ends, in the virtually living organism commonly called outward Nature; and in issues of gradually increasing value, measured by the satisfaction given to what is highest in man, who is himself the highest of the progressive and providential outcomes on this planet. The whole and each event in Nature, as thus contemplated, becomes in our view charged with Purpose, the revelation to us of latent Reason, to which the human spirit responds in intellectual and moral sympathy. This is just to say that God is the real cause in all the natural causes that are making either for the integration or the disintegration of the universal virtually living organism—the presented Universe—which, in either natural way, integrative or disintegrative, continuously reveals God.

The infinity of existence need not paralyse the power of interpreting what enters into our experience.

It is only when the final mystery of the physical infinity of Nature is taken wantonly by what I called its atheistic handle that our want of physical omniscience is produced as sufficient reason for refusing to read all experience theistically. For the world would be scientifically uninterpretable, if man were obliged to turn away from all attempts to explain even its natural meaning or laws, until he had relieved himself of the final physical mystery by rising into omniscience. I cannot even move from where I stand, if I am bound, before I do so, to have a perfect knowledge of the universe, and so make absolutely sure of my intellectual ground. The hypothesis that the orderly evolution of nature is a history of Purpose, may humanly sustain itself, by observed facts of natural means in their relations to ends, which, when I am affected by the mystery of physical endlessness, are found so impressive,—and this even although my end of the line of natural sequences appears to be its only end—it being regressively without any beginning i.e., any other end than the present moment. For I do seem to be here confronted by the mystery of a line that has only one end—that at which I am percipient, when I make the regressive movement of thought in quest of the beginning of the natural procession of changes.

Special natural adaptations and universal natural design.

When particular constructions found in nature, like the human eye in man, or the wings in a bird, are appealed to as signs that intelligent agency must have been at work in overcoming the resistance of intractable natural material, by adroit combination and collocation—like a human artificer making a machine,—this way of conceiving the case presents two difficulties. In the first place, it represents natural law, and the qualities of “matter,” as in conflict with the Designer of the contrivances. This is so, no doubt, when the artist is a man. And if the supposed divine Designer is credited with the natural laws and qualities, as imposed by Him upon matter in some prehistoric period in the illimitable Past, this looks like His making the difficulty at first, for the sake of the pleasure of overcoming it afterwards. In the second place, to ground faith in supernatural design on visible adaptations, found in particular instances of the employment of matter for purposes useful or pleasant to a living being, is exposed, as I have said, to the risk of having the supposed supernaturalness in those instances discovered to be after all according to a natural process; and with this the supernaturalness disappears, if we must assume that when an event or a construction is proved to have happened naturally, it must therefore cease to be due to supernatural Power. But it is otherwise when reason—at least something not unreasonable in the constitution of man—makes us recognise, in all natural processes and issues, really divine processes and issues; so that whenever useful or beautiful adaptations of means to ends, in organic structures or otherwise, are naturally evolved, this evolution, however slow and gradual, must be interpreted by man as the constant action of immanent Deity. External nature, as presented to the senses, is then, throughout the whole course of its natural evolution—out of an original fire-mist, if you please, or out of whatever else can be proved scientifically to have been its early form—external nature or physical universe, I say, may then be for man one phase of the Divine revelation—practically for us a revelation of supernatural and superhuman design—whatever more it may be, at a point of view higher than the human.

Miraculously accomplished divine design.

Whether this natural revelation, charged throughout with what men may in effect treat as design or calculation, and expressed in what might be called a natural language—whether this revelation has included in its past history, among other revealed designs, those also which are called “miracles”—physical and other miracles—is a question which belongs to a later stage in our course of thought. It demands the consideration of what is meant by a physical miracle. Is a miracle all event brought about according to the natural procedure, through undiscovered, and perhaps to men for ever inaccessible, natural causes, but designed, by its uncommonness and natural inaccessibility, perhaps to draw attention to prophetic inspirations, and so to quicken otherwise dormant or languid moral response? Or is it an event, presented indeed in nature, yet not conditioned by any physical cause, but one in which the Reason that is actively immanent in nature dispenses, for a purpose, with all physical causes, and reveals design only in the miraculous physical effects, which thus appear in nature without any physical cause at all? If the second of these is taken for the true conception, a physical miracle would be an event in nature in which the immediate action of the all-pervading Mind was not in the lower meaning natural, but action independent of physical conditions. We should then have to distinguish the supernaturalness that is manifested according to perceptible processes from extra-natural or miraculous manifestation of supernaturalness. But this only by the way, in the present connection.

Defects both in the merely causal and the merely teleological arguments for the theistic interpretation of the universe

In last two lectures I invited your attention to what is suggested by the finite and ever-changing phenomena presented in the physical universe, or temporal process, in support of theistic confidence in the perfect reasonableness and goodness of the Power that is at the heart of the Whole. There is still inadequacy, however, in these considerations, taken by themselves, even although they are important elements and auxiliaries in a more comprehensive rationale of theistic faith. At least when put into the form of arguments, the infinite conclusion seems to be fallaciously begged, in the causal argument, whether taken in cosmological or in teleological form. For one thing, the final appeal in both may seem to be made to an individual reason and consciousness only, while the conclusion is assumed to apply to Universal Being; and this, it may be said, can be legitimately done only by the Universal Reason or Consciousness somehow entering into man, and elevating his individual reason into Reason that, as universal, can alone finally interpret universal reality. How can the required rationality at the heart of the universe of Being emerge from, or be found in, my individual intelligence—an intelligence of which, moreover, no one except myself can be actually conscious? How can each person's private intelligence—so peculiarly his own as that no other individual can be conscious in his living thoughts—how can this isolated mind be the foundation or centre of a knowledge of the Universal Mind and Meaning? I and all other individual egos might never have existed, and yet the universal or final rationality of the universe of reality would remain; at least if what men call human “knowledge” be real, and if the physical universe presented to our senses be trustworthy and interpretable—capable, as metaphysical pedants might say, of being “objectively justified”? Adequate analysis of theistic faith, if theistic faith is valid in reason, must find an element that is wanting, or at least left in the background, throughout the theistic interpretation of natural causation, and also in the teleological conception of natural processes and natural organic constructions.

The ontological conception and its implicit theism.

What has been called ontological “proof” of the eternal and universal inseparability of thought and real existence—self-conscious Knowing and actual Being—is sometimes brought forward in this connection. The idea of unconditional need for Eternal Mind, the impossibility of reality in the absence of thought, the contradiction implied in the universe existing without God—this idea has taken many forms of expression in the course of theological and philosophical speculation about the final principle of existence. May it be accepted as at least implied in theism? Is an infinite or omniscient Knower the rationally necessary implicate of all reality? From Plato to Hegel, not to speak of pre-Socratic European, and still earlier Asiatic meditations, the absolute and final necessity for Mind—the omnipresence or omnipotence of active Reason—is an idea that has in different forms pervaded theistic dialectic. Through this abstract necessity the individual thinker has essayed to secure for himself a more commanding position than the individual consciousness of one human mind seems to supply. It is assumed that one's hold of the final principle of the universe cannot reasonably be dependent on one's own, lately born, isolated self: if I have, or can ever attain to, intellectual possession of reality, I must somehow become involved in a higher Reason than my individual reason; spiritually I must become more than an orphan spirit, or spiritual atom. I must be somehow identified with the Universal Reason, and this in proportion as I become truly myself. So regarded, my true self seems, in proportion as it unfolds, to be at bottom the Universal Self: what is called “individual” reason finds ultimate justification in the discovery for which this philosophy takes credit—the discovery that reason finally is not mine individually, but mine, as it were, theistically, or in so far as God lives in me. My self is then truly and infinitely realised in God; and the individual, orphan, isolated self is renounced, the more the individual man becomes universal, and ill so becoming, becomes divine. The essential divinity of what is truly real is the rationally necessary conception with which Reason is credited, when we have learned to rise from the abstractions of special or separate physical sciences into the central and absolute philosophy of Being, which philosophy is theology under another name. For a resolution of religious faith into philosophic science may, with equal fitness, be called theology or philosophy: it would be the theology that deserved the proud title of supreme Science, or Science of sciences.

Various phases of ontological theism.

A position akin to this is, I think, virtually taken in the chief forums of ontological proof, final ontological synthesis, or constructive necessity of thought. I have described it perhaps more according to the manner in which it is presented in our own century or generation, than in some of its earlier and cruder forms. But one recognises it in the Idealism of Plato, where things of sense dimly symbolise the rational reality towards which the individual man may gradually approximate, as he rises from contingent sense appearances, and fluctuating opinions, and enters into the underlying intellectual necessities of Divine Thought, in which alone is true reality. That the Thought which transcends the private consciousness, and which can be entered into only through mystical ecstasy, contains the secret of Being, or of the universe, was the supreme lesson of Plotinus in later and more transcendental Platonism. Recognition of absolute or ontological necessity for the real existence of Divine or Perfect Being, as involved in the very idea of perfection, pervades the celebrated theistic dialectic of St Augustine, St Anselm, and Descartes. Perfection in idea, it was argued, must include actual existence; for an idea cannot be conceived as perfect unless conceived to be in consequence existing, thus existing by an abstract necessity of reason. The absolute reality of the Divine Being, in other words, is involved in the idea of infinity or perfection that is latent in all of us: thought necessarily underlies existence: and so universal thought must underlie universal reality: real existence nee living thought to constitute and sustain it. These are varied expressions of the idea which appears at the bottom of ontological theism and theology. Expressed in its cruder form, this looks like the childish fallacy, that merely because I fancy that a thing or a person exists, that thing must therefore actually exist. But to say that the eternally real existence implies eternal thought or reason is very different from saying that men's contingent fancies about finite things must be objective realities, or, as in Kant's caricature by analogy of the ontological argument—that because I imagine that I have money in my purse, it must be true that I have it. That there is intellectual need for God involved in the idea of space and immensity, also in duration and eternity, is another form of ontological argument for theism: it appears in Samuel Clarke's once famous demonstration of abstract intellectual necessity for the divine existence. And the other argument of St Anselm and Descartes might be taken as an awkwardly expressed anticipation of the esse is percipi, or esse is percipere, of Berkeley; itself anticipated long before St Anselm or St Augustine, in the τὸ αὐτὸ νοϵι̑ν τϵ καὶ ϵἰ̑ναι, attributed to Parmenides. That the Universal Mind is, by abstract necessity, the prius of all individual things and persons, and presupposed in their existence, is the constant refrain in Berkeley's ‘Siris,’ in which the inevitable demand for Reason, as the finally uniting principle of existence, is reiterated at many different points of view. “Comprehending God and the creatures in one general notion, we may say,” according to Berkeley, “that all things together make one Universe, or τὸ πα̑ν. But if we should say that all things make one God, this,” he thinks, “would indeed be an erroneous notion of God, but would not amount to Atheism, so long as Mind or Intellect was admitted to be the governing part. It is nevertheless,” he argues, “more respectful, and consequently the truer notion of God, to suppose Him neither made up of parts, nor to be Himself a part of any Whole whatever.” The intellectual need for recognising that the universe must be constituted in Universal Reason is, one may say, the chief lesson of ‘Siris,’—a book of aphorisms, and a stage in the modern unfolding of the ontological conception that God is the intellectually necessary foundation of all that we call real, and the very essence of reality.

Theistic Ontological Necessity as in Leibniz and since Kant.

The recognition by Leibniz of universal ideas, innate at once in the universe and in every human mind, in a pre-established harmony with the natural processes, may likewise be taken as the germ of an ontological theism. Kant's philosophical revolution made him the Copernicus of philosophy and theology, in expressly taking human thought as, for man, the final explanation and regulative principle of the universe, instead of supposing thought itself and its necessities explicable by things, as naturalism dogmatically does. This opened the way to the all-comprehensive philosophical theism and theology of the post Kantian era in which we are living. If human experience is an experience of what is real, it was argued that it must be an intelligible experience, its intelligibility being its justification. Our knowledge, even our desire to know, implies that what is presented in experience must be intrinsically capable of being known. Now the conviction that we are living in a knowable universe, already more or less interpreted by man, doubtless contains an essential germ of theistic faith, which readily adapts itself to ontological theism. External nature is instinctively treated by us in the sort of way a book is treated by its readers. We expect to find meaning in all our experience of things: this expectant trust supposes that we can enter philosophically into its essential or final Reason. The philosophically unfolded Reason that is implied in the intelligible existence of things, or in the interpretability of what is experienced is not my individual or private reason; nor can it be the merely private thinking of any other individual person: it must be the absolute and universal Thought, if experience is real. The universe must be a tissue or network, as it were, of intelligible relations, in virtue of which it is capable of being reduced to science. Its intelligible relations are the divine Thought or Reason that is universally involved in it—latent at first as far as each of us individually is concerned, but which men may and do bring into their actual perceptions more and more, in proportion as their scientific interpretation of things advances. This advance, so far as it goes, might be called increasing individual participation in the Universal Thought; so that, in proportion to his success as an interpreter of portions of the universe, a man may be said to be identifying himself more fully with that Universal Reason or Consciousness, which the possibility of his having scientific and philosophic experience presupposes to be at the centre of the Whole. I begin to “participate,” it may be said, in objective thought or reality, when, by expectant calculation, founded on past experience of the manifestations of what is real, I bring my individual thinking out of the state of idle fancy, and into line with the outwardly manifested or real thought; thus substituting reasonable interpretation of nature for an individually capricious “anticipation” of nature, as Bacon would call it. And so I may be said to be “identifying” myself with God, or with the divine thought immanent in experience, which now expresses itself in and through my thoughts about things, that are becoming more and more divine-like, as my science advances. In like manner we say that in reading a book intelligently and sympathetically, the individual reader is entering into it—thinking the thoughts of its author; becoming one with, or participating in, his spirit. The reader enters into and thus far becomes one with the author; the author enters into and becomes one with the sympathetic reader.

Abstract Thought and living Mind.

Again. Thought or reason, whether so manifested in a human microcosm, or manifested in the macrocosm of the universe, must be referred, at least by man, to living conscious Mind. He is instinctively obliged to personify it, as we say, and that whether it presents itself in purely intellectual relations, or as obligatory moral reason. The relations of science which an interpretable universe involves, oblige us to suppose that we are living in organised living intelligence, just as moral obligation presupposes us living individually in moral relation to the living moral Reason that is supreme. Universal thought to us means universal conscious life. So that the indispensable initiative of having scientific intercourse with contingent phenomena, of which we have trial in our fragmentary human experience, appears as the beginning of intellectual intercourse with the Universal Consciousness; or, if another mode of expression be preferred, the beginning of the revelation in us of the Universal Consciousness. It is an approach on our part, and a self-revelation on God's part, which becomes more full and articulate with all human progress in philosophy.

Hegelian ontological Theism.

Following this line of argument or speculation, we find ourselves becoming involved at last in something like the dialectical procedure of Hegel. For his philosophy of the universe is finally and throughout a philosophical theism or theology—the most comprehensive and elaborate perhaps that modern thinking has produced; and which, indirectly even more than by direct assimilation, has been giving new forms to the religious thought of this age. Its sympathetic yet critical introduction to the British and Anglo-Saxon world is largely due to an eminent countryman, a former Gifford Lecturer, whom we are proud to have living among us in Edinburgh. Dr Hutchison Stirling's ‘Secret of Hegel,’ published some thirty years ago, marks the beginning of a new era in our insular philosophy, with corresponding activity and enlargement in religious thought. Its appearance was almost contemporaneous with that of another epoch-making book, representative of the opposite pole of philosophy, yet not without affinity to the all-comprehensiveness of Hegelian religious thought—I mean the volume of ‘First Principles,’ and the synthetic philosophy of which it was the pioneer, which forms Mr Herbert Spencer's contribution to the intellectual life of his generation. For Mr Spencer's philosophy of the universe is as it were an inverted Hegelianism—resting on an empirical, not on a rationally ontological base, and constructed by empirical generalisation, not by the necessities of purely rational dialectic. Its apotheosis is in the universally and for ever Unknowable Power, at the extreme opposite to the potential if not actual Omniscience which Hegel seems to claim.

The theological Dialectic of Hegel.

The Hegelian dialectic is virtually the Hegelian theology. It becomes a Philosophy of Religion—Philosophical Theism the boldest and most thorough-going—which issues in a system that may be called indifferently Philosophy or Theology, seeing that in Hegel these are virtually one. His interest in the problem of existence seems to be religious and Christian as much as intellectual. As with Aristotle, and still more with St Thomas Aquinas, theology is with Hegel the consummation of speculation, if not, as with Bacon, “the Sabbath and port of all man's labours and peregrinations.”


Hegelian dialectic might be taken as an exhaustive intellectual elaboration of what is put only in a tentative and practical way in the cosmological argument; which, as I suggested, is founded on the craving for cause that finds rest only in the agency of Divine Spirit, or, as one might say, in the Universal Consciousness. The Hegelian progressive and ascending synthesis is a process which is brought forward to show articulately in reason the inadequacy of the lower and more abstract categories of thought,—the intellectual need for ascending regressively from the extreme inadequacy of Pure Being to the infinite fulness of the concrete Divine Reality—making manifest that the universe in its true concreteness necessarily presupposes infinite wealth in its divine ground—in the Thought or Consciousness that is universal. This is not an old-fashioned deduction—things and persons deduced from a principle—unfolded in the way conclusions in mathematics are drawn out of the axioms and definitions in which they are tacitly involved; nor an induction from facts, in the way natural causes are generalised from their physical effects. It is a reflex synthesis of what is alleged to be found by reason, as necessarily presupposed in the lower and more abstract categories of thought, when they are purged of the inadequacy and error that pertains to them if they are taken as ultimate. Thus purely abstract Being must be less adequate to express Universal or Divine Being than the higher category of change or Becoming: this, in turn, is less adequate than Being that is determinate, and so on, till Infinite and Spiritual Being, or God in His fulness, is reached,—to be realised more and more fully in the progressive conscious intelligence of individual men, as it is always latent in Nature. This regressively dialectical ascent promises, at each stage of advance, a fuller conception of the Absolute Being or God, till at last God is found by the philosopher in the form of rationally articulated reality or universal consciousness, more or less shared in by all finite things and persons. Each partial step on the ascent, on account of its unsatisfying abstractness, craves a richer or more concrete thought; and without this further development, the judgment is left sceptical between affirmation and negation. The consequent intellectual unrest is the movement which carries the mind upward, until it finds complete satisfaction in the universal rational consciousness. This is recognition that the universe of rationally articulated things and persons is essentially Divine: the perfect rational articulation is another name for God. Dialectical development of the categories of thought, in their hierarchical gradation, may be called the gradual unfolding of philosophical or ontological theism. The individual thinker, potentially identical with God, through the unconscious immanence of the now articulated rationality in himself as in all things and persons, becomes consciously identified, in proportion as, through the dialectical synthesis, he is made to see philosophically how he is living and moving and having his being in universal reason or universal consciousness. He becomes aware of his own participation in Deity, by translating into thought what was otherwise hold in the imperfect intellectual form of feeling. Philosophy is, in short, theistic and Christian faith in the universe, translated in terms of thought: the translation makes explicit the reason that is latent in the feeling, making all visible as the infinite or divine universe. This philosophy is offered to this generation as the intellectual form of religion,—assimilating in itself the Christian as the one catholic and absolute religion. It claims to be religion so far as religion is intellectual, but not necessarily to the exclusion of religion in the more human and practical form of feeling, emotion, and faith. And if theology is the intellectual interpretation and co-ordination of man's final relations to the divine universe of reality, Hegelian philosophy is Hegelian theism or theology; the two are really synonymous. Hegelian dialectic becomes Christian theism elaborated in the form of eternal and necessary thought—sub specie æternitatis, as Spinoza would say. It appears at the opposite pole to every modification of agnosticism, and yet the extremes are sometimes found to approach.

Questions suggested by the ontological Theism of Hegel.

Is the philosopher justified in reason, when he announces, as discovered intellectual necessity, the perfect rational articulation of the universe in the universal consciousness called God, as what all things and persons must really exist in? Is all that is implied in the actual existence of things and in the moral agency of persons fully explained, or relieved of all mystery, so that the burden which has put so much strain in past ages upon faith is found to disappear, when the Hegelian translation of theistic faith into this form of theistic thought has been dialectically unfolded? Is faith found to be exchanged for sight, in the perfect intellectual vision supplied by this dialectical reconciliation of the universe of nature and spirit? Is this philosophic thought adequate for the accommodation of all the facts of experience for which it is bound by its profession to provide room; or must we all still bear, in the form of life and living trust, a burden of mysteries, which neither this nor any other intellectual interpretation of the universe is able finally to eliminate? Does Hegelian thought penetrate deep enough to take in all the genuine facts of man's physical and moral experience—all the facts, I mean, which can vindicate their genuineness, and the need for recognising them, by the sceptical disintegration of human experience—the impossibility of any scientific and moral intercourse with reality that follows—if they are disallowed or ignored? When the dialectical unfolding of the universe of existence is said to show that “all things and persons exist in God,” does this mean that nothing exists (or can exist) except God? Does it mean that so much actual existence in visible and tangible things as is implied in their being media of intercourse between persons is an illusion; aid also that faith in the free or self-originative power of persons, in their morally responsible acts, is misleading fancy? How do individual persons retain their morally needed personal identity, if their personal activity—evil as well as good—is really the activity of God—consciously to themselves God, up to the degree in which each man learns through philosophy to recognise only Deity in what he still calls “himself”? As a fact, is not each man able to originate voluntary acts, which are therefore called his own—acts many of which ought not to have been acted, and which, therefore, there was no absolute necessity in reason for the human person to create? Or, oil the contrary, are all acts that enter into the temporal manifestations of the divine active reason—the malignant will of the murderer, equally with the lofty ideals that are more or less realised in a philanthropic and saintly life—are these all alike acts of God—part of the divine life? Do they all express the Universal Consciousness in its incarnate activities?

There are especially two mysteries of existence from the burden of which I do not find the promised intellectual relief—

Does this ontological dialectic solve the moral mystery of finite persons and their moral power?

(1) I cannot find in this dialectically evolved necessity the explanation of the mystery involved in the existence of individual personal agents who must themselves be blamed for acts which ought not to exist—acts for which there is no rational necessity that they should come into existence, and which therefore cannot be acts accordant with moral reason. Are not all immoral acts undivine acts? How does the dialectical necessity transform personal responsibility into a final thought in which human consciousness is freed from all mystery? Does the offered philosophy more than cover with a new vocabulary what is still a mystery, hid in the final unknowableness—as distinguished from a human or practical knowledge?

Or of timelessness, combined with the historical reality of individual things and persons?

(2) Then there is the mystery of individual persons and outward things naturally existing in time—the mystery of change, with its relation to an unbeginning and an unending natural succession, or to the “timeless”Universal Consciousness. While human understanding has to face this mystery of mysteries, how does the dialectical procedure transform faith in it into concrete thought and intellectual vision, making the faith become sight? Can future change be conceived as always real? Is all that has been and all that is to be—the temporal process which faith assumes to be actual fulfilment only gradually—is all this only illusion; so that whatever happens in time must, as such, be unreal, and the words “before” and “after” only an expression of error or of ignorance? Can the dialectical ontology resolve into one perfect timeless conception our otherwise finally mysterious faith in the historical reality of the procession of natural changes and in the eternity of God?


In this connection I find wisdom in the words of one who is perhaps the deepest and most considerate thinker among the later Germans—I mean Lotze. The words suggest the inadequacy of all abstract categories of Reason to explain exhaustively mysteries of actual fact and experience; which nevertheless they may enable us to co-ordinate, in subordination to the reasonable faith on which our individual relation to the supreme realities of the universe seems finally to repose. “All universal propositions, upon which our knowledge depends,” says Lotze, “are judgments which do not tell us that anything concrete is, or takes place; they only declare what would exist, or would have to take place, in case certain conditions actually occur: they merely express certain general rules which we must follow in the construction of the content of our ideas. On the contrary, those propositions upon which all the special interest of religion depends—for example, that God is, that He has created the World, that the soul of man survives death—these are all declarative judgments, which assert particular definite facts. The first-mentioned general propositions are nothing but expressions of the forms of activity in which reason, according to its own abstract nature, must be exercised. On the other hand, the declarative propositions of faith, which assert facts with respect to the ordering of a world that is more than abstract reason, cannot with equal legitimacy be regarded as the innate endowment of our intelligence, but are in some sort the result of experience and spiritual culture.”

All this raises a significant question about the nature and limiting conditions of human understanding as regards our final conception of the universe, to which I will ask your consideration in next lecture.