The existence of what ought not to exist, in human beings.
MORAL evil is not an abstraction. It is an actual fact, found in the lives of human persons who occupy this planet. The appearance of Sextus Tarquin, that monster of cruelty, is taken by Leibniz as an example of the lurid facts which threaten to paralyse theistic faith, casting doubt on the moral meaning of the universe. Leibniz seeks to explain them in the celebrated optimist theory unfolded in his ‘Théodicée.’ But Tarquin and Nero and Caligula are not singular, among monsters who have appeared in human form, and occupied thrones as well as all places from thrones downwards, in the history of mankind to the present hour—the source of told and untold misery to myriads of living beings. For moral evil is found in more than a few persons. Experience of mankind shows a mysterious tendency to decline from man's true ideal, which possesses human beings from the very beginning of their personal life; which shows itself as a tendency that ought continually to be resisted, and against which the policy of mankind ought to be a constant struggle—sustained in each individual person, in the form of religious endeavour to live the divine life, and thus recover the ideal man in his individual instance. Indeed the moral interpretation of the universe is strangely apt to meet with aversion instead of satisfaction. Ingenuity is exhausted, not in searching for God, and in recognising signs that we are living in what, if we will, may become our divine life; rather in searching for arguments through which men may escape from moral or theistic trust in the supreme principle of the universe, and then conclude that sentient life is not worth living;—so that the supreme end of man should be, to get out of life finally; if indeed it be possible for a being who has once become personal to become finally impersonal. How and why there should be this tendency to negation, instead of to the divine, this pessimist instead of optimist disposition, especially in present-day speculation, this disposition to prefer the merely physical faith that taken alone is untrustworthy to a final faith in spiritually perfect meaning of the universe, is difficult to understand, as well as how far individual men are morally responsible for it. It is a downward disposition which may seem inherited rather than originated by each person, at least not so originated since each person awoke into his present life; unless one may suppose a latent memory of a pre-existent life, which may hereafter become patent in conscious memory. On the whole, we are obliged to acknowledge that much which ought not and need not exist is commonly existing in this corner of the universe;—Whatever may be the case in the other parts of its infinite extent, or at other periods than within that section of unbeginning duration which is embraced in our scanty record.
The apparent inconsistency of this fact with any trust in the Power of which such a universe is the revelation.
The actual existence of what ought not to exist, in a universe which is tacitly assumed, in the commonest physical acts and knowledge, to be so far a trustworthy and hope-inspiring universe, is the perplexity of persons who desire to retain moral faith in the outcome of experience as the divine basis of life. The broad fact of prevailing injustice and cruelty among men, and the “cruel” indifference of the course of things to the happiness of living beings, seems not to consist with the natural evolution being a manifestation of perfect goodness. It inclines the sceptic to treat the whole as a non-moral, and therefore really impersonal, procession of phenomena. It suggests pessimist surrender of filial trust and hope that the Power to which what is highest in man responds is continually at work in us and around us, in order to assimilate us to Himself. A universe in which nothing can ever make its appearance that ought not to appear, seems, in our first thought, to be the only possible manifestation of the infinitely perfect moral Being presupposed in morally religious faith. Does not the rise into actual life of that which conscience obliges man to condemn as absolutely evil necessarily involve, either limited, and therefore imperfect, goodness, or else deficient power—either way the absolute or final untrustworthiness of all that man trusts in, for the physical regulation of his life, the formation of his knowledge, or the improvement of his character? Does not the existence of vice, and its long-continued toleration in this part of the universe, mean, not infinite goodness, but an imperfect regard for goodness, on the part of the omnipotent Power? The supposed divine guarantee of our inductive faith in experience, it is urged in the name of reason, must be either a Power that is not willing to hinder the entrance of what ought not to exist, or not able to do so, or both willing; and able. The last of these three suppositions alone, it is taken for granted, corresponds to the idea of omnipotent goodness. But that the supposed Power at the root of all is not both able and willing to bar the entrance of what ought not to exist seems proved, by the observed fact that much that is morally and physically evil has existed, and continues to exist. The flood of sin and suffering that is always flowing in human and in all sentient life on this planet seems to show either impotence or moral imperfection at the heart of an experienced reality such as this; so as to produce total paralysis of faith and hope, when the narrow world of human experience is taken as sufficient proof of moral indifference and impotence combined, in the final interpretation put upon the Whole.
The theistic is the optimist interpretation of the universe.
The theistic conception of the universe is necessary optimist, in as far as it implies that its constitutive principle or system is absolutely the best; for this is what we mean by its being divine. To believe in God is to believe that the supreme idea, expressed so far in our experience of things and persons, is as it ought to be; so that whether or not individual persons are all as good as they might be, the divine Idea in the whole could not possibly be better. To suppose that the temporal procedure of the Supreme Power is the revelation of in Ideal that is radically bad must mean that it is not the outcome of perfect wisdom and goodness, but of a Power that is indifferent, or even hostile, to what ought to be. This Power, whatever other name might be given to it, could not appropriately be called God, when God means personification of perfect goodness, or of what unconditionally ought to be: God only thus becomes the ground of the trust, that neither our physical nor our moral experience in the divine universe can in the end put the persons who have the experience to confusion. To suppose that the Supreme Ideal embodied in the universe could be better than it is, means that evil more or less belongs to the divine ideal, that the Supreme Power is untrustworthy, not the personified moral obligation presupposed in our primary faith. Theistic faith expires in the supposition that God might prefer absolute evil to the absolutely good. The Supreme Power might be fraudulent, or it might be blind indifferent Power: in either case all that is presented in experience—my whole self-conscious life—may be finally illusory; the so-called faculties of knowledge may be formed to mislead, or their issues play be meaningless. The revelation that is presented in the temporal procession of natural things, and in the living existence of morally good and morally evil persons, must therefore admit of being interpreted under some form of optimism, if it is fit to be interpreted theistically; and this whether or not the optimist or divine conception can be fully thought out by man's intelligence. For indeed it is not to be expected that it can be so thought out in a human understanding as to leave no remainder of mystery enveloping the universe. To think finite things and persons out infinitely is to transcend a finite intelligence of them, or, in other words, to empty the universe of all that is mysterious. Only in Omniscience can the universe be infinitely thought out. Yet the maintenance by reason of moral trust in the root principle of all is not necessarily inconsistent with this imperfection of intellectual insight;—unless the imperfect intelligence does see enough to make it necessary to destroy final moral trust and hope, and thus arrest human life by a suicidal scepticism.
Can moral evil enter into an Optimist universe?
But is this arrest inevitable in reason, as the consequence of the broad fact that what ought not to exist does exist somehow in the lives of conscious persons living on this earth, and that pain enters, with a seemingly capricious disregard of desert, into innumerable sentient lives? Can a divine or morally constituted world admit what is morally, and therefore absolutely, evil? And even if the temporary rise of evil may be somehow not necessarily inconsistent with the infinite goodness of the Supreme Power, inasmuch as virtue, let us suppose, may be educated by the consequent struggle, which may issue, let us also suppose, in the final extinction of evil,—can the persistence, and perhaps endless persistence, in the universe of what is inconsistent with moral reason be reconciled with the eternal ethical obligation presupposed in absolute goodness personified?
Hypotheses in which either moral trust or moral evil disappears.
In last lecture I suggested the insufficiency of various attempts made to explain the fact of the presence of evil in the universe. Some of them are theories formed at the expense of the perfection of the Supreme Power or Powers; others by explaining away moral evil, either interpreting it as the unconditional necessity of finite and individual beings, or else as an unactual negation, for which no power at all need be, or indeed can be, presupposed;—not to speak of attempts to put the difficulty of moral evil in man in the background, as by referring it, in an aggravated form too, to the agency of a superhuman spirit. Manichean dualism; monistic indifference, if not malevolence; ontological necessity for evil, in a universe of reality which contains finite, and therefore necessarily imperfect, beings; necessity for evil in a universe formed out of intractable Matter; and the unreal negative nature of evil,—these are speculations which either destroy moral faith in the Supreme Power, or else destroy the absolute and eternal difference between what must be or is and what ought to be. They leave us in a universe which at last reveals persistent collision between two rival Powers of good and evil; or presents the action of One Power that is either indifferent to good or that intends evil; or finally a universe that consists of non-moral things only, to the exclusion both of good and bad persons.
An unwarranted assumption.
The question why God permits moral evil, since its existence must be opposed to perfect moral and providential order, seems to involve an unproved assumption. It tacitly assumes that a necessitated absence of evil must be in itself good, or alone good, so that only impossibility of its ever making its appearance is consistent with the moral ideal of the universe. What ought not to exist, it is supposed, cannot anywhere, or in any degree, coexist with omnipotent goodness. But has this ominous dogma ever been shown to be a necessity in reason? Has it been proved that the difficulty of subsuming the universe under the conception of theistic optimism is as great as that involved in the rival alternative,—namely, atheistic, or at least agnostic, pessimism—with the arrest which atheism logically puts upon all interpretations of experience, including even those on which animal life itself depends, so that suicide is its natural issue? Cosmical trust in experience seems absolutely inconsistent with a radically untrustworthy universe.
Must a divinely constituted universe be a universe only of non-moral things; or may it not also include finite or individual persons, who, as persons, must have absolute power to make themselves bad?
But it many turn out after all that the root-question here is—Whether it is morally necessary that the universe in which the Supreme Power is revealed should be a universe of non-moral things, to the exclusion of individual persons, who, as moral beings, must be able to make themselves immoral? Must not the perfect ideal include the existence of persons—with the consequently implied possibility of their making themselves bad, and keeping themselves bad—which last, it seems, means making themselves gradually worse? Now, a universe of things, in moral correlation with persons, or which exists for the sake of the intercommunication of persons, and for their intellectual and spiritual education, seems to be the sort of universe we human beings find ourselves in, if we may judge by the appearance it presents in this little corner. The moral probation and education of man looks like its chief end—when regarded, I mean, at the highest human point of view; for I aim far from supposing that it would seem only this, or not much more than this, at a higher point of view, or that if man could become divinely omniscient the whole difficulty might not disappear, in the full light of perfect reason. But, as the case is, man can interpret the universe only under human conditions. This interpretation gives him the humanly related universe—really all that he has to interpret, or to do with—and its final human meaning may be eternally true under the human relations, and enough for the purposes of his spiritual as well as his physical life.
Can “Persons,” free in virtue of their moral personality to resist, as well as to assimilate the divine life, exist in a theistically interpretable inverse?
May it not be then that the perfect ideal, or what ought to exist according to the infinitely true and good “intellectual system of the universe,” includes the possibility of the entrance into existence and the continuance in existence of that which ought not to exist, and which does not exist by an absolute necessity, but only in and through the free will of finite personal agents? As moral beings, finite persons are free to originate voluntary acts that are bad or undivine, as well as acts in harmony with the divine moral order—acts, that is to say, of which they are themselves the creators, or absolutely originating causes—if they must be held morally responsible for the acts coming into existence. Now must the universe in which infinitely perfect Power is revealed be a universe which consists exclusively of naturally necessitated, and therefore impersonal, things? May it not rightly contain supernaturally acting persons, and even find its larger issues in their education and moral trial? Does not a necessitated absence of sin and sorrow mean the necessary non-existence of persons, and the existence of unconscious things only, or at most of things that might be called conscious automatons—but not properly persons? And is this the highest ideal of the universe that man even can form? Is not a world that includes persons better than a wholly non-moral world, from which persons are excluded—on account of the risk of the entrance into existence of what ought not to exist, through the personal power to act in that is implied in their morally responsible agency? If so, may not acts which ought not to exist enter into existence, through the agency of persons, under a perfect or divine ideal of tile Whole? Individual persons, or dependent beings who can create voluntary acts that ought not to be acted, cannot be excluded from existence, if God can admit persons, and sustain persons in existence, consistently with the ideal perfection of goodness. God cannot make actual what involves express contradiction, namely, an individual person who, because under an absolute necessity of willing only what is good, is not a person—if individual personality involves morally responsible freedom. If this impossibility seems to limit omnipotent Power, and to make it finite, the alternative supposition—that the existence of a person, or being who is morally responsible for acts that enter into existence, is not possible in a divinely constituted universe—is not less a limitation of omnipotence. It is a limitation, too, that is imposed only on the ground of the residuum of mystery, or incomplete conception, implied in the idea of individual personality; whilst the obstacle to an agent existing who is at once an individual person, and yet unable to act personally, lies not in its mysteriousness, but in its being a contradiction in terms.
A contradictory ideal, at once including and excluding individual persons, cannot be the Divine or Perfect ideal.
For is not express contradiction presented in the supposition of finite free agents existing without the possibility of all or any of them doing what ought not to be done? If so, the assertion that the infinite perfection of God necessitates the persistent sinlessness of responsible persons living in the divine or perfect universe, would be to assert that irrationality, not reason, is at the root of all. It is no abatement of omnipotence to assert that an express contradiction cannot be realised even by omnipotence. A contradiction in terms is irrational, or indeed meaningless: to say that, if God is perfect, individual persons, exercising responsible freedom, cannot produce volitions which they ought not to have produced, and which are opposed to eternal moral reason or divine will, is not to vindicate divine perfection, but to destroy it. It is to say that if God, or infinitely perfect Power, exists, then only things, not persons, can coexist in the divinely constituted world. The perfection of omnipotence is surely not seen in power to realise contradictions. So we say that God cannot sin; cannot make a thing or a person at once to exist and not to exist; cannot make 2 and 2 equal to 5; cannot make a circle have all the properties of a square while it remains a circle; cannot make the actual past never to have been actual. If we may put faith in the perceptions of the reason in which we share, these are not possible issues of omnipotence, for inability to realise them does not really limit it; the assertion of their possibility has no meaning.
There cannot be an individual person who is not an individual person, because not able to become bad.
In those examples the contradiction or meaninglessness is glaring. There are other contradictions in which the absurdity is not less, but in which it is less obvious. This of the inability of morally responsible individuals to make themselves bad may be one of such. Is not an individual person who should be morally responsible, yet absolutely incapable of an immoral volition, an impossible or contradictory idea. If he is free to act, he must personally be able, as their first or absolutely originating cause, to originate evil acts. To refer his acts to the Divine Will, instead of to the finite person, would transfer moral responsibility for the acts from tile individual to God, and would also reduce the individual from a moral agent to a conscious thing or automaton.
The moral freedom of acts lies in their origin, not in their natural issues.
Further, the essence of man's moral responsibility lies in the origin, not in the physical consequences, of his personal or voluntary acts. The overt consequences external nature of a good or evil act of human will are determined under law of nature—that is to say, by the agency of the Divine Power that is operative in all natural order; but the invisible voluntary determination itself—so far as it is immoral—so far as there is an individual responsibility for its badness—cannot be thus physically determined by God, under the natural or really divine method of procedure. For is it not in the personal centre to which the act of will has to be referred, as its primary or responsible source, not in what follows from the act in nature under natural law, that the secret of moral evil lies? Accordingly it is the origin of the evil volition, not its consequences as a natural antecedent of change in the surrounding world after it has been originated, that must be kept in view. Hence a person whose volitions could not, according to the laws of nature, be followed by the changes, beneficent or the contrary, which he intended, would remain responsible for the deliberate intention, so far as this state of mind was his own absolute creation; but plainly not for any physically impossible consequences, these being divinely determined according to the mechanism of nature, and so withdrawn from the man's personal power or will, and therefore from his personal responsibility, his responsibility for badness being measured by his own power to snake bad. The accountability of a person presupposes this supernatural character in the acts or states for which, as so far intrusted with individual supernatural power, he is accountable: he cannot be the moral or immoral agent in an act for which he is not responsible, on the ground that it has not ultimately originated in himself, but must be referred to its place in that constant course of Nature, which is the effect, not of his imperfectly reasonable will, but of the perfectly rational will of God. Thus the real question about the existence of evil acts of will, and who is responsible for them, turns upon the previous question—Whether the supposed human agent of the evil action is the only power to whom the act is finally referable; or whether acts supposed to be only his are in reality only natural links in the succession of caused causes, all of them orderly effects or manifestations of the supreme universally operative Power? Does “I ought” mean that I can, or only that Nature—i.e., God—can? It is no doubt impossible for fallible men to determine with infallible certainty the exact line which separates overt acts for which an individual person is responsible, and phenomena which should be referred to the divine mechanism of nature—inherited by, or external to, his organism. We cannot know in every case whether the overt action is in this regard the man's own action, for which he alone deserves blame; or how far its occurrence is due to its place in the mechanism of nature, for which he is not responsible. But moral responsibility is conditioned and measured by absolute power to do or not to do that for which there is moral responsibility. A person is morally responsible for his personal volition, and for what changes he knows that his volition must be followed by, according to the ordinary evolutional metamorphosis or course of nature.
Persons as related to natural or provisional causality.
Personal origination of acts, in freedom from the Power that operates in the natural uniformities, I assume to be the fundamental postulate of personal responsibility. So that a wholly physical and biological science of man, which concerns itself only with the natural uniformities of which the human organism is the theatre, ignores what is supernatural in man—that by which he is distinguished as a rational spirit, and which makes him the faint image or symbol of the infinitely perfect Power that constantly supports and operates in the physical universe. The course of natural causes is found in correlation with a supernatural and more comprehensive order in man, with which the exclusive biologist takes no concern. So far as an individual person is properly a person—so far, that is, as there are events for which he alone is morally responsible—he is extricated from the mechanism of natural causation—this because he is included in that higher economy to which the natural mechanism may be in harmonious subordination, and for the sake of which it appears to be directed in its progressive evolution, at least as seen at our human point of view.
Individual moral personality implies that individual persons may make themselves bad.
Another agency than the human may operate through our intellectual a and emotional consciousness; but the power to originate volitions for which he is responsible must be the person's own who is responsible for them: he cannot be only their natural cause, nor can they be only naturally caused, which is in the end to be divinely caused: they must originate in the individual. An agent cannot be a personally responsible agent without this individual power. One may, with the atheist, or under an ideal of universal natural necessity like Spinoza's, suppose a wholly non-moral universe, in which all is mere nature, although it may by a fiction be called divine; and this ideal universe may with its sins and sorrows. But such a universe is freed from the risk of wicked persons on moral trial only on condition that it is empty of good persons on moral trial. To relieve the world of all risk of anything existing in it which ought not to exist, supposed persons on moral trial must be reduced to non-moral things. Morally accountable individual agents must be excluded from the universe. To argue that the ideal of the universe cannot be perfect, and that its final Principle or Supreme Power cannot be ever-active and infinitely perfect moral Reason, if moral evil, with naturally consequent suffering, is found in any part of it, implies, does it not, that God cannot be God if we find in existence a world of personally responsible agents on personal trial? A circle that is destitute of all the essential properties of a circle could as well be supposed to exist as a finite person on moral trial who is wanting in the one essential mark of a finite person on moral trial.
The real question is Whether the existence of individual persons is consistent with optimism?
The real question thus seems to be, not whether Sin and sorrow can enter under the perfect ideal, but the previous question—Whether the existence of individual persons is consistent with the perfect or optimist conception of existence? Can dependent beings such as men rightly exist, who can put and keep themselves below their ideal; and if some of them do so, why do they not either rise into their true ideal, or else have their self-conscious personality at once withdrawn from the universe, so that sin may at least not be a permanent element in existence? “Offences must needs come”—if persons exist; but the “woe” is to the persons by whom they come. Indeed, the existence of finite or individual persons seems to involve the risk of evil as long as they are found in the world. It does not appear that omnipotence can exclude what ought not to exist, as long as there are beings whose essential characteristic is, that they are able to bring evil into existence; and who cannot want this power of resisting the divine order, and of excluding themselves from union with God in the divine life, without losing their moral personality and being only things.
Is a universe which contains persons—who, being persons, must be free to make themselves bad—necessarily an untrustworthy and hopeless universe?
Is the human understanding able to demonstrate that a world empty of persons is a more divine world, or the outcome of a higher ideal, than a world consisting exclusively of things—unconscious things—and it might be also conscious thing or automatons, but without proper moral personality? Would it enhance the perfection of the self-revelation of God in Nature that nothing supernatural should, in the form of good and evil human agency, appear in the course of nature; or that evil should be excluded, by also making goodness in the form of morally tried personal life impossible? Is it only on such terms as these that man can consent to regard the universe as the revelation of finally trustworthy Power, and its ideal as perfect? Are we obliged to say, that the presence of more or less moral evil, even under this condition, is necessarily inconsistent with an optimist conception of the Whole, and therefore with the proper divinity of the supreme Power. A divinely necessitated moral goodness in individual persons, but one which destroys responsibility, and therefore personality itself, is in necessary contradiction with personality. A finite “person” must have been intrusted with power to resist the divine will—that all persons in the universe should be always good, or should become good, if they have made themselves bad.
The optimism of Leibniz.
“Evil,” according to a special form of optimist conception that was elaborated by Leibniz,—evil belongs not to the actualities of the universe, which are all determined by the divine Will, but to eternally necessary abstract ideals, to each of which correspondingly different actual universes must conform, these ideals being independent of all Will, even the divine or omnipotent Will—like the abstract mathematical necessities which God cannot reverse, because they are of the essence of reason. The ideals are eternally necessary, and cannot without inconsistency be made different. And if evil is thus necessarily involved in the best possible ideal according to which God could make a world, then either no world at all can make its appearance, or it must be one in which wicked persons and suffering animals may be found. The world as we have it is still good, notwithstanding the seeming monsters that make their appearance in it. For their so-called crimes are the necessary means of more than equivalent good. Thus the tyrant Tarquin is figured by Leibniz in a variety of positions other than those in which he must be in this universe—good and happy in each of these—but in each case in a universe that is, in consequence of his goodness, necessarily inferior to the actual universe, in which the Tarquin of history spread disorder and misery around him.
“A good Tarquin would have necessitated a worse universe than that in which the wicked Tarquin appears.”
Had Jupiter, the goddess of Wisdom is made to explain,—had Jupiter made Sextus Tarquin happy at Corinth, or a good and prosperous king in Thrace, instead of a cruel and licentious tyrant at Rome, the world in which he was found could no longer be this world, and must have been less good on the whole than the one in which Sextus actually appeared. So that Jupiter could not but choose this universe, even with its tyrant Sextus; because its ideal surpasses in perfection the ideals of all other possible universes, and forms the apex of the ideal pyramid. Otherwise, Minerva goes on to say, Jupiter would have renounced his wisdom, and preferred the worse. “You see, then,” she continues, “that my father has not made Sextus wicked: he was so from all eternity—in the best of eternally necessary ideals. Jupiter has done nothing but award him actual existence, which supreme wisdom could not refuse to that ideal universe in which this so-called criminal is necessarily contained; Jupiter has only made him actual, instead of ideal; under the perfect ideal from which an “evil” Tarquin is not excluded, because his exclusion would make it an impossible ideal. So the crimes of Sextus are even already seen to be the source of great issues. They made Rome free, and then Rome became a great ideal empire, with illustrious examples of manliness; though even these are as nothing to the final issues of that eternal ideal in which the wicked Sextus and a glorious Roman Empire are found, as realised in admiring thought, when, after a happy passage from this mortal state to a better, the gods shall have made us able to conceive the Whole.
The argument of Leibniz.
An objection to the theistic meaning of the world which underlies this allegory of Leibniz might be suggested. Is it not the case that a Power which sustains a world that contains evil, when either the evil might have been left out or the making of the world might have been omitted, does not do what is good? God makes a world in which there is evil, which either could have been made without evil in it, or which need not have been made at all. The inference seems to be that the Power to which this mixed world is to be referred has not done what ought to be done, and so this world cannot be the revelation of omnipotent goodness. Leibniz replies that no doubt there is seeming evil in the world in which man finds himself, and also that it was possible to evolve a universe without this evil in it, or else not to have a universe in actual existence at all, for its actual existence depends on the free will of God. Put he rejects the assumption that a universe in which there is the evil we find may not be the best; since, for all man can tell, the best may be not that in which there is no such evil; for it may turn out that the evil is the natural and needed parent of the good. An imperfection in the part may be needed for the perfection of the Whole. A general will prefer a great victory with a wound to loss of the battle without the wound. Sin may introduce into the universe something nobler than what could have been brought into existence but for sin. In that case, Leibniz argues, a world with sin in it would be better than a world without sin. But Leibniz fails to show how the supposed perfect eternal ideals make the evils which are found in the world inevitable, or how a world in which nothing could come into existence that ought not to exist might not be the perfect world.
The insufficiency of his optimism.
This form of theistic optimism seems to make moral evil not something which there is an unconditional obligation to condemn, but rather what may, for its own sake, be admitted as good by the Supreme Power, on account of its consequences. It also seems to imply an inadequate conception of the power of persons, in virtue of their individual moral responsibility for their own acts, to bring into existence what ought not to exist, and what is therefore not brought into existence by a divine necessity. If moral personality is originative—to the extent of the spiritual acts and states for which a person is morally accountable, then—as I have been arguing—the question resolves into the consistency of the existence of persons, able themselves to make themselves bad, with infinite perfection in the Supreme power. May beings exist, under the perfect intellectual system of the universe, who are able to resist the divine will—that all persons should be morally good, and so realise the ideal of rightness or duty.
It seems to make moral evil absolutely good.
That the glories of Rome should make the crimes of Sextus only relatively crimes, but absolutely and finally good, by a necessity which omnipotence is unable to Overcome, is surely an unsatisfying idea. It seems to relieve the difficulty by explaining away moral evil, or rather by transforming it, at a higher point of view, into good; so that the worst crimes are only relatively evil, but really what ought to come into existence. It seems to imply that Sextus could not help being bad, because what we regard as a bad Sextus was really a good Sextus, when he is looked at in all his relations, or as a part of the universe. He is what he is by an intellectual necessity of existence, not by a personal act of his own that is absolutely independent of ideal necessities, and that might, but for himself alone, have been other than what it actually was. This is to make Sextus unfortunate, not blameworthy. For moral evil is the entrance into existence of what ought not to exist, and for which there was no absolute necessity, only a free individual volition. His sin is the singular effect of the person in whose voluntary act it is created. Is the existence of individual persons on moral trial, who therefore can make themselves bad, necessarily inconsistent with omnipotence, or necessarily inconsistent with perfect goodness? Can the universe not be finally divine, even if it contains individual beings who are able to make and keep themselves undivine, notwithstanding God's will and endeavour that they should be good?
The intellectual possibility that the optimist conception, which is the alternative to that of life in a finally untrustworthy universe, may be, notwithstanding its remainder of mystery, sufficient reason for moral and religious faith.
But, after all, this moral trial of individual persons without their own leave, their weakness and ignorance, and the associated miseries of men and other sentient beings presented on this earth, forms a strange and unexpected feature of the revelation of morally trustworthy Power presented in the universe. The persistency and extent of the lurid phenomena within human experience are still insufficiently explained, by the reference of acts of will that ought not to be acted solely to the originative agency of individual persons. Under this condition, one might have expected to find some persons resisting, others perfectly conforming themselves to, the moral ideal of reason and assimilating the divine life. The contrary fact, and the morally downward tendency found in men, suggests that there is a remainder of mystery in personality which we are not able to remove; perhaps that the persons on this planet began to exist personally before their birth into this life; or perhaps that no individual person is wholly individual. But incomplete knowledge, as distinguished from absolute self-contradiction, always leaves room for the optimist conception that is presupposed in a finally trustworthy and hopeful, or divine, world. Pessimist universal scepticism—which is literally suicidal—for final extinction of conscious life would be the escape out of an experience that may in the end deceive us all, even issuing in an outcome of universal woe—this pessimist scepticism can be imposed, not by incomplete knowledge, with its remainder of mystery, but only by a complete perception that the existing universe must be absolutely contradictory to a final idea of perfect goodness. When the necessary alternatives are theistic optimism, and atheistic pessimism, I fail to find in reason this necessity for the suicidal alternative; and I do find the opposite alternative supported by what is highest in the constitution of man, or by man at his best. This is not demonstration, as in pure mathematics. But is it not enough to satisfy him who sincerely seeks to become what he ought to be?