A universally skeptical Pessimism the logical alternative to theistic optimism.
THE reductio ad absurdumimplied in a finally untrustworthy universe, which makes inevitable the pessimist and universally sceptical conception, is the philosophical vindication of the theistic or optimist interpretation of the world. The optimist alternative is demonstrable, so far as universal nescience and despair admits of refutation by the impossibility of interpreting experience, or even sustaining life, without final moral faith, consciously or unconsciously in operation. This refutation should be sufficient, unless it can be demonstrated that the mixture of evil—intellectual, physical, and moral—with what is good, or conformable to moral reason, is absolutely contradictory to the idea of morally perfect Power being at the root of all. But this demonstration would be literally suicidal. If the evil found in the universe is not somehow consistent with the perfect goodness of its supreme Power, and so with a deep or ultimate optimism, the universe of so-called reality must either be wholly meaningless, or else charged with an evil meaning: trust and hope must be withdrawn from it, in all the phases of our intercourse with ourselves and our surroundings: a human life, in the darkness of this discovery, would not be worth living. The ideal for the individual man, if until may then be supposed to have any ideal, would be, to get out of personal and sentient life as soon as he could—on the supposition that it would be possible ever to get out of it, after a person is once in it;—to get out of it;—to get out of it, either in the vulgar way of suicide, or in the philosophical way of a sort of Nirvana, by absorption in the universal meaninglessness.
Moral evil cannot be an impossibility, if the world may reasonably contain individual persons on moral trial.
When. I speak of the opposite conception to all this as an optimist conception, you must understand what I mean by optimism. For it is not an optimism which means that the universe contains nothing that ought not to exist in it; it is an optimism which refers the real evil that does appear—while it ought not, and need not—to the will of individual persons who enter into nature and make themselves bad. The rise of evil is thus contingent upon the universe being a universe of persons, not of things only and a universe, too, which, at least at our human point of view, seems to be gradually evolved, as a school for the education and moral trial of responsible persons. This gives rise to spiritual relations between persons, human and divine, as well as physical relations among things; and it obliges us to look at natural causes, and the divine system of natural causation, in a higher light than physical science does. It implies especially that persons, being persons, may make themselves bad, and thus become a new and modifying element in the unbroken physical uniformity in which God is otherwise revealed. If the theistic, or morally perfect, ideal of the Universe includes individual persons, and moral relations between persons—superior to things and their, relations, presented in the sense symbolism of physical causes,—then the entrance of what ought not to exist is an inevitable contingency. Absolute exclusion of the possibility of evil ever making its appearance, in the form of immoral resistance to the divine will—this resistance leading to suppression of divine life in the resisting; persons—would then involve a contradiction to the idea of moral personality, educational probation, and trial. Its forcible removal, too, by the Supreme Power, as long as persons continue to exist, able to resist the divine will, would also seem to involve a contradiction to the idea of individual personality. A world of persons, such as we find, must, as personal, be capable of being made bad in the persons o f whom it consists. The entrance into their lives of volitions which ought not to have been willed is not “permission” of what might have been prevented—by the Supreme Power keeping all persons perfectly good: to keep persons perfectly good, by an absolute or irresistible necessity, would be to transform a spiritual world of persons into a wholly physical or non-moral world of things, of which neither moral worth nor moral evil could be affirmed.
Non-moral things must be treated and used as real, although they are only impotent natural signs.
Self-conscious persons, it may appear front this, are more emphatically real, and more independent individually, than material things are, if things are in themselves impotent. But the actual existence, whether of things or of individual persons,—that is to say, the existence of either of these two presupposed existences in the original threefold articulation of realities,—may only mean that neither things nor persons are actually states or phenomena of God, the third presupposed reality. Visible material things must be somehow other than only conscious states of persons. For outward things must at least have outward reality enough to be available media of intercommunication between separate conscious persons: they afford an interpretable system of signs, charged with the meanings of which natural science is the objective interpretation: they must be able to convey the meaning of one mind, more or less adequately, into another mind that otherwise could not got possession of it, at least under human conditions of experience;—we practically find at least this amount and kind of objective reality in visible things. And this sort of reality seems not inconsistent with material things having their potential existence in God, when they are not actualized in the sensations and intelligence of living beings; in whom, and for whose uses, they present themselves in actual and orderly existence—whatever other ends they may serve in the divine system.
The only known power, outside the Divine Power which pervades Nature, is the power attributed by moral reason to individual persons—to resist their divine ideal
But although material things are, in an imperfectly comprehended way, more and other than exclusively private phenomena of individual consciousness, we have no reason for supposing that things, like persons, are authors of acts, which would imply that they can originate them so far—like persons—as it were outside the divine power. For we practically distinguish things from our personal consciousness, and also from God, the sustaining power in things and persons; we likewise distinguish ourselves from things, in virtue of our being endowed by God with moral personality, which, as far as our responsible activity extends, enables each man to resist tile divine will. And this autonomy of persons is not necessarily inconsistent with the causal concatenation of physical nature, of which indeed each person needs to avail himself in all overt action, as distinguished from wholly private determinations of his will. Individual persons seem to be the only originative powers in existence that are revealed to man, over and above the universal and constantly operative power of God. Why should this resisting power of persons, in virtue of which they may refuse to assimilate with the divine ideal, necessarily contradict the finally optimist conception of the universe? This would seem to imply that a person—a creator of evil acts—could not exist in a divinely maintained and ordered world, and therefore that God could be revealed only in and through unconscious things, or at most through conscious automatons, neither good nor bad morally.
But what if all individual persons were to maintain themselves in permanent resistance to their divine ideal?
But one may still ask how a universe that contains within it this possibly disturbing element of individual personal agency can be kept by God in harmony with the perfect or divine ideal? If a universe which includes resistance of persons to what ought to be—their individual power to make and keep themselves in states of mind and will in which they ought not to exist—if a universe so constituted is of a sort that it is within the power of God to manifest Himself in, is it not a universe that may finally be converted into moral chaos by the individual persons in it, even while it might continue to be a physical cosmos—so that progressive improvement in the persons who compose its successive generations would be impossible? More than this, may not individual persons, with their implied power of initiating evil, gradually make the world of persons a world in which all individual persons are wholly and finally bad? May not the existence in the universe of persons undergoing educative and moral trial lead thus to universal and unending moral disorder; so that theistic faith would be virtually extinguished by that very supernaturalness or moral personality in man on which I have argued that it partly rests? The existence of persons who, as persons under moral relations, must all be free to become permanently bad; who cannot by any power, divine or other, be hindered front becoming bad, without being reduced to irresponsible things, seems to imply the possibility at last of a universe in which all persons have become irrecoverably bad. What then becomes of the theistic or optimist conception? Theistic faith would then turn out to be a fallacious guarantee for the moral cosmos which this faith seems necessarily to presuppose in the final outcome. So far as it consists of persons, tine universe would then have become a universe of devils—surely not a possible manifestation this of the perfect Power presupposed in our moral or filial theistic instinct, as the needed support and reconciliation of human life.
Why is there any universe of reality or any temporal process?
It is here that the very existence of Persons, whose personality enables them to make and keep themselves bad, is the chief enigma, and the evidence of the limitation at least of our final conception of the universe. To resolve this enigma fully We should need to know why the finally trusted universe of things and persons now exists, has existed, and will continue to exist—if, indeed, even this way of putting the problem, in terms of changing existence in time, does not take in what may have to disappear at time central point of view, as distinguished from our one-sided human conception. The reason for the actual existence of God, and of the universe of things and persons in which He is revealing Himself, is the insoluble problem; and without solving it we cannot be sure that our knowledge is complete enough to show that even a moral world composed of persons who have made themselves permanently wicked would be necessarily inconsistent with the perfect ideal. We must first get possession of that ideal. This is not needed for human Purposes;—if each man finds that he may maintain the filial trust that all will be absolutely well with those who withdraw personal resistance to the perfectly good Will, and permit the divine ideal of Man to be gradually realised in themselves.
Experience suggests that the history of persons on this planet may be the history of a progressive struggle towards the ideal of Man.
An experience of persons that like man's is limited to the human beings found on this planet—ill ignorance of innumerable other orders of persons that may exist elsewhere—persons Connected, it may be, ill un-know relations to men, all persons ill the universe being perhaps morally related to all others, as all things are physically related in the physical system,—this infinitesimally limited human experience of persons, combined with the final theistic faith in the righteousness and love of the Universal Power, form our available resources for determining what the absolute meaning of the Whole may be;—or rather of the Whole so far as man is personally related to it. Now, when we contemplate the history of moral and sentient beings on this little world of ours, do we find that the persons who appear and then disappear, in their successive generations, are becoming better or becoming worse, according to our highest ideal of what ought to be? and do we fund that their environment—what is called their civilization—is in progress towards what is better, or in regress towards What is worse? Does it suggest gradual approximation, in individuals and in their social state, to what is ideally good, or is the movement all in the opposite direction? Is it a struggle of the evil with the good—involving enormous waste, at least as it superficially appears—waste of sentient lives, and much torture of their sensibilities,—but withal a residuum of gradually victorious endeavour? struggle with evil, more or less successful, yet somehow on the way to infinitely good and righteous issues, may be the form Which the optimist or theistic conception of life is found to assume, when we accept the guidance of history and experience.
But apparent progressive improvement, in an originally imperfect world, does not of itself fully explain the present mixture of evil.
But this progressive abatement of the evil that is now mixed with the good, in individual lives and in the Social economy, is by itself inadequate to reconcile the suspicious phenomena which suggest sceptical pessimism with a perfect filial trust in the optimist interpretation of the world. In the first place, it does not explain how, under the divine or perfect Ideal, there can be need for improvement, or why man should require to be raised to his ideal, instead of always, and in all instances, illustrating it. Progress presupposes previous imperfection or evil; in all development the antecedent state is inferior to the consequent state. The present imperfection, which calls for the progressive correction, has to be explained. Why is the race of man ever found in a state and with surroundings which require progressive improvement? More than this, if a person's departure from the divine ideal of humanity is in any degree the act of the person—if lie is found willing what he ought not to will, and what lie might have willed differently—this means more than the physical imperfection which may be improved by physical progress or evolution: it necessarily goes deeper than this: it implies not merely a relative imperfection, which may disappear in the course of physical evolution, but what is absolutely evil. It involves the absolute evil that is implied in personal blameworthiness for its coming into existence, and which is not removed in an improvement of the social surroundings, or by expanding personal intelligence. The blended greatness and littleness of man, on which Pascal enlarges, is not fully recognised under the idea of a gradual elimination of what is relatively imperfect, in and through a progressive natural evolution.
Empirically generalized progress is unfit to sustain absolute faith in the Power that is so revealed.
Notwithstanding these difficulties, faith in time gradual abatement of evils, under the method of progressive evolution, in the course of which they are supposed to be gradually disappearing, is now the favourite scientific faith: this faith may even be regarded as the form which an unconsciously theistic trust in the final principle of the universe is assuming in professedly agnostic minds. For it is of the nature of Moral or theistic trust, although it is scientifically illustrated only by a narrow and brief experience of facts—those presented by things and by persons in this small world, viewed in the light of their past history. It is an expression of confidence that, because the phenomena here presented seem to illustrate a natural history of progressive improvement, so far as the evolution leas yet gone, they may be expected to persist in being progressive during an indefinite future. That the progressive evolution is to be endless, or, if not endless, that it is some day to reach perfection and then to persist in an unending perfection—the successive generations of men thereafter all fully realising their true ideal—this of course cannot be presented fact: it must be an act of faith. On the contrary, we are told by some expositors of the empirical evolutionist conception to anticipate later on regress instead of permanent perfection—even a final disintegration of all the products of the present progressive movement in mankind—issuing at last in the disintegration of the planet itself, and the consequent disappearance of all living actors in the meaningless drama of so-called progress that was once acted oil the earth, but of which, with the final extinction of the human actors and of the planet itself, all conceivable record or result is for ever lost. The universe has then become what it would have been if man and the other living beings on earth, with the earth itself, had never been the subject of the supposed natural processes of construction and disintegration.
Inconsistency of a non-theistic faith in progress.
But many in the now living generation, who profess to reject theism, seem notwithstanding to find a theistic satisfaction in an attenuated because empirical faith in physical progress: they meet the final difficulties speculative thought by iteration of the words “Progress,” “development,” “evolution”—which strictly speaking only suggest the mode in which the universe, regarded as physically constituted, seems in the meantime to be behaving itself;—also in which it has been behaving itself, as far back as men can see into the past; and in which it is expected to behave through an indefinite future, and this notwithstanding the professed agnostic withdrawal of all theistic or moral faith in its trustworthiness. The justification of this expectant trust is supposed to consist in “verifications,” offered by physical phenomena, that have been emptied of moral reason under the empirical evolutionist conception, and which may therefore be the sport of a malignant, or an indifferent, or a blind irrational Power. Frothing deeper is recognised by those who accept this attenuated semi-theistic confidence in the improving tendency of evolving nature, and who indulge in it seemingly unconscious that even this reliance, so far as it goes, contradicts their own agnostic renunciation of final moral faith.
The sort of religion which trusts or worships the Universe, as progressive, after it has finally withdrawn from it all moral or theistic trust.
The conception of the world as at present naturally in progress towards a physical millennium, is a form of relief from the enigma of the bad found mixed with the good, in a universe still treated as so far interpretable and therefore trustworthy. It has been called “meliorism.” Inadequate as a morally theistic faith in the temporal process of the universe, or as an explanation of its evils, the idea of gradual, even if often interrupted, individual and social amelioration is nevertheless full of human interest, and is illustrated by a large collection of facts. Indulgence in the idea belongs to goodness and nobility of character. It gives life to generous hope, and helps to correct the selfish type of individualism, by educating that larger sort of individualism, which finds the true idea of the individual in his unselfish relation to other individual persons, as well as to the Universal Power or Person. If those now living are not themselves actually to see the issue, there is still a consolatory faith in the millennial comfort and satisfaction of later generations of men and other animals. And all this because a present tendency towards a higher ideal seems visible, and this tendency is trusted in, like any other natural law, even when the trust is not recognised by those who indulge in it as ultimately moral and absolute. Present ills, it seems, may well be endured by this generation, as greater ills were endured by past ones, on account of the potential promise of ideal good in store for our successors;—this partly because we find the now existing members of the human species so far sharing in the advancement, and also because the idea gives us the happiness of thinking that we are contributing towards its fuller attainment by our successors. Social activities thus sustained seem to shed some light in the darkness, and bring hope and joy to a generation somehow unusually perplexed by pessimist despair, in the decay of conscious theistic faith. But even this imperfect form of moral trust in the power at the heart of the universe may be more sincere and productive of good, in some who profess their agnostic inability, than in the merely conventional theism into which modern agnosticism has introduced a much-needed disturbance.
The New and the Old, as ideals.
Organic growth or progress is, at any rate, a physically scientific watchword in the nineteenth century. It is the expression of a prevailing conception into which we are educated, partly by the recent increase of man's power to adapt natural causes to human purposes, thus obviously rendering this planet of ours more fit to be lived in conveniently, because in organisms brought more into harmony with their surroundings. It has not been always consciously so among men; nor is it so now in all minds. The ideal of progress lies in the future: but some men and some whole generations have found their ideal in the past, or in the future only so far as it is hoped to be revival of the past. There are always to be found minds, as Bacon remarks, given to extreme admiration of antiquity; others to extreme love and appetite for novelty. Few are so happily tempered that they can hold the mean, neither rejecting what has been well laid down by the ancients, nor despising what is well introduced by the moderns. These affectations of antiquity only and of novelty only, Bacon regards as the humours of partisans rather than the sane judgments of mankind; and lie seeks for his ideal, not in the state of any one age, past or future, which is unstable, but in the light of reasoned experience, which is eternal.
A really progressive activity unites past experience with ideal anticipation.
The divine method of progressive evolution which facts illustrate seems to involve a composition of the two opposite tendencies. A supposed progress that seeks wholly to sever itself from the past illustrates, in the consequent regress, the irrationality of the procedure. But the ideal that is found wholly in the past, and that induces desire only to preserve what lots been, arrests change; yet change is essential to life. True progress, based on the Reason that is latent at, once in the mind of man and in the surrounding universe, cannot lose continuity with the reason that has in a measure become patent in the history of man. In all advance, what is new seems to arise out of what is old, in the way of metamorphosis, instead of absolute isolation from and rejection of all that is old. As Bacon says of progress in science, some of those who have handled knowledge have been men who take pleasure only in trying experiments empirically, while others would make inherited dogmas supersede new trials. The former are like the ant; they only collect without constructing. The others are like the spider; they only make cobwebs out of their present possessions. The bee takes the middle course, which is the right one: it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and the field, but it transforms and digests them by a power of its own. The rational dualism, which unites the past and the future in a moral faith and hope that is educated and balanced by what has been, seems to be involved in the real advancement, whether in knowledge or otherwise, of a being like man, intermediate between tile animal and Deity, between sense and omniscience; and whose progress must be from the former towards the latter of these extremes, gradually making patent in his own consciousness the Divine Reason of which the changing universe is the revelation.
Progress through Regress, and through Persons.
Faith in progressive evolution, as the divine law, must be modified by the consideration that the Past presents to view persons whose intellectual or whose spiritual development is in advance of all living examples. Who, ill the succeeding generations, has surpassed Aristotle in comprehensive intelligence? Socrates and the Hebrew prophets were followed by ayes of comparative moral and spiritual darkness. Saints and martyrs have shown a self-sacrifice that is foreign to the experience and sympathies of more selfish and faithless successors. Things and persons are commingled in the temporal process, so that the onward current seems often disturbed and deflected from its course. The originative action of persons seems to interfere, for unexpected good or evil, with a physical order which faith expects to find continuously progressive. But these seeming anomalies are not demonstrably at variance with the deeper presupposition of theistic faith in the universal system, according to which the temporal procedure is an incompletely comprehensible development of the Divine Idea. The progress of mankind, as I think Wordsworth somewhere suggests, is not like a Roman road which goes straight to its goal; it is rather like a winding river, frequently forced to turn backward, in order to overcome obstacles which cannot be directly eluded, but moving—in consequence of the deflection—with additional forward impulse.
Pain and Progress, as means and end.
Physical evils and intellectual evils—pain as well as ignorance and error—may be thus means of advancement towards the imperfectly comprehensible end to which the universe is moving. It is commonplace to suggest that dissatisfaction or pane is at the root of progressive improvement in individual persons and in society. Suffering and sympathy with suffering is an indispensable condition of personal education in goodness. Man's intellectuality and spirituality is brought out of the latent state into the conscious state, by the discomfort of its being only latent or unconscious. The discomfort of the state of ignorance and error is a motive to the discovery that relieves it. That we are in these respects still out of harmony with our divine ideal makes us unsatisfied: this dissatisfaction evokes the reason innate in us, which is truly divine reason. The educating influence of these uneasinesses may be resisted or perverted, if the person wills to persist in a state in which he ought not to continue. But the divine influence of pain is in innumerable ways on the side of what ought to be—of what indeed might be but for the perverse will of the person who resists that educating pressure of nature which is really the expression of divine power in the form of natural discipline.
Intellectual progress as illustrated in the history of philosophical thought.
We have an illustration of intellectual progress through apparent retrogression, according to the analogy of the “winding river,” in the past history of philosophical speculation. Systems seem to the superficial student of history to succeed one another in au aimless series, without permanent advance. One may fail to discern in their succession the often interrupted and slow education of human intelligence, and the natural adaptation of each system to the age in which it was evolved, as the divine condition of the ultimate advance. Yet surely through the intellectual sects and systems of the past an unceasing, even if an unconscious, “purpose” has been running, so that the thoughts of men have gradually “widened with the process of the suns.” The history of human intelligence appears as a history of progressive development, often interrupted or regressive, the issue of a composition of forces, each inadequate, and therefore while it is in vogue still a source of intellectual dissatisfaction, but then, in the form of pain, an impulse towards wider and deeper conceptions—in this a type of personal and social progress in all its phases.
The mean between extremes, and composition of intellectual forces.
Has not the confused and seemingly even self-contradictory, philosophic past been a continuous struggle, in which, on the one hand, various forms of idealistic construction, wherein the secret of the universe is supposed to be evolved out of a single axiomatic principle, are found arrayed against the different phases of sceptical pessimism and indifferentism, with a consequent despair of moral reason being finally latent in the universal movement? And may not the gradual outcome of the evolutionary struggle—purely rational idealisms opposed and slowly corrected by the sceptical criticism—be nearer approach to the philosophy which acknowledges, as its constructive principle, with increasing intelligence, the moral or theistic faith, that is intermediate between the mental paralysis of Nescience, and the Divine Thought which in its infinity evades the philosophic grasp of man? The natural impossibility of permanently subsiding into the doubt which abandons the universe as uninterpretable, either as a whole or in any of its parts, together with the repeated failure of ambitious human attempts to comprehend existence as the changing states of a single Power, lead the philosopher into the intermediate path of Theistic Philosophy, as the only one open to man;—on which, nevertheless, his intellectual activity needs to be quickened from time to time, by the attempts and failures of exclusive Idealism and exclusive Empiricism. With this irrefutable faith in the reasonableness of the Whole, he lives assured that facts and events, however mysterious, can never put either causal or moral intelligence to permanent confusion, and thus make the fundamental faith of reason no longer tenable by man. To follow this path—intermediate between Nescience and Omniscience—is to acknowledge men as more than animals, yet less than identical with God—through their sense organisms part of Nature, while in their spiritual experience they may in different degrees participate in the divine life. A philosophy which looks only to man's visible organic connection with nature is logically atheistic, which means universally agnostic. And is not the philosopher who supposes that he fully comprehends the infinite macrocosm in and through his own finite microcosm—in a perfect identity with the “fulness of God”—logically acosmic, in a pantheism that is logically atheistic? What is man, Pascal asks—in the spirit of the human philosophy that accepts the intermediate as the true—what is man amidst the immeasurable realities which encompass him? At one point of view he seems to lose himself in the Infinite; at another, he seems to lose himself in the abyss of Nothing. Yet he is beyond the Nothing out of which he seems to sense to take his rise, and he is found short of the Infinity in which he seems, in his own necessarily incomplete thought, to be swallowed up. The intermediate is stamped upon all our faculties and all our experience. We are alike unable to know all and to remain ignorant of all. Yet, in another view of the case, unless we know all we cannot know anything, since each finite thing and each individual person is connected with every other, and is fully explained only when seen in rational correlation with every other. In the only permanent and humanly progressive philosophy many things must in the end be “left abrupt.”
Is not theistic faith, so far as it is strong and intelligent, the fundamental factor in progressive improvement of man?
That the progressive improvement of man involves a gradual extinction of the religious conception of the universe, and that the final victory of the gradual evolution will consist in the disappearance of this conception, is the incoherent philosophy which Auguste Comte has helped to diffuse in Europe and America in the passing generation. Religion, in the forth of superstition, is assumed to be an anachronism, which the human race, in civilised countries, has now nearly ontgrown, so that everywhere it is found in a slow decay; maintaining a languid life among persons of imperfect intellectual insight, but so inconsistent even with the present stage of social advancement that, at least in prosperous countries, it exists only as a comparatively harmless superstition, no loner a real and always persecuting power in human affairs. For it seems that we have arrived in the social evolution at a stage in which the educated mind distinctly sees that the universe, including man, is simply a succession of passing appearances, which can only be interpreted physically, according to their coexisting and successive relations or modes of procedure. Yet is there not, one may ask, an uncriticised and unconscious theistic faith, at the root even of this thin and shallow interpretation of the world?
Comte's three stages of progressive evolution, in which a superstitious theistic faith is said to be gradually superseded by an exclusively physical faith.
Supposed consequences of the application of cosmic faith in the physical meanings of phenomena, are contrasted by Comte with the effects of the crude religious ideas under which ancient superstition ascribed events to the irrational caprice of spirits, signalised all uncommon events as eminently supernatural, and saw in the miseries of man only the cruel anger of the gods. At a later stage in the history of man, Comte seemed to find these childish mythologies giving place to empty abstractions of metaphysical thought: words, void of all positive meaning that could be verified in sense or imagination, were made to do duty instead of the declining mythologies, and to conceal man's necessary ignorance of all beyond the finite phenomena which somehow succeed one another on the stream of time. But the age in which these verbal abstractions ruled the human mind—the so-called metaphysical stage in the social progress, next in succession to the mythological or superstitious—is supposed, in its turn, to make room for strictly scientific interpretation of physical phenomena, the only legitimate intellectual employment of, mankind, and destined to be the universal philosophy, in the further advance of society.
What is the further outcome of this physical faith?
Whether this last is to be the final stage, in which progressive improvement is perfected, is not clearly explained. Perhaps the exclusively physical science stage is expected to last till a process of disintegration begins, when the physically interpreted world itself will resolve into pristine fire-mist. But even before this planetary catastrophe, the pessimist issue of merely physical faith, in what may therefore turn out to be a wholly untrustworthy or even malignant universe, may have relieved the planet of its minute philosophers, by the suicide which would be the practical application of an apotheosis of despair.
Comte presupposes the inconsistency of theistic with physical faith.
So Comte represents abstract metaphysics as in the historical evolution subversive of theology, and the physical sciences as in the end disintegrative of both. In each step of advance in the wholly physical and alone legitimate interpretation of the universe, he sees the retreat of so-called metaphysics, and so-called theology, from the territory thus conquered by science; so that when the scientific victory is universal, the universe it is supposed will be seen to be incapable of being interpreted in the light of eternal necessities of reason and of philosophical theism. Alan must then lose the moral faith by which I have supposed that his interpretation even of physical nature is sustained at last, and in which lie finds his available strength.
Instead of recognizing in divine moral trust the reasonable foundation and culmination of all natural science.
Does not a deeper philosophy than that of Comte proceed, on the contrary, on the principle that the physical interpretation of the universe, instead of excluding the really metaphysical and the really religious, is itself sustained by each of these; that ever advancing discoveries of natural meanings and of natural relations of means and ends, are concrete embodiments of abstract conditions imposed by intelligence; and that these last conduct to the final conception in the faith that the Whole is the expression of perfectly good and wise Power, or morally intending active Reason? An atheistic or agnostic faith in progress is necessarily baseless and incoherent; for, if it really means what it says, it is wanting in the moral assurance that, notwithstanding intervals of seeming regress, things must be working together for good to all those who are struggling to live in conformity with the divine ideal, and in whose persons the world is accordingly becoming more divine. The idea of progress is, tacitly if not explicitly, a teleological conception of things and persons, and those who really accept it must be virtually sustaining themselves, so far, in a moral or theistic trust.