Ultimate articulation of existence τὸ πα̑ν in common belief.
THE, ultimate problem of existence, in the vague form in which it was presented in last lecture, may seem to evade the intellectual grasp. It must be further articulated before it can be even taken hold of, for orderly meditation and investigation. An advance towards this is made when we recognise that the actual reality of which we are part, into which we are all born, and the meaning and purpose of which philosophy and religion are especially concerned with, finally presupposes three existences, as it is presented in the common consciousness of men. Each of these existences men seem to be mentally obliged to recognise, with innumerable differences in their individual conceptions of each, and also of the mutual relations of the three. All the three make their appearance without premeditation and as matter of course, in the very words of Lord Gifford's Deed which define the province of “Natural Theology, in the widest meaning of the term.” For the words lead us to think of it as comprehending “the knowledge of God's nature and attributes;” also knowledge of “the relations which men bear to God;” and “knowledge of the relations which the whole [remaining part] of the universe bears to God.” Here we have “men”—exemplified by each man for himself, in his own invisible self-consciousness; then “the world of visible things, outside each ego;” and lastly “God,” the Infinite Being, the harmony of the whole. The three are supposed to be in some sense distinguishable, in the final analysis of the universal reality—το πα̑ν, which we begin to have to do with, intellectually and otherwise, when we begin to perceive things in sense.
The three postulated existences of common belief differently conceived by different minds.
But although these three existences are commonly postulated, each as real and distinguishable from the other, it is not to be supposed that the terms “existence,” “substance,” and “reality” are applied to each of the three in the same meaning, by all men in all stages of their spiritual development. All men do not think the same meaning when they employ the personal pronoun “I,”—a pronoun often uttered or implied, yet withal so mysterious. Not less do they differ in their final conceptions when they speak of “external matter,” as they find when they proceed to define the words “matter” and “external.” Most of all does difference appear when they try to conceive “God” or Infinite Being. Each of the three ideas is found to be different when it is traced through human minds, now and in the history of mankind; and the changes are connected with the experience persons who employ the words pass through, and their natural and acquired power of interpreting it. Moreover, some one of the three postulated final existences is apt to be conceived as more truly entitled to have existence and substantiality and power affirmed of it than either of the other two. In the view of one man, his own invisible self-conscious personality is so borne in upon him as to usurp the supreme place: the existence of things outside in space and the existence of God are taken as secondary, because reached through states of his own personal consciousness—there being no other consciousness than his own of which he can avail himself. To another the things around him—things that can be seen and handled—form his ideal of reality and substance, compared with which the spiritual ego and God look pale and shadowy and chimerical. Again, in the mind of the “God-intoxicated” Spinoza, or of the religious mystic, the Divine Being seems to exhaust the universe of reality, and to absorb the other two factors. In fact, Lord Gifford's own Deed, in the clause which goes before the words last quoted, appears to claim “real existence” for God alone; for It asserts that God is “the One and the Sole Substance, the Sole Being, the Sole Reality, and the Sole Existence,” implying that if anything else really existed, anything in which God was not the sole substance and power, then there would be two gods, neither of them infinite, and therefore neither of them God.
What “Natural Theology, in the widest meaning of the term,” has to do in regard to the three postulated existences.
Accordingly, Natural Theology, in its concern with the final problem of existence, has to inquire whether, and if so, in what sense, each of the three presupposed existences, or factors of experience, may truly be called real, and what their final relations to one another are. But, as we have seen, the terms of the foundation of this lectureship seem tacitly to attribute to the common sense or common consciousness of man, at least in its modern European stage of development, some sort of recognition by each man of his own individual existence; the existence of a world of finite things and persons outside his own private or personal consciousness; and the existence of the Divine Being, fixed, eternal, and as such more real than either of the two finite and changing realities—namely, one's own ego, and the collective aggregate of things around one, present in space, and commonly called the external world.
Consequences of any one of the three being over-emphasised.
The relations of the individual ego the outward world, and God to one another, form the principal part of the Philosophy of Theism. The present course is arranged throughout with reference to the three postulated existences. This lecture, therefore, may be usefully devoted to some account of them as they are found in the common consciousness; the commonly accepted tests of the reality of each; and the enigmas with which each is charged, which philosophy tries in various ways to resolve, in different monist conceptions of existence—universal materialism, panegoism, and impersonalism or pantheism—that have been proposed, for resolving the three into one; also in polytheism and monotheism—all which have to be thought out critically in the sequel. Anterior to and independent of philosophy, however, a spontaneous faith in self, in external nature, and in God, seems to pervade human experience; mixing, often unconsciously, with the lives of all; never perfectly defined, but in its fundamental ideas always and necessarily incomplete; latent often intellectually, yet never without a threefold influence in human life. We may even say that unbalanced recognition of one of the three over the other two, in thought, feeling, and action, is the chief source of error and moral disorder; and that life is good and happy in proportion to the due practical acknowledgment of all the three. Unintelligent faith in the three postulated existences is at any rate an inexhaustible source of two extremes—superstition and scepticism.
The three presuppositions of existence as articulated by Locke.
Take Locke's account of the philosophical foundation of certainty as to the ego, the material world, and God. It is given expressly in three chapters of the fourth book of his ‘Essay’; but, indeed, the whole ‘Essay’ may be made to converge and rest finally upon what Locke calls “man's threefold knowledge of existence.” I select Locke among the philosophers for this purpose because he gives expression more than most of them to the uncriticised convictions of the common mind, and at a time when natural science and theological ideas were unmodified either by the scientific conception of universal physical evolution, or by the criticism of Kant and the dialectic of Hegel. What I want now to do is to incite to reflection upon Locke's articulation of the ultimate problem of the universe, as a preparation for the consideration of more pretentious philosophical speculations, in which the three supposed realities are resolved into one of the three. Locke expresses the common convictions of his age. This is how he puts the case in the ninth chapter of the fourth book of the ‘Essay’: “Let us proceed now to inquire concerning our knowledge of the existence of things, and how we come by it.” Let us, that is to say, inquire what the realities of existence ultimately resolve themselves into; and also how we come to know each, and that there are so many, neither more nor fewer. He finds elsewhere that “we have the ideas of but three sorts of substances”—“namely, God, finite intelligences, and bodies. First, God is without beginning, eternal, unalterable, and everywhere. Secondly, finite spirits having had each its determinate time and place of beginning to exist, the relation to that time and place will always determine to each of there its identity, as long as it exists. Thirdly, the same will hold good of any particle of matter, to which no addition or subtraction of matter being made, it continues the same. Though these three sorts of substances, as we term them, do not exclude one another out of the same place, yet we cannot conceive but that they must necessarily each of them exclude any of the same kind out of the same place; else there could be no such distinctions of substances [as that of those three sorts], or of anything else, one from another.” This argument seems to imply that all the “three sorts of substances,” or factors of experience, are alike contained in and conditioned by space, which although assumed by many in their uncritical presupposition of the outward world, self, and God, seems to be without warrant in reason. One cannot but regard God as unworthily conceived, when described as an outward being, needing place in space for His reception, even though it is allowed to be a place which does not exclude from it either material things or finite spirits. When “personality” is assumed of God, why should this be supposed to mean that God could not exist, and exist as a person too, unless “space were ready for His reception”? But of this in the sequel.
How, according to Locke, knowledge of the three postulated existences enters human consciousness.
Look next at the question, how men come to think the realities of existence in this threefold fashion. See what Locke has to say about the basis of man's knowledge of each of the three postulated existences. Is the knowledge in each case a conclusion of reasoning, which may be tested by logical conditions of proof; or does it form itself spontaneously without logical proof, in response to a human necessity, and with increasing distinctness of intelligence as civilisation advances? Locke puts our knowledge of the ego, and our knowledge of outward things, in this last category, while he finds knowledge of the existence of God, or Eternal Mind, at last resolving into a conclusion, founded on a demonstration “as evident as any conclusion in mathematics,” and thus virtually self-evident. We have our knowledge of our own existence, he says, “by intuition”; our knowledge of the existence of outward things that exist independently of ourselves, “by sensation,” or sense-perception; and our knowledge of the existence of God “by demonstration.” Consider each of these positions, as preparation for what is to follow in a course of lectures arranged in relation to the three supposed final realities.
How the presupposition of our own existence arises in consciousness.
The most obvious of the three certainties about existence, in Locke's view, is, the assurance one finds he has of his own existence, when he recognises himself to be Somehow more than merely a succession of isolated conscious states—rather as the invisible personal centre to which exclusively a portion of the conscious experience that is in process in the universe must be referred, as being his own private and continuous conscious life. “As for our own existence,” he says, “we perceive it so plainly and so certainly that it neither needs nor is capable of any proof. For nothing can be more evident to me than my own existence: I think, I reason, I feel pleasure and pain; can any of these [successive states of consciousness] be more evident to me than my own existence [in which they are all somehow connected as mine]? If I doubt of all other things, that very doubt makes me perceive my own existence. Experience then convinces us that we have an intuitive knowledge of our own existence, an internal, infallible perception that we are.” This he thinks neither needs nor allows mediate proof.
The enigma of separate personality.
In all this Locke supposes that he is simply giving expression to the uncritical common-sense of the separate human mind. The enigmas that underlie the fact are left to the speculating philosopher to disinter. Many such emerge when we proceed to rake Locke's foundation. For further reflection is provoked to ask,—What is meant by one's own existence as a separate person,—by that something more than a series of isolated conscious states, which is supposed to be distinctively signified by the pronoun “I”? This is the riddle of personality. The personal pronoun, in so far as it means this “something more,” must mean what cannot be presented, either to the senses or in imagination. Must it therefore be discharged from language, as a meaningless word, an empty sound? This is the way the ego has been sometimes treated. David Hume, for example, supposing himself to be under an intellectual obligation to regard all terms as jargon to which no imaginable meaning could be attached, found himself obliged, on this principle, to dispense with the personal pronoun, if it pretends to express this consequently impossible meaning. For, on trying the mental experiment, he found that he could never light upon anything perceptible or imaginable, corresponding to ego, except the isolated and transitory conscious states of successive moments; so he concluded that if any one professed to think that he was something more than the single perception or conscious feeling of the moment, it was “impossible to reason with him.” If any one perceives something simple and continued which he calls “himself,” I am certain, he argues, that there is no such perception of continuous existence in me: the personal pronoun must not be made to mean nothing, as it is thus made to do. But this negative certainty of Hume is confronted by the difficulty that if the personal pronoun really signifies nothing more than an isolated momentary perception, there must be as many persons or egos as there are momentary perceptions; each momentary perception in what is popularly called one's “mind” constituting a separate person, whose life lasts only as long as the indivisible momentary consciousness lasts. It is further confronted by the fact that the mysterious ego inevitably reappears by implication in the words and actions even of the sceptical philosopher, who thus shows that he is obliged in fact to acknowledge as real more than can be presented in sense or pictured in sensuous imagination. As for Locke, he does not, in the words quoted, expressly say whether, when he recognises his own existence, he means to claim for himself only an existence that lasts while each momentary consciousness lasts, or an existence which takes in also all that is given to him in his memory; thus acknowledging that, through memory, the present consciousness becomes somehow continuous with an imperfectly remembered personal history that existed in the past. But the context of the ‘Essay’ shows that the continuity opened up by memory is meant to be included in the meaning of the personal pronoun “I.” For Locke says elsewhere that each person remembers certainly that he has existed for a time, longer or shorter. We each know, too, that we have not existed always: we each know that our individual existence had a beginning somewhere in the past; we have all had our birthdays. And, as we shall see, on this fact is founded Locke's “mathematically certain proof” that God exists.
Other enigmas involved in the idea of our own existence.
Other enigmas involved in the idea of our own existence, that lie more on the surface than the one now suggested, readily occur when one reflects. Thus the origin, evolution, and final destiny of this invisible and continuous ego; the relations of the invisible ego of consciousness to its present visible organism; the necessity or not of its connection with that or any other visible or invisible organised body,—are among the questions suggested by the meaning of the personal pronoun “I” which modern thought presses. Locke, as an exponent of ordinary practical convictions, is satisfied with giving emphatic expression to his consciousness of his own existence, without criticism. Si non rogas, intelligo.
The belief the individual things exist outside the individual person.
He deals more analytically with perception of outward things actually present to the senses—the second of the three postulates. Contact and collision with outward things is found to be the occasion of our awaking to the last mentioned conviction of our personality, continuous in memory. That conviction involves a recognition of something outside and independent of each ego, to which the personal states are found to be related in innumerable ways. For every act even of sensuous perception “gives us,” Locke says, “an equal view of both parts of Nature—the corporeal and the spiritual. Whilst I know, by seeing and hearing, that there is some corporeal being without me, the object of that sensation, I do more certainly know also that there is some spiritual being within me that sees and hears that object.” So he finds that each human ego becomes spontaneously possessed of an “irresistible assurance” of the outside existence of things visible and tangible; things which cannot be appropriated by the ego as conscious states of its own, in the way that the past and present feelings and thoughts, which one can call “his own” feelings and thoughts, are appropriated. But it is important to remark that it is an “outward existence” that is very limited both in space and duration which is supposed by Locke to be thus immediately perceived—that is to say, perceived without the need or possibility of reasoned proof, over and above the spontaneity of the sensuous perception itself, and the certainty which this is taken to involve. The object is limited because the world of “outward things” is found in a constant flux. The ever fluctuating objects are felt to be certainly real—with the perfect certainty that each really is what it is perceived to be—only (Locke assumes) during the brief period in which each particular outward thing, “by actually operating upon our senses” in a manner forces us to perceive that it is then and there existing. Accordingly, when an outward object is withdrawn to a distance from one's organs of sense—separated by space, or by an interval of time, from his senses—Locke supposes that he can have no absolutely certain knowledge of its continued actual existence. Its absent existence, at least in the form it had when presented, can then only be inferred, and that with a variously conditioned probability, according to the circumstances in each case. Thus, when one is actually looking at the sun, he must have perfect assurance that the sun is then really existing: this is the spontaneous certainty of actual perception. But when at night he is only imagining the sun, and then naturally expecting its reappearance in the morning, this expectation is nothing more than a conditional certainty, or probable conviction, of the continued actual existence of the absent sun: the solar system, Locke would say, might conceivably be dissolved, and there is no unconditional guarantee that this may not actually happen.
The enigmas involved in the presupposition of things existing outwardly.
Innumerable enigmas underlie Locke's infallibly certain sensuous perception of what is outward—certain only while actually felt in fluctuating sense. They seem to be scarcely apprehended by him, especially in the forms in which some of them now appear in scientific and religious thought. Take an example. He tells us that we have an “irresistible assurance” of the present corporeal reality of all things that are “actually operating” upon “our senses”—especially the sense of sight, and, above all, touch—as long as they persist in “actually operating” upon our senses. Here a question of deep and far-reaching significance arises, which Locke touches only incidentally. In what meaning of the ambiguous words “power,” “Operation,” and “cause” may things of sense be said to “operate,” either on one another or on me? Have I reason for saying that any atom or mass of matter—my own body, or anything external to it—can be rightly called an agent; although in common and also in scientific language bodies are commonly so spoken of, nay, are sometimes even supposed to be the only agents in the changes which are constantly going on in the world? Locke himself hesitates to include “active power” in the complex idea that men are justified by reason in forming of material substance; although he falls into the popular mode of expression when he speaks of bodies “operating” on our senses. “Material substances,” he suggests, with characteristic caution—in a part of the ‘Essay’ where the “powers of substances” are expressly treated of—“material substances are not so entirely active powers or agents as our hasty thoughts are apt to represent them.” And again, “Whether matter be not wholly destitute of active power…may be worth consideration.” But if that be so, the solid and movable timings by which we are surrounded can be only the natural occasions, not the originative causes, of our perceptions of them. And we must, in that case, look elsewhere than to things visible and tangible themselves, for the active power that directs the changes which the physical and natural sciences are gradually learning to explain. It is only order of procedure or laws of change, not originative causation, that those sciences are concerned with, under this conception. Natural science is in that case only an articulate expression of our faith that in nature the future will so far resemble the past as that we, through the past, may, with practical safety, anticipate the future. But our anticipations are often mistaken, when tested by the issue; and even in those cases in which they are verified by experiment, it is only probable verification of hypothesis, not unconditional knowledge, that one is landed in. The concrete past can never make the concrete future known, in the way abstract premisses make known an abstract conclusion, in a pure mathematical demonstration. We can reach no absolute certainty as to what all the powers in the universe of existence are which may determine a particular change; nor that the possible causes which determine impending change must be what physical science assumes that they are. Accordingly, we can not be said to know absolutely even that the sun will rise to-morrow. An “accident,” as we in our ignorance would call it, may have occurred to the solar system in the interval, so that there may be no “to-morrow” in the ordinary meaning. All physical “science” of outward things is thus sustained in an undemonstrable faith.
The duality of the finite universe.
Nevertheless—with mysteries like these wrapped up in each of its finite factors—this duality of the conscious self, and unconscious things external to, and in a way independent of, each individual consciousness, may be taken as tacitly presupposed, in the common sense of men living in the si non rogas, intelligo state of mind. So one may say that he has a natural assurance of his own existence, as a separate self-conscious ego; and also of the existence of things outside, things that are actually seen and touched, or otherwise present to his senses. He finds when he acts that he cannot rid himself of either of these working convictions, and he finds too that each of them is the correlative of the other.
Incompleteness of the finite duality, and the presupposition of Infinite Being.
Still this dual universe of existence in which I thus find myself is felt, or seen with the eye of reason, to be somehow incomplete, when one thinks of it as consisting only of his own self-conscious ego, and the outside world of solid and extended things in a state of flux—the occasion to the ego of innumerable pains and pleasures. Locke expresses the common sense of this incompleteness, dim though the consciousness of it may be in many persons, when he says that he finds himself unable to think of his own existence without also recognising the existence of Something Eternal or Infinite—more and other than his own finite self—more and other than the outer world of finite individual things. He finds himself as certain of the eternal reality of this Something—as certain too that this Eternal Something must be Eternal Mind, and that therefore a Mind exists that cannot be said to be his own, because his own, because he is sure, had a beginning;—he is as certain of all this, he says, as he is certain of any conclusion in pure mathematics. He finds himself surer that an Eternal Mind really exists than he is sure that anything else “outside of himself” really exists; and he believes that every other human being, who makes the trial deliberately, must find that this is so in his own case too. “It is as certain in reason,” he says, “that there is a God as it is certain that the opposite angles made by the intersection of two straight lines are equal, or as that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles.” Yet while the existence of the Infinite Being, the supreme factor of experience, is thus forced into conscious certainty in all who reflect, the certainty, Locke grants, does need reflection to awaken it in the individual mind. Without due reflection a man may remain as ignorant of this reality as an entire stranger to geometry may remain all his life ignorant of any of the demonstrable propositions, or even the axioms, of Euclid, which lie latent in the minds of millions. Even so, individuals, and whole nations too, may never have the rational necessity for the existence of the Eternal Mind awakened in their conscious experience. But it must also be remembered that the other two ideas and presuppositions—that of their own existence, and that of the existence of the outside things of sense—are also only obscurely recognised in thought by many, although all in a way acknowledge them, in feeling and action.
Locke's account of how we come to suppose Infinite Being as an Eternal Mind.
But how does the idea and conviction of the real existence of Eternal Mind at first enter a human mind? The Eternal Mind cannot, of course, be presented to any of our senses, nor, indeed, can any other ego than my own be present to me as my own ego is; and I cannot be conscious of Eternal Mind in the way I am conscious of my own existence in memory. Here is how Locke explains its presence; on the grounds of standing reason, he would say, which make atheism and agnosticism logically impossible, however much unreflecting persons may suppose that they are atheists or agnostics. “I cannot want a clear proof that God exists,” so Locke argues, “as long as I carry myself about with me. For each man knows that he individually exists;” and he also knows “that he has not existed always. It is therefore inevitable to him, as a rational being, to conclude that Something [more than his own individual self] must have existed from eternity,…this being of all absurdities the greatest in the eye of reason—to imagine that pure Nothing, the perfect negation and absence of all beings, should ever produce any real existence. I cannot myself be this Eternal Something, seeing that my own existence, as I know, had a beginning; and whatever had a beginning must have been produced by something else; and it must have got all that belongs to its existence [i.e., all my so-called “powers” and “attributes”] from that other being. Further, I find that I am a thinking being: therefore this Something, the original source of my existence, must be a thinking being too; it being as impossible that what is wholly void of knowledge, and operating blindly and without any perception [consciousness], should produce a knowing being, such as I am, as it is impossible that a triangle should make itself three angles bigger than two right ones.” This argument, afterwards elaborated by Samuel Clarke, is in substance as old as Aristotle.
The intellectual need for a sufficient cause of my own existence.
This mathematical certainty of the actual existence of Eternal Mind thus virtually resolves itself into an absolute necessity in reason for a sufficient cause of whatever now exists. The theological conception of the universe is, in short, only the final application of the universal principle of causality, when that principle is understood to mean that whatever is found in the effect must be found in the originative power into which the effect is refunded. Here conscious and percipient mind, found in me, must be refunded into the Eternal and Infinite Something.
Can Infinite Being be regarded as Mind?
Nevertheless, “Mind,” when recognised by Locke as the Eternal Something, is so regarded with an important qualification, of which more must be said after-wards, when speculations like those of Spinoza and Hume come into view. Am I obliged in reason, or even permitted by reason, to think of the Eternal Something as Mind, if I mean the sort of mind I find in myself—mind as it manifests itself in self-conscious life? Is the Eternal Mind conscious mind, or is the term “consciousness” in any way applicable to the Eternal Something? Are we obliged to suppose an individual conscious life in what is called God, in which subject and object are distinguished—the distinction essential to human consciousness; and must we think of this Eternal Mind as an individual or separate conscious life, won and continually passing through conscious changes; and if so obliged, what is the ground in reason for the obligation to think this? How do we know that the Eternal Something is an ever operative conscious life, in present fact, and that it must be so eternally? As to this Locke shows his characteristic caution. The Eternal or Infinite Something, he suggests, may be thought about as Eternal Mind, because it is so far related to me in experience in the way one person may be related to another person—“so far,” that is to say, “as is necessary to the true end of my being, and the great concernment of my happiness.” But then he adds, “though for this reason I call it mind, I must not ”—because I thus apply this name to the Eternal Something, in common with myself—“I must not equal what I call mind in myself to the Eternal and Incomprehensible Being, which, for want of right and distinct conceptions, is also called Mind, or the Eternal Mind.” This even suggests that what is called “mind” may in the Supreme Power be supra-conscious, in some inconceivable and ineffable sort of existence.
The enigmas involved in the third belief.
The words I have quoted—“the Being which, for want of right and distinct conceptions, I call the Eternal Mind”—show some sense of the mystery involved in all human ideas of the divine reality. They touch what is really at the root of the theological embarrassment of the present day—the question, What does the word “God” mean? And as to the “mathematically certain” proof of the existence of the so explained “Eternal Mind,” it may well be considered inadequate. To conclude that there must be Mind Eternal and Infinite, because I am now conscious, and only lately began to be conscious, is surely an eminent example of circular reasoning, in which the stupendous conclusion is really presupposed in order to be proved. “My own existence” means the existence of a finite being; and unless infinity is presupposed in the datum of the argument, the conclusion fails. Infinite Being cannot be concluded from one finite being: God is not in this sort of way logically involved in me. When I take data of experience—in this case my own short-lived existence revealed in memory—as the sole material of the premisses, this single finite fact per se cannot yield Infinite Being in the conclusion. Finite data only yield a finite conclusion, and to conclude a finite mind or god, how inconceivably great and long-lived soever, sends the craving for absolute finality still hi quest of a deeper foundation. A finite god leaves unsatisfied the religious sense of absolute dependence, and the demand for a final basis for science and human life. In truth, if the word God means the Infinite Being whose existence forecloses all ulterior inquiry as to the cause of His existence, then the word is not applicable to any being whose existence is inferred from finite facts only; and which, as finite, still raises, instead of foreclosing, the previous question, as to the cause on which its existence and nature depend. The supposed gods of polytheism, and supposed spirits superior to men, are all finite; therefore dependent, and unfit to satisfy the need for absolute support, or to meet man's sense of incompleteness in the finite. The essence of the meaning of the word God is wanting in them all. When the Infinite Being is taken to be a conclusion from a finite being, instead of the presupposition involved in all reasonable interpretation of the finite, then the word “God” is used in an atheistic meaning; and, as far as this applies to polytheistic religions, they are in this respect atheistic. Moreover, if we adopt this philosophy, it may be argued, as indeed Hume among others argues, that we know too little about matter to be warranted in denying that it may contain in itself the source and spring of order; so that there may be no more difficulty in supposing that its several elements, from an internal unknown cause, may fall into order, than there is in the supposition that the ideas which form Eternal Mind, from a like internal and unknown cause, contrive and produce what I call my mind, and also contrive and produce the things which present themselves to my senses. We must not off-hand take the operations of one part of finite nature upon another part, as analogy for the forming an infinite conclusion, and one too that claims to be demonstrable, concerning the origin of the whole. And so it carne about that God was habitually thought of, by theists of last century and since, as one among the innumerable “substances,” material and spiritual, which among them make up the entire universe of reality, rather than as One in whom all live and have their finite being—incomprehensible under genus or species—incapable of being classed with finite substances.
Locke's “mathematically certain” proof that God exists.
In Locke's “mathematically certain” proof that the religious conception of the universe must be the true ultimate conception of it, the intellectual necessity of the causal principle is offered as the sufficient reason for concluding that because “I” exist an “Eternal Mind” must also exist. But there can be no analogy between causal sequences in which each of the terms is a finite phenomenon, and this absolutely unique instance in which one of the terms is not finite. The Ultimate Principle of the universe, and of each thing and person, must be sui generis, if not supra-generic. Besides, in purely mathematical demonstration, the disturbing element of change, and unknown as well as known active agents, is eliminated; but outside the mathematical province of abstract quantity, there is no room for unconditionally necessary demonstration. Abstract mathematical truth, not concrete things or concrete persons, is the proper sphere for unconditional demonstrative necessity. As for this semblance of demonstration, about the Power and Purpose that is eternally dominant in the universe, on the narrow basis of the fact that I find myself existing now, and that I only lately began to exist;—if this professed demonstration is all that can be produced in vindication of the divine postulate, our “line,” the sceptic may well say, “is too short to fathom such immense abysses.” Locke himself indeed allows that the word “substance,” when applied either to individual things which we see and touch in the outward world, or to our own individual personality and that of other finite spirits, is not to be taken in the high meaning which it has when it is applied to God or Eternal Mind. He sees that no finite beings, corporeal or spiritual, are finally self-subsisting and self-contained: they are all dependent on something external to themselves. Locke, however, did not conclude from this, as Spinoza did, that, besides God, no “substance” can exist, or can be conceived to exist; or that the self-conscious things we call ourselves, and the extended things which surround us, are not in any sense substances, but only transitory modes or affections of the One Substance.
Kant's ‘Transcendental Dialectic.’
I have suggested some of the mysteries in which we find ourselves involved when we reflect philosophically upon the three postulates of existence, the three factors of living experience, each of which, under one form of conception or another, is, I believe, in fact, if often unconsciously, recognised by all. These difficulties are the theme of Kant's Transcendental Dialectic. If the ‘Essay’ of Locke, at the end of the seventeenth century—one of the two correlated classics of modern philosophy, in the second stage of its development—is pervaded by the three presuppositions of existence, the ‘Kritik of Pure Reason’ of Kant,—its complement and corrective,—at the end of the eighteenth century, culminates in an exposition of the difficulties for the understanding which each of the three involves. It suggests the conclusion that the freedom of man, the unconditional necessity of nature, and the existence of God, are alike incapable of scientific proof.
Morality, science, and religion.
The three presupposed existences are severally the morality, occasions of morality, natural science, and religion. My own existence, implied in the recognition of my continuous personality, and in the independent power which I refer exclusively to myself, when I acknowledge personal responsibility for acts of will, calls forth the idea of morality, and affords material for moral judgments. External nature, at least as it is presented to our senses and in our sensuous experience, is non-moral. Yet without the medium supplied by external things persons seem to have no means of discovering the existence of other persons; still less of receiving from them their ideas, or of communicating ideas to them: so that, but for “outward things,” there would be no room for that exercise and evolution of intelligence which interpretation of external nature requires, and on which individual and social progress depends. The material world, non-moral in itself, is the medium of the social intercourse through which individual maim becomes part of the moral organism, while it is that through which he is educated as a scientific intelligence and gets part of his moral training. Then, too, without the supremacy of the divine principle of moral and therefore physical order, on which the universe of change is presumed to depend, and on which we repose in faith, as the basis for thought and action, both morality and natural science must be paralysed. In this divine faith religion is rooted, so that secular morality and natural science become at last moral religion. “I ask not,” said Goethe, “whether the Supreme Being has reason and understanding; for I feel that He is Reason and Understanding itself. Therewith are all creatures penetrated; and main has so much of it that he can apprehend the Highest Being in part.” Trust even in natural law is faith in God in germ.
Superstition and scepticism issues of misconceptions of the three existences.
Superstition and scepticism are two extremes into which men are led by not preserving the balance between the three ultimate factors. While no one of the three can be wholly explained away, consistently with sane human life, any one of them may be so exaggerated as to paralyse the moral influence of the others, and to distort the true conception of human life.
Examples of this. God recognised only in uncommon events.
Take some examples. At certain stages in man's religious and intellectual development, there is a prevailing disposition to see God only in what is uncommon, unexpected, miraculous, and to refer in the end to what are called “natural” agents or forces all events that are interpreted as instances of customary sequence. According to this assumption, whatever is found to evolve or grow—for evolution seems to be another name for growth—whatever is found to grow, and that gradually and regularly, is referred wholly to supposed “power” in nature, which means only the continuous process of changes through which the issue is reached: God is recognised only when something happens which seems not to appear gradually and regularly, under cognisable natural law, but in what is taken to be a scientifically inexplicable manner. So the realm of natural powers and the realm in which God is supposed to operate are regarded as each excluding the other; with the result in an unconscious polytheism, which makes one god of “nature” and another god of “supernature.” It follows that every new scientific discovery of natural modes of procedure is supposed to exclude God more and more as the operative agent in the universe. God is seen acting only in what science cannot naturally bridge over, and these vacant intervals of course become fewer and fewer with the advance of natural science. The need for a theological interpretation of what happens in the universe seems to diminish with each step onward in natural interpretation: the idea of the universe as being in itself throughout finally interpretable only physically, and therefore foreclosing ulterior theological interpretation, in the end takes the place of the religious idea of the whole. The advance of physical science becomes the paralysis of religious thought, because an orderly system of nature leaves no room for that violation of rational order, in which superstition and confused theological thinking find the only sign of the providential presence and action of God. When superstition is not permitted by science to retain an irregular and capricious universe of this sort, its deity and its religion disappear. The modern appreciation of natural causes, after dissolving the personifications of polytheism, is now destroying the relics of polytheism in an inadequately conceived theism.
The supposition that God may be found there although not here.
This conception of God, mechanical and local and external, appears at the bottom of theological appeals against the presumption of the atheist, who dares to conclude that God does not exist, merely because neither our eyes nor our telescopes reveal His presence, within the comparatively narrow and always finite space to which our senses, even when artificially assisted, and our imagination give positive access. If not here, a God, it is suggested, may possibly be there; if not the cause of this which comes within our experience, a God may possibly be the cause of something elsewhere that man cannot see. If man, it is said, does not know every agent in the wide expanse of the universe, the agent that he is ignorant of may be a God. If he cannot assign the causes of all that he perceives to exist, the unperceived cause of that unknown remainder may be a God. If he does not know how everything has been done in past ages, some of those doings may have been the doings of a God. In short, unless I preclude the possible existence of another god by being omniscient or a god myself, I cannot know for certain that the Being whose existence I deny may not exist somewhere. Now a god that can be locally and potentially present, here but not there, in this event but not in that event; or that might be detected by a telescope in some remote part of space, if a powerful enough telescope could be invented; or detected in extraordinary events, if they were brought within range of human experience—spoken of too as “a God,” not God—is surely not the God, the unique reality, “in whom we all live and move and have our being,” presupposed tacitly in all perception and self-consciousness, or else everywhere and for ever out of relation to human life. God, as Bacon says, does not need to work physical miracles in order to refute atheism. If the whole natural course of things does not presuppose God, as the condition of its being even physically interpretable, no extraordinary local manifestations in nature can in themselves supply the evidences. With the presupposition granted of divine Reason latent in the heart of existence, some events in the history of the universe may doubtless be more fitted than others are to evoke into fuller intelligence the divine faith latent in man; but without the tacit presupposition of God present in all perception and consciousness, this fuller or richer intelligence, otherwise naturally evolved by enlarged experience, seems to have no foundation.
Or might have been found then, although not now.
Again. Is it not also an inadequate and inconsequent theism that is left to depend finally upon historical or other empirical proof that the cosmical economy of our little planet, or even of the solar system, had no natural beginning; because only under the conception of an unnatural beginning, it is assumed, could there be reason for the supposition of “a God.” If the economy of the present solar system must first be shown by historic records to have been formed unnaturally, or, according to the common expression, by a special creative act, before faith in God can be justified, the basis seems too narrow and too precarious to support the conclusion. It is not enough to argue for Eternal Mind, as some have done, on the doubtful ground that it can be proved historically that the solar system originated in a Mind, but that there is no historical proof that the Mind in which it originated had also in its turn a beginning, as Hume suggests it too might have had. If we thus make history or finite data of experience reduce questions which lie beyond their sphere, what is the difference in this respect between the solar material system and the possibly dependent mental system it is supposed to prove? They are both treated in these arguments and counter arguments as caused causes in an infinite succession of such. “A mental world, or universe of ideas,” as Hume suggests, “requires a cause as much as does a material world or universe of objects. In an abstract view, they are entirely alike; and no difficulty attends the one supposition which is not common to both of them.” Is it not only after the ultimate supernaturalness of all physical processes has somehow been presumed that any sort of experience is found to manifest what is divine?
Panmaterialism, Panegoism, and Pantheism.
So much in illustration of the perplexities in which thought becomes involved under crude or inadequate conceptions of the three fundamental postulates of existence. We shall meet examples in other connections in the sequel. What is important now is to see how the difficulty of reconciling these postulates with one another, along with the desire awakened in advancing intelligence to think existence in a harmonious whole, leads abstract thinkers to philosophical theories which tend finally to resolve all that exists into one only of the three postulated existences of ordinary consciousness. Those theories differ according as this or that one of the three obtains exaggerated, and then exclusive recognition. Thus the outward or material world, which fills the horizon of sense, has been taken for the one ultimate reality, in a final conception of existence which makes the universe of reality at last only a universe of molecules in motion. This is Panmaterialism, which pretends to find in matter what common consciousness refers to the ego and to God. On the other hand, those in whom the introspective habit is strong are apt to seek for the desired unity of existence in the conception that All is ultimately the ego only, in a philosophy of Immaterialism or Panegoism: when we occupy this point of view logically, we become subjective idealists and solipsists. Lastly, dissatisfaction with a universe of individual consciousness, combined either with an ideal All seen in the dry light of pure reason, or with mystical emotion, disposes both the courageous thinker and the mystic to seek for the one ultimate reality, neither in outward things with the Panmaterialist, nor in the inward life with the Panegoist, but instead in what is supposed to transcend both, because superior alike to individual sense and to individual consciousness. Hence the various schemes of Pantheism, Impersonalism, or Acosmism, in which the world and ego are identified with God; instead of God and ego being resolved into molecules in motion, as in Universal Materialism, or the outward world of sense and the Infinite God being reduced to the self-conscious life of the individual, as in Panegoism.
Is any of these a sufficient resting-place for man?
In the four following lectures, I will ask you to occupy with me each of these three Monist points of view in succession; in order to try whether any of them affords a satisfactory ultimate conception. Are we under an intellectual obligation to accept any of them, as the true and final interpretation of all that exists? and if so, which one of them is thus made obligatory by reason? And if supreme regard for reasonableness obliges us to dismiss them all, what other alternatives are open? Must we turn away from the final problem of existence altogether, as one which admits of no solution, not even a working human solution; our utmost knowledge being the negative knowledge, that “the whole is a riddle, an enigma, an inexplicable mystery”; so that at last no judgment formed about anything in marl or in nature, in science or in theology, can be regarded as more certain than its contradictory? Or, already expelled from Monism in its three forms, may we return to reason, in the form of faith in the three commonly postulated existences, through a deeper and truer interpretation? These are questions which I wish to keep steadily in view to the end. In next lecture I shall ask you provisionally to look at the final problem of existence as the materialist may be supposed to look at it, and to inquire whether Universal or Final Materialism is a coherent conception, or a possible rest for the human spirit.