Spinoza and David Hume severally personify Pantheism and Philosophical Nescience.
DAVID HUME has been called the “prince of agnostics.” Spinoza, in like manner, is the prince of pantheists. As I said in my opening lecture, the intellectual dimensions of “natural theology, in the widest meaning of the term,” are recognised more fully by none than by these two—Spinoza and Hume—at opposite extremes,—extremes which curiously approach one another in the end. Spinoza starts from the divine centre, in abstract thought; Hume from the circumference, in sensuous experience. Deus, or the abstract unica substantia, is the criterion with the one; homo mensura the regulative principle of the other—the homo being only the individual homo of sensuous impressions and associated ideas. In these two, Spinoza and Hume, the chief matters of discussion in the present course are in a manner personified: Spinoza in those especially treated in this and in the last lecture; Hume, directly or indirectly, in the four that are to follow. But while each personifies this subject-matter, I do not intend an exhaustive criticism of either, but ask leave to follow my own course, while not forgetting these two names.
The elasticity and ambiguity of Spinoza's pantheism.
Spinoza is a puzzle to his interpreters. Those who have lived for years mentally in his company, seeking to think the genuine thought of this speculative genius, are obliged to confess doubt about their interpretations, and the adequacy of their insight into the purpose of the singular recluse, who made his appearance in Holland early in the seventeenth century, three months after Locke entered the world. In the age that followed his birth Spinoza was regarded as an atheist and a blasphemer. In the nineteenth century he has received homage as a saint. The amiable Malebranche, Samuel Clarke, the representative English philosophical divine of his generation, the sceptical Bayle, and the cynical Voltaire, all see in Spinoza the enemy of religion. By Lessing and Novalis, Goethe and Schleiermacher, he is canonised for his virtues and piety. Once anathematised by Jews and Christians, this proclaimed atheist is now described as a god-intoxicated mystic. Between these extremes men oscillate in their reading of the life of the poor spectacle-grinder in Holland, as they see in him the logical reasoner who treats Deity as an empty abstraction, formed by definition, or recognise a devotee, ready in the spirit of self-abnegation to lose his individual will and individuality in a divine environment. The elasticity of pantheism of which I have spoken may explain the contradiction; for the pantheistic conception is susceptible of either a materialistic or an idealist explanation: under one light it reads intellectual atheism, under another sentimental theism, yet again superconscious or transcendental impersonalism. An alien in the prevailing spirit of the eighteenth century, probably no other personage living in the preceding century has so powerfully affected theological philosophy in the nineteenth as this solitary reasoner, who devoted the thinking part of his short life of forty-four years to meditation and speculation about God. The purely intellectual love of Cod, realised in the realisation of his own participation in Infinite being, was the ideal of Spinoza's life, and the religion in which he sincerely aspired to live. It was a life of more than common simplicity, frugality, and indifference to sensuous pleasure, that this swarthy, slender, consumptive-looking youth passed through in his lonely lodging at the Hague. As Coleridge, I think, suggests, his very innocence and virtue, matured into an invincible habit, in which the man was lost in the abstract reasoner, may have blinded him to the defects of a doctrine which seems to overturn morality in a theory of necessitated existence, which he nevertheless describes as ethical theology.
In Spinozism the absolute reality is regarded as at once infinite and finite; substance and modes; undifferentiated and determined in necessary forms.
The resigned consciousness that I and all other persons are living and having our being as mathematically differentiated modifications—transitory, yet which somehow make their appearance—of the infinite attributes of one undifferentiated Substance,—this resigned state of feeling seems to be the essence of Spinoza's religion and morality. He finds himself under an intellectual obligation to acknowledge one and only one substance or reality, indifferently named God, Nature, or the Unica Substantia. Its attributes are infinite: the modifications which these attributes may assume are each of them finite. The attributes of the Divine Substance that are known to man are only two—infinite extension and infinite thought: God or Nature is known, in short, only in modes of infinite incorporeal extension, and in modes of infinite thought. To enter within the range of human sense and sensuous imagination, the infinite extension and the infinite thought must be distinguished in finite modes of each attribute. The extension is differentiated, for instance, in the circles, triangles, and other mathematical figures which can be formed with it; thought in the correlative conscious states in which it becomes concrete.
In Spinozism all individual things are illusions of imagination.
Individual things and individual persons are formed by human imagination out of these several modes: the things and persons have no real or independent existence: their appearance of reality is explained by Spinoza as an illusion of imagination, which arises when they are erroneously conceived in abstraction from the Divine Reality of which they are modes. Taking the metaphor of the ocean and its waves to represent the Unica Substantia and its finite appearances, individual persons and things, composed of modes, have been likened, in this system, to those waves changed into lumps of ice. Imagination deludes us in the supposition that they are more than finite modifications of infinite space or of infinite thought, these two sorts being absolutely correlative. All this making of individuals out of the undifferentiated Unity is truly illusion according to Spinoza, whose supreme principle was—omnis determinatio est negatio: the finite can be only a negation of the Infinite, never a positive reality. Nevertheless, he proceeds as if the One Infinite were decomposable by abstraction, capable of being regarded alternately as Infinite and finite, Substance and modes, the Undetermined and the differentiated in mathematically necessary forms.
The modes of the unica substantia, read as geometrical quantities.
So it is that the only two attributes of God known to man are represented by imagination in the aggregated modes commonly called individual things and persons, and endowed by imagination with an illusory reality. Poth sorts are reasoned about as geometrically necessitated; for extension and thought, being substantially identical, are necessary correlatives, so that theology may be philosophically unfolded in mathematical terms. They form between them the natura naturata, which, by a logical but not real distinction, Spinoza contrasts with the natura naturans. These names, substituted for finite universe and God, express the identity of the One Substance, which, as I have said, may all be modally interpreted in terms of geometrical quantity, seeing that extension and thought are in necessary correlation. The One Substance, in which I find myself a mode, may be speculated either in its abstract unity or in its concrete modes,—at once infinite and finite, undifferentiated and yet under mathematically necessary forms. God without the universe is not self-existent, with a life of His own: God as the Unica Substantia is an empty substance, without attributes and therefore without meaning: the natura naturata is as necessary as the natura naturans: it is God substantially, not merely one of the manifestations of God. We are living and moving and having our being as a necessitated part of the One Immensity, which comprehends as part of itself all that can possibly exist. The universe of so-called things and persons must be modally what it is. There is no room for the introduction into existence by finite persons of acts which conform to ideals of duty and goodness; nor yet for the entrance into existence of wicked action, or what is evil or ought not to exist, and therefore is not necessitated to exist. Reality and perfection are one, under Spinoza's demonstration of what existence must be: the spiritual homo mensura is no test of thought about existence. It is an obvious conclusion of this mathematical pantheism that there can be no real contingency, even at the human point of view: apparent freedom from the mathematical necessity is a delusion of imagination, the issue of inadequate knowledge of the divine immensity: it is derogatory to the perfection of infinite Space. So too is every conjecture about the final reality which supposes natura naturata ruled by man's ideas of good and evil, order and disorder, or by those ends which seem desirable under a human imagination of things. Human desires must be regulated by the mathematical necessities of nature, which is another expression for the necessary nature of God—not by the otherwise irrational interests of men. It is here that this form of pantheism looks like atheism, so that Dugald Stewart applies to Spinoza what Cicero has said of Epicurus: Spinoza has in words left us nothing but God, yet he gives us in fact no God; for a God who is stripped of rule, providence, and purpose must be taken as only another name for blind fate.
The ideas of space, time, substance and causality, as avenues to infinite reality.
Is not this way of looking at the universe, in which all is finally regarded as pantheistically necessary Immensity, profoundly unlike the reality found in our spiritual experience? When we enter into the speculative thought which is unrolled in the abstract demonstrations of Spinoza, we seers to be carried away from the world of facts, which with him is only another name for the world of illusion-breeding imagination. Yet we are emphatically summoned into the presence of the sublime idea of Infinity, which connects itself in some minds with pantheistic unity and necessity, while in others it is that which sustains monotheists and religious devotion. The Infinite is not very far from any one of us, for all our mental experience suggests the idea in the forms of Immensity, Eternity, and Causality. Dwell on this for a little. The various phases of the idea of infinity, contrasted with the limits within which we find ourselves involved, are not artificial constructions that have nothing to do with actual everyday life. When we reflect we find intellectual tendencies, of which we cannot rid ourselves, which connect all that is present in sense and in our inner consciousness with infinite reality. Places and dates, persons and things, the changes of which persons and things are the subjects—each and all are found at last to have their roots among ideas which we are obliged to recognise as in our thoughts incomplete, but which necessarily tend towards a mysterious incompletability, of which, notwithstanding, we cannot rid ourselves. The place where I am now standing, for instance, is actually contained within the space that has no boundary—the Immensity, whose centre is everywhere, while its circumference is nowhere. Instead of space, contemplate duration: the hour within which I am addressing you is somehow connected with timeless Eternity: change or succession is connected with what seems inconsistent with the possibility of change and succession. Then, again, when we try to get at the Substance of the things or the persons whose phenomena are presented in experience, we find that we are pursuing something that continually evades us, in an endless yet unavoidable regress. What actually appears in sense is always connected with something beyond; and this something more, when made to appear in sense, again leads on to more still beyond it; and so on in an always unsatisfied pursuit after finality in the form of the absolute substance. “If any one,” says Locke, “if any one should be asked what is the subject or substance in which a colour that he sees inheres, or in which a weight he feels inheres, he would have nothing to say but that they inhere in the solid extended parts or molecules of which the coloured and heavy body consists; and if he were next asked in what this solidity and extension themselves consisted, he would find himself obliged to go again in quest of something else—like the Indian who, saying that the world was supported by a huge elephant, was asked what the elephant rested on; to which his answer was, a great tortoise: and being further pressed to tell what supported the tortoise, replied—something, he knew not what.” And as with substance, so too when we are in pursuit of the Power that originates changes. If it is intellectually impossible to suppose a quality existing without a substance in which it inheres,—an adjective without a substantive,—so too it is intellectually impossible to suppose a change without a cause into which the change may be refunded: but every finite cause in turn demands another cause to explain its own existence, and that other, if finite, equally a cause out of which it has emerged; and so the causal regress imposed by intelligence is lost in the mystery of endlessness—a chain with an infinite number of links, whatever that means. In this, as in the foregoing instances, we find ourselves inevitably dissatisfied with what is finite—with finite figures in space, with finite times in duration, with finite substances, and with finite causes. However far we go we are under an intellectual obligation to go further. The universe presented in experience seems to extend itself to infinity; and when we try to limit it, we have to regard the limited portion as inconceivably related to what is beyond.
Is the infinite a quantity?
Do we think truly of the infinite reality when we think of it as a “Whole”? It cannot be supposed to be a completable quantity, or indeed a quantity at all, if quantity means absolutely rounded Immensity, or absolutely rounded Eternity. An indefinitely great finite object is a quantity; for it has its boundary, although the boundary may be too remote for a merely human imagination to represent the quantity with distinctness. But is the Infinite Reality, towards which we are carried by spaces, durations, and changes, capable of quantitative presentation?
Finite spaces and infinite space.
Take space to begin with. Imagine any finite quantity of space you please, however vast—say the area included within the orbit of the planet on which we are living. You can subtract from this the total space contained within the orbit of Mercury; you have to that extent reduced in imagination the finite area which was contained within the Earth's orbit. Or, instead of subtracting, you can add to the spacial quantity of the Earth's orbit, by including all that is within the vaster expanse contained within the orbit, say, of Mars, or of Jupiter, or of the whole solar system. In short, you can either diminish or enlarge the quantity of space with which you are dealing in this instance, because you are dealing with a finite quantity. By subtraction, too, the remaining space is diminished in exact proportion to the quantity withdrawn; and by the addition it is increased in exact proportion to the quantity added. In all this imagination is dealing with finite spaces, which may be indefinitely great or small, but which are imaginable in their nature, even if human imagination can represent only an obscure image of quantities indefinitely vast or small. In each instance we are holding up in imagination a finite quantity of space; or we are trying to picture a finite expanse which, because it is finite, is capable of being diminished and capable of being increased in quantity. Not so with space, when regarded by intellect in its mysterious infinity, independently of sensuous imagination and senseperception. For we are intellectually obliged to add to every imaginable or finite space, however vast: we find something in our mind which forbids us to suppose that we can ever arrive at the absolute boundary of space, with no space at all beyond: something in our minds obliges us, too, to think of every finite or imaginable space, however small, as still divisible into parts smaller than itself. We are obliged to believe that the largest conceivable finite space is still incomplete; for there must be a larger: we cannot but suppose that the smallest is incompletely divided; for there must be a smaller. The noteworthy fact in this mental experience is, that each addition is believed to bring us no nearer to the Infinite Reality than we were before we began to add, and each subtraction to carry us no farther away from it. The addition of the quantity of space contained within the orbit of Mars to that contained within the orbit of the Earth is a definite addition to the second-named quantity, because both are finite, and consist of finite parts. But no addition of parts to parts brings one nearer to the absolute reality of Immensity; and no subtraction carries us farther away from it. Finite spaces, large or small,—large enough to include the whole known stellar system, or small enough to defy the most powerful microscope,—finite spaces are all at last confusedly spoken of as “parts” of the Infinite that nevertheless cannot consist of parts, and which is therefore not truly a quantity, having transcended that category. There is, as it were, as much more space beyond the largest as there is beyond the smallest quantity. Stretch imagination to the utmost,—suppose, if you please, an imagination inconceivably more powerful than the human,—infinite space is as much out of its reach, and as far short of exhaustion by its processes, as it was at first—the additions being all, as it were, irrelevant to it. In the light of reason, the spaces of sense and imagination, large or small, disappear in the Infinite Reality.
Finite times and Eternity
Space thus becomes one of our human avenues towards the Infinite. Turn next to time and duration. This is another avenue which, perhaps even more than space, brings infinity home to us all. However far back in time we make imagination travel, we are obliged to suppose a time still more remote; however far forward we look, we are obliged to suppose a yet remoter future. We can set no boundary, either in the past or in the future, to the succession of changes by which the idea of duration is evoked in human consciousness: when we imagine any finite period, long or short, our minds oblige us still to imagine a duration, longer or shorter, by the addition or subtraction of which the first is increased or diminished. But just as space at last passes into Immensity, so time at last passes into Eternity. Unbeginning time does not admit of addition, nor does unending time admit of subtraction. The Eternity in which each is lost does not admit of parts, although sensuous imagination has to picture it as divisible. We are as far from exhausting eternity ante when we have travelled back millions of years as we were when we commenced our journey into past time; and no passage of time now elapsed diminishes the eternity that seems to be in front of us. “How anything can have existed eternally,” as says Samuel Clarke, “that is, how an eternal duration can be now actually past, is a thing as impossible for our narrow understandings to comprehend as anything that is not an express contradiction can be imagined to be. And yet to deny the truth of the proposition that an eternal duration is now actually past, would be to assert something far more unintelligible, even an express and real contradiction.” Endless movement, which is our concrete idea of time, thus always loses itself in the mysterious rest of the eternal. The unbeginning past seems to misleading imagination as if it were a definite quantity, subtracted from the unending future, it too being supposed a definite quantity; but thought is lost in an Eternity greater than either the unbeginning past or the unending future, and yet somehow continuing each of the two as its parts. Unbeginning and unending existence implies not merely that there may, but that there must, be continuous addition to every finite duration, however lengthened, and yet that each successive addition brings us no nearer to the infinite in the form of Eternity than an hour or a moment does. Add to a finite time and we are brought nearer to a longer finite, however long that finite; but we are brought no nearer to Eternity than we were, and are left always at the end to express the unavoidable dissatisfaction of intelligence with every duration that is limited or determined. Positive or imaginable time, necessarily supposed to be incapable of being completed, makes imagination commit suicide when it tries to imagine its infinity, by obliging it to enter a region in which picturable quantity can no longer survive; but in which
For our support, the measures and the forms
Which an abstract intelligence supplies,
Whose kingdom is where time and space are not.”
Space and time carry us into the Infinite.
The space by which we are now surrounded in this room, and the time that is included within the hour during which we are here together, both seem to stretch, the one into unexpanded Immensity and the other into timeless Eternity—each in this way an avenue to the infinite Reality. The finite in each of these forms irresistibly transcends itself, and seems to become undifferentiated Reality in doing so.
Temporal succession or change an illusion, and reality intelligible only sub specie æernitatis, according to Spinoza.
How to connect finite places with time Immensity in which place seems lost, or finite times with the Eternity in which duration seems to disappear,—the placed with the placeless, the timed or dated with the timeless,—is the mystery of an experience of the infinite reality which, like ours, is conditioned by place and time, in a way that must always keep it under a sense of incompleteness and dissatisfaction. The pantheistic conception of Spinoza looks like a vain attempt to think the final reality, called Nature or God, at a point of view where past and future disappear—all undetermined by time and place,—sub specie æternitatis,—seen intellectually at the eternal unquantified centre—not in real succession, but somehow under geometrical relations of necessity. It treats the one only Reality as a boundless geometrical unity, to express which in finite modes mathematical figures, with their changeless, because intellectually necessary, relations, are substituted for an actual succession which he relegates to the finite imagination. The Unica Substantia in its two infinite attributes is unchangeable, undifferentiated by the misleading accident of succession. Pure Intellect knows nothing either of temporal change or of antecedent purpose. Effects and ends are as alien to this philosophical conception of what really exists as they are to the abstract conceptions of pure geometry. They belong to the illusory sphere of sensuous imagination, which is, with Spinoza, another name for ordinary experience. The universe being the absolute necessity of reason, could not be other than what it is; and it is misleading finite fancy that makes it either a theatre of change, or an aggregate of contrivances in which means are chosen to reach ends that might be attained by other means, or ends other than those with which the so-called means are truly in necessary mathematical relation. Spinoza's universe, seen sub specie æternitatis, or in the light of his philosophy, is as empty of cause and purpose as the multiplication-table, or the demonstrations of Euclid. The illusion of temporal and dynamical succession is exchanged for the timeless statical certainty of geometrical relations.
With Spinoza nothing really happens: all exists simultaneously, under mathematically necessary relations.
He who thinks the reality in which he lives and moves and has his being in sympathy with Spinoza, must therefore think it, not as an imaginable succession, but in the unimaginable eternity. For our imagination of succession is to the reality like trees and houses seen from the windows of a carriage in motion. They seem to be moving, but the motion is in our selves; for they are really at rest, under their necessary relations of place, not under changing relations of time. The supposition that change is real is, under this pantheistic conception, the great delusion of the unreasoning. Nothing happens: all exists simultaneously. The past is not really past: the future is not still unactual. Even our thought is not successive: the succession is only what seems, when imagination invades the province of knowledge. The All is the eternal Now. Under the geometrically necessitated conception, history and experience are dissolved in illusion: what has not yet happened is as real as what has already happened; what is future and what is past is identified in the form of what must be. Nothing really happens: all must eternally be.
Two ways of conceiving quantity.
It is instructive to follow Spinoza as he sublimates finite things and persons, individualised by the deceptive imagination, out of which the illusory world of common consciousness or experience is supposed to emerge, but which reason refunds into the true being of the One Divine Substance in which all things exist in absolute perfection. Substance, so far as matter is substantial or infinite, cannot, he argues, be added to or divided. If asked why we are apt to suppose the contrary, he would say that quantity may be conceived in two ways—either in imagination or in pure intellect. If therefore—so the argument would proceed—we regard quantity, as we often and easily do, as it appears to imagination, we find it divisible, that is to say, made up of parts; but if we regard it intellectually, and think of it as in the One Substance, “which is difficult for us to do,” then it can be demonstrated that it must be infinite and indivisible, or not composed of parts. Thus we can imagine water divisible, so far as it is a finite individual thing, separated from the infinite reality by our distorting imagination, and then it is found to be composed of separable parts: but when it is refunded into the divine substance, it cannot be thought of; for as such it is not divisible or determinate, but indeterminate or indifferentiate.
The supposed logical impossibility of contingency in Nature: whatever is must be.
Again, the All must be eternally necessary; for otherwise we are involved in the contradiction that Nature (natura naturans) might be different from what really is. What we call contingency and change is the issue of our imperfectly rational apprehension of the infinite reality, in the many delusive forms of sense and imagination. What exists cannot be contingent in reality: it seems contingent only because it is viewed in the imperfect light of deficient knowledge. Things are absolutely perfect in the reality, for whatever is is divine. But even the opinion which refers all to capricious will is nearer the truth, according to this pantheistic conception, than the supposition that things are what they are, for the sake of some supposed good thereby secured to man, and of which man is the final cause. For this is to suppose all end in existence that is independent of God, an end outside the infinite Reality, and to which the Unica Substantia is subordinate.
Pantheistic explanation of the supposed prejudice, that the universe is charged with final causes, which center in human interests.
The alleged prejudice that purpose or final cause, and a humanly related purpose too, is the connecting principle of existence, is what Spinoza throughout his demonstrations labours to remove. Man, with his disposition to think things in a temporal succession—not sub specie æternitatis—takes his own finite and imaginable experience as the measure of reality, and looks at things as events, or historically; not sub ratione, or intellectually. Magnifying the importance of his own desires and appetites, he supposes that the final cause of what is must be human happiness, as seen in the ends and motives by which he himself, as a part of nature, is usually determined to act. As pleasure is the motive of his own actions, he comes to interpret Nature or God as a system of means constructed for securing this for man; which involves the further supposition of an anthropomorphic Ruler of Nature, endowed with a capricious freedom, able to act in this way or in that; who, moreover, does nothing in vain, which only means nothing that is inconsistent with man's happiness. And whenever experience of the reality contradicts this human fancy, in the actual experience of pain to which man is often subject, then, rather than surrender the vain imagination of a reality that can be measured by human pleasures, its anthropomorphic advocates suggest man's ignorance, and conclude that the rule of the gods somehow surpasses our narrow comprehension. This favourite refuge of narrow minds, Spinoza thinks, would have kept the human race in darkness to all eternity, if mathematics, which excludes regard to causes final or efficient, had not placed before us a higher criterion of truth, and made men acknowledge the necessary nature of things. For the mathematical conception of the universe shows—so he argues—that God or Nature can have no human end in view, and that to suppose the universe to be charged with purpose is a fiction of imagination, not a scientific conception. It is because in the eye of imagination the worth of things is determined by their human relations or utilities, that the irrational prejudices arise which are expressed by the words good and evil, merit and sin, praise and blame, order and disorder. For “good” is the term popularly applied to whatever promotes the interests of man, or ritual of worship as the imagined interest of God. Ignorant of things in their substance, men imagine an order of their own to be in the things: when objects are so placed that they can be easily imagined by themselves, they call them well arranged, and when placed otherwise, they call them confused; as if this order were something in the things themselves, and not in their own imagination. They say that God must have created the universe in an order which they find easy to apprehend, weakly attributing their own imagination to God; perhaps, Spinoza sarcastically adds, on their own principle of final causes, meaning that God, out of consideration for human imagination, has disposed all things in the way in which they are most easily imaginable by man.
Consequences of what exists being imagined instead of being reasoned.
Spinoza sees human life crowded with examples of this substitution of finite imagination for the infinite reality of pure reason, with endless controversies and hopeless scepticism as the consequence. Men imagine things without truly understanding them. If they truly understood things, they could not but be all alike convinced scientifically, though not all necessarily pleased. The vulgar methods of interpreting the Infinite Reality are only different exercises of sensuous experience and play of imagination, which reveal nothing that is eternally or absolutely true. The perfection of things is to be judged by what they must be, not by the ways in which they delight or offend men.
A dilemma confronts this logical elaboration of pantheistic necessity. Either we reduce the universe of individual things and persons to shadows of reality, and then the undetermined substance or Deity of Spinoza comes in as an abstract featureless unity; or we must assume that the presented data of our temporal experience are real, so far as they go, and that God is signified, not modified, in the finite universe. For determining between these alternative theories we must have recourse to facts: if facts oblige us to admit that that with which experience brings us into contact and collision is not shadows and dreams, but individual realities, and a real succession of events, we must accept the alternative which it imposes on us. It is by means of monads, says Leibniz, that Spinoza is refuted: Spinoza would be right if there were no monads: in that case all that is not God would be evanescent accident of fancy.
Our moral experience and the pantheistic necessity.
But it is in the moral experience of remorse and responsibility that an insurmountable obstruction to pantheistic necessity seems to present itself. A logical pantheism is inconsistent with ideals of unattained good, and with the entrance of real evil into existence. Deified reality must be perfect: reality and perfection must be taken as synonymous. Nero and Borgia, Socrates and Jesus, are all alike and equally divine. But if we find that actually existing which ought not to exist, and which has come into existence by no absolute necessity, we find what involves a disruption of Spinoza's divine unity and necessity. Now this disruption is the implicate of remorse, which is as much a necessity of moral reason as physical causality is of scientific reason; and neither can be proved to be inconsistent with the other. In the universe there exists that of which God cannot be the substance, unless either God is evil, or evil only one of the illusions of human imagination. Individual persons cannot be real substantially, we are told, because this is inconsistent with the pantheistic definitions of substance and reality. They must be only modifications of One Substance. Be it so; for this may be made only a dispute about words. Life implies that in point of fact they are as if they were distinct substances, for we so treat them in our moral judgments and in our actions: men govern men by rewards and punishments, and whatever the speculative idea presented in our definitions may be, duty determines the good man's conduct in a way that makes him responsible for it. Viewed in the dry light of a pure reason that consists in our arbitrary definitions of words, it may be concluded, as has been said, that “Regulus and his tormentors, the spikes which tore him, the body which they lacerated, the mind which felt the agony and would not yield, nay, Rome and Carthage themselves, with all their angry feuds and contrary interests, are all essentially One and the Same Substance.” But if this is consistent with moral experience, it must also be true that “modifications” of one and the same Substance can bear to each other the moral relations commonly expressed by governors and governed, and that the modifications can differ from one another in various degrees of wisdom, power, and goodness.
Spinozistic theology only verbal consistency with definitions.
While Spinoza insists upon the identity of theological with mathematical certainty, he seems to identify it in much of his reasoning with the merely verbal certainty that is founded on arbitrary definitions of words. He banishes efficient and final causes, change, and temporal succession, as artifices of fancy. He puts only names and their definitions in their place, and the names so defined are used in verbal demonstrations in which the conclusion only makes explicit what was already arbitrarily introduced by him into the definitions. So far as it is worked out in consistency with the definitions, the pantheistic system is a logical evolution of what is contained in the connotation of certain words of extreme abstraction. But the result only asserts necessary connection between the dogmatically assumed definitions and the conclusions. “It is possible,” as Dugald Stewart remarks, “by devising a set of arbitrary definitions, to form a science which, although professedly conversant about moral, political, physical, or any other ideas, should yet be as certain as geometry. It is of no moment whether the ideas correspond with facts or not, provided they do not express absolute impossibilities, and be not inconsistent with each other. From the definitions a series of consequences may be deduced by the most unexceptionable reasoning, and the results will be perfectly analogous to mathematical propositions: but the terms true and false cannot be properly applied to them.” The upshot is, that they are logically connected with the nominal definitions which are the only principles of this verbal science. The terms true and false can refer merely to formal connection with the verbal premisses, not to correspondence with things existing, or with events which we expect to be realised. Spinoza's theological philosophy is, I think an apt illustration of this.
Undifferentiated impersonal unity unattainable, under the conditions of a self-conscious experience.
That the pantheistic conception ultimately refunds all that exists into an undifferentiated unity emptied of events, is an unsurmountable difficulty in thoroughgoing impersonalism or pantheism. It vainly asks us to conquer the region towards which we are carried—as we found in the former part of this lecture—when we try to surrender place for Immensity, time for Eternity, manifested substances for the absolute Substance, causal succession for the final mystery of Causality. It demands an impersonal faculty in which the individual person must be identified with and lost in the impersonal unity; and to meet this, pantheistic thinkers have been reduced to hard straits. The impossibility of thinking what is undifferentiate is met by some in a supposed intellectual intuition, which can hardly be distinguished from blind mystical sentiment; by others in that avowedly sentimental phase of pantheism, poetical more than theoretical, which is suited to the less robust intelligence, or to the dreamy fancies of the less active races of mankind.
Plotinus, in the ancient world, and Schelling in this century, may be taken, each in his own way, as advocates of a sort of intuition, which seems at last to resolve into mere feeling, sublimated into superconscious entrance into the spaceless and timeless—the Nirvana of the Buddhist, who is weary of a conscious experience of the temporal succession.
The ecstasy of Plotinus.
We find Plotinus asserting a claim to this sort of ecstatic vision of the Eternal, into which, however, he is reported to have said that he had risen only four times in his life—a vision or feeling in which he would have realised Spinoza's indifferentiate Substance; and it is told of him that in his pantheistic enthusiasm he disclaimed his own birth or introduction into time, looking with contempt on the contents of space, and ashamed of the appearance of connection with temporal succession. The “ecstasy” is surely an empty name for an illusory superconscious state from which all that human intelligence can recognise is withdrawn.
The ecstatic intuition of Schelling.
Schelling's vaunted intuition of the Absolute is beset by a like difficulty. “To reach the point of indifference,” it has been said, “Schelling by abstraction annihilates first the object and then the subject of consciousness. But what, then, remains? Nothing. We then hypostatise the zero; we baptise it with the name of Absolute; and conceit ourselves that we contemplate absolute existence, when we only speculate absolute privation.” Without contradictory assumptions it seems impossible, under the conditions of human thought, to connect infinite with finite intelligence; temporal succession with the eternal Now. It is impossible to ascend intelligibly from finite experience into the Infinite, which refuses to enter as a completed object into experience, and to be presented under any form of experience; or to return, if we could start from the Infinite, into the relations which constitute the finite. It is impossible, in short, for man to see All from the divine centre.
Locke recalls men to the facts of mind.
It seems as if Locke had in view this supreme pantheistic difficulty, and Spinoza in particular as its representative, when he insists that the chief cause of error in philosophy and theology is that men begin at the wrong end in their inquiries, and in vain seek for satisfaction in the possession of the truths that most concern them, whilst they let loose their thoughts into the vast ocean of Being, as if all that boundless extent were the undoubted possession of human understanding. We must employ instead the less pretentious but surer method, and inquire what the real universe that is in a small measure revealed in our experience of the temporal succession therein shows itself to be, physically and morally. In next lecture, accordingly, we shall exchange the abstract necessity and undifferentiated unity of pantheism for the tentative experience that seems more suited to man, in his place in the hierarchy of existence, intermediate between the merely sensuous animal and Divine Omniscience. For the alternative seems to be—Homo mensura, in some interpretation of this formula, or Nulla mensura.