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Lecture 4: Non-Moral Deity, or the Gods of Modern Pessimism

BEFORE proceeding to the verification of the hypothesis of a just, beneficent Providence in history, enunciated at the close of last lecture, we are to consider the main sources of doubt, as indicated in the first lecture. The first of these is, views of God incompatible with an ethical world-aim; conceptions of God as a non-moral deity below caring for man, and the interests man as a moral personality represents. This is the theme of our present lecture.

It is needless to spend time in showing that a rational and moral world-aim is excluded by Materialism, for which the only possible divinity is the pantheon of eternally existent atoms capable by their motions and combinations of producing a universe. For the Materialist, as we saw, thought, consciousness, is only a curious phenomenon, a lusus naturae, a sort of phosphorescent light thrown off by brain tissue, a thing possessing no causative virtue, to be entirely discounted in explaining the physical universe and wholly unworthy to be the chief end for which the world exists. So contemptuous an attitude towards the rational and moral is not indeed assumed by all Materialists. Strauss is a conspicuous exception. He held that though the world did not proceed from reason, it is nevertheless on the march towards the highest reason; and contains traces at once of a rational, an æsthetic, and a moral order which demand a worshipful recognition not less earnest and reverential than that which the Theist offers to his God. In this respect the author of The Old and the New Faith was certainly better than his theory.

Our present concern is with men who really believe in a God, and in a God endowed with mental attributes, yet not in a God for whom moral distinctions and interests possess significance. I have in view chiefly the German philosophical representatives and advocates of modern pessimism who have introduced some strange new divinities as the objects of a pessimistic cult. Spinoza was no pessimist, and if I make a brief preliminary reference to his idea of God, it is not without apology for placing him in so, inferior and uncongenial company, and simply as an aid towards the better understanding of the metaphysical nature of a type of deity so foreign to our habits of thought, that we can with difficulty imagine anybody taking it in earnest.

The God of Spinoza, then, is the One self-existent, absolute Substance out of which all being flows in two parallel but non-communicating streams of things which are extended, and things which think. The primal substance possesses the attributes of both these classes of things. God is matter and has extension, he is mind and thinks. But God's thought is not like human thought. The Divine intellect resembles the human only in name, not otherwise than the celestial sign of the dog resembles the animal called dog which barks. Yet it remains the fact that Spinoza does ascribe to the absolute substance intellect in some sense, and likewise will, and assigns to these attributes a function in the production of the universe. But not in a sense that can satisfy Theists. For Spinoza's deity produces all things without aim, as if his will were an uninformed blind unconscious force. Design, purpose, teleology, has no place in the universe. But this does not imply that the universe is a blundering, imperfect piece of work. Spinoza has no fault to find with the world. Let the fact be noted, for herein he differs utterly from the more recent philosophers to be hereafter spoken of. He thinks the world as it is, perfect. Whatever is real is perfect; reality and perfection are the same thing. But is not there much evil, as we call it, in the world; physical evil, moral evil, bad men, fools? Yes, doubtless, replies the imperturbable philosopher, but it takes all that exists to make a world, and everything that exists has its reason of existence, its own place, and is good in its place. God produced all that His infinite intellect was able to conceive, without choice, by necessity, therefore bad men as well as good men, fools as well as sages. This implies, of course, that moral distinctions have no reality for God, and Spinoza makes no pretence of thinking to the contrary. God, he teaches, has no resentment against the evil and foolish, seeing he brought them into existence. And men, he thinks, should imitate God in this respect, and take the evil of all sorts in the world with philosophic calmness, not vexing themselves because so much sin and sorrow exists. They should neither approve the good nor disapprove the bad, nor indulge in morbid sympathy with human suffering. He who rightly understands that all things follow from the necessity of the Divine nature and happen according to the eternal laws of nature, will find nothing worthy of hatred, mockery, or contempt, nor will he commiserate any one, but as far as lies in his power he will endeavour to live jollily, as they say, and to be glad. Thus Spinoza is as remote as can be from the mood of modern pessimism. He is a thorough-going optimist, having for his motto, Whatever is, is good. Merging the ethical in the physical in his conception both of Deity and of human nature, he is content with things as they are, and looks on philanthropic schemes for the amelioration of the world as illusory. Elaborate criticism on the Spinozan idea of God is unnecessary. It obviously excludes a providential order in any real valuable sense. Spinoza's God is simply natura naturans, nature blindly working without cease in the production of the things which make up the sum of being; eternally creating without consciousness and without purpose. Of course this deity is indifferent to moral distinctions, yet it (we cannot properly say ‘He’) is not on that account to be blamed as if it were immoral. It is simply non-moral, acting without knowing what it is doing. Whether men, imitating this deity by a habit of moral indifference, would be equally blameless is another question. The temper of Spinoza was that of the Stoic. As the mood of one whose lot was hard, it may be regarded with indulgence, but when deliberately cherished as the model frame of mind, and commended to others as the final lesson of the highest wisdom, it cannot be too energetically repudiated. The nobler mood is surely that which cannot reconcile itself to evil, especially to moral evil, which hates it and fights it wherever it meets it, which believes that it can be successfully fought in the individual and in the race, and is ever ready to sacrifice life in the heroic warfare. But this ethical temper needs the support of faith in an ethical God.

In classing Schopenhauer among the setters forth of strange, non-moral deities, I am aware that I should speak more exactly, if I represented him as one who believes in no God at all. He is an Atheist rather than a Theist, or even a Pantheist of any known type. With Pantheists, as he tells us, he has in common ‘the one and all’ (ἓν καὶ πα̑ν) but not the one as God (πα̑ν θϵὸς). His ‘one and all’ is the will (Wille), and will is the essence of the world rather than a god. Yet Schopenhauer's will takes the place assigned to God in other systems. It is the ultimate reality, the thing-in-itself, the source of all things, that of which the world we know is the mental representation.

This will, Schopenhauer's substitute for Deity, takes the place of extension in the system of Spinoza, the material attribute of the absolute substance. Schopenhauer follows recent science in conceiving force as the essence of matter, and the ultimate principle in the universe. Adopting that view, he identifies the force which, under various forms, works everywhere in the universe, with will, that is, with the form of force of which we are conscious in ourselves, and which we are accustomed to call will-power. This extension of the term he justifies by a poetic simile. If the first morning-dawn shares with the rays of full midday the name of sunlight, why should not every form of force—mechanical, chemical, electric, bear the same name as that we employ to denote the highest type of energy, that which in the light of conscious thought is guided by an aim?

Nothing is gained for Theism by this adoption of a spiritual designation for the power everywhere at work in the universe. The imposing generalisation does not level up cosmic force to the human, but levels down human will-force to the cosmic. The will of which Schopenhauer sees traces everywhere is blind, mindless. Spinoza endowed his absolute substance with thought as well as with extension; Schopenhauer drops the former attribute from his conception of the ultimate reality, viewing mind as purely phenomenal and accidental, having no part in the inner essence of things. The omnipresent will of which the world is the objectification is a dark, restless, resistless striving towards existence whereof the actual universe of being is the result. How there came to be such a blind Titanic force our philosopher does not pretend to know. There it is; and hence all our woes.

For, in the opinion of Schopenhauer, the existence of the world is a pure and unmitigated calamity. It would have been infinitely better had there been no will to exist, or if it had never left the rest of the ‘blessed nothing.’ Why so; why should the world be so bad; why should existence be a calamity? Because, replies our philosopher, the basis of all will is need, want; hence pain, the pain of unsatisfied desire, inherent in desire, inseparable from it in human experience. Will and pain are close companions wherever, as in man, there is capacity for feeling pain. There is no pain in rocks, or so far as we know, in plants, because there the condition of its existence, feeling, is wanting. Pain comes in with animal life, and the higher the type of animal the more acute the pain. Therefore, man, at the head of the animal creation, is the great sufferer, and among men the man of genius has the honour to be the most miserable of beings. Pain, the great fact in human life—such is the dismal gospel of this new philosophy,—pain, the only permanent and positive element in our experience. Pleasure, fleeting and negative, a momentary gratification resulting from the satisfaction of desire; pain not to be escaped from even by the removal of wants, a life without objects of desire being a life of utter emptiness and insufferable ennui.

At this point the contrast between Spinoza and Schopenhauer is great. If, as we saw, Spinoza is an optimist, Schopenhauer is a pessimist of the extreme type. If the temper of the earlier philosopher is cheerful, that of the later is despairing. Correspondingly different are their respective practical philosophies. The counsel of the one being: ‘Live jollily,’ that of the other is: ‘Reduce life to a minimum, extirpate desire, restrain the will to live, enter on the narrow way of asceticism.’ In short, as John the Baptist was Elijah reappearing, Schopenhauer is the sage of ancient India, Buddha, redivivus. For both, the one path of escape from the misery of the world is renunciation. According to Schopenhauer this is not only our sole refuge, but our highest duty. Resignation! behold the final goal, the inmost essence of all virtue and sanctity, and the true means of redemption from the world. If we neglect to follow this course, what was, to begin with, our misfortune becomes our sin, and the misery we suffer becomes its penalty. The will to live is immoral, and the pain it inevitably entails is its just punishment. And so it comes to pass that there is in the world an eternal righteousness asserting itself not in any uncertain, hesitating, blundering way, but firmly, surely, and infallibly rendering unto every man according to his work. Therefore it is the imperative behest of wisdom to renounce the will to live. But why stop there; why merely subdue the will to live and to enjoy life; why not put an end to life outright and be done with this sorry existence? Because, replies Schopenhauer, suicide differs most widely from the denial of the will to live. Far from being denial of the will, it is a strong assertion of will. The suicide wills life, and is only dissatisfied with the conditions under which it has presented itself to him. He thus surrenders not the will to live, but life because it is not to his mind. The true surrender is that which shuns not the sorrows of life merely but its joys. Therefore live on, but live as the hermit, as one dead to the world, indifferent to its pleasures, and hence free from its pains, from the torments which visit all who give full rein to desire.1

What now is to be said of this strange, dismal philosophy which saw the light in the beginning of the present century? In the first place, that whether we like it or not, it is one of the theories of the universe open to our choice if we cease to believe in Theism. It is always well to have a clear perception of the alternatives. If then we abandon a theistic view of the world, i.e. faith in an ethical God, this is one of the rival views which to-day compete for the vacant place in our creed. I imagine the feeling of most of us will be that we had better bear the ills we have than fly to others that we know not of. Better try again to construe the world on theistic principles, however hard the task, than find in Schopenhauer's Wille the key to all mysteries. But this is a mere praejudicium; thorough thinkers desire to know what is to be said of this theory on its merits. I cannot here go fully into this matter, but I may venture to make two remarks. The question may very legitimately be asked, in the first place: by what right is the action of the law of cohesion in molecules, or of the law of gravitation in the planetary system, identified in essence with that of the human will? And secondly, supposing that identification be allowed, why should will in any of its manifestations be dissociated from intelligence? Why must the world-will, except in the case of men, be blind? Why should wisdom, reason, not be everywhere, as well as will, working in concert with it, directing its energy, so that it shall not blindly produce a world that had better not have been, but rather give rise to a veritable cosmos? In wise men will-power associated with reason takes the beneficent form of self-restraint. Why should not the ultimate reality be a will of this kind, not content with producing existence of any sort, but aiming at a world that could be pronounced good?

Our verdict on the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer must ultimately rest not on speculative but on empirical grounds. It is an attempt at a theoretical justification of radical discontent with the world as it is. Its method is avowedly inductive. It starts from the facts of outer and inner experience and tries to find their rationale. The real question therefore is, Has the author of the theory under consideration read the facts truly, or has he looked on them with jaundiced eyes? Is the world as bad as he makes it; is human life as miserable as he represents it to be? That is a jury question on which every one is able to form a more or less intelligent opinion. It is not a question for philosophers only; the common man may without presumption answer it for himself, and his judgment may be sounder than that of the philosopher. There is not much room for doubt that the particular philosopher called Schopenhauer has judged very unsoundly. His indictment against the world and against human life is a gross exaggeration, in which the personal equation plays a great part. It is a good instance of the ‘vigour and rigour’ to which, according to the late Mr. Matthew Arnold, German theorists in general are prone. It is a good instance also illustrative of an observation made by Max Nordau in his work on Degeneracy, that philosophic systems simply furnish the excuses reason demands for the unconscious impulses of the race during a given period of time.2 In this country most men may be content with the unconscious impulse, not troubling themselves about the defensive theory, but in Germany they cannot live without a theory. The pessimistic mood is widely prevalent at present, how widely may be guessed from the extensive circulation of Hartmann's ponderous volume on the Philosophy of the Unconscious. In his lectures on antitheistic theories, Dr. Flint expresses the fear that the disease will spread in this country, and confesses despondency as to the prospect of its soon passing away.3 Probably his apprehensions are well founded. In any case the question raised by this pessimistic literature is one of present urgency and undoubted importance, on which it behoves all thoughtful men to make up their minds. It is the question, What is the worth of life? This topic will occupy our attention in next lecture.

The philosophy of Hartmann is a much more elaborate, plausible, and attractive scheme of thought than that of Schopenhauer. His idea of God is a great improvement compared with the crude, repulsive conception of the earlier philosopher. He sees no reason for making the Deity a Being of one attribute. To Schopenhauer's will he adds intellect, thus reverting to the position of Spinoza, who assigned to the absolute substance the two attributes of thought and extension. But, for Hartmann, intellect in God is much more of a reality than it was for Spinoza, who, as we saw, held that intellect in God is no more like intellect in man than the dogstar is like a dog, and that all thought, in so far as real, is to be found only in men. Hartmann endows the Divine intellect with a liberal allowance of marvellous attributes. It has clear sight (Hellsehen) and foresight; it is omniscient and all-wise; it is infallible—without hesitation, without need of reflection, without fatigue perceiving the true and the fit; it exercises an unsleeping providence over the universe, using every natural cause as a means for its great designs, and exercising its care not merely over the whole, but over every individual part however minute, being omnipresent as well as omniscient. This looks very like the God of Theism; there is, however, one outstanding point of difference. The intellect of God, as compared with that of man, is unconscious. But when all the achievements of the ‘Unconscious’ are considered, it almost seems as if the lack of consciousness were an advantage rather than a defect. Hartmann, indeed, distinctly claims that it is, and represents the clear-seeing intelligence of the unconscious Supreme, with its eye infallibly fixed on its aims, and eternally grasping, in one view, all aims, means, and necessary conditions, as infinitely superior to the lame, heavy tread of conscious discursive reflection obliged to attend to one thing at a time, and dependent on perception, memory, and occasional inspirations.4 He puts upon the unconscious thought of the Great Spirit the stamp of superiority by calling it superconscious, and virtually asks Theists what they have to complain of if he offers them a Being who, while unconscious, possesses an omniscient, all-wise, superconscious intelligence which teleologically determines the content of the creation and of the world-process.5 Certainly if that were all the difference between his idea of God and that of Theism, there would not be any very serious ground of quarrel. But that is not the only or the chief point of divergence, as we shall see in due course.

Before we come to that, however, it may be well to linger for a few moments over this new name for Deity, The Unconscious, that we may familiarise ourselves a little with the grounds on which it rests. In Hartmann's pages it appears as the final result of an elaborate inductive inquiry carried on throughout all departments of nature. This inquiry ought to appeal fully as much to men of science as to theologians, both because of its inductive method, and because of its extensive exhibition of scientific facts which they alone can duly control and appreciate. Hartmann finds traces of unconscious thought everywhere, and specially in the body and in the soul of man. In the body: in physical functions, in reflex action, in the healing power, in the formation of organs, in the instincts which play so extensive a part in the lower animal world. In the soul: in sexual love, in artistic feeling and production, in the origin of language, in thought, in the perceptions of the senses, in the history of the human race. In the former region the facts are not to be accounted for, Hartmann thinks, by merely mechanical action. There is teleology, action with an aim unconsciously conceived; markedly so, e.g. in the case of instincts, really so in all cases. The thought of the end to be accomplished is not in our brain or consciousness, but it is there all the same, in the part concerned, or rather in the mind of the great Unconscious. As regards the spiritual region, I have already, in a previous lecture, had occasion to refer to Hartmann's theory of the action of unconscious thought in connection with the origin of language. I need not repeat what I said then, nor do I deem it necessary to go into any further detail, though some of the illustrations are very tempting, e.g. those drawn from the traces of inspiration in human thought, and of unconscious prescience in human history. With reference to the last-named sphere, Hartmann quotes with approval words of Schiller which speak of a far-reaching vision which sees long before whither the freedom of man is being led in the bonds of necessity, and how the self-seeking aims of individuals are unconsciously tending towards the service of the whole.6 How far he is right in such views is not at present the question. What we are now concerned with is to understand his way of thinking.

Unconscious thought sporadically present in all parts of the world, accessible to observation, is supposed to be proved by this elaborate inductive process. Granting that the thesis has been established, What then? Does the process of proof justify the application of the epithet unconscious to one being, to God? Not, certainly, as a matter of course, and of that Hartmann is well aware. He thinks it necessary to lead proof that the sporadic manifestations of the unconscious all coalesce in an ultimate unity, and that the unconsciousness is not merely in the human subject but in that ultimate unity. The ultimate unity is God, and the unconsciousness of the ultimate unity means that God is without consciousness.

An unconscious Deity—is such a conception of sinister significance for the world? In view of the other attributes ascribed to the Deity one would say, No. Yet Hartmann is a pessimist, if not of so truculent a type as Schopenhauer, still a decided and thorough going one. How does the pessimism come in? Just as it came in in the case of Schopenhauer, from experience. Hartmann, like Schopenhauer, is thoroughly discontented with the actual world, and he shapes his philosophy to square with the supposed facts. Hence two supplementary propositions, hitherto unnoticed, concerning his unconscious, yet in other respects well-endowed, Divinity. The great unconscious One has no regard to morality, and in the origination of the universe only His will, not His intellect was active; so that, though he knows well what he is doing in the world as it actually exists, he did not know what he was doing when he made it. In our philosopher's judgment, if the Creator had known what he was doing, he would not have made the world, for he would have known, as Hartmann knows, that all possible worlds are bad, our world, though the best possible, as Leibnitz maintained, being no exception.

That morality has no significance for God is not an obiter dictum in Hartmann's system. The position finds frequent expression in the Philosophie des Unbewussten. Thus in one place it is stated that the predicates, moral and immoral, are creations of consciousness, and do not belong to the Unconscious, and that nature so far as unconscious does not know moral distinctions.7 Elsewhere we find such statements as these: Morality and righteousness have significance only from the standpoint of individuation, i.e. they belong only to the world of appearance.8 Pleasure and pain are wholly real, and the Unconscious is the common subject of them, feeling them in the collective individual consciousness; on the other hand, morality and righteousness are simply ideas of consciousness. Morality and righteousness, as such, cannot be aims in the world-process—they can at most only be secondary aims in subordination to the higher aim of happiness. Immorality (resulting from egoism) is an unavoidable evil without which individual existence is impossible; therefore the demand for a direct Divine interest in righteousness is a theological mistake, which for the sake of a wholly insignificant advantage would continually throw the world out of the groove of its laws.9

It thus appears that, in the judgment of Hartmann, morality, righteousness, as such, has no independent value for God. In a world admittedly full of teleology, the moral interest, which theologians have been accustomed to esteem worthy to be the supreme end, has no place at all as an end, or at most a quite subordinate place. The great unconscious Being, indeed, is more interested in immorality than in morality, for immorality springs out of egoism, and egoism, selfishness, the struggle for existence, is inseparable from individuation. These views are revolting enough, but time need not be wasted in giving expression to pious horror. What I am concerned to point out there is the sinister influence which the doctrines enunciated must exercise on our estimate of the evil that is in the world. They shut us up to pessimism by depriving us of the best means of explaining evil, I mean physical evil—suffering, sorrow, pain. We can no longer say, even in the broadest sense, that physical evil is to be understood in the light of moral evil, and to be regarded, at least in many cases, as its penalty. This theistic theory implies that the moral interest is, for the Ruler of the world, supreme, and that physical evil, to any extent, is abundantly justified when it can be shown to be subservient to the great ethical world-aim. If, as Hartmann declares, this theory be false, then our whole Theodicy falls to the ground.10

So much for the dogma that the Unconscious has no regard to morality. Hartmann teaches, further, that the world was created by will unguided by intellect. Hence, we are to understand, it came that there is a world. If intellect had been consulted it would have interdicted creation. It could not have helped to make the world created a better one. The world is as good as it can be, nevertheless it is very bad. All possible worlds are bad; a universe of manifold existence is inherently evil. It embraces among its forms of being men, which means a world full of sin and misery. The one redeeming feature in this dark and dismal state of things is that men are conscious. The chief use and final cause of consciousness is to find out the true condition of the world, its inherent and incurable vanity; and, when the discovery has become universal—all men, in some distant generation, convinced that life is not worth living—to bring the world to an end by simultaneous suicide, involving the Unconscious and all his works in a common ruin. The discovery is necessarily a slow process. But be of good cheer, we arc already well on the way; certain well-known illusions lie behind us, and if we be still subject to other illusions, it cannot be very long till the dawn of disillusionment arrive. Our redemption draweth nigh.

The history of the world, according to our philosopher, is the history of illusions successively blinding men's minds for generations, then at length found out and abandoned. All forms of illusion have reference to the attainment of happiness. Three stages have to be passed through before the final truth is known. The first stage is the idea that happiness is attainable in this earthly life by each individual. Such was the belief of the Jewish, Greek, and Roman world. The experiment was thoroughly tried, and the result, general insight into the truth proclaimed by the preacher, ‘All is vanity.’ That it could not be otherwise our author tries to show by a detailed examination of all possible sources of pleasure: health, youth, freedom, family, friendship, honour, religion, morality, immorality, science, art, hope. The second stage of illusion is the idea that happiness is attainable by the individual in a transcendent life after death. This belief gained currency through the Christian religion, which arrived on the historic stage just when it was needed to rescue the old Pagan world from the deep disgust at life into which it had fallen, when its eyes had been opened to the illusory character of all happiness in this sublunary scene. The new belief was very good as an interim; it gave fresh zest to life as long as men could accept it as the truth. But now Christianity is pretty well played out. It dies hard, doubtless. Few have the courage to say openly they are done with it. Even Kant, Hegel, and Schelling tried to persuade themselves that the Christian faith was theirs. Among the faithless only one has been faithful—courageous enough to break finally with the religion of heavenly hope—Schopenhauer. But, we are assured, he is the pioneer showing the way all must sooner or later go. Secular energy steadily gains the upper hand, Antichrist spreads all around, and soon Christianity will be but the shadow of its medieval greatness, and become once more what it was at its origin, the last consolation of the poor and sorrow-laden.11

And what next? Yet another final stage of the illusion: the idea that happiness will be realised in the future of the world-process. This is now the faith coming into fashion, the natural accompaniment of the theory of evolution. ‘The life of man,’ so the Time-spirit whispers in the ears of our generation, ‘has been bad in the past, it is bad enough still, and as for the hope of heaven it is a dream. But, courage! things are steadily mending; there is an immanent development going on which must issue sooner or later in an improved condition of social life, and in a higher standard of morality. Let this hope be your comfort under personal disappointment, your succedaneum for a vanished heaven, your stimulus to exertion in the generous work of hastening on the good time coming.’ The author of the philosophy of the Unconscious is sorry to find himself in a minority of one here. He does not believe in the good time coming, in a heaven ahead of us, any more than in a heaven above us. He does not expect either social or moral improvement in the distant future. Culture will not bring contentment, nor will immorality diminish. There will be no improvement even in science and art. The future will give us, instead of geniuses, respectable mediocrities. He does not expect, he does not even wish, people to accept this unpleasant forecast. Let the illusion last as long as it can. He even expresses a pious belief in a Providence which will take care that the anticipations of the quiet thinker shall not disturb the course of history by gaining premature currency. Nevertheless, the modern prophet of pessimism has full faith in his solitary vision. It will come true, though fulfilment may tarry. Slowly, reluctantly, men generally will be forced at last to admit that this late-born hope is also an illusion. And then? The long reign of illusion ended, mankind, not this man or that man, but humanity at large, will sigh for absolute painlessness, nothingness, Nirvana, annihilation.

Such is the attempt made by Eduard von Hartmann to provide modern pessimism with the support of a speculative theory. Whatever one may think of its truth or tendency it were unjust and ungenerous to withhold the praise due to ingenuity, vivid presentation, and unflinching audacity. But we cannot afford to leave the matter there. Vague, evasive commendation must not take the place of wholesome criticism. It is necessary to come to terms with pessimistic philosophers, that we may know just how we stand. A few critical observations, therefore, may fitly close this lecture.

1. My first observation is, that if there be truth in pessimism, some such philosophy as this must be forthcoming as its theoretical substructure. Every dominant mood of feeling, or prevailing way of life, implies a congruous theory of the universe. Therefore you cannot afford to laugh, or be shocked, at the philosophy, and yet indulge in a pessimistic mood. If you will think out your position to its last consequences, this or something like it, something possibly worse, is what you must come to. You must believe not in no God, but in a bad God, in a God with a will without intelligence, or with intelligence and without morality. The universe, left to the action of its own mechanical forces, without a God to guide them, need not come out so bad as the pessimist finds it. Strauss was a materialistic Atheist, but he believed, nevertheless, that the world is good, and that in it is being realised more and more a threefold order of reason, beauty, and goodness. It needs a God like that conceived by Schopenhauer or Hartmann to make a world as bad as the present world is supposed to be. Therefore, if the Deity offered to faith be unacceptable, the pessimist will do well to subject his view of life to careful revision.

2. I am not disposed to make it my chief ground of quarrel with Hartmann that he represents his Deity as unconscious. I do not think, indeed, that the epithet is duly grounded, but if it pleases the author it may be allowed to pass as, in itself, comparatively innocuous. The adoption of this attribute as the most appropriate designation of the Divine Being is simply a conceit. Unconsciousness may be a characteristic of Deity, but it can hardly be the most important one. To those who are unfamiliar with the idea of unconscious thought, it may well appear impossible to understand how it can have any place among the attributes of a Being admitted to be intelligent. If it be an absurdity, however, it is not quite an original one on Hartmann's part. He has had predecessors here, as he is careful to point out, including among them Leibnitz, Kant, and Hegel, to the first-named of whom he gives the credit of having communicated to him the first impulse to the investigations whereof the Philosophy of the Unconscious is the fruit. He might have gone even further back in quest of sanction for his pet idea. It finds a place in the ancient philosophies of China and Greece. Yang and Yin, the root principles of the universe, in the philosophy of China, work without consciousness producing effects in which are embodied the highest reason. In his Intellectual System of the Universe, Cudworth shows that the conception was not unfamiliar to the ancient Greek philosophers. The plastic force of nature, which he borrows from them, and discourses on at great length, is pretty much the same thing as Hartmann's Unconscious. The one like the other acts without ‘express συναίσθησις, con-sense, or consciousness of what it doth’;12 it is a ‘drowsy, unawakened, or astonished cogitation.’13 Yet it works with all the ease, skill, and certainty which Hartmann claims for his Unconscious. ‘Whereas human artists are often to seek and at a loss, and therefore consult and deliberate, as also upon second thoughts mend their former work; nature, on the contrary, is never to seek what to do, nor at a stand,’ ‘it never consults nor deliberates, never repents nor goes about, as it were, upon second thoughts, to alter and mend its former course.’14 In one point only Cudworth differs from Hartmann.

He does not commit the mistake of confounding the plastic force of nature with God. He conceives it simply as an instrument in the hands of a Being endowed with a perfect mind. Any other view he regards as monstrous. To make ratio mersa et confusa, a reason drowned in matter, and confounded with it, the supreme governor of the world is, he thinks, ‘to invert the order of the universe, and hang the picture of the world, as of a man, with its heels upwards.’15 ‘If,’ he argues, ‘there be a Φύσις then there must be a Νου̑ς: if there be a plastic nature, that acts regularly and artificially in order to ends, and according to the best wisdom, though itself not comprehending the reason of it, nor being clearly conscious of what it doth; then there must of necessity be a perfect mind or intellect, that is, a Deity, upon which it depends.’16

But be this as it may. Hartmann's Unconscious may or may not be an absurdity, with the additional drawback of being a stale absurdity revived; it is in any case by itself, as already indicated, an innocuous absurdity. The unconsciousness of Deity is not responsible for the pessimism of the system. This is apparent from the contrast at this point between Hartmann and Hegel. I suppose we may admit that Hartmann was entitled to claim Hegel as one of his forerunners in ascribing unconsciousness to Deity. In Hegel's system the Absolute Spirit is unconscious to begin with, and reaches consciousness only in man. But Hegel was no pessimist; on the contrary, his view of the world was pronouncedly optimistic, the real being for him the rational, and the trend of history being steadily towards the realisation of the moral ideal. For Hegel the divine and human are identical, the human the perfect revelation of the divine; and if in the idea of the human, reason seems to receive undue prominence, it is not a reason divorced from, or indifferent to, morality.

3. This last remark leads up to the damning sin of Hartmann's philosophy. It treats immorality as a necessary accompaniment of individual life subject to the supreme law of the struggle for existence, and offers us a Deity for whom moral interests are of no account. The former of these positions is a cynical assumption; the latter is speculatively unjustified. Why, it may be asked, should morality not be an end for Deity? Hartmann complains of Schopenhauer for conceiving of the ultimate principle as mere will without intelligence. May we not with equal right complain of him for conceiving of the ultimate principle as will plus intelligence but minus morality? Both alike are wrong, if man is to be the chief source of our knowledge of God. Schopenhauer remarks that since the oldest times it has been customary to speak of man as a microcosm, a little world; but that he has inverted the thesis and exhibited the world as a macranthropos, a large man.17 He has done this very imperfectly, even if the inventory of human endowment were exhausted by the two words, ‘Wille,’ ‘Vorstellung,’ will and thought. Still more imperfect is his account of the universe if to will and thought be added conscience as an essential element of human nature. Hartmann does far more justice to the second ingredient, thought, but he is equally at fault in reference to the third, conscience. I fear the reason of this neglect in both cases is that neither philosopher takes this highest element in earnest. This criticism applies with special emphasis to Hartmann. The carnal man is for him the normal man. Man, in his view, is simply a hungry animal constantly hunting after enjoyment, bent evermore on giving effect to the will to live and to live happily, pursuing this aim at all hazards, and by all means, reckless of the evil consequences that may result to others. Baffled in one direction he seeks happiness in another. Discovering that happiness for himself is unattainable in any direction, by an instinct of sympathy he hopes that at some future time his fellow-men will be more fortunate, and when at last he clearly discerns that neither here nor hereafter, neither in the present age nor in any future age, can happiness be more than a dream, he makes the grave proposal to the assembled human race: ‘Brothers in misery, let us together leave this wretched world, and make one sublime simultaneous plunge into the eternal dark.’

4. On the alleged illusoriness of life something will be said in another lecture. Meantime this criticism of Hartmann's philosophy may wind up with one additional observation on his conception of a non-moral Deity. Hartmann believes in inspiration. He discovers traces of the Unconscious at work in the thoughts and productions of men of genius: poets, musicians, and the like. What of Hebrew prophets, and kindred spirits among other peoples? Were they too not inspired, if not with an exceptional or exclusive type of inspiration, at least with an inspiration of a very real kind? But what was the burden of their prophecies? Righteousness, the moral order of the world. God asserting His presence in human affairs as a just, beneficent power. Have their sublime utterances on these great themes no objective truth or value? If they have, then are they true messages from God, true revelations of God, intimations that He does care for righteousness, that He cares for nothing more, that for Him righteousness is the supreme interest in this world. This faith concerning God, the wisest and best men in all ages have cherished. All things considered, it is a better creed than that offered to us in the name of modern pessimism. Many of us are familiar with Richter's famous dream, in which a universe without God appeared as an eye-socket with the eye taken out of it. It is a hideous picture. But there is something more hideous: an eye-socket with an eye in it, fixing on you the demoniac gaze of raving madness. It is the frenzied eye of the pessimist's divinity.

But why, do you ask, turn upon us this evil eye, to haunt us in our dreams? Such deities as you have spoken of, no English mind, even though pessimistically inclined, could so much as imagine, far less seriously propose for the acceptance of the world. Why not leave these pessimistic deities to receive such homage as they can command from the speculative Teutonic intellect that gave them birth? It is too late to speak of this. We are not so insulated in our spiritual situation as many wish. The new gods are already known to our younger thinkers, some of whom are devoting themselves with religious ardour to the propagation of belief in them. Besides, the pessimistic temper is infectious, and spreads like a spiritual influenza. An antidote is needed, and knowledge of what it all comes to may serve the purpose. I want to compel practical pessimists to think a little on the theoretic presuppositions of their pet mood. The ultimate question is: Is the Being at the heart of this universe good, or is He evil? Blind will, or benignant will; non-moral intelligence, or wisdom allied with righteousness—which is it to be? ‘If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.’18

  • 1.

    Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, vol i. p. 471. Haldane's translation, vol. i. p. 514.

  • 2.

    P. 416.

  • 3.

    P. 292.

  • 4.

    Philosophie des Unbewusstes, p. 536.

  • 5.

    Ibid. p. 537.

  • 6.

    Page 342.

  • 7.

    pp. 230, 232.

  • 8.

    P. 639.

  • 9.

    P. 641.

  • 10.

    A position similar to that of Hartmann seems to be taken up by Mr. Bradley in his recent work, Appearance and Reality. ‘The absolute,’ he tells us (p. 533), ‘is not personal, nor is it moral, nor is it beautiful or true.’ Vide a criticism of this work by Professor Seth in Man's Place in the Cosmos.

  • 11.

    P. 728.

  • 12.

    Vol. i. p. 343.

  • 13.

    Vol. i. p. 345.

  • 14.

    Vol. i. pp. 334-5.

  • 15.

    Vol. i. pp. 353, 372.

  • 16.

    Vol. i. p. 371.

  • 17.

    Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, vol. ii. p. 739.

  • 18.

    I Kings xviii. 21.