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Part IV. A Rationalist's Outlook

Chapter XVI: Religion and Rationalism


1 In the last three chapters a view of the world has been emerging very different from that of traditional religion. The world appears to be a closely knit, intelligible order, but an order neutral to good and evil. Good and evil, so far as is known, are confined to one planet, and to one strand in the history of that planet, namely the evolution of striving minds. As regards value, the universe presents the appearance of a great plain stretching to the horizon on all sides, but exhibiting at one point an extraordinary phenomenon—a tower that is being slowly thrust upward into the sky. This is the tower of purposive endeavour, begun in palaeozoic mud, pushed slowly upward through aeons of biological struggle, and rising more rapidly in its later stages through conscious human effort. In that solitary column all the values in the universe, so far as we know, have had their precarious career. The sky above it is not inhabited, as traditional religion has imagined, by a magnified, non-natural man who fixes a continual gaze, jealous, hortatory and punitive, upon man's comings and goings. The world cares nothing for man. His sky is now a vaster and colder expanse, an infinite impersonal network of qualities in relation. If religion is the adjustment of the man as a whole to what he holds to be ultimately true and good, then any proposed alternative to the religion of the past must rest on an understanding of that ancient upward thrust of which it is an essential part.

On the intellectual side we have seen something of what that aspiring thrust has meant. The powers that govern nature are personified in myth; little by little they are moralised and fused into one; and the character of Deity is gradually purified as man's conception of his own moral ideal is refined and made consistent. That process reached its acme in Christian theism. This theism took the form of an elaborately wrought supernaturalism, some expressions of which, both Catholic and Protestant, have fallen under review in this study. We have seen that it is a difficult view to defend, either morally or cosmologically. Some philosophical exponents of Christianity, particularly the line of distinguished idealists from Hegel to Royce, failed to find the alleged rift between natural and supernatural and insisted that the universe was a seamless whole. In this whole, described as the Absolute, all man's potentialities were somehow realised. Just as his intellectual impulse would be found fulfilled in a system in which all things were interconnected, so his moral and aesthetic impulses must be fulfilled in a whole of perfect goodness and unflawed beauty. This has been one of the great recurrent visions of philosophy. We have been able to accept it only with an important modification. There is good reason, indeed, to think the universe an intelligible system, but there is no reason to think that beyond the human horizon it is either good or beautiful. The cosmos of modern science and reflective thought is one that invites and incites man's intellect but cares nothing for the yearnings or aspirations of his heart.

2 If this is true, the theology of the future will have decreasing use for the theology of the past. That theology has pursued an uneasy and vacillating course, constrained by conflicting demands from the head and from the heart. Over and over again in our study we have seen that this double allegiance cannot be maintained without disaster. Theology should, in our view, recognise this frankly, concede that there is only one criterion for truth, and merge its efforts with those of science and philosophy, which recognise, at least formally, that their interest is in truth alone. The sort of world view that might emerge from such a pursuit we have ventured to sketch in the three preceding chapters.

To anyone who accepts the traditional faith, either Catholic or Protestant, this view must be bleak and forbidding; to accept it is to move from a Father's house into an infinite impersonal web of causality and logic. Nevertheless it may be doubted whether, to most men, the shock would be very great. Even in those ages in which supernaturalism had its fullest sway, men for the most part did it lip-service rather than the service of whole-hearted belief, and such belief as they had has been slowly crumbling for centuries. Does this mean that religion is threatened with extinction? Not if religion means what we have taken it to mean. Man's attempt to adjust himself to the ultimate truth about the world on the one hand and to the demands of ideal goodness on the other is certain to go on. But the centre of religious interest is slowly shifting from creed to conduct. The cosmology of religion is becoming less dogmatic, more honest, and more tentative. It is the ethical side of religion that now seems most important, and most likely to grow in importance. And the moral ideal is itself in course of development. Any projection of the religious future must here follow the graph of past moral advance, the line of man's long struggle to formulate his ends and to use them in the ordering of his life. We have spoken of his erecting a tower of purposive behaviour on a vast non-purposive plain. Let us return to that briefly, in preparation for our final question, whether the rational ordering of life is an adequate continuant or substitute for traditional religion.


3 The appearance of purpose in the world is a fact that has proved stubbornly inexplicable. No one knows when purposive behaviour began, or how, or why. Some have thought that it never began, that the existence of consciousness and the efficacy of purpose are both illusions, and that the universe is a physical whole governed throughout by purely physical law. We shall not stop to argue the matter. The evidence that I am a conscious being is that at the present moment I am aware of writing this line. The evidence that I am a purposive being is that I am aware of my using some words rather than others because they bear on my present purpose. There have been philosophers who held that purposive behaviour never began, but for an opposite reason, namely that it is present always and everywhere. Empedocles, Stout, and Whitehead held that even in the iron filing that moves toward the magnet there is some dim rootlet of what eventually becomes desire. It may be so, though it is hard to see how the position could be established. Suffice it to say that purposive behaviour is now a fact, that it has a long evolutionary history, and that it is enormously important, since all that we know of values—intellectual, moral, or other—belongs to this development and all we can hope to become must be achieved through its continuance.

Through most of this long history, the use of purpose has been intermittent, groping, and half blind. On the animal level purpose operates only when pushed by impulse and organic need, when the animal is hungry, for example, or is aroused by fear, sex, or anger. When impulse is in abeyance, there is no power to plan deliberately, or to defer lesser goods to later and greater ones, or to organise ends into a pattern of reciprocal support. The advance of purpose through animal agents is like the progress of a snail, pushing out tentative experimental horns in this direction and that, and inching along in the direction of least rebuff. The snail does not know where it is going; neither do the higher animals; neither, with any definiteness, does man. It is only in the later stages of the journey, when the purposes that have been half-consciously guiding him begin to assume explicit form, that man attains some rough idea of what he is seeking and what would bring him true fulfilment.

If one looks back along the line of man's advance, a certain sense of its gist and direction soon makes itself felt, a sense confirmed by fuller study. The central factor in human development is the advance of thought. It is advance in the free use of thought, in the firmer mastery of thought, in fuller submission to the laws of thought, in subjecting the protean miscellany of human impulses and feelings to unification and direction by thought. We may well follow in a little more detail how thought proceeds in raising the level of human nature and conduct. It adds three dimensions to life, which we may call length, breadth, and coherence.


4(1) The advance of mind in the dimension of length means the ordering of life by what is more and more remote in time. The animal lives in the immediate, hunting when hungry and ceasing when satisfied, but taking no pains to lay up stores of provisions against the day when hunger returns and there is no prey to be found. We have admitted that there are apparent exceptions; the squirrel in secreting nuts does seem to be provisioning himself against the winter. But whatever may go on in his puzzlingly provident little mind, he never shows in laying up his treasures the far-flung strategy that man shows constantly. Man can not only provide for tomorrow or next winter; he can foresee the onset of old age and provide security for those who survive him; he can arrange a career of posthumous beneficence by placing his funds in trust for a hospital, college, or library. He may be able to speak almost in person to later generations, for as Milton pointed out, a book is the ‘life-blood’ of a mind, ‘treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life’. To be sure, thought as a mental event is as truly confined to the passing moment as any other event; but in range of reference it has gained a freedom that has no bounds, and is able to order present action in the light of long past engagements or of consequences far in the future.


5(2) Thought adds to conduct a further dimension of breadth. There is no such thing as a really ‘single-track mind’. A mind is a composite of dispositions, each of which tends to realise itself in an impulse of its own, and these impulses, unless controlled from a single source, would go off each in its own direction. The self, in Plato's simile, is like a charioteer driving a team of horses, though the horses are not two, as he suggested, but many, and unless kept abreast by bit and rein, they are likely to tear the self apart. In animal behaviour some one instinct—the hunting, the maternal, the pugnacious—is likely at a given time to have clear dominance, to be succeeded by some other when the first has been more or less satisfied. If two of them compete, there will be an almost visible tug-of-war between them, resulting perhaps in a rapid alternation in dominance. The squirrel that is offered a nut gives a pretty exhibition of the shift from appetite to fear, first approaching hungrily, then turning timidly back, then approaching a little nearer, and finally, when it sees an unexpected movement, scurrying off in panic.

Man, through his ability to take thought, has escaped the necessity of that almost mechanical alternation. He can drive many horses abreast. A man who is in the market for a new house can specify in his own mind what he wants of it: he would like a house that is near a church, a supermarket, and a golf course; and it should have bookshelves, oil heat, a play-room, and a room that will hold a piano. Here he is planning the satisfaction of seven principal interests at once—religious, nutritional, athletic, intellectual, hedonic, paternal, aesthetic. His impulses are not acting singly, like scouts taking turns in leading the file; at his best they behave like an army advancing on a wide front under unified command. Nor is he confined in his consideration to the array of his own impulses. He can include in his thought the minds of others as centres of value like himself, and use them as models, counsellors, or allies. Here again his power of thought gives him a range of concern far beyond that of his animal predecessors. The concern of a cat for other members of its species is virtually confined to its own family, and that of a dog to its pack.1 Man, through his power of thought, can recognise that any man anywhere has ends and values akin to his own, and that if he is to be consistent he must treat others accordingly.


6(3) It is plain from the growing length and breadth of his concern that man is living in an enlarging world opened to him by thought. We must now look at the third aspect of this world, its increasing coherence.

The advance of thought, as we saw in the last chapter, is governed by an implicit end of its own. If one protracts into the future the line of its past advance, one can see fairly distinctly the goal toward which it is moving. Thought is seeking an understanding of the world that is both comprehensive and systematic. ‘Comprehensive’ is clear enough; what is meant by ‘systematic’? Two things. First, the ideal system will be such that all its parts are consistent with each other; second (a much harder condition to fulfil), the parts will be so interlinked that none will be isolated, contingent, or arbitrary; each will be required and rendered intelligible by its relations with the rest.

When thought concerns itself with the structure or relations to be found among its concepts, it is commonly known as ‘reason’. Now reason is as truly operative among purposes as among concepts. Rationality is not confined to logic, or mathematics, or natural science, or philosophy; it may display itself in conduct, and indeed is present in degree in the conduct of everyone. To be sure, the names of logical relations will carry appropriately modified meanings when applied to the realm of action. Two purposes may be consistent in the sense that both may be realised without inhibiting each other; one's interest in food and in seeing an old friend may both be satisfied simultaneously by having lunch with him. Two purposes may be inconsistent, as when a man's interest in buying an expensive motor car stands in the way of his desire to feed his family. One purpose may imply another in the sense of furthering and supporting it, as when a golfer's love of sport and his love of health work hand in hand.

We have seen that a desire is an impulse with awareness of its end, and that a personality may be conceived as a body of impulses belonging to a single conscious centre. We can now see what is the natural end of a personality so conceived. It is the realisation or fulfilment of its desires. But to fulfil them all is not practically possible, since many desires are so related that the realisation of one is bound to frustrate another. The amended aim of a reflective person is thus the rational fulfilment of desire, which means the completest fulfilment possible in practice. And since, as we have also seen, a man's experience of intrinsic goodness lies in the fulfilment of impulse, together with the pleasure that normally attends it, it follows that in such rational fulfilment he will find the greatest good open to him.

But this must at once be amended further. For Robinson Crusoe, such a sketch of his possibilities would perhaps serve. But no man lives alone. He is surrounded by others, in whom he recognises powers and interests very like his own; and the conditions that make an experience worth having are identical for everyone. If he uses his reason, he will see the inconsistency of holding that a certain experience is good as it occurs in himself while denying that an experience of the same quality and intensity is good when it occurs in someone else; the locus of an experience is irrelevant to its intrinsic goodness. If a man is rational, the system of goods that concerns him will include those of all who are affected by his conduct. Hence if he is to behave rationally, he will be alive not only to the consistencies, the inconsistencies, and the implications between his own goods but also to these relations as they obtain between his own goods and those of others. Reason thus introduces him to a world of immensely widened horizons in opportunity and duty.


7 The rational man, as Plato recognised, will thus be a citizen in a republic that exists only in men's minds when they are united by the common acceptance of an ideal good. The laws of that republic will not be laid down by any de facto legislature but by practical reason itself, operating among men's purposes and appointing their obligations and their rights. This practical reason is at once the ultimate legislature and the ultimate court of appeal, for it supplies the aim of actual and responsible law-makers, and it delivers the only verdict that is without appeal on whether laws are just or unjust. Politics is applied ethics. Its rights and duties all rest on the fact that the state is a necessary means to the ethical end. But the ethical republic itself has no geography, no national bounds, no visible existence. It is a country of the mind in which the qualification for citizenship is a certain level of thought. One must be able to recognise a general good of which one's own good is only a part, for on the recognition of that good one's moral duties and rights depend. One's duties: for duty consists in trying to promote this good. One's rights: for a right is the other side of a duty, and it is the duty of others to take one's own good into account.

There is nothing original in this way of conceiving the moral life. Indeed it belongs to a strand in ethical thinking that has been dominant through most of Western history. It is a teleological ethics, the ethics that recognises man as essentially a pursuer of ends, a seeker after good, and it makes the rightness of conduct depend on its contributoriness to those ends. It was developed with power and subtlety by Plato, and in the main accepted by Aristotle and Aquinas. In modern times it forms the trunk of the ethical tree. Though textbooks find great differences between the self-realisation theories of Green and Bradley and the theories of the utilitarians, and marked differences again between the pleasure-utilitarianism of Mill and Sidgwick, the ‘ideal’ utilitarianism of Rashdall and Moore, and the ‘rule’ utilitarianism of some present-day writers, they were all teleological moralists whose practical judgements would generally agree. Even such critics of the tradition as Prichard and Ross accept it as providing a valid ground for most moral decisions; and though the emotivists would regard all such decisions as matters of feeling rather than argument, still when they do argue, which is not seldom, they usually do what Russell did and take a broadly utilitarian line.

Now when one suggests the appeal to reason as a substitute for the appeal to authority in the guidance of practical life, it is important to define the method of reason in a way that would have some kind of consensus among thoughtful men. There is no method of ethics that would command universal concurrence. But if there is any method to which the opinions of thoughtful persons tend to converge, it is this. Its major rules are simple enough. So act as to produce the greatest net good. Take into account the good of everyone affected by your action, and in your calculations give to each man's good an importance equal to the like good of anyone else. Treat all goods as commensurable. Assume that an objective better and worse, and therefore right and wrong, are to be found. Be as impartial as you can in trying to find the right and the good.

Every moralist knows how easy it is to set gun in rest and shoot holes in these principles as vague and ambiguous; and there would certainly be many differences of detail in interpreting and applying them. I have developed my own interpretation in Reason and Goodness. But I am not concerned now with detail. I am concerned with the question whether there is available for those who can no longer accept a revelational ethics an accredited rational alternative. That alternative, I think, exists.


8 When a secular ethics is proffered as an alternative to religious ethics, one vigorous objection may be expected, and indeed it has been offered to the first volume of these lectures. The objection is that such an ethics is a down-grading of the moral life. It is a surrender of the spiritual man to the natural man, an acquiescence in being driven a tergo by impulses surviving from an animal past rather than being drawn a fronte by envisioned nobilities. Conscience was once regarded with reverence as a divine voice in man; goodness was invested with the vast and powerful sanctions that connected it with an eternal destiny; the natural man was something to be transcended and kept under by the spiritual man. This insight into the war in our members between nature and spirit, indeed all that gave religious support and significance to morality, is now to be discarded—in the interest of what? A morality based on the wants of the natural man and on instincts shared with the animals. What an abasement of a great vocation!

I can understand the sad urgency with which this objection is pressed by persons for whom the moral life has been inseparable from religion, and by others for whom the human mind, on its moral as well as its intellectual side, is an embodiment in degree of the Absolute. And since in writing on the theory of knowledge I have defended the idea of an Absolute, I may be thought especially vulnerable to this criticism. I own that I am sensitive to it.


9 But (1) I am not wholly insensitive either to the evil in the world, and the moral morass into which it has drawn religion. The more I have thought about religion and evil, the less willing I have become to tie ethics to religious belief. Let me explain.

The treatment of evil by theology seems to me an intellectual disgrace. The question at issue is a straightforward one: how are the actual amount and distribution of evil to be reconciled with the government of the world by a God who is in our sense good? So straightforward a question deserves a straightforward answer, and it seems to me that only one such answer makes sense, namely that the two sides can not be reconciled. Many attempts at reconciliation have been made: evil was introduced by man's free will, and became general through inherited original sin; it is offered to test us or to educate us or to strengthen us; it is really an illusion, and if seen in perspective would vanish away; it represents some inexplicable impotencies (unfortunately conjured up ad hoc) in the divine power; and so on, and on, and on. These theories break down so promptly and notoriously that theologians commonly give up and fall back on faith to justify a belief that eludes support by evidence.

Some theologians, aware of this conflict, have at certain points resorted to open revolt against human reason and its morality. We have studied this revolt in the theological line that runs from Luther through Kierkegaard to Brunner and Barth, and seen that it is self-destructive. For my own part, I am ready to stand correction for the ignobility of my naturalistic ethics, but not from theologians of this stripe. If their ideal of goodness is the will of a Deity who could inflict or permit the evil we know in the world, they have no consistent standard at all. How can anyone of clean conscience call good in the Deity what he would regard as intensely evil in man? To tie ethics to the will of such a being is not to exalt one's ethics but to reduce it to incoherence. I do not doubt that in many respects morals have profited by their association with religion. But I cannot admit that anyone who holds to traditional doctrines of original sin, the atonement, or eternal punishment is standing on ground that entitles him to call a naturalistic ethics degrading. It was his own great authority who said that one should remove the beam from one's own eye before attacking the mote in another's.


10(2) The charge of degrading morals is usually made from a two-world theory of man's condition, the theory that there is a spiritual order to be set over against the natural, man being a member of both. In our studies of theologians, we have noted various forms of this division, commonly based on the Pauline theology. In all these theories we found that once human nature is broken in two, the parts are not easily united again. The non-natural truth disclosed by revelation will not dovetail into the system of natural reason. The Kierkegaardian divine imperative shocks the ordinary sense of duty. If the natural man surrenders to the non-natural, he is divided against himself, for he cannot divest himself of the nature with which he was born, and this nature cannot assimilate beliefs that would wreck his logic and his ethics. On the other hand, if the non-natural man surrenders to the natural, he is likely to feel, as do our present critics, that he has sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.

The way to put a truce to this ancient warfare is surely not to proclaim a victory for one side or the other, but to deny the division between them. The gigantic crack that is said to run through human nature is not there. Man does not own two intellects, for one of which religious dogma is intelligible and for the other not; there is a single growing intelligence, pursuing an identical end from the first judgements of perception to the highest speculative flight. There are not two consciences, a lower one pronouncing on pleasures and pains and an exalted non-natural one promulgating the moral law; the apprehension of good and bad is a continuous growth from the first fulfilment or frustration of appetite to the fulfilment or frustration of a scholar's interest in knowledge, or a patriot's in his country, or a saint's in humanity. Indeed if there is continuity in the growth of intellect, there must be a like continuity in the advance of conduct, since, in the second as in the first, an unfolding intelligence is at the heart of the advance.

I do not mean to deny that the warfare of flesh and spirit has any reality; it has; and the description of it by St Paul has been verified by far too many witnesses to be cavalierly dismissed. What I do mean to question is the sharp division he made between two strata in man. Human nature has been split in this fashion on many grounds. Sometimes the ground is the alleged incommensurability of the good pursued on the different levels, as when Newman declared that no good of the lower nature, however great, weighed anything in the scale against the smallest venial sin.2 Sometimes the division is between achievements that are voluntary and others in which we seem to be passive instruments of a will not our own; James concludes his Varieties by accepting such a division and holding that the subconscious self may be permeable to an oceanic consciousness that somehow envelops us. Sometimes again the division is between that part of the self which is capable of mystical visions, ineffable and super-rational, and the part that belongs to the workaday world. Sometimes, as in Kierkegaard's tax-collector, who talks and acts like everyone else but is secretly one of the elect, the higher self seems hardly connected with the lower at all; it is a theological x, defined by its capacity for a non-natural faith, an eternal salvation, and a love unlike any merely human affection.

11 Such contrasts serve a useful purpose in marking the extremes of which man is capable. But do they prove the existence of two world orders, a natural and a non-natural, of which man is simultaneously a member? I do not think so. For (a) no one as yet knows the limits of human nature, and therefore no one can say with certainty, when a man begins to ‘speak with tongues’, or write automatically, or experience a sudden inexplicable peace, or achieve a mystical exaltation, or even when he executes the astonishing right-about-face of religious conversion, that these things are beyond natural explanation. In some cases his performance does seem so disconnected with his past that the suggestion of a break-through from another world is inevitable. Yet we know that many experiences which would have been so construed without hesitation in the time of Luther or George Fox would now give small difficulty to a psycho-pathologist. James himself provides a convincing explanation of how sudden conversion may occur, based on his knowledge of the subconscious; and such knowledge has greatly expanded since he wrote. I do not know how his theory of subconscious intercourse with an ‘oversoul’ is to be refuted, but I suspect that he would prefer to explain even this through the operation of natural laws that are imperfectly known than through a leap out of nature altogether.

(b) The variety of grounds on which a non-natural self has been recognised makes it extremely hard to know what is to be included in that self. If the test is incommensurability of goods, many supernatural demi-souls will qualify besides that recognised by Newman. Many persons have claimed a clear insight that no natural gains, however great, could justify telling a lie, or for that matter eating beef, or marrying endogamously, or committing other unforgivable sins. More sensible moralists, like Rashdall, have maintained that such incommensurability is a myth. They are right, I think, and if so, this form of the two-level theory is without ground. If apparent control of the will from without attests the presence of the non-natural, the facts of control by evil forces as well as by good must be acknowledged, and then one will be on the road to a revived demonology. Similarly of the mystic. If visions accredited as mystical are to be accepted as true non-natural insights, one will have to accept the assurances of the Sufi mystic that God is one and of St Teresa that God is three. Since this is impossible and both are well accredited mystics, it seems more likely that both visions are naturalistically explicable than that one is revelation and the other delusion.

I conclude that a two-storied cosmology and a two-level anthropology will stand or fall together. Just as increasing knowledge of the continuity of nature is filling in the chinks and cracks that angels and demons once peeped through, so an increasing knowledge of the cavernous depths of human nature is making less credible, because less necessary, the two-tier theory of man. We draw back from a non-natural account of aberrations from normality, whether their direction is up or down. We are reluctant to turn to the non-natural before exhausting the resources of nature. These tendencies, drawn from science, do not of course disprove the occurrence of invasions from without into the natural order. But they suggest that Lecky's ‘declining sense of the miraculous’ is more than a passing fashion. It is based on the surmise, increasingly confirmed, that nature and man form a single order.


12(3) ‘Nevertheless,’ it may be insisted, ‘your ethics still levels down. The intrinsic values you recognise are fulfilments of impulses shared with the animals. If such impulses are to determine the range of human goods, they will tie a ball and chain to man's aspiration. The ends of the artist, saint, and thinker are not set by animal needs, and hence will not be recognised as goods at all. And without such ends man would have no stars to steer his boat by. Surely there is more in human life than this business of being pushed along from behind by ancestral instincts. You leave out the process that is man's peculiar distinction, that of being drawn forward by ideals that carry him up and out of the animal realm to satisfactions—moral, aesthetic, intellectual—that have nothing to do with instinct. Man at his best has wings. You cut them off.’

I have put the criticism sharply because it is a not unnatural inference from my evolutionary way of putting the case, because it has been made by persons I respect, and because it is clearly important. If it is true, my moral theory is deeply flawed, and should be rejected. But I think the criticism rests on misunderstanding.

Man does inherit a large instinctive equipment from the animals, which gives him his continuity with them and a certain understanding of them. But it would be absurd to say that the instinctive response of the animal appears unchanged in man. As it appears in the human mind, its object is profoundly transformed and its characteristic feeling is transformed accordingly. The instinct of curiosity, for example, is displaying itself in the dog that gingerly explores the bristles and possibilities of the first porcupine it has seen. The ‘same’ instinct of curiosity is at work in a Leibniz and an Einstein. Does that commit us to denying the chasm between its earlier and later manifestations? The sex instinct in man is notoriously inherited from far down in the animal scale, from the level for example of the cat that caterwauls on the back fence. But it would be absurd to stretch this instinctive behaviour to cover Romeo's affection for Juliet or Dante's for Beatrice. Or, not to labour the point further, does it follow that if a peacock displays some glimmer of aesthetic response to the gorgeous dress of another, there is nothing further in the aesthetic response of a Leonardo?

These questions answer themselves. There is about as much resemblance between the instinctive life of an animal and that of a reflective man as there is between a seedling and a flower. And the main instrument in this transformation is thought. Instinctive behaviour, as McDougall pointed out, normally involves three elements, an afferent, a central, and an efferent—an object responded to, a characteristic emotion, and an impulse to take action about the object. Of these three elements, the key is the first, the object. Now the object, at the human level, is a construction of thought. Some perceptual thought is no doubt involved even in the dog's investigation of the porcupine, but it is microscopic compared with the intellectual sweep required even to see the problems that engage the curiosity of the physicist or the philosopher. Dante loved Beatrice. But the Beatrice who was the object of Dante's love was no mere woman of flesh and blood; she was a woman transfigured by the poet's thought into an embodiment of goodness and wisdom. Again, the objects of aesthetic response, supposed sometimes to be relatively simple in their appeal, may be informed and saturated with thought, as was the beauty of La Gioconda for Pater—a ‘beauty into which the soul with all its maladies has passed’.

13 How is this enlargement of the object effected? Partly through the larger range of perceived similarities made possible by growing intelligence. For example, the tenderness felt instinctively for children may extend itself to all who, like them, are weak and helpless, including the large assortment of pets that human beings dote on. Similarly fear aroused in a child by an unhappy encounter with a dog may extend itself to all dogs or even all animals. Again, objects may change their character through association. Loud sounds are instinctively feared when they are first heard, but if thunder keeps repeating itself with no ill effect it comes to be accepted placidly; the snake that is at first repulsive may seem to the herpetologist who has studied its ways an object of attraction and even affection.

More significant is the transformation of the object by its reflective development in thought. Consider the difference, for example, between the attitude of a small boy toward a soldier in uniform and that of a Tolstoy or a Gandhi. Their attitude was so complex that one could not fully understand it without entering into the reflections of a pacifist philosopher about all that the soldier stands for in government and society. Or take a simpler object and observe how the widening context of knowledge about it transforms both the object and the emotions it arouses. A handkerchief lies on the floor. A dog looks at it; does he perceive a handkerchief? No. He sees a white patch, but a handkerchief is more than that. It is a piece of cloth made by man to perform certain functions, and only a creature who can bring to bear in its perception the thought of these functions can perceive what we perceive. But the object as we commonly see it is still relatively simple; let us complicate it. Suppose that the man who is looking is Othello and that the handkerchief is the one he gave to Desdemona as a mark of their mutual devotion. He looks at it and breaks into a storm of passion in which jealousy, rage, sorrow, and love all have their eloquent parts. In spite of its complex and torrential character, his response is intelligible and indeed has the inevitability of great tragedy. As seen by Othello, that handkerchief is the conclusive piece of evidence in the web of disloyalty and deceit that has been weaving itself about the head of Desdemona, so that his final and terrible response is not to any one thing or person but to the whole complex situation which his misguided thought has constructed. And there is yet a further stage of complexity. When the reflective critic of Shakespearean tragedy—A. C. Bradley for example—contemplates all that centred in that fateful handkerchief, he places it in the context not only of the play as a whole but of human nature and human experience, of man and woman, good and evil, as we know them. We see in the end that the small white square, which is all that is given to sense, lies not so much on a floor as at a crossroads of humanity, from which the intersecting roads run out to the horizon in all directions. Its significance has no limits except those of the mind that seeks to understand it.


14 Thus advancing intelligence transforms the world man inhabits. The instinct of curiosity in the animal mind becomes in man the drive to approximate his system of thought to the nature of things, and in the course of the attempt he constructs first the world of common sense and then the world of science. To these new environments the rest of our instinctive drives must adjust themselves. But while cognition is accommodation, the other drives are attempts to make things over in the interest of their own special ends. Self-assertion and submission, sexual and parental love, gregariousness and pugnacity are urgencies to do rather than to know. How are all these impulsions to be organised? They never do get organised wholly; even the wisest and best of men are torn at times by the conflicting demands of love and anger, of self-assertion and sympathy. Nevertheless there is one agency of unification that has scored remarkable successes, at least at intermediate levels. This is what is called by psychologists a sentiment.

A sentiment is a cluster of impulses—or the dispositions to them—around a single object. A child, for example, arouses the mother's solicitude. But it also organises around it many other of her dispositions; she is fearful if it is in danger, angry if it is threatened, depressed if it is ill, pleased in sympathy with its own pleasure. There are men whose whole life is thus organised around a cause they have espoused, as Garrison's was around his crusade against slavery, or Gibbon's around The Decline and Fall. Such organisation may render an otherwise feeble life an engine of great force. Unfortunately a man's drives may be organised around foolish and irrational ends as well as rational ones, and then he becomes a fanatic, as McCarthy was with his obsession about communists and Hitler with his obsession about the Jews.


15 Is there any way of organising the interests and drives of a life which would carry a safeguard against such miscarriage? It is often urged that religion is the only enthusiasm equipped with such a safeguard, since even fanaticism, if it takes the form of religious dedication, is still an instrument of good. And it must be agreed that religion has often taken divided and apparently feeble personalities and turned them into astonishingly effective agents of benevolence and mercy; witness Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier, John Bunyan and John Woolman. But to say that religious devotion is a safeguard against fanaticism would be notoriously untrue; indeed religious fanaticism has been one of the major curses of Western history. It massacred the Albigenses, burned witches, organised vain crusades, bloodied the borders between north and south Ireland, India and Pakistan, and found sanction in its heart and its Scriptures for destroying Bruno and Savonarola, Huss and Zwingli, Joan of Arc and Thomas More.

Is there any sentiment capable of unifying the anarchic energies of human nature while defusing their destructive power? Certainly religion as traditionally conceived, the religion whose thought on reason and belief we have been reviewing in this book, is not, on its record, a reassuring candidate. Why not? Because, as we have so often seen, it believes it has a source of guidance superior to reason itself. It has exalted two sentiments, the love of God and the love of man, into the primacy in human life, but the first has been used to block the second. The love of man, in its rational interpretation, we have accepted as a necessary principle in any valid account of the good life, sacred or secular. The love of God is in a different position. Whereas the love of man granted to intelligence freedom to devise fresh channels of benevolence, the love of God did not grant a parallel freedom to the exercise of criticism. Man's mind was held back by a cramping ethics of belief; he was burdened with a body of dogmas offered him as revealed certainties, though they were irreconcilable with his thought. The Christian love of man which, when allowed free flow, has been so noble and powerful an agency of good, has often been stopped short by signs of ‘thus far and no farther’ when it has sought to free itself from theological prepossessions about the world, the flesh, and the devil, to throw off Pauline shackles on woman, to recognise at their true value such goods of the natural man as physical fitness, art, play, sex, and science. All too often, though less often now than formerly, when a great church takes its stand on such a problem as abortion, its ultimate ground is not the promotion of human good but conformity to a theological dogma, which has perhaps laid down the point in pre-natal life when an immortal soul is joined to the body. Whether the moral policy is right or not, this sort of defence will not prove it right. Nevertheless such dogmas have much weight with many minds because they belong to a system of thought guaranteed by the church and supposed to carry the seal of divine approval.


16 There is only one agency in human nature that is competent to deal with such claims. No reader will be surprised at this stage to learn what that agency is. The main thrust of our long study has been to show that when dogma conflicts with reason reason has the right of way. There is nothing arbitrary in such a priority, as if the two authorities stood logically on the same footing. One cannot deny the ultimate authority of reason without appealing to that authority in the very denial; to think at all is to bow to logic, and the laws of logic are the canons of reason. The authoritarian who tries to repudiate reason can codify and develop his own view only by accepting the reason he repudiates.

What holds in theory holds in practice. The court of final appeal when nations or men or impulses conflict is likewise reason. We need not stop to examine how the reason employed in conduct differs from that employed in mathematics or in natural science; for present purposes all that is needed is the acceptance of some form of cognition competent to deal with rightness and wrongness. It is reason in this sense to which all conflicts about conduct come back in the end, and that supplies the authority recognised in such conflicts. When two nations or two men submit their dispute to a court of law, they are appealing to reason, if only to discover how the law applies to their particular case. Even when there is no court or law that covers their case, or when they reject the existing law, it is still to reason that they appeal as the only authority that can offer real justification. (Of course they may take the law into their own hands and appeal to force, but that justifies nothing.) Now the final authority in settling the conflicts of nations and men is also the final authority in conflicts between the impulses or sentiments within the individual man. Surrender to the strongest feeling is essentially an appeal to force and, like it, settles nothing. The only competent government of impulse is one that can mobilise past experience, crystallise it in rules, apply these to the present case and, if necessary, suspend the rules in the interest of a greater good. In short, the ultimate authority in practice is practical reason.

Is it an infallible authority? Yes and no. The same answer must be given here as to the parallel question about theoretical reason. When the question Why? is raised, the final answer is that which would be offered by reason when pushed through to its goal. To reject that answer would be mere incoherence. In the same way, what I should do at this moment in the face of conflicting impulses (shall I give the soft answer or the lie direct?) or a conflict of sentiments (shall I give priority to love of country or to professional success?) is what a reason fully aware of the implications of each alternative would pronounce to be the right course. To deny that verdict would in effect be to deny that conduct is, or can be, rational at all, including that bit of conduct that consists in raising the question. We can only hold that if we had the ultimate answer of reason to any question of theory or practice, that answer would be infallible; to say otherwise would be to say that a perfect understanding could be imperfect. At the same time we must admit that our understanding is not perfect. The criterion of truth and rightness that we actually apply is never what reason in its complete fulfilment would give us, for that insight is never available, but only such approximation to it as limited powers and circumstances will allow. And this criterion is always fallible.

Nevertheless it is the best we have, and the best we have ever really had. Though the certainties of an infallible revelation are no longer open to us, it is better to have a warranted probability than an unwarranted certainty. We are following the only authority that could have unseated one claiming infallibility, and our attitude toward it is essentially that of Luther's ‘I can no other’. Luther would of course have disowned us; he thought of himself as an enemy of ‘the harlot reason’. But so far as his protest was valid at all, it was the voice of his own critical reason protesting against what was irrational, because unjust and wrong, in the ecclesiastical world of his time. And in protesting against Luther's own world, the reflective man of our day is following that same voice, however far from the Lutheran path it may lead him.


17 Religion is man's attempt to live in the light of what he holds to be ultimately true and good. It has often been claimed that through revelation he has received direct disclosures of ultimate truth and reality. But no finite being has ever actually stood in that austere presence. We are all prisoners in Plato's cave, studying the real world through shadows on the wall, and such light as we have is always filtered through our own blurred understanding. Quidquid recipitur recipitur ad modum recipientis. Religion is not loyalty to the ultimately true and good, but only to what we hold to be such. It has always been this, however much more it may have claimed to be. The character and dictates of the Mosaic tribal god were projections of the character and moral ideals of his worshippers. In the God worshipped by Jesus, that character and will had been transformed by a morally more sensitive mind, though traces of the old nationalism remain, and of the primitive vengefulness of eternal punishment. The advance of theology has been a continuous endeavour of man's reason to construct a more rational account of the divine mind and character, punctuated by occasional anachronisms such as Kierkegaard and Barth, who would impose the visions of one epoch on all succeeding times.

So our rationalist alternative is not, we should hold, an abandonment of religion, but a return to what, in spite of much self-misunderstanding, religion has always been. Piety, Santayana remarked, is loyalty to the sources of our being. The sources of our being lie in the struggle of an animal nature to achieve rationality in thought and action. An illuminating history of theology could be written to show how the inner pressure of reason has been continually at work in revising and remodelling the creeds, trimming off the dead wood of discredited dogma and grafting new shoots of insight on the old trunks. Illuminating accounts of ethics have been written to show how a similar pressure of reason has remoulded the moral ideal.3 One may venture to say that at all the growing points of morals and religion reason will be found at work, whether its part is recognised or not. Western ethics and Western philosophy virtually began together with Socrates' insistence that life should be ordered by reason. All four of the political revolutions of modern times were made in the name, at least, of reason, and with philosophers in the background—Locke behind the American Revolution, Voltaire behind the French, Marx, prompted by Hegel, behind the Russian and the Chinese. But reason does not wait for an invocation by name to enter and do its work. Conscience is largely reason protesting against inconsistency between principle and practice. The private monitor of Marcus Aurelius, the ‘inner light’ of the Friends, the mystical leadings of Loyola and Xavier, the missionary call of Schweitzer, the non-violent protest of Gandhi and Martin Luther King were all agents under an alias of such reason as they had, speaking out on the needs and injustices of their time. We have suggested that the voice of Jesus himself was not the voice of a ‘wholly other’, that his major innovation in morals was the extension across boundaries of sex, class, and nation of an attitude already accepted by the Jewish prophets as binding among their own people.

18 Confinement of revelation ad modum recipientis is not a denial of revelation. All knowledge is revelation in the sense that thought is under the constraint of its object. If the world is, as we have held it to be, an intelligible system, then to the extent that our thought is comprehensive and coherent, that world is revealing itself to us. Rational thought is an activity of our own in the sense that we can choose to think or not to think, to attend loosely or intently. But the more rigorous we are in our thinking, the more aware we are that the lines our thought is following are not of our own creation but belong to the real world, and that the secret of following them faithfully is a ‘wise passiveness’. That revelation occurs in the same sense in the sphere of morals is more questionable. Indeed if what is ‘revealed’ is a world that is morally perfect, as it is logically coherent, such a revelation would, as we have seen, not only be inconsistent with any honest dealing with the problem of evil but make nonsense of moral effort. Yet to the extent that moral insight is reasonable and does not thus overreach itself, it may fairly be regarded as revelatory here also. The intuition that knowledge is better than ignorance and justice than injustice is, as Socrates maintained, objectively true and an insight into the nature of things; we can no more alter the truth of these insights by our own thought or will than we can decree that two and two shall make seven. Such goods, so far as we know, exist only in human minds, but their relations of better and worse are as little open to our manipulation as the laws of nature themselves. The rise of rationality in morals does in this sense, like the advancing understanding of nature, involve a better adjustment to the real world.

That real world, it is here suggested, is one to which reason is the key, both in the progress of knowledge and in the conduct of life. ‘And when you propose your rationalist alternative,’ it may be asked, ‘are you suggesting that reasonableness should take the place of faith, that reason shall replace revelation as the guide of thought and life?’ Yes, that is what I am proposing and I had almost added that whatsoever is more than this cometh of evil. When faith has been encouraged to leap ahead of reason, it has often indeed painted a picture of the world that has given new heart and hope to its holders. But too often that picture has been painted on the clouds, and its disintegration in the winds of increasing knowledge has left scepticism and cynicism behind. In some quarters, as the winds rise, there appears a correspondingly desperate effort to keep the picture intact and to repudiate the science and philosophy, the anthropology and textual criticism that threaten to dissolve it. Locally and in the short run this may succeed. In the long run it will fail, and hysterical effort to block the advance of critical thought will make defeat, when it comes, more complete. Accommodation to reason betrays nothing in religion that deserves loyalty. Indeed there is much in the religious tradition that any rational critic would wish to retain. Critics are not necessarily enemies. They may be animated not by malignance but by a genuine interest in finding what is true.


19 ‘But what of the vast motive power of religion? Is that now to be lost, and deliberately? Surely a pale and consumptive “sentiment of rationality” is not going to propel any Franciscans out among the lepers or any Xaviers across the sea. These men were not living by the wan light of their own thought, but by another kind of light entirely; they were obeying what for them was the will of God, and their everlasting destiny hung on whether they heeded that will or not. The drive wheel of their lives was attached to a powerful motor behind the scene, and it is idle to suppose that the power will still be available when the connecting belt has been broken.’ This is fair criticism. But it raises two very different questions: One is: Is not the motive of being reasonable quite different from that of being moral? and can such a motive supply the driving force necessary to the good life?

As for the first question, the motive of life according to reason is actually purer morally than the religious motive itself. To do something because it will achieve an eternal reward or avoid an eternal punishment is not acting morally at all; the moral man acts in a certain way because he thinks it is right, not because it is self-serving. If a man acts as he does because he believes God wills it, his motive is higher, but still not the highest. What is that highest motive? Presumably the motive that would lead God himself to will it. But he cannot will it because he wills it; that makes no sense. He must be presumed to will it because it is right, and that is what should move man too.

But is not the idea of being moral one thing, and the ideal of being rational quite another? Certainly a man may consider what it is reasonable to do in buying a house or settling a bill without feeling any moral problem at all; and equally certainly the good man may be in no sense an intellectual. It remains true, however, both that the objectively right act is the one that a fully instructed reason would approve, and that the subjectively right act is the one approved by such insight as we can now command. The view that moral action means reasonable action has been accepted by thinkers as far apart as Kant on the one hand and Sidgwick and Moore on the other. I do not myself accept Kant's way of using reason in morals because it seems to me too formal and abstract, and hence too insensitive to the circumstances of the particular case. Reason tells us that we ought not to lie or steal, but to make these into universal mandates admitting no exception would in marginal cases demand what is absurdly irrational. The application of reason to conduct is made, I think, in a different way. In determining duty the main office of reason is (a) to develop in thought the values in terms of fulfilment and satisfaction that are involved in the actions proposed, and (b) to balance the net goods against each other.4 If the attempt to be reasonable in this sense were fully successful, one would see and do what was right; the right and the rational would coincide. The ideal of rationality in conduct is thus also the moral ideal, though with emphasis now placed on the instrument of its achievement.

20 It must be admitted that the foresight and the maturity of judgement necessary to see with certainty what is objectively right are not granted us, and that we must make do with such limited vision as we have. Does not that mean that ‘rationality’ in practice is, after all, a state of anarchy in which each man does what is right in his own eyes? The appeal to reason is a sorry guide if every prophet with a new nostrum can preface his sales talk with ‘it stands to reason’.

There is very little force in this criticism. It offers the unreal alternative of perfection or nothing. Reasonableness, to be sure, is an infinitely exacting ideal, which we shall never fully realise, but this does not mean that we are all equally far removed from it, or that we cannot move nearer it if we try, or that if we do try, we shall not reach fuller agreement about what it requires. In any but benighted communities there are some persons who stand out above others in their concern for dealing justly with their fellows and whose counsel is sought for its fairness and ripeness of judgement. And to say that persons who prize such things do not tend to agree as they cultivate them is virtually to deny that there are objective standards at all.

To be sure, there are persons who pride themselves on this denial as a mark of sophistication. There has been much talk in recent years about ethical and cultural relativism by persons who think they can dispose of objective standards merely by pointing to diversities of custom. They would not argue this way in other fields. They would not hold that since masses of Chinese people believe that the moon goes into eclipse because a celestial dog bites a piece out of it, while Western astronomers deny this, there is no such thing as an objective standard in astronomy. They would scout the idea of a Russian and an American physics, or of a French and an Indian chemistry, each contradicting the other but with equal claims to validity. There is simply physics or chemistry, with one universal standard of truth, to which place, time, and nationality are irrelevant.

I believe that, similarly, there is one universal standard of morality, set by the fundamental needs, and therefore ends, of human nature. This standard is at work in men's minds implicitly long before it is given explicit shape; its demands become firmer and clearer as it is acted upon, and more generally accepted as social intercourse widens. That its existence is really recognised is attested by such bodies as the United Nations and the World Court, which assume that when a protest is brought before them in the name of justice the term has a common meaning, and that with patience and good will a rational judgement may be achieved. It is true that reasonableness in morals is more difficult and elusive than reasonableness in mathematics; emotions are more deeply engaged and the appraisal of human values calls for richer resources of imagination and sympathy. Reasonableness in the concrete is indeed infinitely and impossibly difficult. Fortunately it is not one's duty to be infinitely and impossibly rational. It is one's duty only to be as reasonable as one can. If even that were seriously accepted, the world would be strangely different tomorrow morning.


21 This brings us to the second question: Is it not unrealistic to the point of absurdity to exalt the respect for reasonableness into such a position of primacy? How could so feeble and special a motive carry the weight here loaded upon it? ‘The love of truth’, said Housman, ‘is the faintest of human passions’. ‘Many of us,’ says F. L. Lucas, ‘having read our Freud, have grown more sceptical than ever; seeing reason no longer as a searchlight, but usually as a gust-swept candle guttering amid the winds of emotion and the night of the Unconscious’.5 With many men, perhaps most, the felt obligation to be reasonable is so weak that it is pushed aside daily by jostling competitors from the cellars of the mind—selfishness, resentment, fear, envy, jealousy. Look closely and one will see that even the best of lives are spotted and fly-specked with petty prejudices, capricious likes and aversions, and other assorted irrationalities. The very attempt to be reasonable turns out at times to be the rationalisation of something irrational; Freud would regard all the flights of theological reflection that we have been reviewing in this book as so many desperate attempts to replace an earthly by a heavenly father on the part of minds in need of security; and there are contemporary philosophers who would say that even attempts at philosophical rationality are likewise self-deceptions. But this is clearly going too far, for it is self-destructive. It is itself an attempt at rational speculation, and if all such attempts are deluded, it too must be deluded.

The demand for reasonableness in belief and conduct is not to be evaded. One must comply with it in some measure even to stay alive. To comply with it in high degree is an all but universally admitted virtue. Yet reasonableness for most men has singularly little attraction; it remains the great grey virtue. Nor is it hard to see why. The first effect of reflection is normally the restraint of impulse, and that is bound at the time to be disagreeable. To most minds reasonableness seems negative and bloodless; it belongs to the spectator of life rather than to the active participant; it is formal, cool, collected, correct. And in all this there is nothing to stir the pulse. If the prospect of a way of life is to make men love and follow it, it must promise action, excitement, and if possible drama. Men will answer en masse a call to live adventurously, even dangerously; they will march under the banner of a Churchill or even a Hitler. But where has one seen a crowd marching, with band and streamers, under the banner of Spinoza? Surely if there is one mass movement against which we may feel safe, it is a stampede toward rationality.

There is much sense in this, but also a grave misconception. The role of reason in conduct is very far from that of the prim schoolmistress. Plato was nearer the mark in making it that of the charioteer directing the course of spirited horses. The reins and the bit are less for the purpose of holding them back than of helping them forward in concert, so that they can reach their goal without getting in each other's way. The purpose of the rational control of conduct is precisely the more abundant life, and its momentary restrictions are for the sake of a release of energy and activity in the longer range. They are, in fact, the necessary means to freedom. ‘It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things,’ said Burke, ‘that men of intemperate minds cannot be free’. The only true freedom, as the greater philosophers have noted, lies not in the surrender of reason to impulse but in the surrender of impulse to rational control.


22 There is no denying, however, that the ideal of reasonableness in thought and action involves reflectiveness and self-criticism, and therefore has never appealed to the many. Has it appealed with real effectiveness to anyone? Examples would seem called for to prove it a practical possibility. Happily there have been many great personalities whose comparative freedom from prejudice and pettiness, whose reasonableness of temper and habitual fairness of judgement have gained the admiration of all who knew them. If it is natural, for a student of philosophy, looking for personalities of this kind, to turn first to the philosophers, he must do so with a double admission. First, if one knew enough, examples could no doubt be drawn from any field; and secondly, philosophers have varied greatly in reasonableness of temper; some of them, and not the least brilliantly endowed, have been anything but balanced minds and have even lived on the ragged edge of sanity. Still, others among them have shown in exemplary measure what reasonableness as a conscious end can achieve. They belong to no one school of thought. Rationality in temper is happily not confined to rationalists in theory.

The father of this admirable tribe was Socrates, and his Apology is one of its classics. Of the modern line the father is Spinoza. Bertrand Russell has said of him that he is ‘the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers. Intellectually, some others have surpassed him, but ethically he is supreme.’6 Then there is the sober and honest John Locke. It may surprise many who have read his writings to learn that ‘Beneath their calm, unruffled surface there is a turbulent, fiery spirit.… But he knew how to keep the emotional side of his nature in check lest truth should suffer.…’7 David Hume has always been an embarrassing figure to those who so reprobated his philosophy that they thought he must be himself a reprobate. ‘Upon the whole,’ said Adam Smith, who knew him well, ‘I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will admit’.8 The name of John Stuart Mill should be added. Of Mill a critic wrote: ‘The thinker was greater than the thought. It is the mental and moral quality of the “saint of Rationalism”… his infinite candour and teachableness, which gave his reputation its unique character…’9 From my own limited knowledge, I should say that if one wants white light, uncoloured by any tinge of prejudice and offered invariably with a single eye to the evidence, one can turn with advantage even from such models as these to the thought and writing of Henry Sidgwick.

23 ‘To be rational in anything is great praise,’ remarked Jane Austen; and the rational temper, difficult enough in thought, is more difficult by far in practice. Mere reasonableness is so difficult even for heads of state that Gibbon could describe history as ‘little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind’; and many of those who fill most space in the record—Attila, Napoleon, Hitler—have been self-willed and power-drunk. But men's admiration has been arrested occasionally by a very different type of leader. There is some rashness in naming names where knowledge is so limited and partiality so nearly inevitable. But the name of Caesar, though controversial, can hardly be passed over. His quiet objectivity about himself and his almost effortless adequacy to every situation have invested him with a kind of fascination held by few other men in history. ‘There Caesar, graced with both Minervas, shone; Caesar, the world's great master, and his own.’10 But the exact ratio of fact to legend in his story will presumably never be known. In this curious quietude on a pinnacle, his only rival in the ancient world was Marcus Aurelius, whose Meditations remain a wistful classic of the ordering of life by reason. In modern times, the rational temper in men of affairs has had examples who, if less dramatic, come closer to where we live. American colonial life seems to have produced two of them in Franklin and Jefferson. British public life of this century has produced some others, of whom perhaps the most notable was H. H. Asquith. Asquith was recognised by both friends and foes alike as embodying the rational temper in an unusual degree. He was possessed, said Desmond MacCarthy, of ‘a Roman aequanimitas’. ‘Mr Asquith's character is a national asset,’ said a political foe, Lord Birkenhead; ‘he fights cleanly, wins without insolence and loses without rancour’. He had ‘the best intellectual apparatus, understanding and judgement’, said Lord Haldane, ‘that I ever saw in any man’.

These men differed greatly from each other, but were alike in their devotion to reasonableness and in their success in retaining the reasonable temper through practical storm and stress. They were also men of unusual powers, and it may be wondered whether such success is limited to rare individuals, exceptionally endowed. The reassuring fact is that it has also marked certain communities as wholes, though apparently always small ones. The Athenian youth of the fourth century BC who fell under the spell of Socrates and the Academy seem to have been such a community. There were circles in Diderot's Paris and Hume's Edinburgh that exhibited the same attitude—an attitude easier in the eighteenth century than in most other times. There was another such community in the Cambridge of the early days of this century, a community of which Moore and Russell, McTaggart and Lowes Dickinson, Maynard Keynes and Roger Fry were leading spirits. And no doubt many other less luminous communities of the kind have sprung up and had their day, usually in academic centres.

24 Is education a condition of the rational temper? Formal education facilitates it, or ought to; but it is worth recalling that Mill never attended a university, and that many who did have acquired no tincture of the state of mind here considered. Let us be clear what this state of mind is. Reasonableness is not knowledge or learning, though this may help. It is not intelligence, which is in the main a native gift, most unevenly distributed, though if present this too will help. It is not skill in abstraction or in analysis or in argument or in expression, though again these are valuable aids. The reasonableness we are talking about is, rather, a settled disposition of mind. It is a disposition to guide one's belief and conduct by evidence, a bent of the will to order one's thought by the relevant facts, and to order one's practice in the light of the values involved. It is the habit of using reflective judgement as the compass of one's belief and decision. Since it is a habit, it is not native, but acquired; as something independent of great natural endowment, it can be acquired in degree by any normal person with sufficient interest in acquiring it.

25 Is it possible that interest in, and emulation of, the reasonable temper should exist not only in small communities but in a society as a whole? Stranger things have happened. If a quality of character comes to seem so important that one identifies one's self-respect with having it, the chances are that one will get it. The Stoics felt that way about bearing pain. Christians have felt so about loving-kindness. Soldiers have felt so about their honour. The French aristocrats of the old regime felt so about chivalry—and it is hard to forget Burke's apostrophe to what that chivalry had achieved: that ‘unbought grace of life,’ ‘that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound… which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness’. No doubt all of these ideals had a touch of the extreme and the visionary in them, but their hold was widespread nevertheless. Is it an entirely impractical dream to suppose that the respect men have felt for hardihood, for the love of friend and enemy, for honour, for chivalry, they might come to feel for the habitual appeal to reason? John Dewey thought that the dream was not wholly visionary. ‘One of the few experiments in the attachment of emotion to ends that mankind has not tried is that of devotion, so intense as to be religious, to intelligence as a force in social action.’11 There have been psychologists who have thought that such an experiment might succeed. A specialist on the herd instinct, W. Trotter, has written:

‘if rationality were once to become really respectable, if we feared the entertaining of an unverifiable opinion with the warmth with which we fear using the wrong implement at the dinner table, if the thought of holding a prejudice disgusted us as does a foul disease, then the dangers of man's suggestibility would be turned into advantages.’12

26 The question whether respect for rationality will ever become general, rather than the property of a small group of devotees, is no doubt beyond answer. In any case the question now most likely to present itself is of a different kind. We have suggested the respect for reason in belief and conduct as a possible alternative to traditional supernaturalism. To many who hold to this tradition, the suggestion will seem incredibly shallow and unimaginative. ‘It is too hopelessly cerebral,’ they will say; ‘you have caught nothing of the depth of feeling, or of what is specifically religious in traditional Christianity. You have forgotten that religion has been the custodian of the noblest of human attitudes, those that have given man his outlook into “the eternities and immensities”, that have humbled his pride, that have given him a perspective in which he can see himself as he is. Respect for reason? Why, yes, of course, as a supplement, a garnish, a grace note. But as a replacement for religious devotion? Absurd! There is vastly more in religion than merely being reasonable. It means such things as faith, which assures man that the power that governs the universe sees and cares. It means reverence, which keeps the vision of perfection before him, and humility, which is the one true antidote for his complacency and pride. These were of the essence of traditional Christianity. Are they now to be thrown away?’


27 As for faith, one must admit that it would be unseated from its old primacy. Faith demands going beyond the evidence; ‘blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’. No ethics of belief that stands for the equating of belief to evidence could comply with that demand. If a readiness of assent is required in religion that would be unacceptable in other fields, it must be either because such assent is imposed by authority or because it is presented as a means to some great and special advantage. In earlier parts of this study we have examined both these inducements to belief and found them wanting, the first logically, the second morally. The new loyalty to reason would seldom call for a declaration of certainty, and it could admit every degree of likelihood and unlikelihood in belief. What it would exclude is any tempting, threatening, or coercing of belief by sticks or carrots other than evidential. When all forms of coercion are removed and the mind is permitted to play freely over the range of traditional dogmas, a winnowing out will follow; that is inevitable. Those tenets that remain will have a new and better base of accreditation. Those that fail of accreditation may be an emotional loss, but their loss will not be accounted by a rational mind as wholly tragic.

For many persons the real reason why faith is so much prized and reluctantly let go is that faith means in practice far more than belief. Most dogmas these persons could perhaps lose with equanimity. They would be more reluctant to part with the by-products of faith: the hopefulness, the confidence in facing the future, the heartening sense that all will come right in the end, the poetry—as St Francis felt it, or Chesterton—in a world brimming with the divine, the sweetness of a childlike trust.

I know not where his islands lift

Their fronded palms in air;

I only know I cannot drift

Beyond his love and care.

It must be admitted that the idyllic quiet and serenity of Whittier's world would not rest undisturbed under rationalism. Some of the glow on the world's face would be lost undeniably. Those attitudes that are treasured fruits of belief can hardly be expected to remain and ripen when their supporting trellis has been snatched away. Still, part of the traditional faith consists of moods or attitudes that are independent of belief and may well persist without dogmatic support. Courage, hopefulness, dutifulness, sunniness of temper, delight in the world and in man are not tied to any articles of belief and are quite at home in the rational mind—more so, one would have thought, than in a mind struggling to adjust itself to a formidable and inscrutable Deity. And to suggest that poetic feeling is rooted in dogma or confined to the world's intellectual immaturity is plainly untrue. If Francis Thompson, Christina Rossetti, and T. S. Eliot were great poets, as they were, so were Lucretius and Shakespeare and Shelley and Keats and Housman and Swinburne. Music in the soul need not be the echo of some projected music of the spheres.


28 Reverence has a more secure position in a rationalist world than faith, though its objects will not remain unchanged. Its traditional object has been a Deity conceived as morally perfect, and toward such an object reverence is the wholly appropriate attitude. However, that attitude has been confused and rendered ambivalent by conflicts within the object itself. The Deities presented in the Old Testament and in the New are not consistent, and the God of the New Testament combines the tenderest of loving-kindness with the readiness to inflict eternal misery on his creatures. For the rationalist there is an internal block against reverencing a will in conflict with itself. Can his reverence, then, be accorded to nature, or the world, or the government of the world? This is difficult again, for reverence belongs to moral goodness, and while the world or the Absolute includes moral phenomena as well as others, there is no evidence, as we have seen, that it is itself a moral being.

These considerations do not mean, however, that the world of the rationalist lacks room for reverence. Two types of object remain that will engage and deserve it. One is the moral ideal itself, which will still be exalted and infinitely exacting. It was none other than Kant, the arch-rationalist in morals, who insisted most strongly on reverence for the moral law. Though Kant attempted—unsuccessfully—to connect morals with the existence of God, it is clear that reverence for ideal goodness does not depend on the existence in fact of a perfect being. And even if goodness, to be properly revered, did have to exist in fact, reverence in a rationalist world need not be starved. The world is not morally perfect; no man has achieved perfection; true. But in this respect some men nevertheless stand out like lighthouses in a grey sea. Of these, Jesus of Nazareth is the prime example. Such persons need not be pre-eminent in knowledge or power, but they stand out in the purity and elevation of their idea of goodness and in the degree to which they realised it in their lives. Comte was surely right in maintaining that genuine human goodness is an appropriate object of reverence; indeed in the religion in which such goodness is most esteemed, reverence for the divine has been commonly identified with reverence for its embodiment in the character of Christ. And that character remains what it is, whether framed or not in the elaborate dogma of the incarnation.


29 There is another religious attitude whose fate in a rationalist order may arouse concern. Religion has to do with man's relation to the infinite whole of which he is a minute part, and in his attitude toward that whole an essential element is humility. For Schleiermacher religion was a sense of infinite dependence; and the genuinely religious spirit is felt by everyone to exclude pride and complacency. Humility is also essential in the moral life—not indeed for every level of morality, since Aristotle's great-souled man was not exactly humble—but for the receptiveness and teachableness that are conditions of moral growth. Some would go farther in their estimate of humility. ‘Humility’, said Burke, ‘is the low but deep foundation of all true virtue’; for Butler, ‘vice in general consists in having an unreasonable and too great regard for ourselves in comparison with others’; for A. E. Taylor, humility is ‘the most exquisite flower of the moral life’. A disposition that can be so described is not one to be readily let go.

Now I suspect that this attractive virtue may have better justice done to it by the rationalist than by the supernaturalist. At any rate, for the rationalist it is a prime duty to see things as they are, while for the theologian this admirable virtue has often been construed to be a seeing of things as they are not. Here, for example, is Jonathan Edwards:

‘I have greatly longed of late, for a broken heart, and to lie low before God; and, when I ask for humility, I cannot bear the thoughts of being no more humble than other Christians. It seems to me, that though their degrees of humility may be suitable for them, yet it would be a vile selfexaltation in me, not to be the lowest in humility of all mankind.’13

Edwards was apparently willing to sacrifice to humility both truth and consistency. If he accounted himself the lowest of mankind, and considered it self-exaltation not to do so, both of which he was trying to believe, he would be assenting to untruths which he could hardly fail to recognise as such. And if he ‘cannot bear the thoughts of being no more humble than other Christians,’ his pride in his own humility is peeping through in ironic fashion. Similarly St Francis must have for himself the most wretched scrap of bread, the most dilapidated robe, the hardest bed. This is a charming reversal of the attitude of most men. But if Francis really believed that these things were his true deserts, he was purchasing moral merit by self-deception. He was not the worst of men, and if he really was not, are we to regard it as a virtue in him to believe that he was? Whatever the defects of the rationalist, he values truth more than this. The difficulty he finds with supernaturalism, at least of the ‘wholly other’ variety, is that it plays fast and loose with truth. In earlier pages we have found it calling in question man's natural reason and conscience, and attempting to replace their verdicts by beliefs and imperatives before which he is encouraged to prostrate himself, whether they are consonant with truth or not. And if he murmurs that they seem to him irrational, he is denounced for preferring pride in his own reason to submission to true authority. Pride and humility thus change places. It is pride to say that, by such light as he has, he cannot see that a belief is valid. It is humility to say that one is in receipt of divine direction superseding both reason and common sense.14

This kind of humility the rationalist will eschew. The first interest of rationality is to see things as they are, and one's self happens to be among these things. But it would be a sad day for humanity if the grace of humility, which has been a genuine glory of religion, were to be denied to anyone in virtue of loyalty to truth. Nor need it be. Since humility has played so large a role in the religious attitudes of the past, it may be well to see how large a role it may still have in the rational mind.

30 First, then, we have seen that human nature is built on animal nature. The main difficulties of the moral life are those of regulating desires based on powerful and ancient impulses. Among these desires the most insistent are those that preserve and exalt the self. One's own life, success, dignity, and reputation are so naturally and generally man's prime concern that when any ethics challenges it—even an ethics not the highest, like utilitarianism—it seems to most men too exacting. It is easier to accept the ethics of Hollywood, the primitive ethics that sanctions revenge for any affront to one's pride, even if it happens to rest on truth. That the goods or the sufferings of other people are as important as one's own, that the goods and ills of other people taken together are almost infinitely more important than one's own and should be taken into constant account, is clear to the rational mind, even if to no other. To place oneself in that perspective and live in it is a humility based on truth, not on the sacrifice of it. A rational humility escapes the besetting egoism of the natural man without falling into the masochistic self-depreciation of the misguided ‘saint’.

Note in the second place that a certain kind of humility is prized for its moral sensitivity, and that such humility is a requirement of the rational mind. It is notorious that those who have gone farthest in any discipline feel most keenly how far they have still to go, that it is Newton, not the freshly created Doctor of Philosophy, who insists that he has only picked up a few pebbles on the shore, that it is the sensitive publican rather than the mechanical Pharisee who prays ‘Be merciful to me a sinner’. This does not mean, we may repeat, that the good man will regard himself with contempt. ‘A man who does not think well of himself,’ said Hazlitt, ‘generally thinks ill of others, nor do they fail to return the compliment’. Still it is the instructed and reflective mind that is most likely to see the difficulties of doing anything as it should be done, and to have the sharpest eye for its own shortcomings. Harold Prichard, one of the most acute of moral philosophers, doubted whether he had ever done a really right act in his life; and Sidgwick, in a two-sentence service prepared for his funeral, described himself as ‘a sinful man who partly tried to do his duty’.15 A rational humility depends on the breadth of the recognised interval between what one is and what one might be, and the clearer one's vision, the fuller one's awareness of that breadth.

Thirdly, as Rashdall remarked, ‘true humility is but one aspect of true love of one's neighbour’. When a person perceives that he has some advantage over his neighbour in gifts or wealth or good fortune, and contemplates the difference, one or other of two feelings is likely to dominate in him. One is satisfaction that he is on the upper side of the gap; the other is regret that his neighbour is on the under side. A gracious aspect of humility is the prominence of the latter feeling. And this feeling is certainly open to the rational man. To be sure, the passionate humility of the devotee—‘My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride’—is hardly achievable by the secular mind. But that mind is at least not open to the suspicion of using its humility as a part-premium on a policy of everlasting insurance. And even if religious humility is free of any such taint, it is not the only genuine humility. There is no enmity between love of reason and love of neighbour; nor is a clear head necessarily swollen. Those who long ago listened to the socialist candidate for the presidency, Eugene V. Debs, often came away unconvinced by his socialist conclusions while convinced that there was such a thing as secular saintliness. ‘As long as there is a lower class,’ said Debs, ‘I am of it; as long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free’.

We may note another and final element in religious humility that is equally the property of the rational man. Humility has been prized for its teachableness; it is open to correction and therefore growth. The man who is incapable of revering others as having far outstripped him may be doing them no harm, but he is handicapping himself through forfeiting much that he might have learned. Traditional Christianity has shown a notable openness and docility on the moral side; its special genius has lain there; it caught the passion of the Hebrew prophets for purity of heart and concentrated its energy on the quest with an almost fierce humility. But while morality may be three-fourths of life, as Arnold said, it is not all of it, and Christianity was too indifferent to the remaining fourth. There too, however, humility is of the essence. The rational man knows that he must move to his ends along many roads, and that all of them lead toward receding goals. If the moral ideal is for him infinitely far off, so is that of understanding and of taste; and humility is the order of the day in philosophy, science, and art. ‘There is no sin,’ said F. H. Bradley, ‘however prone to it the philosopher may be, which philosophy can justify so little as spiritual pride’.16 A similar attitude befits the scientist in a rapidly expanding world. We have already heard Huxley's ‘Sit down before fact as a little child… or you shall learn nothing.’ So also of the artist. There is an essay of Pater's on Raphael in which it is contended that the painter achieved what he did through the humility that took him to the feet of all the better artists of his time and kept him there till he had absorbed to the full what each had to give. Nor does humility end with apprenticeship. T. S. Eliot says of the artist: ‘What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.’17 A hard saying, no doubt, but at any rate truer than the gospel of idiosyncrasy and whim now popular in some quarters.

31 We have been sketching a rationalist alternative to the traditional supernaturalism. Much that was desirable in the older attitude can be retained in the new. Reverence for goodness and humility before excellence will remain, if not in their lyric and passionate Franciscan forms, still in a form that will restrain egoism and encourage growth. Of the attitudes comprised in the older outlook, it is faith that will be most altered. In traditional faith belief has been subservient to the will to believe—the need, the desire, the duty, to believe. In religion as we conceive it, belief will be subservient to nothing but its own immanent ideal of reason. In the light of that ideal, with its demand for evidence and consistency, the old dogmatic structure is decaying.

For the last time the recurrent question arises: does that carry with it the decay of religion? Of religion as the traditional super-naturalism, Yes. Of religion in our wider sense, No. Religion we have conceived as the attitude of the whole man to what he regards as ultimately true and ultimately good; and religion in that sense will remain, however the conception of its object may change. This way of interpreting religion is of course a departure from that of traditional Christianity. Rationality, or the attempt at it, takes the place of faith. Ultimate truth and goodness of course remain the same through all men's changing conceptions of them, as Everest remains what it is in spite of the swirling mists through which it is seen. But it is those changing conceptions themselves that we must live with, for they give us the only available object of belief at any given time.

Traditional faith has accepted a body of belief as delivered once for all to the saints. But nothing given to man's mind is ever delivered once for all. It comes to him through his own evolving mind, through his own struggling and growing reason. Why should he not make a virtue of his necessity? If reason is his one dependence for shaping the object of belief, why not recognise it for what it is? It will at no stage give him finality, but he will approach his goal by means of it or not at all. The proposal here urged is as simple as it is sweeping. Take reason seriously. It has been from the beginning the unrealised architect of religion, of conduct, of the world, but almost always doing its work under the interference of interests alien to its own. Give it its head. Let it shape belief and conduct freely. It will shape them aright if anything can.

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