1. We have given a high place to reason in practice. Admitting that feeling and impulse are indispensable to any experience that is to be worth while, we have argued that if the good is that which fulfils and satisfies impulse-desire, reason enters, and enters increasingly as we advance, into the very nature of the good. It reveals to us how our desires are implicated with each other, how they conflict with each other, how, if at all, they may be harmonized with each other. As men's interests become more diversified, and the splintered and fragmented mind becomes harder to avoid, reason has more and more to do. It must select some interests as central, discard or modify others, and ruthlessly subordinate minor interests to major. Sometimes this is done for us by compelling outer circumstance, as it is for the explorer or for the mother of a large family. But to organize a life from within may prove a harder business. It calls for intelligence, for a willingness to reflect, and for firmness both in the pruning of irrelevant desires and the re-shaping of relevant ones for the sake of distant ends. It involves, in short, putting reason in the saddle and letting it apply both spur and bridle to the creature of impulse that every man so largely is.
All this implies a certain ‘weather in the soul’ that will distinguish the rational man from the man of impulse or feeling. We may well try to form some image of what this man would be like. He would be very different from our commonplace selves and from those around us. Rationality, as we conceive it, does not lie merely in letting reason appoint one's beliefs, hard as that is; it means carrying a rational spirit into the ramifications of practice, making it permeate one's feelings and pervade the decisions of one's will. It means to be a practising philosopher. This is a very much harder business than being a mere professor of philosophy. For it requires being what professors of philosophy so seldom are, reasonable men who live rational lives. Indeed if one's picture of the rational man had to be drawn from the flesh, one would search for a model in vain. He has never, in fact, existed, and can only be imagined. We do know, however, that he would fall somewhere between two extremes, and in trying to see what he is like, we may find it suggestive to begin with what he is certainly not.
2. At one extreme, then, stands the creature of impulse whose only principle is to have no principle, who surrenders to the mood of the hour, whatever that may be. He will do nothing unless at the moment his heart is in it; to be forced by himself or others into acting against his feelings seems to him slavery; freedom means following impulse. The classic picture of this sort of person, described by Plato as ‘the democratic man’ because all his impulses clamour for their rights as of equal importance with every other, is given in the eighth book of the Republic:
‘he lives from day to day indulging the appetite of the hour; and sometimes he is lapped in drink and strains of the flute; then he becomes a waterdrinker, and tries to get thin; then he takes a turn at gymnastics; sometimes idling and neglecting everything, then once more living the life of a philosopher; often he is busy with politics, and starts to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head; and, if he is emulous of anyone who is a warrior, off he is in that direction, or of men of business, once more in that. His life has neither law nor order; and this distracted existence he terms joy and bliss and freedom; and so he goes on.’1
Happily, no such person exists in the fatuous perfection of the ideal. But we have all met with approximations to it in varying degrees; indeed as we look at our own face in the mirror we can see at moments a distressing resemblance. It is distressing because we know, without being told, the end of such people. Riding off, like the storied Irishman, in all directions at once, they never arrive; they scatter themselves over a broad landscape, making a perceptible difference nowhere except as nuisances, and disappear without a trace.
3. At the other extreme stands what Lord Russell was no doubt referring to when he spoke of ‘that inhuman monster “the rational man”’. He is even less likely to be met in the flesh than ‘the democratic man’, but here again there are adumbrations of him among persons we have met or read about. He tries to incarnate pure intelligence. The wheels of his intellect revolve in a vacuum, and if at a furious pace, so much the better. He acts always from calculation, never from impulse, affection, or even hatred. He sees a long way ahead, cunningly adjusts his means to his ends, is all things to all men while caring little for any, never forgets himself, and is never carried away by enthusiasm or sentimentality. While making no mistakes of his own, at least none that mere intelligence could avoid, he sees through everyone else, notes their stupidities, and uses them with superlative craft for his own purpose. He is icily competent, intimidatingly efficient, free from all romantic and humanitarian nonsense, knows what he wants, and moves toward it by the straightest line. He is Voltaire without his cackling laughter, Shaw without his Irish ebullience, Sir Stafford Cripps without his utopianism or piety. He is not necessarily diabolical, like Iago and Mephistopheles; he is a cool, thin-lipped, crafty observer like Shakespeare's Cassius, neutral between good and evil, but capable of astute service to either.
It is an unattractive picture. Most people would find it even less attractive than that of the unprincipled libertine. They would hate Iago, even before knowing what exactly he was about, while finding it as difficult as some eminent critics to imagine Falstaff in hell. Intellectual power is merely alarming when its moral allegiance is ambiguous.2 But then our own notion of rationality is so far from all this that we should find the man we have just described a monster of irrationality. The rational man as we conceive him differs from this monster in three ways, all of them fundamental.
In the first place, reasonableness is not exhausted in the exercise of reasoning. A rational man may well be an intellectual, but he will not be an intellectualist, if this means that he retreats into his own corner and contents himself with spinning webs. Indeed, to try to squeeze a normal man into the tiny bed of his own cognitive faculty, and then lop off whatever will not fit into it, is to stunt him and indeed to kill him; that came out clearly enough in our consideration of the Stoics.
Secondly, rationality has a far larger field than that of propositions and concepts. It is as truly at work in judgments of better and worse, of right and wrong, as in those judgments of analytic necessity to which a narrow convention would confine the name of reason. It may exhibit itself, for example, in the sanity and good sense with which one appraises the types of human experience. The rational man, as we conceive him, would be incapable of summing up religion as ‘the opiate of the people’, patriotism as ‘the last refuge of a scoundrel’, or love as sex, still more of history as ‘bunk’. He would presumably be clever in the manipulation of logico-mathematical symbols, for such cleverness is one expression of rationality, however thin and partial. But what is called good judgment is a far more massive and significant expression of it.
Thirdly, rationality extends to reasonableness in conduct. A man would not in our present sense deserve the name, no matter how clever he was, or how judicious in problems of value, who was incapable of translating his insights into action. How far the various forms of reasonableness can exist independently of each other is an intriguing question—how far logical acuteness and moral judgment, for example, can co-exist with imprudence and irresponsibility in practice. That these forms do not simply vary with each other is shown by such figures as Coleridge. ‘The contrast between his grasp of philosophical principles and his total absence of ethical effectiveness is bewildering at first sight, but in the end it only shows how entirely disconnected reason and instinct can be. Coleridge could imagine wisdom, but he could not apply it.’3 Without pursuing the many hares that here appear in our path, we must be content to follow tradition and withold the name of rational from the man who cannot establish connection between his insights and his practice. Our rational man will be reasonable in action as well as in thought because his action will issue from impulses that have been aligned and modified by thought.
He will be far, then, from the crafty monster, with ice-water in his veins, that romantics have sometimes pictured. Unless he were capable of feeling and impulse, there would be nothing that his intelligence could present to him as worth pursuing. He will have his enthusiasms and loves and hates like other men, and will translate them—not precipitately or rashly, indeed, but judiciously—into action.
4. But here the doubt arises that always crops up when one contemplates the portrait of the rational man. He is never to act ‘precipitately’, but always ‘judiciously’. It is well enough for the philosopher to use these words in his study, but they seem to be a mere counsel of perfection if applied to the rough-and-tumble life outside. Indeed it may be said that they are not even a counsel of perfection. The trouble is not only the practical one, tremendous as that is, of getting men of violent passions and prejudices to put a continual brake on them in the interests of some reflective good; it is the more fundamental difficulty that the ideal itself seems to be misconceived, that such a brake, habitually imposed, would kill all spontaneity. Rationality in practice implies acting in the light of consequences; so acting implies stopping to consider; stopping to consider means not only that the impulse to action will tend to vanish, but even that if it remains, it will be remoulded or inhibited; and such rationality, it may be held, would spread a killing frost over the life of impulse. Freshness, delight, joie de vivre, will have no play in this galling harness. If there is to be joy in life, there must be gusto, some freedom for feeling and impulse, some degree of abandon. Everybody knows that if one is angry and stops to count a hundred before expressing it, there is little or nothing left to express. The same holds of more constructive impulses. If we are to enjoy art to the full, we must surrender ourselves to it, not contemplate it dispassionately as a critic would; ‘there are two ways of disliking art’, said Oscar Wilde; ‘one of them is to dislike it, the other is to like it rationally.’ A lover who meted out his devotion in amounts determined strictly by rational appraisal of the worth of its object would not be particularly popular with that object. Even in religion a certain childlikeness has been held to be essential; we are urged to trust before our intelligence is satisfied; blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed. Hence the absurdity felt in the supposed rationalist's prayer, ‘O God, if there be a God, save my soul, if I have a soul.’ Granting all that we have said about the difference between rationality and intellectualism, is it not still true that the man whose whole life is held under rational command is bound to be something of a monster?
If that means that such a mind would be an extreme rarity, it is true. If it means that the rational temper entails a life that is bleak, mechanical, and joyless, I do not think it is true. Let us take the less important point first, that reasonableness is a rarity.
5. That most men do not live rationally is hardly a thesis worth debating. It is only too obvious that they do not. Moralists and economists did once suppose that all men were bent on gaining their own greatest happiness, and that they chose invariably the course of action that presented itself as contributing most to this end. In this sense they were universally and automatically rational. From this starting point, James Mill elaborated a psychology and his son an ethics and economics. The pertinent comments are: first, that men who were moved by their own good only would, from our point of view, be irrational; second, that even if they chose invariably what seemed to conduce to this, there would remain an infinite opportunity for going wrong in the choice; and third, that by John Mill's honest confession, men do not always choose even what seems to their greatest advantage; they face pain and death at times for the sake of others. And if men are not generally rational even in this low sense, still less are they rational in any higher sense.
Consider only one piece of very general evidence. What is called literature—particularly fiction, epic, and drama—is chiefly a study in human unreasonableness. Perhaps this is what makes it so interesting to us. One can hardly imagine a run on the circulating libraries for a novel all of whose characters were models of serene wisdom. When authors have introduced such persons, as Mrs Humphrey Ward introduced T. H. Green in the character of Grey in Robert Ellesmere or Lowes Dickinson did Sidgwick in the character of Martin in his Modern Symposium, the sages have not been very exciting. The characters that stand out in literature are, nearly all of them, variants on the theme of human irrationality: the adventurous and unscrupulous Odysseus, the David who would have his Bathsheba, the lovable, half-mad knight of La Mancha, Mr Micawber, Mrs Jellyby and the other extraordinary exhibits in the Dickens menagerie, Jane Austen's embodiments of pride and prejudice, the miser Silas Marner, Captain Ahab of Moby Dick, Mr Babbitt and Mrs Dodsworth, the brooding and murderous Raskolnikov. Some of these are out-size figures. But we feel that though they are all intensely unreasonable, they are the very stuff of life. Their annals are studies of what happens when human nature wanders from rationality in varying directions and distances.
To take a character that in intelligence and loyalty to it is well above rather than below the common level, to confront it with crucial trials and show how its very largenesss of stature may cause it to crack, is a rarer and greater achievement. Hamlet, for all his alleged madness, is a figure of this kind; so, in another way, is Othello, a mind not easily jealous, but being wrought, perplexed in the extreme. Hegel thought that the material of the purest tragedy was found where all the chief protagonists were following the light of an objective reason as they saw it, and still involved themselves in fatal conflict; here was an antimony that went deep. Such a conflict was found in the case of Socrates, the most devoted follower of rational duty that had ever lived, put to death by his compatriots, not out of spite, but what they too conceived as rational duty. Even so, it is a kind of unreasonableness that makes the conflict possible, since one party or the other is clearly mistaking his duty. But it is not conflicts at this level of which literature is mostly made.4
6. We must admit, then, that the rational man is something of a monster, in the sense that he is a rara avis in terris. Is he also a monster in the other sense of being not only a departure, but a repulsive departure, from the norm? Swinburne attacked Christianity as a kill-joy faith:
Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean!
The world is grown grey with thy breath.
The charge is surely unjust if lodged against a mind as warm and spontaneous as that of Jesus. But is it not valid to the full against the creature we have called the rational man, with his mind ‘all sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought’?
There is some point in the charge. Rationality is not bought without a price, and part of that price is a soberness of temper and deliberateness of decision that do put something of a damper on impulsive high spirits. As for the soberness of temper, it follows from mere reflectiveness on the human situation. Rationality in feeling and conduct will try to adjust itself to what rationality in thought reveals the world to be, and the man who is rational in his thinking cannot fail to note that it is a very checkered place. For
Men at whiles are sober
And think by fits and starts,
And if they think, they fasten
Their hands upon their hearts.
The person who sees things whole is not likely, indeed, to be cynical and despairing, as Housman was, but neither is he likely to be ecstatic, for among the facts he will take account of are these (to mention a few of many such): that no matter who we are or what we attempt, we are all beaten in the end by death; that man's inhumanity to man, past and present, runs up to a staggering total; that he hardly sits down to a dinner except at the cost of animal pain; that much of the suffering of the world falls on the wholly innocent; that civilization is producing the means of destruction far faster than it is producing temperate minds or the instruments of peace.5 It was not a philosopher who sang ‘God's in his heaven, all's right with the world’, but an unthinking peasant girl of a natively sweet disposition.
Perhaps our temperament has more to do with our conclusions than our conclusions with our temperament, but the causation does not move in one direction only. There is clearly a sense in which increasing knowledge increaseth sorrow. The minds that have the most comprehensive picture of the human scene—minds like Dante or Goethe, or in our own day, Santayana—are not minds that one would think of describing as exuberantly or exultantly happy. There is more than quaintness in the remark of Dr Johnson's friend, Edwards, that he too had tried to be a philosopher, but that cheerfulness would keep breaking in.6 When one meets a mind that is inveterately cheerful, like Emerson's in America, or that irresistible theologian Scott Holland's in England, one is too likely to find on closer inspection a certain colour-blindness; they habitually see the blues and golds of the world more vividly than the browns. The minds that do see things justly, that combine sweep with sensibility, like Leonardo's, Bacon's, Lotze's, or in a somewhat smaller compass, Butler's, are always sober minds.
Sometimes the brighter mood is induced not, as it was with Emerson, by a native bias for gold and azure, but by deliberate fixing of attention on these to the exclusion of the rest. There have been persons who achieved a kind of happiness by withdrawing from the scene where most men live into a cloister where they could dream undisturbed about ‘Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blest’. It will not do. There is something defeatist and escapist about such happiness, with an unhealthy hectic spot on its cheek. The world seen soberly may be a sorry place, but it is all we have, and it will not be righted by dreaming up others that we know not of. I do not want to be cynical. I do not think we know enough about the relation of mind and body to offer a final negative of the fundamental human hope. I am saying that if such regions do exist we know nothing useful about them, that meanwhile life must be lived, and that it is irrational to sacrifice certain and attainable goods for what is only a hope. Carlyle summed up the situation admirably when Margaret Fuller came back from the country of visions and announced that she had decided to accept the universe: ‘Gad, she'd better’.
7. We have suggested that if there is a certain sober colouring about the rational man's mind, it derives not only from what his fuller vision enables him to see, but also from a certain deliberateness of decision, a certain habit of inhibition. Reflectiveness looks before it leaps, and because it looks, it often does not leap at all. In extreme cases, therefore, it may become a blight upon action. When Napoleon made the great Laplace his minister of the interior, he had to remove him for incapacity in six weeks, remarking that ‘he brought into the administration the spirit of the infinitesimals’. ‘The cleverest man we ever had at the Admiralty,’ said Lord Fisher, ‘was Goschen, and he was the worst failure of all. He was always looking at all sides and we never got anything done.’ Reflectiveness, like conscientiousness, may become a disease; sometimes they are the same disease. Rightness of conduct, in the objective sense, depends on goods and ills produced. Now the immediate goods and ills may be easy to see. But the remoter ones are equally relevant, and since there is no obvious point at which the attempt to catch the future in one's net should be abandoned, the man of ingrowing carefulness may find himself his own victim, like the man who is so anxious to cover all contingencies with insurance that he exhausts his income on it and has nothing left to live on. Even to reflect on consequences just ahead takes time. The possibilities of bemusing oneself over whether one shall have this or that for breakfast, whether one shall take excerise today or not, and if so, what it shall be, and so on, are nothing short of infinite.
8. Now all this is somewhat tiresome. There is no reason in the world why rationality should exclude common sense. Indeed it is part of the reasonableness of the genuinely reasonable man to see when an insistence on reasoning is likely to defeat, rather than further, its own end. It is part of that reasonableness so to organize one's life that one will not have to waste oneself in incessant deliberating over what should be matters of mere habit. When it was objected to J. S. Mill that the man who tried to govern all his choices by consideration of consequences would be paralysed, he replied with justice that the race had not been experimenting with conduct for hundreds of milleniums for nothing, that most choices were already covered by well-tested rules, and that for a man to start from scratch and try to think them all out for himself would be the very reverse of reasonable. One may show wisdom by accepting the accumulated capital of the race on minor issues as well as by dissenting from and adding to it on major issues. According to James, the rational man, instead of perpetually questioning habit and so check-mating his will, like the unhappy centipede that began to consider how it ran, will make habit his ally, turning over to it the larger part of his life so that he may bring his intelligence to bear freely on the rest. In determining the strategy of his life, in putting first things first and a great many popular things nowhere, he can do what the unintelligent man, no matter how vigorous or devoted, is unable to do.
It is mere prejudice to assume that, seeing more clearly than other men what ought to be done, he will be less able to do it. Other things equal, he should be more able. Plato, it will be remembered, would have made philosophers kings. This is an experiment that has not often been tried. But there is no evidence that when it has been tried, it has generally ended as it did with Laplace and Goschen. Marcus Aurelius on the emperor's throne, Newton at the Mint, and Masaryk in a president's chair provided rather pleasant surprises. The disasters anticipated from the absent-minded scholar have often failed to materialize. The fact is that his absent-mindedness has been much misunderstood. It may be a work of extreme present mindedness in his own special work of theorizing, a mark of putting first things uncompromisingly first. And a capacity for losing oneself in the essential may at times be as important to a general or president as to a metaphysician. The rationality, then, that orders life reflectively is not at enmity with impulse in any crippling sense. It will assume direction of the larger strategy of life, but it will not come bustling in over matters of daily tactics; it will make itself felt rather as a gentle pressure toward ends reflectively determined.
9. But is it at enmity with joy? Will the habitually reflective man, the man who orders his action with reference to long-run consequences and sees himself against the background of a universe that dwarfs him, be able to surrender himself with any zest to those little activities of play, of family life, of walks in the countryside and talks of an evening, of looking at pictures—moving or not, of reading the newspaper and listening to the radio, that makes up so much of what renders life livable to most people, at least in the west? Here again, I think that he holds the advantage. To be sure, he must be a really rational man, and not a caricature of him. If he is perpetually trying to substitute the attitude of criticism for that of enjoyment, he will not get very far with either. And if his preoccupation with high things leads him, as it did the ascetics, to scorn food and drink, as it did the Roundheads to smash beautiful things, as it did the Puritans, to suppress the drama, or as it did George Fox to ‘speak out against all forms of music’, it will undoubtedly warp or stunt him. But this is not rationality; once more it is irrationality in masquerade.
The rational man does certainly feel distinctions, where others do not, between better and worse; his enthusiasm has a higher boiling point; and he may suffer foolishness less gladly. But the other side of this discrimination is that his enjoyments are richer enjoyments. If he considers one experience as better than another, it is, as we have seen, because it satisfies and fulfils more completely. The uncultivated man, looking at these enjoyments from the outside, may regard them as boring, or do mere lip-service to them; one of the sad things about a democracy is the number of people who try vainly to convince themselves that they like something because they think they ought to like it. To have been delivered from this self-deception is much. It is still more to be able to enter into ‘the best that has been thought and said’ with a response equated to its quality. The rationally better does not mean something that an esoteric and finical taste has set up as its special preserve, made the more attractive because it is beyond the reach of most men. The really good in art, for example, is what would give the fullest satisfaction to anyone who could enter into it, not necessarily what is at the moment under discussion in the cafés of the Boulevard St Germain. The really good in philosophy is the sort of understanding that we are all trying to reach when we think. ‘The technique of the great artists in words is only a glorified form of a skill that we all seek, and in some humble degree learn to exercise.’7 The really good in anything is that which would give the appropriate powers of our nature their fullest and most satisfying play. Whoever finds his satisfaction in such things is getting the utmost possible out of his life. And, as Spinoza argued in his essay on the improvement of the understanding, it is only through rational reflection on the goods of life, and on our own powers and situation, that we can see where our happiness really lies.8
10. As for the charge that the rational man will live in too rarified an air to share the ordinary satisfactions, one might cite the vigorously dissenting testimony of Spinoza's barber. But we shall do better to point out that the charge rests on the old confusion between scholar and pedant, philosopher and doctrinaire. ‘It is difficult for most of us’, says E. M. Forster, ‘to realize both the importance and the unimportance of reason. But it is a difficulty which the profounder humanists have managed to solve.’9 In my youth a wise philosopher, proficient in mathematics, told me that I should master enough mathematics not to be taken in by it. It was sound advice. One is only too likely to be taken in by scholarship or mathematics or philosophy in the sense that, excited and almost intoxicated by the new ideas, one forgets how barren an abstract they are from the richness of actual life; one makes an idol out of ‘the thin product of untutored fancy’. A little philosophy, Bacon thought, was a dangerous thing, but more of it brought one round to sense again. There are philosophers whose philosophy has become a sort of fanaticism, making them run to head like a bad onion, and unfitting them for participation or delight in the activities most men take pleasure in. ‘Some eminent philosophers whom I have known’, says A. C. Benson, ‘never seemed to be really there. Their voices whispered drily of mortal things, but one felt that what they said was merely like rain dropping from clouds which sailed above the earth, and evacuated expressions rather than mingled with life.’10 ‘Nothing can be conceived,’ said Burke, ‘more hard than the heart of a thoroughbred metaphysician.’11
With such people in mind, William James once wrote to a critic who had taken him to task for his religious writing: ‘Your bogey is superstition, my bogey is desiccation.… In my essay the evil shape was a vision of “Science” in the form of abstraction, priggishness, and sawdust, lording it over all. Take the sterilest scientific prig and cad you know, compare him with the richest religious intellect you know, and you would not, any more than I would, give the former the exclusive right of way.’12 It is this sort of thing that Professor Raleigh protests against when he says of William Godwin that he ‘attempts to regulate all the most human feelings by the clockwork of the intellect, and seriously maintains that it is wrong to love your own father better than other men, unless you can prove that your father is better than other men’.13 If reason is to appraise value rightly, it must know what it is talking about, and when it is dealing with art or poetry or play or religion, it cannot know what it is talking about if it deals with them in the abstract, as if they were so many counters that could be manipulated by rule, like the symbols of mathematics. Much of the positivism and behaviourism of recent times has been ludicrously philistine about these things, not even dealing with them as abstract counters, but substituting for them ‘observables’ in the way of behaviour that answer to the demands of a Moloch of their own manufacture called ‘scientific method’. It is an idol from which James, who had the genuinely empirical temper of the scientist, would have prayed for deliverance.
11. Such theories really begin by putting out one of the eyes of science, blinding it to a large range of facts that are visible enough to all but the one-eyed. And the rational man cannot afford to be one-eyed. When he talks of values, he must have entered himself into the experiences of fulfilment and satisfaction that he is referring to; otherwise he will be talking about he knows not what. Anyone who attempted to write about the relations of triangles without having grasped the nature of a triangle would be thought absurd. Why should a writer who undertakes to discuss the value of poetry or baseball, the cubist phase of Picasso, or the discipline of Yoga, without entering into these things with imaginative sympathy, be thought any less absurd? ‘One may enquire’, said Aristotle, ‘why a boy, though he may be a mathematician, cannot be a philosopher. Perhaps the answer is that mathematics deals with abstractions whereas the first principles of philosophy are derived from experience: the young can only repeat them without conviction of their truth, whereas the definitions of mathematics are easily understood.’14 There is truth behind the exaggeration of Dean Inge's remark that ‘all the philosophers who are really alive have been poets’.15 Since Raleigh held strong views on these matters, it will be well to listen to him again:
‘It is possible to know only one fact, and yet to know that fact in such a way as to be entitled to the name of pedant. We talk of “furnishing the mind” with knowledge, but how rarely is it done. For the most part we store the second-hand furniture of knowledge in the bleak warehouse of the mind. It has no fitness or beauty there, it is put to no human use, there is a monstrous excess of it, and most of it is upside down. Now the opposite of a pedant I take to be a scholar.… The scholar sees all things in a vital relationship, and for him among dead authors there is no dead man… Judged by this standard, Lamb was one of the most superb scholars that ever handled literature.’16
Now the rational man will be the scholar in Raleigh's sense and Lamb's sense. Being more than an intellect, being a man of impulse and feeling, knowing that value can come only as these are brought into play, knowing finally that among the stablest satisfactions of life are the simple, universal, and primitive ones of food and drink, companionship and play, he would be failing in reasonableness itself if he despised or neglected the sources of so much good. There is a touching letter of John Richard Green, the historian, written near the close of his life, in which he says: ‘what seems to grow fairer to me as life goes by is the love and peace and tenderness of it; not its wit and cleverness and grandeur of knowledge, grand as knowledge is, but just the laughter of little children and the friendship of friends and easy talk by the fireside and the sight of flowers and the sound of music.’17 Green was no great philosopher, but he was a scholar in Raleigh's sense.
12. So far we have been on the defensive about the rationalist temper. We have been defending it against the charges of being over-inhibited and bleak. It is time to turn to the other side of the picture and ask what are the qualities that mark out this temper most distinctively from that of other minds. They are chiefly three, I think. First, there is the delight in understanding for its own sake. Secondly, there is that virtue which is the reflection of such understanding in practice, namely justice in thinking and acting. Finally, there is the quality that forms its reflection in feeling, the quality best described, perhaps, as equanimity. Let us consider these.
13. We pointed out long ago that the impulse to know is a distinct trend in human nature, with its own special end or goal, though the interest most men take in this end is admittedly flickering and feeble. In spite of such lack of interest, the impulse on its lower levels is, in most men, kept alive. Why should this be? Because, unlike the aesthetic impulse, which has very little utility, the impulse to know has extremely useful results. Men prize knowledge for what they can do with it. They can see the point of study and thought if it makes a practical difference somewhere, if it enables one to pull a tooth, or conduct a case in court, or design an airplane, more expertly. But most men's theoretical interest is too limp to sustain itself beyond the point where this pragmatic trellis ceases to give support. If knowledge is not to be applied anywhere, what is the good of it, what is the use of it? It is significant that by so many men these last two questions are taken to mean precisely the same. To ask the good of a thing is to ask the use of it; the assumption is that if it has no use, it has no value, that value is usefulness. And this is untrue. The intrinsic value of things never lies in their usefulness; to say that something is useful is to say that it is valued as a means to something else which itself has intrinsic worth. But even after this distinction is pointed out, there are many who deny that knowledge is among the things possessing this terminal value. Most men apparently feel that to go on beating one's brains when there is no prospect of applying the result is a waste of time.
14. In many cases they would be right. There are two conditions under which continued effort of this kind is futile, one belonging to the knowing mind, the other to what it is trying to know. The first occurs when through lack of ability or lack of interest the further exploration of a field would produce nothing but inner dreariness. The remark was attributed to Dr Leete of Eton that any subject was educationally good so long as the boys hated it. It would be hard to devise a better recipe for killing all intellectual interest. Granting that there is some discipline of character in doing what one does not want to do, and that the early stages of a new study are likely to be dull, still no activity can have value for us if we cannot feel satisfaction in it, and to persist in a study when there is no prospect either of applying it in practice or of getting from it the satisfaction of some degree of mastery is misguided virtue. ‘You cannot think the truth’, says Royce, ‘without loving it; and the dreariness which men often impute to metaphysics is merely the dreariness of not understanding the subject,—a sort of dreariness for which indeed there is no help except learning to understand.’18 The understanding and the love of it usually advance together, and support each other. If through defect of faculty the understanding does not come, the love dies out also; the subject may be pursued, but there will be no heart in the pursuit; concentration will be difficult; what is learned will not be retained; the subject will suggest the shades of a prison-house, and the student will be lucky if the shadows do not lengthen and spread themselves over his studies generally. Knowledge so gained is hardly worth the price.
The attitude of the genuine scholar is wholly different. The reluctant student sometimes thinks of the scholar or scientist as living permanently in the dusty barracks where he would live himself if he tried to do their work. If he wants to understand their spirit, let him think rather of the delight with which he does something with his heart in it, say dismembering and reconstructing an automobile engine, and think of what it would mean to do this professionally and at will. Only if some such delight can be transferred to learning will talk of the intrinsic value of knowledge have any meaning for its hearers.
15. There is a second condition under which such talk is idle. It occurs when the knowledge sought is a mere miscellany, when it is knowledge as opposed to understanding. Uneducated men often conceive the difference between the educated man and themselves as lying in the fact that he knows much more than they do. So he ought and probably does. The gaining of varied knowledge is part of an education, and though it is less important than reflectiveness, reflection cannot work in a vacuum, and the greater the knowledge or experience at its disposal, the more significant are its results. But it is not here that the essential difference lies. Mere multiplicity of known facts is not a rational goal. Poincaré remarked that the universe is spawning billions of new facts every second; but what proportion of them, simply as items of information, would it be important to know? There are persons who already know far more of them than others without having the least title to be regarded as more enlightened or understanding than those others; ‘a great memory… does not make a philosopher, any more than a dictionary can be called a grammar.’19 Some people combine extraordinary gifts of rapid reading and firm retention, so that the amount of sheer information they accumulate in the course of the years is staggering. The stock example is Macaulay, a ‘book in trousers’, as Sydney Smith called him. He undertook to restore Pilgrim's Progress and Paradise Lost from memory if the need ever arose; he was the sort of mind that would always come out triumphant in any test about the major or minor prophets or the kings of Israel and Judah. But Emerson once remarked about him that no one ever knew so much that was not worth knowing. As regards Macaulay himself, the remark was less than just, for his immense erudition was admirably ordered and used; but it does serve to enforce our point. A man may in theory own the most prodigious mountain of learning that mortal man ever amassed and still be, in every fundamental sense, stupid, unenlightened, and irrational.
16. The point is one that acquires added importance with every passing year. Knowledge seems to be increasing rather by geometrical than arithmetical progression. As recently as the time of Bacon, one could take all knowledge for one's province without arousing any strong sense of the absurdity of the enterprise. Today the man who would take even the whole of chemistry, history, or medicine, as his province would be regarded as a sciolist; if he would know anything well he must ‘specialize’. Yet the modern world presses upon us from every side its imperative and perfectly legitimate claims. There are thousands of things we could know with advantage, which, as specialists, we should never know. So the temptation is great, and is becoming greater, to acquaint ourselves hurriedly with as wide a diversity of subjects as we can. The art of popularization has been so widely developed that every field of knowledge has its own admirably readable digests and surveys.
That it would be well to be acquainted with all these fields seems to me undeniable. The danger is that such an acquaintance should be supposed to constitute an education. Newman was already protesting against the confusion a hundred years ago. ‘The error of the last twenty years…’, he said in his Dublin lectures, ‘has been the error of distracting and enfeebling the mind by an unmeaning profusion of subjects; of implying that a smattering in a dozen branches of study is not shallowness, which it really is, but enlargement, which it is not.… What the steam engine does with matter, the printing press is to do with the mind; it is to act mechanically, and the population is to be passively, almost unconsciously enlightened, by the mere multiplication and dissemination of volumes.’20 A half century or so later Paulsen in Germany was sounding the same note; ‘the springs which scientific research has opened… flow and flow until historians and history itself are in danger of being swallowed up in the flood’. At the end of his long life, President Butler of Columbia was sounding the note again, with more ample reason now, and with greater urgency.
‘These powerful agencies, the press and the radio, have substituted information for knowledge. The steady flow of that information which they give so absorbs the attention of tens of millions of human beings that they have no opportunity and little temptation to give to this mass of information that critical interpretation and reflective understanding which might transform it into knowledge. We are, therefore, in very large measure, living on the surface of the world's happenings.’21
17. When human knowledge is thus growing at a rate far faster than the power to absorb it, the obvious expedient is to limit attention, to give up the effort at general mastery and confine oneself to the important. But how judge of importance? Most of the proposals that are currently made wear their defects on their face. Thinkers of a pragmatic turn suggest that we should concentrate on utilitarian studies, pitching out great quantities of antiquated lumber that has been supposed to have ‘cultural’ value. They would part without a pang with much of history and literature, and all of speculative philosophy. The trouble with this view is plain. The rational mind wants to know the truth about the world, and much of the most illuminating truth has very little utility. Where would the theories of Newton, Darwin, or Einstein rank if measured solely by their importance in practice? Then there is the somewhat similar criterion of the Communists who would appraise knowledge by its contributoriness to one kind of economic order; one type of biology will be preferred to another because it is more favourable to the prospects of this order. But what if this order should not, after all, be the ideal one? Then not only has a calamitous mistake been made; the possibility of correcting it has been destroyed by corrupting the only agency, namely the free play of reason, which could hope to achieve the correction. Then again there is the Catholic programme, which would take a set of beliefs revealed to an ancient people who were without science, art, philosophy, or critical ethics, place the most important of these beliefs beyond the reach of rational criticism, and make them touchstones for the thought and practice of the twentieth century. All these proposals fail in the same way: they are authoritarian, in the sense that they dictate to reason from the outside where it should place its emphasis. They are the doctrines of sceptics and unbelievers, who distrust the power of human nature at its best to give true and objective answers to the questions that most need answering.
Perhaps there is no ark that will float men to safety on this rising tide of knowledge. Some prophets think men will drown in their knowledge for sheer lack of wisdon, sheer helplessness to manage the flood their own energy has released. It may be so. We will not be tempted into prophesy. We are concerned with the question what in principle is a way of escape, not whether men can be induced to take it. We hold that in principle there is such a way, and one only. It is not an easy way; for some men it is not available at all, and then recourse to the likeliest authority they can find will be natural enough. The only safety lies in the philosophic mind. The problem is an inner one, beyond solving by any outward arrangements, a problem of the adjustment of mind and spirit to an overcomplicated world. The only solution, therefore, is an inward one. It lies in the selection and ordering that can be done, and done alone, by reflective intelligence.
18. We say selection. The other theories say that too, as all theories must. Where, then, do we differ from them? In this: whereas they say that selection must be made with an eye to utility, or to a classless society, or to conformity with faith, or what not, we say that the selection must be made with an eye to understanding what the world is like. Such understanding is the goal that the impulse to know is seeking from its inception. It is the only end that leaves the mind free; it is therefore the natural end of what we call ‘liberal’ education.
Now it is clear that for the understanding of the world, some things are more important than others. Some bits of knowledge provide keys that will unlock a hundred times as much as others will. If a detective is trying to solve a crime, there are a great many facts about the victim and the situation that he will probably ignore, and a few others that he will concentrate on as providing essential clues. We must do likewise if we are to have any success in the larger business of understanding nature and human nature. We must realize that some knowledge is irrelevant, in the sense that it unlocks virtually nothing beyond itself, while other knowledge is fundamental in the sense that with its aid we can unlock a hundred further doors.
Consider the natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry, zoology, human physiology. In point of complexity, you are going forward as you move along this series; in point of generality, and therefore of explanatory power, you are going backward. All the natural sciences are based on physics. All events studied by any of them are physical events governed by physical laws, and a knowledge of such laws would therefore aid in understanding these events, while the special laws of physiology, for example, cannot be carried backward to explain physical events generally. In the understanding of any natural science, physics is thus in a privileged position. A mastery of the laws of motion and gravitation, of heat, sound, magnetism, and light, will throw a long illumination down every corridor of natural science.
Or take what are sometimes called the human sciences, such as psychology, economics, sociology, history. Here the case is somewhat less clear, for reasons we need not at the moment explore. Yet is it not plain enough that all economic, sociological, and historical behaviour is also psychological, that the later and more concrete studies are all dealing with psychological behaviour as it appears under special complicating conditions? Since they are sciences of human nature as it acts in special circumstances, the laws governing human nature are at the root of them all. A mistaken view of human nature will spread its misapprehension through their whole range; as a matter of fact, it produced the classical economics, Tarde's sociology of imitation, and the Marxian interpretation of history. On the other hand, a sound psychology will correspondingly illumimate all these fields. (It is perhaps needless to add that by psychology I do not mean the timid parochialism that never lifts its eyes beyond overt bodily responses; I mean the study of a human nature that thinks, imagines, desires, and seeks; and until these activities can be shown to be physical events in the sense that patellar reflexes are, psychology will not be, in the same sense as physics, a natural science at all.)
Once more, consider the value disciplines, such as the general theory of value, ethics, aesthetics, perhaps the philosophy of religion. Fundamental to all these disciplines is the question what sort of being value has, whether, for example, it is a character of things or an attitude of mind. This question can be discussed without raising any problems about the special forms of value, yet its answer has the most important repercussions in every other value discipline. Among these disciplines, the theory of value is basic.
19. These illustrations may serve to make clear what is meant by selection in the interest of understanding. The notion of democracy among subjects of study, which lay at the base of the old elective system in American colleges, the notion that from the point of view of education one subject was about as good as another, is radically vicious. Some subjects, of which we have taken by way of example physics, psychology, and value theory, are profoundly illuminating about the world we live in; others, such as (we will play safe here) conchology, numismatics, and philately, however fascinating in themselves, are very much less illuminating. Some, like languages, drawing and dentistry, are not in the same sense fields of study at all, but techniques or skills. Since the end of a liberal education is the enlightened or understanding mind, it will be studies of the first kind on which it will lay its principal stress, not those of the second or third. One who has in any considerable measure achieved this end need not be overwhelmed by the modern world. Ninety-nine hundredths of the matter that is pressed with such profusion on his notice he may safely neglect. Much of it is included in better form in the limited set of studies he undertakes to master; some of it indeed is relevant, but must be regretfully and firmly forgone; a very great deal of it is unworthy of notice at all. The tests of knowledge, occasionally conducted through journals, radios and television, so formulated as to imply that one is not abreast of the times if one cannot identify some Hollywood ‘star’ or recent jazz recording, suggest the level to which confusion of values may sink.
20. In what we have called the philosophic mind, selectiveness is the first essential. We mentioned another, namely order, system, or interconnection. Indeed this is implied in selectiveness. To explain the moisture on a glass of cold water, or the Pythagorean theorem, or the American civil war, is to show that it follows from certain conditions which provide the key to it. To explain anything—and to understand it is merely to explain it to oneself—is always to grasp it in its relations, to see it as conditioned or necessitated by something else, to take it out of its fragmentariness and detachment and bring it into connection with the body of our knowledge. This process of integration may take various forms. Sometimes the thing to be explained is seen as an instance of a familiar law. When it is noticed that the cold glass cools the air around it, the presence of the moisture is seen as an instance of the rule that warm air will hold more moisture than cold, and hence must precipitate this as it cools. Sometimes what is to be explained is seen, not as an instance of some known principle, but as the logical consequent of it, as the Pythagorean theorem is seen to follow from earlier propositions in Euclid. Sometimes a complex event is seen as the joint result of a number of causes, each acting in accordance with its own law; thus the American civil war is explained as due to economic rivalries inflamed by passionate convictions about slavery and states’ rights. The relations appealed to in explanation are thus various. But relations there always are. For to understand a point is to see its relations with something else in such a way that it finds a place and becomes domesticated within the system of our knowledge.
Now in the rational mind these threads of connections run through the whole fabric. Facts are not so many items of information lying like fallen timber about its estate; if they are included at all among its possessions, they are regarded as worth incorporating into the design of the whole. So incorporated, each of them has an interest and significance far greater than if it stood alone. We all view with a little envy the prodigious Sherlock Holmes who, picking up a stray hat, remarks that its owner, once a man of means, had recently come down in the world and was much grieved for his wife, whom he had lately lost. We could not have made the deduction ourselves, but we own the validity of it when made. We know that a fall in stock-market prices means much about the health of industry, though we are not clear what, that a red sky at evening presages a fair day, though we are not clear why, that liberalism in religion is in difficulties, though we do not know whether they are adventitious or spring from some essential antagonism between religion and liberal thought. A mind that really saw the connections here, and in the thousand parallel cases that could be mentioned equally well, would live in a different world from the mind that began and ended with particular facts. It would be a world crisscrossed with roads on which its master could move about freely from part to part. There would be no islands any more. There would be none of the arbitrary boundaries that now separate department from department in our university catalogues. The citizen of such a world would grow restive when he heard the theologian talk philosophic nonsense; he would note when anthropologists were urging conclusions fatal to all ethics, including their own; he would recognize some truth in the communist insistence that religion and poetry are economically determined, and not a little blindness and sophistry also.
21. The intellectual ideal is a system of knowledge in which there are no loose ends, no bare inexplicable facts. Nothing less will satisfy the theoretic impulse. So long as any loose end remains, so long as any theorem in geometry or algebra, any fact or event noted by any of the sciences, can still press on us the question why?, intelligence has not reached its final satisfaction. The critic may object that we are assuming every event to have a cause and every true belief to be connected intelligibly with others. So we are. So is the critic himself, if he will examine his intellectual practice. Whether reality is an intelligible system or not, reflection is continually trying to discern such a system within it, and nothing so far discovered, not even the emergence of quantum mechanics, has imposed a conclusive veto on the endeavour. In any case, the larger part of our experience falls within the network of system. If we accept the law of gravitation, we cannot doubt that every movement of matter on our planet, however minute, has consequences among the fixed stars. We should think it absurd for anyone to doubt that cancer and leukemia have causes and cures, whether as yet we have any idea of either. Though we have no notion of how changes in the cortex effect changes in sensation and emotion, we cannot doubt that they somehow do. Nor can we doubt that the winds of doctrine in politics, fashion, religion, and art, that seem so entirely capricious, would be explicable to the last detail if we knew enough. The perfect understanding of which rationalist thinkers have dreamed is not an achievement that may be expected in any predictable future. Yet these thinkers, I suspect, had a clearer glimpse of what the theoretic impulse is trying to achieve, than the lynx-eyed analysts of our present Alexandrian period. Granting that a knowledge at once complete and perfectly ordered lies at the rainbow's end, still it is the business of the rational mind, so they held, to approximate it as nearly as might be. Brute facts were to be taken up in a web in which their ‘bruteness’ vanished. Prejudices and mere opinions were to be shamed into hiding their heads. Only those beliefs would be safe that could continue to be held when their grounds and consequences were made explicit. The known world is a larger place and fuller of intellectual pitfalls than was suspected when this ideal was first formulated. But if a better statement of the theoretic ideal has been offered than by this rationalist tradition, I do not know of it.
When we think of this ideal as in some measure embodied in a rational mind, there is a misconception we may well guard against. Though the world in which such a mind lives is an extended one, systematically ordered, it is a mistake to suppose that the owner somehow sits at the centre of it and contemplates it all at once. Plato, indeed, talked about the ideal philosopher as a ‘spectator of all time and all existence’, and Royce played with the notion of a protracted time-span that might make this possible. The ‘specious present’ of a normal man lasts a second or so. The specious present of a chameleon, whose tongue can retrieve a fly faster than the human eye can follow, seems to include minuter distinctions than our own, and may be considerably shorter; that of some insects may be shorter still. As mind goes up the scale, its time-span may well be increasing, so that more of the immediate past is included along with the present as an object of direct awareness. Suppose this span to be increased indefinitely, increased if you will to infinity. Then we might indeed be spectators of all time, at least of all past time, in one comprehensive vision. It is an intriguing idea. But it is mentioned here only to point the contrast with the pathetic actuality. For in fact we are condemned to live, even those of widest vision, in a miserably contracted focus of attention. No matter how wide our knowledge, attention must operate with a spot-light which it can shift about freely enough, but which it can never make to illuminate more than a tiny circle of objects at a given time. Roughly speaking, we can think of only one thing at once. And if this is true, what is the point of all this effort to get sweep and system into our knowledge? Are we not condemned to think in fragments anyhow?
22. The answer lies in a curious fact about the structure of consciousness. What at any given moment is at the focus of attention is affected in the most important way by such of one's knowledge as lies outside this focus in the shadow. The experienced judge does not have to recall explicitly all the laws and precedents that bear upon a particular case in order to form an opinion, and a weighty one, upon it. The experienced physician may be able to diagnose a case instantly, the experienced critic of art to appraise a painting at a glance. Very probably these persons could give a full and explicit justification of their opinion if challenged. But the competence of their opinion does not depend on this setting forth of their reasons. Those reasons, hidden away in the wings, have really been directing what has gone on upon the stage, whether they appear in person or not. The judge who has once thought through the principles involved in a particular type of case, and got clear as to their relations with those of other cognate decisions, does not need to rehearse them all over again for every subsequent case. Even if he cites no single precedent, nor so much as thinks of one, his judgment will have a weight incomparably greater than that of the layman, for it will be informed and moulded by his special experience and reflection. The upshot of this experience and reflection he carries about with him always, not consciously to be sure, but nevertheless in such form that he can call upon it at need. In many cases, as we have seen, it virtually gives the decision for him on the instant. And even where it does not, it does something almost equally useful; it enables him to detect quickly the precise point in the present case not covered by his experience, and to isolate it for further reflection. The fact, then, that even the expert must work through a small spotlight of attention, does not prevent his ordered knowledge from casting its own wider though gentler illumination; and thus his casual impression may be more valuable than the laborious conclusion of anyone else.
As a rule, such expertness of judgment is confined to one field. The professional man usually lives in a certain universe of discourse—medicine, law, mining, engineering or what not—within which his competence is high, and outside which it may fall to childish levels. It is notorious that Darwin, who was so much a master in biology, was helpless in music, and latterly almost nauseated by Shakespeare, while, Lamb, whose perceptions were so sensitive in literature, was not only similarly helpless in music, but out of his element in science or any kind of abstract thinking; ‘nothing puzzles me more than time and space’, he wrote, ‘and yet nothing puzzles me less, for I never think about them.’22 In the field of each other's competence, Darwin and Lamb would cut very sorry figures.
23. Does this mean that there is no such thing as good judgment generally? If so, some very important undertakings must be pronounced visionary. Every year the Guggenheim Foundation attempts to select from among a large number of projects submitted to it by young American scientists, artists, philosophers, and scholars, those that are most worth encouragement and subsidy. Its committee of selection must manage to decide whether a set of strange new poems is or is not of greater promise in its kind than someone else's theorizing about the foundations of ethics in its own very different kind. That the decision is difficult goes without saying. But to hold that it is impossible is in effect to deny that what we have called the rational mind is even a valid ideal.
There we draw back. We hold that for any intelligent person who would be in the full sense a citizen of the modern world, it is both necessary and practicable so to enter into the main enterprises of the human spirit, such as science, morality, and art, that he can understand their ends, form some idea of the success of a given venture in attaining its end, and at least in a rough way compare the respective attainments on a common scale of value. Only a mind that can move freely about in its possessions and mobilize its resources at any point on call can properly use this scale. None of the enterprises of the human spirit is carried on in a vacuum. There is no such thing as pure art which owes nothing to scholarship, or pure scholarship which owes nothing to art. If one cannot enter into the ideas of the Inferno or The Wasteland, one cannot properly respond to it even as a work of art. But equally all expression is art, even scholarly or scientific expression. The statement of an intellectual case will normally be better, just as argument, if the artistic ideal of economy of means to ends exerts its pressure on the writer's pen. Human beings never merely think, and never merely feel; all the main sides of their nature are at work in everything they do. Adequate criticism, therefore, cannot be offered from a single point of view. It must surround and enfold the work with a comprehensive knowledge and a generous understanding of comparative values. It must be able to say of a play, for example, that its wit is refreshing, its plot original, its dialogue clever, its construction weak, its morals confused, its characterization sound, its theme important, its sense of dramatic development feeble. A wholly adequate criticism could be offered only by a mind to which nothing human was alien.
24. It follows from all this that the rational mind is the sanest mind. Sanity is a relative matter. A mind is less than fully sane if any of its ideas have formed cysts within the whole and become knots of cancerous tissue closed to free circulation from the rest of the mental organism. There is many a man in hospital for the mentally ill who will discuss things with you quietly and rationally until you mention his name, and then he will make it clear to you that you are mistaken about this, that he is really the king of Majorca, held in captivity by a conspiracy of these retainers who are around him; press him into a corner on this belief and he grows dangerous. He is insane because this idea is a ‘complex’ insulated from the influence of his other ideas. You can point out to him a hundred inconsistencies between his belief and the facts of his situation; he will only cling to it the more fanatically. Now we all have our complexes about which we are fanatics more or less, in the sense that we resist and resent rational criticism of them. I have known a scholar of international repute who was so rabid an anti-Semite that his unkinder colleagues would bait him for the sake of a little secret laughter; I know a thinker and writer of repute who held throughout the last war that all Germans should be exterminated. These men seemed to me, on these topics, not quite sane.
But who of us is quite sane? Brown cannot discuss money matters without getting anxious or furious; Smith is in such a state about communism that he regards Thomas Jefferson as a red; Jones passes as a reasonable man, though his family could give you a different story about his attitude toward playing the horses or the stock exchange. There is no one of us without his own reason-resistant quirks. These are not always harmful; indeed we may be grateful that Palissy and Robert Fulton and Henry Ford had a touch of the fanatic in their composition. Particularly in our hobbies this disproportion of interest to importance shows itself; but provided we can look over our own shoulder, so to speak, with that sense of humour which is one of the marks of sanity, they add innocently to the delights of life. The danger comes when the power of self-criticism and hence the sense of proportion are absent, when some agitator in a black, brown, or red shirt provides proof that molehills are mountains, or some fanatic of the faith, sure of a revelation beyond reach of reason, tries to throttle the thought that would imperil it. A man who is not quite sane is all the more dangerous if he is a genius. It is the duty of those who believe in that sanity which is also rationality to oppose and expose these people by every legitimate means.
25. We have been insisting that the only security against being distracted and swamped in the rising tide of knowledge is the philosophic or rational mind, and that this mind proceeds by discriminating essentials and tracing their interconnections. The only safe protection against that breadth without depth which is superficiality or that depth without breadth which is fanaticism is an inner one, a state of mind and spirit. We must point out now, however, that this state will never be achieved if it is sought simply as an insurance policy against apprehended evils. Understanding is useful, enormously useful, but this is largely because those who own it have kept their eye on truth rather than on usefulness. If they have succeeded in understanding and in seeing things as they are, that is because seeing things as they are has itself been a passion with them. Whitehead has pointed out that many of the discoveries that have proved most useful to the race were made with no thought of their possible utility and would hardly have been made at all if the discoverers had had nothing but the promise of such utility to move them; the Galileos, Newtons, Harveys, and Clerk-Maxwells have transformed the world of practice because they were sufficiently detached from it to pursue truth disinterestedly.
To be sure, it is easy to talk priggish nonsense about the love of truth. Much that passes for this is only too probably a feeble self-importance that seeks to compensate for its ineffectiveness by a name for profundity or scholarship, or else the rationalization of some passionate eccentricity in the way of research. And in view of the devotion of many young minds today to pedantic minutiae and wire-drawn subtleties, Whitehead's warning—and he had earned the right to give it—is worth heeding: ‘if men cannot live on bread alone, still less can they do so on disinfectants.’23 All who have engaged in University teaching have contemplated ruefully at times the young doctor of philosophy who is all spectacles and waspish argumentativeness, and whose trail can be followed by the withering of the spiritual landscape. These aborted and twisted intellectuals are among the liabilities of modern education.
But they ought not to make us forget what the true intellectual is like, the person who has a genuine interest in seeing things steadily and whole. ‘The man capable of greatness of soul’, says Russell, ‘will open wider the windows of his mind, letting the winds blow freely upon it from every portion of the universe.… And he will see that the man whose mind mirrors the world becomes in a sense as great as the world.’24 In everyone, perhaps, there are wistful impulses to lift the eyes to these wider outlooks. In most minds they are occasional and transient. But in some they are apparently continual, and a main source of satisfaction. One would expect to find this in the genuine philosophers, for ‘what is philosophy in practice but wondering what it is all about, with a passion for trying to discover?’25 In Plato this passion bursts out repeatedly. When Socrates asks a young Athenian whether they shall pursue a certain inquiry together, the young man answers: ‘Should we, do you say? Are there any pleasures worth living for like these?’26 ‘To know, to discover truth’, says a modern writer, ‘… is a desire whose fulfilment does not lead to disappointment and boredom, as does the fulfilment of almost every other human longing. For there is no end to truth; each part of it reveals, when found, yet other parts to be discovered. The man who desires knowledge knows no satiety, for the knowable is perpetually new. He might live innumerable lives and never grow weary.’27
26. In describing the interest in knowledge for its own sake, we have taken reflectiveness and breadth of interest together. In the rational mind as we conceive it, they do go together. But they are not the same. There are people with a voracious and indiscriminate appetite for knowledge who could not by any legitimate stretch of meaning be called thoughtful persons, and there are profoundly thoughtful persons whose knowledge is very limited; Spinoza's library, it was said, could be placed on a single shelf. The emphasis in education may be put on one of these sides to the neglect of the other. Mill wrote: ‘The characteristic of Germany is knowledge without thought; of France, thought without knowledge; of England, neither knowledge nor thought.’ We shall not debate whether, if a ‘both-and’ were substituted for a ‘neither-nor’ in that last clause, the statement would be closer to fact, but there is no doubt that it would be closer to the ideal. Indeed except for persons of great native retentiveness, the habit of reflection is the only way in which extended knowledge can be kept, and kept ready for use. Herbert Spencer is an interesting illustration of how a man of very imperfect health, of limited range of reading, and, by his own profession at least, somewhat feeble memory, gained command of an extraordinary range of knowledge through organizing it all reflectively about a single great idea, the idea of evolution. For a half-century or so, the main interest of his life was in studying and reflecting upon every manner of fact bearing upon this central idea, with the result that great masses of data, which he would never have retained for their own intrinsic interest, were organized in orderly ranks as evidence in the case, and could be poured out in floods of dictation when the time arrived for the next volume of the Synthetic Philosophy.
Because the reflective man does not stop with facts but is concerned with their grounds and bearings, he is likely to seem carping, cavilling and negative. His persistent questioning, though done not for the sake of being perverse or singular, but for the sake of understanding, does imply that many a religious conviction, many a political prejudice, many a popular slogan, as they pass his sentry-box, will get a sharp challenge instead of a salute. He will be, to the complacent, ‘der Geist der stets verneint’. People will feel somewhat insecure when he is about, for they will never know what pillar of their common-sense world is to be shaken next. Sometimes their irritation will be excusable. For in the questioner of established ways, ability and the interest in truth are at times so combined with showmanship and a desire to épater les bourgeois, as for example in Mencken and Nathan in America and Wilde and Shaw in Britain, that one is not quite sure whether it is the philosopher who is speaking or the harlequin. Still, the impersonally questioning temper is a boon to any community; and the more widespread it is, the better, since the aim of its questioning is not to tear down, but to build more securely. The ideal community for the man of intellectual interests is one in which each person is pursuing his own line, each throws his special knowledge into the common pool, and each does for the rest the kindly service of impartial criticism and supplementation. In such a community the revision of habits of thought may become itself a habit, and growth in self-civilization the order of the day. Any approximation to it in fact is at best a very imperfect one. But there were at least strong suggestions of it in the streets of Periclean Athens and in some of the French salons of the eighteenth century, as there are I think, today in some of the common rooms of Oxford and Cambridge.
27. Enough has been said, perhaps, of the first characteristic of the rational mind, its thirst to know and make sense of the world it lives in. We said that its second characteristic was justice. Justice is an affair partly of thought and partly of act. It is a very difficult virtue, because it requires giving full and exact credit to all the claims that may be presented to us, but like other intellectual virtues, it is almost bound to seem in practice cold and negative. The first step in justice, whether in thought or act, lies in keeping oneself in check. For where one's own claims, either in argument or in practice, come in conflict with another, the two tendencies most likely to defeat justice are the tendency to over-rate one's own claim and the tendency to under-rate the other person's. These are deep-seated biasses in all of us, and to curb them firmly is not pleasant. Still, it is an essential part of what reasonableness means.
28. Consider only how we over-rate our own claims in thought. The tendency to do so is far more difficult to guard against because of its unconsciousness. Men are as reluctant to admit that they are not fair-minded as that they have no sense of humour, and it is those who lack these qualities most conspicuously who will be most indignant at the charge. We shall hardly convince a man that he lacks fair-mindedness by telling him so in general terms, and to tell him so in the midst of an argument with him is about the least hopeful of ways to induce the conviction of sin. But there are two quite impersonal considerations that will prove to us, I think, that we are probably less rational than we seem, at least to ourselves.
The first is that on different sides of any religious or political frontier we find a virtual unanimity of belief in propositions that are the contradictions of each other. None of the people involved feel constrained to think as they do; to themselves it seems as if they had arrived at their views merely by a sensible use of the evidence. But it is of course incredible that the first ten thousand people one might meet in Britain should have arrived by an independent exercise of thought at Christian principles, and the first ten thousand one met in India should, by a like independent—reflection, have arrived at Hindu principles. I knew a charming old lady who, when a speculation was once started whether, if she had been born and brought up in India she would have held the Christian views to which she was devoted, maintained stoutly that she would, that even in the midst of darkness she would have been lighted by the true light. Can there be any doubt that if she had carried with her into the changed circumstances this innocence of the causes constraining her belief, she would have been a peculiarly conservative Hindu?
It is easy for us to see that despite the feeling of freedom possessed by each one of the ten million Hindus, their unity can only be accounted for by supposing that they were not thinking freely and objectively, that there were overwhelming psychological pressures that swept them all one way. But if we believe that about them, are they not similarly justified in believing it about us? And if they are, is the conclusion not irresistible that the vast majority of us on both sides of the line have arrived at the beliefs we so confidently hold by no process that would logically justify them?
I do not want to suggest that religious beliefs are alone in this position, for the point could be made equally well about beliefs in politics. When I was a young student, enjoying the long-gone privilege of travelling anywhere in Europe without a passport, I was caught in Germany by the outbreak of the first world war, and was unable to get out for several weeks. The experience of moving across the channel from the midst of a people all convinced of one set of propositions about the war to the midst of another all equally convinced of the opposite was an experience calculated to make one think. At the lowest reckoning, many millions of intelligent people, confident that they were right, must have been wrong. That is a fact that might well give pause to dogmatism.
29. A second way of making clear to ourselves how often we overrate the claims of our own beliefs is to consider how many of them we should find it hard to make out if called upon to do so. Take a few beliefs at random from various fields. In biology we all believe in the theory of evolution, but could we offer the sort of defence of it that would seem at all effective to a competent sceptic about it? In law we probably believe in trial by jury; but on the face of it, trial by judges would seem far more likely to achieve justice; have we any good case for preferring juries? Most of us in the United Nations believe that the best road to security is to arm and unite against possible aggression. We may well be right. But there are certainly many of us who, if confronted by a thoughtful Quaker with a New Testament in one hand and statistics of the cost of armaments in the other, would not cut a wholly convincing figure. If we are churchmen, we recite in the Apostles Creed our belief in the resurrection of the body; if we are Americans we declare that ‘all men are created free and equal’; if we are women, we probably believe in equal pay for equal work; if we are Englishmen we probably believe in inheritance by primogeniture, and if Frenchmen, in equal division of property among children. Is it not clear that in these and hundreds of other beliefs, there is no relation at all between the certainty with which they are held and the sort of case that could be offered for them? And if great numbers of our most important beliefs are thus held with confidence on a basis which, if produced, would be inadequate, does not this suggest that the appropriate attitude toward any of our beliefs that may be called in question is one, not of dogmatic assertiveness, not of feeble self-distrust, not of touchiness at correction, but of impersonal readiness to amend, withdraw, or reiterate as the evidence requires.
It is perhaps too much to ask that we raise for criticism beliefs that we have always held, even when no one challenges them. The true test of our disinterestedness is what we do when they are challenged. I once heard that wise man Dean Woodbridge of Columbia say that he had almost given up hope for the League of Nations as a result of his experience in faculty meetings; if scholars and scientists themselves found it so hard to view with detachment the concerns of a department, what could be expected of diplomats, with the interests of their nations at stake? Of all living peoples, the French are supposed to take the greatest delight in the play of reason; yet we read in a newspaper not long ago that the austere French Assembly suddenly became ‘a heaving mass of bodies, with tail-coated Assembly attendants struggling to separate the opposing forces’; six deputies had to be treated in the Assembly infirmary for cuts and bruises.
It is surprising how many persons of real light and leading have been mere spoiled children where their own beliefs or achievements were concerned. Pope, when admonished by Addison, and Swinburne when mildly chided by Emerson, are unhappy cases in point. One is told that it has not been uncommon among professors in Germany to feel that their personal honour was being impeached if their theories were questioned; if this is true, they would have profited, as a British philosopher has said, if they had been heckled and learned how to respond with good humour. British and American ideals of sportsmanship, which is essentially justice in play, have had a happy influence on intellectual controversy, and made scholars reluctant to claim advantages not clearly earned. One thinks with pleasure of that gallant pair, Wallace and Darwin, Wallace instantly resigning his claims when he saw that Darwin's book, published at the same time as his own, put their common case more completely, and Darwin achieving that statement because he had kept a special notebook over the years for all the weaknesses and difficulties of his theory. It is pleasant, again, to think of McTaggart, who met criticism, if it was sound, with a hearty ‘I am a worm, and no man’, and G. E. Moore's Olympian warnings against some of his own writings as peculiarly confused and unreliable. Though such objectivity about one's own work has no thought of ulterior ends, it usually has its reward in a prompt increase in the reader's confidence.
30. The third special characteristic of the rational mind is its equanimity. The word comes from aequanimitas, evenness of spirit, stability in the face of what fortune may bring, a word, by the way, in which the Stoic emperor Antonius Pius at the end of his life summed up his philosophy. Sir William Osier in his farewell address at the University of Pennsylvania, took this same word as his title.. His comment, as a great physician, that ‘imperturbability is largely a bodily endowment’ and that ‘natural temperament has much to do with its development’, is one that we should heed. It would not be hard to name men of great gifts of mind who, because nature had mixed the elements carelessly in their nervous composition, were anything but equable in their personal lives. Sweep of mind may be cheated of its proper consequences by defects of body and temper. But even here its gravitational pull upon the spirit is at work, just as the sun is pulling the ball that nevertheless falls to the earth. And the direction of the pull is clear. It is upward, to a point from which our confining garden walls are just visible enough to allow us to see their place, their strangely contracted place, in the wider scene.
It seems to have been the Stoic thinkers who first perceived with full clearness the practical importance of the philosophic temper. Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca, were not great philosophers, but living in the intensely practical Roman world, they had a keener sense than many more distinguished thinkers of what the philosophic mind might mean to the world of practice. The life of reason did not end for them in knowing; its ampler vision was supposed to be reflected in the temper with which life was lived, in the moderation and justice of one's dealings with others, in the firm control with which the details of practice were ordered. They succeeded in impressing on the western mind an expectation that a philosopher would be more than an ingenious and subtle reasoner; his philosophy would bring him also an equable and serene spirit; he would not be above the battle if that meant that he would evade the burden and heat of the day, but he would be enabled by the quality of his spirit to bear that burden and heat better than others. He would be like Emerson's just man, who would retain in the midst of the crowd the serenity of solitude. Plain men have continued to think of the philosopher thus, despite the appearance of individual philosophers and conceptions of philosophy which gave them small encouragement to do so. Have they been right or not? Is the old Stoic view that there is some special connection between rationality of thought and serenity of temper a bit of professional egotism or is it true? If it is true, there must be some sort of path from one to the other of these characters that is not evident at first sight.
I believe that the teaching is true and that there is such a path. The connection is this: the two factors that chiefly destroy equanimity are irritation and fear, and rational understanding acts in verifiable ways to allay them both.
31. Take only irritation or anger. Many things arouse it in us. We may be vexed about national policy, irritated at the behaviour of a colleague, angry about some wanton cruelty reported in the newspaper. For a time these destroy our equanimity. But such bursts of more or less righteous indignation seldom last. They tend to blow over quickly like spring storms. It is a different matter if the injury done is not to the public, or to a neighbour, but to ourselves. Each of us knows in his heart that he is an honest, sensible, kindly, unselfish, intelligent, public-spirited, co-operative, fair-minded person; we have nailed our self-respect to that somewhat giddy mast; if it were to go over, our happiness would promptly founder. A blow to our self-respect is a blow directly at the heart, and that we cannot take lightly.
Nothing rankles like an insult. We wake up in the night and think about it, and get so angry that sleep is banished, for resentment holds a fiendish power over peace of mind. ‘To think that Jones should say that about me, about me of all people; the thing is outrageous’; and we start enacting little scenes in which he is properly, icily, and unanswerably humbled, though of course with an impressive dignity. Strangely enough our anger is not lessened by the truth of the remarks; it is positively increased; for so far as they are felt to be true, the threat to our self-respect becomes real and serious. It is the man who is inefficient and knows it that resents most hotly the suggestion that: he is open to improvement; and it is notorious how often the man who has made a mess of his life is sure that he has been hounded by malice from the beginning.
Now the only adequate physic for such resentment and rancour is one that passes into the body from the intelligence. There is not much use in trying directly to love our enemies. Our affections will merely mutiny if commanded to lavish themselves on objects which we are still convinced are hateful. If the emotions are to be altered their objects must be reconceived. A man has said something derogatory about me, and it is a despicable thing to have done. Yes, despicable undoubtedly. Well, almost undoubtedly at any rate. I start thinking about it. If I am to call it that, I must be sure of myself. What makes it so is that it is maliciously and wilfully false.
Here are three counts; am I quite sure of them? What of the falsity? People do not commonly prefer charges against others if there is no colour for them at all. Perhaps when X said that my speech was too long or that I am never on time, he was saying the bald unhappy truth, and my anger is my resistance to avowing it. If so, the road back to equanimity is straight and short; it is to face the truth without evasion, to recognize the root of my anger, and to see the silliness of hating someone for saying what was true! Indeed, without this prod, I might have gone on spreading offence without knowing it. On the other hand, what he said may be false. In that case our self-respect remains untouched. To be sure it is not easy to take the high line of the old motto: ‘They say. What do they say? Let them say’; for the esteem of others, as well as self-esteem, is important to us, and the filching of our good name hurts. Even so, anger with the other would seem to be justified only if the second count in the indictment holds, and the untruth is a wilful one; for it is absurd to be hot with another about a mere mistake. Of course if a man has put about a deliberate falsehood, anger is justified if it ever is. But how often is this done? I should suspect that wilful and conscious libel was rather rare.
When it occurs, it carries us to the third count, that of malice. Malice in others, particularly if they pose as our friends, is of course deplorable. Still as a rule it is far more damaging to the malicious person than to his victims; and as a reflective man contemplates it steadily, he sees that most of his resentment against it is a waste of his own substance. Malice is the symptom of moral disease, the sign of a maimed and disfigured spirit. It always has its causes in frustration, inadequacy, self-misjudgment, and the like. To the master of serenity, like Marcus Aurelius, it has seemed a more appropriate object of compassion than of anger, in line with the old French proverb, tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. The habit of meeting malice with a return of malice tends to die out with increasing largeness of mind; equanimity is a by-product of magnanimity. In such magnanimity philosophy always plays a part, whether it is the philosophy of the schools or not. If one wants an example, one can hardly do better than to look at Harold Begbie's description of a friend who, in his treatment by others, had more grounds for resentment than most men, Lord Haldane.
His ‘tranquillity of spirit owed nothing to an unimpressionable mind or a thick skin. One came to see that it was actually that miracle of psychology, a philosophic temperament in action.… He has not only studied philosophy, he has become a philosopher, and not merely a philosopher in theory but a philosopher in soul—a practising philosopher. He might stagger for a moment under the shock of a tremendous sorrow to one whom he loved, but not all the shavings of all the half-penny editors of our commercialized journalism, not even the most contemptible desertion of his friends, could move his equilibrium by a hair's breadth.’28
32. But it is not the Haldanes of the world who are most admired. This chapter may be taken as a suggestion that our admirations be revised, and that our private gallery of heroes be hung with a different sort of portrait. Present-day tastes, more perhaps in America than in Britain, are for the dramatic, the colourful, the exciting, the people who live dangerously, whether they need to or not; Americans have been called the Latin branch of the Anglo-Saxon race. To such persons the voice of the rationalist is likely to be inaudible, but if it is heard at all, it will be heard to recommend that the popular heroes should be those of adults living in a complicated and precarious world, not those of adolescents, or of frontiersmen, or of Hollywood, which is a compound of the two. The really great man is not usually a flamboyant figure. Mommsen has noted that the greatest man of action the ancient world produced seems to have had no particular character or temperament at all; the genius of Julius Caesar lay in a quiet universal adequacy; confront him with any sort of crisis and that serene intelligence would come through like a force of nature.
In the gallery here proposed there will be a new arrangement of portraits. Among statesmen we shall find Asquith placed above Lloyd George; we shall find the pictures of Turgot, Jefferson and probably Wilson enlarged, that of Andrew Jackson put in a smaller frame, and that of Hitler thrown out with the rubbish. Among men of faith we shall find Luther and Knox occupying less space, and Emerson and Schweitzer rather more. Among literary folk we shall find ourselves in the tradition of Sophocles and Goethe and Arnold and Eliot rather than that of Baudelaire and Swinburne and Verlaine; and we shall give George Eliot a re-reading before dismissing her for George Sand. Among philosophers we shall not choose rationalists only; for some rationalists, like Tom Paine, have lacked the rational temper, while some empiricists, like Hume, have had it. Plato will be there, and St Thomas, and Spinoza, and Butler, and that most perfect exemplar of the reasonable temper, Henry Sidgwick. There will be open spaces where Rousseau, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche once hung, and Kierkegaard will be packed and crated for permanent storage.
All this means many fresh valuations, of which my own are no doubt more capricious than to me they seem. But of two things one can hardly doubt. One is that the rational temper—that is, clearness of vision, justice in thought and act, and the peace which is the harvest of the quiet eye—is an end that men desire too waveringly. The other is that to achieve it would transform life.