When I ask myself what manner of things I know, my first thought will perhaps be of the innumerable things I have observed in the external world by means of my bodily senses. Plato, as we have said, would have denied to these the name of knowledge. In my speaking of them he would not have allowed me to say I know that…’, but only ‘It seems to me that…’. Knowledge is knowledge of reality, and to him the world perceived by sense was not reality but only seeming, only appearance. Later idealists have agreed with him. But I cannot agree with him, for I believe the world of things seen to be real. On the other hand, I believe it to be, not ultimate, but only proximate reality; or, to put it more accurately, created as distinct from uncreated reality. The mess into which our modern idealists have so often landed themselves has come from their discarding the idea of creation which Christianity had introduced into Western thought, and their consequent reduction of the fundamental Christian distinction between the created and the uncreated to the pagan (both Greek and Indian) distinction between the apparent and the real. Furthermore, Plato was equally unwilling to allow the name of knowledge to the depositions of the historians, since all they did was to call up the memory of past appearances. Here too I should have to disagree, but at the same time to say that the historical stream of events is not ultimate reality.
But though Plato thus denied the name of knowledge to our sense-experience, he did not deny it to the findings reached by science. Science is simply the Latin translation of Plato's own word for knowledge, epistēmē; and where we speak of the different sciences, Plato spoke of the different knowledges, epistēmai. He was able to distinguish thus sharply between ordinary sense apprehension and the conclusions of the scientists, calling the latter knowledge but the former only opinion, because he believed that science was concerned only with the essences of things, and that these essences were not accessible to sense, but were ‘apart’1 from sense, eternal and alone real, belonging not to the phenomenal but to the noumenal world. Of course there could be no science had there not first been sense-experience, yet Plato's science relied far less on such a starting-point, that is, was altogether less empirical (which is Greek for experiential), than our modern science, being more inclined to rely on deductions made from the essences of things, once these had been brought to light. The real difference between ancient and modern science is that the latter takes the witness of sense-experience much more seriously, giving it a place in real knowledge; while on the other hand the influence of the Christian tradition leads us to deny that the realm into which it introduces us is that of ultimate, which is to say uncreated, reality.
But it is knowledge of ultimate reality that we most desire to have, and certitude in this region of our thinking that is most precious to us. No other discovery that we could ever make could for a moment compare in its importance for us with the finding of a clue to the meaning of the universal drama in which each of us has been assigned his tiny part. In the absence of any such clue I cannot know either what I myself am or what I ought to be doing, since the part can be understood only in the light of the whole. As one looks back over the whole history of our race, one must realize that this was at all times and in all places the most deep-seated of human interests. But never more so than it is today. The real rivalries of our time are those between what we have come to call the different ‘philosophies of life’ but which are at the same time philosophies of the universal nature of things—Weltanschauungen at the same time as they are Lebensanschauungen; whether that of Christianity, or of Marxist materialism, or of atheistic existentialism, or of some renascent paganism, or of something else. We have of course many lesser and more restricted interests to keep us going, and some of these are absorbing enough and can and ought to be happily pursued in relative detachment from our master concern. Those who think themselves still unable to answer what is the first question, not only of our Scottish catechism, but of the catechism of every philosophy of life, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ do not really sit all day in bored idleness. All such have found some proximate end or ends which it seems worth while to pursue. Yet is not this because in and through their appreciation of these proximate ends something of the chief end has been revealed to them? One may clearly know that it is his duty to help his neighbour in distress and yet deny that he knows anything about the ultimate purpose of human life. Another may find profound satisfaction in music or some other art, while making a similar denial. Yet if human existence as a whole does possess meaning or significance, these more restricted ends must in some way be derivatives from it, or at least be subsumed under it; and if they are, then it is some revelation of that meaning and significance, however unacknowledged by men ‘with the top of their minds’, that points them to the duty or creates the satisfaction in question.
I myself have in my time cultivated many subsidiary interests, however inexpertly. I have had much happiness from watching and helping things grow in my garden, from getting to know the flora of the countryside, from travelling in many lands, from the study (and sometimes the collection) of old porcelain and old prints, and most of all from my reading of poetry and belles lettres. These interests have to me been in a real sense ends in themselves, worth pursuing for their own sake. Yet I believe that if life had held no deeper interest for me, each of these others would have quickly palled, turning to sand and grit in my mouth. Ends in themselves they no doubt were, but I do not think I could have endured the thought that any of them was an ultimate and sufficient end. Not only so, but I believe also that my pursuit of each was at all times redeemed from a triviality, such as would otherwise have tarnished my pleasure in it, by a barely conscious awareness that it was somehow pervaded by a relevance to man's ultimate concern; while any deliberate denial of such relevance, had I been tempted to make it, would certainly have disturbed me deeply. Thus like Wordsworth, if hardly with the same romantic overtones, ‘I have felt… a sense of something far more deeply interfused’.2
There is an essay of Dr Gilbert Murray's dating from 1917 which struck me, when I first read it shortly after that date, as saying something which was very close to my own experience. It is entitled Literature as Revelation, and here are a few sentences of it:
There are among lovers of literature… some who like it for all sorts of other reasons, and some who demand of it nothing less than a kind of revelation. Most people of culture, I believe, belong to the first class. They like literature because they like to be amused, or because the technique of expression interests them.… Or they like to study the varieties of human nature as shown in books, and to amass the curious information that is to be found there.… And the other class—to which I certainly belonged all through my youth and perhaps on the whole still belong—does not really much like the process of reading, but reads because it wants to get somewhere, to discover something, to find a light which will somehow illumine for them either some question of the moment or the great riddles of existence; and, considering their disappointments, it is remarkable, and perhaps not altogether discreditable, how often they cling to this hope far into the region of grey hairs or worse than grey hairs.3
These words, however, hardly prepare us for what Dr Murray next goes on to say:
I will confess my own private belief, which I do not wish anyone to share, that of all the books and all the famous sayings that have come as a revelation to human beings, not one is strictly true or has any chance of being true.… They are cries of distress, calls of encouragement, signals flashing in the darkness; they seem to be statements in the indicative mood, but they are really in the imperative, or the optative… They never are concerned with direct scientific fact or even with that part of experience which is capable of being expressed in exact statement. They are concerned not with that part of our voyage which is already down in the Admiralty charts. They are concerned with the part which is uncharted; the part that is beyond the mist.… They are all in the nature of the guess that goes before scientific knowledge; the impassioned counsel of one who feels strongly but cannot, in the nature of things, prove his case… Their weakness is that they are never exactly true, because they are never based on exact knowledge.4
That such light as we have on our ultimate human concern, and our divinings concerning the meaning of life, are not of the same kind as scientific knowledge, that they are not ‘concerned with direct scientific fact’, and that they cannot be ‘proved’ by the methods of natural science, we should of course have to agree; and of that more anon. But what does Dr Murray mean by saying that they are not ‘strictly true’? Is he saying only what we ourselves have been insisting upon, that not one of the concepts in which we seek to imprison the realities of which we are aware is ever fully adequate to the realities themselves? When he writes that they cannot be expressed in exact statement, something like this would indeed seem to be Dr Murray's meaning. But no, our statements are, properly regarded, not statements of truth at all, nor statements of any kind, but merely cries of distress, summonses to courage, confessions (as we read on another page) as to the things we most desire and long to know, though we do not know them and apparently never can. They are in fact what the logical positivists began, in the decade following the first appearance of Dr Murray's essay, to call ‘merely emotive utterances’. They are not, if all Dr Murray says about them is true, even guesses at truth in any significant sense. If they have anything to do with truth and falsity at all, it is only because, being utterances in the optative or imperative moods, they indicate what we would like to be true. Dr Murray does indeed describe them as ‘in the nature of the guess that goes before scientific knowledge’, but this adds nothing but confusion to the rest of his account of them. Such a scientific guess or hypothesis (a) is worthless unless it has been suggested by something in the observed facts, (b) is put forward in the belief that it may turn out to be true, (c) is capable of verification, of proof or disproof, and (d) should not be affected in its verification by any thought of what the scientist wishes to be true.
There are, however, many others among us, empiricists and positivists of several different schools, who, without any such vagueness or confusedness of statement, declare that we have no knowledge of reality other than what is verifiable by natural science or by the sense-observation on which such science founds.5 This declaration cannot, of course, itself be verified by natural science; it is something extra or something presupposed. When men speak thus they are speaking as philosophers or as logicians, and the burden of their contention is that no statement can be accepted as enlightening us concerning the nature of the real world, or of any part or aspect of it, which cannot be proved true by reference to what we observe through our bodily senses. Aesthetic, ethical and religious affirmations cannot be so proved, and hence they are dismissed as merely subjective and emotional preferences. Of course, if they cannot be so proved, it follows by the same logic that they cannot be so disproved—and both these statements seem to me inexpugnable. Some, like Rousseau's Savoyard Vicar, have indeed found consolation in taking one of them without the other. They believe, let us say, in the immortality of the human soul, and they rejoice to think that no evidence against immortality can ever conceivably be found. Never, never will anybody be able to affirm with any show of reason that souls are not immortal. But in taking to themselves this particular comfort, they are really playing into the hands of their positivist critics, whose most characteristic challenge is that none has a right to any conviction unless he is able to define some possible evidence which, if it should emerge, he would accept in disproof of it so obliging him to surrender it. Their real recourse is not in refusing this challenge, but in submitting that the evidence on which they rely, and the failure of which would indeed oblige them to surrender their belief, is of another kind than that furnished by the bodily senses; and in defending their reliance on it by the submission that, since our bodily senses clearly do not inform us that there is no other kind of evidence than theirs, the empiricist cannot affirm this negative proposition without contradicting his own premises. Yet, as was wisely said many years ago—again by Lord Balfour:
Who would pay the slightest attention to naturalism if it did not force itself into the retinue of science, assume her livery, and claim, as a kind of poor relation, in some sort to represent her authority and to speak with her voice? Of itself it is nothing. It neither ministers to the needs of mankind, nor does it satisfy their reason. And if, in spite of this, its influence has increased, is increasing, and as yet shows no signs of diminution, if more and more the educated and the half-educated are acquiescing in its pretensions and, however reluctantly, submitting to its domination, this is, at least in part, because they have not learned to distinguish between the practical and inevitable claims which experience has on their allegiance, and the speculative but quite illusory title by which the empirical school have endeavoured to associate naturalism and science in a kind of joint supremacy over the thoughts and consciences of mankind.6
To say that we have no knowledge save what can be empirically established on the evidence of our bodily senses is either to say that we have no knowledge of any reality that is not corporeal in nature, or else to say that our only knowledge of non-corporeal reality is such as can be logically inferred from our observation of the corporeal.
The latter view, as we know, was followed by many earlier empiricists from St Thomas Aquinas downwards, who held that the existence of other centres of consciousness than our own, namely, our fellow men and God, could be validly so inferred. This was a dreary enough belief, because the only argument that could be used to establish these other existences was one of analogy, which can yield only a probable result, and it was as distressing to the lover to be told that he could not be quite sure of the existence of his beloved as it was to the devout worshipper to be invited to rest content with a merely probable God. Moreover, even these probabilities were soon to come under suspicion. They were for the most part frankly dependent upon the prior admission of at least one non-inferential apprehension of a non-corporeal reality, namely the lover or worshipper himself, who was allowed to have a direct awareness of his own being by means of what could only be called an ‘inner sense’; the argument for the existence of other minds being that since there exist other bodies closely resembling our own (major premise), and since our own body is inhabited by a mind (minor premise), it is probable that these other bodies are similarly inhabited. But when the psychologists began to point out that such self-consciousness as we have is socially-conditioned, that the awareness both of the ego and of the alter is embedded in the consciousness of the relation between them, the familiar argument from analogy seemed to break down; while it was at the same time breaking down under the weight of the other psychological consideration that we know the corporeal world from the beginning as a ‘shared world’, so that it could not be apprehended as real prior to our apprehension of our fellow men as real. We shall return to these points later, when we come to consider the folly of speaking as if each of us could retrace the course of his experience to a point when, as a bare knower, his mind a tabula rasa, he opened his eyes and ears and other senses to a world consisting only of shapes and colours and sounds and smells.
But our empiricists today prefer the more radically empiricist view, holding that we have no direct knowledge of any selfhood of our own other than our bodily selfhood, and therefore also because the supposed argument from analogy thus loses its minor premise, no possibility of validly inferring any other non-corporeal existent. This really means that the modern empiricist must be, and usually avowedly is, a behaviourist in his psychology, a subjectivist in his ethics and aesthetics, and an agnostic in his attitude to religion. It leads, when consistently carried out, to an admittedly very strange result. Since all reality is corporeal, the knower is as corporeal as the things he knows. But how can body know body? Only if knowledge is itself body. Knowledge then is of the nature of electricity, and electronic machines can be so constructed as to yield it. It is, however, interesting to observe Professor Ayer's perplexity in having to choose, as his positivist premises force him to do, between a last-ditch defence of the analogical argument and the adoption of this behaviourist interpretation in spite of what he calls ‘the air of paradox’ which characterizes it and prevents him from being ‘wholly confident that it is true’.7
Of course when one tries, as I have done, to compress the history of empiricism into two short paragraphs, one is laying violently simplifying hands on what is really a very complicated story, since there have been and still are many who represent positions subtly intermediate between these I have mentioned; but what I have said may perhaps serve my immediate purpose.
Is it true that I have no knowledge save what can be verified by the methods proper to natural science? When the question is asked I am tempted to reply that, on the contrary, none of the things I most securely know can be verified in this way. As to the current findings of the natural scientists themselves, of the physicists, chemists and biologists, I have, I think, as much confidence in them as have most of my contemporaries. I cannot believe that the general picture they yield can ever be entirely overthrown. Yet obviously this picture may have to be drastically revised as scientific thought proceeds, and we know not what or how many details of it may not have to be completely expurged. As is generally admitted, a high degree of probability is the most that can be claimed for any scientific result. This does not trouble me and should not trouble anyone. Science does not need to apologize for its inability to offer us certainties; that, we have said, should rather be its boast, as signalizing its prospects of further advance. Yet I must at least confess to the certitude that it has advanced and is advancing, which can only mean that some true knowledge of reality pervades its results and that the sum of such knowledge increases as time goes on.
Yet the strange fact is that I have more confidence in what common sense and pre-scientific experience tell me about my natural environment than in any of the things I have learned from science. What science does is to make plain to me the real nature and implications of what I already knew, but the explanations never have the same quality of certitude as pervades the original knowledge. Furthermore, there are some things which I believe myself to know about nature concerning which natural science has not a word to say to me, and to that I shall perhaps have occasion to return.
But the certitudes I have principally in mind at the moment are of another kind. I have, for example, a greater degree of assurance of the honesty and loyalty of some of my friends than I have of the validity of any scientific doctrine, and still more secure is my conviction that honesty and loyalty are things required of us all. There is nothing of which I am more assured than that I must not exploit my fellow man in the interest of my own selfish gain, but must seek his good no less than my own and, if need be, at the cost of my own. There is nothing of which I am more assured than that Hitler was wrong in attempting to exterminate the Jews. These are convictions in the defence of which I hope I should be prepared to lay down my life, and in defence of which many of my young friends did lay down their lives. But nobody has ever laid down his life in defence of an empirically-verified scientific doctrine. That is not to say that science has not had its martyrs, for it also has had its ‘noble army’ of such. But it was not in defence of their scientific conclusions that they died; it was in defence of liberty of thought, freedom of research and the right of free speech; and the reality of these rights and liberties is certainly not itself scientifically verifiable, but can be established only by a mode of apprehension quite other than that on which science rests.
It may perhaps be suggested that the reason why men are prepared to die in defence of their moral and religious convictions is not that these are accompanied by a greater measure of assurance but only that, as bearing directly upon the very foundations of their lives, they are of more vital importance to them than any doctrine of natural science could be. In the essay from which quotation has already been made, Dr Gilbert Murray says:
A good Moslem believes in Mohammed far more passionately than anyone believes in the multiplication table. This is just because in the case of the multiplication table he knows and has done with it; in the case of Mohammed he does not know and makes up for his lack of knowledge by passionate feeling.8
That, however, is simply bad psychology. No doubt the multiplication table is not a suitable example to illustrate what Dr Murray means to say, since it neither is scientifically verifiable nor claims to give us any factual knowledge, being merely a mnemonic compilation of analytical propositions of the type two and two are four’; but it is at least nonsense to suggest that the things men most passionately believe are the things of which they are least sure. It looks indeed like a contradiction in terms. But perhaps all that is meant is that, while indeed the Mohammedan is certain in his conviction about the Prophet, Dr Murray himself is certain that the conviction is a mistaken one.
It will be advanced by some that such moral convictions as I have instanced do not, however they may be justified, yield us any knowledge of objective reality, but represent only our own subjective preferences. This doctrine was first put forward by the more extreme of the ancient Sophists who, as Plato informs us, endeavoured to persuade the young men of Athens that such convictions were in no way grounded in the nature of things (physis) but were human artifacts (technē) resting only on convention (nomos); but it has been widely resuscitated by contemporary philosophers. I shall presently be quoting from several of these, but at the moment I shall content myself with instancing only a little book written by Bertrand Russell in 1925—which I select because of the clarity of its statement:
We are ourselves the ultimate and irrefutable arbiters of value…
It is we who create value.9
All moral rules must be tested by examining whether they tend to realize ends that we desire. I say ends that we desire, not ends that we ought to desire. What we ‘ought’ to desire is merely what someone else wishes us to desire—parents, schoolmasters, policemen and judges.10
Outside human desires there is no moral standard.11
This is put forward as a theory of ethics. What theories of ethics have offered us from the dialogues of Plato and the Ethics of Aristotle onwards has been an analysis, explication and systematization of our moral consciousness. But is Lord Russell here really analysing our moral consciousness? Rather is he flouting it. He is deflating it by denying that it is consciousness of anything external to itself. His ethical theory is thus parallel to a solipsist theory of our consciousness of our natural environment which would reduce the great globe itself and all which it inherit to such stuff as dreams are made on. But I cannot believe that what Lord Russell here wrote was based on a fair examination even of his own moral consciousness, which has led him to be valiant in the defence of many excellent moral causes, if also of some doubtful ones. If I were really to believe that his honesty or his concern for the welfare of others is nothing but a personal predilection, I should not trust him farther than I could see him. In fact I do trust his moral integrity, but I do so in spite of what he says about it. Yet I should be very much afraid that such views as he propounds would conduce in the end to a disastrous weakening of moral standards. Or are they perhaps too absurd to be taken so seriously as to have practical effect, just as theories of the unreality of the physical world are too absurd to disturb our practical relations with it? And has Lord Russell perhaps changed his mind? Certainly, and to my great relief, there are passages in his latest writings that read very differently, and to some of these I shall have occasion to refer at a later point.
At all events, when I set myself to analyse my moral consciousness, I cannot doubt that it sets up to be a consciousness of standards that are not of my own making, of ends not of my own choosing, of commandments not of my own issuing. The whole dignity of man, the whole much-boasted ‘value of human personality’, resides in man's awareness of being thus under obligation to something greater than himself. His dignity does not reside in what he actually does or actually desires—God help it if it did! It resides in his awareness of what he owes. And if the native hue of this awareness were to Become so ‘sicklied o'er by the pale cast of thought’ as to be altogether dissipated, should we not all feel and know that (if I may so mingle my poetic allusions) ‘there has passed away a glory from the earth’? Would there not, if this reduction were made, be a definite leakage of value?
If there would, then that gives me all that I wish at the moment to contend for. I do not at present wish to contend that men ever act honestly or unselfishly—or even that they ever pursue their scientific inquiries disinterestedly!—but only that they know they should. My affirmation at this point is only, if you like, that in the course of human evolution the ideas of absolute honesty, utter unselfishness and pure disinterestedness have appeared in men's minds, and that their appearance represents the highest values that have so far emerged. It is only with ideal values or standards that ethics deals. How valiant it was of Kant to combine his contention that, as creatures who know we ought to obey the moral law disinterestedly, we are citizens of the ‘Kingdom of Ends’, with the confession that there is no certain case of anybody's having so obeyed it.12 Here I have often been tempted to frame a sort of ontological argument, contending that the appearance in our human consciousness of the idea of a constraint laid upon us from without is itself sufficient evidence of the truth of that idea; and it has been thought by some that a parallel ontological argument is all the assurance we have of the objectivity of the physical world or of the real existence of other selves. I must trust my experience, my sense-experience, my social experience and my moral experience, believing that I am not merely dreaming it all.
I have been asking what are the things of which I am most fully assured, but it may be well to ask the same question in a somewhat different form. Where do I find myself in most unmistakable contact with reality? But just as there are degrees of assurance, so there are degrees of reality. Some things are more real than others, as we have already acknowledged by talking of ultimate reality and distinguishing it from realities that are not ultimate. The word ‘reality’, being derived from a Latin word which means ‘thing’ or ‘object’, literally means thinghood or objectivity, but it would have been better and simpler if, like the Greeks, we had relied for the expression of this meaning on the forms and derivatives of the verb ‘to he’. For when we say ‘reality’, we mean simply being or that which is; and Aristotle's way of saying ultimate reality is to ontōs on—essential esse, that which is-ly is. It is implied in this way of speaking that reality or being that is not ultimate has in it also some unreality or non-being. This table is, but there is also that in it which is not. I myself am, but there is that in me which is not. We may quote Dr Tillich:
Certainly we belong to being—its power is in us—otherwise we would not be. But we are also separated from it; we do not possess it fully. Our power of being is limited. We are a mixture of being and non-being. This is precisely what is meant when we say that we are finite.13
The test of reality (which is the same as to say of being or of objectivity) is the resistance it offers to the otherwise uninhibited course of my own thinking, desiring and acting. Reality is what I ‘come up against’, what takes me by surprise, the other-than-myself which pulls me up and obliges me to reckon with it and adjust myself to it because it will not consent simply to adjust itself to me. Reality presents itself to me, and that means that it always meets me in the present, never in the past or in the future. The past has been real and the future may one day be real, but neither is real—or at least is not real as such. The remembered past and the anticipated future may indeed profoundly affect my present experience, but it is only as so doing that they enter into what is for me the real world at all. These are truths which have been very fully developed by many writers of recent years, principally under the influence of Kierkegaard, very notably by Dr Martin Buber—but nowhere more elaborately than by the late Eberhard Grisebach in a book which, though published in 1928, has never found an English translator and has been sadly neglected in the English-speaking world. It is entitled Gegenwart, which could be Englished either as ‘Presence’ or as ‘The present’; but an overtone from the word's etymology still lingers in the German ear and in Grisebach's use of it, its literal meaning being ‘that which waits over against us’.
Where then do I find a reality that is present to me in this way, pulling me up short? No doubt I find it in the physical world, as in the stone that so obligingly offered resistance to Dr Johnson's boot, enabling him, as he believed, to refute Bishop Berkeley. Yet so long as I am permitted to act as if I were sole lord of the physical world, so long as I can regard myself, like Alexander Selkirk, as ‘monarch of all I survey, Whose right there is none to dispute’, I can within limits make that world a fairly comfortable place for myself. Within these limits it will allow itself to be bent to my will, and exploited in my own private interest. It may also be remarked incidentally, that if a scientist should remind me that I here come up against the ‘cast-iron laws of nature’, I can find another (or the same) scientist to assure me that these laws are in some sort of my own casting, and that the very reason why I do so cast them is to enable me to exploit the nature to which I make bold to attribute them. As one has put it, ‘Science is a ruse of the human mind to conquer the world’. But however that may be, and though the world of nature does undoubtedly offer me resistance, yet the truly significant collision comes when I meet another lord of nature claiming the same right as my own. If only he and I could have different worlds to conquer, different alls to survey, things would go smoothly enough, but that we are claimants to the same world, two competing centres of the same circle—there's the rub. Did he permit me to treat him merely as part of the world I know and use, making him subservient to my own interests as I make natural objects to be, no further trouble would arise. I would then still be the sole centre, and he within the circumference of my dominion; but this he will not do, and thus I am pulled up short in an altogether new way. I may hitherto have found it possible to doubt whether I had encountered any truly objective reality at all; but if, for instance, my immediate dominion has been (as is more likely with such people as ourselves), not Juan Fernandez, but perhaps only a single bed-sitting room, and if I find I have now to share it with another fellow creature whose temperament is, as we say, incompatible with my own, then I am unmistakably ‘up against’ reality at last Hence it is, in words that are now so familiar, that ‘others are the real world’ and ‘all real life is meeting’.14 Or in M. Sartre's bitter words, L'enfer c'est les autres—‘Hell is other people’.15
Nor is it only that the world of natural objects, real as it is on its own level, offers to my will a much less stubborn resistance than that offered by my encounter with my fellow men, but also, as I have already contended, that it is doubtful whether its reality could be apprehended by me at all, if it were not apprehended as being not merely my own world but a world common to myself and my fellows. This means that my sense of the reality of the physical world is in some sort a derivative from my sense of the reality of other selves. ‘The world is what I share with others’, writes Dr Martin Heidegger; and again, ‘all existence is co-existence (Alles Dasein ist Mitsein).’16 Or, as Professor W. E. Hocking had already written in 1912, ‘I do not first know my physical world as a world of objects, and then as a world of shared objects: it is through a prior recognition of the presence of other mind that my physical experience acquires objectivity at all. The objectivity of nature is its community.’17
According to Grisebach reality is presence; but it is not without significance that we do not normally speak of the presence of physical objects. We do not say ‘a lawn-mower was present in the garden’ or ‘I was acutely aware of the presence of a table in the room’. Again, according to Dr Buber, ‘all real life is meeting’ (Begegnung), but we do not speak of meeting a table (or say, Ich habe einen Tisch begegnet). M. Gabriel Marcel makes the same point, distinguishing between ‘what we call an object and what we call a presence’;18 and he further reflects interestingly upon the significance of the preposition ‘with’, contending that it properly indicates an ‘intersubjective relationship’, not a relationship between subject and object.19 A chair may be beside me in the room, but I should not say that a chair was with me, still less perhaps that I was with a chair. It is only persons that I can be with. Later on we shall have to examine further this concept of presence.20
Nevertheless I may do my best to ignore the claim my neighbour makes on me, as I fear I often do. I may act towards him as if he were merely a part of the world of which I dispose and not another disposer of it; merely within the circle of my own dominion and not another centre of it. I may treat him not as a person but as a thing, or, as Kant would say, not as an end in himself but as a means to my own ends. If I am sufficiently astute, I appear to ‘get away with it’, but so far as I do this, I am evading the reality and the presence with which I should otherwise be effectively confronted in my encounter with him. For that reality does not lie merely in the existence of my neighbour as an object among other objects in the world, but in the right he embodies as over against my own otherwise unlimited desires. This right is obviously not of his own making. No man can confer rights upon himself. If he tried to do so, they would be bogus rights which I should not dream of acknowledging. Nor again is it a question of merely respecting my neighbour's desires. Why should I do so if he has no right to have desires, or to have just these desires? My concern must not be merely for his desires, but for what is right in his desires; not merely for his desires but for his good; not merely for what is desired by him but for what, because it is good in itself, is good for him. Hence if ‘others are the real world’, it is because they embody for me, in my encounter with them, something greater than themselves, an intrinsic right and a universal good. My relations with my fellows have the significance of reality for me only because and in so far as they mediate to me this greater reality; so that we might quote:
I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Lov'd I not honour more.21
To all those who have not entirely surrendered their hold upon religious truth, this greater reality is God. All peoples in all ages have known this to be true, however dimly. As has been said: ‘All human societies care for righteousness among their members, and all human societies before this present century seem to have found a source and sanction for this righteousness in their gods.’22 In Christian thought the two great commandments, enjoining the love of God and the love of the neighbour, are related to one another in precisely this way. The way to God passes through my relation to, my neighbour, and the way to my neighbour passes through my relation to God.
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?23
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.… Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.24
I have indeed often been struck by the larger measure of agreement there is in this matter between Christians and the acutest of contemporary atheistic thinkers. They seem to agree in their analysis, though drawing from it precisely opposite conclusions. For instance, Dr Emil Brunner writes that ‘Man has spirit only in that he is addressed by God.… Therefore the human self is nothing that exists in its own right; no property of man, but a relation to a divine Thou.… The essential being of man… is identical with his relation to God.’25 Nicolas Berdyaev writes that ‘Man without God is no longer man.’26 But here is M. Sartre:
Dostoievsky said ‘If God did not exist, all would be permitted.’ That is existentialism's starting-point.27
There is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it.28
The existentialist finds it very troublesome (génant) that God does not exist, because with Him disappears all possibility of finding values in an intelligible world; nor can there be any a priori good, because there is no infinite or perfect consciousness of it; nor is it anywhere written that good exists, that we ought to be honest and not tell lies; for we are precisely on a plane where nothing exists but men.29
Men, that is to say, who embody no values but invent their own; for M. Sartre goes on:
I am very much vexed (fâché) that this should be so, but if I have suppressed God the Father, there must be somebody to invent values.30
We found Lord Russell speaking very similarly. ‘It is we who create value’,31 he said; and though a man may still call himself a man, yet he is no more than a physical mechanism; ‘his thoughts and his bodily movements follow the same laws that describe the movements of stars and atoms.’32
The position for which I myself have been contending finds further support in an early work by Dr Karl Heim, entitled Glaubensgewissheit (‘The Certitude of Faith’). The author begins by laying it down that all a philosophy of faith can do is to offer a theoretical analysis of the faith which is in the possession of the simplest man who in face of the buffetings of fate can say with the psalmist, ‘Nevertheless I am continually with thee.’33 Only by faith, he claims, can we reach certitude of anything beyond immediate and present sense-data. But faith is essentially trust, and we can trust our fellows only because, and in so far as, we believe them to be motivated, not by self-regarding desire, but by recognition of an absolute obligation to which they are subject. We trust them, therefore, only as they embody in themselves something greater than themselves. Thus;
Every relationship of trust between two men has its root in a faith which extends far beyond their relation to one another, the faith that there exists an obligation valid for all subjects, all places and all times, constraining them to a certain disposition of will independently of their own pleasure.34
Moreover, unless we believe that this obligation proceeds from a source that can supply him with some power to fulfil it, we can never fully trust a fellow mortal.35 Even when it is our friend whom we trust, our trust is ultimately in the ground of all being.
What I have contended, then, is that where I find myself in most assured contact with reality is in the relation with God that is mediated to me through my relation with my fellows, and in the relation with my fellows that is mediated to me through my relation with God. Here I take leave once again to quote Dr Tillich:
But what is ‘really real’ among all the things and events that offer themselves as reality? That which resists me so that I cannot pretend its non-being. The really real is what limits me. There are two powers in the whole of our experience which do not admit any attempt to remove them, the unconditional and ‘the other’, i.e. the other human being. They are united in their resistance against me, in their manifestation as the really real. The unconditional could be an illusion if it did not appear through the unconditional demand of the other person to acknowledge him as a person. And conversely, ‘the other’, if he did not demand an unconditional acknowledgement of his personal dignity, could be used as a tool for my purposes; as a consequence he would lose his power of resistance and his ultimate reality. The unity of the personal and the unconditional, or of the ethical and the religious, is the manifestation of the really real, for it resists absolutely any attempt to be dissolved into subjectivity.36
Here ‘the really real’ is, of course, Aristotle's to ontōs on. The physical world, Dr Tillich would say, is real enough for us, but its reality is conditioned for us by its context in our apprehension of something more real than itself. ‘And I beheld’, confessed St Augustine, ‘the other things below Thee, and I perceived that they neither altogether are, nor altogether are not; for they are, since they are from Thee; but are not, because they are not what Thou art.’37