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Book IV: Deity

Chapter I: Deity and God

In a universe so described, consisting of things which have developed within the one matrix of Space-Time; we ourselves being but the highest finite existences known to us because the empirical quality which is distinctive of conscious beings is based on finites of a lower empirical quality; what room is there for, and what place can be assigned to, God?

Two ways of defining God.

Primarily God must be defined as the object of the religious emotion or of worship. He is correlative to that emotion or sentiment, as food is correlative to appetite. What we worship, that is God. This is the practical or religious approach to God. But it is insufficient for our theoretical needs. It labours under the defect that so far as religion itself is able to assure us, the object of religion, however vitally rooted in human nature, however responsive to its needs, may be disconnected with the rest of the world. God may be but an ennobling fancy, a being whom we project before us in our imagination, in whom to believe may sustain and inspire us and have its own sufficient justification in its effects on our happiness, but to whom no reality corresponds which can be co-ordinated with familiar realities of the world. The appetite for food arises from internal causes, but the food which satisfies it is external and independent of the organism, and it is known to us apart from the satisfaction which it gives to our hunger. The passion for God is no less a real appetite of our nature, but what if it creates the very object which satisfies it? Always, indeed, the religious emotion believes in the reality of its object, as something greater than man and independent of him, in whom the finite creature may even in some phases of feeling be submerged; and it would reject as preposterous the suggestion that God may be a fancy with which it plays, like a lover with a dream of perfection. But the religious sentiment itself can supply us with no such theoretical assurance of reality, and it needs to be supplemented with a metaphysical inquiry, what place if any the object of worship occupies in the general scheme of things.

On the other hand from the metaphysical approach, God must be defined as the being, if any, which possesses deity or the divine quality; or, if there are more Gods than one, the beings which possess deity. The defect of this definition (which is only apparently circular) is that the being which possesses deity need not necessarily, so far as the bare metaphysical description goes, be the object of religious sentiment. It has to be shown that the being which possesses deity coincides with the object of religious passion and is its food. Neither definition is therefore for theory complete in itself. The religious description wants authentic coherence with the system of things. The metaphysical one wants the touch of feeling which brings it within the circle of human interests. Were the passion towards God not already lit, no speculative contemplation or proof of the existence or attributes of a metaphysical God would make him worshipful.1 Even the intellectual love of God which in Spinoza's system has the force of religion can do so, not as a mere passion for truth in its fullest form, but because it presupposes a religious passion. Were it not on the other hand for the speculative or reflective justification, the God of religious sentiment would have no sure root in things. Religion leans on metaphysics for the justification of its indefeasible conviction of the reality of its object; philosophy leans on religion to justify it in calling the possessor of deity by the religious name of God. The two methods of approach are therefore complementary.


But whichever method of approach be adopted, in either case God is defined indirectly. Religion is not the sentiment which is directed upon God; but God is that upon which the religious sentiment is directed. The datum of experience is that sentiment, and what God is is known only by examining its deliverances. In metaphysics, deity is not so much the quality which belongs to God as God is the being which possesses deity. The quality of deity is here the datum of experience. It is idle to hope that by defining God in conceptual terms, whether as the sum of reality, or the perfect being, or the first cause, or by other device, we can establish the connection between such a being and the rest of our experience. We do but start with an abstraction and we do but end with one. Proofs of God's existence and nature there are none, if such a God is to be identified with the object of worship. Granted that there is a sum of reality; in what respect does it stir the religious passion? The answer must be: because of its deity, and on what this deity is the conception of a sum of reality offers no light. The same thing holds in different degrees of the conceptions of a first cause or a supreme designer.

Nor can we even prove the existence of a being called God, whether worshipful or not, except on the basis of experience. No one now is convinced by the traditional arguments for God's existence. The reason is that at some point or other they introduce conceptions which are a priori in the bad sense of that phrase, in which it means not something experienced which is pervasive of all things but something supplied by the mind; or in other words they desert the scientific interpretation of things, along the lines indicated by experience itself, by a rigidly limited use of analogy.2 The only one of the three which at all persuades is the argument from design which is based on the wonderful adaptation of living forms to their surroundings and on “the hierarchy of ministration”3 amongst the forms, by which the lower serves the purposes of the higher. Because such adaptation implies in human products the operation of a designing mind, the conception is extended from this particular case, by an illegitimate use of analogy, to experience as a whole. The easy conception of a designing mind was foisted upon nature as a whole, without considering whether it could be used under conditions which required it to be infinite and to create its own material.4 Subsequent knowledge has shown that the experience which was thought unintelligible without such a conception points in the opposite direction. For adaptation to the surroundings, or the internal teleology of forms, is the result of selection operating on variations; and the external teleology of ministration is not to be assigned to a force operating in the past but is an incident of passage to the future. Who does not see that sheep were not created for man, but that man survives because he is able to live on sheep? On the other hand, if for this external designer we substitute the notion of an immanent design, we do but name the fact that the world works out so as to produce a plan. We may call the world so conceived by the name of God, and forget or possibly explain the wastefulness and destruction involved in the process. But in what sense is such a God worshipful? He is worshipful only if we silently reintroduce into the notion of an immanent design, which in the end is a bare compendious description of certain facts, that of a designer, and fall back on the previous and invalid view.

What we can hope to do is something more modest, and more consistent with scientific procedure in other matters. Abandoning the attempt to define God directly, we may ask ourselves whether there is place in the world for the quality of deity; we may then verify the reality of the being which possesses it, that is of the Deity or God; and having done so, we may then consult the religious consciousness to see whether this being coincides with the object of worship. Where then, if at all, is deity in the scheme of things?

Deity the next higher empirical quality than mind.

Within the all-embracing stuff of Space-Time, the universe exhibits an emergence in Time of successive levels of finite existences, each with its characteristic empirical quality. The highest of these empirical qualities known to us is mind or consciousness. Deity is the next higher empirical quality to the highest we know; and, as shall presently be observed, at any level of existence there is a next higher empirical quality which stands towards the lower quality as deity stands towards mind. Let us for the moment neglect this wider implication and confine our attention to ourselves. There is an empirical quality which is to succeed the distinctive empirical quality of our level; and that new empirical quality is deity. If Time were as some have thought a mere form of sense or understanding under which the mind envisages things, this conception would be meaningless and impossible. But Time is an element in the stuff of which the universe and all its parts are made, and has no special relation to mind, which is but the last complexity of Time that is known to us in finite existence. Bare Time in our hypothesis, whose verification has been in progress through each stage of the two preceding Books and will be completed by the conception of God,—bare Time is the soul of its Space, or performs towards it the office of soul to its equivalent body or brain; and this elementary mind which is Time becomes in the course of time so complicated and refined in its internal grouping that there arise finite beings whose soul is materiality, or colour, or life, or in the end what is familiar as mind. Now since Time is the principle of growth and Time is infinite, the internal development of the world, which before was described in its simplest terms as the redistribution of moments of Time among points of Space, cannot be regarded as ceasing with the emergence of those finite configurations of space-time which carry the empirical quality of mind. We have to think upon the lines already traced by experience of the emergence of higher qualities, also empirical. There is a nisus in Space-Time which, as it has borne its creatures forward through matter and life to mind, will bear them forward to some higher level of existence. There is nothing in mind which requires us to stop and say this is the highest empirical quality which Time can produce from now throughout the infinite Time to come. It is only the last empirical quality which we who are minds happen to know. Time itself compels us to think of a later birth of Time. For this reason it was legitimate for us to follow up the series of empirical qualities and imagine finite beings which we called angels, who would enjoy their own angelic being but would contemplate minds as minds themselves cannot do, in the same way as mind contemplates life and lower levels of existence. This device was adopted half-playfully as a pictorial embodiment of the conception forced upon us by the fact that there is this series of levels of existence. It was used illustratively to point the distinction of enjoyment and contemplation. But we now can see that it is a serious conception. For the angelic quality the possession of which enables such beings to contemplate minds is this next higher empirical quality of deity and our supposed angels are finite beings with this quality. We shall have to ask how such finite deities are related to the infinite God, for they themselves are finite gods.

Deity is thus the next higher empirical quality to mind, which the universe is engaged in bringing to birth. That the universe is pregnant with such a quality we are speculatively assured. What that quality is we cannot know; for we can neither enjoy nor still less contemplate it. Our human altars still are raised to the unknown God. If we could know what deity is, how it feels to be divine, we should first have to have become as gods. What we know of it is but its relation to the other empirical qualities which precede it in time. Its nature we cannot penetrate. We can represent it to ourselves only by analogy. It is fitly described in this analogical manner as the colour of the universe. For colour, we have seen, is a new quality which emerges in material things in attendance on motions of a certain sort. Deity in its turn is a quality which attends upon, or more strictly is equivalent to, previous or lower existences of the order of mind which itself rests on a still lower basis of qualities, and emerges when certain complexities and refinements of arrangement have been reached. Once more I am leaning for help upon Meredith, in whose Hymn to Colour, colour takes for a moment the place of what elsewhere he calls Earth: a soul of things which is their last perfection; whose relation to our soul is that of bridegroom to bride. He figures the relation of our soul to colour under the metaphor of love; but as I read the poem, deity as the next higher empirical quality is not different from colour as he conceives it; save only that for him the spirit of the world is timeless, whereas for us deity is like all other empirical qualities a birth of Time and exists in Time, and timelessness is for us a nonentity, and merely a device for contrasting God's infinite deity with the relative imperfection of the finite things we know, a conception which shall appear in due course.

Extension of the conception of deity.

We have not yet asked what the being is which possesses deity. But before attempting to raise the question we may still linger over the quality of deity itself. In the first place it is clear that, while for us men deity is the next higher empirical quality to mind, the description of deity is perfectly general. For any level of existence, deity is the next higher empirical quality. It is therefore a variable quality, and as the world grows in time, deity changes with it. On each level a new quality looms ahead, awfully, which plays to it the part of deity. For us who live upon the level of mind deity is, we can but say, deity. To creatures upon the level of life, deity is still the quality in front, but to us who come later this quality has been revealed as mind. For creatures who possessed only the primary qualities,—mere empirical configurations of space-time,—deity was what afterwards appeared as materiality, and their God was matter, for I am supposing that there is no level of existence nearer to the spatio-temporal than matter. On each level of finite creatures deity is for them some ‘unknown’ (though not ‘unexperienced’) quality in front, the real nature of which is enjoyed by the creatures of the next level. I do not mean that a material being would in some way think or forecast life; for there is no thinking in the proper sense till we reach mind. I do not even mean that matter forecasts deity in the sense in which it is sometimes said that to a dog his master is God. For the dog though he may not think, does feel and imagine, and his master is a finite being presented to his senses, for whom he feels attachment. I mean only that corresponding to the sense of a mysterious something which is more than we are and yet is felt in feeling and is conceived by speculation, there is some quality in the purview of material things which lies ahead of material quality. If we think ourselves back into material existence, we should feel ourselves, though matter would be the highest that we know, still swept on in the movement of Time. A merely material universe would not be exhausted by materiality and its lower empirical qualities; there would still be that restless movement of Time, which is not the mere turning of a squirrel in its cage, but the nisus towards a higher birth. That it is so, events show. How its being so would be ‘experienced’ in the material ‘soul’ may need for its description a greater capacity to strip off human privileges and sympathise with lower experience than most persons, and certainly I, possess.

Deity not spirit.

Having thus realised that the relation of deity to mind is not peculiar to us but arises at each level between the next higher quality and the distinctive quality of that level, we can at once pass to another observation. We cannot tell what is the nature of deity, of our deity, but we can be certain that it is not mind, or if we use the term spirit as equivalent to mind or any quality of the order of mind, deity is not spirit, but something different from it in kind. God, the being which possesses deity, must be also spirit, for according to analogy, deity presupposes spirit, just as spirit or mind presupposes in its possessor life, and life physico-chemical material processes. But though God must be spiritual in the same way as he must be living and material and spatio-temporal, his deity is not spirit. To think so would be like thinking that mind is purely life, or life purely physico-chemical. The neural complexity which is equivalent to mind is not merely physiological, but a selected physiological constellation which is the bearer of mind, though it is also physiological, because it has physiological relations to what is purely physiological. That complexity and refinement of spirit which is equivalent to deity is something new, and while it is also spirit it is not merely spirit. Deity is therefore, according to the pattern of the growth of things in time, not a mere enlargement of mind or spirit, but something which mere spirit subserves, and to which accordingly the conception of spirit as such is totally inadequate. Spirit, personality, mind, all these human or mental characters belong to God but not to his deity. They belong as we must hold not to his deity but to his ‘body.’ Yet since it is through spirit that we become aware of God, whether in the practical shape of the object of religious feeling or philosophically as the possessor of deity, since what is beyond spirit is realised through spirit, and since more particularly spirit is the highest quality whose nature we know, and we are compelled to embody our conceptions in imaginative shapes, it is not strange that we should represent God in human terms. Instead of the shadowy quality of which we can only say that it is a higher quality than mind, God is made vivid to us as a greater spirit; and we conceal the difference in kind of the divine and the human nature under magnified representations of human attributes. These are the inevitable devices of our weakness and our pictorial craving. But, for philosophy, God's deity is not different from spirit in degree but in kind, as a novelty in the series of empirical qualities.

Theories of God as a spirit.

When on a former occasion I endeavoured to explain the relation of the mind of total Space-Time to the minds of the separate point-instants, I referred (in a note5) to a hypothesis that had been advanced as to the nature of God, which was founded on the coexistence of a superior mind with an inferior one within the same abnormal body or personality. I made use of the notion of co-conscious minds not aware of each other, in order to elucidate certain features in Space-Time when Time is regarded as the mind of Space. This hypothesis in its reference to God I am compelled to reject and the reason will now be clear. The sequel will show that the position adopted here as to God is not dissimilar, at least to the extent that God is also for us, ideally speaking, an individual within the world. But it would be difficult on this hypothesis to admit an infinite God;6 and what is more important it would commit us to making of God a being not higher in kind than minds.

On the basis of the same data as were used in the above hypothesis, we might again be tempted to compare God with the total personality in which the separate personalities are merged when the hysteric patient is restored to health; and to conceive of God as a society of minds. There is, however, nothing to show that the minds of distinct bodies are actually connected together so as to constitute a single all-embracing mind. Where dissociated personalities within a single individual are reunited, their physiological connection is re-established. Between the separate minds supposed to be contained within the mind of God there is no such physiological connection. In its application to the supposed mind of God accordingly the reference to dissociated personalities fails of relevance.

Nor can we help ourselves to think of God as an inclusive mind by the current metaphors of the mind of a state or a crowd. Where many persons are grouped together in co-operation there is no real reason for imagining the whole society to possess a mind. It is sufficient that the persons communicate with one another, and that while on the one hand their gregarious instinct brings about their juxtaposition, their juxtaposition supplies thoughts and passions which are not experienced by the persons in isolation. The mind of a crowd is not a new single mind; the phrase represents the contagious influence upon an individual of the presence of many others. An incendiary oration addressed to one person might leave him cold, but in a meeting each catches infection from his neighbour (just as patients, in a hospital will fall into a hypnotic sleep from sympathy with another patient who is receiving suggestion) and the oration may produce a riot. The individuals gather together to hear the orator and then their assemblage fans the flame. The institution of the family arises out of the mutual needs of persons and in turn evokes fresh ones. But there is no new mind of the family; only the minds of its members are affected by their participation in the family. In the same way there is no mind of the state or the nation which includes the minds of its members. The state is not a new individual created by the union of isolated individuals. The individuals are driven by their own sociality into union, and the union alters their minds. It affects the individuals because it is in the first instance the issue of their instinctive gregariousness. The general will is not a new individual will which contains the individual wills; it is but the will of individuals as inspired by desire for the collective good. T. H. Green seems to me to have been right in insisting that a nation or a national spirit is as much an abstraction unless it exists in persons as the individual is an abstraction apart from the nation.7 It is true that a state or nation has features not recognisable in any one individual; but this is only to say that groupings of persons are not merely personal.

In a later page I shall return to this matter when I attempt to show the bearing of the doctrine that God's distinctive character is not mind or spirit but something new, or deity, upon the current theory that the Absolute in which all finites are merged is spirit.

God as universe possessing deity.

In the religious emotion we have the direct experience of something higher than ourselves which we call God, which is not presented through the ways of sense but through this emotion. The emotion is our going out or endeavour or striving towards this object. Speculation enables us to say wherein the divine quality consists, and that it is an empirical quality the next in the series which the very nature of Time compels us to postulate, though we cannot tell what it is like. But besides assuring us of the place of the divine quality in the world, speculation has also to ask wherein this quality resides. What is the being which possesses deity? Our answer is to be a philosophical one; we are not concerned with the various forms which the conception of God has assumed in earlier or later religions. Ours is the modester (and let me add far less arduous) inquiry what conception of God is required if we think of the universe as Space-Time engendering within itself in the course of time the series of empirical qualities of which deity is the one next ahead of mind. God is the whole world as possessing the quality of deity. Of such a being the whole world is the ‘body’ and deity is the ‘mind.’ But this possessor of deity is not actual but ideal. As an actual existent, God is the infinite world with its nisus towards deity, or, to adapt a phrase of Leibniz, as big or in travail with deity.

Since Space-Time is already a whole and one, why, it may be urged, should we seek to go beyond it? Why not identify God with Space-Time? Now, no one could worship Space-Time. It may excite speculative or mathematical enthusiasm and fill our minds with intellectual admiration, but it lights no spark of religious emotion. Worship is not the response which Space-Time evokes in us, but intuition. Even Kant's starry heavens, are material systems, and he added the moral law to them in describing the sources of our reverence. In one way this consideration is irrelevant; for if philosophy were forced to this conclusion that God is nothing but Space-Time, we should needs be content. But a philosophy which left one portion of human experience suspended without attachment to the world of truth is gravely open to suspicion; and its failure to make the religious emotion speculatively intelligible betrays a speculative weakness. For the religious emotion is one part of experience, and an empirical philosophy must include in one form or another the whole of experience. The speculative failure of the answer is patent. It neglects the development within Space-Time of the series of empirical qualities in their increasing grades of perfection. The universe, though it can be expressed without remainder in terms of Space and Time, is not merely spatio-temporal. It exhibits materiality and life and mind. It compels us to forecast the next empirical quality or deity. On the one hand We have the totality of the world, which in the end is spatio-temporal; on the other the quality of deity engendered, or rather being engendered, within that whole. These two features are united in the conception of the whole world as expressing itself in the character of deity and it is this and not bare Space-Time which for speculation is the ideal conception of God.

Belief in God, though an act of experience, is not an act of sight, for neither deity nor even the world as tending to deity is revealed to sense, but of speculative and religious faith. A word will be said later to compare the faith we have in God with the faith we have in the minds of other persons than ourselves. Any attempt, therefore, to conceive God in more definite manner must involve a large element of speculative or reflective imagination. Even the description of God as the whole universe, as possessing deity, or as in travail with deity, is full of figurative language. If we are to make our conception less abstract we must try to represent to ourselves some individual in whom deity is related to its basis in the lower levels of empirical quality as far down as the purely spatio-temporal; and a being of this kind is, as we shall see, rather an ideal of thought than something which can be realised in fact in the form of an individual. What we have to do is to be careful to conceive the ideal in conformity with the plan of what we know of things from experience.

Personification of this conception: (a) finite god.

The simplest way of doing so is to forget for a moment that God being the whole world possessing deity is infinite, and, transporting ourselves in thought to the next level of existence, that of deity, to imagine a finite being with that quality, a god of a polytheistic system, or what we have called an angel. We must conceive such a being on the analogy of ourselves. In us a living body has one portion of itself specialised and set apart to be the bearer of the quality of mind. That specialised constellation of living processes, endowed with the quality of mind, is the concrete thing called mind. The rest of the body in its physiological, material, and spatio-temporal characters, sustains the life of this mind-bearing portion, which in its turn is said in the physiological sense to represent the rest of the body, because there is a general correspondence between the affections of the body and the excitements of the mind-hearing portion which are enjoyed as mental processes. In virtue of some of these mental enjoyments the mind contemplates the things outside its body, in virtue of others it contemplates its own bodily conditions in the form of organic sensa or sensibles, or of other sensibles of movement, touch, and the rest. In the superior finite which has deity, we must conceive the immediate basis of deity to be something of the nature of mind, just as the immediate basis of our mind is life, and the mind of the finite deity will rest on a substructure of life as with us. One part of the god's mind will be of such complexity and refinement as mind, as to be fitted to carry the new quality of deity. Thus whereas with us, a piece of Space-Time, a substance, which is alive, is differentiated in a part of its life so as to be mind, here a substance or piece of Space-Time which is mental is differentiated in a portion of its mental body so as to be divine, and this deity is sustained by all the space-time to which it belongs, with all those qualities lower than deity itself which belong to that substance. Moreover, as our mind represents and gathers up into itself its whole body, so does the finite god represent or gather up into its divine part its whole body, only in its body is included mind as well as the other characters of a body which has mind. Now for such a being, what for us are organic sensibles would include not merely the affections of its physiological body, but those of its mental ‘body,’ its mental affections. To speak more accurately, its mental affections, the acts of its mind-body, would take the place of our organic or motor sensa, while sensa, like hunger and thirst, which are the affections of its life-body, would fall rather into the class of sensa which with us are, like the feel and visual look of our bodies, contemplated by special senses. For such a being its specially differentiated mind takes the place of the brain or central nervous system with us. The body which is equivalent with the deity of the finite god, that is to say, whose processes are not parallel to but identical with the ‘deisings’ or enjoyments of the god, is of the nature of mind.

Only this proviso must be added. The mental structure of which a portion more complex and subtle is the bearer of deity, must not be thought necessarily to be a human mind or aggregation of such, but only to be of the mental order. To assume it to be of the nature of human mind would be as if a race of seaweeds were to hold that mind when it comes (the quality of deity for seaweeds) must be founded on the life of seaweeds, and minds the offspring of seaweeds. What form the finite god would assume we cannot know and it is idle to guess. The picture has been drawn merely in order to give some kind of definiteness to the vague idea of a higher quality of existence, deity as founded upon the highest order of existence we know. There is always a danger that such attempts at definiteness where precise knowledge from the nature of the case is out of the question may seem a little ridiculous. Fortunately when we leave the finite god and endeavour to form a conception of the infinite God in his relation to things, we may avail ourselves of what is useful in the picture and avoid the danger of seeming to affect a prevision of how things in the future will come to be. We use the picture merely in order to understand how the whole world can be thought of as possessing deity.

(b) Infinite God.

We have now to think, not as before of a limited portion of Space-Time, but of the whole infinite Space-Time, with all its engendered levels of existence possessing their distinctive empirical qualities, as sustaining the deity of God. But when we imagine such an individual, we discover two differences which mark him off from all finites, including finite gods. The first is this. Our experience is partly internal and partly external; that is, the stimuli which provoke our enjoyments and through them are contemplated by us (and the same account applies with the proper extension of the terms to all finites) partly arise within our bodies and partly from external ones. The objects which we contemplate are partly organic or motor sensa and partly special sensa, in which are included our bodies as seen or touched or similarly apprehended. Now the body of God is the whole universe and there is no body outside his. For him, therefore, all objects are internal, and the distinction of organic and special sensa disappears. Our minds, therefore, and everything else in the world are ‘organic sensa’ of God. All we are the hunger and thirst, the heart-beats and sweat of God. This is what Rabbi ben Ezra says in Browning's poem, when he protests that he has never mistaken his end, to slake God's thirst.8 For God there is still the distinction of enjoyment or deising and contemplation, for God's deity is equivalent only to a portion of his body. But it is only for the finites which belong to God's body, all the finites up to finites with mind, that the objects of contemplation are some organic and some external.

The second difference, and ultimately it is a repetition of the first, is this. God's deity is lodged in a portion of his body, and represents that body. But since his body is infinite, his deity (I allow myself to turn deity from a quality into a concrete thing just as I use mind sometimes for the mental quality, sometimes for the concrete thing, mental processes), which represents his body, is infinite. God includes the whole universe, but his deity, though infinite, belongs to, or is lodged in, only a portion of the universe. The importance of this for the problem of theism will appear later. I repeat that when God's deity is said to represent his body, that representation is physiological; like the representation on the brain of the different portions of the body which send nervous messages to the brain. Deity does not represent the universe in the mathematical sense, in which, for example, the odd numbers represent or are an image of the whole series of numbers. Such mathematical representation would require God's deity also to be represented in his deity; and it is not so represented in the same fashion as his body is represented.

God's infinitude.

The infinitude of God's deity marks the difference between him and all other empirical beings. Deity is an empirical quality, but though it is located in a portion only of the universe, which universe of Space-Time with all its finites of lower order is God's body, yet that portion is itself infinite in extent and duration. Not only is God infinite in extent and duration, but his deity is also infinite in both respects. God's body being the whole of Space-Time is omnipresent and eternal; but his deity, though not everywhere, is yet infinite in its extension, and though his time is a portion only of infinite Time his deity is, in virtue of what corresponds in deity to memory and expectation in ourselves, infinite in both directions. Thus empirical as deity is, the infinity of his distinctive character separates him from all finites. It is his deity which makes him continuous with the series of empirical characters of finites, but neither is his ‘body’ nor his ‘mind’ finite.

We are finitely infinite; God infinitely infinite.

For clearness' sake I must linger a little over this important and difficult matter; for in one sense our minds and all finite things are infinite as well. We are, however, finitely infinite; while deity is infinitely infinite. We are finite because our minds, which are extended both in space and time, are limited pieces of Space-Time. We are infinite because we are in relation to all Space-Time and to all things in it. Our minds are infinite in so far as from our point of view, our place or date, we mirror the whole universe; we are compresent with everything in that universe. I need not repeat at length what has been said more than once. Though only a limited range of distinct things comes within our view, they are fringed with their relations to what is beyond them, and are but islands rising out of an infinite circumambient ocean. The whole of which they are parts may shrink in our apprehension into a vague object of feeling or be conceived more definitely as infinite. Still it is there. But this infinite world of Space-Time with its finite things engendered within it finds access to our minds only through our bodies and thence to our brains, and is cognised through our neuromental processes and the combinations of them. Our minds consist of our mental processes, which are also neural ones. If we follow a dangerous method of language, or of thinking, and fancy that the objects we know are the ‘content’ of our minds we may be led into the belief that, since our minds contain representations of all things in the universe, our minds are infinite, in the same way as God's deity. If, however, we recollect that our minds are nothing but the processes of mind and have no contents but their process-characters we shall avoid this danger. We shall then understand how our minds can be finite in extent and duration and yet be compresent with and correspond to an infinite world.

We may distinguish two sorts of infinity, which I will call internal and external. An inch is internally infinite in respect of the number of its parts and corresponds to an infinite line of which it forms only a part. But it is itself finite in length. In the same way our minds, though finite in space-time, may be infinite in respect of their correspondence with the whole of things in Space-Time.

We said that our minds represented our bodies, because to speak generally the various parts of our body were connected neurally with their corresponding places in the cortex. External objects excite our minds through first impinging on our organs of sense. As such representations of our body, our mind is finite. But through that body it is brought into relation with the infinite world. Thus though finite in extent of space and time we are internally infinite. We are so as pieces of Space and Time. But also within the brain there is room for multitudinous combinations initiated from within and enjoyed as imaginations and thoughts, and, for all I know, these are infinitely numerous in their possibilities of combination. We have at least enough of them to comprehend the universe as a whole so far as such apprehension is open to our powers.9 It is sufficient for our purposes of argument that our minds as spatio-temporal substances are like all spatio-temporal extents internally infinite. Externally we are finite.

But there is nothing whatever outside the body of God, and his deity represents the whole of his body, and all the lower ranges of finites are for him ‘organic sensa.’ The spatio-temporal organ of his deity is not only internally but externally infinite. Deity, unlike mind, is infinitely infinite.

Thus when we are said to represent the universe in our apprehensions we must be careful to distinguish this sense of representation, which in truth signifies only the fact of compresence, from the physiological sense in which the brain is said to represent the body, the sense in which I have used the term in this chapter, in which the mind represents the bodily organism in which it is placed. Failing to make this distinction we should conclude as Leibniz did that the monad, since it represents the whole by standing in relation to every part of it, is in itself infinite and eternal. The mind is thus removed from the limitations of Time and Space. From our point of view, the mind exists both in time and space; and if it is true that Time is nothing without Space, it is difficult to understand speculatively how an eternal existence of the mind could be possible without that specialised complex of space which experience tells us is the basis of mind. If convincing experiment should in the future demonstrate the persistence of mind without its body which here subserves it, I should have to admit that the doctrine of this work would require radical alteration and, so far as I can judge at present, destruction. But this is not the only word which I should wish to say on so tender and, to many persons so precious, a belief.10

God as actual.

We are now led to a qualification of the greatest importance. The picture which has been drawn of the infinite God is a concession to our figurative or mythological tendency and to the habit of the religious consciousness to embody its conception of God in an individual shape. Its sole value lies in its indication of the relation that must be understood upon the lines traced by experience to subsist between deity and mind. This is adequate for finite gods, supposing the stage of deity to have been reached. But the infinite God is purely ideal or conceptual. The individual so sketched is not asserted to exist; the sketch merely gives body and shape, by a sort of anticipation, to the actual infinite God whom, on the basis of experience, speculation declares to exist. As actual, God does not possess the quality of deity but is the universe as tending to that quality. This nisus in the universe, though not present to sense, is yet present to reflection upon experience. Only in this sense of straining towards deity can there be an infinite actual God. For, again following the lines of experience, we can see that if the quality of deity were actually attained in the empirical development of the world in Time, we should have not one infinite being possessing deity but many (at least potentially many) finite ones. Beyond these finite gods or angels there would be in turn a new empirical quality looming into view, which for them would be deity—that is, would be for them what deity is for us. Just as when mind emerges it is the distinctive quality of many finite individuals with minds, so when deity actually emerges it would be the distinctive quality of many finite individuals. If the possessor of deity were an existent individual he must be finite and not infinite. Thus there is no actual infinite being with the quality of deity; but there is an actual infinite, the whole universe, with a nisus to deity; and this is the God of the religious consciousness, though that consciousness habitually forecasts the divinity of its object as actually realised in an individual form.

God and other infinites.

The reason why the universe as possessing deity is purely ideal is found in the contrast between God so described and other empirical infinites. God is not the only infinite. We have, in the first place, the infinite Space-Time itself which is a priori, and besides this we have infinites which are generated within Space-Time and are empirical. Instances are infinite lines in Space and infinite numbers. These are empirical determinations of categorial characters and belong to the class of existents with purely primary qualities. Hitherto in the preceding chapters we have confined ourselves to finites, but it now remains briefly to discuss these empirical infinites, which are always less than the a priori infinity of Space-Time itself. God is no exception to this statement, for though his body is the whole universe, his deity (and deity is what distinguishes him) is lodged in an infinite portion only of this whole infinitude. Empirical infinites with primary qualities were touched upon in a preceding chapter, and in view of this very question how far they were ideal and how far real.11 Along with the empirical infinites go the beings which are infinitely small.

Unqualitied infinites actual;

In both cases there is an ideal or conceptual element involved as well as a sensible or, to speak more properly, an intuited one. Neither the infinitely great nor the infinitely small is presented to intuition without the help of reflective concepts. But since concepts are as real as percepts their presence does not destroy the actual reality of the thing into which they enter. I do not propose to discuss the status of the various kinds of infinite numbers and to consider how far, if at all, any of them are to be treated as on a level with the conceptual creations of mathematics such as imaginaries or n-dimensional ‘Spaces.’12 I am speaking of such empirical infinites as infinite lines or the number of, say, the infinite system of integers. It might be thought that such infinites cannot be more than ideal because it is impossible to possess them completed. There seems, however, no reason to doubt the actuality of infinite lines, nor of the number of the integers, whether number is defined extensionally or, as we have preferred, intensionally. For infinite number is the number belonging to classes containing infinite members. The fact that an infinite system cannot be completed is irrelevant to its actuality. For infinity means only that the infinite system can be represented in the mathematical sense by a part of itself, and it is indifferent that we cannot in intuition complete an infinite line. To suppose that the infinitely great must be completed is to eliminate Time from its nature; just as to suppose that the infinitely small is an indivisible self-subsistent entity or infinitesimal is to eliminate Time from its nature. Infinites, whether of division or of composition, are actual, just because of the element in them which makes them conceptual for us. Points and instants are not fixed minima but the elements of things, and their characteristic is that we can never come to a stop with them. Hence it was said before that points and instants, or more properly point-instants, are real and actual just because they are ideal. If we could take them in at once they would not be continuous with one another. The same thing holds of empirical infinites. Lines are actual and infinite and can be selected from Space, and infinite numbers, or at least some of them, from actual Space-Time.

Now these infinites are without quality. God as the possessor of deity, on the other hand, is a qualitied infinite, and we learn from experience that quality is borne by finite complexes of space-time. There may be actual infinites with none but primary qualities, for these are not qualities at all, and the entities in question are infinite portions of the infinite Space or Time. But the qualitied infinite is not merely ideal as implying, like all infinites, a conceptual element, but it is ideal because it is not actual. At any level of existence there is a claimant to be a qualitied infinite, and that claimant is not actual. It is a projected picture of an actual infinite, in which that quality is being engendered but has not actually come to birth.

The qualitied infinite, if the quality could be actually realised, would present overwhelming difficulties, when we ask if it is subject to the categories. God's body, being the whole universe of Space-Time, is the source of the categories but not itself subject to them. Since his deity is realised in a portion only of the universe, it might be thought that deity at any rate, which is equivalent to some complex of mind, might be subject to the categories, and be a true individual substance. It is not however an individual, for an individual is the union of particular and universal. And realised deity is not universal, since, representing as it does the whole, it admits of no repetition, which is vital to a universal.13 We can only say that, like Space-Time itself, it is singular. Neither is it a substance, for the same reason. Representing the whole in the physiological sense, it admits no relation to other substances, but is the whole of Space-Time on a reduced scale. In this breakdown of the attempt to apply to it the categories (for the same considerations can be advanced in the case of the other categories as well) it betrays its merely ideal character of a picture and nothing more. The picture is not the less eminently worth drawing. Only nothing actual corresponds to it. We have an individual forecasted which is not a real individual. The actual reality which has deity is the world of empiricals filling up all Space-Time and tending towards a higher quality. Deity is a nisus and not an accomplishment. This, as we shall note, is what prevents the conception from being wholly theistical. Finite gods, on the other hand, are of course subject to the categories.

Finite gods and infinite God.

Two different questions accordingly may be asked as to the existence of deity, to which different answers must be given. The first is, do finite beings exist with deity or are there finite gods? The answer is we do not know. If Time has by now actually brought them forth, they do exist; if not, their existence belongs to the future. If they do exist (“millions of spirits walk the earth”) they are not recognisable in any form of material existence known to us; and material existence they must have; though conceivably there may be such material bodies, containing also life and mind as the basis of deity, in regions of the universe beyond our ken.

That is a scholastic and trivial question. The other question admits an answer. Does infinite deity exist? The answer is that the world in its infinity tends towards infinite deity, or is pregnant with it, but that infinite deity does not exist; and we may now add that if it did, God—the actual world possessing infinite deity—would cease to be infinite God and break up into a multiplicity of finite gods, which would be merely a higher race of creatures than ourselves with a God beyond.

Infinite deity then embodies the conception of the infinite world in its straining after deity. But the attainment of deity makes deity finite. Deity is an empirical quality like mind or life. Before there was mind the universe was straining towards infinite mind. But there is no existent infinite mind, but only many finite minds. Deity is subject to the same law as other empirical qualities, and is but the next member of the series. At first a presage, in the lapse of time the quality comes to actual existence, animates a new race of creatures, and is succeeded by a still higher quality. God as an actual existent is always becoming deity but never attains it. He is the ideal God in embryo. The ideal when fulfilled ceases to be God, and yet it gives shape and character to our conception of the actual God, and always tends to usurp its place in our fancy.

How can a variable God be the whole universe?

I may pause for a moment to anticipate a possible objection to this notion of a variable God, which is, as it were, projected in front of each successive level of existents. Since God's deity is different for plants and men and angels, and varies with the lapse of time, how can we declare him to be the whole universe? Must not God be different at each level? I answer that the variation lies in the empirical development within the universe, and therefore not in God's totality but, first of all, in his deity, and secondly, and in correspondence therewith, in the orders of existents within his body which have as yet been reached. It is still one Space-Time within which grows up deity in its successive phases, and within which the body of God varies in its internal composition. Yet God's body is at any stage the whole Space-Time, of which the finites that enter into God's body are but specialised complexes. Only certain existents, qualitied or unqualitied, are at any one moment actual or present. The rest are past or future, but they are included as past or future in total Space-Time as it is in any one moment of its history. They are only not actual. It is thus always the one universe of Space-Time which is God's body, but it varies in its empirical constitution and its deity.14 For we are not to think of the matrix, Space-Time, as something which grows bigger in extent with the lapse of Time; its Space is always full and it grows older through internal rearrangements, in which new orders of empirical finites are engendered. No matter therefore what quality the deity of God may be, his body is always the whole Space-Time.

Blending of finite gods and infinite deity.

Thus the conception of finite gods and that of infinite God are different conceptions in metaphysics. In the one we are transporting ourselves in thought to the next order of finites; in the other we think of the whole world as tending towards deity or godhead. But in the inevitable blending of speculation and pictorial mythology the two conceptions may be confused. This occurs, for instance, wherever God is conceived merely as the chief in the hierarchy of gods and not different in quality from them. For as we have seen, in speculation, either there is an infinite God, which is an ideal, and there are then no angels or finite deities; or if there are finite gods, the infinite or supreme ideal has ceased to be God. Polytheism represents the attempt to secure deity in finite forms, and it is not unnatural that in this imagination the divine quality should also be construed in terms of our humanity and the gods be conceived as transcendent human beings. Polytheism seeks to do justice to the claim of religion and speculation for a higher quality of existent. But it misses the conception of a God who is in his body coextensive with the whole world. In some polytheisms, like that of the Greeks, this defect is made good by recognising a rule of necessity or fate to which even Zeus is subject. Here we have the totality of things in its infinite quality. I have not knowledge enough to say how far in other polytheisms a corresponding element is to be found. But if the contention of certain anthropologists is sound,15 there is in savage theologies a stage of pre-animism which precedes the belief in more or less human spirits or ghosts, resident in trees or stones and corresponding in their definiteness to what we have called finite gods or angels. The sense of something mysteriously spiritual, not definite but vaguely animating the world, would be, if these contentions are sound, the imaginative presage of what our speculation calls the ideal infinite deity, expressed in the forms natural to the mind for which deity as the next empirical quality would seem to be a vague abstraction.

It remains to observe that the conception of an infinite world contains nothing which does not follow the lines of experience. The nisus in the world which drives it, because of Time, to the generation of fresh empirical qualities is a verifiable fact. Its extension from mind to deity is an application of analogy, but an analogy which is no more than an extension of what can be traced as existent already. But the notion depends undoubtedly on the hypothesis which has inspired hitherto our whole interpretation of things. We have still to ask whether the existence of God required by the hypothesis is verified, not in sense but in the religious emotion. To this I proceed in the next chapter, delaying for a moment over two incidental topics.

The world, soul.

Philosophy has often used the conception of a world-soul, and it might seem that we had saddled the world with a superfluity of souls. For Time has been described as the soul of Space-Time, with Space for its body. And deity also performs to God's body the office of soul and God's body is the whole world. In truth the world is considered differently in the two conceptions. The world whose soul is Time is the world which precedes quality. The world for which deity is the soul is this same Space-Time but with qualitied finites evolved within it up to the level for which deity is the next quality in advance. If the ideal God could be actual, and his deity realised, deity would truly be the soul of the world in strict analogy with the human soul or the colour of things to which it has been compared, lodged like our soul or like colour in a portion of the body whose soul it is. We should only have to remember that the world-soul so conceived is a variable quality, according to the level for which it is the next in the hierarchy of qualities. But it is never realised and remains prophetic only—in the immortal phrase, “the soul of the wide world dreaming of things to come.”16 There is thus no true world-soul, but only a soul of Space-Time and a nisus in the world to deity. Soul and body are distinctions within finite things. When we take Space-Time as a whole in its purely spatio-temporal character, its soul is coextensive with its body. When we take the world of things with qualities, its soul is only ideal not actual. Whether we think of Time or deity, in either case we may use the designation of a world-soul, but in either case with a qualification which is different in the two cases.

Comparison with the notion of an Absolute Spirit.

Before leaving this purely metaphysical discussion we may however profitably compare the conception of empirical deity with that of the Absolute Spirit of the current doctrine of idealism. According to that doctrine, as we have seen more than once, finites though real are not real in their own right but are real appearances of the one Absolute. The God of religion does not escape from this description and is in turn a real appearance but not ultimately real. All these appearances are contained within the Absolute but, as in it, are transformed. At the same time it is declared of the Absolute itself that it is spirit.

Now as to the first half of this statement it is not necessary to repeat at length the results of earlier discussions. Finites, though partial, are real in their own right and are not affected by their being only parts of the whole. For in the end all finites are pieces of Space-Time with that distinctive complexity of spatio-temporal structure which makes them the bearers of their distinctive empirical qualities. The finites are not lost in the whole but constitute it, and all the while are (if only as spatio-temporal complexes) in continuous connection with the whole. The finite things may through their interactions change or be destroyed or modify each other; but in this process it is their empirical characters which vary. Their reality is not affected at any moment. They are what they are. Nor, as we have urged, is there contradiction in finitude nor in the categories that describe and are constitutive of it. The measure of what is self-consistent is the nature of Space-Time itself, which for our view is the only absolute. We have avoided the designation of absolute, because it suggests mistakenly the unreality of what is relative, and prefer to speak of total Space-Time, a designation which indicates the ultimate homogeneity of the infinite whole with the finite parts.

Still, though the parts are not transformed in the whole, the conception of transformation when understood in a certain sense is legitimate and corresponds to facts. Finites of a lower order are combined to produce a complex which carries a quality of a higher order. Thus physiological complexes of a sufficient complexity carry mind or consciousness. They may be said to be ‘transformed’ in the consciousness they carry. This is the empirical fact. But in the complex which thus acquires a new quality the parts retain their proper character and are not altered. The physiological elements remain physiological. So does the complex of them; though since it is also psychical, it is not merely physiological but something empirically new. All the chemical substances which exist in the organic body perform their chemical functions. The water in our bodies remains water still. It is the physico-chemical constellation which carries life. Thus even when we go beyond bare spatio-temporal forms which are the basis of all finites and consider things with their empirical qualities of colour, life, and the rest, we see that the parts are used up to produce something different from them and transcending them, but, used up as they are, they are not altered or superseded but subserve. In this special sense there is ‘transformation’ of the parts in building up a higher existence, but the parts remain what they were.

In the same way a complex of parts which are of the nature of mind becomes the bearer of a quality of deity higher than mind or spirit. In this sense there is transformation of lower quality into deity. But neither is this deity spirit; nor is deity a property of the Absolute as such. Deity is located only in a portion of the infinite whole of Space-Time, and therefore God, though infinite both in respect of his body and his deity, is only in respect of his body coextensive with the absolute whole of Space-Time, while his deity is empirical and belongs only to a part of the Absolute. Thus the Absolute is not deity as if it were permeated with that quality, any more than the human organism is mind, but only that part of the organism has mind which is equivalent to it. Hence even if we could think of spirit as the highest quality in the universe—which we cannot, unless it means something not merely different in degree but in kind from the human spirit—we still could not declare the Absolute to be this spirit but only to contain it as an empirical quality of an infinite part of itself. And we have already seen how the realisation of such a quality means the appearance in the world of finite deities, so that infinite deity is but an ideal. But while on the one hand deity, that is God's mind, does not belong to the Absolute, in God's body which is the whole of Space-Time and is absolute the finites are not submerged nor transformed; they are constituent portions of the Absolute. Thus, where we are dealing with what is absolute or total, the parts are neither lost nor are they transformed; where we are dealing with transformation, we are referring to what is not absolute but empirical.

Thus it is true, as absolute idealism contends, that God is (at least in respect of his deity) on the same footing as finites and if they are appearances so is he, though an infinite appearance. But both God and finites are appearances only in the proper interpretation of that term, as parts of the thing to which they belong, and in which they are not submerged but retained. It still remains that neither is God a spirit, nor far less is the whole or Absolute which includes spirit itself spirit; nor is it deity but includes deity. Yet the fact that finites of a lower quality subserve a higher quality gives an intelligible meaning in accordance with experienced fact to the notion of transformation of finites which, as I think, absolute idealism maintains in the perverted sense of forfeiture or alteration. The well-attested fact that the lower life subserves in the course of time the higher is perverted into the erroneous doctrine that there is a higher something or Absolute in which all lower life is submerged and transformed, and this Absolute is spirit, which is not even the highest empirical quality. Dowered with this empirical quality the Absolute claims to be above the empirical, but would be itself empirical. This result is to my mind the inevitable outcome of the procedure, which I need not again criticise of taking the measure of consistency and contradiction from our thoughts instead of from things themselves of pronouncing Space and Time to be contradictory; whereas it is only obedience to the nature of the one “mother” and “nurse of all becoming” which determines consistency and freedom from contradiction.

  • 1.

    Cp. James, Varieties of Religious Experience (London, 1902), p. 431.

  • 2.

    The famous ontological argument proves nothing more than that the totality of things is real; which is a bare tautology. The argument assumes the form that the idea of the universe cannot be a mere idea as the idea of a finite thing may be, but its object must be real. In truth the idea of all reality is nothing but all reality over again. Mr. Bradley accepts the argument but adds the proviso that the idea of the Absolute though it must exist need not exist as such, that is in the form of the idea. But if I am thinking of all reality, if it really is all reality I think of, my idea can be nothing but that reality, and there can be no difference between my object and the reality. This corresponds to the assertion made on a previous page (Bk. I. ch. ii. vol. i. p. 76, note 1) that a complete perspective of Space-Time taken both from the place and date of any point-instant is nothing but the universe itself. In other words there can be no perspectives consisting of the whole of reality, and so in the strict sense there is no such thing as an idea of it. For all ideas are perspectives of the things they are ideas of.

  • 3.

    The phrase is St. George Mivart's.

  • 4.

    Difficulties raised by Spinoza and Kant.

  • 5.

    Bk. III. ch. ii. A, vol. ii. p. 43, note 1.

  • 6.

    For physiological bodies with minds are finite. An infinite mind would require for its body the whole universe (see later) and would not then be one mind subsisting along with others but inclusive of them all, and would thus come under the suggestion of the next paragraph. There may indeed be an infinite part of the universe, e.g. a line. But. this would not be the bearer of mind. In other words either God's mind is really a mind and then it is finite; or if it is infinite, it must either be an all-inclusive mind (which is merely Time), or not mind at all but deity.

  • 7.

    Prolegomena to Ethics, sect. 184; taken from the table of contents, p. xxi.

  • 8.

    “Frances, when a little one, had been told by her parents that ‘in God we live and move and have our being’: and then was overheard one day, when she was five years old, explaining to her younger brother that God had a stomach ever so big—everything in the whole world was inside it.” The Dawn of Religion, by Edith E. Read Mumford (London, 1915), p. 32.

  • 9.

    To illustrate this qualification. If it is true that our enjoyment of the past is a past enjoyment, as has been maintained in a previous chapter (Bk. I. ch. iii.), must our minds not then, it may be asked, be eternal? This would be so if we had memory of all the past and anticipation of all the future. But I do not remember the death of Julius Caesar, but only think of it as a past event. The past which I have not been present at, and the future at which I shall not be present, shrink into a thought of past and future time, just as I think of the whole of Space without being sensible of all its parts.

  • 10.

    Later, ch. iii. pp. 423 ff.

  • 11.

    Bk. II. ch. ix. vol. i. pp. 324 ff.

  • 12.

    Touched upon in Bk. I. ch. v. vol. i. pp. 158 ff.

  • 13.

    It is of course a ‘concrete universal’; but that conception has been already examined (Bk. II. ch. iii. vol. i. pp. 233 ff.).

  • 14.

    Cp. the same topic discussed in another connection, Bk. II. ch. x. vol. i. p. 339.

  • 15.

    R. R. Marett, The Threshold of Religion (London, 1909), ch. i.

  • 16.

    Perhaps from this point of view, though it reverses the Leibnizian order of things, we may be more inclined to find a justification for his conception of God as a transcendent monad, usually regarded as the part of his system which is most open to cavil, than if we consider only its obscurity and inconsistency.