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Meditation XV: Negation and Evil Generally

Introduction. (1) God seeks the Good: Definition of Evil: The apparent failure of God: Strife and Discord is the Method whereby The Good is mediated. In the world of things God constantly fails; in Man He always fails. (2) The success of the mediating process on the Whole: (a) Evil in Nature; (b) Evil in Sentient Creatures; (c) Evil and Man generally; (d) The Pain incident to the ordinary life of Man. (3) The Good is dominant in the life of Man.

Introduction.

The question of the existence of Evil in its myriad forms arises, as a philosophical problem, only when Man has in the course of his time-history attained to the conception of God as One and Supreme. Prior to that, man accepts the inevitable, and directs all his strength and cunning to resist or elude the malignant and incalculable forces by which he is surrounded. It is the rise of the conception of a One creative Source, whose nature is presumed to be good as well as all-potent, that raises the question of the meaning of Evil. Inasmuch as subordinate spirit-agencies of Evil only place the mystery one step further back, we have to face the problem, “How is Evil possible if God be One, All-powerful, and Good?” This is the popular way (as good as any, I think) of asking how imperfection in the Divine externalisation can be reconciled with the perfection of the Absolute Idea—the creative Thought which holds all within it as beginning and end. To man no perfection is visible; by man no perfection is attainable.

The question of Evil cannot be evaded, and no theistic cosmic conception (or, as I prefer to put it, no synthesis of the Actual or Absolute Synthesis) is adequate which does not find some way of so looking at what is called “Evil” as to reconcile it with the thought of God as a God worthy of our love, and not merely of a fear-engendered idolatry. The true service of God must, if our past analysis be correct, be a strenuous life in ethical ideals—a life in Him as sum of ideals—a co-operation with Him in effecting The Good. But in vain shall we counsel men to pursue Good as an end in itself, if they are not persuaded that they are thereby fulfilling the purposes of an all-comprehensive Being in Whose hands are the issues of life and death, and Who is essentially benignant. If it be not so, then the more thoughtful a man is, the more must he be a pessimist; nay, even assume the attitude of distrust and defiance of a Power which is either worse or weaker than himself.

If we survey the history of the past and the facts of to-day, we stand amazed at the impotence, the devious errancy and the constant defeat of man. Let us take the words of Cardinal Newman (p. 387 of Apologia): “Consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts: and then their ways, habits, governments, forms of worship: their enterprises, their aimless courses, their random achievements and acquirements… the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration; the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle's words, ‘having no hope and without God in the world’. All this is a vision to dizzy and appal; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery which is absolutely beyond human solution.”

If what we have, in past meditations, said on Negation be correct, evil, however we may define it, is cosmic, and man is only the chief of the unpaid creditors in an insolvent universe. The pain is a world-pain: “all creation groaneth”. “The evil of sadness,” says Schelling, “is spread over all nature—the deep indestructible melancholy of human life.” The evil in lower forms of existence re-appears in the higher forms with aggravations proper to themselves, while man, at the top, gathers them all into his self-conscious personality and his infinite capacity for suffering. In him they are focussed, and he has to bear not only his own individual sorrows but the sorrows and sins of a world. The width of his sympathy is the measure of his pain.

What has just been said does not exaggerate the common opinion of reflective men of all ages. Let us, however, try to look at the facts as sanely as we can. The vulgar mind is too ready to call every pain and difficulty and miscarriage of daily life “evil,” and disparage the goodness of God for what is due to their own impatience, petulance or cowardice. There can be no existence, least of all living existence, without its conditions; and, as we have seen, the conditions of the actualisation of the idea in each is by way of a process through contraries and opposites. This is the cosmic divine method: and we cannot imagine any other that would give us a living world.

(1) GOD SEEKS THE GOOD; DEFINITION OF EVIL; THE APPARENT FAILURE OF GOD. RECURRENCE TO THE METAPHYSICAL POSITION. THROUGH DISCORD AND STRIFE GOD MEDIATES HIS ENDS. IN THE WORLD OF THINGS, HE CONSTANTLY FAILS; IN MAN, HE ALWAYS FAILS.

I have not laboured to find for myself an interpretation of God and Man to part with the conclusions I have reached when I am face to face with world-old questions. In dealing with the problem of Evil, as with all other problems, I believe I am merely making explicit what is contained in the doctrine of Knowledge and of God.

Absolute Being as creative God, is the dialectic form, viz., Will, Mediating Ground and End. Moreover, He is a God of Love; for we were compelled by the Dialectic to affirm “the Good” to be the End of the creative movement in the sense of the ideal completion and fulfilment of the idea in the sphere of Feeling as well as of fact. Accordingly, Evil may be defined thus:—

(1) Evil is the failure of God-creative to realise the ideal of the individual and of the whole on the plane of Being which man occupies.

Does God truly fail? Our answer must be, Assuredly: and the failure is more conspicuous, the higher the grade of finite being. I think it is Epictetus who says that God does not “take aim for the purpose of missing the mark”; but, without doubt, here and now, the mark is constantly missed.

(2) It is also Evil if the mediating process by which God moves toward the End—the Good—involves more pain and misery to the sentient individual than is necessary to the attainment of the end.

I have just recalled our definition of God-creative (i.e., as Objective Dialectic and as a God of Love) and rested my definition of Evil on that; and I must now also briefly recall our conclusions as to the “method” of God-creative as furnishing the only ground of the explanation of imperfection and discord. That method we found is the method of individuation. Each individual monad is a synthesis of the affirmation (or idea) and the negation of the idea. Each individual, also, is the negation of all others, and each seeks its own by the necessity of its nature. Hence the fulfilment of each monad is by conflict and strife: and all the more that the idea is, or contains, the positive relations of the individual to the “Other and the Whole,” through the subsumption of which idea an individual can alone find its fulfilment. Thus our Time-system, in so far as it is a system or order, is, at every moment, the issue of contraries, oppositions, antagonisms. And, let us note that it could not have been otherwise, if the method of the Divine externalisation was to be through veritable individuals: and, were it not such a system of mutual resistances and interactions, we should have a monistic, monotonous and dead, instead of a living, world. There would be only a spaceless, timeless, motionless One.

When we come to Man in the ascending scale, the “idea” is the divine dialectic itself, whereby “subject” is evolved into free Ego, but still, through the sublated empirical subject, involved in finite negating conditions; and man has, as a dialectic or purposive will-reason, himself to fulfil himself. His self-fulfilment is, like that of every other actual, mediated through difficulties, strifes, oppositions within his nature, and in conflict with his environment. The function of the transcendental Ego is (like that of all other individuals) to subsume the idea, viz., the dialectic as determining its true life and positive relations, into itself, and not to remain an arid individual. It is only through the “other” that it can constitute itself a concrete Ego—a “spirit” supra naturam. In so far as the human Ego fails to fulfil itself as spirit, it does so through error or weakness: either Will-reason mistakes the true end of conduct or, having affirmed the true end, the initiating energy is too weak to overcome obstacles and give effect to purpose. Thus man is himself the immediate “author” of all the moral evil by which he is afflicted. But God, as I have said, is the Source; for, if we restrict ourselves to this plane of Being and consequently to Time, God has unquestionably failed to fulfil His idea in man. Nature in us is too potent, or the will-dialectic is too weak. Man is not adequate to his task. In all grades below man, God has to fulfil Himself in things for things; on the man-grade, He has to be fulfilled in man by man, and man is not strong enough. Nor is this all; the dialectic prescribes ends or ideals, which, as infinite, contain the impossibility of fulfilment: and consequently, in his most earnest efforts to mediate in and for himself the ideal, which may be summed up as personal virtue, harmony of being and social justice, man is met by difficulties which have been in the past, are now, and ever will be, insuperable. The “idea,” accordingly, is not only not fulfilled in us; but the “ideal” eludes us. Moreover, even the best, in the effort to approximate to the fulfilment of the idea, are exposed to strife and pains which are, in a large number of cases, excessive, and such as offend the human sense of justice and mercy.

Accordingly, one might be tempted to say, that while God-creative always seeks The Good—must do so; yet on this grade of His evolution some other Being opposes and defeats Him. But this is a crude notion. Our philosophy teaches us that the negation is within the Absolute Synthesis which we call God; His method is the method of individua, and involves negation as a necessary moment in a finite and living system. And if strife and frequent failure be the characteristics even of the inorganic, it is evident that these must increase in variety and intensity, as the mechanical categories are transcended, and as organism, life and consciousness are evolved. With every step in the ascent, the freedom which is in every monad becomes more explicit, and the relations of the individual are multiplied. Hence the more of conflict and the more of failure, until we come to man who is his own god by deputy, and concentrates in himself all the antagonisms of all other existences. And over and above these, he has his own peculiar obstacles to completion; and, toil as he may through the ages, he fails to know and to will the “ought”; and, moreover, must ever affirm the unattainable. Absolute Truth, Beauty and Goodness he projects and strains after, with the assured conviction, meanwhile, that the very affirmation of them as End contains their impossibility of fulfilment, because of the infinite in them. Part of the content of his life of reason and in reason is thus the proclamation of the necessary incompleteness of his life, and the affirmation of a Beyond—that one step more in which the hopeless and necessary contradiction involved in the ideal issues of the subjective dialectic may be resolved. He can, by exceeding effort, mediate his own growth as living spirit so far; but the utmost he can attain to can only bring him as a bankrupt soul to the verge of a higher plane of the divine evolution. Accordingly, a man of pessimistic mood, oppressed with the records of the past and the discords of human life to-day, might well, so far as he himself is concerned, sink into despair, and accept extinction gladly. But if he does so, he dies as he was born, the supreme contradiction in all experience, a contradiction which resolves itself in the Absolute only by self-annihilation!

God, then, may achieve many purposes through Man, but He fails to make possible for man, on this plane, the achievement of himself; nay more, man's partial success is too often through superfluous pains. If we keep within this circle of Being, we are justified in saying that God in creating man has here and now missed the mark. The very nature and demands of the essence or idea of man make failure inevitable. Man would not be man were it otherwise. This is precisely what the man-plane of Being means and we have to accept it.

Were the world wholly evil, we should be compelled to find its source in powers of Evil, or it might be that we might see in it a blind stupid movement that was indifferent to ends and gave rise without purpose to the series of painful events that constitute the experience of mankind. And were Evil only dominant over Good (in the sense of fruition and the joy of life), we should be driven to a conclusion not very different. In either case, we should be philosophical pessimists, and, adapting ourselves as best we could to our environment, live without hope in the world. Our philosophical interpretation of experience points to a quite different conclusion. For unquestionably the process within the Absolute is a teleological process. The End, or fulfilment of the idea, is the Good in the sense of spiritual fruition and joy, if not on the present plane of the Divine Evolution, then on another and a higher which is mediated by the present. Were it not so, the failure of the mediating process would be universal. Let us consider whether, as a matter of empirical fact, it is so.

(2) THE SUCCESS OF THE MEDIATING PROCESS ON THE WHOLE.

The success of the Mediating Process in achieving The Good in our experience is merely a question of fact. Let us try to look at this fairly and without exaggeration.

(a) Evil in inanimate nature.

Within the world of the inorganic the conflict of “primordial actuals” may be seen; the warring elements find their visible illustration in the volcano, the earthquake and the tornado. But so far as the inorganic is concerned, we have no reason to suppose that the creative end is not attained.

In the organic vegetal world, on the other hand, the aim, idea or law constantly fails. It can effect itself only if the conditions which make possible the law are present; and, as a matter of experience, we see clearly enough that these conditions are constantly absent; and yet the individual that perishes is allowed to make an attempt at life. This, indeed, would seem to be the sum: an aggregate of things and relations manifestly exists; but without the aid of the objective dialectic with its implicit prophecy of continuity and purpose, mere experience could not satisfy us that world-processes and events were being harmonised to any unity of issue whatsoever. If compelled by the fact of the Dialectic of the universe to affirm an issue which is a purposed issue, we are equally compelled, by what we see around us, to affirm that the movement in Time towards the completion of purpose is by way of failure of the process in innumerable existences to guarantee the ends of the individual, and that what the movement does accomplish, it accomplishes through strife and difficulty. The incessant conflict ends abruptly in the dissolution of an organism where we expected the promised completeness of life; or in regress where we looked for progress. Our empirical investigations might tell us that there is a living “system”; but we should be at the same time compelled to recognise a pervasive casualty which seemed to be capricious, arbitrary, and even Bacchantic.

And yet, spite of all, the natural system, inorganic and organic, is held together; it is a co-ordinated whole and so far satisfies reason; physical science finds its own conclusions practically valid. Not only so; the system, strange to say, delights in going far beyond our merely logical expectations in order to stir in us æsthetic emotion and ideal constructions. What a beautiful natural world we have! “Its pictures,” says Dickens, “are not in black and sombre hues, but in bright and glowing tints; its music is not in sighs and groans, but songs and cheerful sounds.” Solomon in all his glory was not clothed as one of these lilies.

The Rainbow comes and goes,

And lovely is the Rose,

The Moon doth with delight

Look round her when the heavens are bare,

Waters on a starry night

Are beautiful and fair.1

“The Good” is assuredly dominant in unconscious Nature, and so far the mediating process, by way of contraries and failures, is vindicated. Let us conclude that this is so.

(b) Evil in Sentient Creatures.

When we next, however, pass to sentient organisms we have Evil aggravated by the presence in the animal of various needs that are not satisfied, and by the innumerable pains of disease, accident and death. “Look round this universe,” says Hume,2 “what an immense profusion of beings, animated and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children.” Huxley, too, speaks of the “internecine struggle for existence of living things”. And yet we see that there is a vast and varied happiness in the animal world; and happiness as fruition is the note of the fulfilment of the idea. I would also point out that the pains of animals are exaggerated by man through what I would call the sympathetic fallacy. Death is no evil to them; they look neither before nor after, and it is obvious that, in the boon of life, God has given a joy in strife and activity which, taken in the aggregate, largely outweighs the evils that they suffer from the inevitable. Assuredly, the success of the animal system as a whole must, spite of much apparently useless suffering, be accepted. And we may say this, spite of the fact that there remain evils multiform and inexplicable. Hume exaggerates.

In the sentient as in the non-sentient world, let us then say, that, spite of all we see, The Good is dominant, if not always obvious. The system of Law, proceeding by way of failure, of pain, misery, destruction and death among sentient creatures, manifestly attains its end as a whole; for, here as in the inorganic, things are held together and continue; nay, they progress. The discord is co-ordinated, and the visible accomplishment overwhelms us with its wealth, although multitudes of individual beings have perished by the way. Chaos and contingency would seem to be more patent here than in the inorganic world; but yet all is controlled to order on the whole. That would seem to be the record of Nature, including in Nature the body of man. Whether creation was an inevitable emanation or an act of Will, it must be admitted that a world, in which all vegetal and animal existences always and everywhere without effort and pain attained the completion of the idea in them and grew into that rounded harmony and equilibrium of parts which we call fruition, would have been a world asleep.

This, I think, we may conclude: the cosmic process both of the vegetal and sentient worlds is one which can attain its end, i.e., the cosmic order that we see, only through struggle and defeat; and yet, while recognising this necessity, we see destructive forces involving misery and pain operative to an extent which is manifestly in excess of what is necessary to attain the purposed result. If this be so, then there is no use shutting our eyes to the fact that if God be One and Good, He is limited by His own conditions of externalisation. Something happens which He did not “purpose,” but which could not but happen if there was to be a finite world at all, and which He is labouring to overcome in order that He may actualise the Good. The head of the serpent is, we may say, already bruised: it has to be crushed.

Now, the attainment of the Good would not mean the cancelling of the conditions of effort and pain necessary to the fulfilment of each or of the Whole, but the making of these conditions possible of fulfilment without superfluous suffering. A rounded happiness of organisms, unachieved by effort and conflict, would be impossible in a world which was a system of “individuals”. Let us make up our minds to accept this proposition as self-evident; but let us also face the fact that the mediating process for each existence too often fails, and, even when it succeeds, too often involves superfluous pain.

(c) Evil and Man generally.

In man we see evolved an individual which, as Ego, affirms itself and its own supremacy over all natural conditions. But the bare abstract Ego is of no worth. As mere Ego it is only the first “moment” of “Spirit,” as we have said; it is by reducing the Real of experience to itself and so bringing itself into harmony with its positive relations to the Whole that it becomes truly Spirit: only by so doing does it vindicate its title to the designation. So much is this the case that a man who in ordinary life is constantly determining his course of thought and action with reference to the negating Ego as suck, is supremely immoral; and may, in fact, become insane. Only by living in and through the “Other” can a man fulfil himself and vindicate his claim to the name of Spirit. From abstract Ego, he makes himself a concrete personality; and the fulfilled supremacy of Ego over all is Spirit.

We need not dwell on Man as illustrating cosmic evil in so far as God fails to fulfil the idea in him; because our position is that the “idea” of man contains the necessity of its own self-fulfilment, and if this be so, the idea is truly fulfilled so far as is consistent with his essential nature. The task of fulfilling himself as “Spirit” is involved in the idea: Spirit is the immanent ideal. The question rather here is as to the conditions of the mediation. And these conditions are such that we are often forced to say of the human race, “All their years are spent in Thy wrath”. For, when we recall our own personal experiences of life, and, surveying the history of mankind, think of the universal pain, moral and physical, it would seem that we can hardly exaggerate the misery and severity of the conditions which contain the necessity of it all. Let us consider the situation.

The evolution of the finite life of God on to the dialectic plane, which evolution is simply Man, carries with it a natural body, as its correlate, with heightened susceptibilities. Man's physical organisation is such that the pain he can suffer is excruciating, and yet he is pitilessly thrown naked into the midst of hostile natural forces. Then as a being of emotion he is capable of grief that is infinite: he has the fatal gift of memory so that the sorrows of the past may be ever with him and fill him with dread of the future; even his remembrance of the transient happiness that may now and then have relieved his troubled existence is infected with poison, for “a sorrow's crown of sorrows” is remembering happier things. Death, which to the animal is no evil, is to him a dire spectre casting a black shadow over his path—a king of terrors; and he is so experienced in the harsh uncertainties of life that the objects of his tenderest affection are enjoyed with fear and trembling: he must hold them as if he held them not. He is capable of an infinite longing for he knows not what, to which the only response is shadows of shadows. He has forced on him a perception of the evanescence of things and a haunting suspicion of the futility of what he yet must, in his most vital moments, pronounce to be the highest and best. He has an intelligence greater than that of animals that he may puzzle himself with the hopeless contradictions of experience; and this intelligence enables him to fight and tear and slay his fellow-man as the beasts cannot do, for now, by the gift of reason, cruelty each to each can be organised with a devilish ingenuity. When we think of all this, are we not entitled to expect some explanation of the strange cosmic event which we call Man? Or shall we in our despair once for all accept the conclusion,

Our life's a cheat, our death a black abyss?3

When we cast a retrospect in order to see what humanity has done and borne through the ages, we find no comfort; for history is a tragic record of failure, of unmerited misery, and of flagrant injustice of man to man frightful to contemplate. And when we turn from the large theatre of events to the life of individuals, there is scarcely a family that does not yield a domestic tragedy; there is not an individual who has not his record of pain, moral and physical. He must be a very dull man who does not see things happen that make him exclaim, “Shame on the universal order, if order there be!”

Again, we find that the weight of Evil, and of evils wholly irremediable, becomes more intolerable with the progress of thought and the heightening of human standards. “In much wisdom is much grief and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” The smug, self-satisfied citizen whose material circumstances content him and whose sympathies do not extend beyond his own barren individuality (the continued comfort of which he has insured even after death by signing the articles of some religious association), may go about in easy self-complacency so long as his own withers are unwrung. He leads a “ghastly smooth life,” in Browning's words, “left in God's contempt apart”; and there we also may leave him. Where there are spiritual ideals and sympathy with suffering humanity, the bourgeois conception cannot survive for a moment.

This wide and universal theatre

Presents more woeful pageants than the scene

Wherein we play.

Even in moods of finest harmony with creation when all seems very good, there yet lies coiled round the heart of all thoughtful men the “worm that never dies,” and it is only in the hurry of the activities of life that it can be forgotten.

The theory of Evolution, while stating the cosmic case more rationally than any other theory, leaves things essentially as it found them. One of the modern prophets of Evolution, sweeping aside the shallow pratings of his camp followers, tells us of the “unfathomable injustice of the nature of things”. We are also sometimes told, as if it lightened the load, that only for the “finite spirit does Evil exist”. Such would-be explanations are merely re-statements of the fact. The finite universe is not a by-product; the Finite is within the Absolute Synthesis and must be so explained.

Let us note, however, that it is only when we thus generalise the Evil in the mediating process whereby alone “Spirit” can be achieved by man, and grasp all the ghastly details in one conception that what we have said is true. Let us leave this and fairly consider the ordinary conditions of the average man's life.

(d) The Pain incident to the ordinary life of Man.

We are, doubtless, quite justified in taking the sum of Evil in the past and present and placing the whole to the account of the Cosmic Process; but so far as each person is concerned, the Evil in the world is to be judged as it touches himself and his own daily activities. If, giving free play to his imagination, a man insists on carrying about with him a consciousness of the aggregated evils of the past, present, and future, and reads the whole into every failure or misery of his own, he carries a burden which God alone can carry, and becomes the victim of a chronic sadness that may paralyse all his vital energies.

Let us, then, set aside large general statements as misleading. They focus all the evils of all the generations of men in a single point and overwhelm us; we then feel more than justified in pessimism and pronounce the world an evil thing. There is, however, no more evil in the world for each than each in his separate life experiences; and, in the average case, the pains and trials to which a man is exposed are not greater than his cosmic function demands. He has his daily difficulties to overcome: he has vexations and failures to encounter, and these both of a material and moral kind: there are the uncertainties, perplexities and defeats incident to the mere living from day to day, aggravated by disappointments often unmerited, that make him resent the seeming immorality of the system of things: there are the fluctuations of bodily health; the anxieties arising out of his relations to those he loves and that proceed from the sympathy that makes their sufferings his own; the consciousness of his own personal offences against the moral ideal; the awful helplessness which he feels in the presence of the death of those bound up with him in the bonds of affection; and, finally, when he looks beyond his own little round, the prevalence of meaningless and fruitless misery. This is a fair enough record of the experience of all men; but these pains are not, in the majority of cases, greater than is necessary to the self-fulfilment of a being like man.

All pains, however, are purposeless Evil, if we do not accept the teleological interpretation of our sphere of Being, and the idealistic interpretation of Man. If the pains of life do not afford the occasions for mediating a man's own ideal perfection as self-conscious Spirit, and if, when he surveys mankind, the events and sufferings he beholds and the sacrifice of the noblest that especially afflict him, do not subserve a purpose, the world in which he finds himself must be regarded as the fortuitous result of blind forces originating we know not, and care not, how. All is vanity and vexation and wretchedness. There is no God, and Pessimism is triumphant.

(3) THE GOOD IS DOMINANT IN THE LIFE OF MAN.

We concluded that The Good, in the sense of the fruition and joy of life, was dominant in nature, inanimate and animate: what shall we say of the state of Man? I would answer: It is false to represent man's destiny here as wholly miserable, even if we ignore the spiritual meaning of it all. A wholly pessimistic estimate of man's cosmic position comes either from the self-indulgent who are not disposed to respond to the duties of self-fulfilment, or from the weak and febrile; or, it may be, from the victims of a morbid poetic imagination. There are tears of sorrow it is true, but there are also tears of joy. We may confidently say that to a man possessed of average health (and this is largely in his own hands) who well orders himself as the servant of the Living God, life abounds in happiness, if only he will generously accept it—the happiness of activity in the practical or theoretical sphere, the arduous happiness of striving to harmonise the inner life with the divine idea, the happiness that attends the contemplation of the beauty of nature and the inexhaustible riches of God's displayed Being, the happiness of doing good and labouring to compensate those on whom the imperfections of this scheme of things have fallen most heavily, the happiness which Art in all its forms yields, the consecrated happiness of human love, and the supreme blessedness reserved for those who see God. Nor are what the worldly call “pleasures” denied the righteous. Christianity is not asceticism; it is the infusion of the ethical spirit, which is law, into the natural system; and the pleasures that belong to that natural system are our birthright, if only all be subject to law.

Then, to man alone among animals have been given laughter and the sense of humour to relieve the oppressiveness of life—surely gracious boons. Nor should we, in summing up the account, forget that a characteristic of the creature Man is that, by a necessity of his nature, he forecasts ends and hopes, and with every rising sun he does so. It is only in unhealthy and morbid constitutions that it is otherwise. And we would ask those who, in the contemplation of the seeming futility of all the efforts of man and the frequent irrationality of things, despair of life and see no meaning in it, to explain this irresistible instinct of Hope. It is the antidote of despair, the ever-recurring proclamation of an end that is good and worth striving for—the daily affirmation of the value and significance of human life.

If, further, we take mankind in the aggregate, let us not, even in our gloomiest moods, shut our eyes to the fact that, spite of the pains and miseries of earth, the sum of unimpeded life is always at every moment of this mundane existence, greater than the sum of pain. “It is much easier,” says Huxley, “to shut our eyes to good than to evil.” The animal joy of the child contributes to the general sum of happiness; and as to the young and adolescent, may we not safely affirm, that, save in exceptional cases, no young man or woman is subjected to more evil than he ought gladly to accept, if he is to be moulded into true manhood, for

Not without toil to earthborn man befals

To tread the floors of Jove's immortal halls:

Never to him who not by deeds has striven

Will the bright hours roll back the Gates of Heaven.4

The melancholy so often characteristic of youth is the pleasing melancholy of the poetic imagination only; the true pains and sorrows of existence come later. In reckoning up the sum of felicity we are further justified in pointing to those numerous cases of men and women who seem to be left untouched by evils. Their material conditions give them no anxiety for those dear to them; the path of life is for them smooth: they have never heard the beating of the wings of the Angel of Death. Moreover, the selfish finite individualistic mind is protected by a cuirass of triple steel from sympathetically feeling the shafts that deal death and misery to their luckless fellows in the struggle of life. Nor, again, do the despair and the tears of things—what may be called cosmic sadness—affect the honest and well-meaning “natural” man as they affect the reflective and imaginative. He accepts his conditions, and lives in them happily enough until things go seriously awry. He asks no questions which he cannot, after a fashion, answer; he aims at nothing which, with good fortune, he may not reasonably hope to achieve. He takes short views, and for the rest accepts the authoritative teaching that “all is for the best”. He is not afflicted with the soul-sickness of speculative thought; and if he fulfil his ethical function in the world, he has no more cause to dread the Unseen than the writer of theodicies; for “All service ranks the same with God”.5

It may be objected that to the credit account of world-happiness I bring man when still largely in and of nature, while at the same time holding that his true function is to transcend it. But none the less is the happiness there as matter of fact; and I would rejoin by asking the man of thought and of spiritual ambitions, would he, the sage, exchange his condition with that of the natural man or the pre-historic savage? If not, then the evils that accompany thought and elevation of life must have their compensations and a profound meaning.

Again, we must not ignore the fact that the very distinction of Man involves our having the solution of our own difficulties thrown on us. Social betterment, material and moral, is in our own hands. We can, by the use of our rational endowment and by self-abnegation in the name of a large Justice, remedy many of the material and moral evils that oppress mankind. So to set ourselves against the spirit of evil is surely more manly than the whimpering sentimentalisms of the philosophical valetudinarian who sedulously cultivates a paralysis of will; more worthy than the laboured composition of melodious verses on pessimism as the last word of philosophy.

The reflective pessimist will admit that it is only when our vitality and our rational powers are on a fairly high level that we can possibly think sanely. The Truth, which we then see, we formulate in speech; and in the darker moments of the obscuration of the soul, we instinctively and wisely cling to the “sound form of words,” waiting patiently till once again a living insight takes the place of a cold and formal faith.

The conclusion of this Meditation is that as a matter of empirical fact the Good, as measured by fruition, is dominant in the world; that obstructions, contentions and failures are inevitable if the world is to be a living world; and further, that if the function of Man be the moulding of himself as a free spirit, what are commonly called evils are necessary to that end. All that we resent or deplore arises out of individuation and the contraries and opposites through which alone each can fulfil itself in a Whole which is a system. Why this method of God-creative? I may as well ask, Why creation at all? Such questions have to be answered by the speculative thinker who vainly attempts a synthesis of the Absolute, not by me. A synthesis of the Absolute must reveal the characters of Absolute Being and deduce the world of particulars from these!

  • 1.

    Wordsworth's Ode on Intimations of Immortality.

  • 2.

    In the Dialogues on Natural Religion, part xi.

  • 3.

    J. Thomson.

  • 4.

    From the Greek poet, Nonnus, thirteenth Book of the Dionysiaca.

  • 5.

    Pippa Passes.