You are here

Meditation XVIII: Death and Immortality

Introductory Considerations: (a) Dissolution of Body not necessarily dissolution of self-conscious Mind: (b) Ego presumably continues to live after the death of the body: Evolution of Ego as transcendental: (c) The common conviction of Mankind: (d) The recoil of the whole of our nature from Death when we truly see it as the supreme contradiction in Experience. A. The Scientific Argument: (a) The Argument from the genesis and nature of Ego. (b) From the nature of the Will-dialectic generally. (c) The Moments of the Dialectic. (d) The notion of Futurity comes from the Dialectic. (e) The Infinite in human Love for Man and God. B. Further Considerations: (a) Contradictions: (b) Personal Identity and the nature of the Future Life generally: (c) Conditions of the continuance of Ego after death: (d) Coercive demonstration impossible. Conclusion.

Introductory Considerations.

It is in the analysis of the Dialectic plane that I have found a unity of principle that lightens up for me (it may be for a few others) knowledge, ethics, æsthetics, religion. There would seem to be one meaning in all the higher activities of the finite Ego. Let us now see whether the Dialectic has any light to throw on the darkness of Death.

There are planes of finite mind: this is a proposition which may be said to have run through these discussions. Each plane has its own characters, potencies and potentialities. These planes are the evolution of God as finite mind. Now, it would be as arrogant as it would be unscientific to doubt the continued progressive Divine movement beyond and above the plane occupied by man. But the question for each of us is not, Does the man-plane evolve into that higher plane which is predicted in it—a higher evolution of the life of God; but, Does the individual man-person, himself and as a self-identity, pass into this higher plane, either necessarily or, it may be, on certain conditions of fitness? Is what we call death the end of personal identity, or simply a mode of transition into a higher existence? I have dealt with this momentous question indirectly when speaking of Evil; but it demands a separate and closer treatment.

(a) Dissolution of body not necessarily dissolution of self-conscious mind.

Many arguments can be adduced, and adduced effectively, to show that, given the existent constitution of man and nature, Death is, under present conditions, not only necessary, but desirable, and that it fits into the existing scheme. None the less is it the most alarming fact of that scheme as its closing event; for, although the system may necessitate death, how are we to explain extinction so as to harmonise it with those other facts of our system, rational and ethical, on which we have so often dwelt?

The phenomenal or modal is, we have seen, at once the negation and vehicle of Universal Being and Dialectic: it is that whereby it is possible to constitute of Being as determination (idea or essence) a “determinate” or concrete individual. Self-conscious mind is thus (to use Aristotelian phrase) the “Form” of the body of man. The “form” is involved in body: that is to say, it gives itself to the senses through spatio-motor qualities organised after a certain manner, and seems to live, grow, decay and die along with the phenomenal organism. And we should accept death in the sense of extinction at once as a matter of course, were it not that the peculiar attributes and cosmic distinction of the man-being give us pause.

The opinion that because the highest expression of Universal Mind, viz., the self-conscious mind of man, is in body and through body, it is also body and by body, our whole previous argument has set aside. It would be as rational to say that the phenomenon is the cause of its own essence, and therein to proclaim our own complete enslavement to Sense and to the flux of a phenomenal series. We may, therefore, dismiss the hypothesis that the dissolution of the phenomenon necessarily carries with it the dissolution of mind (essence, idea, form) of which the phenomenal is only the temporary display.

Nor does physiological science advance any effective argument against such a conclusion. The interweaving of life and mind with physical conditions is granted by all; and the primitive savage who saw death follow a blow on the skull knew all that the present-day physiologist knows. The more detailed expositions which we now have of the relation of mind and life to its physical incorporation do not affect the question at issue in its broad aspects. It was precisely because the abolition of the physical seemed to involve the extinction of the individual that the question of the continuance of the spirit of the dead man originally arose; and the (so-called) scientific argument of the biologist merely re-states the old question in terms of present physical knowledge. We may accept the words of Huxley,1 who says that physical science “effectually closes the mouths of those who pretend to refute it [the continuance of the human spirit after death] by objections deduced from merely physical data”.

But even so, it is possible that, just as the individual in its mind-differentiation and its further phenomenal equipment is always a negation of the All-One, and exists (in so far as it is a determinate and independent entity) by virtue of this negation, the dissolution of the phenomenal vesture is the dissolution of that whereby an individual mind is constituted as a “for-itself”; and that the self-conscious “person” thereupon loses itself in the infinite ocean of Unconditioned Being. And it might be held that the final issue of the Divine externalisation must be precisely such a return into Absolute Being, the initiating impulse of creation thus falling back into identity with its source. God, as creative, it might be held, lives as an eternal outgoing and return. Now in this universal process the human spirit would share the fate of all else.

On the other hand, while all living individuals alike vanish and have their places taken by others of the same kind, the mere fact that one, and only one, can question its own dissolution and affirm its own continuance, compels the scientific mind, in the interests of mere exactness, to pause. The more “scientific” a man is the more is he open to facts; and to the larger minds, taking a comprehensive world-view, it might naturally occur that, perhaps all creation is a spiral, and that the topmost turn of the spiral curve, which is capable of questioning and denying its own extinction, may ipso facto contain, in the very immanent energy that effected the topmost turn and propounded the question, still one turn more that carries the curve into the Unseen. This, assuredly, is a biological conception at once reasonable and rational; quite apart from the necessity involved in the very idea of Man.2

(b) Ego presumably continues to live after the Death of body. Its evolution as a transcendental fact.

If all individua below the man-plane perish when the body of each dissolves, on what ground do we maintain that man contains, if not the necessity, at least the highest probability, of continued life? The first answer that occurs, even to the unthinking, is (as I have above indicated) that man is not an individual like other individuals. It is the individuation of the dialectic in the attuent subject, we found, that constitutes it Ego. The free-will movement, generated in that which is already conscious mind on a certain plane, lifts it into a higher category—the category of self-affirmation. The conscious subject becomes self-conscious as a Ego, and the contemplation of the mighty movement never fails to call forth our wonder. A small and apparently insignificant part of the Absolute Whole stands erect and itself proclaims its own identity—I am I. By a pure act of Will, subject is prehended and affirmed as equal to itself—a self-identity which no sophistical reasoning can ever subvert; and this Ego has, through its constitutive dialectic form of pure activity, to mould all experience and direct itself to self-projected ends.

This self-conscious subject is not a bare unit, save when abstracted. The concrete whole of recipient and reflexive attuition is carried forward into it and constitutes, along with the new revelations of the dialectic, the “matter” of its being. Every step in evolution carries the lower step with it—sublates it. My personal identity is meanwhile assured, for it consists of the transcendental Ego (product of Will-reason)—the first “moment” of concrete personality—along with the infinite wealth of experiences, inner and outer, which I hold and determine to those ends that, as motive ideas, generate the forces of the life of man. Ego comprehends the universe in its sweep, and affirms and makes its own the very God of the universe. It is in conscious kinship with the Universal. It is admitted to the fact of Absolute Being and to its infinity of life as a finite world. It shares with God the magnificence of His creation; with Him it walks the waters; it wanders among His stars as a higher being than they, and tells them their courses; it measures His handiwork in the measureless spheres; it identifies His footprints before Man was; it makes its own the dead past and projects the future; it penetrates the secret counsels of Deity, till it reaches, in its restless daring, the very gates of Eden where the flaming sword proclaims “thus far and no farther”. Thus it is that Ego realises itself as “spirit” through the finite conditions of Time and Space; and, in its highest mood, dares to claim a certain equality with God Himself.

It is obvious that we have here before us a new creature of high distinction; and, were it not that we see the body of it dissolve and the self-conscious entity thereupon disappear, we should certainly conclude that the affirmation “I am I” was the utterance of that which must live for ever.

(c) The Common Conviction of Mankind.

And such has been the instinctive belief of mankind.

The tendency, and in the case of man the conscious desire, to go on living is involved in the very notion of life itself; and, accordingly, in discussing the question of immortality, we cannot rest an argument on this alone. It has, however, its own value as contributory to a scientific treatment of the question. Our pre-historic ancestors saw that the body was dead, but they were convinced that the true man still lived as a ghost. Anthropology teaches this, and ancestor-worship bears witness to it. The conviction among primæval men of the continuance of the dead “man” could scarcely, however, be called an act of reason: it was rather the result of that recoil from nothingness which comes from our whole nature. Self-conscious life is vaguely felt to negate in itself the very possibility of death, and to proclaim that extinction is an illusion. The affections, moreover, of the survivor decline to entertain the thought of the annihilation of those bound in bonds of fellowship with him. Such is the instinctive impulse of man; and the continuance of life after the death of the body is the teaching of almost all religions in forms more or less crude, quite apart from the argumentation of philosophers.

It is only in organic beings endowed with self-consciousness, that the affirmation of the continuance of life can arise. The most highly developed animal intelligence lets the death of another pass, and gives no sign of disturbance beyond the vague and brief feeling of a want caused by the removal of that response from its fellow animal to which it has been accustomed. Not so with self-conscious intelligence; and this assuredly is a significant fact. If this projection of mind-life into an unseen future, after the phenomenal appearance has vanished, arises only in self-conscious organisms, it must be due to the fact of self-consciousness; in other words, to the transcendental affirmation of self-identity (issue of the subjective dialectic), and that other characteristic of self-consciousness which enables man to contemplate a past and forecast a future—a characteristic also, we shall see, involved in the dialectic.

Nor do we find this belief or, rather let us say, conviction, of the continuance of the human spirit confined to the crude mind of the savage with his undeveloped self-consciousness; for, as civilisation and culture advance, the instinctive conviction is strengthened.

(d) The recoil of the whole of our nature from Death, when we truly see it as the supreme contradiction in Experience.

Let us then look more closely at the Fact and the Question as they present themselves to us in these days as beings of reason, emotion and a certain culture. It appears to me that the clear seeing of any fact in our experience in all its naked reality, and the rejection by our whole nature of one of two alternative interpretations, is a potent argument in favour of the affirmed alternative; at least in a world where the Good is the ultimate aim of the Divine activity, even if the Good be merely fulfilled End emptied of emotion.

When first we face the fact of death, our feeling is like that of the pre-historic savage, one of incredulous surprise. Nothing is so awful, nay, alarming (save perhaps the first clear realisation of oneself as ego), as the thought of the extinction of Self. A man who dwells on the thought, cannot believe that the issue of the inner toil and striving to build up the spirit as an energy supreme over its natural conditions, should be the victory of these very natural conditions; the victory of the Grave. Can the Ego, whose very function it is to control nature out of which it has emerged and which has lived a life of resistance to the solicitations of nature, be doomed to fall back into nature?

The question is felt by thinking men to be a question as to the cosmic significance, dignity and ethical meaning of the human soul, and the rationality of the present system of things: it is not prompted by the mere vulgar desire to go on living.3 It is not death, but the “fact that there should be death,” that concerns us when we think of it as extinction. If it be extinction, it is an irrational event.

The moment the self-conscious mind of man becomes alive to the fact of the infinite God in which and of which it is, it seems to itself to share in His life and to be involved in the eternity of the Eternal Spirit. This so elevates man and gives him so high a distinction in the Divine scheme, that to imagine his annihilation is like denying God Himself: God and Man seem to die together, so to speak. Our highest life becomes a futility. We feel that the bond of the finite and infinite cannot be thus rudely broken without involving humanity in ethical bankruptcy and religious nihilism. Hence it arises, that it is as a general concern for humanity, and as part of the philosophic interpretation of the system which man as a free Ego sums up, that the question of the continuity of self-conscious life ever keeps recurring. This is the essence of the whole question—its ethical and spiritual import in an ethical and spiritual Order. We even ask, Is the death of spirit thinkable without involving a logical and ethical contradiction in the very heart of the system to which we belong? That, I conceive, is the ultimate problem; and the answer must depend, manifestly, on our interpretation of the system as that is gathered up into Man—its head and front and End. Of other apparent contradictions we know that they are resolvable, and indeed already resolved, in The Absolute, for the simple reason that things are existent and actual. But this supreme contradiction, if it is to be resolved at all, must be resolved in the person of each man, and elsewhere than on this plane of Being; and the personal question becomes part of the larger question of the reality of the life of finite spirit outside the world of sense.

One of the most singular things about death is that so few are capable of realising it, save when face to face with it; and not always even then. Now those, who do not vividly realise death, seldom think of immortality save as a remote and pious opinion, although the anticipation of it doubtless operates sub-selfconsciously (as most of our motives do) and determines to a certain extent the world-view and personal activity of even the most callous. The life with which we are endowed is so very living that it practically from day to day denies death, and goes on, with unreflecting complacency, seeking earthly and finite ends as if the final catastrophe were not assured. One reads of death, admits the fact of death, and has seen dead men; but this is not to realise death. Nor is the contemplation of one's own death, nay, not even the act of dying, to realise death in all its dread significance. In the vast majority of cases the mental attitude in the act of dying is well expressed by Milton in his Samson Agonistes

Nature within me seems

In all her functions weary of herself;

My race of glory run, and race of shame,

And I shall shortly be with them that rest.

He alone has seen death face to face who has stood by the cold, unresponsive body of one whom he has loved. To gaze on a dead friend, a dead child, a dead lover—this is to realise death, and to be overwhelmed by the dumb mystery of it. That the vital frame which was eloquent of all the graces and charms of life should lie in “cold obstruction and rot”—“the sensible warm motion become a kneaded clod” while the animating spirit vanishes and its place knows it no more, seems to be the crown of human misery. The effulgence of reason in the eyes, the love and moral radiance that shone in them and spoke of infinite possibilities far beyond the requirements of this earthly existence, have now passed into nothingness! Their light is quenched! There is a strange alarm, as well as a deep pathos, in the spectacle. The silence is cruel. To our despairing appeal “there is no voice nor any that answer”. It is at such moments that the most callous must ask: “Can all that gives distinction to our humanity go out like a common candle that is spent?” In that dead body and the dignified protest in its still countenance we seem to find concentrated all the mystery and futility of man's existence. The “strange, eventful history,” it would appear, must end so. It is this thought—the sadness, the pain and the evanescence of things now brought into vivid light in our own personal experience by the cruel extinction of what was so much to us that makes us forlorn, and drives each of us back on himself to ask the meaning and purpose of the strange drama in which he is an actor. At such moments we feel it to be impossible that a God who is the Father of spirits should use them up as mere raw material for the larger purposes of the universe, or cast them out as refuse. The situation is so cruel that nothing can atone for it, and nothing can explain it, save the impotence of God Himself; for we feel that if there be God, He cannot so order His universe.

The questions of philosophy are now forced on every man who thinks as well as feels: Are we mere passing embodiments of a One life, “impotent pieces in the game God plays,” our very personalities existing only as the issue of past life and the seed of a future not ours, like the grass of the field? Or is each man an end in himself? It is only a truly contemplative mind, however, which sees the fact in all its horror, and it is at the highest point of its own spiritual vitality that it so sees it. Indeed it is of importance to note that it is when man is on the highest plane of reason and emotion that he is most beset by the problem. He may see the necessity of death and accept it for himself; but death as the final issue of the life of Man—the fact of the passing away into nothingness of human souls touched “to the fine issues” of spiritual excellence, he cannot contemplate with indifference. He even pushes it aside as absurd. The end of Plato, Paul, Shakespeare, is to be cast into a hole to consort with worms! Impossible.

Some will tell us that we ought not, as scientific thinkers, to treat such questions emotionally. Why so? Is emotion not a fact like any other, and accordingly within the sphere of science? I have tried to show the place of feeling and emotion in immanent God, and have also dwelt on the emotion inherent in the activity of finite pure reason itself. The emotion with which I contemplate the dead is an emotion not arising out of the mere sense of loss, but out of a consciousness of reason baffled and spiritual ideals mocked. This it is that makes death so grim a spectacle to the thinking man; and when he sees in it the summing up of all the toil and pain and contradictions of human life, the mockery of the deepest needs of his heart and the highest aspirations of his spirit, the event is tragic indeed; it calls forth our tears as it called forth those of the Prophet and Master of the human race Himself.

These sayings about death will appear obvious, commonplace and trite. But in this very triteness lies precisely the sadness of it all. Generation after generation of living men have faced the mystery, have suffered laceration of heart, given voice to their wonder and alarm with wearisome iteration, and resigned themselves, with more or less of hope, to the common destiny—“once to die, and after death?” Thus it is that we often feel that no utterance of man to men is of permanent value, if it cannot be uttered over a new-made grave.

While giving full weight to these considerations the significant fact that arrests us is that, of all finite creation, it is man alone that can put the question of his own continuance. This being so, it is manifestly of prime importance to show that it is by the analysis of that which is specifically Man, viz., Ego as Will-dialectic, that we can in this question, as in all others that have formed the subject of these meditations, hope for an answer that may be called scientific.


(a) The Scientific Argument as resting on the Genesis and Nature of Ego.

In dealing with the question of Immortality, as in dealing with other questions of vital concern, I do not part, I cannot part, from the analytic conclusions of my Epistemology or the synthetic statement of the Notion of God and Man deduced from the Epistemology. In truth, my purpose here is not to discuss all the doctrines of immortality from Plato downwards, but to limit myself (as I have done in discussing other matters) to the bearing of Epistemology (as I understand it) on scientific solutions. Accordingly, it seems to be incumbent on me to look again, as closely as I can, at the genesis of Ego, and on the subjective dialectic generally, if I am to find for myself scientific grounds for exempting man from the fate of creatures on a lower plane of Being.

But before doing so I would remark that the general interpretation of the whole of experience carries with it the interpretation of the parts; and if it be, as I have endeavoured to show, that the reality of the phenomenal consists in its being Absolute Being as creative dialectic expressing itself in terms of quantity, quality, motion, degree and so forth (all that we call the sense-categories), the disappearance of the present Universe would not be the death of the Absolute Spirit. He would merely reach forth into fresh manifestations or rather transformations of His infinite activity. So with the body of man. Man is a creature of peculiar and high distinction whose characteristics demand that he be not annihilated when his phenomenal conditions are disintegrated, but survive in a life in which the continuity of the spiritual evolution will be maintained.

To put the position in more popular language: Does the Power which evolves itself until it reaches self-conscious mind contain the necessity of the reversion of this self-conscious mind into atoms of matter (whatever that may mean) or into nothing? I believe that if this be so, it would be possible to establish the doctrine that the universe not merely involves the casual (as I have tried to show), but that it is radically anarchic.

It would be to break away from the method of procedure which we have hitherto followed, were we to speak of Ego as if it were a new creation discontinuous with the attuent subject out of which it emerges, and as devising for itself, somehow or other, a link of connection with that which it has left behind. We are simply now face to face with the highest evolution of that which we found in its inchoate form as Pure Feeling, and there is no disruption anywhere. All is One.

To unfold the genesis of Ego is a task of supreme difficulty, but of great significance for philosophy. By making good one or two incidents in the evolutionary travail, we may better understand the resultant birth, and prepare the way for some more competent analytical microscopist.

Attuent reflexive subject is (like all else) a determination of Being, and contains (like all else) the objective dialectic process. But now we see it evolve into an active-activity—a pure activity; and that activity is the very dialectic in it now become for it. Subject does not split up into two; there arises within it a fresh potency. This new potency is not an Ego standing apart; it is conscious subject itself that, by virtue of a new energy, becomes “subject conscious of subject,” i.e., self-conscious. This conscious subject is now “mine”; “am” is now “I am”. Ego thus plants itself, as an individual actuality, within the Absolute Whole.

The new endowment of the subject is the pure dialectic—the dialectic extricated from things in which it is and become “for” the subject as its highest potency: or we may put it thus: as reflected into a subject which has reached the highest plane of reflexive sentience (attuition) the Dialectic reveals itself as pure Will whose living process is the Dialectic formal movement.

Subject, meanwhile, as merely attuently conscious, does not, in the fact and act of evolving its supreme immanent energy, cancel its other characters. It carries itself as a recipient, reflexive, absorbent, conscious subject into the new sphere of life, and the pure dialectic activity which has been evolved in it, is in it, and of it, as well as for it. Will-dialectic and the resultant Ego are not in the air: the roots are in the soil of conscious subject; and thus conscious subject carries itself and all its content, actual and possible, into the new plane of mind-activity. This is what I have meant by saying, in brief phrase, that “I” or “Ego” sublates the conscious subject into it, and is thus ever in intimate converse with Reality. Perhaps, however, it would be better to say that subject, in functioning will-dialectic and thereby constituting itself an “I” or “Ego,” still remains empirical subject with all its own functions.

In fact, all previous grades of Universal Mind in its finite evolution of Itself, from Pure Feeling upwards, are here gathered into the one of “I,” by the “I” itself. For the specific function of subject as “I” is to subsume all these grades and their content under its dialectic energy, and so to interpret them. Subject is, as “I,” now on the plane of the Dialectic, i.e., of knowledge and self-determination; and it has a difficult and unending task before it. As “I” it now determines and affirms itself, and exercises its imperial rights over all the “given,” whether the “given” be external or internal nature.

And what is this Dialectic—this Will-reason? It is the very form of God-creative revealed (not to finite reason but) as finite reason. It is God as finite conscious mind evolved into self-conscious mind.

We now have the subject (feeling reflexive entity) as Ego; and in Ego we have the intensest form of individuality. The individual, we saw, was a synthesis of affirmation (the idea) and the negation that is inherent in the modality or phenomenon. But now, we have before us a very remarkable fact; for in Ego we have an individuality which is product of the pure dialectic alone. It is instituted and constituted by Will-dialectic as its essence or idea, and, unlike all other individua, needs no phenomenal “negation” for its individuation. Subject, through its new potency, lifts the subject-individual into an Ego-individual by the mere affirming of itself, and sustains it by that pure affirmation. Subject, in short, by virtue of this new potency, proclaims “I am I”. It is a spiritual act with which the negating phenomenal has nothing whatever to do; its negating individuating services (so to speak) are superseded.

And yet, Ego is negation in its supreme form! Ego negates all save itself—even the subject-individual out of which it emerged, and is always emerging. It puts all else at a distance, so to speak, as not itself; and by dint of the Will-dialectic that institutes it and constitutes it, it dominates all else. It is, as final resultant of an evolutionary process, at once pure affirmation and pure negativity. And yet, by virtue of its institutive energy—the Will-dialectic, it goes forth, and must go forth, to seize and subsume all into itself. For Will-dialectic as constitutive as well as institutive of Ego, is its idea or form, and determines its positive relations to the universe in which the subject, thus transmuted, finds itself.

In thus evolving Himself as finite Ego, God affirms, as an existent within the Absolute Whole, pure Negativity. Ego negates God and the Universal; but by virtue of its constitutive will-dialectic, it must, I say, go out of itself and make the Universal and God its own—bring all into itself as the “Real” of its Form; and it must do so in the form of its Form, which is Will with Form of End implicit. It might be as Ego; but it could not live save through the “Other”; it is ceaseless activity, innate and spontaneous. And when it fulfils itself as a concrete by subduing all experience (including the feelings and passions of the empirical subject) to itself, and so identifying all with itself, it is finally self-achieved “spirit”. The subject, as Ego, thus itself creates itself a “spirit” by overcoming the world. This is the specific function of the supreme individual—the releasing itself from the intolerable isolation of a barren Egohood by taking the Universal to itself. This is what the highest evolution of God as finite means. It is the sum of the reflecting of God into the finite, and is thus the finite image of the Infinite God. And yet Ego per se is not to be regarded as a bald abstraction; for it always has itself for content, and is thus from the first a completed “actual”.

Since, as we saw, a finite individuate is possible only in and through the negation inherent in the phenomenal, we cannot be surprised that, when the phenomenal dies, the individuate too should die; the energy of the Divine movement, which we call determination or idea, finding other but similar valuates of externalisation by ordinary generation or otherwise. But when the conscious subject through the immanent energy of Will-dialectic generated in itself, affirms itself and so institutes Ego, thus lifting itself on to a higher plane of Being—the dialectic plane, the case is different. The subject as Ego not being dependent for its “egohood” on the phenomenal negation—the body within which it emerges, it ought not to be affected by the death of body. We found that mind, on this dialectic plane, though involved in brain, spontaneously initiates the using of brain for its purposes, while, at the same time, it is in reciprocity with brain, sublating the attuent subject with its enslavement to body (see Meditation XIV., First Book, Note).

The above analysis reveals, I think, what it is that underlies the instinctive conviction that self-identity involves continuance, and how it is that man, at all stages of culture and most of all in the most advanced, has felt that in this self-identity lies a distinction of being which makes his continuance assured. His whole specific nature starts back with incredulity from the thought of annihilation as intrinsically a contradiction. In short, the genesis of Ego reveals the strange distinction of being which belongs to man; and the utterance “I am I” proclaims immortality.

(b) The Scientific Argument from the Nature of the Will-Dialectic generally.

In the affirmation of the subject as an existent Ego by the subject itself lies the fact of freedom, as we have frequently seen. If we look long enough at the secret process of evolving mind, we find that the consciousness of subject by subject is not a mere “feeling” emerging in us as an inexplicable event; but is itself an act of Will—a primary free energy which, emerging in and out of an empirical conscious subject, seeks to reduce all experience, in accordance with its own dialectic form or process, to the Ego, because Ego contains the dialectic as its “idea”—its pure affirmation.

Now the Will-process, as I have often pointed out, has a way of moving, the process which we call the Dialectic; and, speaking generally, we may look at it as consisting of four prime moments: Kinetic; Mediating ground as negation (formal); Determining-so (formative ground or idea), and End,—the affirmation of the truth of things being the purpose of its movement; and this affirmation is knowledge. The formative idea in its fulfilled concreteness is the ideal—rational, æsthetic and ethical. This free operative activity, as thus set forth, is the finite dialectic; and its results are science, art, ethics and politics. We commonly call it Reason. Now, we have seen that it is this reason which alone is capable of putting the critical question, “Does this Ego of ours continue its activity after the limitation of earthly conditions (the body) is destroyed?” And in the necessary functions of the reason which starts the problem, we ought to find an answer; just as we have so far found an answer in the genesis and nature of Ego as a spiritual fact reason-constituted.

(c) The Moments of the Dialectic.

(1) The first moment of dialectic is Will as initiating Kinetic. Will by its very nature is mind-force or energy: it finds limits for itself on every side, but only to transcend them. Ever-moving, ever-living, it carries itself forward into limitless regions in search of that which truly is. It thus assumes its own continuity, as well as its inherent superiority to natural conditions. If the reader will ponder long enough over the distinction between the animal and the rational subject, the full force of this fundamental fact of reason will be clear to him.

(2) The first and fundamental function of the dialectic in man is, as we found, the act of percipience. This act is the determination, arrestment and limitation of an object in space and time. The affirmation of the determination is an affirmation of limit, and ipso actu an affirmation of non-limitability. The slightest reflection reveals to us that this must be so; and, consequently, the act of determining the finite necessitates the affirmation of the infinite—the fact of infiniteness relatively to space and time. This tells us that there are regions and spheres of fact and thought outside the sphere of finite reason. We, accordingly, decline to say more than this, or to indulge in talk about infinite space and time—save, perhaps, for rhetorical and ethical purposes. This Infinite is equally present in all thought-determination—rational, æsthetic and ethical.

Now surely the most startling fact in finite nature is that a finite being should appear at the head of it to fulfil his own destiny as a creature, and should, at the same time, necessarily affirm in the very limiting of himself and of his possible knowledge here and now, the illimitable for himself as a “knowing” being. It appears to me that he therein affirms that this sphere is only a beginning of the possible for him. It may be said that this is a cunningly devised illusion, which serves its human purpose in so far as it enables man to rise above the prosaic judgments of ordinary life. But in that case the sun and moon are also cunningly devised illusions.

It may also be maintained that this “further” of possibility is true of “man” as a creature thrown up out of absoluto-infinite Being, in its process of evolution in Time, merely to fill a place necessary to the adequate life of a Universal self-conscious Spirit. But there is no such thing as “man,” but only men. And if I, a man, find that the most wonderful characteristic in me is in me but not for me a person, I find in this a flagrant breach of the spiritual order. The burden of proving such a view of rational persons is certainly laid on other shoulders, and not on the shoulders of those who accept the direct affirmation of finite reason in them as for them.

Accordingly, just as pure Will contains a further, so Will as a “knowing” energy affirms, in the apprehended fact of the infinite as given in percipience and in all thought, its own continuance after its present conditions are dissolved. Nay, it even foretells the necessity of dissolution that the spirit may be liberated for a fuller life.

(3) The third and fourth moments of the dialectic further affirm the idea, which is the truth, the essence of a thing as a concrete whole; and only in the apprehension of the idea as fulfilled ideal can there be repose for the restless and ever-progressing Will-reason in its pursuit of knowledge. But when will-reason has found truth, or rather, let us say, thinks it has found it, it finds it as still limitation. The ideal, as conceived, is only a stepping-stone, a moment's pause for the sole of the foot: the ideal, achieved, at once reveals itself as part of a greater and higher, namely, absolute Truth (which is God); and the task is to be begun again. The search for the idea and the ideal being of the essence of the Ego as containing the dialectic, it thus, ipso facto, affirms its continuity in a series of ever-ascending and self-fulfilling acts. The “idea” of Man ordains that he shall search for ideas and fulfil ideals, but to this he can only approximate: and if this be all, he remains an everlasting contradiction as a cognitive activity in the general scheme of things. The evolving life of God as finite suddenly ends in the abrupt. The essential characteristics of the finite dialectic thus affirm the continuity of the human spirit as implicit in the very nature of human reason. We are always, in fact, silently postulating continuance; all the issues of our rational life being infinite.

As with absolute Truth, so with absolute Beauty, and absolute Goodness. By virtue of the will-dialectic, man creates æsthetic ideals which he moulds out of the sense-forms of universal Being as revealed to him, and also ethical or spiritual ideals of life and conduct which he moulds out of the feeling-forms of desire and emotion. These ideals constitute the divine meaning of creation here and now as contained in the heart of The Absolute. They are God-immanent mediating his spiritual ends through man. Man as Will must, by his very nature, seek to realise them. To realise them is to actualise them for himself and in himself. This is impossible. He may ever advance nearer to the actualisation; but in so far as he does not reduce them to himself as actualities, he suffers from the pain of defeated purpose. He dies contemplating ever-vanishing ideals. The “far-off goal recedes as we advance”. The fact of these ideals as sum and issue of the reason-life of man, and the hopeless striving after them in this sphere of being, affirm a continuity of existence for their actualisation, unless God be indifferent to the fulfilment of His idea and does not seek The Good. Now, even if there were no God, the truth would remain that the finite spirit here is embarked on an infinite cognitive, æsthetic and ethical progress, the continuance of which beyond present limitations is just as likely as its existence here and now. Even if there were no God, I say, the dim groping of godless nature or weltwille to evolve itself would in man give the promise, if not necessity, of a “further,” in order to complete the work which had been here only partially accomplished.

Think also in this connection of the toil and hardships which men endure in the service of ideals for a terrestrial future in which they can have no share. Death itself they face in all its forms for the benefit of the race to which they will shortly cease to belong. Whence this, if it do not come from an ineradicable reason-conviction of the continuity of life? All heroic action would seem silently to assume a personal immortality.

(d) The notion of Futurity is given by the Dialectic.

All thought-processes are for us under conditions of Time, for Time is the mode of externalised Deity who is found by us here under temporal and evolutionary conditions. Now, what of the strange conception of futurity in Time, and the consequent Hope—our forward-looking thoughts? The animal does not hope, and has no conscious future. In the specific differentiation of man, then, we must look for the explanation of these facts of human experience. Man looks before and after; he can forestall his experience, and by the help of his imagination project a future of activity. How is this? I would answer thus:—

It is in the essential nature of the dialectic that we find the possibility of the conception of futurity. The eternal nisus of the dialectic contains the “form of End,” and this end is necessarily projected under conditions of Time. Thus it is that the future, as a conception of the imagination, is possible. The animal, I have said, has no conscious future. We men, on the contrary, forecast in imagination a future of achievement whether the aim be material or spiritual; nay, were it not for repeated experience of failure, we should, under this dialectic impulse, contemplate the achievement of our purposes as assured and guaranteed by being simply affirmed as end. Assurance would be our mental attitude. Failure, however, brings down the pride and confidence of expectation to the humility and veiled distrust of hope. We then learn to take elaborate means in both the moral and material world of our activities to secure the fulfilment of our hopes. Hope, then, is to be defined as the “form of end” under conditions of Time. It does not owe its origin either to our organic or our emotional nature, but to the dialectic. It is of the essence of reason in man and thus it is that it “springs eternal in the human breast”.

Everywhere man is a creature of disappointed hopes: in the struggle for the sustenance of the body first of all; and, even though we may be in possession of a superfluity of the means of sustenance, we are yet ever enduring defeat in other lines of effort. In our ambitions, affections and emotions we encounter the failure of our hopes, whether these be for humanity at large or for the satisfaction of our love in those nearest to us; in our intellectual efforts after truth, our partial successes are through numberless defeats; in the fulfilment of our moral and spiritual ideas, even when we are always hopefully advancing, we are never attaining. Man, thus made the victim of illusory anticipations here, and yet having in him the well-spring of the dialectic which ever points to the possibility of fulfilment, necessarily projects a future beyond the desperate conditions of earthly existence. The notion of futurity, then, and the consequent hope, contain the affirmation of a continued existence as the affirmation of reason and not as a mere appetite or organic impulse.

Too often, it is true, the future after death is contemplated as a satisfaction of unworthy desires; or, at least, of those desires which can be shown to have value only under present and earthly conditions. To the eye of the philosopher these earthly conditions are, even now, wholly subservient to the spiritual life: they are the material in and through which man as spirit can alone fulfil himself. And yet, as are a man's life and ideals, so will his future be imagined; and, knowing our own weakness, we are not hard on our fellow-men because they contemplate with fond anticipation a deliverance in a future existence from their personal miseries, the righting of personal wrongs, and eternal rest from toil. Somewhere and somehow (they feel) the manifest purpose of their existence will surely be fulfilled. The Good, whatever it may be, must be on its way.

The point which I wish to make here is, that this Time-projection of life into a future after death is, however crudely it may be conceived, a necessary issue of the dialectic in man—a note of reason and not merely a vague organic feeling of expectation. Consequently, as that which is truly and specifically man, viz., reason, grows, in the course of the ages, into fuller self-consciousness, the reasons for the conviction of continuance after death grow in cogency.

It would appear, then, that pure reason as Ego which alone can raise the question of immortality, when closely interrogated, gives, in its genesis, nature, and process, affirmative answers. Accordingly, it is not out of the mere desires of men, but out of that which specifically constitutes man, viz., the Ego with its contained dialectic, that the conviction of life beyond death issues. The answer is a scientific answer. As Emerson well says: “When the Master of the Universe has points to carry in His government, He impresses His will in the structure of minds”.

As I have frequently pointed out, unless we take up all our experience, cognitive, emotional, ethical, in the whole Dialectic, there must be endless contradictions, intellectual and moral. It is in the true analysis and understanding of the Dialectic movement as a one movement, that we find the solution of the Universe as presented to man. But even with this key in our hand there are doors which we cannot unlock. We are driven back on the conviction which the Dialectic itself has generated in us that, beyond, there is a solution; and that conviction is not at all the product of despair or of feeble sentiment, but created in us by that which is supremely ourselves, our strength as it is our distinction—the subjective dialectic, which is also the ground-plan of the whole creative process—the Form of God-creative.

(e) The Infinite in human love for Man and for God.

Love for Man.—The Dialectic enters also into the Feeling and Emotions of man and clothes them with infiniteness. Hence the pained alarm when the object of love vanishes from our side in consequence of what seems the ruthless and arbitrary act of a destroying Power. If our interpretation of God as a God of Love be true, we are justified in demanding some relief from the anguish of the heart—some explanation that will console. It is not merely the common desire to meet again those that have been snatched away: it is the shock that almost paralyses us as we think of the wealth of love which it is possible for one human being to lavish on another thus made a mock of.

Death, as a universal human event, calls forth our wonder, horror and incredulity: now, when it is close to us, it calls forth our resentment and indignation, if it be what it appears to be. Man cries out against his being endowed with emotions, deep and infinite in their range, which yet seem to count for nothing in the system to which he belongs. The sad experience, if humbly accepted, is good for the soul of man, we are told, and broadens and deepens his whole life. But what is the use of all this enriching of his spiritual nature if terrestrial conditions sum him up? He can get on well enough without it—nay, it is a fact that he can get on better without it: finite purposes on this earth and in our relations to society can be quite well, nay, much better, attained without it.

Quite apart from the theistic argument, “surely,” as Martineau says, “it is no romance to say that human love reaches a pathetic depth and rises to a sublime height which make it greater than its uses, and ally it to the proportions of more enduring being”.4 Listen to the cry of Henrietta von Willich in her letter to Schleiermacher on the death of her husband, and which I quote because of the universal note in her agonised utterance:—

“O Schleier, in the midst of my sorrow there are yet blessed moments when I vividly feel what a love ours was and that surely this love is eternal and it is impossible that God can destroy it; for God Himself is Love. I bear this life while nature will; for I have still work to do for the children, his and mine: but, O God, with what longing, what foreshadowing of unutterable blessedness do I gaze across into that world where he lives! What joy for me to die! Schleier, shall I not find him again? O my God! I implore you, Schleier, by all that is dear to God and sacred, give me, if you can, the certain assurance of finding and knowing him again. Tell me your utmost faith on this, dear Schleier. Oh! if it fails, I am undone!”5

Schleiermacher answers by playing with the word “personality” and offering a highly Buddhistic consolation—absorption in The Absolute—the euphemism for annihilation. The source of the error in such views is to be found in an indolent and mystic pantheism. We have urged in these Meditations an interpretation more in accordance with the experience and needs of men, in our emphasising of the patent fact of finitude, individuality, personality, as the form in which Absolute Being loves to live. Otherwise, why is it so as matter of fact? The depreciation of the individual in order to make good the life of an abstraction called “The Absolute” is not justified by experience. God as concrete Notion (in the absolute synthesis as given to us) finds His own life and joy in the existence of other beings in their ascending grades. He mediates His own finite life in an infinite series of finitudes. In the case of man He throws out from Himself a free Ego and calls on it to make good its own life, as if it were a matter of eternal cosmic concern. It has to actualise itself in and for God. The very purpose of man's existence, his function in this scheme of things is defeated, if God breaks faith with him and steals him to aggrandise Himself, absorbing him in what is called the Absolute. The pantheistic All-one becomes a mere abstraction when its content is ignored. The Absolute, if we look straight at the facts of life, is a One in Many and through Many, not a blank One of meaningless continuity. We ask no more in the future than exists now, and, which, by existing now, has shown its possibility, if not its necessity, within the nature and thought, of the One God. What is called “The Absolute Idea” can only mean the mighty thought through which God, as creative Will, thinks Himself as externalised; and this thought cannot be an abstract Whole, but must contain the issues of each individual activity in the Whole. If it do not mean this, it matters not what it means. We may be assured that in the divine order there is consolation for the stricken heart. It was in the name of God that Christ said, “Ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer”. Bold and splendid words; none but a prophet of God who was very near to God could have dared to utter them.

Love for God.—Again, what shall we say of Love for God Himself in which the finite spirit expresses its supreme intellectual need and its infinite joy in ethical and æsthetic ideals therein consummated—a love so intense in some minds (and when we weigh the capacities of a race we rightly speak of its best types) as to make them, in their intellectual rapture, dream even of the abnegation of their own personality that they may pass into the Universal? The love for God is an “emotion of reason” arising out of the dialectic as one whole, and is animated by the apprehension of ideals in which the divine movement completes itself in the world and in man. Pure reason itself is charged with emotion. The sympathetic “feeling” of Being lies at the very root, we found, of our notion of God. Feeling is in the ground-plan of the universe. It is only when we “feel” God that we are drawn into an emotional identity with His eternal Being and process. This (which may, indeed, reach an overwhelming intensity as in the mystic beatific vision) is the love for God And, “How can it be,” says Jean Paul, “that our heart is parched and fretted and at last crushed by the slow fever-fire of an infinite love for an infinite object and must be assuaged by nothing better than the hope that this heart-sickness, like a physical heat, will sometime be removed by laying on it the ice-slab of death?”

Note now that the human love for Man and God is what it is because we are on the plane of the Dialectic. Its character, significance and infiniteness arise out of the dialectic movement; and if such love exhausts its meaning in the finite, it is an illusory futility in a stupid Absolute.

Finally: forasmuch as Man is an Ego whose specific function in the cosmic system is the realising of itself as concrete “spirit,” the dissolution of present conditions is obviously necessary to this realisation. The continuance of life after death is, accordingly, involved in the continuity of the cosmic spiritual order. Death is a necessity, but it is also a deliverance: the dire event does not belong to the casual and demonic in the cosmic series, but is the only way of mediating a purposed evolution immanent in man here and now. If it be not so, God is bankrupt.


I have been putting forward what I consider to be a scientific argument to show that the nature of Ego is such as to make its continuance after the death of the body (shall I say?) natural, and that the Dialectic, which initiates and sustains Ego, contains also the necessity of its continuance if God be a God of Spiritual Order. Our whole interpretation of God and Man carries with it this conclusion. There are further considerations, however, relevant to the general discussion of the question which have their own weight.

(a) Contradictions.

Evil, that is to say the contradictions, intellectual and moral, which beset us in a notoriously imperfect world, the rampant injustice, the physical pains, the unmerited sufferings (but why resume the painful enumeration?), the wickedness of men by which Divine ends are mediated, ever remain an insuperable difficulty, unless they are explained by the thought and fact of a higher evolution of life possible only through this painful process. A certain type of thinker takes refuge in “The Absolute” and seems to be satisfied if he secures its Happiness or Perfection by giving it the power of resolving the contradictions which it is always generating. This is his act of faith; for he cannot know. So far, he is as helpless as the peasant. “Somehow or somewhere, but not for man, there is a conciliation of all things”—is not this the substance of his final utterance? And is it other or better than the faith of the humblest ploughman? But this fond conception of The Absolute, which is simply the old Calvinistic decrees put in terms of ignorance and which veils the hasty retreat of the philosopher from ultimate problems, will not meet the clamant need of men. It does not interpret. Things are somehow reconciled in “The Absolute”! What is this to me? As a “person” I have my rights. It is personal continuance, in which contradictions will be resolved in himself, that man seeks—the “perfect day” for which he longs, in which God as Justice and Love will shine forth in the individual spirit that has loyally striven and endured, in which the spiritual ideals that man must by his very nature form will be actualities, the miserable defections in his own personality be made good, his pain and share in evil explained, and his humanity glorified in its final fulfilment: in brief, it is redemption or deliverance that he seeks. It is in the name of suffering mankind, and not of himself alone, that he demands this. This argument manifestly resolves itself into a faith in God as eternal order, justice and love, who cannot, unless He be impotent (in which case He is not God and we have to re-cast our theory of the universe), leave His creatures as ever-recurring testimonies through endless generations to the essential inadequacy and imperfection of that sphere of being of which they are the highest term; and, as such, are alone endowed with the capacity, and therefore put under obligation, to judge it.

The only possible justifying explanation of the afflictions of humanity—growing always (mark) in intensity with growing knowledge and heightening moral elevation—is the Christian explanation, that they have a purpose; as the objective dialectic tells us all creation has. These afflictions which “are but for a moment” are the discipline whereby a man may mediate himself as “spirit”. The purpose of ethical probation is to strengthen his personality as supreme over the solicitations of natural passion, and to lift his habitual life of thought and action out of the seen and temporal into the unseen and eternal. If this be not the purpose, then the pain and sorrow of this world become ends in themselves, and man is justified in protesting against the (so-called) “Order” into the midst of which he is thrown. If good be not in the heart of evil, then God is Evil. Call it, if you will, a hypothesis that man is in this life moulding himself and being moulded for a higher existence, yet it is a hypothesis which alone explains the facts; and such hypotheses are valid in science. But it is not a hypothesis, for it rests on a scientific interpretation of man.

The melancholy meditations of Amiel suggest themselves here: “The moral education of the individual soul—is it then wasted? When our planet has accomplished the cycle of its destinies, of what use will it have been to any one or anything in the universe? Well, it will have sounded its note in the symphony of creation. And for us individual atoms, seeing monads, we appropriate a momentary consciousness of the whole and the unchangeable; and then we disappear. Is not this enough? No, it is not enough; for if there is not progress, increase, profit, there is nothing but a mere chemical play and balance of combinations. Brahma after having created, draws his creation back into the gulf.” And after saying that God, at least, grows and profits by it, he gives expression to the hopeless view: “We sink gradually back into the darkness, just as we issued gradually from it. The play of faculties and organs, the grandiose apparatus of life is put back bit by bit into the box. We begin by instinct; at the end comes a clearness of vision which we must learn to bear with and to expend, without murmuring, on our own failure and decay. A musical theme once exhausted finds its due refuge and repose in silence.” Here we have the utterance of a religious mystic in whom personality was weak. If it be as he thinks, man's highest life is an incoherent dream and he is in his right when he murmurs.

And what of God Himself? He is not merely an infinite contradiction-resolving machine; He works as immanent in the universe—His own Mind and Body—towards ideas and ideals; and, if our interpretation be true, He is a God of Love. But in His creation of Man we find notorious failure to be the last word of philosophy on this plane of God's finite life. God has to be explained in order that Man may be explained. If there be, at all, necessity in God, it must be a necessity to actualise His own idea. Or is He content with imperfection? Does He Himself make terms with the Devil of Negation by casting aside personalities as broken pitchers which the said devil may have for nothing? “From the first dawning of life,” says Professor Fiske, “we see all things working together towards one mighty goal—the evolution of the most exalted spiritual qualities that characterise humanity. Has all this work been done for nothing? Is it all ephemeral, all a bubble that bursts, a vision that fades? On such a view the riddle of the universe becomes a riddle without a meaning. The more thoroughly we comprehend that process of evolution by which things have come to be what they are, the more we are likely to feel that to deny the everlasting persistence of the spiritual element in man is to rob the whole process of its meaning. It goes far to putting us to permanent intellectual confusion, and I do not see that any one has as yet alleged, or is ever likely to allege, a sufficient reason for our accepting so dire an alternative.” And we may add: In the evolution of the organic world, it is the higher which finally explains the lower; the lower, in an immeasurable “one” of manifestation and process containing in it the prophecy of the higher. In this way alone are contradictions resolvable.

(b) Personal Identity and the nature of the Future Life generally.

It is scarcely necessary to say that the continuance of self-identity in the formal sense would be purposeless and of no concern to any man; for Ego is in itself a bare universal, and, as such, is not what men mean by themselves. The ground and first “moment” of personality is certainly bare self-identity—“I am I,” in no way dependent on memory but renewed every moment; but personality, as distinguished from bare self-identity, is a concrete of formal and real, and, as such, is largely dependent on body and its relations, and involves the consciousness of the continuous one of self in all experience.

We may put the question thus: The abstract Ego might rise to a higher plane of the Divine Evolution without thereby satisfying the demand for a continued personal life; for it is as a concrete Ego or Personality that each demands continuance. Personality I have explained to be the subsumption of experience by the Ego as itself a dialectic and supra naturam illumining and controlling that experience to ends of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. This, it is said, involves memory, and inasmuch as memory is dependent on the phenomenal negation, personality must perish in the dissolution of body. But, in dealing with the psycho-physical, we found that memory was a deposit in mind, as well as brain, even at the attuitional stage where there was mutual reciprocity; still more on the human plane where experiences are discriminated and co-ordinated, and brain made subject to the uses of the Will-dialectic with its inherent initiative. If so, there can be no difficulty in the way of the Ego carrying its concrete content with it into a higher sphere. What and how much it will carry we cannot say further than this, that it will carry all that fits the new environment. The immanent purpose of Ego is to become not merely personality, a term which may be of no ethical significance, but personality which is Spirit; that is to say, Ego as fulfilling its essential function of moulding the Given within us and without us. And, we may say that all that falls into this category—all that we have subdued to ourselves—will go with us into the higher sphere of the Divine evolution, and find there fresh illumination. Love, Ideals, Beauty, and whatever has given substance to these emotions in this life will find their fruition in a higher. The purpose of life, generally, is simply living; but in a self-conscious being of infinite possibilities, it is at the same time, as we have frequently seen, the shaping of the Self to a higher and better, which is never a highest and best, but which starts it on the way of an ever-advancing growth. The varied experiences of life have unquestionably this for their aim; and the Ego which absorbs and makes its own such of these as promote the creation of itself anew and develop and fortify it as “spirit,” carries with it all that can live, and furnish impulse and motive, on a higher plane. The identity of the “person” continues, sustained by the memory of all here that is worthy of a higher existence there—truth, love and ideals.

Why should we doubt that we shall carry into a future life all the ethical experience that is worthy of a self-conscious spirit, thereby preserving our personal identity? Those bodily relations which belong to the natural system here must fall away, but all in man that has transcended these relations will survive. We rise from one of God's systems to enter another and a better, and, as a first step, we leave our bodies in the earth, thereby proclaiming that the things that are exclusively of earth concern us no more. The attuitional subject in evolving into Ego, carried, we saw, the “subject” into Ego—the lower into the higher; so, when Ego evolves into the fulness of “spirit,” it will carry with it all that is compatible with the new conditions; and in these, it carries the identity of its personality as now achieved Spirit.

There are thinkers who, while seeming to grant the continuance of personal identity, would seem to confine the destiny of an immortal spirit to the activity of pure reason and a certain ecstatic contemplation of abstract thought. But we have shown that, if it be through the world as we have it that we know God, then He Himself is a being of feeling and emotion; to which indeed the dialectic is, in a sense, subordinate: just as Form, generally, is of significance only as contributory to actuality of Being and of life. If the concrete of feeling be an essential moment in the immanent being even of God, is it derogatory to the dignity of man, that, even on the higher plane of a future existence, life and love, only partially realised on earth, should constitute the purified “real” of his supra-rational spirit? Feeling and emotion, when inreasoned, we have found to be thereby transformed into ethical and spiritual ideas: as such, they are opposed to the natural desires which find an adequate sphere within terrestrial conditions and seek no Beyond: that alone, we may say, will survive which fits the new sphere of Being. And if there be truly a higher plane of Mind for us which sublates our present non-corporeal nature without cancelling it, it will be, we may imagine, a condition in which the Negation being now wholly identified with the Idea—Ego having become Spirit, the sweet reasonableness of a fine harmony of inner and outer relations will make mere living a perpetual blessing. The love for God and for our fellow-spirits will govern our lives and sustain them in an everlasting spring-time of energy.

Again, Time, it is said, will be no more. But this is merely a rhetorical expression. What is Objective Time save a “one-after-the-otherness” of experiences? Why should this cease? The timeless is for any finite being a condition incompatible with anything that can be called existence. The “time-span,” we may presume, will be increased; but if the life of the spirit be a timeless life, all experience must collapse into an “eternal now”. This is an epigrammatic expression invented to denote the wholly unknowable relation of God to series and successions: and on this subject no man can say anything worth listening to, save by way of showing the possibility of a contradiction—a Time-series which shall also be a “Now”. God may be said to be Timeless just as He is said to be primum mobile; but He holds both Motion and Time within Himself, not outside Himself.

The only legitimate conclusion as to the nature of a future state is that, just as we find graded planes of being on earth, so the dissolution of existing conditions will introduce those who are worthy to a higher plane than the present. This higher life will sublate the life of reason into it, just as the life of reason sublates the life of attuition here and now. The infinite God will have evolved Himself in and through us into a higher plane of finite mind.

[Difficulties as to a future state suggested by the sense-imagination of the physicist are obviously wholly irrelevant to a life presumed to exist under other than terrestrial conditions, and accordingly it is unscientific to raise them.]

(c) Conditions of the continuance of the Ego.

Our argument affirms the continuance of all human souls. But there may be many cases in which there are obstacles in the path. Assuredly we are right in saying that continued life after death is immanent in each Ego. The prediction and affirmation are unquestionably to be found in the innermost inner of reason, as well as at the heart of our ethical and emotional nature. It may be said, however, that it is by life in the universal of ideals (rational, æsthetic, ethical, which are of the essence and sum of the teaching of the subjective dialectic) that the individual widens himself into an infinitude that can alone fit a human soul for a higher evolution. Failure in this is what I mean by an obstacle in the way of continuity on a higher plane of being. As the tree falls so must it lie. In other words, the continuance of life beyond the grave may depend on the extent to which the potential in each man has here become an actual—the extent to which the idea in him has made good its fitness for a higher grade of being.

… only he,

His soul well-knit and all his battles won,

Mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life.6

The wings which are to bear us into a higher sphere may have to be grown here and now. He who has not found eternal life here will not, it may be said, find it hereafter. But, as Amiel says, “the Kingdom of God belongs not to the most enlightened but to the best”. And Plato says: “Let a man be of good cheer about his soul who has cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him, and has followed after the pleasures of knowledge of this life; who has adorned the soul in her own proper jewels, which are temperance and justice and courage and nobility and truth”.7 “And they that be wise” says the Hebrew prophet, “shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”8 “Do justly and love mercy” and God will see to the rest.

However it may be, assuredly the man-being who attains to true manhood and becomes conscious of the inadequacy of the finite (in even the most felicitous combination of circumstances) to admit of the fulness of his specific life as a spiritual being, contains in himself the necessity of a life under conditions that will truly admit of fulfilment. But if a human being abnegating the life of a rational ego allows himself to sink into the lower plane of a merely attuent individual seeking the satisfactions of sense, he must share the fate of living creatures which are on the sentient plane of being to which he has reduced himself. He, in truth, belongs to the casual and anarchic element of the present system.

Our argument throughout has been that the method of God is the throwing on man the working out of his own life on earth; and, if this be so, each Ego has its eternal destiny in its own hands.

(d) Coercive demonstration impossible.

The question of continued life after death is a question as to a matter of fact, and cannot be demonstrated in the sense of coercive proof. I can “know” God; I can “know” freedom, and I can “know” duty; but the fact of immortality I cannot know. Here enters philosophic faith which, as distinguished from religious credulity, is the acceptance of a conclusion to which all experience and reason steadily point as true, and the non-truth of which would be a manifest contradiction of that which we do know. Belief in that which we should like to believe is an abuse of faith: so also is belief in that which is opposed to reason or to the postulates and imperatives of the moral nature. But it is a very different thing when we are asked to believe in a conclusion on the line of reason—a conclusion immanent in the dialectic and in ethical ideals, and involved, moreover, in the fact of an ethical God. This is what is meant by “the evidence of things not seen”. It has more claim on my living faith (if I am a sensationalist) than my trust in the uniformity of nature on which all science rests. Are we to be arrogantly told that it is “immoral”9 to have faith in that which is almost demonstrated, and which, if believed, gives a new inspiration to all life, not by the vulgar inducement of a continued existence under happier conditions, but by the higher interpretation of the nature and destiny of the spirit of man out of which the conviction of immortality comes? “The moral or theistic conception of the universe,” says Professor Campbell Fraser, “takes its sublime interest for persons in and through their faith that they are themselves destined to continue in conscious connection with the realities during more than the short life that now depends on the mortal body.”10 The argument that justifies faith may be likened to a mathematical curve of which we know enough to calculate its terminus ad quem. Philosophic faith is restricted to such cases: reason builds the road to within a short distance of its goal; faith bridges a narrow chasm and completes it. Faith in the sense of a belief in that which contains an inherent contradiction is credulity and superstition: so with faith in that which is out of all relation to the rational mind of man and is, therefore, for it, necessarily null; but that which is in the very heart of reason itself is quite another matter. If facts and reasonings are such that only one conclusion is consistent with their truth and rationality, it is surely irrational to doubt the conclusion which they affirm.

We have anxiously to define the true sphere of Faith. Spiritual ideas and ideals and God Himself are not the object of faith, but of knowledge. If a man cannot rise to the consciousness of that knowledge, then so much the worse for him: he has to be born again. I cannot rise to the demonstration in Newton's Principia; so much the worse for me: my mathematical aptitude must be born again. By faith in God we constantly mean trust in God, but “that God is” is not an object of faith, but of knowledge. We do not erect an altar to the Unknown and Unknowable. Again, that the world, spite of all its misery and inadequacy, is moving towards a goal is not a faith, but, a knowledge. On the other hand, that the goal is “The Good” in the sense of the harmonious we do not “know”; but it is an object of rational faith, for it is interwoven in our knowledge of ideas and ideals as spiritual realities. Without that faith, these realities are vain shows: it is the postulate, as Amiel says, “of that higher truth which is to bring all into harmony”. So with the continuance of personalities. When we realise the eternal verities, we believe in immortality. It is only when our realisation of the spiritual is obscured or obstructed that our faith grows weak. It is then that we say, “our life is but a vapour that appeareth for a little and then vanisheth away”. In hours of clear vision, on the other hand, we see that God Himself is involved in the spirit of man and its function in the cosmic scheme. That “which is in communion with the unchanging is unchanging,” says Plato. Man finds himself to be a sharer in the Eternal Spirit. His high calling is assured. The striving after the Infinite contained in the ideals he has of absolute Truth, Beauty and Goodness, must have some meaning. Or is the world wholly irrational?

Again, we may ask: Is there such a thing as eternal life here and now—a life in God and with God, the sole truth and reality of transient things? Is not this possible only on the assumption that man transcends nature in his essence? A man striving after union with God here and now is, ipso facto, making himself immortal, inasmuch as he is bringing his finite spirit within the very life of the eternal spirit and is being borne along in the current of that which cannot die. Either it is so, or man, even at his highest and best, serves only a temporary purpose in what is called “The Absolute”.

The passing of the man-person into a higher sphere when the body dies is, I think, as nearly demonstrated as the nature of the question permits. Strange it would be if, just when the buffetings, failures, sorrows and empty successes of life have taught us how to live, we should pass into nothingness. In presence of the great problem our attitude is not nescience, but prescience. And if a man accepts the doctrine with all its implications, he accepts what must always be the most potent factor in determining his activities: by which I do not mean that he looks for reward in any banal sense; but that the realisation of the truth lifts him into a spiritual order which is eternal and gives a new significance to his daily life by allying him with the purposes of God.

Continued existence after death is much more than a “hope” or “faith”: it is an assured conviction resting on reasonings, concurrent and convergent, which give it all the certainty that fits our present plane of Being. Nay, the conviction seems to be built into us as self-conscious persons. It is, in truth, the universal postulate of self-conscious ethical activity, always implicit though not always in evidence. It is not too much to say that, as a matter of fact, every man, in so Jar as he acts as a being of reason, does so on the silent presumption that he is an heir of immortality—as being himself somehow involved in the eternal life of God. Unless this be so, Reason in man stultifies itself: the evolution of conscious organisms into self-conscious beings which in all their relations generate the thought of the Infinite, must be pronounced a fatal blunder in the system within which we live and work—the product of a blind Will. Man is steeped in the Infinite. Is this merely a cosmic device for sustaining him on a high ethical level, just as we men may dangle a toy before a child to lure him on? If it be so, there is a lie at the heart of the cosmic scheme. And a useless lie. For so far as mere earthly living is concerned, we could get along, as I have said, quite well with finite moralities and finite aims.


It may be subject of complaint that, if the fact of the continuance of the human spirit after death be of so much importance in directing and sustaining the ethical energies of man and giving worth and dignity to his daily life, if earth be truly only “God's ante-chamber,” it should not have been clearly written down in the scheme of things—so clearly that he that runs might read. To this the only answer is that it would have been a contradiction of the essential characteristic of the present system (at least as that has been interpreted in these Meditations) had immortality been put beyond all possible question. Man finds himself naked and helpless on this planet, and is virtually told to achieve his own redemption, material and spiritual. He is left to search and find for himself. To have had immortality proclaimed with every rising sun would have run counter to the general plan—would have weakened, not fortified, his spiritual energies. The command: “Work out thine own salvation,” may sound like that of a hard taskmaster, but it is the only one which is consistent with the notion of man as man. It is only through pain and failure and sorrow, through evil, through error, repentance and contrition, and through intellectual doubt and difficulty, that a man can achieve for himself the fulfilment of himself; and, for aught we know, one of the very marks of personal fitness for the life eternal is the living conviction which man has of the necessity and truth of that eternal life, although it is not written across the sky. This is, indeed, the true meaning and function of Faith—it is an intellectual conviction with an emotional content that transforms it into a living and life-giving force working in us to will and to do. An operative faith in the higher life of spirit (not a mere vulgar belief in continuance) is itself a guarantee of fitness for it. It is “a touchstone for God's purposes,” to use a phrase of Browning's. Certitude of knowledge would subvert the Divine method. God will not thrust Himself upon us, but to no man does He refuse Himself. To each the door will be opened; but each must knock.

With a profound sense of mystery we begin our thought on the ultimate of things, and with a still pro-founder sense of mystery we close it. But mystery on the man-plane of Being is, we may be assured, not for the sake of mystery, whether we mean by that word the as yet unknown or the unknowable: it has a deep significance—an intellectual and ethical worth that is incalculable. Without the ever-present mystery of the unsoundable depths of Being which lie at the roots of all existence, and the immeasurable reaches of the Infinite-finite, we should be living in a cold pedantic world of dogma, and our highest life would be summed up in mathematical formulas and arid moral precepts. Mystery is necessary to the full growth of finite reason: it is an intellectual, ethical, and æsthetic force urging men on to ever larger readings of experience. When man ceases to wonder and to question, he will cease to strive, and will sink back into a lower grade of Being, passively re-acting on his environment with a view to the more or less ordered satisfaction of natural Desire.

  • 1.

    Science and Morals, p. 143.

  • 2.

    Of course, if a man's general philosophy has concluded that because mind and matter are co-variables, therefore matter productively functions life and mind, the disintegration of the matter will necessarily be the annihilation of life and mind.

  • 3.

    In certain moods of mind a man may even resent the continuance of life beyond the grave. He has had enough of it here. The prospect of immortality may be a burden too great to bear.

  • 4.

    Martineau, ii., 344.

  • 5.

    Quoted by Martineau, ii., 358.

  • 6.

    Matthew Arnold.

  • 7.

    Phædo, 114.

  • 8.

    Daniel xii.

  • 9.


  • 10.

    Gifford Lectures, ii., p. 247.