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Second Book: On God And Man

Purpose and Method of the Synthetic Argument

The method of ultimate philosophy may be said to be the criticism of Subject-Object. We have to watch Subject in its birth as Pure Feeling and follow its ascending evolution in and through the Object until it reaches the plane of Reason and passes again into Feeling as now supra-rational Intuition. We note at each stage, if that be possible, the Universals which it reveals. We have to get hold of the thread of evolving mind-movements, which is also the evolving of the object in and for subject. I have been endeavouring to do this, in the hope of being able to find that ultimate explanation of experience which we call by the name God. If the method be sound and if I have faithfully followed it, it is obvious that nothing can be said on the ultimate question which does not lie, from the first, implicit in the nature of man as man, however slow and painful may have been the progress of the explicit realisation which we call Knowledge.

Ultimate philosophy as a synthetic presentation does not take the form of a demonstration, but is rather as lucid a statement as possible of what we see. Merely to see is the end of all cognitive activity; but only by a laborious analytic process can man qualify himself for seeing. I do not, accordingly, propose to “demonstrate the existence of God”. My business rather is to reveal the necessary universals in evolving subject-object, and accept that as yielding the notion God. If God be so revealed to vigilant contemplation, He is not “demonstrated” by logical argumentation, but only in the etymological sense of the word. He is “pointed out” or shown to be there. The discrimination of the implicates of the “Notion” or “Actual” is, in truth, the unveiling of that to which we give the specific name “God”; and in a sense therefore my task may be almost said to be already done.

But if I would complete for myself my scheme of thought, I must look again at experience: starting from the objective presentation to which we have analytically attained—the Actual as there; and by bringing afresh to light all that is implicit in that, to get, if I can, a nearer and a constructive view of the nature of God, the world, and man. We have, in short, to see what is the true content of the Notion God as given in the Objective Actual; which includes Man, for All is One.

It might be said that the method followed by me involves a “creation of God in order to prove His existence,” as was said of Fichte's earlier speculative efforts. Is it not evident, however, that there are only two ways of proceeding—either to take the vague concept of God common to all and having ascertained its content to find ourselves face to face with the objection that this God may be, after all, only an illusion of the imagination; or, following the better way, to trace the movements of finite mind as conscious and self-conscious, with a view to ascertain what these yield as the Universal and Absolute Notion, to which we must dedicate the supreme Name? By so doing we truly find the “Whole” empirically through its revealed content. Its total content; for if we are to know God at all, we must look for Him in the total actual as received and affirmed by finite mind: not in any one abstraction from the total.

Let me say further, that it is evident that Man must interpret all experience from his own centre, for the simple, but sufficient, reason that he has no other. In imagination, he would fain place himself at some more commanding point, but it is himself he always puts there. All has to be received and interpreted in terms of Man—who is the Absolute of his own sphere. On the other hand the “universal object” which he contemplates contains himself the subject. The whole mighty movement finds its issue, completion, significance and meaning in the self-conscious being who, all the while, is not outside it, but inside. It is in him as consummation that the universe is to be found. Hence it is that I say that the Notion of Man as summing the Actual—not, therefore, as opposed to the object, but as containing the object (just as the “universal object” contains him) and as sum of the coherent and continuous whole—must yield the final interpretation of our experience and reveal what we mean by God. God cannot be a “somewhat there” over against Man who is a “somewhat here”: God is and appears in His own externalisation as that is interpreted in and through His highest creature; or He is not. God, then, would seem to be only another name for the ultimate synthesis of Experience.

If there be no objective doctrine of God such as our method should yield, religious emotions and beliefs are all equally valid and veritable—in other words, they are subjective phantasies which cannot be justified at the bar of reason, although they may be tolerated for the partial truth and personal satisfaction they bring, and above all for their practical results in the consolidation of the life of a State.

There are those who hold, in the abused name of “Scientia,” that all we can know is sense-phenomenal fact and series, and these must regard, as a wonderful instance of self-illusion, the analytic of the Actual which forms the subject of our first Book; and it would be waste of time for them to proceed further. They begin by excluding from experience all that I find in it—all that is worth the knowing in it. They put themselves outside the whole question when they usurp the words Experience and Scientia as applicable only to the phenomenal sphere. Science, even in the sense in which the term is commonly used, is not any one all-embracing knowledge, but only a rational statement of various departments of phenomenal knowledge guaranteed by a method; or rather, let us say, by methods, inasmuch as general method is largely determined or modified by the subject-matter of each department of study. It is only in so far as the method of all knowing is one and the same that the methods of the sciences are one: and the method of knowing is an analytico-synthetic process, operative therefore in metaphysical investigation as everywhere.

Spiritual Philosophy has no quarrel with Science, but only with those among scientists who would extend their interpretation of sense-phenomena beyond the sense-record. Nor, consequently, has Religion any quarrel with Science: all science and all knowledge have finally to be taken up into the philosophico-religious conception. If physical science had completed its task, the questions which we call metaphysical would begin afresh, and in fact receive a new impulse from the recognition of the unity of the world-view within the sphere of the phenomenal. This would be the “Given” which would itself demand interpretation then as now and always.

Why trouble ourselves, it might be asked, about the concept God at all? The answer is, that the content of the supreme Notion must determine for each man his ethical significance and cosmic relations, and for each State its political ideal. It illumines and explains all experience. Were it not for this, the pursuit of ultimate philosophy, which is just the doctrine of God, could not, it seems to me, long engage the attention of any man in earnest with life.