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Chapter XIV: Epilogue

§ 1

To readers who have had the patience to follow the arguments of these lectures to the end many questions must have suggested themselves to which no answers are provided. I do not think this could in any circumstances have been avoided. Even had I foreseen the questions, even could I supply the answers, practical considerations must have defeated any attempt to deal with them adequately within my prescribed limits. As I am far less favourably situated, I hardly suppose that either explanation or apology is required for the course I have actually adopted. There are, however, two points, both certain to be raised, which I am unwilling wholly to ignore, however unsatisfying either to others or myself my method of dealing with them may be. They are suggested by the essential character of the conclusion which I have endeavoured to establish.

This conclusion is (as the reader will remember) that for certain difficulties attaching to the familiar beliefs by which we live, the true remedy is to be found in Theism. In other words, Divine guidance must be postulated if we are to maintain the three great values—knowledge, love, and beauty.

Those, however, who, provisionally or otherwise, accept this conclusion, will certainly ask how far it carries us. If God be the presupposition of all these values, then what sort of God? If Divine guidance be indeed necessary, then what sort of guidance? Questions like these are, of course, inevitable, and could be multiplied and subdivided indefinitely. Can we say anything useful about them, within the limits of a brief postscript like the present? I entertain some doubts on the subject, partly perhaps because I fear that such explanations as I can give may produce more misunderstandings than they remove. But I will risk the experiment.

§ 2

Of the two questions thus before us one relates to the nature of God, and the other to the mode of His intervention in the spiritual evolution of man. Of these the first is plainly the most fundamental, but it is the second, unless I am much mistaken, which will be scanned by critics in the least friendly spirit. The first takes us into metaphysical and theological regions so lofty and remote that a precise survey of them seems impossible, and the attempt to make one far beyond our strength of flight. In such circumstances, a certain vagueness of treatment is hardly to be avoided, and may be accepted as not unfitting. The second question, on the other hand, lays emphasis on problems about which science and common sense will expect to have their say. If the evolution of our familiar beliefs has been guided and inspired, anthropologists, psychologists, historians (to mention only these) will certainly wish to know how, in their subjects, guidance and inspiration have been applied, and what mankind has gained by the operation. Some may even misapprehend the situation so far as to suppose that I have been striving to put science in the position of a “revealed” doctrine, basing its authority not on reason or observation, but upon supernatural influences.

This, however, is not merely to misapprehend but to invert the teaching of these lectures. It is true that appeals to inspiration have played, and still play, an important part in ordinary religious polemic. It is true that in such cases inspiration is always treated as a reason for belief. Such and such an event is thought to have occurred, because those who tell us of it were inspired. Such and such a doctrine is accepted as true, because it is revealed in inspired writings or proclaimed by an inspired authority. But this line of thought, however legitimate, is not the one which I have followed in these lectures. It is, indeed, its direct converse. For I do not argue that because certain beliefs are inspired, therefore they must be true. I argue that because they are true (or on the way to truth), therefore they must be inspired. Both arguments in their proper context may be valid. But the second, not the first, is the one on which, in these lectures, I have steadily insisted.

§ 3

I trust that there are few of my readers to whom this correction will seem necessary. What is perhaps more important is to point out that my argument by no means requires me to show the precise mode in which Divine guidance and inspiration affect the course of human evolution. Were any adherent of naturalism to urge that he could not be expected to consider, still less to accept, any doctrine so nearly akin to superstition unless its character and scope were first explained to him with full particularity, I should venture to point out that he entirely misconceives his situation. According to my view he is occupying an indefensible position, and should hasten to make terms. If, on pain of intellectual bankruptcy, he has to regard reason and purpose as guiding the process of cosmic evolution, the fact that neither he nor we know how they play their part is of secondary importance. We do not doubt that (human) reason and purpose were concerned in the construction of Stonehenge, merely because all theories about the action of mind on matter are disputable and disputed. Disputable and disputed they certainly are; but that mind does act on matter remains, notwithstanding, the unshaken conviction of all mankind.

To me, indeed, it seems that inspiration in its widest sense, i.e. the direct action of spirit on spirit, is less difficult to understand than the action of spirit on matter or of matter on spirit. This, I admit, is not the common view. Most people would, I suspect, regard the communication of mind with mind by the help of matter (e.g. by writing or speaking) as the simplest affair in the world; while inspiration, i.e. direct communication without the intermediate aid of any kind of matter, they would treat as mystical illusion.

As regards the broad facts1 of human intercourse, they may be right. No method of analyzing the flow of spiritual intercourse has yet been devised; and it must be admitted that the efficiency of ordinary external signaling is very marvellous. The power of the written and the spoken word seems almost immeasurable, and they have notable auxiliaries. Smiles and frowns, shades of expression which are far beyond verbal description, gestures that are scarcely perceived, changes of intonation too subtle for any musical notation to express, might seem to provide all the mechanism of intellectual and emotional intercommunication which men—or dogs—can require. Yet are we quite sure? Who is there, reflecting on the mental epidemics which may afflict a whole generation, on the eager subservience commonly shown to the fashion of the hour, on the swaying humours of a crowd, on the overwhelming waves of national emotion, on the influence silently, even unconsciously, exercised by certain individuals, who is there (I say), reflecting on these familiar things, who is not haunted by the suspicion that something more is happening between human souls than even the most admirable system of external signaling will wholly account for?

I am not sure; and, speaking strictly, no decision on the point is really material to my argument. But one thing is clear. If Theism be true, and if “inspiration,” as I have described it, really occurs, we can hardly suppose that only human spirits directly influence each other. May we not, and, if there be force in my arguments, must we not, also hold that inspiration, flowing from some diviner source, assists the long ascent of knowledge, love, and aesthetic joy, from their primitive beginnings, through the dimness of our present twilight, to a future of unknown splendor? Whatever else may be said of such a creed, it is at least more reasonable than simple naturalism.

§ 4

But does not this bring us back to the first of the two questions asked at the beginning of this epilogue—namely, what kind of Theism is required by the argument from “values” which I have endeavoured to develop?

To this enquiry, legitimate as it is, I do not propose to attempt anything in the nature of a full reply. But I hazard the following observations for what they may be worth.

To begin with, we must remember that the line of thought we have been pursuing does not profess to lead us towards a philosophy, still less to supply us with a philosophy ready made. Its treatment of Theism is as remote from the constructive efforts of metaphysical idealism in any of its forms, as it is from the endeavour to extract from experience a belief in God by means of the well-known “argument from design.” You may say, if you please, that like the idealist philosophy in the hands of some of its ablest exponents, my theory declares the reality of God to be involved in the possibility of knowledge. You may add that like the “argument from design” it infers the being of God from the character of His works. And as rough approximations I suppose that both statements are defensible. Nevertheless it must be owned that while the likenesses are superficial the differences are profound, and that we may possibly find the contrasts more instructive than the resemblances.

Of these contrasts the most important depends upon a characteristic which the metaphysics of the Real shares with the “argument from design,” profoundly as these modes of thought differ in every other respect. Neither of them is very ready to draw any distinction between God's relation to one part of the universe and His relation to another. If, taking the “argument from design” in its simplest form, He be regarded as the external creator of all the world, it seems natural to think of Him as the creator in the same sense and to the same degree of every part of it—of the good and the bad, the pleasurable and the painful, the sublime and the petty, the beautiful and the mean. If, again, taking an idealistic view, He be regarded as Spirit underlying all the universe of appearance, the Essential Reality to whose perfection all that is makes contribution, then again He would seem to be equally related to all subordinate values, be these high or low, be they good, bad, or simply indifferent.

These roughly outlined illustrations are only designed to indicate, what I conceive to be the fact, that when our thoughts about the Divine begin with metaphysics they do not easily include preferential action by God in the “phenomenal” world, nor quasi-personal intercourse between Him and finite spirits. Pantheism, for example, would exclude both. If, on the other hand, they begin, not with metaphysics, but with religion, the tendency is exactly reversed. For religion leans naturally to the view that God (to put the matter bluntly) has preferences, that He favours the good, that in the end He over-rules the evil, that between Him and finite spirits there is something that can best be described as a personal relation. Plainly this was so in the early stages of religious development, when gods were tribal or national. But it was no passing phase; and I believe the tendency to be as pronounced among the religious members of the most advanced of modern communities as it ever was among their more primitive predecessors.

§ 5

With which of the two types, thus broadly and most imperfectly characterized, do the conclusions of these lectures most easily harmonize? Obviously with that which I have called religious rather than with those which I have described as metaphysical. They certainly involve preferential action; they are certainly most easily expressed in terms which imply special relations between the Supreme Reality and finite spirits; they certainly suggest that the Supreme Reality itself possesses among its infinite attributes what we can best describe as personality. The postulate therefore on which, according to my contention, knowledge and other great values depend, involves conceptions which are somewhat alien to those speculations which strive to embrace the whole of things in some vast intellectual network, but on the other hand are closely akin to the modes of thought and feeling which, in the familiar language of theology, depend on the relation between man and his Maker. It takes its colouring, so to speak, from the religious rather than from the metaphysical end of the spectrum of the Real. That both these conceptions are inadequate I am the first to admit. That we should strive to recombine the spectral colours into the “white radiance of eternity” I do not doubt. Nothing short of this will give full contentment to the soul of man. Those who rest in the “metaphysical” point of view too abstractly treated, will find few followers (outside the schools) till they have found some method of absorbing “religious” elements into their scheme of thought. Those who start from a “religious” point of view too narrowly conceived, will always be haunted by a sense of its inadequacy. The complete amalgamation of the two is the unfinished task of the higher philosophy. But, in the meanwhile, let it not be forgotten that for those who accept the main contention of these lectures something more than deism or pantheism, something other than doctrines of an Absolute about which everything can be said, or a One about which nothing can be said, is needful. Theism of a “religious” type is necessary, if the great values on which depend all our higher life are to be reasonably sustained.


I am much dissatisfied with the terminology employed in the last two sections, but know not how to improve upon it. I hope, however, that it is intelligible; and in any case it can hardly mislead if it be remembered that the last thing I wish to suggest is that metaphysics cannot be religious or that religion cannot be metaphysical.

  • 1.

    As I have observed before, telepathy seems to be experimentally established—but so far only as an exceptional phenomenon.

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