The present volume contains the second of the two courses of Gifford Lectures which ten years ago the Authorities of Glasgow University invited me to undertake.
The first was duly delivered in the Bute Hall during the early months of 1914. The delivery of the second was not completed till January 1923. They were therefore separated, not merely by an interval of more than eight years, but by eight years filled, and often over-filled, first by labours due to the world war, and then by labours scarcely less exacting, incidental to the making of the world peace.
These abnormal conditions could not but have some ill effects on the work they interrupted. For these it is vain to apologise; the kindly reader must make what allowances he will. But at least it may be said, either in blame or praise, that “Theism and Thought” carries forward, and in a sense completes, the line of argument which was begun in “Theism and Humanism”—a work which was itself in many respects akin to speculations which I had already given to the public.
The object of the two courses is the same—namely, to determine on what theory of the universe the highest values of ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge—the good, the beautiful, and the true—could be most effectively maintained. And the most orderly arrangement would certainly have been to take those great subjects in turn, and discuss them one after the other through the two volumes. But for various reasons this scheme was not adopted in the first course, and could not therefore be carried out effectively in the second—where, indeed, for special reasons it could not even be attempted. Had the second course been delivered in 1915, as was originally intended, a very sanguine lecturer might have brought himself to hope that the same audience would gather to hear the end of the argument as had already heard the beginning; and might even retain some recollection of what had been said the year before. But when the interval was not a few months but nearly nine years, no illusions were possible. Few of those who heard the first course were likely to be present at the second; and of those few, still fewer could be expected to remember the point that had been reached when hearers and speaker were separated by the war. It thus became obligatory to make the lectures of 1922–23 a self-contained series; and this in its turn made a good deal of repetition absolutely inevitable.
There has been another cause of repetition, which I have not succeeded in evading to my own satisfaction. It arises from the general character of an argument which, though dealing with many topics, deals with them much in the same way, and extracts from them much the same conclusion. The reader must sometimes feel himself like a wanderer in one of those forests where all the paths are planned to meet at last in the same central circus. There may be the greatest variety in the landscapes traversed, but there is a wearisome identity in the end attained. In like manner the iteration of the same moral at the conclusion of many different but similar lines of argument may easily become monotonous, and I cannot flatter myself that the danger is one I have wholly succeeded in avoiding.
The course as delivered consisted, according to custom, of ten lectures. They were in the main spoken extempore with the aid of brief notes, and I have made no attempt in the printed volume, either to recover the original wording or to retain the original divisions. The ten lectures appear here as twelve chapters, to which have been added two (the ninth and the last) which had no representatives among those actually addressed to my Glasgow audiences. Besides these I have reprinted, as an appendix, the chapter from the first series which dealt with “Probability, calculable and intuitive,” without which the second series could hardly be regarded as self-contained—that is to say, intelligible without its predecessor. I should naturally prefer that the two series should be read consecutively, for in spite of the repetitions already referred to, both would, I believe, gain by such a procedure. But it is not necessary: and in the index at the end of the present volume they are dealt with together.
My grateful thanks are due to my brother Mr. Gerald Balfour, and my sister Mrs. Henry Sidgwick. They have helped me with the proofs and made many valuable suggestions.
A. J. B.
July 25th, 1923.