William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York. - 1917
The subject of Saintliness left us face to face with the question, Is the sense of divine presence a sense of anything objectively true? We turned first to mysticism for an answer, and found that although mysticism is entirely willing to corroborate religion, it is too private (and also too various) in its utterances to be able to claim a universal authority. But philosophy publishes results which claim to be universally valid if they are valid at all, so we now turn with our question to philosophy. Can philosophy stamp a warrant of veracity upon the religious man's sense of the divine?
I imagine that many of you at this point begin to indulge in guesses at the goal to which I am tending. I have undermined the authority of mysticism, you say, and the next thing I shall probably do is to seek to discredit that of philosophy. Religion, you expect to hear me conclude, is nothing but an affair of faith, based either on vague sentiment, or on that vivid sense of the reality of things unseen of which in my second lecture and in the lecture on Mysticism I gave so many examples. It is essentially private and individualistic; it always exceeds our powers of formulation; and although attempts to pour its contents into a philosophic mould will probably always go on, men being what they are, yet these attempts are always secondary processes which in no way add to the authority, or warrant the veracity, of the sentiments from which they derive their own stimulus [pg 431] and borrow whatever glow of conviction they may themselves possess. In short, you suspect that I am planning to defend feeling at the expense of reason, to rehabilitate the primitive and unreflective, and to dissuade you from the hope of any Theology worthy of the name.
To a certain extent I have to admit that you guess rightly. I do believe that feeling is the deeper source of religion, and that philosophic and theological formulas are secondary products, like translations of a text into another tongue. But all such statements are misleading from their brevity, and it will take the whole hour for me to explain to you exactly what I mean.
When I call theological formulas secondary products, I mean that in a world in which no religious feeling had ever existed, I doubt whether any philosophic theology could ever have been framed. I doubt if dispassionate intellectual contemplation of the universe, apart from inner unhappiness and need of deliverance on the one hand and mystical emotion on the other, would ever have resulted in religious philosophies such as we now possess. Men would have begun with animistic explanations of natural fact, and criticised these away into scientific ones, as they actually have done. In the science they would have left a certain amount of “psychical research,” even as they now will probably have to re-admit a certain amount. But high-flying speculations like those of either dogmatic or idealistic theology, these they would have had no motive to venture on, feeling no need of commerce with such deities. These speculations must, it seems to me, be classed as over-beliefs, buildings-out performed by the intellect into directions of which feeling originally supplied the hint.
But even if religious philosophy had to have its first hint supplied by feeling, may it not have dealt in a superior [pg 432] way with the matter which feeling suggested? Feeling is private and dumb, and unable to give an account of itself. It allows that its results are mysteries and enigmas, declines to justify them rationally, and on occasion is willing that they should even pass for paradoxical and absurd. Philosophy takes just the opposite attitude. Her aspiration is to reclaim from mystery and paradox whatever territory she touches. To find an escape from obscure and wayward personal persuasion to truth objectively valid for all thinking men has ever been the intellect's most cherished ideal. To redeem religion from unwholesome privacy, and to give public status and universal right of way to its deliverances, has been reason's task.
I believe that philosophy will always have opportunity to labor at this task.286 We are thinking beings, and we cannot exclude the intellect from participating in any of our functions. Even in soliloquizing with ourselves, we construe our feelings intellectually. Both our personal ideals and our religious and mystical experiences must be interpreted congruously with the kind of scenery which our thinking mind inhabits. The philosophic climate of our time inevitably forces its own clothing on us. Moreover, we must exchange our feelings with one another, and in doing so we have to speak, and to use general and abstract verbal formulas. Conceptions and constructions are thus a necessary part of our religion; and as moderator amid the clash of hypotheses, and mediator among the criticisms of one man's constructions by another, philosophy will always have much to do. It would be strange if I disputed this, when these very lectures which I am giving are (as you will see more clearly [pg 433] from now onwards) a laborious attempt to extract from the privacies of religious experience some general facts which can be defined in formulas upon which everybody may agree.
Religious experience, in other words, spontaneously and inevitably engenders myths, superstitions, dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical theologies, and criticisms of one set of these by the adherents of another. Of late, impartial classifications and comparisons have become possible, alongside of the denunciations and anathemas by which the commerce between creeds used exclusively to be carried on. We have the beginnings of a “Science of Religions,” so-called; and if these lectures could ever be accounted a crumb-like contribution to such a science, I should be made very happy.
But all these intellectual operations, whether they be constructive or comparative and critical, presuppose immediate experiences as their subject-matter. They are interpretative and inductive operations, operations after the fact, consequent upon religious feeling, not coördinate with it, not independent of what it ascertains.
The intellectualism in religion which I wish to discredit pretends to be something altogether different from this. It assumes to construct religious objects out of the resources of logical reason alone, or of logical reason drawing rigorous inference from non-subjective facts. It calls its conclusions dogmatic theology, or philosophy of the absolute, as the case may be; it does not call them science of religions. It reaches them in an a priori way, and warrants their veracity.
Warranted systems have ever been the idols of aspiring souls. All-inclusive, yet simple; noble, clean, luminous, stable, rigorous, true;—what more ideal refuge could [pg 434] there be than such a system would offer to spirits vexed by the muddiness and accidentality of the world of sensible things? Accordingly, we find inculcated in the theological schools of to-day, almost as much as in those of the fore-time, a disdain for merely possible or probable truth, and of results that only private assurance can grasp. Scholastics and idealists both express this disdain. Principal John Caird, for example, writes as follows in his Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion:—
“Religion must indeed be a thing of the heart; but in order to elevate it from the region of subjective caprice and waywardness, and to distinguish between that which is true and false in religion, we must appeal to an objective standard. That which enters the heart must first be discerned by the intelligence to be true. It must be seen as having in its own nature a right to dominate feeling, and as constituting the principle by which feeling must be judged.287 In estimating the religious character of individuals, nations, or races, the first question is, not how they feel, but what they think and believe—not whether their religion is one which manifests itself in emotions, more or less vehement and enthusiastic, but what are the conceptionsof God and divine things by which these emotions are called forth. Feeling is necessary in religion, but it is by the content or intelligent basis of a religion, and not by feeling, that its character and worth are to be determined.”288
Cardinal Newman, in his work, The Idea of a University, gives more emphatic expression still to this disdain for sentiment.289 Theology, he says, is a science in the strictest sense of the word. I will tell you, he says, what it is not—not “physical evidences” for God, not “natural religion,” for these are but vague subjective interpretations:—
“If,” he continues, “the Supreme Being is powerful or skillful, just so far as the telescope shows power, or the microscope shows skill, if his moral law is to be ascertained simply by the physical processes of the animal frame, or his will gathered from the immediate issues of human affairs, if his Essence is just as high and deep and broad as the universe and no more; if this be the fact, then will I confess that there is no specific science about God, that theology is but a name, and a protest in its behalf an hypocrisy. Then, pious as it is to think of Him, while the pageant of experiment or abstract reasoning passes by, still such piety is nothing more than a poetry of thought, or an ornament of language, a certain view taken of Nature which one man has and another has not, which gifted minds strike out, which others see to be admirable and ingenious, and which all would be the better for adopting. It is but the theology of Nature, just as we talk of the philosophy or the romance of history, or the poetry of childhood, or the picturesque or the sentimental or the humorous, or any other abstract quality which the genius or the caprice of the individual, or the fashion of the day, or the consent of the world, recognizes in any set of objects which are subjected to its contemplation. I do not see much difference between avowing that there is no God, and implying that nothing definite can be known for certain about Him.”
What I mean by Theology, continues Newman, is none of these things: “I simply mean the Science of God, or the truths we know about God, put into a system, just as we have a science of the stars and call it astronomy, or of the crust of the earth and call it geology.”
In both these extracts we have the issue clearly set before us: Feeling valid only for the individual is pitted against reason valid universally. The test is a perfectly plain one of fact. Theology based on pure reason must in point of fact convince men universally. If it did not, wherein would its superiority consist? If it only formed sects and schools, even as sentiment and mysticism form them, how would it fulfill its programme of freeing us [pg 436] from personal caprice and waywardness? This perfectly definite practical test of the pretensions of philosophy to found religion on universal reason simplifies my procedure to-day. I need not discredit philosophy by laborious criticism of its arguments. It will suffice if I show that as a matter of history it fails to prove its pretension to be “objectively” convincing. In fact, philosophy does so fail. It does not banish differences; it founds schools and sects just as feeling does. I believe, in fact, that the logical reason of man operates in this field of divinity exactly as it has always operated in love, or in patriotism, or in politics, or in any other of the wider affairs of life, in which our passions or our mystical intuitions fix our beliefs beforehand. It finds arguments for our conviction, for indeed it has to find them. It amplifies and defines our faith, and dignifies it and lends it words and plausibility. It hardly ever engenders it; it cannot now secure it.290
Lend me your attention while I run through some of the points of the older systematic theology. You find them in both Protestant and Catholic manuals, best of all in the innumerable text-books published since Pope Leo's Encyclical recommending the study of Saint Thomas. I glance first at the arguments by which dogmatic theology [pg 437] establishes God's existence, after that at those by which it establishes his nature.291
The arguments for God's existence have stood for hundreds of years with the waves of unbelieving criticism breaking against them, never totally discrediting them in the ears of the faithful, but on the whole slowly and surely washing out the mortar from between their joints. If you have a God already whom you believe in, these arguments confirm you. If you are atheistic, they fail to set you right. The proofs are various. The “cosmological” one, so-called, reasons from the contingence of the world to a First Cause which must contain whatever perfections the world itself contains. The “argument from design” reasons, from the fact that Nature's laws are mathematical, and her parts benevolently adapted to each other, that this cause is both intellectual and benevolent. The “moral argument” is that the moral law presupposes a lawgiver. The “argument ex consensu gentium” is that the belief in God is so widespread as to be grounded in the rational nature of man, and should therefore carry authority with it.
As I just said, I will not discuss these arguments technically. The bare fact that all idealists since Kant have felt entitled either to scout or to neglect them shows that they are not solid enough to serve as religion's all-sufficient foundation. Absolutely impersonal reasons would be in duty bound to show more general convincingness. Causation is indeed too obscure a principle to bear the weight of the whole structure of theology. As for the [pg 438] argument from design, see how Darwinian ideas have revolutionized it. Conceived as we now conceive them, as so many fortunate escapes from almost limitless processes of destruction, the benevolent adaptations which we find in Nature suggest a deity very different from the one who figured in the earlier versions of the argument.292
The fact is that these arguments do but follow the combined suggestions of the facts and of our feeling. They prove nothing rigorously. They only corroborate our pre-existent partialities.
If philosophy can do so little to establish God's existence, how stands it with her efforts to define his attributes? It is worth while to look at the attempts of systematic theology in this direction.
Since God is First Cause, this science of sciences says, he differs from all his creatures in possessing existence a se. From this “a-se-ity” on God's part, theology deduces by mere logic most of his other perfections. For instance, he must be both necessary and absolute, cannot not be, and cannot in any way be determined by anything else. This makes Him absolutely unlimited from without, and unlimited also from within; for limitation is non-being; and God is being itself. This unlimitedness makes God infinitely perfect. Moreover, God is One, and Only, for the infinitely perfect can admit no peer. He is Spiritual, for were He composed of physical parts, some other power would have to combine them into the total, and his aseity would thus be contradicted. He is therefore both simple and non-physical in nature. He is simple metaphysicallyalso, that is to say, his nature and his existence cannot [pg 440]be distinct, as they are in finite substances which share their formal natures with one another, and are individual only in their material aspect. Since God is one and only, his essentiaand his esse must be given at one stroke. This excludes from his being all those distinctions, so familiar in the world of finite things, between potentiality and actuality, substance and accidents, being and activity, existence and attributes. We can talk, it is true, of God's powers, acts, and attributes, but these discriminations are only “virtual,” and made from the human point of view. In God all these points of view fall into an absolute identity of being.
This absence of all potentiality in God obliges Him to be immutable. He is actuality, through and through. Were there anything potential about Him, He would either lose or gain by its actualization, and either loss or gain would contradict his perfection. He cannot, therefore, change. Furthermore, He is immense, boundless; for could He be outlined in space, He would be composite, and this would contradict his indivisibility. He is therefore omnipresent, indivisibly there, at every point of space. He is similarly wholly present at every point of time,—in other words eternal. For if He began in time, He would need a prior cause, and that would contradict his aseity. If He ended, it would contradict his necessity. If He went through any succession, it would contradict his immutability.
He has intelligence and will and every other creature-perfection, for we have them, and effectus nequit superare causam. In Him, however, they are absolutely and eternally in act, and their object, since God can be bounded by naught that is external, can primarily be nothing else than God himself. He knows himself, then, in one eternal indivisible act, and wills himself with an infinite self-pleasure.293 Since He must of logical necessity thus love and will himself, He cannot be called “free” ad intra, with the freedom of contrarieties that characterizes finite creatures. Ad extra, however, or with respect to his creation, God is free. He cannot need to create, being perfect in being and in happiness already. He wills to create, then, by an absolute freedom.
Being thus a substance endowed with intellect and will and freedom, God is a person; and a living person also, for He is both object and subject of his own activity, and to be this distinguishes the living from the lifeless. He is thus absolutely self-sufficient: his self-knowledge and self-love are both of them infinite and adequate, and need no extraneous conditions to perfect them.
He is omniscient, for in knowing himself as Cause He knows all creature things and events by implication. His knowledge is previsive, for He is present to all time. Even our free acts are known beforehand to Him, for otherwise his wisdom would admit of successive moments of enrichment, and this would contradict his immutability. He is omnipotent for everything that does not involve logical contradiction. He can make being—in other words his power includes creation. If what He creates were made of his own substance, it would have to be infinite in essence, as that substance is; but it is finite; so it must be non-divine in substance. If it were made of a substance, an eternally existing matter, for example, which God found there to his hand, and to which He simply gave its form, that would contradict God's definition as First Cause, and make Him a mere mover of something caused already. The things he creates, then, He creates ex nihilo, and gives them absolute being as so many finite substances additional to himself. The forms which he imprints upon them have their prototypes in his ideas. But as in God there is no such thing as multiplicity, and as these ideas for us are manifold, we must distinguish the ideas as they are in God and the way in which our minds externally imitate them. We must attribute them to Him only in a terminative sense, as differing aspects, from the finite point of view, of his unique essence.
God of course is holy, good, and just. He can do no evil, for He is positive being's fullness, and evil is negation. It is true that He has created physical evil in places, but only as a means of wider good, for bonum totius præeminet bonum partis. Moral evil He cannot will, either as end or means, for that would contradict his holiness. By creating free beings He permits it only, neither his justice nor his goodness obliging [pg 442]Him to prevent the recipients of freedom from misusing the gift.
As regards God's purpose in creating, primarily it can only have been to exercise his absolute freedom by the manifestation to others of his glory. From this it follows that the others must be rational beings, capable in the first place of knowledge, love, and honor, and in the second place of happiness, for the knowledge and love of God is the mainspring of felicity. In so far forth one may say that God's secondary purpose in creating is love.
I will not weary you by pursuing these metaphysical determinations farther, into the mysteries of God's Trinity, for example. What I have given will serve as a specimen of the orthodox philosophical theology of both Catholics and Protestants. Newman, filled with enthusiasm at God's list of perfections, continues the passage which I began to quote to you by a couple of pages of a rhetoric so magnificent that I can hardly refrain from adding them, in spite of the inroad they would make upon our time.294 He first enumerates God's attributes sonorously, then celebrates his ownership of everything in earth and Heaven, and the dependence of all that happens upon his permissive will. He gives us scholastic philosophy “touched with emotion,” and every philosophy should be touched with emotion to be rightly understood. Emotionally, then, dogmatic theology is worth something to minds of the type of Newman's. It will aid us to estimate what it is worth intellectually, if at this point I make a short digression.
What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. The Continental schools of philosophy have too often overlooked the fact that man's thinking is organically connected with his conduct. It seems to me to be [pg 443] the chief glory of English and Scottish thinkers to have kept the organic connection in view. The guiding principle of British philosophy has in fact been that every difference must make a difference, every theoretical difference somewhere issue in a practical difference, and that the best method of discussing points of theory is to begin by ascertaining what practical difference would result from one alternative or the other being true. What is the particular truth in question known as? In what facts does it result? What is its cash-value in terms of particular experience? This is the characteristic English way of taking up a question. In this way, you remember, Locke takes up the question of personal identity. What you mean by it is just your chain of particular memories, says he. That is the only concretely verifiable part of its significance. All further ideas about it, such as the oneness or manyness of the spiritual substance on which it is based, are therefore void of intelligible meaning; and propositions touching such ideas may be indifferently affirmed or denied. So Berkeley with his “matter.” The cash-value of matter is our physical sensations. That is what it is known as, all that we concretely verify of its conception. That, therefore, is the whole meaning of the term “matter”—any other pretended meaning is mere wind of words. Hume does the same thing with causation. It is known as habitual antecedence, and as tendency on our part to look for something definite to come. Apart from this practical meaning it has no significance whatever, and books about it may be committed to the flames, says Hume. Dugald Stewart and Thomas Brown, James Mill, John Mill, and Professor Bain, have followed more or less consistently the same method; and Shadworth Hodgson has used the principle with full explicitness. When all is [pg 444] said and done, it was English and Scotch writers, and not Kant, who introduced “the critical method” into philosophy, the one method fitted to make philosophy a study worthy of serious men. For what seriousness can possibly remain in debating philosophic propositions that will never make an appreciable difference to us in action? And what could it matter, if all propositions were practically indifferent, which of them we should agree to call true or which false?
An American philosopher of eminent originality, Mr. Charles Sanders Peirce, has rendered thought a service by disentangling from the particulars of its application the principle by which these men were instinctively guided, and by singling it out as fundamental and giving to it a Greek name. He calls it the principle of pragmatism, and he defends it somewhat as follows:295—
Thought in movement has for its only conceivable motive the attainment of belief, or thought at rest. Only when our thought about a subject has found its rest in belief can our action on the subject firmly and safely begin. Beliefs, in short, are rules for action; and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of active habits. If there were any part of a thought that made no difference in the thought's practical consequences, then that part would be no proper element of the thought's significance. To develop a thought's meaning we need therefore only determine what conduct it is fitted to produce; that conduct is for us its sole significance; and the tangible fact at the root of all our thought-distinctions is that there is no one of them so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice. To attain perfect clearness in our [pg 445] thoughts of an object, we need then only consider what sensations, immediate or remote, we are conceivably to expect from it, and what conduct we must prepare in case the object should be true. Our conception of these practical consequences is for us the whole of our conception of the object, so far as that conception has positive significance at all.
This is the principle of Peirce, the principle of pragmatism. Such a principle will help us on this occasion to decide, among the various attributes set down in the scholastic inventory of God's perfections, whether some be not far less significant than others.
If, namely, we apply the principle of pragmatism to God's metaphysical attributes, strictly so called, as distinguished from his moral attributes, I think that, even were we forced by a coercive logic to believe them, we still should have to confess them to be destitute of all intelligible significance. Take God's aseity, for example; or his necessariness; his immateriality; his “simplicity” or superiority to the kind of inner variety and succession which we find in finite beings, his indivisibility, and lack of the inner distinctions of being and activity, substance and accident, potentiality and actuality, and the rest; his repudiation of inclusion in a genus; his actualized infinity; his “personality,” apart from the moral qualities which it may comport; his relations to evil being permissive and not positive; his self-sufficiency, self-love, and absolute felicity in himself:—candidly speaking, how do such qualities as these make any definite connection with our life? And if they severally call for no distinctive adaptations of our conduct, what vital difference can it possibly make to a man's religion whether they be true or false?
For my own part, although I dislike to say aught that [pg 446] may grate upon tender associations, I must frankly confess that even though these attributes were faultlessly deduced, I cannot conceive of its being of the smallest consequence to us religiously that any one of them should be true. Pray, what specific act can I perform in order to adapt myself the better to God's simplicity? Or how does it assist me to plan my behavior, to know that his happiness is anyhow absolutely complete? In the middle of the century just past, Mayne Reid was the great writer of books of out-of-door adventure. He was forever extolling the hunters and field-observers of living animals' habits, and keeping up a fire of invective against the “closet-naturalists,” as he called them, the collectors and classifiers, and handlers of skeletons and skins. When I was a boy, I used to think that a closet-naturalist must be the vilest type of wretch under the sun. But surely the systematic theologians are the closet-naturalists of the deity, even in Captain Mayne Reid's sense. What is their deduction of metaphysical attributes but a shuffling and matching of pedantic dictionary-adjectives, aloof from morals, aloof from human needs, something that might be worked out from the mere word “God” by one of those logical machines of wood and brass which recent ingenuity has contrived as well as by a man of flesh and blood. They have the trail of the serpent over them. One feels that in the theologians' hands, they are only a set of titles obtained by a mechanical manipulation of synonyms; verbality has stepped into the place of vision, professionalism into that of life. Instead of bread we have a stone; instead of a fish, a serpent. Did such a conglomeration of abstract terms give really the gist of our knowledge of the deity, schools of theology might indeed continue to flourish, but religion, vital religion, would have taken its flight from [pg 447] this world. What keeps religion going is something else than abstract definitions and systems of concatenated adjectives, and something different from faculties of theology and their professors. All these things are after-effects, secondary accretions upon those phenomena of vital conversation with the unseen divine, of which I have shown you so many instances, renewing themselves in sæcula sæculorum in the lives of humble private men.
So much for the metaphysical attributes of God! From the point of view of practical religion, the metaphysical monster which they offer to our worship is an absolutely worthless invention of the scholarly mind.
What shall we now say of the attributes called moral? Pragmatically, they stand on an entirely different footing. They positively determine fear and hope and expectation, and are foundations for the saintly life. It needs but a glance at them to show how great is their significance.
God's holiness, for example: being holy, God can will nothing but the good. Being omnipotent, he can secure its triumph. Being omniscient, he can see us in the dark. Being just, he can punish us for what he sees. Being loving, he can pardon too. Being unalterable, we can count on him securely. These qualities enter into connection with our life, it is highly important that we should be informed concerning them. That God's purpose in creation should be the manifestation of his glory is also an attribute which has definite relations to our practical life. Among other things it has given a definite character to worship in all Christian countries. If dogmatic theology really does prove beyond dispute that a God with characters like these exists, she may well claim to give a solid basis to religious sentiment. But verily, how stands it with her arguments?
It stands with them as ill as with the arguments for his existence. Not only do post-Kantian idealists reject them root and branch, but it is a plain historic fact that they never have converted any one who has found in the moral complexion of the world, as he experienced it, reasons for doubting that a good God can have framed it. To prove God's goodness by the scholastic argument that there is no non-being in his essence would sound to such a witness simply silly.
No! the book of Job went over this whole matter once for all and definitively. Ratiocination is a relatively superficial and unreal path to the deity: “I will lay mine hand upon my mouth; I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee.” An intellect perplexed and baffled, yet a trustful sense of presence—such is the situation of the man who is sincere with himself and with the facts, but who remains religious still.296
We must therefore, I think, bid a definitive good-by to dogmatic theology. In all sincerity our faith must do without that warrant. Modern idealism, I repeat, has said good-by to this theology forever. Can modern idealism give faith a better warrant, or must she still rely on her poor self for witness?
The basis of modern idealism is Kant's doctrine of the [pg 449] Transcendental Ego of Apperception. By this formidable term Kant merely meant the fact that the consciousness “I think them” must (potentially or actually) accompany all our objects. Former skeptics had said as much, but the “I” in question had remained for them identified with the personal individual. Kant abstracted and depersonalized it, and made it the most universal of all his categories, although for Kant himself the Transcendental Ego had no theological implications.
It was reserved for his successors to convert Kant's notion of Bewusstsein überhaupt, or abstract consciousness, into an infinite concrete self-consciousness which is the soul of the world, and in which our sundry personal self-consciousnesses have their being. It would lead me into technicalities to show you even briefly how this transformation was in point of fact effected. Suffice it to say that in the Hegelian school, which to-day so deeply influences both British and American thinking, two principles have borne the brunt of the operation.
The first of these principles is that the old logic of identity never gives us more than a post-mortem dissection of disjecta membra, and that the fullness of life can be construed to thought only by recognizing that every object which our thought may propose to itself involves the notion of some other object which seems at first to negate the first one.
The second principle is that to be conscious of a negation is already virtually to be beyond it. The mere asking of a question or expression of a dissatisfaction proves that the answer or the satisfaction is already imminent; the finite, realized as such, is already the infinite in posse.
Applying these principles, we seem to get a propulsive force into our logic which the ordinary logic of a bare, [pg 450] stark self-identity in each thing never attains to. The objects of our thought now act within our thought, act as objects act when given in experience. They change and develop. They introduce something other than themselves along with them; and this other, at first only ideal or potential, presently proves itself also to be actual. It supersedes the thing at first supposed, and both verifies and corrects it, in developing the fullness of its meaning.
The program is excellent; the universe is a place where things are followed by other things that both correct and fulfill them; and a logic which gave us something like this movement of fact would express truth far better than the traditional school-logic, which never gets of its own accord from anything to anything else, and registers only predictions and subsumptions, or static resemblances and differences. Nothing could be more unlike the methods of dogmatic theology than those of this new logic. Let me quote in illustration some passages from the Scottish transcendentalist whom I have already named.
“How are we to conceive,” Principal Caird writes, “of the reality in which all intelligence rests?” He replies: “Two things may without difficulty be proved, viz., that this reality is an absolute Spirit, and conversely that it is only in communion with this absolute Spirit or Intelligence that the finite Spirit can realize itself. It is absolute; for the faintest movement of human intelligence would be arrested, if it did not presuppose the absolute reality of intelligence, of thought itself. Doubt or denial themselves presuppose and indirectly affirm it. When I pronounce anything to be true, I pronounce it, indeed, to be relative to thought, but not to be relative to my thought, or to the thought of any other individual mind. From the existence of all individual minds as such I can abstract; I can think them away. But that which I cannot think away is thought or self-consciousness itself, in its independence [pg 451]and absoluteness, or, in other words, an Absolute Thought or Self-Consciousness.”
Here, you see, Principal Caird makes the transition which Kant did not make: he converts the omnipresence of consciousness in general as a condition of “truth” being anywhere possible, into an omnipresent universal consciousness, which he identifies with God in his concreteness. He next proceeds to use the principle that to acknowledge your limits is in essence to be beyond them; and makes the transition to the religious experience of individuals in the following words:—
“If [Man] were only a creature of transient sensations and impulses, of an ever coming and going succession of intuitions, fancies, feelings, then nothing could ever have for him the character of objective truth or reality. But it is the prerogative of man's spiritual nature that he can yield himself up to a thought and will that are infinitely larger than his own. As a thinking, self-conscious being, indeed, he may be said, by his very nature, to live in the atmosphere of the Universal Life. As a thinking being, it is possible for me to suppress and quell in my consciousness every movement of self-assertion, every notion and opinion that is merely mine, every desire that belongs to me as this particular Self, and to become the pure medium of a thought that is universal—in one word, to live no more my own life, but let my consciousness be possessed and suffused by the Infinite and Eternal life of spirit. And yet it is just in this renunciation of self that I truly gain myself, or realize the highest possibilities of my own nature. For whilst in one sense we give up self to live the universal and absolute life of reason, yet that to which we thus surrender ourselves is in reality our truer self. The life of absolute reason is not a life that is foreign to us.”
Nevertheless, Principal Caird goes on to say, so far as we are able outwardly to realize this doctrine, the balm it offers remains incomplete. Whatever we may be in posse, the very best of us in actu falls very short of [pg 452] being absolutely divine. Social morality, love, and self-sacrifice even, merge our Self only in some other finite self or selves. They do not quite identify it with the Infinite. Man's ideal destiny, infinite in abstract logic, might thus seem in practice forever unrealizable.
“Is there, then,” our author continues, “no solution of the contradiction between the ideal and the actual? We answer, There is such a solution, but in order to reach it we are carried beyond the sphere of morality into that of religion. It may be said to be the essential characteristic of religion as contrasted with morality, that it changes aspiration into fruition, anticipation into realization; that instead of leaving man in the interminable pursuit of a vanishing ideal, it makes him the actual partaker of a divine or infinite life. Whether we view religion from the human side or the divine—as the surrender of the soul to God, or as the life of God in the soul—in either aspect it is of its very essence that the Infinite has ceased to be a far-off vision, and has become a present reality. The very first pulsation of the spiritual life, when we rightly apprehend its significance, is the indication that the division between the Spirit and its object has vanished, that the ideal has become real, that the finite has reached its goal and become suffused with the presence and life of the Infinite.
“Oneness of mind and will with the divine mind and will is not the future hope and aim of religion, but its very beginning and birth in the soul. To enter on the religious life is to terminate the struggle. In that act which constitutes the beginning of the religious life—call it faith, or trust, or self-surrender, or by whatever name you will—there is involved the identification of the finite with a life which is eternally realized. It is true indeed that the religious life is progressive; but understood in the light of the foregoing idea, religious progress is not progress towards, but within the sphere of the Infinite. It is not the vain attempt by endless finite additions or increments to become possessed of infinite wealth, but it is the endeavor, by the constant exercise of spiritual activity, to appropriate that infinite inheritance of which we are already in [pg 453]possession. The whole future of the religious life is given in its beginning, but it is given implicitly. The position of the man who has entered on the religious life is that evil, error, imperfection, do not really belong to him: they are excrescences which have no organic relation to his true nature: they are already virtually, as they will be actually, suppressed and annulled, and in the very process of being annulled they become the means of spiritual progress. Though he is not exempt from temptation and conflict, [yet] in that inner sphere in which his true life lies, the struggle is over, the victory already achieved. It is not a finite but an infinite life which the spirit lives. Every pulse-beat of its [existence] is the expression and realization of the life of God.”297
You will readily admit that no description of the phenomena of the religious consciousness could be better than these words of your lamented preacher and philosopher. They reproduce the very rapture of those crises of conversion of which we have been hearing; they utter what the mystic felt but was unable to communicate; and the saint, in hearing them, recognizes his own experience. It is indeed gratifying to find the content of religion reported so unanimously. But when all is said and done, has Principal Caird—and I only use him as an example of that whole mode of thinking—transcended the sphere of feeling and of the direct experience of the individual, and laid the foundations of religion in impartial reason? Has he made religion universal by coercive reasoning, transformed it from a private faith into a public certainty? Has he rescued its affirmations from obscurity and mystery?
I believe that he has done nothing of the kind, but that he has simply reaffirmed the individual's experiences in a more generalized vocabulary. And again, I can be [pg 454] excused from proving technically that the transcendentalist reasonings fail to make religion universal, for I can point to the plain fact that a majority of scholars, even religiously disposed ones, stubbornly refuse to treat them as convincing. The whole of Germany, one may say, has positively rejected the Hegelian argumentation. As for Scotland, I need only mention Professor Fraser's and Professor Pringle-Pattison's memorable criticisms, with which so many of you are familiar.298 Once more, I ask, if transcendental idealism were as objectively and absolutely rational as it pretends to be, could it possibly fail so egregiously to be persuasive?
What religion reports, you must remember, always purports to be a fact of experience: the divine is actually present, religion says, and between it and ourselves relations of give and take are actual. If definite perceptions of fact like this cannot stand upon their own feet, [pg 455] surely abstract reasoning cannot give them the support they are in need of. Conceptual processes can class facts, define them, interpret them; but they do not produce them, nor can they reproduce their individuality. There is always a plus, a thisness, which feeling alone can answer for. Philosophy in this sphere is thus a secondary function, unable to warrant faith's veracity, and so I revert to the thesis which I announced at the beginning of this lecture.
In all sad sincerity I think we must conclude that the attempt to demonstrate by purely intellectual processes the truth of the deliverances of direct religious experience is absolutely hopeless.
It would be unfair to philosophy, however, to leave her under this negative sentence. Let me close, then, by briefly enumerating what she can do for religion. If she will abandon metaphysics and deduction for criticism and induction, and frankly transform herself from theology into science of religions, she can make herself enormously useful.
The spontaneous intellect of man always defines the divine which it feels in ways that harmonize with its temporary intellectual prepossessions. Philosophy can by comparison eliminate the local and the accidental from these definitions. Both from dogma and from worship she can remove historic incrustations. By confronting the spontaneous religious constructions with the results of natural science, philosophy can also eliminate doctrines that are now known to be scientifically absurd or incongruous.
Sifting out in this way unworthy formulations, she can leave a residuum of conceptions that at least are possible. With these she can deal as hypotheses, testing them in [pg 456] all the manners, whether negative or positive, by which hypotheses are ever tested. She can reduce their number, as some are found more open to objection. She can perhaps become the champion of one which she picks out as being the most closely verified or verifiable. She can refine upon the definition of this hypothesis, distinguishing between what is innocent over-belief and symbolism in the expression of it, and what is to be literally taken. As a result, she can offer mediation between different believers, and help to bring about consensus of opinion. She can do this the more successfully, the better she discriminates the common and essential from the individual and local elements of the religious beliefs which she compares.
I do not see why a critical Science of Religions of this sort might not eventually command as general a public adhesion as is commanded by a physical science. Even the personally non-religious might accept its conclusions on trust, much as blind persons now accept the facts of optics—it might appear as foolish to refuse them. Yet as the science of optics has to be fed in the first instance, and continually verified later, by facts experienced by seeing persons; so the science of religions would depend for its original material on facts of personal experience, and would have to square itself with personal experience through all its critical reconstructions. It could never get away from concrete life, or work in a conceptual vacuum. It would forever have to confess, as every science confesses, that the subtlety of nature flies beyond it, and that its formulas are but approximations. Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection [pg 457] comes too late. No one knows this as well as the philosopher. He must fire his volley of new vocables out of his conceptual shotgun, for his profession condemns him to this industry, but he secretly knows the hollowness and irrelevancy. His formulas are like stereoscopic or kinetoscopic photographs seen outside the instrument; they lack the depth, the motion, the vitality. In the religious sphere, in particular, belief that formulas are true can never wholly take the place of personal experience.
In my next lecture I will try to complete my rough description of religious experience; and in the lecture after that, which is the last one, I will try my own hand at formulating conceptually the truth to which it is a witness.
Source: The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
Rudolf Hermann Lotze. OUTLINES OF METAPHYSIC
THIRD PRINCIPAL DIVISION.
OF THE SUBJECTIVITY OF COGNITION.
§ 76. In the ontological discussion we have spoken of the ‘Being and States of the Existent,’ without ability to specify precisely in what both consist. In the cosmological, we have taken it for granted that the world of phenomena as it appears to our intuition proceeds from these unknown reciprocal actions of ‘Things.’ Finally, at the conclusion of the Cosmology, demands of the mind were stirred that are to be prospectively satisfied only by means of an insight into that actual nature of things which constitutes what corresponds to the formal conditions of Ontology and Cosmology.
Now all inner states of all other things are unattainable by us; of only our own souls, which we hold to be one of these real beings, have we an immediate experience. Hence there arises the hope of learning from this example just what positively constitutes, in other things as well, their essential ‘Being.’ On this account the last Division of the Metaphysic could perhaps be called—as of old—‘Psychology.’ But in this connection the soul is of essential interest to us only so far as it is the subject of cognition.
We therefore at this point resume the inquiry previously announced; after we have developed those conceptions concerning the coherency of all Things which are necessary to our thinking,—How must we now think concerning the nature and meaning of our own cognition, in so far as it, too, is subject to one of those same conceptions, namely, to that of the reciprocal action of different elements (in this case, Subject and Object)? On this account, this conclusion of the matter may be called ‘Phenomenology.’
§ 77. From all the foregoing with reference to our cognition it follows, that—
(1) We recognize by means of no sensible quality an objective attribute of ‘Things’; no such quality can be a copy of the Things themselves, but each can simply be a result of their influence. This result, however, like every effect, does not depend in a one-sided way upon the nature of the being which exercises the influence, but just as much upon the nature of the being which receives the influence. Every sensation—as for example, color—is therefore only the subjective form in which an excitation of our peculiar Being, sustained through the instrumentality of external influence, comes to consciousness in us,
(2) Although no single sensation is a copy of the reality, yet definite relations with one another of the single real ‘Things’ seem to come to our perception in the very forms of combination in which different sensations are brought to us in juxtaposition or succession; and this happens in such a way that, while we could not, of course, cognize the single things, yet we could cognize the changeable relations between them. But the Cosmology has shown that the universal forms of Space and Time, within whose confines all the aforesaid special forms assumed in combination by the manifold impressions become specifically marked off, are themselves likewise only forms of our intuition; and it is only we who perceive in these forms the graduated reciprocal conditions of Things that are not in themselves subjects of intuition, but are only apprehensible as abstract conceptions. The World of Space and Time is, therefore, ‘phenomenon’; the ‘real Being,’ which answers to it and produces it within us, is dissimilar to it.
(3) There, consequently, remained nothing left for us but to maintain that only a formal cognition is possible of the ‘Being’ of those ‘Things’ which we proceeded to assume; that is to say, we were able to define those forms of our thoughts by means of which we defined the modes of relation belonging to the unknown Existent, in such a manner that our ideas of it accorded both with the general logical laws of our thinking, and also with those more significant suppositions which our reason makes concerning the same necessary coherency of things.
Now the aforesaid logical laws, as well as these metaphysical suppositions of our reason, are nothing further than definite species and forms of its activity, which is excited by the content of the ideas that are present within us. That is, to wit: If, in consciousness, different ideas, a, b, c, d, . . ., are given in all manner of relations, x, y, z, . . ., to one another, then the soul is so framed by nature that this very fact of a multiplicity of ideas serves as a stimulus for it to interpret an interior connection into these ideas;—that is to say, to regard the content of one, for example, as the ‘cause’ of the content of the others.
From this peculiar nature of the soul, in order to explain the throng of ideas that are present within ourselves, there ensues—as would easily be found from carrying out the above considerations—the entire habit of assuming an external World of ‘Things’: and it is from the influence of these ‘Things’ upon us, that the aforesaid ideas are held to originate in us; while from their interchangeable proportions originate the given reciprocal relations of the ideas.
That is to say: It becomes at this point a matter for inquiry, whether simply the aforesaid most abstract and fundamental conceptions which we frame of ‘things’ and ‘events’ contain any truth whatever; and whether they, too, are not merely subjective habits of our own activity, by means of which a non-existent external world is mirrored before us.
§ 78. The above considerations lead at once to the view of ‘subjective Idealism’;—to the view, namely, that all which we call ‘cognition’ is only a play of our own activity. The perception of the world is then a product of our creative faculty of imagination; the elaboration of perception by means of theoretical conceptions, and its interpretation by reference to a Kingdom of ‘Things,’ only a further carrying out of this activity, which still further articulates its product after it has constructed it. The same view holds, on the contrary, that outside of the cognitive spirit this world of ‘Things’ has no existence; and, finally, that, so long as cognition consists in an agreement of the idea with its object, we cannot speak of ‘a truth of cognition’ in anything like the ordinary sense, or even of an ‘act of cognition’ in general (considered as somewhat accommodated to its external object), but only of an ‘act of representation’ which is productive of its own subject-object (Fichte).
§ 79. In opposition to the above view the following remarks hold good:
(1) The demonstration of the ‘thorough-going subjectivity of all the elements of our cognition,’—sensations, pure intuitions, and pure notions of the understanding,—is in no respect decisive against the assumption of the existence of ‘a world of Things outside ourselves.’ For it is clear that this ‘subjectivity of cognition’ must in any case be true, whether ‘Things’ do, or do not exist. For even if ‘Things’ exist, still our cognition of them cannot consist in their actually finding an entrance into us, but only in their exerting an action upon us. But the products of this action, as affections of our being, can receive their form from our nature alone. And, as it is easy to persuade ourselves, even in case ‘Things’ do actually exist, all parts of our cognition will have the very same ‘subjectivity’ as that from which it might be hastily concluded that ‘Things’ do not exist.
§ 80. (2) The assertion that the World is the creation of his own faculty of imagination could not possibly be accomplished with complete freedom from obscurity by anyone except some lone individual indulging in philosophic speculation. Since it is quite too absurd that this one person deem the remaining spirits, too, in whose society he is conscious of living, as merely products of his own fantasy; and since rather the same kind of reality for all spirits, at least, must be credited; therefore the question arises: How do these individual spirits A, B, C, D, . . ., come to produce, by means of their faculties of imagination, four (or, if the case requires, n) pictures of the world, which have as a whole the same content, but which so vary in their particular features that the other spirits, B, C, D, . . ., appear to A at definite places, and they, in turn, to A at another place;—in brief, that all appear to each other in such manner as to make it possible for one to seek for and to meet with the other, for the sake of a mutual action in this non-existent phantom-world?
Obviously, the reason for such a noteworthy correspondence between the imaginations of the individual beings cannot lie in them as individuals, but must lie in some one individual and yet universal Power which is equally effective in all the individuals; and this Power—instead of first creating actual ‘Things’ outside these beings, in order afterward to produce in them the ‘appearance of Things’ by the circuitous way of an influence from these ‘Things’ upon the aforesaid beings—directly causes this same ‘appearance’ to arise in every one of them.
Idealism, therefore, would accord with the common view in this respect, that our perception of the World must have some reason outside ourselves; but not in this respect, that such reason must be sought in a multiplicity of ‘Things’ acting upon us.
§ 81. With the modifications made above, subjective Idealism does, in fact, succeed in explaining the course of the world. Things would, of course, be no longer ‘things,’ but only particular actions which the ‘Absolute Being’ exercises in all finite spirits in conformable fashion. But these ‘particular actions,’ k, l, m, n, . . ., since they are deeds of one and the same Being, would naturally so cohere, in accordance with the law governing them, that always, when k is exercised, the exercising of another act m also follows; and always, if the act k is altered to χ, then m also passes over into μ. That is to say, the entire coherency of natural phenomena according to law, for which we are wont to believe the existence of certain unalterable individual elements or atoms to be necessary as subjects of the events, is also possible, in case the ‘actions of an individual Absolute,’ constantly maintained or interchanged in accordance with fixed law, are regarded as substituted for such ‘Things’; and as constituting a system of reasons—with manifold members and effective simply in us, but not extant outside us—that determine the content and vicissitudes of our perceptions.
§ 82. The above-mentioned Idealism, nevertheless, has failed to get rooted, not barely in the common mode of conception,—for which it is quite too much of a foreign growth,—but also in philosophy. It has been objected to it, that its so-called ‘actions of the Absolute’ could serve as a substitute for ‘Things,’ but still are not actual Things. That there must be Things, however, is firmly adhered to, from a motive very obscure and little analyzed. We want to possess in that Nature which we immediately perceive, something really self-existent and not barely a somewhat apparent to us.
If now the question is raised, precisely in what does that good consist which would be actualized by means of such a reality to ‘Things,’ and which the world would lack, in case only actions of the Absolute existed in its stead?—then it would easily be discovered that the bare objective existence, maintenance, and actual self-motion of ‘Things,’ and their actual but blind action on each other, would not have, of itself, in the least degree more value than the perfectly corresponding relations between the actions of the Absolute.
Precisely what we want is this,—that the ‘Things’ really enjoy these states of their own, and not merely be thought of by us as existing in them. That is to say, ‘Reality’ is ‘Being for self’;—an expression, by which we designate that most general characteristic of self-apprehension, which is common to all forms of spiritual life, to feeling, to representation, to effort, and to volition.
§ 83. Now if such is the exact motive for our preference for the assumption of real Things, it is further necessary merely to be persuaded that there can by no means be—as has thus far been tacitly assumed—a certain species of existence called ‘Reality,’ which, wherever it is extant, has there made possible the ‘Being for self’ or spiritual life of what is thus existent. Quite the reverse, however, must we admit that to be spirit is the only conceivable reality: that is to say, only in the idea of spiritual life do we understand with a perfect clearness what ‘real Being’ means; and, on the contrary, every as yet non-spiritual but ‘Thing-like’ reality is conceived of by us only through the instrumentality of a collection of abstract conceptions that make upon us the demand for somewhat more, of which we do not know precisely in what way it is to be fulfilled.
For example: In the Metaphysic we have hitherto considered ‘Thing’ as the ‘subject of its own predicates,’ or as the ‘support of its own properties,’ as ‘substratum of its own states.’ If now that one of these expressions, which is perhaps the best, is analyzed, and the question is raised: In what precisely does the relation, which the expression designs to designate, consist?—then it will be discovered that only the Spirit or the Ego, which has learned in a living experience to feel itself to be the independent and sole personality in contrast with all its own particular excitations, has any knowledge of what it means to be the ‘subject of states,’ or to suffer and to experience certain states.’ In what way, on the contrary, a distinction of its own genuine being from its temporary states can be conceived of in a blind ‘Thing’ devoid of self-enjoyment, is quite impossible to see.
We have further required of every ‘Thing,’—a requirement connected with the foregoing,—‘unity in the midst of change.’ But how this requisition could be satisfied, and precisely where besides the series of its successive states this ‘unity’ might subsist, we do not know. It is the spirit that first solves this riddle by means of the miraculous phenomenon of Memory, which through a living coherence in one consciousness, of what is really successive, first reveals to us the only possible meaning for the aforesaid ‘unity.’
We have, finally, spoken of the ‘affection and action’ of ‘Things.’ But these names, too, have a real significance only in case the ‘affection’ is actually suffered,—that is, consists in some feeling or other; and in case the ‘action’ is an effort or volition, and not a bare procedure of a result from a cause which thereat neither does nor suffers anything, or else is altered without any experience of it.
All endeavors are vain, on the one hand, to avoid assuming this character of spiritual life in Things, and yet, none the less, still try to say, precisely in what their ‘Being,’ their ‘Unity,’ their ‘States,’ in brief their whole ‘Reality,’ consists. None of these words signify anything which, in its universality, were clear and comprehensible, and of which the spiritual life might form only a special example with other examples existing besides; but they are all abstractions which, from the spirit as their sole subject, abstract a formal mode of behavior that, in fact, is possible for its nature alone. Thus they induce in the unreflecting mind the semblance of an ability to signify something of themselves, and come to be assumed of all manner of subjects.
§ 84. The foregoing considerations lead to the opinion that there can be no ‘Things’ which are merely things in the ordinary sense of a non-self-existent, unconscious, blindly acting reality. Nothing but the following alternative remains: Either we ascribe to all ‘Things,’ as soon as they are assumed to ‘be’ realiter outside ourselves, the most common characteristic of spiritual life,—to wit, some form or other of ‘Being for self’; or else, if we do not want to concede such an ‘animating of all Things,’ we must deny that they can be realiter outside ourselves. For the conception of whatever has not Being for self does not admit of being distinguished in any tenable fashion from the conception of a bare action, or a bare state of that ‘Infinite Substance,’ which we in the Ontology, and in this connection afresh, have discovered to be the foundation of all finite Being.
OF THE OBJECTIVITY OF COGNITION.
§ 85. After we have comprehended the unavoidable and thorough-going subjectivity of our cognition, and have conceded that we always see ‘Things’ merely as they look when they come before our sight, and never as they look when nobody sees them; and after we have finally reflected that this fact is no limitation whatever of our human cognition, but must happen just the same in the case of every superior being, in so far as its cognition depends upon its reciprocal action with other beings,—then the inquiry arises: What kind of significance, ultimately, has such a cognition as this, which uniformly misses of its object?
We answer: The name ‘Cognition’ is the expression of a prejudice,—to wit, the assumption that the course of mental representation which originates from external stimuli within the spirit has the problem of reproducing in copy these ‘stimuli’ from which it springs. In science our act of representation naturally serves, in every case, the purpose of ascertaining a matter of fact; but in the totality of the World it has another position. It is a prejudice, that the World exists, without the kingdom of spirits, ready-made and completed in effective consistence of its own; and that the life of mental representation which spirits lead is simply a kind of half-idle appendage, by means of which the content of the World is not increased, but only its ready-made content once more copied in miniature. The rather is the fact, that a world of ideas is awakened within these spirits by means of the influence of Things upon them, in itself one of the most significant events in the entire course of the world;—an event, without which the content of the world would not simply be imperfect, but would straightway lack what is most essential to its completion.
In brief: The mental representation of spiritual beings is not designed to copy Things, which, because they have no such power of representation, are inferior to spirit; but ‘Things’ (so far as this name has now any meaning left at all) exist besides, in order to produce by their influences that course of mental representation belonging to the spiritual beings, which, accordingly, has its value in itself considered, and in its own peculiar content, and not in its accord with an objective matter of fact.
§ 86. To give an example: We object to the faculty of sense that it shows us colors and tones which exist nowhere outside ourselves, but are only affections of ourselves: it is therefore constantly deceiving us; for the waves of light and sound which constitute what is truly objective, it does not permit us to see.
We answer: Such is undoubtedly the state of the case; but color and sound are no worse, because they are simply our sensations. The rather do they constitute the precise purpose which external nature meant to reach with its waves of ether and of air. It could not accomplish this, however, of itself alone; but for its fulfilment had rather an absolute need of spirit, in order that the latter might realize in its own state of sensation the beauty of shimmering light and ringing sound.
§ 87. ‘The doctrine of the Identity of Thought and Being’ (Schelling, Hegel) asserts, what is apparently the same as the foregoing view, and yet is really different from it, in more general form. The true Being of non-spiritual Actuality (the modus existendi of which is here left pretty obscure) consists simply in an ‘Idea,’ for the actualization of which it is intended. Only the thinking of spiritual beings, however, apprehends ideas as ideas. In thinking, accordingly, does that first become actualized which Things only in themselves—that is to say, in this connection, Things according to their plan—really are. It is not our cognition, therefore, that is unsuitable to reproduce the nature of Things; but Things are unsuitable to produce their own nature, that is to say, that for which they are intended. It is thought which first makes them ready, as it were.
§ 88. The above doctrine admits of a threefold signification:
(1) If by the ‘Being of Things’ we designate that by means of which the Thing is distinguished from our idea of the thing, then it is quite certain that this ‘Being’ is not identical with being thought. Or, conversely, thought is in no condition to comprehend precisely wherein the ‘Being’ consists with whose manifold formal relations it is itself employed.
(2) If again we use ‘Being’ in the same sense, and therefore as synonymous with ‘being affected and producing effects,’ then the before-mentioned proposition means as follows: The thinking ‘Being’ of Spirit is not one species of this Being, and the blind ‘Being’ of Things another species; but the latter, too, is a thought. That is to say: All that we are wont to apprehend as the unconscious activity of Things, is only an unrecognized process of thought within them.
(3) If we call that the ‘true Being’ of a Thing, by means of which it is distinguished from some other Thing, then this doctrine would assert that such essentia of Things does not consist in any Reality which is of quite foreign species and inaccessible to all the means belonging to the spirit; but it is rather perfectly exhaustible by means of our thoughts, or, at least, by means of thought in general.
§ 89. Herein lies the truth, that the essence and Being of Things cannot be opposed to the essence and Being of Spirit, as though the former were a second principal division of the world and a perfect stranger to the latter. So long, however, as the word ‘thinking’ retains the special meaning by which it distinguishes one definite mode of the spirit’s activity from other modes, the Being and essence of things certainly is not identical with such ‘thinking.’
In order to pass judgment on this matter one must reflect upon the exact share which thinking is wont to have even in the sum-total of what we really know. And on this point there is manifestly a very general illusion. To wit: as often as we in speech have designated anything with a name, the semblance of having constructed or penetrated the so-named content by means of an operation of ‘thinking’ arises in our minds, although very often this ‘thinking’ makes a very small contribution to what we mean by the name.—For example:
(1) If we say, ‘sweet,’ ‘blue,’ ‘warm,’ then the entire work performed by thinking consists in designating by the adjective form of the name, as though it were an independent property inhering in another subject, a content which is wholly and merely an experience in the form of immediate sensation, but which can be neither produced nor imparted by the medium of thinking. That is to say: Thinking reflects upon the formal relation of this content to others; it does not exhaust the content itself.
(2) Only by experience can ‘weal’ be distinguished from ‘woe,’ ‘pleasure’ from ‘pain’; and no operation of thinking makes it comprehensible to a subject possessed of the greatest intelligence, but of no feeling, what both names signify. They, therefore, designate a content which is known only if it is experienced.
(3) The same thing is true of our metaphysical conceptions. What ‘Being’ signifies, no ‘thinking’ makes obvious to one who does not from self-feeling understand his own being. ‘Action and affection’ only that being comprehends who has in itself had experience of both. Even the abstract conception of conditionating were without significance for us, if we did not know from our own experience, from our own volition and effort, what it means for one element to have, or to have desired, a power over some other.
In pursuance of these examples we learn that all our ‘thinking’ by no means altogether comprehends, or in the least degree exhausts, what we could regard as the ‘actual constitution’ and ‘inner Being’ of Things; and that it rather merely combines with one another in formal relations the ideas which designate the subject-matter of experience, whether in the form of sensation, of feeling, or otherwise.
§ 90. ‘Being’ could be posited as identical with such ‘Thinking,’ only in case the significance of the ‘Existent’ were so far degraded as to make the entire content of thought, which the actuality were called on to express, consist still in simply those formal relations of the manifold that logical thinking comprehends and judges of.
In fact, such is the meaning of Hegel, who not without significance calls that Logic which is elsewhere styled Metaphysic. If, therefore, things exist and events happen simply in order that the formal relations of Identity and Opposition, Unity and Multiplicity, Indifference and Polarity, of Universal, Particular and Singular, etc., may be actualized in the most manifold manner possible, and set forth in Phenomenon;—then, of course, the essence of ‘Things’ is so pitiful and insignificant that our thinking succeeds perfectly well in adequately comprehending it.
§ 91. The teaching of Fichte had been different. The problem of the spirit, he held, does not lie in the cognition of a blind ‘Being’ (the conception of which appeared to him as impossible as it appears to us), but in action. The aforesaid world external is not, but appears to us in order to serve as material of our duty, as inducement or object of our action. Of course, the world cosmographically and historically determined, with which we see ourselves surrounded, is not to be deduced for human cognition as somewhat necessary to this final purpose, but must be barely assumed as a given matter of fact. Of those metaphysical principles, on the other hand, in accordance with which we trace out an inner coherency within this phenomenal world, it can be shown that they are natural to our spirit on account of this,—and only on account of this,—because the spirit is intended for action. For ‘Things’ considered as fixed points in the course of phenomena, alteration of these things according to law, and reciprocal determinateness of them by causality, and so forth,—all these are forms of the inner coherency which a spirit, that wills to act, must inevitably assume in that world on which its action is directed.
§ 92. The above-mentioned thought is not quite satisfactory, because it makes all actuality exist merely in the service of human action; this action itself however is only considered from its formal side, as activity and self-determination, while that content whose actualization were alone worth the trouble of action is, on the contrary, neglected.
For the aforesaid ‘action’ of Fichte we substitute the morally Good, for which the action is simply the indispensable form of actualization; we besides conceive of the ‘beautiful,’ too, and the ‘happy’ or ‘blessedness,’ as united with this Good into one complex of all that has Value. And now we affirm: Genuine Reality in the world (to wit, in the sense that all else is, in relation to It, subordinate, deduced, mere semblance or means to an end) consists alone in this Highest-Good personal, which is at the same time the highest-good Thing. But since all the Value of what is valuable has existence only in the spirit that enjoys it, therefore all apparent actuality is only a system of contrivances, by means of which this determinate world of phenomena, as well as these determinate metaphysical habitudes for considering the world of phenomena, are called forth, in order that the aforesaid Highest Good may become for the spirit an object of enjoyment in all the multiplicity of forms possible to it.
The objectivity of our cognition consists, therefore, in this, that it is not a meaningless play of mere seeming; but it brings before us a World whose coherency is ordered in pursuance of the injunction of the Sole Reality in the world,—to wit, of the Good. Our cognition thus possesses more of truth than if it copied exactly a world of objects that has no value in itself. Although it does not comprehend in what manner all that is phenomenon is presented to its view, still it understands what is the meaning of it all; and is like to a spectator who comprehends the aesthetic significance of that which takes place on the stage of a theatre, and would gain nothing essential if he were to see besides the machinery by means of which the changes are effected on that stage.